Is There Factual Evidence for the Resurrection?
Why do so many believe in the resurrection?
In any open question, we should argue from what we do know to what we do not know. We do know that fervent legends and stubborn myths arise easily, naturally. We do not know that dead people rise from the grave. We do know that human memory is imperfect. We do not know that angels exist.
The legend idea is respectful!
What follows is a reproduced argument that was put forward by my friend, Claire on another blog. She contends that there is factual evidence of the resurrection. Her argument is presented in bold font, whereas my rebuttal is in normal font.
This will be an open debate, so anyone (who isn’t blocked) may contribute. I don’t necessarily ask that anyone pay any undue respect to a person’s position (believer or non-believer), but I do ask that if you do contribute, to try to keep your remarks civil. I also ask that if a thread runs out that you please continue your remarks by using the provided comment field provided above the comments themselves. A single reply to the last comment in an ended thread with arrows or V‘s pointing down to alert the previous commenter that you will be addressing them further in the blog will be acceptable. Continuous “stacking” of comments above an ended thread will result in those comments being deleted. (I may copy and paste them into the provided comment field with your names attached to them. I’m asking that we do this to keep a sensible order of comments so as not to confuse the silent or late reader to the blog.
You need to ask yourself, if there was no empty tomb, how Christianity started right after Jesus’ death. How were hundreds of Jews convinced that there was an empty tomb when there wasn’t??? Are you telling me that they would be disowned by their families for being a Christian for mere hearsay??
The argument begins by asking a ‘loaded question‘. In fact, I believe the entire argument presented by Claire is constructed with many loaded questions and assumptions. A ‘loaded question’ is a question that is asked that presupposes something that has not yet been proven to be true, or accepted by all those involved. In this case, it presupposes that there was a persona named Jesus who actually lived and died according to the Christian scriptures.
The early Christians were a small and obscure cult in the Roman empire, who were also divided into factions with many opposing and internally incompatible beliefs. One such division was in the belief of a physical death and resurrection of Jesus. Some simply believed that the death and resurrection was a purely spiritual or allegorical one. As the movement grew, so did the accusations of heretical teachings coming from all camps. One would accuse another of heretical views, and the accused would accuse right back. The earliest Roman reference to Christians came from Pliny the Younger, the governor of the Roman province of Bithynia in 112 C.E. He writes a letter to the emperor Trajen which describes his investigation of the early Christians cult. In the letter to the emperor, Pliny uses the word ‘Christ’, but he provides absolutely no mention of a man or god named “Jesus”. In what appears to be a description of a denial of their religion in the face of a Roman governor’s interrogation, Pliny writes of the Christians: “…all worshiped your [Trajen] image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ”. Pliny also offers his opinion indicating that he viewed the Christians to be excessively superstitious. He wrote, “But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.” Why would a Roman governor say something like that if the crucifixion and empty tomb of a man named Jesus were commonly known events? The answer, of course, is that he wouldn’t. This knowledge wasn’t common, and these things certainly weren’t established facts at all, but the beliefs of a fledgling cult in Rome! What we should ask ourselves is, why should any of us presupposes that there was a persona named Jesus who actually lived and died according to the Christian tradition without any substantiated proof of his crucifixion and empty tomb?
It was also asked how hundreds of Jews could be convinced that there was an empty tomb if there wasn’t one to begin with? Assuming that this question is speaking of the Jews alive during the span of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension as told in Acts 1:15, this would be another loaded question which presupposes the validity of an unsubstantiated claim that hundreds of Jews were “convinced”. In Acts 1:15 we read:
“And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples, and said, (the number of names together were about an hundred and twenty,)
There is no reason why we should take this pronouncement to be a historical fact simply because it came from a holy book. In other words, if we were to accept this to be true, then why shouldn’t we also accept that Joseph Smith spoke to an the angel Moroni? Why shouldn’t we accept as historically true, that Krishna rode with Arjuna in a chariot during an epic battle to kill the Sindhu king Jayadratha as portrayed in the holy Mahabharata? Point being, holy books themselves are not considered to be very good sources of actual history! What we need to verify any of these claims, are unbiased and corroborative contemporary sources.
If the question is referring to the alleged 500 witnesses as described by Paul, we still have no reason to believe in this story either. This claim is further examined below.
There are several problems with the hallucination story. You can’t have group hallucinations. One person, yes, but not masses of people. You assume that the witness of the resurrection only happened to Paul. That is blatantly false and you know it. If I had an hallucination that Elvis rose from the dead, are you going to be convinced? No, but you would be convinced if you actually so it. Hallucination doesn’t explain why Christianity spread so quickly.
