Komarnitsky: Required Reading on the Resurrection of Jesus


Cover of Doubting Jesus' Resurrection by Kris Komarnitsky, subtitle "What Happened in the Black Box," tagline "An Inquiry into an Alternative Explanation of the Christian Origins," second edition, dark brown cover with a black box in middle in 3D aspect with a question mark on it and an arrow moving into it from the left with the words "Jesus Crucified" and an arrow moving out of it to the right with the words "Resurrection Belief."Five years ago Kris Komarnitsky produced a well crafted book, Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? He has now extensively revised and updated it for the second edition, and that new version is now available, taking into account developments and new publications in the field, as well as newly examined comparative evidence that sheds light on why naturalistic explanations of the resurrection belief and empty tomb tales make far more sense than anything else. The big news is that it’s free on kindle this weekend (possibly only in the U.S.). [Update: apparently only Saturday; there will be another free offer on some future Saturday.]

Even though Komarnitsky is an amateur historian, his book is well researched and actually required reading on the subject of the resurrection of Jesus. I consider it an essential item to include on your reading list if you ever plan to debate that topic, formally or informally. He makes his reasoning clear and cites sources and scholarship, so you don’t have to rest on his authority. Anything you want to use from his work you can adapt to the purpose, and cite the underlying evidence and scholarship directly. I don’t agree with everything he concludes or assumes, but one of the merits of the book is that you can decide for yourself. He provides the evidence and reasoning, and doesn’t expect you to take him at his word.

I have often cited his book in my own work. And I was sufficiently impressed by it that I wrote the following promotional statement on its behalf:

Rare is it when a lay author puts in the effort of wide research, gathers the references to every point together, interacts with the leading disputes, and offers something soundly argued that hadn’t been so well argued before. Komarnitsky does all of that and presents a surprisingly excellent demonstration of how belief in the resurrection of Jesus could plausibly have originated by natural means. Though I don’t always agree with him, and some issues could be discussed at greater length, everything he argues is plausible, and his treatise as a whole is a must for anyone interested in the resurrection.

This new revised edition is even better. The improvements are substantial and more than warrant buying the new edition even if you already have the old one. Others have similarly been impressed by it, including Robert Price, even the infamous James McGrath. With fourteen customer reviews on Amazon it still averages five out of five stars (I must conclude the fundamentalists haven’t noticed it yet, so as to give it bad marks for no sound reason as they often do).

The basic thesis Komarnitsky explores is not to examine all the plausible natural explanations for the evidence, but to focus on only one coherent explanation and see how well even just that one theory holds up against the Christian alternative. He is aware that other explanations exist that are also far more plausible than the supernatural, and that this makes his ultimate conclusion (that Jesus did not really rise from the dead) even more probable (since the probability of that equals the sum of the posterior probabilities of all plausible alternatives, of which his is only one, so if even his is more probable than the supernatural, the supernatural is far less probable than even the converse of that).

One of many major improvements in the second edition is his adaptation of the anthropological work of professor Simon Dein of Durham University, who also endorses Komarnitsky’s book, and in the process explains this aspect of the new edition:

In this book Komarnitsky provides a compelling and convincing account of how the early Christians came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection. Building on my own research and documentation of a modern-day Jewish movement that rationalised their dead Messiah would resurrect from the dead, Komarnitsky argues clearly and concisely that the same basic cognitive process could have given birth to the Christian resurrection belief two thousand years ago. This book contains a wealth of biblical and social scholarship, and it is an important contribution to the study of early Christianity.

In addition to drawing on well-documented analogs like that, this book also surveys cite-worthy evidence regarding burial customs, legendary growth rates, and a great deal else. Even veteran experts will find it a handy source of references and ideas.

Comments

  1. Dan says

    Works with me, and I’m in Southeast Asia. I have the first edition in print but haven’t gotten around to reading it. I think I’ll try reading the eBook version tonight.

  2. says

    Thanx Richard.
    Couldn’t come with a better review.

    BTW, I have a blogging question:
    You comment section, like some other blogs, offers 3 options with the first two appearing identical except for grammar and syntax:
    (1) Notify me of followup comments via e-mail
    (2) Notify me of follow-up comments by email.

    I always find this confusing. Could you clarify? I did not know which to click.

    • says

      One of them (I think the first, it says) allows you to subscribe without posting a comment (it is generated and maintained by one part of the software), the other attaches only if you post a comment (it is generated and maintained by a completely different part of the softwar, I assume one designed by someone else and added or revised at a different time). That this is redundant and smarter programming could resolve a better way to do this is the reality of almost all software these days. It’s WordPress, so we have no power to affect this. (Although we have a redesign coming down the pipe that might.)

