I will present what I believe to be a possible, plausible, naturalistic explanation for the early Christian Resurrection belief. A couple of caveats. First, I am not trying to prove WHAT happened. To do that, I would need to provide evidence for every statement in my scenario. That is not my objective. I am simply providing a possible, plausible scenario that explains all the non-disputed facts (Habermas’ Minimal Facts), similar to what a police detective would do when he (or she) first begins to investigate a crime. He thinks of each plausible scenario that incorporates all the available evidence, starting with the most plausible, and rules them out one by one. Second, I am NOT ruling out the possibility or the plausibility of a supernatural explanation or the existence of a Creator God. However, I am asking that we exclude, for this discussion, the assumption of the existence of the miracle-producing deity, Yahweh. If one assumes the existence of the miracle-producing deity Yahweh, and assumes that Yahweh has predicted in the Bible that he will raise Jesus from the dead, then of course, a resurrection is the most probable explanation, and in fact, it is the only plausible explanation. So here is my scenario:
Jesus is crucified and buried in Arimathea’s tomb. Sometime between the placement of the body in the tomb late Friday afternoon and early Sunday morning, someone moves the body. The women come to the tomb and find it empty. They tell the disciples. The disciples believe that the tomb is empty because Jesus has risen from the dead, just as he had promised. One of the disciples, probably Simon Peter, has an hallucination. In it, Jesus appears to him in the flesh and tells him to spread the Gospel to the world. Peter tells the others. The entire group is overcome with joy bordering on hysteria. Soon other individuals are having vivid dreams, false sightings, and maybe even their own hallucinations of the risen Jesus. Groups of believers begin to claim seeing Jesus, similar to groups of people today claiming to see the Virgin Mary.
Jesus’ brother James, at one time a skeptic, had converted prior to the crucifixion. He was therefore caught up in the hysteria regarding Peter’s hallucination as a believer. He subsequently had his own experience of “seeing” Jesus, similar to the disciples. Several years later, Paul had an experience in which he “saw” the dead Jesus and thereafter believed that he received numerous, private transmissions (revelations) directly from God. Paul suffered from a “thorn in the flesh”: mental illness.
And the resurrection belief spread far and wide. The once timid, fearful disciples were emboldened by their “resurrection appearance” experiences and were willing to face terrible persecution and even death for their beliefs.
Now, I know Christians will refuse to believe this is what happened. But I am not trying to prove that this is what happened. I am only trying to demonstrate that there are multiple plausible, naturalistic explanations for this ancient belief, and I believe that based on cumulative human experience, these explanations are much more probable than a never heard of before or since resurrection/reanimation of a dead corpse.