If you take the Apostles’ experiences of a Risen Christ as the starting point, then, I admit, the case for the Resurrection is very, very strong. But I’m not so sure Ludemann’s confidence is well founded at all.
I mean, its based off the idea that the Apostles wouldn’t have endured persecution for something they knew to be false. But doesn’t this prove too much? Because these same people, for the most part, claim that the Golden Plates of Mormonism were just made up.
And if it is true that people willing to endure persecution are such solid witnesses to their claims to have eyewitnessed truth, then what about the claims of the witnesses of these Golden Plates in Mormonism? Even if the plates were a forgery and the witnesses were tricked, what motivation would Joseph Smith have had for carrying on his claims in the face of persecution? If he had none, but did it anyway, why couldn’t the Apostles have done the same? If they could have, then there is no reason to have confidence that the apostles had such experiences.
I’m not saying the resurrection is ridiculous, only that it isn’t proved, not even close, by this stuff.
This is a fair question. When we say that the Apostles had no motive, other than the truth of the Resurrection, to undergo persecution and death, how would this not equally apply to the early Mormonism (LDS) — or, for that matter, Muslims? I suggest that there are two critical distinctions.
A fair reading of the religious texts, and the histories, of Christianity, LDS, and Islam shows that folks like Joseph Smith had substantially more to gain than folks like the Apostle Thomas. In LDS, Islam, and a whole lot of other systems, the “Prophet” is afforded special privileges. Given that, the beneficiaries of these systems have a vested interest in defending them, even if there are associated risks. Lets look at all three:
In the case of Christianity, it’s true that the Apostles have a position of authority in the Church, sure, but there are no special privileges. They don’t get to take more wives, etc., etc. In fact, as 1 Timothy 3 makes clear, church leaders are held to a higher standard than everyone else. If you were making up a fraudulent religious system, this seems like the least sensible thing to do.
Additionally, look at the emphasis. Almost all of it is upon Christ, who never writes a word. It’d be much more suspicious if Jesus had written a bunch of stuff about how He was God and had risen from the dead. That’s not what happened. Eyewitnesses recounted it, instead. Of the Twelve Apostles, the vast majority of them left behind no writings at all. Of those who wrote, many of them were bit actors in their own telling. For example, how central are St. Mark or St. Luke or even the Apostle Jude? St. Paul, the most prolific New Testament writer, has to constantly defend his own legitimacy, since he wasn’t one of Jesus’ first Disciples, by his own admission.
Of all the early Christians, Paul is closest to the “Prophet” model, in that he received a revelation directly of God, and derived his authority from that. But he’s the further thing from self-aggrandizing. Here’s how he describes himself in 1 Corinthians 15:3-9
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures; that He was buried; that He was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures; that He appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brothers at once, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. After that He appeared to James, then to all the Apostles.
Last of all, as to one born abnormally, He appeared to me. For I am the least of the Apostles, not fit to be called an Apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
B. The “Latter-Day Saints” (Mormons)
Let me give you a few examples from the LDS. First, appended to the Pearl of Great Price, there’s an entire book just about Joseph Smith and his family. There’s nothing similar in the New Testament — the Apostles talk about Christ and the Church, and bring in their life experiences only to prove their points. Second, one of the books Joseph Smith “found” contains a prophesy in which Joseph (son of Jacob) talks about the great seer who’s going to come in the future named Joseph (2 Nephi 3:6-25). It’s obviously a reference to Joseph Smith himself — he’s written himself into the story, even though we see nothing about Joseph Smith in any of the Old or New Testament. When there’s a dispute between some of the early LDS, Joseph Smith receives another revelation that he’s right and they’re wrong, and that he’s the boss of the guys he’s feuding with (see D&C 30:7) So LDS is much more aggrandizing of Joseph Smith than the New Testament is of the Apostles. Just read the Gospels and see with what esteem their discipleship of Christ is treated. On nearly every page, you see the Twelve making some embarrassing mistake or other. That, on its own, is evidence that Joseph Smith had much more motive to lie (and to stick with that lie, even under pressure). Beyond this, Joseph Smith also became President of the Church and Mayor of Nauvoo. He was the final secular and religious authority.