  3. jimroberts says

    > (possibly only in the U.S.)

    It’s free on amazon.de as well, but unfortunately Amazon doesn’t offer a Kindle reader for Linux.

    • says

      If you have any functioning browser, you can read kindle books (google Kindle Cloud Reader). You can also run other environments on linux (like Windows, e.g. through wine or Crossover Professional), which will run a kindle reader. But with the Cloud Reader so much superior, there’s hardly need to bother.

      Kindle readers themselves only run $70 US or so. (New. Buying used might even be less.)

  4. lotusthought says

    Thanks for responding to those two links I gave you Dr. Carrier. That was really cool of you to do so and you did an excellent job.

    Pardon me if this is a bit gossipy, but I was wondering how you would respond to this. I was checking out your videos on Youtube on Jesus and what not, and this one came up from ReligionPhilosophy;

    In the description area, ReligionPhilosophy says this about you:

    “Historian, philosopher and scholar William Lane Craig debates Richard Carrier on the resurrection of Jesus. Carrier has been impressing many gullible young atheists into his pseudo-historical and bizarre views on the Bible and Jesus. Craig took him on, and, quite frankly, destroyed and exposed him. Carrier has not recovered from this debate since. This is what happens when you have a scholar like Craig debate a quack like Carrier. To this day, Carrier influences many impressionable freshmen”

    The point of me showing this is, does this ReligionPhilosophy fellow have grounds for claiming you got destroyed? If not, how would you respond and how would you summarize how that debate went as far as whether you won, or at least held your own?

    • says

      That’s all just baloney and bluster. You can of course watch the debate yourself (it’s online) and see all the tricks he used to force the clock to run out before I had time to address all his claims (and notice how few of my arguments he ever really honestly responded to). That is the only aspect of the debate that went against me. And it’s a dishonest one. And I said so.

      Of course, anyone who looks at a debate about ancient history with an Ivy League Ph.D. in ancient history and a Christian apologist whose only formal qualifications in history consist of a divinity schools masters in church history, and you call the ancient historian the quack, your objectivity is out the window.

  5. Chuck says

    Thanks for the heads up. I have been avoiding this title (and all works by laypeople on the topic) ever since I read “The Jesus Mysteries” and ended up spending more time debunking it than I did reading it. But on your recommendation, I snatched this one up and look forward to perusing it.

    • says

      Oh, yes, Jesus Mysteries is a travesty and should never be read by anyone–because all it will do is badly miseducate, and I then have to spend extra time undoing the damage.

      Komarnitsky is a far more responsible researcher and writer. Not in the same league at all.

      And yes, among lay writers, that is rare.

  6. says

    Thanks for the information regarding this revised version of this most important book and for alerting us to the fact that we could obtain a Kindle version free. I have always believed for years that Jesus was also a fictional character in the myth that is Christianity. It’s refreshing to see that some of the worlds best scholars are finally coming around to the realization of this possibility. I am looking forward to your work on the historicity of Jesus and am glad to see that you too have come to realize that those of us who believe in the mythological nature of Christ are not all crack pots. Like you I have been frustrated beyond words at some of the earlier attempts at bringing this issue to light. I think that Earl Doherty helped confirm many of the conclusions I had come to on my own by independent study.

    • says

      Note to Readers: Just to head off any confusion, Komarnitsky is not a mythicist and he operates on the premise throughout his book that Jesus existed. Which is a reasonable way to argue. But I don’t want anyone mistakenly thinking he ever argues from a presumption of non-existence, or argues for that conclusion. To paraphrase Laplace, “he has no need of that hypothesis.”

    • says

      It might have been free there on Saturday (the deal was apparently only for Saturday, not the whole weekend…but this will happen again some future Saturday, so keep your eye out).

  7. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    I picked it up and I am reading it. One thing that jumps out is that conclusions all depend on where you put the burden of proof. Since the Christians are making the extraordinary claims, they have a big burden.

    Once we start looking into any particular event there are inconsistencies between the gospels and the later gospels are almost always more elaborate than the first. So even if there is a historical Jesus there has been a huge amount of post-facto mythologizing.

    Komarnitsky points out that plenty of modern era cults have gone through the death or non arrival of messiahs and found a way to not only explain the situation but to grow stronger after. But one point he does not raise there which I think is very relevant is the destruction of the temple and the aftermath in which the authorities are suppressing the Judaic religion. So there would be a natural incentive for gentiles following Judaic inspired cults to attempt to distinguish themselves from the group being persecuted.

