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This essay offers some brief, critical comments on the work of a Skeptic named Richard Packham, who is an attorney and a former member of the Latter-day Saints. Of particlar concern to us is his critique of the work of Christian apologist John Warwick Montgomery, who is known for his attempts to apply modern legal evidentiary standards to Christian and Biblical truth claims.
With due respect to Montgomery, and his ideological predecessor Simon Greenleaf, I do have to agree with an essential view of Packham's, namely, that it is misguided to apply the modern standards of legal evidence wholesale to the Gospel records. To do so is simply, in many ways, anachronistic; these standards should no more be directly applied to the Gospels than to the works of Tacitus, Josephus, or Lucian. If any legal standards may be applied to any of the Gospels, they may be applied to Luke and John, who, as a helpful reader recently advised me, are written within a legal genre; but even in this case it is anachronistic to apply modern stadards and rules of evidence. (My reader suggested that the lesser standard of proof found in the civil code of common law would be better suited for the Gospels, and that it might be better also to regard them in the category of, for example, amicus briefs.)
The proof of this is shown in Packham's very criticisms, which are themselves anachronistic, even if they have a certain validity in terms of Montgomery's applications.
One of Montgomery's points is that the text of the New Testament has been transmitted accurately, and that we have an overwhelming assurance that we know what the original text said. This is a given in textual-critical circles, and Montgomery is right enough on that point, but Packham is clearly not up on such matters. He objects:
On the contrary, there are no original texts of any New Testament document, but only copies, which differ among themselves. How can one assert anything with certainty about what the text said when it was written, if later copies differ? Granted, Bible scholars (usually those same "critics" which evangelical Christians love to impugn) have been able to make fairly intelligent guesses about what the original texts said probably said, but any doubts about their accuracy make Montgomery's assumption untenable.
This would have been a good point for Packham to start tackling the likes of Metzger and the Alands, but he does not: He rather decides to assume "for the sake of getting on with the discussion" that "scholars agree as to what the original words of the texts were."
As we have shown in this article, one can very easily "assert anything with certainty about what the text said when it was written," and what Packham arbitraily calls "fairly intelligent guesses" are in fact the definitive statements of textual-critical scholars whose work he is clearly unfamiliar with.
Montgomery's next assertion is that the NT writings "claim to be primary source documents, and 'ring true as such.'" I myself am not clear on how Montgomery supposes that the Gospels (other than John, perhaps) make this claim, so I don't care to defend the point; on the other hand, Packham's comment on the "ring true" aspect is unreasonable. He writes:
The "ring true" test, being extremely subjective, is not evidentiary because it is not objective. Nor is it even a valid subjective test: I have hundreds of historical novels in my library, fictionalized accounts of historical events, and all of them "ring true." However, they are to a large extent fiction, the product of the author's imagination. The people, the conversations, the details of the events - all are fiction. And yet, they certainly "ring true."
Packham is again making broad, sweeping and authoritative statements about matters beyond his expertise. The "ring true" test is far from subjective, as C. S. Lewis made clear, and as I reiterated. Is Packham too literarily insensitive to perceive a difference between the Gospels (especially as ancient bioi) and that copy of Danielle Steel's latest novel in his library, and to discern how to detect "ring true" from "ringer"?
Montgomery's next point is on the authorship of the NT documents. Here Packham merely offers forth the standard line, saying: "If (Montgomery) were being completely honest, he would say that the claimed authorship of the the gospels and of quite a few of the epistles are still the subject of debate among Bible scholars. Why doesn't he admit this?"
Why? Because as we have shown in this article, the arguments against authenticity are simply in error.
Packham goes on: "In fact, the authorship of 2 Peter is generally acknowledged to be an anonymous writer of the second century, and not Simon Peter the Apostle. To put it bluntly, it is a forgery."
To which we say: Refute what Glenn Miller has to say about 2 Peter.
