Is the resurrection of Jesus a historical fact?
Crotch Examined 04
On December 8, 2021 Bob Perry released an article on Cross Examined with undeniable proof that Jesus was bodily resurrected from the dead. I doubt that he has submitted his thesis to the scientific community for I sure haven’t seen any headlines in the media covering the amazing discoveries by Bob, or breaking news featuring leading scientists or historians corroborating his discoveries. In spite of this lack of worldwide attention to Bob’s blog, I thought I’d give it a go, curious to find out if he did in fact bring anything new to the table that could not easily be dismissed as nothing more than wishful thinking. Halas…it’s just a repetition of fallacies, lies and arguments that have been debunked a hundred times over.
“It’s not just a fairy tale. Christians believe that the Resurrection is a historical fact”
I’ll start with something we can all agree on. It is a fact that Christians believe that the resurrection of Jesus is a fact. I can also agree with Bob that it is what “the apostle” Paul believed. But it is no different than the similar statement:
“It’s not just a fairy tale. Egyptians believed that the death and resurrection of Osiris is a historical fact.”
Bob recycles Paul’s infamous circular argument of 1 Corinthians 15: we believe it is true so it is true and because it is true we believe it. But this non-argument works or rather fails for anything you like:
We believe the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe and because we believe it, it is true. For if it were not true, our belief that the Flying Spaghetti Monster created the universe would be false. Yeah…so what?
“The Pharisees did believe in one form of a “resurrection.” But theirs was a group event that they thought would occur for all God’s people. The righteous would rise bodily together at the end of time.
In other words, there were plenty of different ideas about what happened to people after they died. But the Jews and their pagan contemporaries agreed about one thing — that the idea of a bodily resurrection was complete rubbish.”
But you just admitted that the Pharisees believed in the bodily resurrection of all righteous people. Why are you contradicting yourself and expect us to think you are making sense?
“Then, suddenly, everything changed. Despite every commonly-held belief to the contrary, one group of people began believing in a bodily resurrection.”
Well no, you just said that there already was a group of people believing in the possibility of a bodily resurrection. So, not everything changed. In fact, it was a variation on an already commonly held belief. Therefore, no ‘sudden’ either.
“For some reason, a large group of these people turned on a dime. They started saying that a person could be resurrected”.
Sigh…nothing turned on a dime. If the Pharisees held the belief that people could be resurrected collectively, then the thought that one person could be is not that much of a leap. The latter just flows from the former.
“These Christians […] talked about it in the present tense.”
Here Bob is simply lying through his teeth. The presumably oldest source on Jesus’ resurrection is Paul’s letter to the Galatians, generally dated at 48 CE. References to Jesus are in the past tense. All four gospels are written in the past tense. That, my dear Bob, is a fact and millions of people can back me up on that by simply reading the gospels.
“But suddenly Christians were remarkably unanimous about one thing: The Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.”
In fact, the earliest Christians fought over the idea that Jesus was bodily resurrected. Maybe Bob never heard about the Ebionites, Marcionites and Docetism? Or he is simply lying by omission.
“If you want to falsify the Christian story, just prove that Jesus never rose from the dead.”
Classic strategy: shift the burden of proof. You are the one making the claim. Prove it.
There is a bacterium on a planet in the GN-z11 star system with an unending lifecycle of birth, 9000 years lifespan, death and resurrection. If you want to falsify "bacterianity", just prove that there is no such bacterium.
“[…] if we believe the Resurrection is true we should have solid historical evidence for it from the real world. Is there any? You bet there is.”
Aha! Here comes the new and Nobel-prize winning evidence…
“The New Testament documents are historically reliable. This really isn’t even debatable.”
Uh, Bob? What planet are you writing from? The historical reliability of the New Testament is one of the most debated topics among religious historians and millions of people in general. What year was Jesus born again? A fine example you are of honest Christians.
“But think about the origins of these documents. Who wrote them, and why. […]The authors wrote down what they saw.”
