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Bill "Papa" Lee

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Chris,

Mike Licona's book, which I cited earlier, examines the "visionary experience" explanation quite thoroughly and shows that it simply does not hold up. Such an explanation does not account for the fact that the witnesses included both men and women; individuals and groups; skeptical family members, devoted friends, and at least one antagonistic opponent of the movement (Paul). The diversity of witnesses to the Resurrection stands in stark contrast to the list of witnesses to the Book of Mormon, a group of a dozen men drawn almost entirely from two families (one of them Joseph's).

I would also argue that the evidence is rather clear that the tomb was empty (a point Licona does not use as part of his case). There are several independent lines of evidence from the Gospel accounts that show that the earliest explanation of the Resurrection story from those opposed to that belief was that the body had been removed (or stolen) from the tomb. Such an explanation would have been unnecessary and counterproductive if the tomb had not in fact been empty; therefore, quite evidently it was empty. Put together the facts of the empty tomb and the appearances, and the only good explanation for all of the facts is that Jesus did rise from the dead.

With regard to Joseph Smith's plates, Joseph might have kept the plates under wraps because he didn't want people examining them too closely. On the other hand, there are those who would agree with you that Joseph didn't have gold-looking plates. If they are right, this doesn't mean that the "witnesses" who claimed to see the plates had visionary experiences. Hypothetically, their testimonies might be taken to mean that they "saw" the plates in the sense that they believed in their hearts that the plates existed. That having been said, and admitting that I have more research I want to do on this question, my working hypothesis is that Joseph had some metallic plates of some kind, but that these plates did not have a Reformed Egyptian text of the Book of Mormon written on them. This hypothesis explains the testimonies of those who claimed to handle the plates and also explains why Joseph kept them covered up and did not refer to them when producing the English text of the Book of Mormon.

It is rather odd that Evangelicals, who insist that we must have faith in Christ, nonetheless also insist that people should accept Christ's resurrection because of historical proof. There is no proof for the resurrection. (Unless, of course, the BOM is history. :P ) If Christ wanted to prove the resurrection, all he would have had to do is wander up to Pilate and Herod and say hi, then spend a few weeks preaching publicly in the temple. For whatever reason, he didn't.

On the other hand, the claim that the witnesses to the plates were involved in delusion, or wishful thinking, or fraud is utterly incompatible with all the historical evidence of the witnesses. You do "have more research ... to do on this question." A lot more.

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Chris,

I make no such assumption.

Rob,

Suffice to say that IMO diversity is no barrier to religious experience. You are also assuming that all the reports of contemporary events have been accurately remembered and reported in the Gospels.

Peace,

-Chris

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Bill,

Faith in Christ does not mean believing facts about Christ in the absence of evidence. For example, does it somehow undermine faith in Christ that we have solid historical evidence that he was a real human being and that he was crucified under the order of Pontius Pilate? Of course not. Does it undermine faith in Joseph Smith for you if you have historical evidence proving that Joseph was a real human being and that he really did publish the Book of Mormon in 1830? Surely not.

As for Joseph's plates, you don't seem to have caught what I said. My working hypothesis is that Joseph did have some metallic plates that he showed the witnesses. On this hypothesis, they need not have been deluded or lying in reporting that they saw the plates.

It is rather odd that Evangelicals, who insist that we must have faith in Christ, nonetheless also insist that people should accept Christ's resurrection because of historical proof. There is no proof for the resurrection. (Unless, of course, the BOM is history. :P ) If Christ wanted to prove the resurrection, all he would have had to do is wander up to Pilate and Herod and say hi, then spend a few weeks preaching publicly in the temple. For whatever reason, he didn't.

On the other hand, the claim that the witnesses to the plates were involved in delusion, or wishful thinking, or fraud is utterly incompatible with all the historical evidence of the witnesses. You do "have more research ... to do on this question." A lot more.

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I make no such assumption.

In presenting your eyewitness evidence, you are rather forced to assume the eyewitnesses' experiences have been accurately reported, are you not?

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Chris--

What is the Sunstone article you wrote to which David referred?

Have you explained elsewhere what about a Christian concept of an Atonement and dying and rising God/human does not make sense to you? Or is your skepticism tied the concept of a particular God/human in the form of the man Jesus (who dies and rises) generally described in the gospel texts?

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What is the Sunstone article you wrote to which David referred?