We have to consider why this theory never cropped up in the first century. There are absolutely no sources that suggest that Jesus was mythical. In fact, hostile sources claim the body was stolen. In the “empty tomb” was a myth, while didn’t the authorities say so? Not even in the Talmud is there such a claim.
Granted, some skeptics have put forward the hallucination hypothesis believing it to be a plausible argument, but many put forward this and many other hypotheses (plausible or not) more specifically to demonstrate the absurdity of a credulous claim.
There are various hypotheses with varying degrees of plausibility that skeptics have often put forward to demonstrate a simple point: Regardless of the plausibility of any of the hypotheses, they are at least as credible as a corpse breaking the laws of nature and coming back to life from the dead. So to is it, that these various hypotheses often would fit into the biblical accounts as natural explanations if we are to even to begin entertaining the notion that the story might even be somewhat true. Further, isn’t it silly to argue the implausibility of a mass hallucination while at the same time arguing that a dead corpse can come back to life???
As a side, many skeptics would even conclude that Paul’s own story is a fabrication riddled with many obvious inconsistencies! Rather than write another blog within a blog here, I’m going to refer the reader to Sami Zaatari’s essay pointing out the flaws in Paul’s story, Did Paul Really Meet Jesus?. We can still argue points regarding this area if you wish though.
By the way, WHO assumes that the only (supposed) witness was Paul?
Here’s a quote:
Dr. Paul L. Maier, professor of ancient history at Western Michigan University, similarly stated, “If all the evidence is weighed carefully and fairly, it is indeed justifiable … to conclude that the tomb in which Jesus was buried was actually empty on the morning of the first Easter. And no shred of evidence has yet been discovered … that would disprove this statement.”18
If Jesus’ body was anywhere to be found, his enemies would have quickly exposed the resurrection as a fraud. Tom Anderson, former president of the California Trial Lawyers Association, summarizes the strength of this argument:
“With an event so well publicized, don’t you think that it’s reasonable that one historian, one eye witness, one antagonist would record for all time that he had seen Christ’s body? … The silence of history is deafening when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection.”
In other words, why didn’t the Romans come forward and say, “He was eaten by the dogs when we disposed of His body.”
That would be a wonderful way for the Romans to squash this resurrection myth!
While it is certainly plausible that Jesus’ enemies would have exposed a resurrection as a fraud if they had found a dead body, it completely ignores other possibilities. For example, and assuming for a second that the story is at least partially true, who’s to say that they [the “enemies”] weren’t bribed by the culprits involved in a grave robbery? There is no reason why we should just assume that they wouldn’t accept a bribe.
Was the story well publicized? If so, when and where? It certainly wasn’t during the purported time of the events, or even the first century!
David Ramsay Steele elaborates on a few key points in his book, Atheism Explained: From Folly to Philosophy:
For at least a century, Christianity was so little known that hardly anyone paid it any attention. Romans knew less about Christianity than you know about the Branch Davidians. The gospels depict a Jesus who had a popular following, but earlier Christian writings such as the letters of Paul depict a Jesus who was totally obscure and died without notice. The gospels’ account of a Jesus hailed by the crowd is probably a legendary elaboration, but even if it were true, the notion that the Roman authorities would go out of their way to rebut the claims of a bunch of fringe crackpots is ludicrous. Did the authorities produce the body of Elvis Presley when Elvis was sighted alive after his death? Furthermore, we do not know that anyone was publicly claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead until some years after the supposed date of the crucifixion. Palestine was soon seething with anti-Roman insurrection unrelated to Jesus, and this would have held the authorities’ attention. (p. 148)
As a side, the Tom Anderson quote, besides presuming that “the event was so well publicized” (which it wasn’t) is a non sequitur. Its conclusion, does not follow from its premises. (What was the rest of the quote in place of the … anyway?) The silence of history is “deafening” when it comes to the testimony against the resurrection simply because most people never even heard of the event in the first place! Even if a few Roman pagans did hear of the story in the first century, would they really care to testify against yet another of the countless miracle claims that existed at the time? People in general were also given over to many superstitious beliefs in various gods and supernatural things without question. In other words, it was common place to just accept stories of gods and the supernatural as real. What’s more, a lack of testimony is also not evidence for anything—except evidence for a lack of testimony. It’s no wonder Mr. Anderson is a lawyer. Lawyers are, after all, pretty well known for their sophistry. LoL…
Another thing to consider is that women were reported to have seen Jesus. Now, no conspirator would not be so stupid as to say women saw Jesus first. Women were deemed liars and weren’t even allowed to give evidence in court. So, where they being stupid or did they say it because women really did find the empty tomb?