Packham's next section has to do with Montgomery's application of the legal rule of "ancient documents" to the NT:
The "ancient documents rule" developed to deal with the problem arising when documents contained useful information, but there was no longer any witness around to authenticate them, because the documents were old. The rule under common law is discussed at length in 29 American Jurisprudence 2d, "Evidence," section 1201, where the requirements are listed in order for a party to present an otherwise unauthenticated document under the "ancient documents" rule: the document must 1) be over 30 years old; 2) be produced from proper custody (i.e., the chain of custody must be shown); 3) its authenticity must be corroborated by the circumstances; 4) copies of the document may be admissible if properly authenticated, but then the proof that the writer signed the original must be made.
Packham says that only #1 applies to the Gospels, and 2-4 do not. I disagree. The Gospels qualify on #2 via the process of textual criticism, which is good enough in the context of handling of truly "ancient" documents; either that or Packham will have to argue that professional textual critics are pursuing chimeras.
His statement that "(w)e have only copies of copies of copies that have gone through no one knows how many hands. And we do not know whose hands," is little more than aarbitrary dismissal of the principles of textual criticism laid out in the articles linked above. How many hands, and whose, is of no relevance here. The wealth of textual evidence (embarrassing in its riches) means that no single person or group could have controlled the entire textual tradition.
Thus, Packham only further demonstrates his lack of knowledge when he objects that the Gospels "show multiple evidences of tampering, altering, deleting, inserting" -- what they show are actually, overwhelmingly, signs of natural scribal error, as we have shown in the article linked above. His referral to the works of John Shelby Spong and Randel Helms [not a Biblical scholar] likewise demonstrate a marked lack of familiarity with the broad range of Biblical scholarship, as does his statement that "the higher critics have pretty much conquered the field except for the most conservative evangelical seminaries." In truth, the critics are scrambling to keep their theories afloat.
Montgomery next points to the general historical accuracy of the NT records as corroborating the accuracy of statements as yet unverified. Packham is unlikely to be incorrect in stating that "there is no rule of evidence which says that we must accept uncorroborated evidence because it comes from the same source as other evidence which has been corroborated," but the only real problem here is that Montgomery is applying a rule of modern law where it doesn't belong. Confirmed reliability is often a factor in considering works of history; we are more likely to believe Josephus is right about something we can't verify of he is right about what we can verify.
That is, unless we have biases to begin with, and Packham has one: against the miraculous. He tells us, "In the case of the uncorroborated events such as the resurrection, the virgin birth, and the ascension, there are excellent reasons to reject (them)." He then quotes from a legal work that says that anything that "appears to be unworthy of belief" is not bound to be accepted.
Now I doubt if the writer of that passage had in mind any application to the miracles of the Bible; such a statement was more likely intended to work against appeals to deus ex machina by clearly guilty defendants. ("Your honor, God put that evidence there.") And while miracles are indeed beyond rational, test-tube proof -- in the same way any historical event is -- it is not our place to a priori rule them out. That is the job of the historian, not the presumption of the critic.
Packham does offer this line of argument:
Among possible reasons for not believing the testimony of a witness are listed "manifestations of mental derangement, such as hysteria, delusions, hallucinations,... not readily observable to non-experts"...Those statements of the rule pretty well remove the miraculous New Testament claims from consideration by any court.
Packham merely assumes (here and later on) that "miraculous NT claims" must have had their source in "mental derangement" -- and he assumes it a priori. That is not an argument but an assertion of a pre-determined bias.
We move down, now, to what Montgomery says about perjury. Packham writes:
Montgomery then rules out a motive for perjury: the writers did not want money or social status, or to please Jesus. Montgomery might profit from a study of modern psychiatry and pathological psychology, where he would perhaps learn that the motives for telling an untruth can be much more complicated that those three possibilities that he rules out.
But this raises questions. What motives for telling an untruth does Packham wish to apply to to the NT writers? We aren't told, or given any idea at all, so this is little more than vague (and vain) speculation.
Next Packham takes on Montgomery's argument that "verbatim agreement would point to collusion" between the Gospel writers. He asserts that:
There are two objections to accepting this as a valid excuse for the contradictions. First, at many places, the gospels do agree, word-for-word. This is taken (justifiably) by most scholars to indicate that the later writer simply copied or adapted from the earlier writer. Thus, both Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source. They apparently had another source (the so-called "Q") which they both copied.
