Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Final sections and final thoughts

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Puffing and panting on, finishing line in sight…

The cadets’ story is now finished. The final sections in the book are as follows:

  • Instructions for Using the Website. The instructions are one short paragraph telling readers to go to the website and watch the videos/do the activity sheets there. We didn’t.
  • A Challenge from J. Warner Wallace. The challenge being to get out there and evangelise.
  • Sample Fill-in Sheets. Worksheets for each chapter. They are, quite frankly, head-bangingly boring and consist of regurgitating back points from the story in each chapter, either by answering questions or filling in the blanks in sentences. If I was a child whose interest in Christianity had been piqued by the book (which might well have been my reaction to this book as a child), you can bet that this would have put me straight off it again. It ends with an advertisment for the original book, ‘Cold Case Christianity’, aimed at the parents.
  • Certificate of Promotion. A fancy certificate for children to cut out and keep (if they’re using the book version; families using the Kindle version can get the same certificate from the website) where parents can fill in their child’s name to state that they have successfully completed the Cold-Case Christianity Cadet Academy. (I thought for a moment this was meant to be a picture of one of the cadets’ certificates, and thought ‘Huh, Jeffries is having an unusual moment of honesty about the course.’)

And that’s all I got to say about most of that, but Katie and I both had some thoughts on the Challenge section.

This is the section where Wallace is trying to persuade all his new converts to get actively into the evangelism business. You believe in Jesus now! You’re part of an important team! You need to tell other people about this! In fact, you should love the idea of telling other people about this, because it’s such awesome news! Tell your friends, tell your church group, tell your family, use the next holiday get-together as a chance to tell everyone there all about your cadet academy training just in case they don’t already believe in Jesus!

“And then they’ll say that makes no sense,” Katie observed.

I feel sorry for any shy readers of this book; these expectations sound like torture for them. Not to mention the family members who’ll be stuck with sitting through excited and/or embarrassed evangelism, not wanting to hurt a child’s feelings. Curious, I asked Katie what she’d say if a friend tried to do this with her.

“I’d probably say to them ‘Well, personally I believe that it’s not really all that true. But if you want to believe in it, then, sure, that’s kind of what my religion’s about. Just as long as it doesn’t hurt or upset anyone, I’m OK with it.”

I’m proud of her; what a tactful way of dealing with a potentially awkward situation.

Meanwhile, what struck me most about this section was Wallace’s sheer enthusiasm for his religion. (To the point where I honestly don’t think it’s occurred to him that his expectations are likely to set up some seriously awkward and unpleasant family conversations. He genuinely thinks he’s doing people a favour by not only telling them all about Jesus but pushing others into doing so; after all, he’s happy with these beliefs, why wouldn’t everyone else be?) ‘I was excited about what I discovered and about what God had done for me,’ he writes. ‘I was so happy to finally know the truth’.

This struck me because it was so very different from the reaction I’ve always had to the basic tenets of fundamentalist Christianity. I mean, you’re talking about a religion that teaches that non-Christians are going to burn eternally in hell. That the one way out of burning in hell is a route that, in the nature of things, has been unavailable for most people throughout history simply because of the time and/or place of their birth. That good people are going to be abandoned by God to an eternity of torture. And I can never get my head round the mentality that hears about this and feels anything other than horrified at the thought.

To be fair, Wallace seems to be one of the people who thinks of hell as separation from God, so I suppose he’s not actually reading all this and picturing people being tortured. Still, to me it’s a strange and alien way of thinking.

 

Anyway… we finished that section, zipped through the others, and that was it… the end of the book! Almost fourteen months after first starting it, we had made it through!

I asked Katie for her final thoughts on the book.

“Well, for a start I thought it was a very biased opinion,” she told me. (To be fair to Wallace, it was never intended to be anything else.) “And also, it overlooked major plot points and also told… I wouldn’t call them lies because they weren’t intentional, but there were some really huge flaws in it. There were facts missing and facts that weren’t correct and stuff, and there were huge, huge, huge over-exaggerations. Stuff like that.” She didn’t feel it had changed her mind about anything, except possibly Wallace’s sanity level.

I would say that Wallace missed the mark with a member of his target audience there, but, during the time I spent reading this book, it eventually dawned on me that Katie was never his target audience. I’d started out assuming this book was aimed at non-Christian children and written with the aim of converting them. Naive of me; of course, it’s actually written for Christian children with Christian parents who want their children to stay Christian and want a resource for strengthening their faith. (I figured this out for myself, but a quick look on Wallace’s blog has confirmed it.) As far as I know, Katie and I are the only atheist parent-and-child team to have read and reviewed it; I’m pleased to have broken new ground there.

I chose this for my first review book on here mainly because I liked the idea of doing a review together with my daughter, and I’m so pleased I did, as it’s been great fun; but I also liked the idea that she would get the chance to read about a completely different belief, and that I would get the chance to talk to her about my reasons for not holding that belief. As far as religion is concerned (as far as quite a few things are concerned, in fact), my main priority for my children is that they learn to think for themselves. That’s far more important to me than having them grow up with the same beliefs about religion as I have.

This, of course, is easier said than done, so I don’t want to pat myself on the back and assume I’m getting it perfectly right; that’s just a one-way route to getting it wrong. But I’ll leave Katie with the last word on this one, from her comments during the final part of the review and what she thought about Wallace’s arguments. “I listened to you and to what you said,” she told me, “because what you said held up much better.”

 

And that, folks, finally is it; we have finished the review of Cold Case Christianity For Kids. My first book review on here is done. I hope you join me for many more, and for that matter I hope I manage many more. Do please come back for upcoming attractions. In the meantime (putting on Richard Ayoade voice) thank you for reading, if indeed you still are.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Postscript

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

We’re nearly at the end. I was planning to collect all the final sections together and blast through them in one post, but Katie did have quite a few thoughts on these and so I might take two posts to cover them properly. I still want to blast through, though; I have loved doing this, but I have two shiny exciting new projects waiting for me and I am ready to put this one to bed and move on. Let’s get cracking.

Postscript: Belief THAT or Belief IN?

We’re still in the cadet academy frame story (don’t worry, this really is the last cadet academy scene; hang on in there). Everyone except Jason, Jeffries, and Insert Character has left the room. Jason’s hung back because he has a question. (Insert Character has apparently hung back for reasons of plot necessity.)

Jason has now, apparently, concluded that he believes the Bible is telling him the truth about Jesus. (Oh, Jason, my skeptic, I had such hopes of you. It’s such a shame you didn’t get to hear a different viewpoint.) Anyway, the question he has is whether this conclusion means he’s a Christian?

In response, Jeffries tells him that Jesus said there’s a difference between belief that and belief in. No, Jeffries, I believe you’ll find that Jesus is not, in fact, quoted anywhere as saying that. It’s a perfectly reasonable statement, but that doesn’t mean you can just attribute it to Jesus. Jeffries reads out John 3:16, which, as many of you will know, is the verse about anyone who believes in Jesus getting eternal life.

“I guess that means I’m never going to believe in Jesus,” Katie told me. “Because… eternal life? That sounds good on paper, but come on! It would get really boring! Just going on and on, not able to die… I just want some peace!”

Probably not the effect that the author of gJohn was going for, but a very valid point.

“Plus,” Katie continued, “being put into heaven is kind of a way to be reborn – reborn as a perfect form in heaven – and my interpretation of reborn is, as you know, terrifying.”

That was a twist on things that I hadn’t expected. What Katie was referring to was an idea she’d come up with in her drawings a little while ago; the Reborn, a group of zombies. I pointed out that, despite Christianity’s flaws, it was fair to say that it does not actually teach that going to heaven involves becoming a zombie.

“I know, but it still seems awful,” Katie told me. “I hate the prospect of being reborn. I just hate it.”

Although Katie, I found out in the ensuing discussion, apparently thinks that hell involves becoming a zombie. “The thing with my religion,” she told me, “is it doesn’t matter what you believe and it doesn’t matter what you think, as long as you’re nice to other people and accept them. But, if not, then you get condemned to the other life, the land of the Reborn. And there isn’t a way out, you just become a bloodthirsty monster.” Due to the lateness of the hour at this point and my desire to get on and get finished with the book, I did not, I regret to say, explore in greater detail how this fits in with Potatoisum. Must ask her about this another time.

Anyway… back in the book, Jeffries tells Jason that if you read what the Bible says about Jesus, you’ll end up believing that Jesus worked miracles, rose from the dead, etc. (except, of course, for all those of us who don’t, who are conveniently ignored at this point), but belief in is a different matter. To have belief in, Jeffries tells us, you need to see what the Bible says about you. He doesn’t back this up with any actual examples of what he thinks the Bible says about you, but then, when I had a look at Wallace’s blog to find out more, it seems that what he had in mind was the we-are-all-terrible-sinners lectures from Paul and similar rants from Jesus, so I actually think he made a good call not including those in a children’s book.

The points Wallace/Jeffries wants to make here are:

  • You’re not perfect.
  • God is perfect. Or, at least, if God is all-powerful and create everything from nothing, then God ‘could be’ perfect, which apparently counts as the same thing in Wallace/Jeffries’ chain of logic. (I did at this point flash back to Katie’s rather more interesting logical deduction in Chapter One, where she hypothesised that a god might potentially be really good at creating universes but not so good at, say, sports.)
  • We can’t live in eternity with a perfect god when we’re not perfect, because our imperfection would spoil his perfection.
  • Our mistakes, ‘whether large or small’, must be punished.