It's a piece I presented at the SLC Sunstone Symposium last year, titled "The Inspired Fictionalization of the 1835 United Firm Revelations." I've submitted it to BYU Studies for publication, but it's been about 6 months and I've not heard back yet despite my request a couple weeks ago for an update. I may just send it to the new Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies instead. (Gotta support the home team!)

Have you explained elsewhere what about a Christian concept of an Atonement and dying and rising God/human does not make sense to you? Or is your skepticism tied the concept of a particular God/human in the form of the man Jesus (who dies and rises) generally described in the gospel texts?

Mine are the standard objections. Why does God need to be satisfied by blood? Why can't he just forgive us without any atonement? How is it fair to punish us for sinning in the first place, given that we are born into it? How does forgiving us without any consequences for our actions help transform us into better beings? If Christ only stayed dead for three days, how is that an infinite atonement? Why do I have no sense of guilt for my sins until I am socialized to feel this way by Christian literature and preaching? And so on. It's one of those things that makes sense as long as you're embedded within the system of Christian myth and values, but starts to sound pretty unreal once you step outside that system and adopt a scientific-rationalist framework.

Peace,

-Chris

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Bill,

Faith in Christ does not mean believing facts about Christ in the absence of evidence. For example, does it somehow undermine faith in Christ that we have solid historical evidence that he was a real human being and that he was crucified under the order of Pontius Pilate? Of course not. Does it undermine faith in Joseph Smith for you if you have historical evidence proving that Joseph was a real human being and that he really did publish the Book of Mormon in 1830? Surely not.

As for Joseph's plates, you don't seem to have caught what I said. My working hypothesis is that Joseph did have some metallic plates that he showed the witnesses. On this hypothesis, they need not have been deluded or lying in reporting that they saw the plates.

You don't understand. There is ample historical evidence to prove that Jesus lived, preached, made messianic claims, and was executed. On purely historical grounds there is insufficient evidence to show that was the Messiah, and was resurrected. What puzzles me is that Evangelicals, while claiming that we are saved by faith in Christ, go to great efforts to claim that they can prove the Bible is true, that Jesus was the Messiah, etc. etc. If you can prove Jesus is the Messiah, how can you be saved by faith?

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It's a piece I presented at the SLC Sunstone Symposium last year, titled "The Inspired Fictionalization of the 1835 United Firm Revelations." I've submitted it to BYU Studies for publication, but it's been about 6 months and I've not heard back yet despite my request a couple weeks ago for an update. I may just send it to the new Claremont Journal of Mormon Studies instead. (Gotta support the home team!)

Mine are the standard objections. Why does God need to be satisfied by blood? Why can't he just forgive us without any atonement? How is it fair to punish us for sinning in the first place, given that we are born into it? How does forgiving us without any consequences for our actions help transform us into better beings? If Christ only stayed dead for three days, how is that an infinite atonement? Why do I have no sense of guilt for my sins until I am socialized to feel this way by Christian literature and preaching? And so on. It's one of those things that makes sense as long as you're embedded within the system of Christian myth and values, but starts to sound pretty unreal once you step outside that system and adopt a scientific-rationalist framework.

Peace,

-Chris

You should read Rene Girard. At any rate, from a historical perspective, the point is that the Jews expected such an atonement because of their system of substitutionary sacrificial atonement required it. How could Jesus--assuming he really is the cosmic Word--possibly have shown himself to be the Messiah to the Jews if he did not fulfill their Messianic expectations? If Christ had come at a different cultural and historical time and place he might have been burned at the stake, or hung by the neck, or beheaded. You can't have a Messiah without a historical Messianic expectation. Why did Jesus have to die? To show that God will forgive all things; even deicide.

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IWhy do I have no sense of guilt for my sins until I am socialized to feel this way by Christian literature and preaching? And so on. It's one of those things that makes sense as long as you're embedded within the system of Christian myth and values, but starts to sound pretty unreal once you step outside that system and adopt a scientific-rationalist framework.

Peace,

-Chris

In fact human sense of guilt for bad behavior is instinctive and universal, as are primordial human value systems. All cultures have restraints on lying, stealing, killing, unrestrained sexual promiscuity, etc. You can't have human society and culture without this restraints, and you can't have restraints without values and, inevitably guilt. We cannot remain perpetual two-year olds and have culture and society. We are, by the way, just as much socialized to not feel guilt for certain behaviors, as we are to feel guilt for certain behaviors. It doesn't only work one way.