We hardly expect someone like Packham to reinvent the wheel, but as we have shown here, the literary theory he propounds is far from secure, even if it is uncritically accepted by a majority of Biblical scholars who themselves are merely going along with the suppositions rather than doing their own research (which very few have actually done in this area).
Actually, the agreement is mostly with the words of Jesus, and indicates a common oral tradition in this social context. How modern legal rules of evidence might apply in such a situation is something Montgomery should have addressed, but did not. As it is, his applications are anachronistic, as are Packham's replies.
Packham also notes Montgomery's argument that differences in the Gospels may be attributed to "different points of view" of the authors. Packham says that this argument "sounds nice in the abstract, but collapses in absurdity when applied to specific details," thus:
Was Mark's "point of view" so different that it does not matter to him that Jesus was born of a virgin, or that Jesus' career fulfilled so many prophecies, as Matthew takes such pains to point out?
Yes, it was. Packham is simply not considering what ("in")significance the virgin birth would have had in this context, and that Mark was writing overwhelmingly to Roman readers who would have had little concern for Jesus' fulfillment of the OT prophecies (vs. Matthew's overwhelmingly Jewish readers), since they had no tradition establishing the OT as authoritative. All Packham does here is implicitly argue that since he personally thinks that the virgin conception is an amazing miracle, so amazing that it should have been reported, then Mark's omission of it is significant. (See more here.)
Is Mark's point of view (supposedly Roman, supposedly Petrine) such that if we asked him why he does not mention the "upon this rock (Peter)" speech, he would say that he didn't think it would make sense to include it?
This offers a false dilemma. No one argues here that Mark thought that it "made no sense" to include it; rather, as we have pointed out, the speech would not be included by Peter himself in his own preaching. If Peter was the mind behind Mark, then it is quite understandable why this story was omitted. Within the honor-shame and limited-good society of the NT world, to make such noteworthy claims of one's self would have been deemed offensive. "Humility" of this sort was the order of the day for the people of the NT world and we should not be surprised at all if Peter left out his own miraculous performance and chose not to highlight places where he did things that the other disciples did not do.
How does John's "point of view" require Mary NOT to look into the tomb, but Luke's "point of view" makes sense only when she is reported as the first to enter it?
I'm not sure what Packham is on about here. Mary tells Peter and John, "They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre." How does she know this unless she looked inside? Or is she making a wild guess? (This is probably the explanation Packham would prefer; see below.)
If we could ask John, Luke and Mark why they did not report the emptying of the graves in Matthew 27:52-53, would those authors (whoever they actually were) reply, "Oh, we were writing from a different point of view, and we didn't think that event was to the point"?
Precisely. The event in question is not to the point for the other authors, who have a hard enough time convincing Gentiles of one resurrection (in a context in which resurrection was considered the equal of animating a corpse); they do not need the distraction of something like the story in Matthew. Those who raise these sorts of objections at least needs to become informed about the social and literary contexts of the Gospel authors and their audiences.
Further objections are equally anachronistic:
To contend, as Montgomery does, that "no gospel was intended to be complete in itself" is objectionable on several counts: 1) how does Montgomery claim to know this? On the contrary, if we did not have the other gospels, any one gospel would appear to tell a complete story. 2) It would be absurd to think that, if we had been able to ask Mark immediately after he published his gospel, "Mark, is this the whole story?" he would have answered, "Oh, no! You're going to have to wait until the other three finish theirs... mine is just a part of a work in progress. It'll be another forty years or so until the complete story can be known."
Such objections are irrelevant when considering how ancient biographies were written. Ancient bioi, as we have shown, arranged material either chronologically or topically, depending on the author's purpose. The scattering and re-organizing of the Gospel material is recognizable as a normal process. The Gospel authors had the "right" within their genre to order material as they pleased, to omit, select, and arrange materials according to themes and whatever other constraints they chose.
We know these things (though Montgomery may not) because that's the way that ancient bioi worked. As for #2, it is a straw man, for a) no one would have thought it was the "entire story", for the reasons we have laid out; b) an ancient bioi was not regarded, because of its "incompleteness," to be a work in progress.