Ay, Bob…am I to think you really don’t know a lot about the New Testament? One of Christianity's biggest problems is that a lot of people do exactly that: they think about the origins of these documents. Many of those who do that are called biblical scholars, or religious historians. The earliest source on Jesus, your beloved Paul tells us that he never met the living, breathing, bodily, human Jesus. He first encountered him after his alleged resurrection. So who’s to say that he met a Jesus who had not died before this encounter? Once again, it comes down to either believing what Paul believed, or not. Not only is Paul not an eyewitness to the crucifixion and death of Jesus (so he cannot possibly attest to the veracity of his resurrection), he is a very untrustworthy character.
Depiction of Osiris' resurrection. Did the artists paint what they saw? By Bob Perry's standards, the resurrection of Osiris is a historical fact.
With regards to the gospels, I do as a good historian should do and indeed ask: who wrote them, when and why? All four are hearsay, at best. The author of the gospel according to Luke even spells that out for you in very clear terms: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down” – Luke 1: 1-2. I suppose you have heard about the telephone game? You may even have played it yourself. Thirdly, some of the passages in those second or third hand accounts describe events that could not have been witnessed by anyone. We really recommend you to read our article “The witness is excused”. There is no question that some passages in the gospels are pure fiction, or 'creative license'. If some passages however are undisputed fiction, then who's to say the entire story has not been made up? Why were the gospels written? To record what some people believed, promote what the authors themselves believed and convince others that what they believed was true. You cannot deny that it makes these documents rather suspicious with regards to their objectivity. Now, you can repeat the lie that the authors of the gospels wrote down what they saw as many times as you like, that doesn’t make it true. You can call a pig an eagle three million times; it won’t make the pig fly.
“Other historians witnessed the effects of the Resurrection too”.
Small correction here: 'other historians' witnessed the effects of the belief in Jesus’ resurrection. [Notice how Bob sneaks in the notion that the gospel writers were historians.] We can all agree, or many of us do at least, that belief can have devastating effects. Many Christians believed (and some may still do) in the existence of witches and that’s why Christians loved murdering thousands of men and women by burning them alive or drowning them. That does not prove that those unfortunate people were in fact witches. Millions of Christians are taught to believe in Santa Claus from early childhood…and then need to come to terms with their same teachers explaining them that this demi-god does not exist. But I digress. Let’s take a look at your closing arguments.
“Here are the five central elements of the Resurrection account that even Christianity’s opponents admit are historically accurate:
Jesus of Nazareth died by crucifixion on a Roman cross.
Jesus’ disciples believed that he appeared to them after he had died.
Paul, the church persecutor and sworn enemy of Christianity, was suddenly changed into its greatest advocate.
James, the brother of Jesus, suddenly dropped his skepticism and became the leader of the Jerusalem church.
The tomb where they buried Jesus on Friday was empty on Sunday.
1. Most historians agree: a Galilean being crucified in Roman occupied Judea is no point of contention. Someone's death is not evidence of someone's resurrection.
2. We don’t know what Jesus' disciples believed. We only know what little Paul tells us they believed and what later sources say they believed. It’s quite possible that the actual followers of the historical and biological Jesus were all Ebionites, who explicitly denied Jesus’ resurrection. Most Christians are believers in the resurrection because “orthodox” Christians persecuted and murdered anyone believing any different. Definitely no unanimous agreement there.
3. a. Let me cast some historical doubt on the credibility of this story. Paul (or rather “Luke”) says he was on his way to arrest Christians in Damascus on behest of Judean temple priests, drag them all the way to Jerusalem and have them tried and sentenced there. What authority was granted by the Romans to the Judean priests to stir up trouble in another province? Where is your historical confirmation that this was allowed and sanctioned by the Roman authorities?
3. b. Paul’s epileptic attack or “revelation” is described in three passages in the book of Acts. The third reference, Acts 26 is void of details, but the details given in Acts 22 and 26 differ significantly. If he cannot give a consistent account of the most important event in his own life, how can we trust him to be honest or reliable about an account that was “revealed” to him?
