Book Review: Empty Assumptions Amidst Genuine Debate

March 01, 2007

Book Review: Empty Assumptions Amidst Genuine Debate

Book Title: The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave

Author: Robert M. Price and Jeffrey Jay Lowder (eds).

Publishing Information: Prometheus Books, New York, 2005.

This 500-page collection of papers is dedicated to Richard Dawkins and George Wells, both extreme sceptics of Christian claims. It gathers some of the best writing of the authors who populate, a website dedicated to promoting naturalism and opposing other worldviews, in particular Christianity. Many of the chapters have appeared previously in the Journal of Higher Criticism. This is old school ‘higher criticism’, deliberately aiming to reinstate the work of F.C. Bauer, D. F. Strauss and the Tübingen School as the true understanding of the origins of Christianity. Its task is “disabusing students of Christian origins of the red herrings strewn about with gleeful abandon by apologists” (p.15). Although the essays are mainly academic in nature, they are polemic in style. Robert Greg Cavin concludes a careful study of the logic of the resurrection claims with the comment: “Things would have been different, of course, if we had eyewitness reports of…Roman lances bouncing off the body of the revivified Jesus as he stormed the Praetorium to unseat Pilate and take his rightful place as Messiah.” (p.36-7)! One wonders how much Cavin has grasped about Jesus at all.

The essays cover significant ground in discussing the logic of resurrection, the evidence for an empty tomb, and the alternative theories regarding the body of Jesus. However, most chapters deliver less than they promise. Michael Martin’s two attempts to counter Richard Swinburne’s analysis of the probability of the resurrection are particularly unconvincing; Robert Price supposes an interpolation of resurrection material into 1 Corinthians 15 for which there is no textual evidence (having just endorsed Cavin’s chapter on the importance of evidence); and Richard Carrier, author of three chapters, attempts to revive every discredited claim from corpse theft or relocation, to ‘instant legend’ to hallucations. The most original chapter in the book is on the financial aspects of the resurrection: did the idea of resurrection ‘help business’ for the disciples?!

Most of these essays begin from the assumption that it really is absurd to be a Christian—to believe that Jesus is alive today, to claim he has an eternal body, and to accept the accuracy of the Gospels. Most authors also assume the right to pick and choose details from the Gospels for their historical value. Their attention to the details of Christian claims is admirable, but their conclusions are far from overwhelming. The Empty Tomb will be valuable to students of the New Testament and philosophy of religion, but should be read alongside the works of those it is written to oppose: Richard Swinburne, William Lane Craig and N. T. Wright.

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