To apply modern legal principles to the Gospels is incorrect, regardless of whether Montgomery or Packham is doing it. However, Packham does try applying some ancient legal principles:
Do we really have to remind the Evangelists that, as witnesses, they are obligated to tell "the truth, the whole truth..."? This, too, is a biblical principle: "If a person sins because he does not speak up when he hears a public charge to testify regarding something he had seen or learned about, he will be held responsible." (Lev 5:1, NIV translation)
Packham's application of Lev. 5:1 is erroneous. Where has he shown that the Gospel writers had a "public charge" to round out every detail that he thinks ought to be included in their works? He merely asserts: "Thus, John's omission of any mention of the ascension is, legally, the equivalent of his statement that, so far as he is concerned, no ascension took place."
This is simply false. The Gospels were written in the main to those who were already converts, who already knew the details of the story. Luke alone has reason to refer to it, because he writes a continuation of the church's growth; the other Gospels rightly conclude with the resurrection and/or commissions to be disciples of Christ; the ascension would be an anti-climax in such contexts.
Next Packham addresses Montgomery's arguments that "the New Testament writers...were undoubtedly cross-examined by Jewish audiences, who would have 'exposed' them if they had been able; and we should accept this 'functional equivalence' of cross-examination." I agree with Packham that "(w)e have now left the realm of legal evidence," but we have far from entered "the never-never land of apologetics" as a result. This is the realm of critical history: We do not need a "record of any such cross-examination, of who the cross-examiners were, of the challenges made, of the questions asked, of what the disciples' answers were," (although we actually do have that, in terms of Matthew's "guard at the tomb" story) because it is logical, and unavoidable, that Christian claims would be questioned.
If Packham doesn't think so, he needs to consider the social context within which Christian claims were made (a collectivist society in which indeed a deviant group would be closely questioned and socially pressured) -- see on that further here.
Packham further objects that "the disciples were not believed by the Jews who conducted the alleged cross-examination. The Jews rejected their claims almost en masse...Why? The Christians explain the rejection by saying that the Jews were hard-necked or proud or wicked. I suggest that it's because they had the opportunity to examine the evidence almost first-hand and to cross-examine the witnesses, and saw through the whole thing."
Indeed? Then where is this proclamation in the Jewish literature of the period and beyond? If they saw through the fabrication, why isn't there a complete report in the Talmud? Why isn't the explanation uniformly circulated through the Judaistic tradition? Why is the only polemic we have Matthew's "stolen body" report?
It is further said, "Christianity never conquered Judaism in Jerusalem where these miraculous events allegedly occurred, but only in more distant lands, where Gentiles had no such opportunity to cross-examine those alleged eye-witnesses."
Hardly so. Jerusalem at the time of Christ's execution and resurrection was filled to the brim with Passover pilgrims from all over the diaspora -- people who would have had the opportunity to perform plenty of cross-examination throughout Gentile lands. As for conquering Jerusalem, given that the city was destroyed in 70 AD, this isn't much of an argument, but Packham might consider Stark's analysis that the Jewish mission continued quite successfully even into the time of the Kochba rebellion.
Packham also objects that "...all of the New Testament reports of Jesus' resurrection (except for Paul's own account of his vision) are legally objectionable as hearsay. The gospels are entirely hearsay. Acts is all hearsay."
In modern legal terms, it is indeed. So is practically all recorded history, but few discount it on that basis. And Packham applies the matter anachronistically -- wee here for more.
So what does Packham believe happened to Jesus? He argues that Montgomery's thesis "assumes that (Jesus) was dead, to start with, which is not proven. There is not much doubt that he was crucified, but not everyone who was crucified died from it (Josephus relates such an incident), and the very short time on the cross, and the whisking away of the body with special permission from Pilate must arouse some suspicion."
So it is: Packham would rather suppose that a conspiracy took place; the supposed parallel in Josephus indicates that the person who survived was taken down quickly and received immediate medical attention, so presumably Packham would rather suppose that someone in Jesus' circle (Luke?) did the medical honors; etc etc. -- but of course, this is contrary to all data, as we show in the linked series.