But there’s more. Doctrines and Covenants continually praises Joseph Smith, and D&C 132 permitted Joseph Smith to take extra “wives,” and threatened Emma Smith (his actual wife) with damnation if she tried to stop him. That is, “God” threatened her by name. So, by presenting himself as Prophet, Joseph Smith now can have as many women as he wants, and is considered the second (only to Jesus) greatest man in history. There are all kinds of motives to keep up the charade there. The same can be said of the other men who were involved in promoting the LDS church. I’m not in any position to say who were duped and who were devious, but giving that all men were allowed to cheat on their wives, again, the motive is there. They wouldn’t exactly be the first men in history to create an elaborate cover story to hide the fact that they want to run around town with other women.
Likewise, look at the Qu’ran, in which huge chunks are Allah devoting praise upon Muhammad, and giving him special privileges. Like Joseph Smith, he gets the privilege of infinite wives:
50. O Prophet! We have made lawful to thee thy wives to whom thou hast paid their dowers; and those whom thy right hand possesses out of the prisoners of war whom Allah has assigned to thee; and daughters of thy paternal uncles and aunts, and daughters of thy maternal uncles and aunts, who migrated (from Makka) with thee; and any believing woman who dedicates her soul to the Prophet if the Prophet wishes to wed her;- this only for thee, and not for the Believers (at large); We know what We have appointed for them as to their wives and the captives whom their right hands possess;- in order that there should be no difficulty for thee. And Allah is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful.
(Qu’ran 33:50). Same thing as before. If you’re the “prophet” and founder of the religion, you get ladies. Like Joseph Smith, Muhammad suffered from some marital problems (the curse of multiple wives, it seems). So “Allah” intervened again:
1. O Prophet (you who are the greatest representative of Prophethood)! Why do you forbid (yourself) what God has made lawful to you, seeking to please your wives. And God is All-Forgiving, All-Compassionate.
2. God has already decreed for you (O believers) on the breaking of your oaths (to do what is not just and right, and the expiation thereof). God is your Guardian, and He is the All-Knowing, the All-Wise.
The key to the idea Jon’s addressing is this. People won’t undergo torture and death for no reason. And in the case of the Apostles, it’s hard to surmise a plausible reason other than “they truly believed” as a motive for their willingness to suffer and die. After all, they almost run to martyrdom. Compare this with Muhammad, who was never martyred, and Joseph Smith, who was martyred by surprise.
In Joseph Smith’s case, he had started the Nauvoo Legion, a militia of 5000 men. Ultimately, he was arrested for this, and other forms of treason. He’d originally planned to flee the state, but his followers convinced him to turn himself in (for which he denounced them). He then declared himself like a lamb going to the slaughter, which would have been much more impressive if he hadn’t been planning on running away. At this point, it was far from certain that the jury would even return a guilty verdict. Nevertheless, Joseph Smith had at least two backup plans. First, he had someone smuggle a gun to him in prison. And second, he planned on the Nauvoo Legion breaking him out of jail (again, how this is compatible with “lamb to the slaughter” is a bit beyond me). Instead of the Legion, an anti-LDS mob showed up. Joseph Smith shot two of them before being gunned down himself, as this Mormon apologetics website concedes.
Muhammad also lived by the sword, but much more successfully, managing to escape his enemies and die of illness. Now, I’m not claiming that the mere fact that both “Prophets” moonlighted as killers automatically discredits them (although it’s definitely a black mark). But I am suggesting that they weren’t simply turning themselves peacefully over for martyrdom, the way that the Apostles did. In other words, in neither case is there any real evidence that these men were up for dying for their faith. And thus, no particular evidence that they believed their faiths.
LDS made Joseph Smith. Islam made Muhammad. Both went from being obscure figures to superstars within their own lifetimes. They reaped the rewards of fame, glory, and an unlimited supply of adoring women. On the other hand, St. Paul was already a superstar within Rabbinical Judaism, a student of one of the most famous rabbis of all time, and he renounced his sole claim to glory to join what was viewed as a blasphemous and heretical sect. Then, he willingly went to his death, getting beheaded.