“Except,” Katie objected, “if God really was so perfect, he would accept everyone for what they are instead of saying ‘I’m sorry, you’re not perfect, you don’t get to be with me, you’re contaminating me, eugh, gross’. I can imagine that in one of those teenage girl voices,” she added.

Right on, kiddo. Nicely put.

“Also,” Katie continued, warming to her theme, “you have to be punished for your every mistake. I mean, if you deliberately choose to do something wrong, then fair enough, but your mistakes? If you accidentally stumble and fall into someone, then you have to be punished? I mean, come on, he’s a huge jerk! I realise I’m condemning myself to hell by saying all this, but, hey, whatever, I don’t care. God, I’ve decided you’re a huge jerk and I hate you and I hate Jesus too.”

Score one for Wallace’s evangelical efforts, folks! Sounds like they helped Katie make her mind up, anyway!

Anyway, back to Jason, who’s looking understandably worried at what Jeffries is telling him. Fear not, Jason! Despite the Christian God’s apparent utter inability to plan a decent afterlife for His own creations, there is a solution! God came to humans as Jesus, lived ‘the perfect life’, and ‘willingly accepted the punishment we deserve’. This means that, if we ‘accept what Jesus did for us on the cross’, God will now forgive us, despite being apparently either unwilling or unable (it’s not clear which) to do so without his version of self-harm being involved (which, among other things, makes me wonder what exactly was supposed to have happened after death to the souls of all the people who lived and died in the thousands of years before Jesus’s birth). We aren’t told how any of this is supposed to solve the problem of God being unable to tolerate imperfect people in his presence for eternity, but it’s kind of vaguely handwavingly implied that this is somehow solved, so… don’t think about it too hard, I guess.

Jason says he thinks he gets it, which is more than I do. Oh, well, never mind the problems with the ethics or logic of this theology; let’s get this done. I hoped Wallace wasn’t going to end with some horribly awkward scene of Jeffries leading Jason through reciting the Sinner’s Prayer, and this hope at least was granted; Jeffries tells Jason that this is a decision everyone has to make on their own and that he should think about it and tell God what he’s decided. So that bit, at least, I liked a lot better than the scenes I’ve seen in Christian books where impassioned missionaries lead a tearful new target through praying and converting on the spot. Jeffries tells Jason and Insert Character that he expects to see both of them at the police station sometimes (I assume he meant for visits rather than because they’ve been arrested), and the story ends with Insert Character thinking ‘deeply’ about what they learned from Jeffries.

Still not quite it, as there are a few final sections; these should be quick to deal with, so my next post really should be the final one. Nearly there!

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 3

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

So, as expected, Lacey was the skateboard owner, and, as not expected but should have been, Jeffries pretty much hands this one to the cadets rather than helping them work it out themselves. I forgot to update my prediction accuracy count, but this, of course, brings it to three accurate out of five; which, alas, is where it stayed, as my daughter had an unusually long episode of rationality while reading this and thus did not at any point randomly utter any of the words ‘mushrooms’, ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’ ‘jalapeños’, or ‘chicken’. You win some, you lose some.

Time to wrap this up:

We get a bit more information from Lacey, including the fact that she kept the board in the shed. What the hell is the security at this school like? A shed on school grounds containing potentially dangerous tools should be locked. Also, of course, it’s supposed to be filthy in there; surely her parents would have noticed her continually turning up at home with smudges on her face or cobwebs in her hair? She put the sticker over her initials when she was about to graduate as she didn’t want to risk her parents seeing her initials on a skateboard, although since she seems to have just left the board in the shed permanently at this point it’s not clear why she thought it would be an issue. Oh, and she did eventually confess all to her parents.

I went back after reading this and checked the earlier parts of the book, and Wallace has completely borked his own continuity.

  • The conclusion drawn by the cadets in Chapter 2 is that the skateboard is at least nine years old (appearance, plus sticker with the school’s previous name on it), which is why Daniel asked Lacey about it in the first place (she’s ten years older than him).
  • In Chapter 4, Lacey tells us that Lincoln Singleton, the board’s previous owner, moved away five years ago.
  • When the cadets go to see Mr Warren, the school custodian in Chapter 5, we learn that he’s worked there for three years. We also get the following history from him:

“[…]A boy named Lincoln gave it [the skateboard] to Mr. Templeton, the first custodian of the school. When he retired, he told the temporary custodian, Mr. Jenkins, about it, and Mr. Jenkins told me. I didn’t really want to throw it away, and one day a nice, polite girl asked if she could have it, so I gave it to her. Then sometime later it appeared in the shed again—and there it stayed, until you guys found it.”

So…

  • After all that business about ‘nine years ago’, it turns out Lacey would have to have owned the board in the last three years.
  • Except that, at the beginning of Chapter 4, it’s stated that Lacey attended that school ‘many years ago’. So, for some reason, she was hanging around the school and keeping the board there despite having left the school long since and (most likely) being clearly out of its age range.
  • Mr Warren, despite being familiar enough with the skateboard to remember in detail what Mr Jenkins said about its history, somehow didn’t notice that it was being left in the shed every night during the time Lacey owned it. (Or, more worryingly, that a student was regularly entering the school shed, and also regularly carrying something out of the school shed.)
  • If Lacey knew that Lincoln had put it there, why did she wait for over two years before asking Mr Warren for it? Alternatively, if she didn’t know at the time but found out since then… how? Did she see it there? What is it with this school letting children poke around in a shed full of rusty tools? Why was she even there when, according to the timeline, she should already have left the school?

Sigh. Absolutely none of this plot makes any sense. I much prefer ridana’s version.

On the plus side, we’re nearly at the end of the chapter:

Jeffries is delighted that the cadets finally see how the pieces of the puzzle fit together.

Well, that’s more than I do.

“Just like there was enough evidence in this mystery to figure out who owned the skateboard, there’s also enough evidence to figure out the truth about Jesus.”

An apt comparison; in both cases, Wallace/Jeffries has been giving the cadets the evidence he thinks appropriate, and holding back on evidence when he thinks it appropriate. But I still don’t see how there was enough evidence to figure out who owned the skateboard. I mean, Daniel didn’t ask Lacey about the skateboard because there were clues pointing to her; he asked her about the skateboard because she happened to be the one person he knew who’d been at that school at what the cadets thought was around the time the skateboard had been left there but which I’ve just worked out wasn’t the time the skateboard had been left there. And we still don’t know how Jeffries figured out who owned the skateboard.

Aarrrgghhhh. Since I know perfectly well that the answer to all of the above is ‘Wallace didn’t care about his plot beyond the point where it provided a handy vehicle to pass on his views to children’ I will shut up about it and get on with wrapping this up.

Jeffries gives the cadets one last summary of his reasons for believing the Jesus-story is true, complete with lists on the whiteboards that are basically just going over the same stuff that’s been done so I won’t bother repeating them here. Hannah exclaims “Wow, I guess we really did learn a lot about evidence!” (sigh). And Jeffries calls the cadets up to receive their certificates. This last is illustrated by a line drawing of Jeffries and a cadet holding a certificate with a ‘Congratulations Cadets’ sign in the background. Unfortunately the quality of the drawing is… pretty much on the level of the quality of the plot, which meant my daughter found it severely freaky.

“Don’t you mean ‘Congratulations, demons??” she broke in, indicating the figures in the pictures. “The eyes are different sizes! That face is going to haunt my nightmares! It’s like so simple, but so complicated. That does not work! Aaaaaaah!”

Personally, I thought it was one more piece of evidence that the rest of the class was in fact populated only by cardboard cutouts.

And that’s the end of this chapter, but not quite the end of the book yet; we still have some final bits. I hope to wrap them up in one further post, but we’ll see how it goes.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review: Chapter Eight, Part 1

My eleven-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Chapter 8: Resist Conspiracy Theories: Discover Why Lies Are Hard to Keep!

“Final chapter!” I announced to Katie. “What do you think of the book so far?”

“It’s a whole load of nonsense,” she told me.

I asked her what she expected to happen in the last chapter. “I presume that Jeffries is going to come up with some sort of nonsense, stretching the truth, ignoring huge issues, to make it seem like Christianity is true even though there are huge flaws in it?” she suggested.

So, subtle there, but I think if you read carefully between the lines you can spot a hint or two that my daughter was less than impressed with this book. What do you think?

Anyway… after this chapter there’s still an epilogue and a final section from Wallace pushing apologetics, so we’re not quite there yet, but this is the home stretch. As we go through, I’ll update my predictions for this chapter to see what I got right and what I got wrong.

It’s the last session of the cadet academy aka Bible class, and Jason ‘has spent the entire week thinking about what Jeffries said’. Foolishly, I thought for a moment this meant that he’d realised it was their last chance to solve the skateboard mystery that everyone else seems to have stopped caring about and that he’d spent the week thinking over something Jeffries said on the subject in hopes of figuring things out. I know, I know, I’m naive sometimes.

Jason has actually, of course, spent the entire week thinking about what Jeffries has said about Jesus. At the beginning of the session, before Jeffries has come in, he tells the others he still has his doubts because he wonders if the disciples who wrote about Jesus were ‘all just lying’.