Otherwise it is said:
- There is no reason to assume "that the statements in the gospels that there was an empty tomb are completely reliable" because the Gospels contradict each other on "so many" other points.
We remind the reader that a professional historian, Michael Grant, has said that in spite of the differences among the Gospels, the fact of the empty tomb is undeniable...and that is because Grant rates the Gospels in terms of the canons of professional historians, not based on such assertions as this: "Remember that for Paul the empty tomb was not important enough even to mention, probably because that story had not yet begun to circulate." (That Paul indicates a burial and a resurrection indicates a resting place of some sort that had been vacated.)
- Perhaps "the inner circle - Joseph of Arimethea, Nicodemus" - were in on stealing the body, but not the rest of the disciples. So what was their motivation, and why did they keep quiet? How about developed ideas rather than random suggestions?
- What of the apostles dying for their faith? "Tradition has them, of course, all as martyrs for the faith, but tradition is very unreliable, and legends are easily invented to serve a propaganda program. It is also not out of the question that some disciples spirited the body away in the firm belief that Jesus would later come back to life, and then assumed that, of course, he did, or lost the faith. One must not forget the power of belief to dull and deaden one's common sense."
One must not forget, either, that such ad hominem is not an argument. Actually, as Paul's own testimony shows, persecution to the point of death was a reality for even the earliest Christians -- and even without death, there were less pleasant things to endure that not even "the power of belief" alone would sustain people through. Would Packham allow himself to be whipped in the synagogue over and again merely from "the power of belief" or for a body spirited away on a whim? (See more here.)
- We are told: "Montgomery's dismissal of Schonfield's theory in The Passover Plot as contrary to Jesus' moral teaching is extremely weak, based on a Sunday-school image of the gentle savior. Jesus had no hesitation in urging his followers to abandon ordinary morality (love of family, devotion to parents, obedience to Mosaic Law) when it furthered his cause."
What's Packham on about here? Other than a possible allusion to Luke 14:26 there isn't any actual argument here.
In conclusion, there is really very little to say. Whatever faults Montogomery may have had, Packham does no better. They are both anachronistic in their approaches, and Packham earns no credence as a critic of Christianity.
In April 2001, Packham issued a very short response to this article. I rather expected (or hoped) for something substantive, but it turns out I was to be disappointed. Rather than broaden his field of inquiry and discussion, Packham declared rather that it was not for me to say what ought to be discussed, and my request that he broaden his inquiry "shows an ignorance of some of the fundamental etiquette of rational debate."
If one of the fundamental rules of "rational debate" is only discussing issues as far as one's front door and thereafter assuming that the answer is sufficient, then I would rather be left out of the picture. Packham surely realizes that this kind of "etiquette" would have had us still languishing under the theories of geocentrism and luminous ether.
What follows -- after a few summary points, and an comment that originally, I had his first name listed incorrectly (which is true) -- is decidedly lacking in substance. In replying to my description of the work of Montgomery and Packham as "anachronistic," Packham first retorts with claims that I have used the word "anachronistic" incorrectly. The word and its forms, he says, are "generally used in reference to the placement of an event or a person in an incorrect historical period."
That is correct, and I have stated previously that to apply modern, legal standards of evidence to the NT documents is an anachronism. In so doing, I am not using the word in "a completely different way, as yet unfamiliar to the compilers of the dictionaries which [Packham] consulted." Packham (and Montgomery) committed anachronism by using modern standards of legal evidence without making adjusments for the ancient nature of the evidence.
To say, as Packham does, that "[t]ruth is truth, whether ancient or contemporary, and our present ability to examine and test truth, whether in a legal or historical or scientific context, is the result of centuries of experience, developed through trial and error by the best human minds," is essentially correct, but misses the point. The point is that to demand that the NT (or any ancient document) meet such standards is anachronistic; likewise, to "stretch" ancient documents and claim that they pass such tests (as Montgomery did) is also anachronistic.