It’s quite plausible to see why Joseph Smith might be willing to shoot his way out of jail to get back to the women and glory, or why Muhammad the emperor-prophet would be more than willing to slay those who got in his way. It’s pretty unclear to me why the Apostles – again, with nothing to win and everything to lose by lying – would let themselves be tortured and killed by the Romans.
So the idea, then, is not that people will never suffer for a lie. Rather, it’s that people will never suffer for a lie for no reason. People are, on the whole, pretty sane. If they have to go through a little persecution to keep the adoring following and the countless women, they might think it’s worth it. I think the evidence permits one to think that this is exactly what happened with the early Mormon and Muslim leadership (not that you have to think this, but that it’s pretty plausible). I don’t see how a similar case can be made for orthodox Christianity, without distorting the historical record quite a bit.
UPDATE: In the comments section, Robert Ritchie adds two rather significant details I hadn’t known:
- Eight of the eleven alleged witnesses would eventually leave the Mormon church or be excommunicated (although some returned). This includes all three of the first three witnesses, and the four Whitmers. Put another way, all of the “witnesses” who weren’t close relatives to Joseph Smith left or were forced out of Smith’s church.
- It’s not entirely clear that the “witnesses” to the Mormon Golden Plates claimed to have witnessed the plates in an objective sense. Martin Harris and David Whitmer, two of the original three witnesses, described the plates at various points as having been a spiritual, not physical, event. That is, they weren’t actually claiming to be eyewitnesses, but to have had trances and visions.
- After the first three witnesses “saw” the golden plates, Joseph Smith had a “revelation” that no one else would see them. (D&C 5:11-14). After this, Joseph Smith claimed that eight other people saw them.
- Martin Harris, one of the first three, denied that the last eight had actually seen the plates. So the witnesses’ stories are irreconcilably contradictory, and contrary to the alleged Mormon Scriptures themselves.
- Additionally, in this period, a number of the alleged witnesses attempted to use their status of witnesses to acquire positions of power. Most notably, David Whitmer claimed that just as he’d seen the golden plates, he also had a vision that he was to leave the Mormon church and start his own church. Mormons believe Whitmer’s first “vision” but claim the second one was a delusion or a hoax.Whitmer, and four other members of his family (all alleged witnesses to the golden plates) were excommunicated.
UPDATE 2: If you’re interested, here are the eleven witnesses, starting with the first “Three Witnesses,” the only ones initially recognized by Mormonism:
- Oliver Cowdery, former “Assistant President of the Church,” excommunicated for some time after a leadership struggle against Joseph Smith. May have denied the authenticity of the visions during this period, based upon an LDS poem asking if the Book of Mormon was not His Word simply “because denied, by Oliver?” Despite apparently joining Mormonism, he had a Methodist funeral.
- Martin Harris, left Mormonism. After Joseph’s death, Harris became a Strangite, Whitmerite, Gladdenite, Williamite, and possibly a Shaker, before returning to Mormonism again.
- David Whitmer, excommunicated. Tried to start his own church because he was a “witness,” and claimed additional messages from God (messages universally rejected by LDS Mormons).
- Christian Whitmer, excommunicated.
- Jacob Whitmer, excommunicated.
- Peter Whitmer, Jr., excommunicated.
- John Whitmer, excommunicated.
- Hiram Page, left the church.
- Joseph Smith, Sr., Joseph’s father. Served as the first “Presiding Patriarch” until his death, and was a Master Freemason.
- Hyrum Smith, Joseph’s brother. Served as the second “Presiding Patriarch” (after his dad) and second “Assistant President of the Church” (after Cowdery was excommunicated). Died before Joseph.
- Samuel Smith, Joseph’s brother. Was on the High Council. Died shortly after Joseph and Hyrum. According to William Smith (another Smith brother), he was poisoned by Brigham Young to stop him from becoming the new LDS President.