Christian: You’re bringing things up, Gary, that critical scholarship knew about 50 years (or more!) ago and claiming it somehow represents a defeat for the Resurrection and Christianity in general. It’s a very fundamentalist way of reading things, and one I’m not particularly interested in. The guards (at Jesus tomb) are an apologetic legend. Peter’s sermons in Acts, while having a Petrine core, are highly stylized.
In the scholarly world (i.e. the world I’m in 95%+ of the time), this (Roman guards at Jesus’ tomb) isn’t even a question. The guards at the tomb are attested in only two sources, one of which is the Gospel of Peter (written about 150 CE).
After reading your comment that most New Testament scholars now believe that the “guards at the tomb” is a literary device, not to be taken literally, I went to bed last night stunned. I did a google search and found a post by Christian blogger, “Wintery Knight”, who states that even William Lane Craig holds this view. (Read the article.)
I couldn’t believe it! I have watched numerous of Craig’s debates and have assumed that his repeated use of the empty tomb as the best evidence for the resurrection included the Roman guards at the tomb. I wonder how many of his debate opponents are aware of this.
Again, I am truly stunned.
It seems to me that this dramatically changes the debate between skeptics and Christians. If the majority of New Testament scholars now hold the view that Jesus tomb was not guarded by Roman guards, I fail to see how Christians can claim that the bodily Resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation for the accumulated evidence, or, how Christians can claim that the evidence to support their supernatural explanation is “strong”. On the contrary, it appears their evidence has just gotten much weaker. Here is the evidence as it now stands:
1. An unguarded empty tomb.
2. The early belief by Christians in Jesus’ bodily resurrection.
3. The dramatic change in the behavior of the disciples.
4. The acceptance and belief of a shameful belief system that invited persecution and even death.