Objecting, for example, that one Gospel reports things that another does not is to ignore the selective literary practices of ancient biography and the physical constraints of ancient literary reportage. We would be suspicious at trial when two witnesses did such a thing, but we should not be suspicious in the genre-context of the Gospels. Unless adjustments in thought are made (which neither Montgomery nor Packham did), applying the modern standards is like shooting an arrow before the target has been placed.
Moreover, as Packham admits, "it is more difficult to apply such tests for truth to ancient times and ancient writings." Of course it is, since to apply these tests inevitably involves some level of presumption (regardless of who does it, believer or Skeptic) because of lack of adequate knowledge. We cannot question witnesses; we cannot do fingerprint tests on the tomb; we can only reckon with plausibilities and judge with our legal standards what evidence we have. I assume Packham would be unhappy about going to trial without sufficient evidence and would adjust his pleadings accordingly.
That said, my own objections are far more oriented not to anachronizing (which proportionately, Packham devotes a great deal more space to objecting to than matches with my own objection), but to the fact that Packham's analysis is thoroughly inadequate, overbroad, and badly underinformed. Packham's fair ad hominem reply, that I am myself a self-taught amateur, is true essentially, but also misses the point. I make no further claim than that, but I do bring to the fore here and elsewhere on this page (and Packham admitted in personal correspondence that he has not read much of my other writings) the works of those who are scholars.
Where I claim professional status is in the ability to locate, apply, and "translate" the works of those who are scholars. Those who respond to me argue not with me, but with them. Beyond that, if Packham wants to argue about credentials, his compared with Montgomery's might be taken into consideration.
Regrettably, however, Packham shows no inclination to take the matter to a higher level, and indeed, seems to think he has no responsibility to do so. Note these points he makes:
First, one must keep in mind that the burden of proof in any argument is on the party making the positive assertion. In a discussion of the truth of Christianity, that burden is on the Christian apologist. Montgomery asserted that Christian claims would stand up under scrutiny if legal rules of evidence were applied to them, and thus he assumed the burden of proving that assertion.
The opposing party in such a discussion assumes no such burden, but has only the obligation to rebut the positive assertions made by the affirmative side. Specifically, in this discussion, I have no burden - and I assumed no such burden, as Holding seems to imply I did - to prove that Christianity is false, or that Christianity can be proven false if the modern rules of evidence are applied to it.
The problem here is that in asserting Christian apologetic arguments to be false, one is implicitly indicating that some other scenario is true -- and therefore, even in opposition, a "positive assertion" IS being made, and Packham DOES have a burden, whether he chooses to shoulder it or not -- especially since he does offer a few "positive" alternatives.
Of course, in the confines of the courtroom, the attorney is not expected, if his client is exonerated, to thereafter solve the crime himself and finger the true perpetrator -- that is the job of the police and the detectives. Nevertheless, this is not a courtroom, and if Packham wishes to portray himself as an authority on these matters, he will indeed have to be lawyer and detective if he wishes to sustain any credibility. Otherwise, he may as well not write on the subject. To simply refuse to engage the further issues as Packham does is, in this context, irresponsible.
Let's put it another way. I assume Packham to be an honest attorney -- would he, in the course of his research on behalf of his clients, do only enough questioning of witnesses to divulge what was needed to achieve his victory? Or would he want to go further, and cover what bases were needed to assure that he was going down the right path, seeking out any and all evidence that might contradict his position? I would think the latter.
Packham goes on:
The second fundamental principle which apologists often overlook, and which is somewhat related to the first, is the amount of evidence required to prove the affirmative case. All too often, apologists seem to want us to accept as proven any claim for which they can provide some evidence, any evidence. The error lies perhaps in the confusion in the popular mind between "evidence" and "proof," and the resulting erroneous conclusion that they are the same. That is not the case, either in law, history, or science. In any kind of legitimate dispute, or on any issue, there may be abundant evidence on both sides. Something is "proven" only when the evidence for it so far outweighs the evidence against it that all reasonable people would evaluate the evidence the same.