The argument ends on yet another loaded question which leaves out another option. Why should we begin by assuming that they [the authors] were stupid for presenting women as witnesses, when they could have deliberately been spreading psychological disinformation? Disinformation is often employed by propagandist to further an agenda.
Apparently, in those days women were regarded as second to men (Ephesians 5:22, 1 Peter 3:1), and that they were relegated to task such as child bearers and house keepers (1 Timothy 5:14). The selection of twelve male disciples by Jesus also suggest that the authors of the New Testament upheld the Old Testament view of women. Bearing this in mind, why shouldn’t we reason that the authors intended to give credence to their story by the use of a rhetorical supposition or reverse psychology? It’s no stretch of the imagination to conclude that the authors might have used any means necessary to sell or strengthen the belief in their god and his resurrection.
This popular argument often used in support for the resurrection, is actually strong evidence suggesting, that from Mark to John, the authors may have infused their narratives with trickery and embellishments to make the whole story seem all that more credible.
There are claims that Jesus appeared to 500 people. That is the only way that people, who had witnesses His crucifixion, could be convinced that He rose from the dead and that explains why Christianity spread so fast.
Legal scholar John Warwick Montgomery stated, “In 56 A.D. [the Apostle Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6ff.). It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians could have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.”21
Bible scholars Geisler and Turek agree. “If the Resurrection had not occurred, why would the Apostle Paul give such a list of supposed eyewitnesses? He would immediately lose all credibility with his Corinthian readers by lying so blatantly.”
Former “hatchet man” of the Nixon administration, Chuck Colson, implicated in the Watergate scandal, pointed out the difficulty of several people maintaining a lie for an extended period of time.
“I know the resurrection is a fact, and Watergate proved it to me. How? Because 12 men testified they had seen Jesus raised from the dead, and then they proclaimed that truth for 40 years, never once denying it. Every one was beaten, tortured, stoned and put in prison. They would not have endured that if it weren’t true. Watergate embroiled 12 of the most powerful men in the world—and they couldn’t keep a lie for three weeks. You’re telling me 12 apostles could keep a lie for 40 years? Absolutely impossible.”
Think about that. It has been 8 years and people are coming forward and claiming the official version of 9-11 is a lie with credible witnesses, like the firefighters.
To the assumption that a claim of 500 witnesses is an explanation as to why Christianity spread so fast, it has already been stated above that prior to the second century, Christians only existed as an obscure cult. It really took off no faster than many other cults did. Paul undoubtedly played a major part in an early expansion, but it really wasn’t until Constantine’s role as Roman Emperor (306 CE to 337) that Christianity really started to grow in power and numbers. An account of 500 witnesses to an alleged resurrection was not needed to contribute to any of this. Further, Christianity was extremely appealing to the common man.
One attraction to the early cult was its apparent inclusiveness of all classes of humans within society. Early Rome was governed by a strict hierarchical system which had commoners placed all the way down at the low end of a social spectrum. By contrast, Christians purportedly recognized each other as equals to each other in the eyes of their god. Why then, wouldn’t a religion that preached unity and fairness amongst its brethren be more appealing than the then current societal system which strictly advocated a divisive class system? History has shown us that the general populace tends to favor an egalitarian societal structure rather than a purely hierarchical one, thus, Christianity’s message of a “brotherhood of man” would be extremely appealing to a predominantly common (or lower) section of the general populace.
As was noted, the emperor Constantine played a major role in Christianity’s advancement too. When Constantine became the Roman Emperor, he gave Christianity state patronage and expended considerable state funds on a major program of church building. When the Anglo-Saxons were conquered, Constantine required them to convert to Christianity as a part of a peace treaty. By the end of the fourth century, Christianity was declared the state religion of the Roman Empire, and the public worship of the old gods was altogether banned! It seems to me that Paul and Constantine did far more for Christianity than Jesus actually did.
Prior to the second century, any mention of Jesus or his death and resurrection appeared absolutely nowhere outside of the New Testament and the oral tradition of the Christian cult. Curious too, that with each successively written narrative, the account seems to have been more embellished.
If we are to carefully examine the extraordinary events of each successive account, we’ll see that: Mark has 1, Matthew has 4, Luke has 5, Peter has 6, and John has at least 8 (see the chart below). The accounts also contradict each other! One small example: In Mathew, the tomb WASN’T open when the woman arrived (28:2), whereas it WAS according to Mark (16:4)!