    Pagels book Revelations shows the Revelation of John as being an allegorical account of the destruction of the temple rather than prophecy. The key issue for me is whether Mark was written before or after the destruction of the temple. If it was written before then its obviously not the same type of book. But if it is also post-destruction then it can be read as an allegory similar to Revelation. Christ is the temple, yadda, yadda. In that scheme the resurrection would not be very interesting because buildings are rebuilt all the time. It is also why Mark does not need the empty tomb to be witnessed by men. Everyone knows that the temple is destroyed but they react to it like women – running away.

    At any rate, if the claims made by Christians (or at least the ones believing in a historical Christ) are true then we would expect the record to be a lot clearer. This God who can raise the dead does not have the foresight to hire a scribe to act as chronographer.

    • Latverian Diplomat says

      Phillip,

      Richard, in one of his FTBCon2 talks, gives a very interesting reading of the fig tree and moneychangers stories from Mark, that points to an anti-temple cult theme. By this interpretation, whether the temple had already been destroyed or not, Jesus is presented as an alternative to an obsolescent temple cult. (Though perhaps it more plausibly hints at a pre-destruction date for Mark? I’m out of my depth on that question).

      I found this a really eye-opening interpretation, and finally the inclusion of the fig tree story made sense — a straightforward reading of that story has often been cited as one of the most unflattering stories about Jesus (e.g., by Julia Sweeney), so it’s inclusion always seemed mysterious to me.

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/carrier/archives/5068

  8. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    Komarnitsky makes a big deal out of Paul’s use of ‘last of all’ when referring to the appearances of Jesus interpreting it as meaning Paul was the last person to see Jesus:

    ” For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance[a]: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas,[b] and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

    But I think it is clear that Paul is meaning last in the sense of ‘least’ since he continues:

    “For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”

    I don’t think the last = least important interpretation hurts the argument at all. But what it does do is cast a rather different light on the Pauline cult. “Hey join our team and you might get a personal appearance too like these 500 people (they are only 800 miles away, come and check!)”.

    Since he is trying to convince the Corinthians that there were other people who saw him resurrected, he is of course going to prioritize the accounts by credibility so he starts at the top and works down.

    The part that sticks out like a sore thumb is ‘according to the scriptures’. If we can take the word of Peter and the apostles that Jesus was resurrected, why refer to ‘scripture’ to tell us that he is dead? Words don’t become scripture overnight, if someone was writing of an event in the past 20-30 years they are not going to refer to the accounts of it as ‘scripture’.

    • says

      No, Paul means last (nothing else can be intended by the grammar, vocabulary, and context). The explanation that follows is why he was last (he was “last,” eschatos, verse 7, because he was “least,” elachistos, verse 8).

      But yes, it’s weird that Paul only cites scripture for the death and crucifixion (and burial) and only mentions anyone actually ever seeing Jesus after all that. But that’s troubling for historicity. K. is arguing from a presumption of historicity (and thus arguing a fortiori), so he can’t make hay out of that (he allows for other hypotheses to be true; he just concentrates on one for rhetorical value).

    • Phillip Hallam-Baker says

      So a better translation would be ‘finally’?

      Although he is saying he is the least important, yadda yadda, the way he says it turns him into the most important. We have a guy who pulls that schtick constantly in IETF (Internet standards). Whenever something new is proposed his response is always a long ‘we don’t understand this spiel’ but what he is really saying is ‘since you don’t know how hard this is, obviously you know less about it than I do’.

      Making himself the final person to see Christ means that nobody who follows can outrank him by claiming to have seen him. The only person who Jesus can appear to after Paul would be an even lowlier sinner. Very clever.

      But looking to the meta problem here, if the Gospels are true then why would God allow them to become corrupted by so many spurious additions, changes, redactions, etc. If this is the word of God then it has to survive intact.

      There is a range of possibilities here from the NT being the absolutely accurate word of God through to Christ Myth. But the only position on that spectrum that meets the theological requirements is completely accurate word of God. Anything less does not serve. We don’t need to play about with Bayes to discount that theory.

      Another problem that we have is that the historians of the era are writing under what is essentially censorship. Should we accept the claims made about Nero killing his mother on face value? Are these possibly a slander made up to explain a later coup?

      K. mentions traces of a Nero cult surviving his presumed death. Which suggests that at least some of his contemporaries still supported him as the ‘true Emperor’. Vespesian made his name on the basis of his campaign in the first Jewish war.

