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“While successful conspiracies are the popular subject of many movies and novels, I’ve come to learn that they are (in reality) very difficult to pull off.) – J. Warner Wallace, Cold-Case Christianity

“Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world-and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks.” – Charles Colson

This is the 2nd part of What Every Christian Needs To Know About Conspiracy Theories, and is taken from the podcast What Every Christian Needs To Know About Conspiracy Theories by cold-case detective J. Warner Wallace, who is a former atheist turned Christian apologist,where he talks in detail about the rules for a good conspiracy, combined with information from chapter 7, Resist Conspiracy Theories, of his book Cold-Case Christianity.

This is a continuation of notes taken from that podcast. In my first blog on this topic, I talked in detail about the 5 components needed for a successful conspiracy:

1. A small number of conspirators.

2. A short conspiracy timespan

3. Excellent communication

4. Strong “Familial” Relationships

5. Little or no pressure to confess.

This blog post continues, applying those components. As noted in my previous blog, these are notes or in most cases, direct transcriptions, of his podcast, along with some quotes from his book Cold-Case Christianity in italics.

What Every Christian Needs To Know About Conspiracy Theories Part 2

“So now you know the 5 things that are required or that really are important if you want to be successful in a conspiracy. By the way, if you are somebody who says, “I can tell you, I know that there are some successful conspiracies,” and you can name them bump, bump, bump, bump, well think about this for a second. A successful conspiracy is one you get away with, which means that no one ever finds out that there was a conspiracy to begin with. If you know of a conspiracy, can you really call it successful? If you think about it, the best conspiracies are one that you might be able to imagine it but really you’d never know because it’s successful. They actually got away with it. Nobody gave up the truth and exposed the conspiracy. So I think success in terms of conspiracies is when you actually get away with it and nobody discovers that it’s a conspiracy to begin with. And of course, the problem is that you can’t have that kind of success, well you can have it, but no one’s going to know about it. If you think you know about one, that’s not a successful one. So let’s just start with that premise, but let me go one more step with you. Let’s talk about how we might break that.

“Now that you know the 5 rules, the 5 attributes of successful conspiracies, let’s talk about how you might break that if you have a conspiracy in place.”

  • He goes on to talk about a homicide that he was called to that the evidence pointed to it taking 2 men to pull off the murder. They had 2 suspects that fit the profile that they followed for 4 days before they arrested them in on traffic warrants so that they wouldn’t know that they were suspects in the murder. They were now both in custody.

“Now I want you to think about the nature of conspiracies and what we had in this case.”

1. A small number of conspirators.

“We had two suspects. So that’s the smallest possible conspiracy that you can have. They have the first element. They’ve got us there.”

2. A short conspiracy timespan

“The second element: Short period of time. They’ve only had to hold it for 4 days. They’ve got us there.”

4. Strong “Familial” Relationships

“Well, they don’t have us in the 4th element. The 4th element is all about family relationships. They weren’t related by family. They weren’t blood. They weren’t blood relations. They were just friends. So that was good. So we can kind of beat them on that one.”

“Now we have 2 other areas that we can still control, which is”

1. Can we apply pressure? (Which is 5th attribute of successful conspiracies: Little or no pressure to confess.) and
2. Can we eliminate communication between these two men? (Which is the 3rd attribute of successful conspiracies: Excellent communication )

“Well, we can do that. So we brought them into custody and we separated them immediately and put them into 2 separate rooms. ”

“Then what I did was I walked into the first room after a couple of hours. I waited a couple of hours, and I walked into the first room, and I told that guy, ‘Hey, tell you what. I just spent the last 2 hours talking to your buddy,’ which wasn’t true, but I told him this. ‘And I tell ya, he doesn’t want to go to jail for what he says you did, and I’m inclined to believe him. I think he was probably a minor, had a minor role in this. He says you’re responsible for everything, from the planning to the execution of this murder. And he doesn’t want to go to jail for what he says you did. So I’m inclined to believe him. And he told me everything you did. And he told me the whole crime, and everything since the crime.’ And then I began to tell the first suspect everything that our surveillance team had been watching them do as though the second suspect actually told me. And of course, he hadn’t. But because I eliminated communication between these 2 men and applied pressure, this guy started to lose his cool. He couldn’t believe that the other guy told us everything. Of course he hadn’t, but he couldn’t communicate with him to determine how I found this out. And of course, in his frustration, he gave me some additional details on what happened. 10 or 15 percent more.”

“Well, at the end of this conversation, I went to the other guy. And I told him, ‘I just spent the last four and a half hours talking to your buddy, and he doesn’t want to go to jail for what he says you did, and I’m pretty convinced that he’s got a minor role in this, and you’re the main mover and player here. He doesn’t want to be held accountable for this.’ And I told him, I said, ‘he gave me every detail of your crime and everything you’ve done for the last four days.’ And of course, I told him now everything that the other guy had said, with the little 10 or 15% more plus everything that our surveillance team had seen, as though the first guy told me all of it. And because he couldn’t communicate with the first guy, I eliminated that communication line. Well, he ended up giving me more.”

“I only had to go back and forth three times before both of these confessed to every detail of this crime. Where the property of the victim was, we recovered all of it.”

The Moral To The Story: Let’s Apply This To The Twelve Disciples

“Now the important part about this story I’m telling you is that you can see now the elements of that have to be in place to pull off a successful conspiracy. And I want you to stop for a second now, and think about, ‘Gee, how would this work in terms of the twelve? Do we think the twelve disciples had the five things you need? And do we not think that their interrogators, the Romans of the 1st century, would have interrogated them in a very similar way that I do? Of course this hasn’t changed for thousands of years.”