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Bill,

The Jewish messianic expectation you're referring to was peculiar to that time and place. I have no such expectation. And since I do not accept the Jewish sacrificial theology, Christ's atonement has no particular meaning or appeal to me. (I'm willing to give him kudos, though, for putting an end to animal sacrifice among his followers.)

As for guilt, I agree that feeling shame for bad behavior is instinctive and biologically advantageous. But I'm not talking about the kind of shame that makes me want to hide my faults and modify my future behavior. I'm talking about forensic guilt, experienced as a taint or pollution of the soul-- the kind of guilt that requires a penal scapegoat to restore purity and peace of mind. (This, by the way, is just a variant of the same old Indo-European "purity"/"pollution" logic that has been the bane of widows and menstruating women for millennia.)

Peace,

-Chris

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Bill,

The Jewish messianic expectation you're referring to was peculiar to that time and place. I have no such expectation. And since I do not accept the Jewish sacrificial theology, Christ's atonement has no particular meaning or appeal to me. (I'm willing to give him kudos, though, for putting an end to animal sacrifice among his followers.)

So you're saying that you want Christ to come again and be just the type of Messiah that you'd like him to be. Sorry, he already did that. He can't be a Messiah that meets everyone's ideals in all times and places. What you need to do is understand sacrificial theology so that you can understand the meaning of the his atonement. You don't have to accept it, but just understand it.

Animal sacrifice and offerings is the most universal human religious ritual in the world, deriving in part from Neolithic hunting rituals. If you were God, and needed help humans understand and live principles of atonement and forgiveness (the indispensable mirror of the atonement that we often ignore), then what better symbol that ritual sacrifice, the most universal and instinctive human religious behavior on the planet? We must kill to eat, and we must share food to survive. By making these acts a sacred ritual--by sacer-ficare = "make sacred" = sacrifice--we create symbols that elevate and transform human behavior and social life. Note in the Bible that Cain and Abel are not commanded to sacrifice. They simply do it. The book of Moses points in this direction by noting that Adam and Eve sacrifice without knowing its meaning. The ritual--killing and sharing food--preceded to the symbol. God takes this primordial and universal ritual act and imbues it with new meaning: "this thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten" (Moses 5:7).

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Much more enjoyable than that crazy piece on mathematics and papyrus rolls. Talk about a yawner! :P

I told Chris, "Whoa, dude! Enough with the equations already!" but he just wouldn't listen.

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I'm willing to give him kudos, though, for putting an end to animal sacrifice among his followers.)

Technically speaking, Jesus didn't do that. His followers continued to worship and offer sacrifices at the temple (e.g. Paul offering prosfora in the temple, Acts 21:26). The destruction of the temple (and probably Jewish expulsions of Christians) ended Christian animal sacrifice.

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Mine are the standard objections. Why does God need to be satisfied by blood? Why can't he just forgive us without any atonement? How is it fair to punish us for sinning in the first place, given that we are born into it? How does forgiving us without any consequences for our actions help transform us into better beings? If Christ only stayed dead for three days, how is that an infinite atonement? Why do I have no sense of guilt for my sins until I am socialized to feel this way by Christian literature and preaching? And so on. It's one of those things that makes sense as long as you're embedded within the system of Christian myth and values, but starts to sound pretty unreal once you step outside that system and adopt a scientific-rationalist framework

For what it is worth, I share and agree with your concerns, and yet I believe in the concept of a dying and rising God or God/human. I also believe in the Atonement or condescension of God as a means by which we can become connected with God--God with us and we with God. God is a "wounded healer" (in Henri Nouwen's words).

I view "sin" in a disease model in the sense that "sin" is unhealthy behavior that injures ourselves and others. I don't see the Atonement as something that "balances the scales" but as something that heals us. God's becoming human and dying and rising, God's suffering and experiencing joy and sorrow, all enhanced the healing process.

My daughter is a graduate student in evolutionary psychology, so my readings in the area influence my thought quite a bit. As a result of those readings, I think our human concepts of "sin" have biological and cultural evolutionary roots. In Mormon terms, I would say that the "light of Christ" works through those biological and cultural means. And, as I wrote above, I don't see sin and forgiveness as something on some sort of cosmic scale of justice. (I realize that in Mormonism the most popular Atonement models are along those lines--but they do not resonate with me. It may just be me, but there you are.)

