This is the MS. of my Easter Submission to the _Touchstone_ newspaper (Bryan/College Stat

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This is the MS. of my Easter Submission to the _Touchstone_ newspaper (Bryan/College Station, TX). informed comments welcomed privately. Resurrecting an Old Debate By Doubting John Lenz _Is_ there a God? _Was_ there a God? _Must_ there be a God? Is the existence of god(s) an historical or a philosophical question? A local cult, more pervasive than the one in Waco, holds that, some 1,960 years ago, their god, the only true god out of some 10,000 "false gods," came (to just as unlikely a locale) and died. He beat death, inspired his friends, and left. He'll destroy the world when he has a mind to and if you don't like it, he'll punish the whole lot of y'all, abysmally, eternally. If not in Korea in 1992, somewhere, some day, when you least expect it. Is this the way gods behave? Maybe anti-monopoly principles should be invoked. There's no possibility of a second opinion as in the heady days of polytheism. You thought AT&T was overcharging? The most successful ancient heresy of Judaism is not my topic. Rather, this is a week to reflect on its self-averred hinge and sole foundation stone, the best known resurrection of all. What an opportune time to celebrate ancient history and its vital role in our time, our heritage, and our intellectual life. Right? Surely now, if ever, is the occasion to correct gently the two Texans who said (yes), "Why study a foreign language? English was good enough for Jesus Christ." Even on the frontier, the hunger is there, palpable, for Greco-Roman-Judaic antiquity. The issue of sources for the resurrection is simple. Some say, "Yes he did!," some say, "No he didn't! Who says so?" Those saying so are a few followers writing twenty to sixty (!) years after Jesus' death. They often contradict each other; they give various and confusing accounts of the risen Jesus--what most needed documenting. The doubters didn't write anything that survives. Maybe they didn't even notice the fuss. A few books were burned and centuries later, everyone was happy. Did it happen? Not by any criteria we use to judge history. A funny thing: Faith in Jesus depends upon the resurrection, but belief in the resurrection requires faith. You don't have to study medieval logic to know that this argument is as circular as a snake eating its own tail. Those who place faith above empirical knowledge are nicely boxed in, when they need to prove their god by reasoning for a factual resurrection! Yes, the New Testament text is fairly secure--textually. Jesus probably lived. This makes a man, not a ghost, historical. The Shroud of Turin, too, only shows someone's death. The scriptures reflect controversies of the later first century A.D. We don't know anything about their authors or dates of composition. They give wildly different dates for Jesus' birth and none at all for his death. They were written to strengthen and explain one faith. We can see where and why they shift their stories. Mentioning a few, lamentably few, historical facts here and there does not make them histories; science fiction might mention real planets. We have no first-century sources apart from a handful of partisans, whose accounts partly depend on certain common sources. Relying on the gospels and Paul is like using Lenin, Trotsky, and Stalin to prove the truth of Marxism. Hear, here, hearsay. There are no, nope, no other sources, no pagan ones, NONE. This is the key point. Jewish writings are, of course, decidedly hostile; and a risen Messiah would have meant most to them, of anyone. They were waiting for just this, yet did not believe. As an historical matter, it is easy to punch our fingers in the holes in current arguments for the plausibility of the resurrection, once and only once, of a dead man, this dead man. "Who moved the stone?" is a useless question; only one man, Joseph of Arimathea, buried Jesus in the first place. Two days later, women (one, two, three, or more) went to anoint the body, expecting to move the stone themselves. When they found the stone out of place, they didn't cry, like modern hucksters, "no human being could have moved that stone." Only Matthew introduces the story that an angel moved the stone. Of the four gospel-writers, only Matthew places a guard over the tomb. Matthew patently adds these details--the guard, the "very large stone," and the bowling angel--in his apologetic version. How could the writers of the New Testament lie while living witnesses survived? Easily. They were partisans, writing for the like-minded. They needed to answer the charge, widespread as we know among contemporary Jews (Mt. 28.15), that the disciples had stolen the body. A 1st-century-A.D. Roman law found in Palestine actually prescribes severe penalties for stealing bodies or moving grave-stones. "Where's the body?" is an inane local slogan. Where's Caesar's? Where's Jesus' tomb? (Don't be blinded by "No-body" like the Cyclops in Homer's _Odyssey_.) "Followers were willing to die for him." And for David Koresh, and for Adolf Hitler, and, and .... The centrality of the resurrection actually underlines the intriguing fact that Jesus' life and activities did not convince _anyone_ of his divinity. Miracle-workers were nothing new. Other individuals have been resurrected, other gods have appeared, Romulus, Mohammed, Apollonius and others have supposedly ascended into heaven. T.H. Huxley showed that numerous "miracles," which no one now believes, are better attested than ancient ones. As Edward Gibbon wrote, men follow the superstitions of their ancestors more than the evidence of their own senses. To all that add the common pattern of a dying god, reborn with the return of Spring, which J.G. Frazer wrote volumes about. Above all, Jesus's alleged resurrection represents a major-league denial of human death. About 55 B.C., Lucretius wrote beautifully of this as the fount of religion. Of course there is good in Christianity. Bertrand Russell harshly insisted that no good could come from falsehood; Plato's "ruling myth" is a better model. ("Tradition!") But whatever is good in the Christian philosophy should be able to survive reliance upon an unverified, blatantly mythical past event. But then we'd have to let people think .... Consider the odd Christian combination of a personal god with a particular faith in history: "There is a god because (i) there _was_ a god and (ii) because I have this feeling in here." Yet the historical question, like any question about the existence or not of a defined deity, is a simple "yes" or "no" question. It should have nothing to do with one's ultra-sensory communicative powers or invisible hotlines. But it does, because accepting the resurrection can only be an act of faith. Faith rests on history, but history rests on faith! Christian focus on the resurrection as an historical question almost makes the existence and nature of gods uninteresting questions. Do Christians despair of having better reasons? But, after all, only the claims of one historically-bound sect are at issue here. In the grand scheme of things, these are as parochial as any others. Curiouser and curiouser (Alice 3:16).


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