Packham follows with an extended analysis which we will comment upon, but I wonder where he has found me "guilty" of what he offers above. Perhaps he is alluding to Montgomery's work again (rightly so), but that is not clear. Indeed, it becomes very clear that he could not be referring to me, unless innocently. That can be show by going right to the meat of the analysis:
I have elsewhere shown that I am perfectly willing to accept miraculous claims with ordinary evidence. I have not yet been presented with any such claim. I also would be willing to wager a good deal that Holding, along with most Christian apologists, would reject the claims of miraculous events that are offered by any non-Christian religion (and perhaps even those claimed by some Christians). Why the rejection? Why should Holding reject a miraculous event as reported by Tacitus, or Suetonius, or Joseph Smith, and yet accuse others of bigotry and bias who doubt the opening of the graves at the crucifixion, as reported only in Matthew?
Here it is indeed clear that Packham has hardly surveyed my writings at all, for if he had, he would know that I am not guilty of this sin. I do not reject the miraculous reports offered by Tacitus (the only one I have studied to any extent in the list above) -- here I think Packham most likely alludes to the report of healings by Vespasian, to which I noted, in my critique of Thomas Paine, "I have no problem accepting any of this. Nor do we have reason to doubt that Tacitus is making an accurate report. The old politician seemed a bit surprised by the miracles himself."
Packham makes much of that I charge him with bias against the miraculous, and I say that my charge is evident in that he says of certain miracles, like the virgin birth, that there are "excellent reasons to reject them."
Really? It has always been my understanding that in order to reject an account, one must have negative evidence for it -- otherwise, the most judicious thing to say is that, "there are excellent reasons to suspend judgment concerning this event." In loading the freight that accompanies the harsh word reject, Packham implies bias -- and indeed, goes further in the suggestions of mental derangement.
Packham says he will accept ordinary evidence for a miracle. In the article he refers to ("elsewhere"), he offers much the view, though, that extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. This is perhaps true in a context which does not allow for the existence of a deity, but clearly, in a theistic context, no such evidence is required, for such events would not at all be extraordinary (save by one's subjective experience, which is exactly the flaw in Hume's reasonings). One may justifiably suspend judgment, as they might for any event and for their own reasons, but to extend the burden of proof is simply not our prerogative.
But now, hoping to find in my work some inconsistency, Packham lifts from my essay responding to Robert Price on Jury Chapter 6 the following quote:
"As far as the "mind already made up" issue - that is absolutely correct! Hopefully, the whole reason the non-professional evangelist is wanting to witness is because he KNOWS JESUS CHRIST personally. Their mind IS made up - and why else would you witness?!? The personal experience of Christ is so much more convincing than academic and intellectual discussions!"
Of this, Packham says, that "Holding himself discards the first requirement for the honest searcher for truth: the open mind. I cannot imagine a clearer statement of bias and bigotry than Holding own statement of his position just quoted."
But this backfires on Packham, in two ways.
First, this selection, though I do not indicate it, is actually an insertion suggested and written by Glenn Miller of the Christian ThinkTank website when he first reviewed the article years ago. This is not to say that I disagree with the sentiment, but it is rather ironic (in light of the objections by Packham that will follow about literary sensitivity) that he failed to see the difference from my usual style.
The second matter is that Packham fails to notice the context of this comment: It is about an evangelist, not an apologist.
Now, to the matter of literary issues. In response to my point about the "ring true" test, in which I intimated that Packham was too insensitive to make discernments, Packham replies that the "mere fact that Holding calls it 'literary sensitivity' admits that it is subjective, not objective."
What's this? The word "sensitivity" is used in objective contexts, is it not? Do we not speak of the sensitivity of earthquake detectors, or of particle-sampling devices, or of our very physical senses themselves?
I have "admitted" no such thing as Packham supposes. Beyond that, Packham adds that he was asserting actually that "such a characteristic [ringing true] is no guarantee of their authenticity as history," which is quite true, but that is not what reads from Packham's original statement, which raises an implicit connection between "historical fiction" and the Gospels -- which I say, he is making illicitly, because even the historical novels he refers to seldom "ring true" to someone with proper literary sensitivity (which Packham clearly did not achieve in spite of his literary training).
As for the objection that I "did nothing to supply us with any kind of objective test," Packham needs to consult the analyses of Apollonius and of Chaireas and Kalliroe at the end of the very article he quotes from.