I may well be wrong on those ideas. But just so you know, I largely agree with you with what you wrote and that I quoted, and yet I personally have found room still to believe (perhaps only as much as a mustard seed or less, but I believe nonetheless).

I apologize if it seems like I am trying to persuade you of anything. You are a thoughtful seeker of goodness, truth, help, justice. I only wanted to say that I identify with you and your concerns. Shalom.

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So you're saying that you want Christ to come again and be just the type of Messiah that you'd like him to be. Sorry, he already did that. He can't be a Messiah that meets everyone's ideals in all times and places.

And yet that is what Christianity claims for him.

What you need to do is understand sacrificial theology so that you can understand the meaning of the his atonement. You don't have to accept it, but just understand it.

I understand it.

Animal sacrifice and offerings is the most universal human religious ritual in the world, deriving in part from Neolithic hunting rituals. If you were God, and needed help humans understand and live principles of atonement and forgiveness (the indispensable mirror of the atonement that we often ignore), then what better symbol that ritual sacrifice, the most universal and instinctive human religious behavior on the planet? We must kill to eat, and we must share food to survive. By making these acts a sacred ritual--by sacer-ficare = "make sacred" = sacrifice--we create symbols that elevate and transform human behavior and social life.

It certainly was nearly geographically universal at an earlier period of history, though I don't know that it was universally understood in terms of forensic atonement. It was not, however, temporally universal. Today it is generally considered barbaric and has little symbolic appeal. I'm not sure why you think I should feel an obligation toward a symbol-system with little contemporary significance, no matter what its historical geographical distribution.

(As a side note, this is quite interesting.)

Note in the Bible that Cain and Abel are not commanded to sacrifice. They simply do it. The book of Moses points in this direction by noting that Adam and Eve sacrifice without knowing its meaning. The ritual--killing and sharing food--preceded to the symbol. God takes this primordial and universal ritual act and imbues it with new meaning: "this thing is a similitude of the sacrifice of the Only Begotten" (Moses 5:7).

Yes, I used to hold a similar view. You would undoubtedly find this book fascinating-- it was one of my favorites, when I was of a similar mind.

However, the Book of Mormon verse you quoted assumes that the logic of forensic atonement has validity prior to and independent of the logic of animal sacrifice. Atonement theology no longer becomes explainable in terms of or as a fulfillment of the logic of animal sacrifice, as you have been arguing in this thread. Rather, animal sacrifice follows the logic of atonement theology. This only aggravates the problem of how little sense atonement theology makes as an eternal and universal principle.

And if we take the opposite view-- that Christ's atonement is itself an accommodation, designed to fulfill and perhaps abolish a ritual system of human invention-- then it reduces Christ's salvific significance to that particular time and place in history. It reveals something about the nature of God, certainly, but it would be difficult to see it as somehow necessary for the salvation of people in modern cultures.

Peace,

-Chris

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Technically speaking, Jesus didn't do that. His followers continued to worship and offer sacrifices at the temple (e.g. Paul offering prosfora in the temple, Acts 21:26).

Fair enough.

The destruction of the temple (and probably Jewish expulsions of Christians) ended Christian animal sacrifice.

I would add the mission to the Gentiles as a factor. Some Hellenized Christians, such as the author of the epistle to Diognetus, viewed animal sacrifice with considerable disdain.

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Daz,

I appreciate your post. I can certainly sympathize with alternative interpretations of the atonement, such as the view that Christ is a moral example to be followed. However, that view fails to explain why his moral example should be any more significant or compelling than other philosophers and martyrs who suffered as much. As for healing, the symbolism of the atonement doesn't really seem to me to have anything to do with that. (Though if you experience it as such, I certainly don't mean to diminish that experience.)

As for the incarnation, that is the Christian doctrine I find most compelling. Again, though, I have difficulty understanding why Christ should have been the only incarnation of God in all human history. A more compelling model would be one such as Friedrich Schleiermacher's in his Speeches on Religion, where God becomes "incarnate" in mediator figures in every place and period of history, and can become incarnate as well in all of us if we get in touch with the divine light within ourselves.

Peace,

-Chris

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In particular, what did you do with the evidence that Jesus rose from the grave?