Dr Sarah’s prediction accuracy tally, two paragraphs in:

  • Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument: check
  • Skateboard-to-apologetics segue: nope. Wallace has actually changed things up a bit in the final chapter and decided just to plunge straight in with the apologetics.

So, the running total is one right, one wrong, and three remaining to be seen.

Back to the chapter. We have a grey insert box defining the word ‘conspiracy’ and telling us that successful conspiracies are ‘incredibly hard to pull off’. “If you think you know about a successful conspiracy, it wasn’t successful! If it had been, you wouldn’t know about it!” Wallace tells us.

“That, or there’s a chance that it was actually completely successful but you’re actually from a different time period and it bamboozled the people of that time period but you’re from a different time period so it hasn’t bamboozled you,” Katie pointed out. Which was kind of irrelevant with regards to Christianity, which I don’t believe to have been a conspiracy at all, but I didn’t bother getting into that one as I just wanted to push on through.

Insert Character, faced with Jason’s doubts, replies “But remember what Jeffries said about the fact that the disciples didn’t have a good reason to lie? Why would they all choose to suffer like they did if they were only lying?”

Hah! And, to emphasise this, I’m just going to skip ahead and quote Jeffries from a bit later in the chapter:

“Worse yet, they suffered like we described a few weeks ago. They were under incredible pressure to change their story, but they never did.[…]”

Hah! What did I tell you? Well, all right, technically what I told you was that the line would be ‘they died for their beliefs and never recanted’, but this is close enough. Dr Sarah’s prediction tally, three paragraphs in: Two right, one wrong. Not bad going.

Anyway, back to where we were… in comes Jeffries, ‘holding a stack of graduation certificates’. A stack? Just how many were there of the nameless, wordless other class members who didn’t get to be part of the plot at all? Quite a lot, apparently, unless the stack is because Jeffries wrote these graduation certificates on stone tablets. I feel sorry for the other cadets, condemned by the plot to week after week of sitting voicelessly while Jeffries lectured on evangelism and the few people for whom Wallace bothered to think of names lapped it all up.

And – surprise, surprise – Jeffries’ planned subject for the day is also an explanation of why Christianity wasn’t just a big conspiracy. Convenient, that, isn’t it?

“I’m confident he was listening in. Which he really should not be doing,” Katie told me. She might have a point.

We do in fact have a brief skateboard-to-apologetics bit inserted at this point, but not the one I was expecting; Jeffries asks the cadets how they know there was ever a skateboard mystery at all. How do they know it wasn’t all a big conspiracy cooked up by the custodian, the owner of the skateboard shop, and Lacey? Well, because that wouldn’t make any sense, that’s why. Ding ding ding! So now you can see why Christianity wasn’t all just a big conspiracy on the part of the apostles! And Wallace/Jeffries proceeds to give an explanation of what’s needed for a successful conspiracy theory that probably would have interested me if I hadn’t been all ‘strawman, bored now’ about it. I might go back to it some time if I’m having to deal with a ‘scientists are all conspiring to put autism in vaccines’ theory or whatever.

Oh, and we get this:

“[…]Remember what Hannah said a few weeks ago? There were five hundred people who said they saw Jesus all at one time.”

Er, no. There’s a claim in one of Paul’s letters, in what might be a formal creed, that Jesus appeared to ‘more than five hundred people’, but we have no details at all of what this ‘appearance’ involved, and it’s not mentioned in any of the other accounts of the resurrection appearances.

A quick note: When I first read this claim, I assumed Paul must be making it up. After all, this is the same Paul who seemed quite happy to misrepresent himself to potential converts if he thought it would win them over. A few years ago, I started thinking about it a different way; was there any event in the early church that might have genuinely been misinterpreted as a mass appearance, as rumours grew? There was, I rapidly realised; Acts 2 tells the story of a huge public sermon leading to mass conversion among the audience. The standards for what counted as an ‘appearance’ don’t seem to have been that high (from Luke’s description of Paul’s conversion, it seems Paul didn’t even see Jesus in his road-to-Damascus moment), so it’s quite plausible that an event at which a large crowd of people experienced some sort of religious ecstasy could have been interpreted, by eager members of the early church, as Jesus ‘appearing’ in some form to them to cause this ecstasy. So I now suspect that the ‘more than five hundred’ story actually refers to the Pentecostal sermon described in Acts 2. At any rate, that sounds a lot more plausible than the idea that there was a genuine mass vision of a resurrected Jesus which, for some reason, absolutely none of the other NT authors consider worth mentioning.

“And how could all these people stay in touch with each other to get their stories lined up, especially since they were scattered all over the Roman Empire?”

I have to wonder whether Wallace really believes that this mention of ‘more than five hundred people’ was only made after the purported five hundred had each individually been carefully interviewed, the interview records compared for consistency, and the process then repeated some time later to see whether anyone was willing to crack and confess to it all being a conspiracy. That is, after all, what he seems to be implying here. Who does Wallace believe would have been tracking down these people, checking their stories, and using any inconsistencies to blow the roof off the Christianity story? Who does he think would have bothered? People who didn’t believe in the early church’s claims wouldn’t have joined it, and authorities who suspected them of breaking laws or creating a public disturbance would have arrested and tried them on those suspicions; who does Wallace think would have been going to enormous effort to debunk it?

(Side note: Also, why does Wallace think the ‘five hundred’ would have ‘scattered all over the Roman empire’? That’s quite an assumption to make about a group of people about whom we know nothing. He honestly seems to be inventing this stuff as it suits him.)

Jason says that maybe the disciples managed a successful conspiracy because they were good friends and that helped them stick to their story, and Wallace/Jeffries comes up with the rather odd claim that this wouldn’t apply to Matthew, because, apparently, he wasn’t their friend:

“He wasn’t raised around the other disciples and wasn’t their friend when he met Jesus. Instead, he was a tax collector named Levi, disliked by the others.[…]”

So… anyone know of anything to support the idea that Matthew, whatever his status when he first met the disciples, didn’t become friends with them in the supposedly three years that they all lived and journeyed and strove towards a common goal together? Or is this another place where Wallace seems to have just invented stuff? I mean, yeah, I don’t believe in the conspiracy theory anyway, but this is a weird argument. But it did set Katie off on another thought; she thinks that Jesus would have pushed them into being friends whether they wanted to or not.

“‘You’re all worshipping me so you should all be friends in peace! Even though I’m going to bully you into believing in me so I’m secretly a huge jerk!'” she hypothesised. “Jesus is really a huge jerk, though, isn’t he?”

And on that note, I will break this post here and return for the next part of the chapter, in which the skateboard mystery finally, and underwhelmingly, gets solved. If you’re on the edge of your seats… well, don’t be, it’s soooo not gonna be worth it.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids: Chapter Seven

My eleven-year-old* daughter and I, both atheists, are reviewing J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

*Yes, she has had an age upgrade. Yes, this means I have now been doing this review for over a year.

Chapter Seven: Separate Artifacts from Evidence: Clean Up Your Crime Scene!

So, you know how at the end of my review of the last chapter I pointed out what a bad idea it would be to finish that session without discussing the statement Lacey gave? And how I suspected this was exactly what Wallace/Jeffries was going to do, but as it wasn’t specified that the session ended at that chapter ending, I was prepared to give Jeffries the benefit of the doubt?

Turns out that not only did that session indeed end, but Jeffries shows zero interest in going over the statement this week either. Having told the children how important it is to hang on every word in a statement if you want to get those cases solved, he is now quite happy to leave the details of Lacey’s statement to get fuzzier in the cadet’s minds for an entire fortnight while he keeps going with Bible class. Priorities, and all that.

Oh – and it’s just occurred to me that the children also show zero interest in discussing Lacey’s statement any further. Even though – as Wallace points out in the opening words of the chapter – there are only two weeks left of the course, they show no apparent concern over the fact that they’re all completely ignoring an important lead while their window of opportunity for closing this case as a group is rapidly closing. I guess this is one of these books where the characters all secretly know that they’re in a book where everything’s going to get wrapped up in the final chapter.

Apart from that whole glaring problem… well, I found this chapter pretty uninteresting. It’s the chapter on how we shouldn’t worry about the problem of textual changes in the gospels over time, and it really doesn’t work well here. Well, not that it would have worked well anywhere considering that we have the perennial problem that this was originally meant to be a Police Cadet Academy course and not a Bible class, but it makes even less sense for it to be in this bit of the book, when narratively we should be ramping up skateboard investigation suspense. I did have some fun reading it to Katie in a hyped-up dramatic tone and wisecracking the whole time – which she also enjoyed – but, as far as this review is concerned, I’m just going to shoot on through this as fast as I can.

So… At the beginning of the chapter, Jason takes the skateboard home and examines it. He finds a squiggly white line on the top edge which nobody noticed before despite the fact that all the cadets made a detailed examination of the skateboard back in Chapter Two and have been looking at it every bloody week since then. He gets excited about this in case it’s an Important Clue, but at the meeting next week Daniel tells them he thinks it’s just a drip from the cans of white paint that were sitting next to the board in the shed. There is a joke about Hannah calling the mark a ‘squiggly’ and the Insert Character wisecracking ‘I missed the class on squiggly evidence’, which would possibly have worked better if these poor kids had been having any classes on any evidence instead of just getting a Bible course, but, as it is, just felt sort of poignant to me.