In regards to the authorship of 2 Peter, for which I provided a link to Glenn Miller's relevant article, Packham provides no reply at all, only asserting vaguely that because Biblical scholarship (which I seriously doubt he has consulted to any broad extent) does not agree, he need not reply, and accusing me of dishonesty for not noting that scholarship.
For someone who says that the "reader should examine the evidence on both sides," we see remarkably little of this from Packham. One wishes there would be more, but the best Packham can do is say that "rational discussion" precludes expanding our inquiry.
On the matter of the "ancient documents" rule applied to the Gospels, I agreed with three of Packham's four points, against Montgomery, yet somehow I am said to be "clearly on unfamiliar territory." Not a word is said about the matter of textual criticism, which is so essential in this context with reference to Packham's objections about "copies of copies" passing through numerous hands.
Packham also refuses any real response on that matter of the Gospel writers' motives. We are merely given vague assertions such as, "Many false things are believed and asserted by people who are completely sincere in their belief that they are speaking the truth." Yes, but can we establish one in context, please?
More substantive, but not by much, is a reply on the matter of alleged contradictions among the Gospels; here I am first accused of "simply rationalizing," but when it comes down to addressing the processes of ancient literature and biographies in particular, we are told:
Yes, and that is precisely the point. Unlike carefully written, objective biographies - either ancient or modern - such stories were not intended to be factually reliable, and therefore should be used by modern historians very carefully and very suspiciously.
Did Packham actually read and understand the very article on ancient bioi he links to? No, he is exercising bias again -- ancient biographies like Tacitus' Agricola, like the Gospels, were carefully written, and objective, but they expressed this is different ways than the modern "John was born in a log cabin on December 2, 1876" biographies (which are themselves often no more than a "propagandistic story of a famous person's life by authors who want to present that person's life in the most favorable light, to serve his own (or his sect's) purposes" -- which does not mean, necessarily, that what they report is untrue.
How interesting, as well, that Packham cites the example of Weems and Washington -- an example quite irrelevant, as it happens: That story of Washington comes from the reminisces of one person (Parson Weems), and there was no movement formed around Washington based on this event, no followers who admired his tree-chopping prowess and made it one of the keystones of their membership drives.
Packham asks the question, "how could any biographer of Jesus know the words that he uttered in prayer in the garden of Gethsemane, or the words that Satan spoke to him when he was tempted?" I answered the first question (originally) in the very same article he quotes from against Robert Price, and as for the second, is it too much to suggest that Jesus recounted the discussions with Satan to his disciples?
Holding offers nothing different on this issue than what Montgomery says, and my objection is the same. Again, Holding shows his apparent ignorance of the legal issues involved.
Here Holding outdoes himself in betraying the absurdity of his argument. At least Tertullian had the good sense to admit that Jesus' resurrection was absurd. But Holding is so accustomed to believing absurdities that he does not even recognize them. He is more to be pitied than censured.
That's it? No critical analysis, no proof (that I said no more than Montgomery?), no sourcework; would even this suffice in a courtroom? All we get of substance is in response to my point about Packham being culturally insensitive, with reference to refusing evidence of martyrdoms, of which he writes:
I would be willing to wager a good deal that Holding, like most Christian apologists who use this argument, would not be willing to accept the martyrdom of anyone other than the disciples of Jesus as evidence of the truth of what they believed.
I hope Packham did not "wager" his pension: I am perfectly willing to accept these other martyrdoms; but the problem Packham has with his argument here is that he has mixed his apples and oranges. The "Jews martyred by the Inquisition, the pagans martyred by Christians" weren't dying for the sake of a historical event that they claimed to have personally witnessed.
Packham closes his response with a comment, apparently directed to my request to expand his view of scholarship: "The side which feels as the trial proceeds that it is losing the case often wants the trial to continue, to give them time to think up another argument, to find the piece of evidence that will save their case."
That's a remarkably ironic statement from Packham, who heavily criticized Lee Strobel elsewhere for not interviewing contrary witnesses for Case for Christ. But I expect we would get little more from his quarter.