      Rather than accepting a historical Jesus if there were as much evidence for him as for other historical figures, we should be a bit more skeptical about the received history in general. These are mostly histories written by the victors in the various power struggles.

    • jagwired says

      Couldn’t the ‘according to the scriptures’ be in reference to the OT. Komarnitsky devotes chapter 5 of his book to linking the 3rd day resurrection with Psalms 16:10, so maybe the ‘Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures’ portion of 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 also has an OT equivalent? Seems like there would be something in there with all the sacrificing of lambs and whatnot to Yahweh. He loves him some sacrifice.

  9. Phillip Hallam-Baker says

    BTW people are massively overestimating the time required for mythicism to take over if we interpret mythicism in the wider sense of ignoring obvious historical facts.

    If you have been following the news you probably know about this completely new completely unprecedented and novel never been seen before currency called BitCoin that is changing the world financial system because nothing like it has ever existed or been proposed evah.

    Only this is completely untrue. I am on the mailing list BitCoin was originally announced on. It was announced on that list because there are many other people like myself that have been working on similar schemes for over 20 years. There is in fact both a long technical literature, numerous attempts to commercialize the systems and of regulators breaking them up and shutting them down as I show in the following video:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ziqOxLNfOc

    This is a myth that has been created in less than five years. And that in an age where there are no barriers to discovery of accurate information.

    The BitCoin hoopla isn’t even the first time that a digital currency has reached the mainstream, before BitCoin, e-Gold was all the rage. And then as now the die hard supporters had an explanation for why it was different this time. Last time round the technical buzzword was BEARER and this time it is BLOCKCHAIN.

    Meanwhile those of us who actually do cryptography professionally have been pulling the protocols apart for quite a while as have the professional economists. But none of that is ever reported. Cheating at a theoretically secure BitCoin gambling game turns out to be really easy, so easy its not even worth publishing in a paper because the holes are so simple.

    The history of all the previous schemes is that the authorities watched them like a hawk and recorded everything they could making periodic arrests of criminals unwise enough to think that the currency was anonymous (some theoretical systems provide anonymity but no commercially deployed scheme has). At this point they are knocking down attempts to bring up copies of Silk Road in a week. They have eventually been forced to act when someone has used the e-currency as the basis of a Ponzi scheme. BitCoin has been cleverly designed to turn the currency itself into a scheme with Ponzi properties.

    The fever will break of course, it always has in the past. But we have a community of about 10,000+ people who have collectively invested about a quarter to a half billion dollars in the enterprise believing that they are going to become stupendously rich when there is a long history of these schemes that would tell them the certain outcome.

    Religion itself is a Ponzi scheme: The faithful give their cash on earth to the priest and the church and in return they get a tenfold reward in heaven. The parable of the widows mite and the miracle of ‘cast your bread on the waters’ are both designed to convince the faithful that they will see a divine reward if they give money to the church.

  10. Otis Graf says

    Richard,
    This is a bit off topic but (I think) very important. The UN recently published a report about the horrible crimes committed by the North Korean government. There was a good overview recently in the Wall Street Journal.

    Has the atheist community attempted to explain why or how an officially atheistic government would descend to such atrocities? Has that problem been discussed at any of the forums that you attend? Do you have any explanation?

    It would seem to me that the horrors in NK would be topic number one for people who claim that a prevailing belief in atheism would lead to a much better society.

    Otis Graf

    • says

      North Korea is not atheistic. Their leader is officially a god, and the state endorses belief in supernatural powers and an immortal afterlife. North Korean state religion is in fact heavily based on Christianity and in anthropological terms is a syncretism of Christianity and Buddhist Polytheism.

      So, my advice: Stop reading Rupert Murdoch’s propaganda rags. Get some real knowledge before asking stupid questions. Especially in completely off topic threads. I mean, why was it so hard for you to click the atheism or politics links in the left margin subject index and find a blog article here where your question would be pertinent? Like, say, this one.

      Your laziness at acquiring knowledge about North Korea was thus repeated in your laziness in finding an appropriate place to ask your question.

      I don’t know why I have to fix your own stupid arguments for you, but you could have tried using Stalin/Mao/Castro and Marxism as your example instead, in which case the answer is that Marxism inevitably has that result, and evidence-based atheism is anti-Marxist, therefore evidence-based atheism does not have that result. As in fact it never has. QED.

