Liam, a frequent Christian commenter on this blog, left the following comment regarding the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus under another post. Let’s read it and examine it. I will divide up Liam’s comment and address each point he makes:
Liam: Category errors – there is no evidence that any of the closest disciples of Jesus ever recanted their belief that Jesus was raised, despite persecution. Now if they were the ones making up the story, under pressure they could and probably would have gone back on their made up story. This didn’t happen.
Gary: I have never claimed that the disciples made up anything. However, we have massive evidence of many people, from many different religions, enduring horrific persecution and even death for mistaken beliefs. I believe that the earliest Christians truly believed that Jesus had appeared to them in some fashion, no different from the thousands of people today who believe that the Virgin Mary, Elvis, or their dead grandma has appeared to them. But what does that prove? Hyper-religious people are very superstitious and susceptible to believing some of the most bizarre, fantastical claims ever known to humankind (a prophet riding a flying horse; a prophet receiving golden plates from an angel whose name rhymes with macaroni; a prophet who can make water buffalo speak in a human language; a prophet whose dead, bloated corpse is “resurrected”, etc., etc..)
Liam: The belief in the resurrection was not something that one or two people convinced everyone else had happened. Numerous, independent experiences of the risen Jesus convinced his followers that He was alive after He had been dead, by crucifixion. We have groups, pairs, crowds, and individuals all seeing Christ for themselves.
Gary: Correction! We have STORIES that groups, pairs, crowds, and individuals CLAIMED to have received appearances of the risen Jesus. The question is: Are these stories historically reliable? Can we be certain who wrote these stories? Were the authors of these stories eyewitnesses to these alleged events? Christians such as Liam may believe that the answer to all these questions is “yes”, but most scholars, including most Christian scholars, do not believe that eyewitness nor even the associates of eyewitnesses wrote the Gospels. Finally, even if multiple people, including crowds of people, claimed to have received appearances of the resurrected Jesus, why should modern, educated people today believe these 2,000 year old claims when we don’t believe the claims of crowds of people in modern times who claim to have received an appearance of Jesus’ dead mother, Mary ??
Liam: You accept the empty tomb. Who stole the body? In their despair the disciples wouldn’t have stolen the body. So who would have? The Romans? Couldn’t have cared. The Jews that had Jesus killed? Wouldn’t have done it.
Gary: How do you know the Romans didn’t care or that the Jews wouldn’t have done it? Maybe Pilate changed his mind about giving a proper burial to the alleged usurper to Caesar’s throne. Maybe the Sanhedrin considered the burial of Jesus’ body in the tomb on the slope of Golgotha as a temporary measure. Maybe they moved Jesus’ body Saturday night, under the cover of darkness, to an unmarked dirt grave. Maybe the rich Mary Magdalene wanted the body of Jesus all to herself and therefore hired her servants to secretly open the tomb and take the body. (Most scholars doubt that the Guards at the Tomb story is historical.) And there are many other potential suspects: Grave robbers, thieves in the religious relic trade, family members of Jesus who were not believers, and many more. Any one of these possible suspects, regardless of how implausible Christians might believe them to be, are infinitely more plausible than a never heard of before or since “resurrection”.
Liam: Also, the belief in the Resurrection – and the only Resurrection the early mostly Jewish would have meant when they spoke of a resurrection was a bodily one – was central to the teaching of the early church. Without it, there would be no Gospel. The whole New Testament centres on Jesus being alive after His crucifixion. Paul gives us the earliest creeds dating back to within 2 years of the Resurrection – 1 Cor 15, Romans 10:9, see also Galatians. We also see that they were proclaiming a resurrected Christ 50 days after Jesus had been crucified.
Gary: According to Paul, many devout Jews in Asia Minor believed in the resurrection of Jesus without ever seeing a resurrected body, giving us evidence that a body was not necessary for first centuries Jews to be convinced that an individual had been resurrected. The Asia Minor Jews apparently took Paul’s word for it. So how do you know that the disciples did not come to belief in the resurrection of Jesus in a similar fashion? One disciple had a vision (a vivid dream) and became convinced that the resurrected Jesus had “appeared” to him. This one disciple (Peter?) convinced the other disciples and some of Jesus’ family that his experience (a vivid dream) had been real, not imagined. They believed him. All subsequent “sightings” of Jesus were either vivid dreams, day dreams (trances), or illusions brought on by the same gullible religious fanaticism that we see today during alleged sightings of the Virgin Mary.
Your evidence for the alleged resurrection of Jesus is poor, Liam. Accept the facts.
End of post.