Below is a list of books I have read on the truth claims of Christianity, in particular, the claim of the bodily resurrection of Jesus. I believe this list represents a broad range of views from conservative, moderate, and liberal scholars. I have tried to be thorough and objective in my evaluation of the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus. After spending three years reviewing the scholarship on this subject, I have reached the following conclusions:
I believe that the evidence is good that Jesus of Nazareth existed, that he was crucified, and that shortly after his death, his followers came to believe that he appeared to them in some fashion. I believe that the evidence is good that Paul of Tarsus existed and that he genuinely believed that he had received a visionary experience of the resurrected Jesus in or around the city of Damascus some three years after the death of Jesus.
From there, the evidence for the Christian claims becomes quite weak. I believe that from this point on, we can no longer talk about historical facts, only probabilities and possibilities.
I believe that the evidence suggests that the Resurrection belief developed in Galilee, probably with an appearance experience to the apostle Simon Peter due to a combined grief/guilt hallucination. This hallucination was so real, that it dramatically changed Peter from a man in fear for his life to a man willing to risk his life for his new belief in the resurrected Jesus. Peter then convinced his fellow disciples that his hallucinatory experience was a real appearance. This created ecstasy bordering on hysteria in the small group of Jesus followers. Soon others were “seeing” Jesus, due to either vivid dreams, misperceptions of natural phenomena (illusions), or in their own hallucinations…and voila…the Resurrection belief was born.
I believe that the stories of group sightings mentioned in the Early Creed, recorded by Paul in First Corinthians 15, were most likely no different than reported group sightings today of a static image of the Virgin Mary or even of Jesus. I believe that the detailed stories in the later Gospels of a risen Jesus who talked, walked, and ate food were literary inventions for apologetic purposes.
I do not believe that groups of believers experienced group hallucinations as this is medically impossible. No skeptic should propagate this misinformed assertion. But groups of people can “see” an illusion, and I believe that this phenomenon probably explains the appearance to the Twelve. I believe that the reference to an appearance to “Five Hundred” is probably a reference to an experience of Jesus in some fashion of a large group of believers on Pentecost. For such a fantastical appearance to completely disappear from Christian writings after Paul would be very odd. I don’t think it did. I believe this appearance claim in the Early Creed refers to the appearance of “the spirit of Jesus” at Pentecost which is mentioned in the Book of Acts. I believe that what was “seen” was most probably an illusion generated by intense emotional hysteria, as occurred with the tens of thousands of devout Christian pilgrims in Fatima in the early twentieth century.
Some Christians may not like my hallucination theory, but it is a medical fact that persons who experience hallucinations remember them as real experiences. And to suggest that first century Jews would not, is simply conservative Christian wishful thinking.
Some Christians may counter that the other disciples, as first century Jews living in a “tactile culture”, would not have believed Peter’s resurrection sighting claim without seeing and touching the resurrected dead body themselves, but this is refuted by Paul’s statement that first century Jews in Asia Minor believed his resurrection sighting claim simply based on his testimony.
Therefore, I believe that there is really nothing unusual about the rise of Christianity. A small group of hyper-religious, hyper-superstitious people who were expecting the end of the world had mystical experiences which caused them to create a new movement. This has happened many times in world history. I see no reason to believe it was anything “miraculous”.
Books I have read since my deconversion from Christianity in the spring of 2014:
- “The Resurrection of the Son of God” by NT Wright
- “Jesus and the Eyewitnesses” by Richard Bauckham
- “Making the Case for Christianity” by Maas, Francisco, et al.
- ” The Resurrection Fact” by Bombaro, Francisco, et al.
- “Miracles” , Volumes 1 and 2, by Craig Keener
- “The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus” by Gary Habermas and Michael Licona
- “Why are There Differences in the Gospels” by Michael Licona
- “The Son Rises” by William Lane Craig
- “The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus” by Raymond Brown
- “The Resurrection of Jesus” by Gerd Luedemann
- “Resurrection Reconsidered” by Gregory Riley
- “John and Thomas—Gospels in Conflict?” by Christopher Skinner
- “Misquoting Jesus” by Bart Ehrman
- “Jesus, Interrupted” by Bart Ehrman
- “How Jesus Became God” by Bart Ehrman
- “Jesus Before the Gospels” by Bart Ehrman
- “Did Jesus Exist?” by Bart Ehrman
- “The Argument for the Holy Sepulchre” (journal article) by scholar Jerome Murphy-O’Connor
- “Israel in Egypt” by James Hoffmeier
- “The Bible Unearthed” by Finkelstein and Silberman
- “The Resurrection of Jesus in the Light of Jewish Burial Practices” by Craig Evans, (newsletter article) The City, a publication of Houston Baptist University, May 4, 2016
- “Has the Tomb of Jesus Been Discovered?” by Jodi Magness, SBL Forum
- “Genre, Sub-genre and Questions of Audience: A Proposed Typology for Greco-Roman biography” (article) by Justin M. Smith, St. Mary’s College, University of St. Andrews, Scotland
- “Twenty-Six Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus” by Asher Norman (not a work of scholarship per se, but it is endorsed by Talmudic scholars for its accuracy in presenting a Jewish perspective of Jesus and the Christian New Testament)
Gary: Not only have I read the above books, I have reviewed most of them, often chapter by chapter, here on this blog. You can do a google search to find and read them if you wish.