Bayesian evaluation for the likelihood of Christ's resurrection (Part 20)

Next, let us consider Zalmoxis, whom Herodotus writes about in his "Histories" as a divinity in the religion of the Getae. Herodotus wrote that Zalmoxis's followers believed they have a form of immortality in him, and performed a kind of human sacrifice to communicate with him through death.

According to Herodotus, he was told by certain non-Getae peoples that Zalmoxis was really a man - that he was teaching his countrymen some philosophy, but then hid himself in a secret underground housing for three years while people thought he was dead. He then came back out and showed himself alive, and this caused the people to believe his teachings.

And... that's it. That's the substance of this Zalmoxis and his "resurrection". Apparently this is one of the best examples that the world can come up with when asked about non-Christian resurrection stories. And yes, some people really have tried to link this "resurrection" to Jesus's resurrection, in an attempt to discredit Christianity. This, in spite of the record having no witnesses testimonies of any kind, nor even a group of people who can clearly be said to believe that someone came back from the dead.

Again, using the metric derived from 1 Corinthians 15, how does this measure up against the evidence for Christ's resurrection? Is anything about Zalmoxis's "resurrection" comparable with the testimonies of Peter, James, or Paul? Well, no. Zalmoxis has no witness testimonies, period - let alone any named witnesses among historically known persons. This means that nothing about Zalmoxis is comparable to the testimony of the apostles as a group, either. At the end of the day, all the evidence for Zalmoxis's "resurrection" comes down to "some people might have said that a god, who might have been a real person, might have come back from the dead". Note that all the "might have"s in that sentence are part of the historical evidence. It is not an external skeptic injecting doubt into the story, it's actually how the story is handed down to us through history.

So... I would again say this is pretty much no evidence. But again, because we need a quantitative value, I will be generous and say that this is an order of magnitude less than the evidence of the 500 witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15. That gives Zalmoxis 1/6 * 1/10 = 1/60th of the evidence that we have for Christ's resurrection.

Let's next look at Aristeas, who is another character in Herodotus's "Histories". He is said to have been a poet. The "Histories" relate how Aristeas "suddenly dropt down dead" one day (in front of just one witness), but then his body could not be found and he was seen alive - once close to the time of his death, and then seven years later, when he appeared in another town and wrote a poem.

Here's the thing about this story: it was already at least 240 years old when Herodotus was telling it. Then, Herodotus says that some people say that Aristeas appeared again (as a "ghost" or an "apparition") after those 240 years, and instructed these people to build an alter to Apollo and a statue of Aristeas himself.

Again, that's about it. The whole story only takes up a couple of paragraphs in Herodotus's "Histories". Now, it's not quite clear that a "resurrection" had taken place - the first part of the story sounds more like a fainting or a disappearance, and the second one is called a "ghost" or an "apparition" by the people who were suppose to have seen it, who presumably had no means of personally identifying Aristeas. But let's ignore that for now. What kind of evidence - what kind of witness testimony - do we have for this story, and how does it compare to the story of Christ's resurrection?

Well, once again we have no named witnesses. The first part of the story is at least 240 years old at the time of the telling - so no witnesses, of any kind, are even possible. The second part, where a ghost or an apparition instructs people to build an alter and a statue, may be a bit more credible. We seem to at least have a group of people who were instructed to build a specific alter and statue, and Herodotus might have conceivably met the individuals who claimed to have personally received these instructions. On the other hand, they are never identified more specifically than "the people of Metapontion", and it's unclear whether this is simply a story that the Metapontines told about their alter and statue. Furthermore, it's not even clear how long ago this was supposed to have happened - the story about the apparition might as well have happened another 240 years ago from the time that Herodotus relates the story, judging from the scant details.

So, once again the testimony evidence here only turns out to be of the "some people say..." kind. The closest thing we can relate this to is the testimony of the 500 witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15. Given the rather shadowy nature of the "apparition", and the uncertainty about whether Herodotus has any specific primary witnesses in mind, I would generously say that this counts for maybe a fourth of the evidence of the 500 witnesses. So, Aristeas's "resurrection" has about 1/6 * 1/4 = 1/24th of the evidence we have for Christ's resurrection.

We'll present some more examples next week.

You may next want to read:
Key principles in interpreting the Bible
Should we put the LORD our God to the test?
Another post, from the table of contents

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