What do you do with the fact that Paul, despite his 15-day stay with Peter, never mentioned the empty tomb, wounds in the hands and feet, eating of fish or any other bodily act of the risen Jesus? What do you do with Paul's repeated statements in 1 Corinthians 15 that the resurrection is purely spiritual, not physical? Jesus showing his wounds to the apostles flies in the face of Paul's teachings that the "perishable/corruptible body" must be "sown" so that the spirit may be "raised an imperishable body" and that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God".

The empty tomb was invented as a symbol of the resurrection ~6 years after Paul's death. Matthew, Luke and John then ran wild with it, taking the story in radically different directions.

Such an explanation does not account for the fact that the witnesses included both men and women; individuals and groups; skeptical family members, devoted friends, and at least one antagonistic opponent of the movement (Paul).

Paul and a few anonymous writers claiming there were lots of witnesses does not mean there were lots of witnesses.

The diversity of witnesses to the Resurrection stands in stark contrast to the list of witnesses to the Book of Mormon, a group of a dozen men drawn almost entirely from two families (one of them Joseph's).

The numerous first-hand witnesses to the Gold Plates, who never denied their testimonies, do indeed stand in stark contrast to the zero witnesses, first-hand or otherwise, to Jesus rising from the tomb.

I would also argue that the evidence is rather clear that the tomb was empty (a point Licona does not use as part of his case). There are several independent lines of evidence from the Gospel accounts that show that the earliest explanation of the Resurrection story from those opposed to that belief was that the body had been removed (or stolen) from the tomb. Such an explanation would have been unnecessary and counterproductive if the tomb had not in fact been empty; therefore, quite evidently it was empty. Put together the facts of the empty tomb and the appearances, and the only good explanation for all of the facts is that Jesus did rise from the dead.

I'll be posting my take on The Easter Story in about a month. I hope to get your feedback.

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Fair enough.

I would add the mission to the Gentiles as a factor. Some Hellenized Christians, such as the author of the epistle to Diognetus, viewed animal sacrifice with considerable disdain.

True enough. But much of that was because they viewed it as sacrificing to demons = pagan Gods.

It is not clear why blood sacrifice--slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat with God--is considered so reprehensible by you. Is it less acceptable than modern chicken farms or beef slaughter-houses? Or are you a vegetarian and simply don't like eating animals at all?

In fact animal sacrifice is still widespread in the world. Many Africans, Muslims (

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In fact animal sacrifice is still widespread in the world. Many Africans, Muslims (

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I think it's worth mentioning here that Chris' mom just received her Ph.D. and published a new book.

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It is not clear why blood sacrifice--slaughtering an animal and sharing the meat with God--is considered so reprehensible by you. Is it less acceptable than modern chicken farms or beef slaughter-houses? Or are you a vegetarian and simply don't like eating animals at all?

I am not a full-fledged vegetarian, though I do have moral qualms about slaughterhouses and do subsist on a vegetable-heavy diet.

Ritual slaughter is more reprehensible to me because of what it implies about God than because of what it does to the animals. Although I must say that I find animal sacrifice even more problematic in cases where the meat is burned rather than eaten, since the animal's death in this case serves no substantive function.

In fact animal sacrifice is still widespread in the world. Many Africans, Muslims (

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Ritual slaughter is more reprehensible to me because of what it implies about God than because of what it does to the animals. Although I must say that I find animal sacrifice even more problematic in cases where the meat is burned rather than eaten, since the animal's death in this case serves no substantive function.

Even in many of those societies, it has been greatly reduced. Despite Vedic teachings about blood sacrifice, for example, most modern Hindus are strict vegetarians and do not offer such sacrifices. Hindu sacrifice today is mostly limited to worshippers of the Great Goddess.

So, knowing of your fondness for Orson Scott Card, what did you make of the ritual dissections in Speaker for the Dead?

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On a somewhat related note, I couldn't help but notice that your avatar is a chimpanzee. As I'm sure you're well aware, chimps are often very unkind to one another. In fact, I'd say that the things animals do to each other are generally far worse than the things people do to animals. Male tigers, for example, will typically kill the cubs of females they encounter (and sometimes even their own cubs). They do this neither for food nor as an offering to the tiger gods. Having watched my (former) cat literally torture mice to death, mocking them all the while, I have to wonder how, exactly, such behavior is "evil". Why did God make so many carnivores?

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