On that same note, Jeffries tells them that every time he enters a crime scene he expects to find two different kinds of objects, dun-dun-DUUUNNNNN, and everyone leans eagerly forward because they’ve been ‘waiting for Jeffries to share something about a real crime scene’, and, oh dear sweet innocence and naiveté, JEFFRIES IS NEVER GOING TO TELL YOU THINGS ABOUT REAL CRIME SCENES. THIS IS NOT A REAL CADET COURSE. YOU HAVE BEEN LIED TO. Anyway, the two kinds of objects are ‘evidence’ and ‘artifacts’; the things that are related to the case, and the things that aren’t but are nevertheless related to what Wallace wants to tell his readers about the Bible this week. OK, so the last bit was my interpretation.

Entirely irrelevant side note: In medical school we got taught about artefacts on histological slides (and, yes, that’s how we spell it, I guess it’s another of those British-vs-American spellings) and so the medical school’s drama group was called Artefacts as a medical pun. So this chapter did have the benefit of triggering some fond memories of the fun we had there.

Back to CCCFK. Jeffries uses the ‘artifacts’ thing as his cue to explain to the cadets about how there are also artifacts in the Gospels caused by people making mistakes as they copied things out, but, hey, kids, not to worry, none of the changes are important and the scholars can aaaaaalways figure out what the original said. No, Jeffries does not tell them that scholars now believe that these changes include the addition of the story of the woman taken in adultery and the story of the resurrection appearances in Mark, neither of which I would describe as unimportant changes. No, Jeffries does not invite the children to consider the implications of the fact that two stories now thought probably not to be authentic were assumed to be authentic for centuries until gospel scholars read some older manuscripts; he does not point out that this means it’s possible that some of the stories we now think are authentic might turn out, if we ever find any even earlier manuscripts, to also be later additions. And no, Jeffries does not mention the fact that even the very oldest complete manuscripts we have are from hundreds of years after the gospels were written and even the oldest fragments we have are from a few decades after, allowing a substantial window of opportunity in which such changes could have happened. But then, we all knew he wasn’t going to tell the cadets any of that, didn’t we?

Jeffries illustrates the way scholars figure things out by writing three different versions of a sentence in which different letters are missing/changed in such a way that it isn’t possible to figure out the meaning from reading any individual one of them but, by looking at the bits we have in all three, it’s possible to figure out what the sentence said. So, there you go, we did get one bit that was interesting. Unfortunately he then describes this on the next page as ‘two inaccurate copies’ when it was actually three, so, whoops, but I deleted my initial snark about that; it’s surprisingly easy for errors like that to creep in during successive edits and then get missed on proofreading. But, hey, Wallace, something for you to change if you ever write an updated edition.

We also get this:

“Well, scholars and Bible experts have thousands of ancient copies of the Bible documents to compare to one another—more ancient copies than any other book in history. It’s an amazing collection of early documents.[…]”

“Do you know where those thousands of copies come from?” I asked Katie.

“No.” (Which is fair enough, since she’s eleven years old and I asked it as a rhetorical question.)

“They come from monks in Anglo-Saxon and medieval times who copied the Bible out thousands of times. So they’re not ‘early documents’. They’re from hundreds of years after the Bible was written.”

Katie highlighted the words ‘thousands of ancient copies’ in my Kindle app, clicked ‘Add Note’, and typed in ‘NOPE!’

And we also get one of those grey insert boxes about Bible quotes, this one asking what God compares his words to in Matthew 4:4. The answer is ‘Bread’, in case you’re wondering. “Why is he comparing his words to bread?” Katie asked. “I only compare mine to mushrooms!” So, there you are, that was Katie’s one comment on the chapter. (And, no, she does not actually compare her words to mushrooms. She just likes saying ‘mushrooms’ a lot. Along with ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’, ‘jalapeños’, and ‘chickeeeeeeen’.)

Anyway, the sentence that Jeffries gave Jason to figure out is ‘If Jason is a good detective, he will stand!’ and Jason figures this out and stands up and everyone applauds, and it turns out Jeffries chose this sentence for SYMBOLISM (and indoctrination), as the chapter then ends with Jeffries telling the cadets that they can be ‘sure enough about the words in this Bible to take a stand for Jesus’.

And, there you go, we have finished the penultimate chapter! I am so pleased to have gotten through a chapter this quickly. And to be this close to finishing the book. Since it’s this close to the end, I’m going to come up with predictions for the final chapter:

Things I expect to happen in the final chapter:

  • As I previously mentioned, Daniel’s sister Lacey will be revealed as the skateboard owner. (Apart from the clues in her witness statement, she’s also almost the only other character who’s shown up in the entire book, so it’s pretty much a ‘Murder At My Friend Harry’s’ literary situation here.)
  • I looked at the contents list and the title of the final chapter is ‘Resist Conspiracy Theories – Discover Why Lies Are Hard to Keep!’ so I think it’s fair to guess that the apologetics topic for this chapter will be the Demolishment Of The Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument. (For those not familiar with apologetics, this is the one about how the apostles wouldn’t have just made the whole thing up, so obviously it must all be true because apparently the only possible two alternatives are ‘someone deliberately invented this story’ and ‘this story’s true’.)
  • Following on from the above, we will get the ‘they died for their beliefs and never recanted!’ line, because, despite there being little evidence that most of the disciples died for their beliefs and none that recanting would have saved them, this argument always shows up in the Apostles’ Conspiracy Theory Strawman Argument (which I think I might shorten to ACTSA). In fact, Wallace used it a few chapters back. Betcha we get it again.
  • The inevitable skateboard-to-apologetics segue will consist of the cadets finding out that Lincoln was helping Lacey keep her skateboard ownership secret from her skateboard-disapproving mother and Jeffries using their discovery of this secret as an example of how Lies Are Hard To Keep and thus all the non-existent people who think the resurrection was a hoax cooked up by the disciples are wrong.
  • My daughter will randomly utter at least one of the words ‘mushrooms’, ‘potatoes’, ‘cheese’ ‘jalapeños’, or ‘chicken’ at some point while we’re reading it.

Things that I regretfully do not expect to happen in the final chapter, although it would be really cool if they did:

  • An outraged parent storming into the class demanding to know why the police station is running an illicit evangelising class under the guise of a police cadet class.
  • The cadets turning up for their final class and finding that Jeffries has been suspended for running said evangelising course illicitly on police time and property (Lies Are Hard to Keep, Jeffries!) and that the other police officers, contrite about not having spotted what he was up to, have put together a really good class on actual police work for the cadets’ final session.
  • Any of the cadets calling Jeffries out on any of the misleading information he gives them.
  • Anyone apart from Jason, Daniel, Hannah or Insert Character getting any lines. (Seriously, Wallace… you’re barely giving them any sort of characterisation anyway and it’s not like they’re actors who have to be paid extra if they get speaking parts. Could you not have thrown in some more names along the way so that we could feel like this was a class instead of four people plus a bunch of cardboard cutouts standing around the walls?)

A thing I hope doesn’t happen in the final chapter

  • The cadets all falling on their knees and being led by Jeffries through a tearful and impassioned rendition of the Sinner’s Prayer. That would feel seriously awkward to read.

Well, we will soon find out! I might be able to go through the final chapter with Katie tonight. Are you excited? I’m excited.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter Six, part 4

My ten-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

So far in Chapter Six:

  • Daniel’s sister Lacey visited the class so that Jeffries could ask her what she remembered about the skateboard.
  • Jeffries asked her a few questions and proceeded to ignore her completely in favour of starting this week’s apologetics lesson.
  • Lacey clearly knows more about the skateboard than she’s letting on, but this went unexplored in this chapter as Jeffries, as usual, considers apologetics more important than actually teaching cadet-related stuff.
  • I suspect Lacey herself of being the mysterious former owner, but we have not yet been told whether this is the case or not.
  • Jeffries is claiming that a report of someone else’s report counts as an eyewitness statement. I’m fairly sure it doesn’t.
  • Jeffries believes we have good evidence that gMark (the gospel according to Mark) was written by a follower/eyewitness of Peter.

So far in background information:

And now… Jeffries is going to explain to us/the cadets what his evidence is for gMark having been written by a follower/eyewitness of Peter! Yay! This is the bit I’ve been looking forward to.

Because I was genuinely interested in this part, I did quite a lot more background reading than I usually do for these posts. After reading the CCCFK chapter, I went on to read the corresponding section in Cold Case Christianity (which, as you probably either know or can work out, is Wallace’s original ‘how to use police methods to investigate Christianity’ book and is aimed at adults) in order to get Wallace’s full argument. Then, I found an online Bible site where it was possible to get the whole of each gospel on one page, searched each gospel in turn for mentions of Peter under either of his names, made a list of all sections in each gospel that mention Peter, drew up a comparison table of the different Peter-mentioning stories in each gospel, and used my copy of Gospel Parallels (all right, all right, my parents’ copy that I borrowed in my teens-and-twenties phase of investigating Christianity and never gave back) to read and compare the different versions of the stories in each of the synoptic gospels, using an online Bible site to read the corresponding stories in gJohn. Sometimes you just gotta let your geek flag fly.

I wish I could say I’d reached some deeply profound conclusion as a result of all this, but I didn’t (I’m not counting the conclusion that I spend far too much time on trivia; I knew that long ago). Still, it was interesting.

