Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Evidence for the Resurrection, Part 1

The resurrection of Jesus is fundamental to the Christian faith, so I thought it might be interesting to see what evidence there really is for it. Some Christians claim the evidence is overwhelming, and the only reason not to believe is you do not want to. Is that reasonable?

Two Scenarios

I am going to consider two different scenarios, and see how they stack up against the evidence. That certainly does not mean no other scenarios are possible; I am just picking two that seem significant to me.

The first scenario is standard Christian doctrine:

1. Jesus was resurrected in his original body, and seen in that state by the apostles, first in Jerusalem, and later in Galilee, before ascending to heaven.

The second scenario is rather different. It has two forms, but the effects are the same (i.e., what people experienced, and therefore the evidence we have, will be the same either way).

2a. Jesus was resurrected in a new glorified body, and seen in that state by the apostles in Galilee.

2b. Jesus was not resurrected, but the apostles saw something that they believed was Jesus in Galilee.

Assumed Evidence

There are a few points I am going to assume are true. we cannot be sure they are true, nearly 2000 years after the event, but they do seem likely, and I think it perfectly reasonable to give them the benefit of the doubt.

1. I am going to assume that Jesus existed, and indeed that the main protagonists of the gospel accounts and acts all existed. They were all there at the right time and place.

2. I assume Jesus really was crucified.

3. I assume Jesus was buried in some way by Joseph of Arimathaea (or under Joseph's instruction). The evidence is slight, but I see no reason for Mark to have made it up, so this seems likely to me.

4. I assume the early apostles believed they had seen Jesus alive after the crucifixion. I think Christianity is based on this belief; it could not have flourished unless this was so. It is claimed many of them died for their beliefs, so they are more than likely to be sincere.

5. I assume Paul was originally an enemy of Christianity, had an experience he believed to be seeing Jesus, and later became a convert.

6. I assume the Gospel of Mark was the first gospel to be written. Of all these assumptions, this is the one Christians may well disagree with, but it is the opinion of most Biblical scholars.

The two scenarios above are both consist with these six facts.

Facts vs speculation

This web page lists some curious claims as facts.





The problem with discussions about the resurrection is that Christians take these claims "as gospel". From a Christian point of view, these events really are facts. Of course they are true, they are in the Bible! Unfortunately, if you want to know what really happened, you cannot start from the assumption that the Bible must be true. If you do, it is trivially easy to prove the resurrection - of course it is, it says so in the Bible.

In the next few posts I will look at some of the claims in detail.

Alternative Scenario

This is what I proposed could have happened in more detail, scenario 2 above, differing from Christian doctrine in that that was no empty tomb and no appearances in Jerusalem.

When Jesus was arrested, the disciples fled Jerusalem (see Mark 14), and went back to their original lives.

Jesus was tried for treason against Rome, having claimed to be King of the Jews, and crucified. He was buried in a shallow tomb for criminals, following the standard procedure of the time.

He was later seen (or thought to be seen) in Galilee, first by Peter, whilst out fishing (see John 21). The apostles started spreading the word that Jesus was risen, and the apocalypse that Jesus had prophesied was imminent.

After Paul has a vision of Jesus (possible a seizure), Paul becomes a convert. Now a Christian, Paul was clearly expecting this apocalypse soon too, as in 1 Corinthians 15 he talks about that moment.
50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
When he says "We shall not all sleep" he means that some of those he is communicating with will still be alive when the last trump sounds.

The early Christians wondered about how Jesus died, and start to put together a "passion narrative". As none of them were in Jerusalem at the time, this is based on guesswork and scripture. As Paul says, Jesus rose on the third day according to scripture (1 Corinthians 15:4); that is, they looked at verses in the Old Testament to determine what had happened (Jonah 1:17). No one actually saw it happen.

Later it became clear that the apocalypse was not going to be arriving quite as soon as they thought, and only now was it thought worthwhile writing down the formative events of Christianity. There was no point scribing a gospel if the world was going to end in a few months. However, if it is still going to be here in 100 years, then it becomes worthwhile.

So Mark writes his gospel. It is mostly a history, based on an existing oral traditional plus the passion narrative, but it is also an apologetic work, so it needs a triumphant ending. Why Mark did not describe the appearance of Jesus is odd, but clearly he chose not to, merely alluding to that event in his narrative. Instead, he invented the empty tomb as his great ending.

But he had a problem. People alive when he was writing had never heard of the empty tomb; they would wonder what he was talking about. Thus, the tomb was discovered by two women. At that time, women were not considered at all reliable, so it would be considered perfectly reasonable that the women would find the tomb empty, but not to tell anyone. Thus Mark has his empty tomb, and also could explain why no one had heard of it before hand.

Mark originally ended:
Mark 16:1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’
4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.
6 ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”’
8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Here is Paul again:
1 Corinthians 15:4 And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 5 And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: 6 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. 7 After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. 8 And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
No mention of an empty tomb by Paul - Mark had not invented that detail when Paul was writing. Note also that Paul says Peter saw Jesus first; none of the canonical gospels say that... but the Gospel of Peter does, and many scholars consider it to be very early.

The post-resurrection accounts in the gospels are pure fiction. The authors of Luke, Matthew and John each have their own made up story, and with no factual basis, the stories are wildly disparate. Why did the figure in the tomb in Mark say the apostles were to go to Galilee if Jesus would be wandering around Jerusalem? It makes no sense, but the gospel writers needed more and more evidence made up to counter their enemies.

To counter claims the apostles stole the body, Matthew makes up the guard on the tomb (also prominent in Peter, likely due to subsequent revision):
Matthew 27:2 Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, 63 Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. 64 Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first.
65 Pilate said unto them, Ye have a watch: go your way, make it as sure as ye can. 66 So they went, and made the sepulchre sure, sealing the stone, and setting a watch.
To counter the claim that it was merely a ghost (generally believed to exist at that time), John claims:
John 20:25 The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.
26 And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, Peace be unto you.
27 Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.
28 And Thomas answered and said unto him, My Lord and my God.
In subsequent posts in this sequence I will look at the evidence that Christian cite for a bodily resurrection.

No comments:

Post a Comment