We should also ask ourselves why Paul makes no references to any of the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb. Curious too, is that Paul’s epistles are dated to around 52 to 67 C.E.! In other words, the Gospels weren’t likely written yet (70 to 100 C.E.) which further indicates a strong possibility that a more complex legend grew with every retelling of the story. Further, many of the earliest Christians, such as some of the Montanist and many of Gnostic sects, didn’t even believe in a physical death and resurrection of Jesus! Paul even had his own opposition for those at the Church of Corinth who obviously didn’t believe in the empty tomb or resurrection:
12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen: 14 And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. 15 Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not. 16 For if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: 17 And if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. 18 Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. 19 If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable. 20 But now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20)
Paul’s very own letter demonstrates that a literalistic belief in the tomb and resurrection wasn’t as commonly accepted by the early Christians as many of today’s Christians would like to believe. Further, it suggest the possibility of Paul’s major influence on what is now common to many Christian beliefs. Quite a few people will even go so far as to say that modern Christianity is actually “Paulanity”
In 1 Corinthians 15:6 Paul says: “After that, He [Jesus] appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though have fallen asleep.” (Note that the “brothers”, or the other followers of Jesus that Paul is referring to here, were still called “Jews” and not Christians until they severed themselves from the synagogue a couple of decades after Jesus’ death. See Acts 11:26.)
The claim here is a part of the first Pauline Epistle to the Church in Corinth, Greece, which many Christians cite as being “evidence” for witnesses (Jews) of Jesus after the resurrection. We have absolutely no reason to believe anything that Paul is saying here. We also can’t presume that Paul wasn’t guilty of suppressing uncomfortable details in an effort to further an agenda of maintaining his “Universal Church”!
Paul wasn’t even a witness prior to the ascension himself, and he apparently claims to have “received” the account from another believer. Are we simply to believe that? Or can we wonder if Paul wasn’t just a bit of a fabricator? Further, there’s no mention of there ever being 500 witnesses in any of the gospels either! Why is that? Wouldn’t something that important have been mentioned in at least one of them?
The alleged resurrection apparently took place over a thousand miles away in Calvary (Golgotha, just outside of Jerusalem) from Corinth, Greece. If Paul’s story is true, then why is there no documented testimony from any of the alleged 500 people, let alone any documented interviews or investigations into the claim? To add, the people living at the time were far removed from the time of the alleged events too (The date of the letter is usually dated to early 54 AD.) In other words, how did (assuming that they did or even could) the recipients of Paul’s letter verify that anything Paul was saying was true anyway?
We should also not forget that Paul never even mentions the events surrounding an empty tomb! That’s right, not even once! You’d think that something that important would have been mentioned in all of Paul’s writings. That is of course, unless the whole story developed later.
Without further evidence, we can reasonably conclude that it was quite possible that Paul was embellishing his story. Why? Perhaps Paul had Deuteronomy 17:6 in mind, and he wanted to give credence to his story. He even indicates a strong motive for making his story believable as is evident in 1 Corinthians 15:14-15:
“And if Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ: whom He raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not.”
We also shouldn’t dismiss the fact that he expressed dismay (you can even say extreme paranoia) at the fact that he heard reports that some in the Church members in Corinth didn’t believe in the resurrection! (1 Cor 15:12)
Whatever the case, Paul’s account (like the rest of the New Testament) is pure hearsay evidence. Even if it was true, it would not be admissible for lack of any contemporary corroborative evidence. In short, Paul’s letter with the claim of 500 witnesses would not be evidence for the crucifixion, resurrection, or of any empty tomb of Jesus’.
Where is this “list” of 500 witnesses that Geisler and Turek claimed Paul provided too? The only thing that 1 Cor 15:6 says is, “After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep.”
But is your hallucination claim correct?
Psychologist Gary Collins, former president of the American Association of Christian Counselors, was asked about the possibility that hallucinations were behind the disciples’ radically changed behavior. Collins remarked, “Hallucinations are individual occurrences. By their very nature, only one person can see a given hallucination at a time. They certainly aren’t something which can be seen by a group of people.”28
Hallucination is not even a remote possibility, according to psychologist Thomas J. Thorburn. “It is absolutely inconceivable that … five hundred persons, of average soundness of mind … should experience all kinds of sensuous impressions—visual, auditory, tactual—and that all these … experiences should rest entirely upon … hallucination.”
Furthermore, in the psychology of hallucinations, the person would need to be in a frame of mind where they so wished to see that person that their mind contrives it. Two major leaders of the early church, James and Paul, both encountered a resurrected Jesus, neither expecting, or hoping for the pleasure. The Apostle Paul, in fact led the earliest persecutions of Christians, and his conversion remains inexplicable except for his own testimony that Jesus appeared to him, resurrected.