(A quick note: Wallace, of course, refers to the author of this gospel as Mark all the way through this section. Since the entire point of this particular discussion topic is that we don’t know who the author is, this is technically somewhat question-begging. However, to be fair, it’s also more convenient, so I will do the same thing. If the author’s name was not in fact Mark, then my apologies to him, whoever he was.)

The explanation in CCCFK consists of a list of five points, followed up by Jeffries giving a short explanation of each (plus doing more whiteboard-drawing to illustrate each point; on this occasion his drawings included a calculator and a microphone, which struck me as a bit incongruous, but in fairness I suppose they’re just meant as symbols).

The list of points Jeffries gives in CCCFK is:

  1. Peter is a major character in Mark’s gospel
  2. Mark writes about Peter as a friend
  3. Mark treats Peter kindly
  4. Mark shares little things only Peter would know
  5. Mark seems to know a lot about Peter’s preaching

The corresponding CCC list contains one extra point, which is:

Mark used Peter as a set of ‘bookends’.

OK… let’s work through.

Peter is a major character in Mark’s gospel.

Jeffries’ explanation in CCCFK is ‘Mark’s gospel mentions Peter a lot more than Matthew’s gospel’. This, unfortunately, isn’t accurate even according to Wallace’s info; in CCC, I learned that gMatthew actually mentions Peter three times more than gMark does. What Wallace means is that gMark mentions Peter proportionately more, once you take the shorter length into account. I’m pretty sure Wallace’s inaccurate statement in CCCFK was an inadvertent result of his attempts to simplify the argument to child level rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead his child readers, but it’s a bit sloppy.

I also can’t help feeling Wallace has given himself a bit of a problem here, as far as gospel authorship is concerned. If the proportionately greater number of mentions of Peter in gMark compared to gMatthew did mean that Mark was likely to have known Peter personally, wouldn’t the flip side of that be that the author of gMatthew was less likely to have known Peter personally? And wouldn’t that then cause problems with the traditional Church teaching that gMatthew was written by the apostle Matthew, who would have known Peter very well indeed? Wallace seems to be coming up with an argument in favour of traditional Markan authorship that effectively stands against traditional Matthean authorship. Not sure you thought that one all the way through, Wallace.

Anyway… looking at the argument Wallace is aiming for here (that Mark mentions Peter proportionately more often for the length), how well does it stand up as evidence for Markan authorship?

I don’t think it does. The extra material included in Matthew compared to Mark largely consists of a) the nativity/infancy narrative, b) the Sermon on the Mount, c) the long ‘scribes and Pharisees’ rant, and d) a short description of resurrection appearances. (If I’ve missed any major bits I should have included on that list, do let me know.) Peter obviously wouldn’t be expected to get a mention in Jesus’s nativity story, and there’s no obvious reason why he would get mentioned in a sermon Jesus is giving to multitudes or in a rant against another group of people. We could reasonably expect him to get a mention in the resurrection appearances (as he does in both Luke and John), but then, that whole argument leaves us with the awkward question of why Mark doesn’t mention the resurrection experiences at all, so that doesn’t really help Wallace’s case here.

In short, Mark doesn’t seem to be mentioning Peter disproportionately more than would be expected considering the material he and Matthew are covering. (In fact, I found several places where another gospel mentions Peter yet the equivalent passage in Mark doesn’t, or Mark leaves that story out entirely.)

 

Mark writes about Peter as a friend

The phrasing, again, is a product of Wallace’s attempt to simplify this for children; in CCC, this point is phrased as ‘Mark identified Peter with the most familiarity’. The CCCFK phrasing struck me as a bit ironic, because Mark actually doesn’t write about Peter ‘as a friend’; the entire gospel is narrated dispassionately in third person, with no direct statement or suggestion at all that Mark knew Peter.

The point Wallace is actually trying to make here is that Mark only ever uses one of Peter’s names (‘Simon’ or ‘Peter’) rather than calling him Simon Peter in full. He’s the only gospel writer who doesn’t use the name in full at any point; Wallace contrasts him with John, who, apparently, uses ‘Simon Peter’ seventeen times. From another quick wordsearch, I confirmed that Matthew and Luke do indeed each use the term ‘Simon Peter’ once, so Wallace is technically correct in saying that Mark is the only one never to use it. Given how often both Matthew and Luke use single names for Peter, I didn’t find that particularly significant; it seems both of them were also quite happy to refer to him by his first name. In fact, that’s the way people generally were referred to in those times, since surnames weren’t widely used at that time.

Interestingly, another problem with Wallace’s argument here is that he seems once again to be shooting himself in the foot. If the use of just ‘Peter’ rather than ‘Simon Peter’ is an important indicator that the author knew Peter well, then, conversely, the author of John would seem to be the one who knew Peter least well, since he uses the full name far more often than any of the other three. Yet, of course, Church tradition – and Wallace’s belief – has it that the author of this gospel is none other than the apostle John. John was an apostle together with Peter and a pillar of the early church together with him and James after Jesus’s death; they spent most of their adult lives together as companions and workmates. John would have known Peter even better and more closely than one of his followers. If Wallace’s argument about naming actually does hold water, wouldn’t that mean that he’s just given us a good reason to believe that the gospel of John wasn’t written by John?

 

Mark treats Peter kindly

Wallace’s claim here is that Mark ‘seldom says anything unkind about Peter’ even when writing about his mistakes. In CCC, Wallace gives examples of this:

  • In the account of Jesus walking on water, Mark does not include Peter’s failed attempt at doing the same or Jesus’s consequent description of him as a doubter/a man of little faith.
  • Mark doesn’t include the story of the miraculous catch of fish, which portrays Peter as doubtful of Jesus.
  • There are incidents (not specified by Wallace) where other gospels attribute some awkward question or statement to Peter but where Mark doesn’t give an attribution.
  • In the account of Peter declaring that Jesus’s death would never occur, the ‘most edited and least embarrassing’ version occurs in Mark.

This claim, I couldn’t help but notice, contradicts what Church father Papias has to say about Mark’s gospel; Papias states that Mark ‘took especial care not to omit anything that he had heard’ in writing his account of Peter’s teachings. Does Wallace really want to claim that Papias is wrong? Since this same quote from Papias is our earliest claim about the authorship of Mark’s gospel, that could have unfortunate implications for his argument.

Anyway, more to the point… Mark also includes the story of Peter being unable to stay awake to watch with Jesus and getting rebuked for it, the triple denial, and the ‘Get thee behind me, Satan!’ scene. I’m really not convinced that Mark’s tried particularly hard to avoid showing Peter in a poor light.

 

Mark shares little things that only Peter would know

The corresponding claim in CCC is milder; rather than claiming that only Peter could have known these details, CCC says that the details ‘point to Peter’s involvement in the shaping of the text’. Examples are:

  • Mark is the only one to tell us that Peter (Simon) and the other disciples went looking for Jesus when he was praying on his own.
  • Mark is the only one to tell us that Peter was the one who commented on the withered fig tree.
  • Mark was the one who named the specific disciples who asked Jesus when the destruction he was predicting would happen
  • In the account of Jesus visiting Capernaum, Mark writes that the people heard Jesus had ‘come home’ even though Capernaum wasn’t Jesus’s home. Wallace points out that it was Peter’s home, so Peter might well have described Jesus’s visit there thus.

The last point is a really good one; I hadn’t noticed that comment in Mark, and it is pretty odd. So, yes, that could point towards a story that came originally from Peter.

The others are not actually that impressive in context; when I read through the different accounts together, I noticed that each of the gospels seem to mention Peter in some context where the others don’t. gMatthew names Peter as the disciple who asks about the handwashing parable.  gLuke names Peter a few times; in the scene with the woman with persistent bleeding he’s the one who expresses surprise that Jesus asks who touched him, in the scene where Jesus tells the parable of the thief in the night Peter is the one who asks whether this is for them or for everyone, and in the scene where Jesus asks the disciples to talk to a man to get the Passover meal ready Peter is named as one of the two disciples sent. Luke and John both include Peter finding the empty tomb. gJohn has the ‘Feed my sheep’ scene. Did Mark choose to leave all these out? Or is it just that Peter, as the main disciple, was an obvious choice to refer to when a gospel author wanted to add a bit of verisimilitude to the tale? Either way, the mentions in gMark don’t seem particularly convincing as a sign of the author having known Peter.

 

Mark seems to know a lot about Peter’s preaching

What this means, apparently, is that neither Mark nor Peter includes the birth narratives or ‘other details of Jesus’s private life that are found in Luke’s and Matthew’s gospels’ (Wallace doesn’t specify here which ones). Which could mean that Mark got his story from Peter, or could mean that, at the time Mark was writing, the extra details hadn’t been added to the tradition yet.

 

Mark used Peter as a set of ‘bookends’

This, Wallace explains, means that Peter is both the first and the last disciple mentioned in the text of Mark’s gospel, which Wallace states to be an example of ‘inclusio’. Inclusio is, apparently, a literary device used often in the Bible in which a particular phrase or theme is echoed at the beginning and end of a section in order to emphasise the section. I’m not sure this particular example counts as inclusio, since technically it’s neither a phrase nor a theme (there’s no particular similarity between the first mention of Peter and the last mention of Peter). I do think it fair to say that those mentions are one of the indications that the author wanted to emphasise Peter as a significant character – and, of course, Peter is a significant character in all four of the gospels – but it’s really a bit of a stretch to say that this indicates he got his information from Peter.

