were there really 500 witnesses to the risen Christ?

Still reading The Empty Tomb…

Price pops in an argument against the authenticity of the reference to the 500 witnesses in the original material of the 1 Corinthians 15:3-11 tradition. That is, he not only questions its place in the original source material, but also its historicity. He wonders why, if this were early tradition, do the gospel accounts not mention such a large scale appearance of the risen Christ?

It seems to me that the gospel writers had authorial intentions beyond merely recording any event of importance, but I grant that it is a priori plausible that this would be the kind of event that one of the evangelists would record. I confess that I do not know whether any of the gospel’s appearance accounts can be taken as identical to this appearance event, or why the gospel authors would fail to mention it. Of course there is also a problem with taking this event to be fictitious – the passage openly declares that most these witnesses are still living, with the implicit assumption that they can be approached to testify about this appearance. A bold move if in fact, no such witnesses exist.

Price thinks he avoids this problem because his whole theory is that the entire tradition was inserted into the epistle at a much later, post-Pauline stage. So whether he can confidently affirm that the 500 reference is fictitious will depend on the success of his overall case. I’m happy to remain agnostic on the matter until my reading swings me one way of the other. At any rate, from the perspective of building an apologetic for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, the 500 witnesses are the icing on the cake and not much more.

More to come…

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2 thoughts on “were there really 500 witnesses to the risen Christ?

  1. the passage openly declares that most these witnesses are still living, with the implicit assumption that they can be approached to testify about this appearance. A bold move if in fact, no such witnesses exist

    A bold move? I do wish apologists would stop saying stuff like this. Paul writes merely that 500+ people saw an apparition of the risen Christ. He gives no details when, where or who. Saying that most of this number are still alive does not “implicitly” invite anyone in Corinth to travel to Judea, a sea journey of several hundred miles, to try and trace these supposed witnesses for cross-examination. Do we need to fictively posit a congregation of Corinthian Columbos to secure the apostle’s yarn?

    Suppose I tell you that a crowd of a 500 people saw an incredibly vivid landing of a UFO in the Dordogne, France, ten years ago, and furthermore only a few of them have passed away since, most are still alive. How is it a bold move to add that seeming verisimilitudinous detail? Rather, does not the addition of the superfluous detail to this inflated quantity of witnesses actually highlight a hesitant bolstering of the claim? We all know the “500 people can’t be wrong” kind of sales pitch.

    It seems to me apologists trying to defend the 500+ apparition practically assume Paul has all their names and numbers in his first century filofax. Do you really think Paul – primarily as a human tale-teller, but secondarily one with a sectarian evangelistic agenda – never ever made a generalistation or exaggeration? Or that those who originally passed on to him “as of first importance” this list of apostolic accreditation also never approximated or generalised or rounded the figures symbolically? (The Twelve?)

    As ever, the Christian apologist must somehow assume that tall tales are never spread by holy mouths, even though a cursory familiarity with Christian groups through the ages show that the passing around of embellished legend is second nature among believing minds.

    At any rate, from the perspective of building an apologetic for the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection, the 500 witnesses are the icing on the cake and not much more.

    Actually, Paul is his own icing on the cake. The 500+ are more like the marzipan. Dismissing them as “not much more” is a somewhat disingenuous move to mitigate the possibility of Paul’s factual reliability being suspicious. Frankly, the case for the historicity of the resurrection needs as many witnesses as it can get! If you dismiss the 500+ so readily, you’re left with a handful of insiders. Any cult can say its members or inner circle have seen a vision – and they often do – but the claims have more traction the more they are attested by those outside the belief circle.

    Cue the usual appeals to the made-up conversion of James the brother of Jesus… etc etc.

  2. Tim, you take the trail of believing that it must not be true because Paul did not give a location or place where these 500 saw the risen Christ. You are assuming he would have to. Just as Paul and the Apostles were teaching the Gospel, there were also others of the faith that were teaching as well, though they may not be mentioned in scripture by name. Paul in his writing stated that there were those who still lived that had seen the Resurrected Jesus, and there were probably those in Corinth that knew some of these people or at least knew their story. You have to take into account that when Paul wrote this letter, it was his intention at the time to address those specifically at Corinth, he had no knowledge that his words would later be added to the Bible for all read. I am sure if he had, he would have been very accurate in when, where and who has seen the Lord after his resurrection. .

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