Since even most Bible scholars doubt that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses—but by unknown Christians who were at least one generation removed from the events they describe, in lands far away from Palestine, writing four or more decades after the death of Jesus, in a genre of literature that allowed for extensive embellishments (fiction)—modern, educated men and women can safely assume that the Gospels are not reliable sources of historical information about Jesus or the early Christian movement.
Our earliest historical statement about Jesus is found in the Early Creed, found in Paul’s first epistle to the Corinthians, chapter 15. The information in this “creed” is very bare-bones. All it tells us is that Jesus was crucified, buried, rose on the third day, and then “appeared” to a number of different individuals and groups.
Notice that this creed gives zero details about what these alleged eyewitnesses actually saw. Did they see a walking/talking resurrected body as described in the last three Gospels written many decades later or are these detailed appearance stories just literary fiction? So is it possible that all that the witnesses in this creed saw were illusions—bright lights or cloud formations—similar to what modern Catholic Christians see when they claim to receive an appearance of Jesus’ dead mother, Mary?
Conservative Christians insist that this is impossible. “The early Christians claimed to see a body!”
I don’t think that this can be proven, but let’s go with it. Let’s assume that all the people in the Early Creed really did see Jesus’ walking, talking, broiled-fish-eating body after his public execution. What is the most likely explanation for these facts?
Answer: Jesus didn’t die on the cross! Somehow Jesus survived a Roman crucifixion!
“Impossible!” conservative Christians will object. “The Romans were expert executioners. In addition, if the soldiers didn’t make sure the victim was dead, they themselves would be executed.”
Question: Is it impossible for someone to survive a Roman crucifixion as conservative Christians insist? No! Josephus tells the story of at least one man who survived his crucifixion. So surviving a crucifixion might be improbable but it is not impossible, and to most people in the world (who are not Christians) surviving an execution is much more probable than the resurrection of a brain dead corpse.
So maybe this is what really happened:
Jesus is crucified. He hangs on the cross for several hours but then cries out, “It is finished”, and hangs his head—as he slips into unconsciousness from the massive blood loss due to his earlier whipping and beating. No soldier thrusts a spear into his side. This little detail is just one of many later legendary (fictional) additions to the Jesus Story.
Joseph of Arimathea, a devout Jew who the night before had voted along with the entire Sanhedrin to execute Jesus, is given the task of burying Jesus in a nearby tomb. (There is no time to get Jesus’ body to the burial site normally used for the poor and for criminals.) It is almost the Sabbath! So Joseph is in a big hurry. He must get the body of this wicked troublemaker off the cross and into the ground before sunset. He rushes. He does not check a pulse or for other signs of life. The idea that Jesus had just lost consciousness does not even cross his mind. “No one survives a Roman crucifixion!” He quickly wraps the bloody body in a cloth, puts the body in the tomb, rolls a stone in front of the opening, and rushes home just to make it inside his front door when the sun sets.
But Mary Magdalene has been watching!
Within minutes of Joseph of Arimathea leaving the tomb, Mary orders her servants to move back the stone, remove the body of Jesus, and place it underneath some straw in a waiting donkey-drawn cart. They then quickly take off to Mary’s home nearby (much closer than that of J. of Arimathea), just getting inside before the Sabbath begins.
Mary, like Joseph, assumes that Jesus is dead. She wants his body. She wants to give him a proper burial in a location known only to her. She intends to make his private grave a private shrine—for her alone. But one of her astute servants detects that Jesus is alive!
Mary spares no expense nursing Jesus back to health over the next three months.
Three months later, Jesus shows up (appears), with Mary, to Peter’s house in Galilee. Peter is shocked and overjoyed. Peter then takes Jesus to see the Eleven. The Eleven then call a meeting of all the believers in Galilee which were several hundred. James and Jesus’ mother come from Nazareth and tearfully embrace Jesus.
Jesus leads them all to a remote spot on a mountain and tells them that he did die on the cross (he sincerely believes he had) but that God had raised him from the dead to prove to the world that he truly is the Messiah. He will soon usher in the Kingdom of God!
Mary Magdalene thinks Jesus is nuts. She had believed that he was the messiah—until he was arrested, tried, and executed, but now she knows the truth: the poor guy is delusional. But she loves him and says nothing.
Even though Mary says nothing, she has made plans to ensure that she and her delusional lover will have many happy years together. She knows that for Jesus to stay alive she must get him out of Palestine—out of the Roman Empire—to somewhere safe, like Persia or India, where he will be out of reach of the Romans. She convinces Jesus to travel with her to visit her relatives in Persia before returning to overthrow the Romans (wink, wink). They go east, stopping in Persia, but eventually settle in India—where they raise five children and grow old together…never again stepping foot in “the Holy Land”.
After impatiently waiting for three years for Jesus’ triumphal return to establish the New Kingdom, the disciples are forced to invent an explanation for Jesus’ absence (the process of cognitive dissonance). Finally, someone decides that Jesus’ return from death was more than that—Jesus had been resurrected as the first fruits of the general resurrection! God has taken him to heaven, but he will return any moment, and the remaining righteous dead will rise…and we Eleven will reign on golden thrones along side Jesus! Let’s sell everything we have, move to Jerusalem the city of David, live in one big commune, praying for the Messiah’s speedy return.
The story of Jesus’ very real “appearances” to his disciples and family in Galilee soon took on many supernatural details (embellishments). People began to say that his body glowed white, that he walked through locked doors, and that he would lift off of the ground in front of their very eyes. One story even began to circulate that Jesus’ first appearance was to a woman (Mary), which in a sense, was the truth!
And that is how the Resurrection Belief began!
End of post.