 

So, that’s the list. Bottom line… This analysis had the benefit of being something new in apologetics, which does not happen all that often. However, most of the points Wallace presents here as evidence don’t really hold up, and the overall level of evidence does not stack up well against the reasons for doubting traditional Markan authorship.

And that’s the end of Chapter Six (which I have reached just barely in time to avoid another tiresome round of footnoting the initial blurb with a ‘Katie is actually now X+1 years old even though she was X when I reviewed this chapter with her’ update).

One final point, from me; Remember Lacey’s evidence, guys? The witness statement that Jeffries completely dropped so that he could give his apologetics talk for the day? Well, we’re now up against an interesting question; did Jeffries come back to that statement at all in this session, or is he leaving it until the next session? Leaving it the way he did was bad enough, but leaving it for an entire week would be even worse. Everyone’s memories of it will be pretty fuzzy by then, and either they won’t have Lacey there to check any follow-up questions with her or Lacey will have to make an extra trip back to the police station because Jeffries didn’t have the courtesy to get her part of things wrapped up while she was actually there. And, since Wallace has so far stuck to the one-session-per-chapter format, it seems extremely likely that this is indeed meant to be the end of the session.

However, the book doesn’t specifically say this to be the end of the session, so we have a Schroedinger’s Ending situation; it is technically possible that Chapter Seven will be a continuation of the same session. So, Jeffries, you get the benefit of the doubt for a little longer on this point. We’ll find out in the next chapter.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter Six, part 3

My ten-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

I finished my last CCCFK post by declaring that the next one would discuss Wallace/Jeffries’ explanations of why, in his opinion, analysis of the gospel of Mark shows it to have been written by a close follower of Peter. However, I then worked on the next post for a while before realising that I was going to have to start with a general discussion of Wallace’s approach and some problems thereof, and that putting everything in one post would make it far too long. So, this post is the general discussion, and next post on the topic will be the one that goes into the specifics of the explanations.

Although Wallace doesn’t say so in CCCFK, what he’s using here is based on a technique he’s been trained in using as a detective, called Forensic Statement Analysis. I initially saw this mentioned in one of the blurbs about this book, and was intrigued enough that I read the corresponding chapter in Cold Case Christianity to find out more. This is Wallace’s description, in CCC, of how he carries out this method:

I routinely asked suspects to write down what they did back on the day of the murder, accounting for their activity from the time they got up in the morning to the time they went to bed. I provided each suspect a blank piece of lined paper and a pen. Any alterations in their statement would have to be scratched out, and as a result, I was able to see what they initially wrote and where they were uncomfortable with their original choice of words. I would then examine this statement, asking several important questions. What kinds of words did the suspect use to describe the victim? Does the suspect ever inadvertently slip from the present to the past tense, giving away his or her presence or involvement at the scene of the crime? Does the suspect compress or expand the description of events in order to hide something or lie about how something occurred? Does the suspect over- or underidentify the victim in an effort to seem friendlier or disinterested in the victim? In essence, I examined every word to see if it provided any clue related to the suspect’s involvement in the crime.

Wallace gives us some examples of how this might work, and goes on to tell us that when he started reading the gospels – by which time he had already been using this technique for years – he “approached the Gospels like I would any other forensic statement”.

I found all this genuinely interesting; the technique sounds fascinating in itself, and I love the idea of using it to analyse the gospels and see what comes up. However, it’s also important to note the limitations of this technique, particularly when applied in this way… and Wallace (not too surprisingly) doesn’t really go into these.

Here are some things we need to consider:

How accurate is this technique, overall? Remember that this isn’t a method used to provide definitive evidence about whodunnit; it’s a method used to give detectives clues about which suspects need further investigation.   It sounds extremely useful for that purpose, but how accurate is it by itself? Out of the times Wallace has used it, in what proportion of cases have the suspicions raised by this method ultimately proved to be unfounded?

It’s noteworthy that, in the section of CCC where Wallace gives examples of different word choices people might make, he also points out different possible meanings of the choices. “We’d have to spend some time with him [the suspect] to learn more” he writes at one point. We have no way of spending more time with the gospel authors; we can’t learn more. Without that confirmation, how accurate are the conclusions we draw from this statement going to be?

How accurate is this technique going to be in this situation? The problem with approaching the gospels like ‘any other forensic statement’ is that the gospels aren’t forensic statements. There are crucial differences between the statements Wallace analyses and the gospels.

For one thing, when a suspect writes Wallace a statement, it’s because an authority figure (Wallace) has given that person a specific directive (to write down everything they did on a particular date). When the gospel authors wrote their gospels, it was because they had a particular story that they themselves wanted to tell. Does that affect their word choice, and, if so, how? We don’t know, so that’s another potential inaccuracy in using this method here.

However, there’s a more serious problem here. Katie, for all that she hasn’t had much to say about these chapters, did make one comment on this one that nailed it; “I think it’s important to note,” she typed into my notes, “that we don’t have a clear picture of the Bible’s original words and their meanings, yet Wallace is using said original words as so-called ‘valid evidence.'”

Exactly. Wallace has told us that, for his method, he looks at the original handwritten statement in order to be able to see where a word or phrase originally chosen was corrected. We can’t even get close to doing that with the gospels. Not only do we not have the original handwritten versions of what the gospel authors wrote, we don’t even have the final versions of what they wrote. Even the earliest manuscripts we have are copies of copies of copies (and we have no idea how many times the ‘of copies’ should be repeated in that sentence), and not only will the copyists have made mistakes here and there as they transcribe the scripts, it’s very likely that now and again they also changed something deliberately; either because they thought they had a better way of saying it, or because they genuinely, if inaccurately, thought something in the version they were copying must be wrong and thus tried to help out by ‘correcting’ it.

Wallace is trying to use a technique that relies on knowing exactly what words the author chose… in a situation where we have only at best a general idea of which words the author chose. Used in such a situation, how accurate is his method?

How much do cultural differences affect the accuracy of this method? They clearly do affect it to at least some degree; again, in one of Wallace’s examples, he points out that the expression he describes his ficticious subject using might mean something of significance to the investigation… or it might simply be a regional or cultural figure of speech. Well, the gospel writers came from a different region and a different culture from us. And, although it’s a much-studied culture, it’s also a culture that existed two millennia ago, meaning that even the best available knowledge about it is going to have some limitations. (I’m also guessing that Wallace’s knowledge about Jesus’s culture is not, in fact, the best available.)

That’s also going to have an effect on how well we can interpret their words. It means we can’t be sure when the gospel writers are making cultural references that their audience would have gotten but we won’t, or when we’re reading our cultural assumptions into their words in ways that aren’t warranted.

(The flip side of this, by the way, is that the knowledge we do have about the geography and culture of this area at this time has strongly contributed to the conclusion generally held by scholars that the gospel of ‘Mark’ probably was not written by a follower of Peter. This is something I’ve mentioned in my last post on this topic; at one point the author of this gospel makes a significant geographical error by describing Jesus as travelling through a city that would in fact have been in the opposite direction from him, and at another he makes a cultural error in describing Jews as referring to King David as their ‘father’. While these mistakes would be easy for a stranger to make, they seem unlikely for someone who got his information directly from an eyewitness, and that casts significant doubt on whether the author of this gospel actually did get his information from an eyewitness. If Wallace really wants to analyse the significance of every word in reaching his conclusions about the gospels’ authorship, shouldn’t he be analysing the significance of the words that cast doubt on his claims?)

 

Wallace, as per the quotes above, does touch on some of the problems above when describing how this method works. But, when he describes how he used it to determine the author of gMark, that caution seems to go out of the window. In CCC, he describes the evidence he’s come up with as a ‘reasonable circumstantial case’ for the authorship of this gospel, which ‘becomes even more powerful’ when combined with the mentions we have of gMark’s authorship from the early Church fathers.  In CCCFK, he tells us that there are ‘very good reasons to believe’ that the author of gMark got his information directly from Peter. Given the significant possible sources of inaccuracy around this method, describing the evidence with such certainty does not seem warranted.

Jesus mythicism vs. Jesus historicity: an argument in favour of the latter

I seem to have had a few comments on here in recent weeks about the Jesus mythicism question (for those who are unfamiliar with the argument, this is the question of whether a real Jesus actually existed in the first place or whether Christianity started with a belief in some kind of celestial being). For the record, I’m on the ‘historical Jesus’ side of this particular debate, meaning that I believe that the whole thing did start with an actual Jewish preacher and founder of a Messianic cult. This is something I’d like to post a series of posts about at some point, but it’s a long way down my to-do list at the moment, so look out for those in about… 2030, maybe? However, one particular comment I got did catch my attention as raising an important point. I started writing a comment in reply, and realised it was actually long enough to be a post. So here we are.

 

 

Owlmirror wrote:

I have to admit, it is weird no matter which way things are supposed to have gone: How a Son/Christ who supposedly had no earthly incarnation could have suddenly gotten one in the specific time and place of Judea in the 30’s. Or the other way; how a Jesus who was presumably real and taught in the 30’s could be so easily ignored/erased by those who came later.