  11. Otis Graf says

    Richard,
    Do you think it is appropriate for you to insult readers of your blog? When you do that it makes it seem as if you are not confident in the case you are trying to make and it certainly does not put atheists in a good light.

    Your claims about the harmlessness of “evidence-based atheism” are not convincing. The Soviets made endless claims about the their “scientific socialism” so why should I believe your brand of atheism would be any different? You are making similar claims as those of the Soviets. When I observe how you treat some people who disagree with you, it leads to many questions. It also does not help when I listen to the vitriol and ridicule that is showered on Christians by some of the speakers at the conferences you attend.

    • says

      Do you think it is appropriate for you to insult readers of your blog?

      You acted like an ass and disobeyed the posted rules of this blog to say something ignorant, bigoted and asinine in a thread where you knew damn well it wasn’t relevant. You were treated accordingly. Actions have consequences. You just experienced yours.

      Your claims about the harmlessness of “evidence-based atheism” are not convincing. The Soviets made endless claims about the their “scientific socialism” so why should I believe your brand of atheism would be any different?

      Which is an appeal to evidence. See how that works? Marxism evidentially is a disaster. Hence I did not refer to “faux evidence based atheism,” but actual evidence-based atheism, as in, the atheism that take into account the evidence of what actually happened when Marxism was instituted.

      Once you understand the difference, you’ll be halfway where we are.

      For example: then you’ll be someone who knows Murdock’s media empire is lying to you pretty much always, and thus you should actually check your facts first before stupidly saying something so demonstrably false.

      Then you won’t get butt hurt when you get schooled by facts that you should have had the moral responsibility to check before rudely blurting them.

      Won’t that be nice?

  12. Geoff Barrett says

    Richard, How much is the atheist government of North Korea paying you to write reviews of communistic, atheist books? And is this book available for free on only Saturday or are there other days as well? ;).

    You don’t have to post this.

  13. KiloPapa says

    Richard,

    When the apostle Paul says that “last of all, He appeared unto me”, how are we supposed to interpret this?

    Why would Paul state that no one else would ‘see’ Jesus ? How could he presume that no one else would claim to have ‘seen’ the actual resurrected Jesus, as he supposedly had?

    I know that you always have a lot going on in your professional life, so I always appreciate that you take the time to respond to your blog questions.

    So, thanks in advance.

    • says

      You will have to wait for my next book which has a whole section on that, based on the known anthropology of visionary cults like the Shakers.

      Basically, he says he was last because everyone else after him was declared an impostor (Gal. 1). Paul was the last claimant to receive endorsement from the Jerusalem church.

      In other words, that is a political statement, not an honest declaration that people stopped claiming to see Jesus.

  14. heathcliff says

    Dr Carrier

    What is the evidence that in the 1st century, badly beaten up bodies , which were placed in a tomb, would’ve been recognized by thieves who stole them?

    according to historical records, what did the jews usually do if they feared that x’s body would get stolen? what procedures would they take? would they do ‘hide and seek’ with the thieves by placing the body in another place/bury it?

    according to the historical records, do the jews get pagans to handle dead jewish criminals?

    i will quote the apologists:

    1.

    All four gospels are specific: the crucifixion took place on Nisan 14, and the garden near Golgotha was used simply because it was close. There was no time to dilly dally with anything more complex than:
    –get the body down
    –prep it
    –carry it to the cave
    –seal the cave

    2.

    how do we recognize people who badly beaten up today? The family of Emit Till recognized him, barely.

    end quote

    unfortunately i don’t know JACK about jewish funeral and burial practices. christians try to counter every possibility by appealing to jewish procedures for burial and funeral.

    the discussion is going on here

    http://earlywritings.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=3&t=521&start=120

    lets assume that pilate knew that the deciples had forsook jesus. why would pilate buy into the jewish claim that the deciples would come back and steal the body? why would they dare show thier face in an area where their leader was murdered?

    • says

      What is the evidence that in the 1st century, badly beaten up bodies, which were placed in a tomb, would’ve been recognized by thieves who stole them?

      Bodies (or their loculus, usually in chalk) were marked, precisely because they had to be reburied later. See my chapter on burial in The Empty Tomb, which also challenges a lot of the arguments you are referring to (which aren’t quite correct about the implications of ancient Judean burial law). On the rest, see my comment on the Davis review.

  15. heathcliff says

    this is getting confusing

    if it was ILLEGAL to identify the body after a few days according to jewish system, then doesn’t matter who stole the body, no one would be allowed to expose the body in public.

    the guards at the tomb seem redundant. there was no need for them.

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