This is a continuation of the argument in the first few paragraphs above. To add though, and because it’s somewhat related to the skeptic’s arguments, sometimes when a skeptic refers to the hallucinations or dreams of the believers in antiquity, they are not necessarily referring to groups being witnesses to a single event, but are referring to individuals, or certain “mystics” who have purportedly “seen” or witnessed supernatural events. That is, they are not referring to actual “witnesses” of the same biblical events, but rather to those who have dreams and hallucinations of such and then report them as actual facts to the flock. Whatever the case though, it is not my intention to argue that 500 people all had the same hallucination. I don’t even find the story to even be remotely true to begin with.
Some unconvinced skeptics attribute the resurrection story to a legend that began with one or more persons lying or thinking they saw the resurrected Jesus. Over time, the legend would have grown and been embellished as it was passed around. In this theory, Jesus’ resurrection is on a par with King Arthur’s round table, little Georgie Washington’s inability to tell a lie, and the promise that Social Security will be solvent when we need it.Exactly! The story of the resurrection is indeed on par with the King Arthur legend as well as the George Washington one.
But there are three major problems with that theory.
1. Legends rarely develop while multiple eyewitnesses are alive to refute them. One historian of ancient Rome and Greece, A. N. Sherwin-White, argued that the resurrection news spread too soon and too quickly for it to have been a legend.Sorry but, this is a circular argument which concludes that which it seeks to prove. It presumes that there were actually eyewitnesses to an actual event. Outside of the New Testament, there are no contemporary sources citing anything of such an event or witnesses to that end. As was noted, a holy book (or a book of legends or myths) alone is not a reliable source of accurate history.
Julius Philo (20 BCE – 50 CE) or Philo of Alexandria, who lived during the time of the supposed events of the birth of Jesus all the way to the crucifixion, was a historian who wrote extensively about the Jewish people in the time when all of these events purportedly took place. Philo also lived in Jerusalem at the time, yet he wrote absolutely nothing about a Jesus, let alone anything about a crucifixion accompanied by a darkness, an earthquake, and the temple curtain being torn in two (see Matthew 27:45, 27:51-54, Mark 15:33, and Luke 23:44-45). ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! You’d think that such a primary source of contemporary Jewish affairs would have said something regarding the “well publicized” events.
To add, Christian apologists’ claims not withstanding, the “testimony” of Flavius Josephus (the so-called Testimonium Flavianum) from The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3 has been shown to be an embarrassing fraud. Many of the reasons are cited in depth here.
2. Legends develop by oral tradition and don’t come with contemporary historical documents that can be verified. Yet the Gospels were written within three decades of the resurrection.Sheesh! What “contemporary historical documents”??? There are none that corroborate the story! Beside that, why should we assume that the Gospels are true when they aren’t even consistent with each other?
3. The legend theory doesn’t adequately explain either the fact of the empty tomb or the historically verified conviction of the apostles that Jesus was alive.How presumptuous! How is the empty tomb, and the stories of the apostles facts? Being a historian of ancient Roman history, A. N. Sherwin-White should have been embarrassed for such a display of sophistry! Apparently Mr. Sherwin-White was either seriously mistaken, or more interested in preaching than he was in reasoning or disseminating the facts.
By all rights, Christianity should have died out at the cross when the disciples fled for their lives. But the apostles went on to establish a growing Christian movement.
First of all, there is no historical proof that the apostles ever existed. NONE!
Anyway… Sorry but, NO! The power of religious commitment is great, even in the face of contradicting facts! This remark completely understates the power of faith-based belief and indoctrination.
We need to think about what inspired all the Christian martyrs throughout history. They were not eye-witnesses to any of these purported events themselves, yet even they were willing to die for their beliefs. In other words, THEY, like the Branch Davidians, devotees of the Order of the Solar Temple, the followers of Jim Jones (Peoples Temple), the Movement for the Restoration of the Ten Commandments of God, the Heaven’s Gate people, the many Islamic extremest who blow themselves up, or any other truly devote religious person… were zealous followers who were willing to die (and most of them did) for their beliefs which weren’t (aren’t) grounded in reality. Indeed, a person’s religious faith can be a very dangerous thing!
Looking at the New Testament, and assuming for a second that it is at least partially true, the very first martyr was Stephen. (A martyr is a person who holds to a belief so strongly that he/she is willing to die for it.) Stephen was a convert who never even met Jesus in the flesh!!!
J. N. D. Anderson wrote, “Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence—and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication. … That simply wouldn’t make sense.”
Actually, we should consider the psychological absurdity of accepting a legend or myth as a fact of history!