Which is an excellent point. If Jesus did exist, we have to explain how, within a relatively short time of his death, he was being spoken of as some kind of mythical semi-deity in the writings of some of his followers. If Jesus was a myth from the start, on the other hand, we have the reverse problem of having to explain how he then came to be written about and taught about as an actual person who walked the face of the earth and did normal (as well as miraculous) things. And this, as it happens, gets to the nub of why I believe in a historical Jesus; I’ve found other reasons as I looked into the topic more, but my initial reason is simply that I believe the former scenario is a lot easier to explain with the data we have than the latter. So, I want to explain why.

First, here are some key points to bear in mind:

  • We have four official accounts portraying Jesus as a real person, which have been established as having been written within a century (the earliest probably within a few decades) of the events alleged in them.
  • These accounts include quite a few things which were clearly quite awkward for their authors. Jesus was supposed to have been the Messiah – despite this being a Jewish title that referred to someone who would rule over the country in an era of peace and prosperity, which Jesus clearly hadn’t done. He apparently came from Nazareth – even though this was another big problem for his followers’ claims that he was the Messiah, requiring two of the gospel authors to make up complicated and contradictory accounts about how, despite having grown up in Nazareth, he had actually been born in Bethlehem. He was executed by the Romans for sedition – which would have made the cult widely unpopular and could have got them into real trouble (if you read the gospel accounts, you can see the writers coming out with some wildly implausible stuff intended to paint a picture of Pilate as really innocent in the matter and the Jews really being the ones to blame for the whole thing). And apparently, despite the gospels painting a very anti-Pharisaic picture, his teachings as portrayed were in fact rather typically Pharisaian (Maccoby, Revolution in Judea and The Mythmaker). So… these things all got included, and we need to ask why.
  • These accounts also show signs of getting increasingly fantastical over time, suggesting the stories are getting embroidered as they go along.
  • In the early years of the Church, the person who seems to have been doing more than anyone else to spread this new belief to Gentiles in far-flung places was someone who joined only after Jesus’s death, showed astonishingly little interest in finding out about the doctrines of this new group, thought it quite OK to spread teachings that he believed to have come to him through personal revelation rather than from others in the group, and clashed with the existing group over the things he was teaching, of which they didn’t approve at all. Which gives us a rather bizarre situation where this man has gone off at a complete tangent and is energetically spreading his version of this new belief, which ends up being extremely influential despite being quite different from what the original grou believed.
  • All this was happening within a society where the majority of the population came from cultures other than the minority culture from which Jesus supposedly came, whose beliefs, and hence their interpretation of stories and events, might be very different from that of the culture in which the beliefs originated. On top of that, it was a society with widespread beliefs in amazing happenings, including the possibility of gods visiting the earth in human form.

Against this background information, how does the above question look?

Firstly, let’s look at the hypothesis that Jesus was actually a historical person. How does the above evidence fit with this? Well… according to this theory Jesus creates a bit of a splash in his local area, gets killed, and his local followers reach the belief he’s miraculously risen from the dead and thus keep his cult alive. A few years later, along comes Paul of Tarsus, who appears to have converted dramatically to the faith but has in fact converted dramatically to his own rather peculiar version of it, which he then energetically preaches to other communities over the next several years. Meanwhile, the existing stories about Jesus are getting embroidered as they get passed on. Some of those stories are getting passed out to the groups of converts in other cities, and some of the theology that those converts hold is filtering back to the original Jerusalem community, and a lot of people are ending up with a mixture of ideas that’s moving away from what was originally intended.

By the time people get as far as writing the stories down, a few decades later, the stories they have to work with are a mishmash of things that actually happened, embroidered versions of things that actually happened, stories that people have made up out of whole cloth because they sound good, and some rather strange mythology around the whole thing. So that’s what gets written down. Some of the stuff is pretty awkward for them, but, because it goes back to things that did actually happen, it’s firmly embedded in the traditions and can’t just be erased or ignored, so the gospel authors include those bits but do what they can to sugar-coat them or explain them away. We end up with an odd mix of stories, many of which are clearly embroidered or mythicised but many others of which seem to be describing a historical Jesus. Which, as you have probably spotted, pretty much describes the NT.

So far, so good; the historical theory fits well with what we have. Now, time to look at the other hypothesis; the idea that Jesus was originally a myth about a celestial being, and the stories about him were historicised later. How does that fit with the evidence we’ve got?

Well, the epistles seem to fit reasonably well, purely as far as theology goes; the theological descriptions of the Lord in the epistles could plausibly fit with a group who believe in a spiritual leader somewhere up in the heavens. (Even then, there are a lot of lines that wouldn’t plausibly fit with this; the epistles do contain several lines about Jesus having existed according to the flesh, or being born of a woman, or being of the seed of David, or having brothers, one of whom Paul mentions meeting, all of which is rather difficult to reconcile with mythicism and requires some highly strained logic on the part of mythicists. But if we ignore all that – which mythicists do, on the whole, tend to prefer to do – and focus just on the theology, then that seems at first glance to fit.)

However, once we get to the gospels, things get a lot more difficult to explain. If the group at this stage believed that the person they held so dear was in fact a celestial being who had never visited this world as a human, how did we end up with multiple books telling detailed stories about his time living in this world as a human?

Of course, explanations exist. Earl Doherty, in The Jesus Puzzle, presents the first gospel as being written as a deliberate attempt to give a group an apparent historical founder that would appeal more to converts. Richard Carrier, in On the Historicity of Jesus, explains it as being an example of euhemerism, a practice of the time in which historicised stories were written about mythical beings. Adam Lee from the Daylight Atheism blog, in this essay, suggests the gospel writers might have been following the precedent of midrash, a rabbinical method for analysing verses from the Jewish scriptures and coming up with further explanations and illustrative stories about them. All these explanations have their problems, but I can certainly see how any of them could explain the existence of a few historicised stories about a Jesus who was originally thought to have lived, died, and risen on a heavenly plane only.

But what do we actually have? Multiple different books describing a historical Jesus. (While the gospels are not independent in terms of what information they give us, each one does nevertheless represent a different person sitting down and putting a lot of effort into writing a detailed and lengthy story.) Highly awkward claims – that the authors seem to be desperately trying to soft-pedal, but nonetheless include – that a specific and powerful public figure was responsible for the death of this founder. Further highly awkward claims that the revered founder was making claims that got him (rightly, under the prevailing Roman law) executed for sedition. Complicated and contradictory stories attempting to explain how a man from Nazareth was actually born in Bethlehem, when it would surely have been so much simpler to leave out the Nazareth claim and write Jesus as coming from Bethlehem in the first place.

What would lead people to make all this stuff up – all of it – from scratch? Not just embroidering or adding to existing stories about an existing person, but inventing all of the above, including the bits that clearly work against their purposes? So far, I have not heard an adequate explanation for this. Of the two theories, therefore, the theory that Jesus did actually exist – that, at the start of the story of Christianity, there was an actual Yeshu or Yeshua who preached and had a following and was executed by the Romans – fits the available data a lot better.

And that’s why I believe in a historical Jesus.

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter Six, part 2

My ten-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

Several chapters back, in response to Jason’s question about how we know that the gospels are ‘real eyewitness testimonies instead of legends or myths or something’, Jeffries promised that we’d get a whole session on that topic. (Although only, apparently, after we’d spent the then-current session discussing the gospels on the assumption that they were reliable accounts, so that raises some concerning questions about Wallace’s approach to evaluating evidence.)

Given the emphasis on the theme of eyewitness statements in this chapter, I think this is supposed to be the session to which he was referring. However, this session only covers the authorship of the gospel normally known as Mark… which is not meant to be an eyewitness testimony. While Church tradition does have it that two of the gospels (‘Matthew’ and ‘John’) are written by eyewitnesses, there are no such claims for ‘Mark’, which was supposedly written by someone who’d obtained his information second-hand, from the apostle Peter. (Of course, if that’s true it would still be potentially good evidence, but it wouldn’t be an eyewitness testimony.) So, if this is supposed to be the promised explanation of how we know the gospels are eyewitness testimonies, then it’s a pretty inadequate attempt at it.

Oh, well. I don’t know for sure that this is the session Wallace/Jeffries was referring to, and there are two more chapters left after this one, so it is theoretically possible that he actually had a different session in mind which is still to come. I’m willing to give him the benefit of at least some doubt.

Before getting on to what Wallace/Jeffries has to say about the authorship of the gospel of Mark (which I’ll henceforward refer to by the abbreviation gMark, to save typing time), I’ll give a quick general rundown on the subject for anyone who wants it. (Thanks here go to historian and blogger Matthew Ferguson for his post Why Scholars Doubt The Traditional Authors Of The Gospels, which was a useful source for a couple of these points.)

The author of gMark, like those of the other gospels, does not identify himself in the text of his work. The earliest information the Church has on gMark’s authorship comes from the early church bishop Papias, who probably wrote some time between 95 and 120 CE (AD). Papias’s actual works have been lost, but one of the few quotes of his work that we have from later authors is about gMark, and states that it was written by Peter’s interpreter Mark, who wrote down what he remembered of Peter’s teaching as accurately as he could. This information is backed up by two other authors from the second century; Irenaeus, in the third volume of his work ‘Against Heresies’, states that ‘Mark, the disciple and interpreter of Peter, did also hand down to us in writing what had been preached by Peter’, and a few of the quotes we have from Clement of Alexandria’s work state that Mark was a follower and companion of Peter who wrote his gospel at the request of some of Peter’s other followers.

