Monday, 3 June 2013

The Great Zombie Uprising Of 30CE

No matter how much I learn about psychology, and the tendency to rationalise that people have, I'm still floored by some of the things people claim to believe. Like, for example, someone claiming that Matthew 27:53 was a legitimate historical account. The position was defended in a wider defence of the historicity of the Matthew gospel. It's historical, ergo, the claims within it happened.

Here's what the gospel of Matthew says:
27:51 And, behold, the veil of the temple was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth did quake, and the rocks rent;
27:52 And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose,
27:53 And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.
27:54 Now when the centurion, and they that were with him, watching Jesus, saw the earthquake, and those things that were done, they feared greatly, saying, Truly this was the Son of God.
It shouldn't need to be pointed out why this isn't a historical account - let alone a plausible one. So why is it defended as one? To say it's motivated reasoning would be an understatement! There's simply no reason to defend it as an historical account.

It's not a historical account that's at stake though, it's a theological one. For someone who already knows what they want the gospels to show, then trying to use whatever tactics they can to keep that interpretation up. This tactic would be bad enough on its own without it being pretended that this is doing history.

Apologists have put the cart before the horse, first presenting the narrative they wish to be historical, then mustering a defence for the document really being true. The mistake is highlighted with claims like claiming that places and characters in the narratives have a historical basis. Yet those facts are very weak evidence for anything other than that the gospels reference them. Or to put it another way, how much support does an engraved message about Pontius Pilate give to the idea that the dead rose from their graves and wandered around Jerusalem?

Now one could point out that the author of the gospel of Matthew is unknown, how the author got the information is unknown, and when the gospel was written is unknown. One could also point out that it was written in Greek of events that would have been passed through oral tradition. That there's good reason to think that the account of Matthew derived from two earlier sources, one being the gospel of Mark, as well as using the old testament as a guide. Not to mention that the accounts don't even read like history, that they make unhistorical claims, or even that the best of historical accounts are imprecise and prejudiced. But this would be missing the point; the problem is with the theology demanding a historical interpretation.

That's not to say that the gospel of Matthew is of no historical value and contains nothing concerning factual history. Rather that the history needs to be done in the absence of any theological narrative because of the ease at which motivated reasoning works. Whatever the methodologies of history yield, they can only be of value if the exercise is not done aiming for a desirable target.

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