1. A small number of conspirators.

“And so we have now is not just 2 conspiring but at least 12, at least the 12. And of course more who across the known world at the time, surely talked about Jesus, there was lots of witnesses to the ministry of Jesus. And so we have a huge conspiracy if this is the case. That should give you suspicion right away.”

 

2. A short conspiracy timespan

In addition, the apostles would have been required to protect their conspiratorial lies for in incredibly long time. The apostle John appears to have lived the longest, surviving nearly sixty years after the resurrection. 

The two guys in the story above couldn’t keep their conspiracy alive for a few days

…the apostles allegedly kept theirs intact for many decades.

“But number 2, they have to hold it for 50 or 60 years! Think about that for a second. Really? Ok, that to me is a bit of a stretch. If it’s just 30 years, it’s a bit of a stretch. How in the world could you hold such a conspiracy for this long given how many people have to keep the secret.”

3. Excellent communication

The apostles had little or no effective way to communicate with one another in a quick or thorough manner. Following their dispersion from Jerusalem, the twelve disciples were scattered across the Roman Empire and, according to the most ancient accounts, were ultimately interrogated and martyred far from one another. Methods of communication in the first century were painfully slow, and…the apostles were separated by far more than a hallway. From Peter in Rome, to James in Jerusalem, to Thomas in Mylapore, the apostles appear to have been ultimately interrogated in locations that prevented them from communicating with one another in a timely manner. They had no idea if any of their coconspirators had already “given up the lie” and saved themselves by simply confessing that Jesus was never resurrected. While skeptics sometimes claim that these recorded locations of martyrdom are unreliable because they are part of a biased Christian account, there isn’t a single non-Christian record that contradicts the claims of martyrdom offered by the local communities and historians.

4. Strong “Familial” Relationships

To make matters worse, many of them were complete strangers to one another prior to their time together as disciples of Jesus. Some were indeed brothers, but many were added over the course of Jesus’ early ministry and came from diverse backgrounds, communities, and families. While there were certainly pairs of family members in the group of apostolic eyewitnesses, many had no relationship to each other at all. Philip, Bartholomew, Thomas, Simon the Canaanite, and Matthias had no family relationship to any of the other apostles. Whatever the relational connection between these men, the short years they spent together would quickly pale in comparison to the decades they would spend apart from one another prior to the time of their final interrogations. At some point, the bonds of friendship and community would be tested if their individual lives were placed in jeopardy.

5. Little or no pressure to confess.

Successful conspiracies are unpressured conspiracies. The apostles, on the other hand, were aggressively persecuted as they were scattered from Italy to India. According to the records and accounts of the local communities, each of them suffered unimaginable physical duress and died a martyr’s death. Ancient writers recorded that Peter was crucified upside down in Rome, James was killed with the sword in Jerusalem, and Thomas was murdered by a mob in Mylapore. Each story of martyrdom is more gruesome than the prior as we examine the list of apostolic deaths. This pressure was far greater than the rear of state prison…yet none of the twelve recanted their claims related to the resurrection. Not one.

“And did they have any pressure applied to them? Was any pressure applied to the twelve? Yeah! The kind of pressure that you typically think of, like Jack Bauer on 24, the kind of person that whatever it takes to get them to confess. Look, if you wanted to end the Christian narrative, the Christian worldview, the Christian claims in the first century, there is two ways to do that:

  1. Get the body of Jesus and drag it around town. That’s gonna end it.
  2. Get the 12, any one of the 12, to recant.

And what you have missing in any early ancient history related to the Christian worldview is anyone ever recanting. That never ever happened. Instead, people either went to their death because of their testimony or went to their death without ever recanting their testimony. You don’t have, and you have tremendous pressure being applied to the 12. The history of the martyrdoms is pretty comprehensive. I’m not here to tell you that I believe every traditional account of how the disciples died. But I do know this, there’s not a single ancient testimony that any of these guys recanted. And that is one of the quickest ways to end this thing in the first century.

To recap:

1. A small number of conspirators.

2. A short conspiracy timespan

3. Excellent communication

4. Strong “Familial” Relationships

5. Little or no pressure to confess.

How in the world would Thomas be able in India to communicate with Matthew in Africa or communicate with Paul in Italy to talk about what’s being said here, what’s happening to you, what are you telling them when they ask this question. You have no communication, way too many people holding it for way to long of time under way too much pressure and not enough in terms of family relationships, you might have James and John, and other brother sets here. Matthew is related to nobody, has no personal history with anybody, was not a disciple of John the Baptist, or a friend of the twelve, he was a tax collector. Do you really think, “Why should I die for what you knuckle heads want us to say?” Anything is possible, and I always say that, but this is not a reasonable claim related to the 12, that they were involved in a conspiracy.

Conclusion

Don’t get me wrong, successful conspiracies occur every day. But they typically involved a small number of incredibly close-knot participants who are in constant contact with one another for a very short period of time without any outside pressure.

Given what you now know about how conspiracies are broken to begin with. So I want you to keep that in mind

  1. When someone challenges you with this claim that the twelve are just involved in a mass conspiracy.

  2. But also this involved in your mind when someone makes a claim within the Christian church or within any of your set of friends that some other vast governmental conspiracy involving entire sectors of the federal government keep an incredible secret together for 30 years. Really? Ok, especially in a culture right now where all it takes is a book deal or a movie deal and suddenly you’re rich? I have a hard time believing that such a thing could actually occur. Is it possible, of course, because anything is possible, but it’s not reasonable. And by the way, the standard of proof in jury trials is not beyond a possible doubt but beyond a reasonable doubt. What we care about is what is reasonable. Keep that in mind the next time someone makes a claim about a conspiracy theory.

This series concludes in Part 3.

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