(There is also a tradition that this Mark was the John Mark mentioned a few times in Acts. I can’t actually find anything in any of the above quotes to specify whether this is the case; as far as I can see, it’s plausible that these authors were talking about a different Mark and other people made an understandable but incorrect assumption that they were referring to John Mark. However, while this is an interesting question, I don’t think it’s a terribly important one; if gMark was written by someone very familiar with Peter’s teachings, then that’s important information regardless of whether the author was John Mark or not. Wallace also doesn’t raise this issue and I won’t go into it further.)

The question is, of course, whether Papias, Irenaeus and Clement were actually right. All of them were writing decades after gMark was written, and we don’t know how reliable their information was. Papias got his information from someone known only as ‘the presbyter John’, and we don’t know who this person was or where he got his information. We have no idea where the other two got their information; it might, for all we know, trace back to Papias, or perhaps to a source of similarly uncertain reliability. (Of note is that both Papias and Irenaeus also described the gospel of Matthew as being a work originally written in Hebrew… but scholarship has since established that Matthew was originally written in Greek. If those two made a mistake that basic regarding one gospel, we can’t count on what they say about others.)

On top of this, it’s been noted that gMark makes various geographical and cultural errors that would be unlikely in the writings of someone who was a close follower of Peter. (For example, he depicts Jesus as travelling from Tyre to the Sea of Galilee via Sidon, which was, in fact, in the opposite direction from the Sea of Galilee for someone starting from Tyre; he depicts Jews as calling out the phrase ‘our father David’ when in fact David, while a highly important figure in Jewish history, was not considered one of the Jewish fathers and wouldn’t have been referred to as such.) Also, his quotes from the Jewish scriptures come from the Greek version, not from the original Hebrew that Peter would have been expected to use.

The result of all this is that it is now the general consensus of scholars that Papias and co. probably had it wrong; that, whoever wrote gMark, it probably wasn’t someone who’d received his information directly from Peter.

I’m going to add here, by the way, that this does seem to me to be – ironically – a better conclusion as far as the Church’s point of view is concerned. After all, one notable aspect of gMark is that it originally did not contain any actual accounts of people seeing a resurrected Jesus. (Some versions do have a short paragraph about resurrection appearances, but these aren’t in the earliest copies we have and have long since been established as being later additions. The actual gospel ended with the women learning from an unnamed man at the empty tomb that Jesus had risen, then leaving in fear.) Yet, from the accounts we have of the resurrection appearances from other sources, Peter was supposedly one of the key witnesses. If gMark really is the comprehensive and reliable report of Peter’s teachings that Papias tells us, surely the fact that this doesn’t include any reports of post-resurrection appearances should be rather awkward for the Church?

In any case… back to the book.

I think Wallace actually ran into a bit of a conundrum in writing this bit. On the one hand, he has this whole structure of focusing on one police-related theme for each chapter and he really wanted the theme of this chapter to be eyewitness statements. On the other hand, the subject he actually wanted to write about was the authorship of a gospel that wasn’t written by an eyewitness.

His method for resolving this conundrum was to have Jeffries claim to the cadets that, since the gospel was based on Peter’s teachings, it actually counts as Peter’s eyewitness statement.

I realise that Wallace genuinely does know a lot more about the whole subject of witnesses and statements than I do and thus it is actually possible that I’m wrong and he’s right here, but… surely an eyewitness statement has to be the words of an eyewitness? Seems to me that, even if he and the Church are right here and Mark actually was Peter’s close follower/interpreter, the gospel would still at best be Mark’s eyewitness statement about Peter’s teaching. (Since it’s been formalised and anonymised in the writing, I’m not sure it would even count as that much. I couldn’t find a definition of eyewitness statements for the US, which is where Wallace works and writes, but I found a page from the UK about eyewitness statements that specified that they have to include a description of what the witness actually saw or heard. Any US police officers or lawyers reading this who can comment?)

On top of that, of course, there’s the fact that the gospel includes scenes for which Peter wasn’t present. Even if the Church is right about Mark being a follower of Peter’s, those particular scenes can only be third-hand at best.

Jason, I was pleased to see, is likewise dubious:

“Why isn’t it just called the gospel of Peter then?” asks Jason.

“Because Mark was Peter’s ‘scribe’—he wrote down Peter’s teaching, so he’s the actual author.” Jeffries can tell that Jason isn’t satisfied with that answer.

And rightly so, IMO. I mean, isn’t it a contradiction to say that Mark is the author but it’s Peter’s eyewitness statement? If someone other than the eyewitness is the author, then surely by definition it’s not an eyewitness statement. I can’t see that one standing up in court, Jeffries.

However, turns out Jason is unsatisfied for a different reason; he wants to know how Jeffries can be sure that this gospel is in fact based on Peter’s information. In other words, this is Wallace/Jeffries’ cue to explain why we should believe – based on analysis of gMark – that it actually was written by a close follower of Peter’s.

And that, my dear readers, is going to be the subject of the next CCCFK post. See you there!

Cold Case Christianity For Kids, mother and daughter team review – Chapter Six, part 1

My ten-year-old daughter and I, both atheists, are teaming up to review J. Warner Wallace’s children’s apologetics book ‘Cold Case Christianity For Kids’. Links to all posts in the series are collected at the end of this introductory post.

We’re on to Chapter 6, which is titled ‘Hang On Every Word: Spot the Truth When You Hear It!’ (All Wallace’s chapter titles in this book end in exclamation marks; maybe he thinks children like exclamation marks. Maybe they do like exclamation marks. Maybe this is based on market research.)

On this chapter Katie did have a couple of comments, though the first thing she had to say was a general comment on the book so far. “This guy says stuff that’s so wrong, it’s annoying to me,” she told me. “It’s literally just straight-up wrong information. And it is aggravating to me. Yay! I used the word ‘aggravating’. I’m proud of knowing that.”

Chapter 6 starts with a surprise for Daniel; Jeffries has invited Daniel’s sister, Lacey, in to be a witness in The Case Of The Mysterious Skateboard. Lacey’s happy to have the chance to see the cadet classes because, apparently, it’s ‘all Daniel can talk about’. Which I would have thought would be a great opportunity for Lacey and/or parents to notice that this supposed police cadet academy course that is being run on police premises and was initially advertised on school premises is, in fact, an evangelising class being illicitly advertised as a police cadet class and illicitly run by a public tax-funded department. Alas, this does not happen.

This chapter is about the importance of paying attention to every detail when analysing witness statements. Because of this, I’ll quote Lacey’s interview with Jeffries in full, as at this point we haven’t yet been told which bits will turn out to be important:

“[…]Would you call yourself an expert witness on skateboarding?”

Lacey hesitates for a moment. “Not really. I mean, I never actually owned a skateboard. My mom didn’t think they were safe.”

“Now, Lacey,” asks Jeffries, “why did you specifically remember this skateboard?”

“The large poly wheels make the board ride really fast.” Lacey points to the blue wheels. “It’s a smooth riding board too.”

“How often did you see your friend Lincoln skating on this board?”

Lacey responds, “I was—um, I mean, Lincoln was on it almost every day.”

Katie pulled my computer towards her and typed (she learned to touch-type a few months back, and now practices the skill when she gets a chance): ‘Since Lacey stutters and says ‘I was-um, Imean, Lincoln’ I feel like she rode the skateboard and doesn’t want people to know so she doesn’t get in trouble.’

This was exactly my conclusion as well; Lacey’s clearly a thwarted skateboard fan who had some kind of arrangement going with Lincoln whereby she could secretly use this board without her mother knowing. Which means that at least one of the bits I was dubious about –  the question of why on earth Lacey would remember so much about the board, so many years later – has actually now been satisfactorily answered, which makes a nice change. I am sometimes not the quickest on the uptake, and so it wasn’t until later that I realised there’s an obvious plot twist that could well be coming up here; the Big Reveal will probably be that it’s Lacey’s board (with Lincoln keeping it at his house so that she can keep it a secret from her mother), and she will be the ‘L’ in the mysterious ‘LB’ that was scratched on the board and then covered up.

However, we didn’t get to find out in this chapter whether any of this is correct, because we are sticking to the usual class format of

  1. Skateboard discovery section (which will just handily happen to bring up whichever points are going to be needed for the apologetics section)
  2. Apologetics section

even though, in this case, it makes no sense at all. Lacey’s statement is fresh in everyone’s mind, and Lacey herself is right here in case any of the cadets want to ask her more questions, so now is the obvious time to discuss Lacey’s statement. Instead, Jeffries invites Lacey to join them if she wants, gives the cadets a general speech on the importance of listening to every word people say and how they say it, tells the cadets that they might just have picked up another clue or two about the skateboard if they were listening carefully… and proceeds to change the subject to talk about the gospel of Mark.

Lacey, please note, is apparently sitting and listening to all this (at least, Wallace doesn’t mention her leaving, so it sounds as though she’s taken Jeffries up on his invitation for her to stay). Oh, if only she would interrupt him: “Hey, hang on, what’s all this about the gospels? I thought this was meant to be a police cadet class!” “That would be amazing,” Katie agreed. It would indeed, but – of course – it doesn’t happen.

I’ll break the post here, and come back to discuss what Jeffries has to say about Mark’s gospel.