3. c. In the three versions in Acts, Paul says that he returned to Jerusalem after his conversion. In his letter to the Galatians however he stresses very strongly that he did not go to Jerusalem. So which one is it?
3. d. Even allowing for these signs of Paul’s unreliability as a credible source, how does his conversion prove the factuality of Jesus’ resurrection? Paul had a conversion. It’s a pretty common thing. Many Christians converted and still convert to Islam. Is this proof that Christianity is false and Islam is the true faith? Or do you suddenly reject conversion as evidence of truth?
4. James’ skepticism is written into the gospels according to Mark and John, both hearsay accounts. This is not a fourth argument as it is the same as Paul’s conversion. Again, if tomorrow 12,000 Christians convert to Hinduism and the day after a thousand more do the same, does that prove that Brahma is the creator of our planet and all life on it?
5. Finding an empty tomb can be explained in much more simple ways. And again, the authors of the gospels were not witnesses to this alleged miracle, neither was Paul who gives next to no details about anything involving Jesus’ life, death or burial. There is absolutely no agreement among historians about this last “argument”, let alone between Christianity’s opponents and Christianity’s defendants. Call Bob’s misrepresentation here a straw man argument if you will; I call it a blatant lie.
“As I’ve discussed many times, the definition of truth is “correspondence to reality.” Does what we believe about something match the way the world really is?”
I can offer several all-encompassing explanations for the five still to be proven assertions that Gary Habermas [whose ‘authority’ Bob invokes] deviously presents as facts. As Bob Perry doesn’t go into all the details, I won’t either:
Jesus was crucified and appeared to have died after 6 hours (which in itself is already “suspicious” as crucifixion was designed to make the victims suffer for days). Depending on which gospel you think is true, Jesus was left alone once thought dead, or watched from afar. Along comes a convenient newly introduced character who takes down Jesus from the cross and brings him to his private garden, where he attends his wounds and let’s Jesus recuperate from his ordeal. Two days later, Jesus has recovered enough to stand up and walk around. Voila, mystery solved. No need to appeal to a suspension of reality. No need to resort to special pleading. Does my explanation correspond more to reality or less than Bob’s proposed story? Another all-encompassing explanation, and by far the simplest one is that the story of Jesus is pure fiction. People lie about a lot of things a lot of the time. Bob Perry is a good example thereof.
Bob Perry has not introduced a single shred of evidence and plainly lies about certain facts (a common Christian trait) to make them fit his delusions. His article turned out to be the same old endless repetition of assertions that hundreds of Christian apologists have tried out before. If popularity [the appeal to which is but one of the many fallacies in his argumentation] is any indication, Bob should be really worried, because with every year gone by, there are less people who swallow the seed of faith forced down their throat by pure authority. I doubt Bob realizes this. Though the circle of Christian authority figures he appeals to is shrinking, they keep theologically masturbating each other and congratulate themselves with the foolishness they present as wisdom; just as the swindler Paul taught them so many centuries ago.
Just as Paul was blinded by a brilliant light of divinity, Bob seems equally blind to reality.
Richard Dalet PHD, January 2022
Notes, sources, references:
Bob Perry, “The resurrection is a historical fact”, 08 December 2021, https://crossexamined.org/the-resurrection-is-a-historical-fact/
Wikipedia, “Pauline epistles”, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pauline_epistles#Order
Sam O’Neal, “How Long Was Jesus' Crucifixion on the Cross?”, Updated 25 June 2019, Learn Religions, https://www.learnreligions.com/how-long-was-jesus-crucifixion-on-the-cross-3955378 “As a side note, the Romans of Jesus' day were especially adept at stretching out their torture methods for as long as possible. In fact, it was common for victims of Roman crucifixions to remain on their crosses for two or three days before finally succumbing to death […]So why did Jesus perish in the relatively short time of six hours? We cannot know for sure, but there are some options. […]”
Mark D. Harris, “Paul’s Conversion – Why Three Accounts, and How Do They Differ?”, 19 December 2011, MD Harris Family Institute, https://mdharrismd.com/2011/12/19/pauls-conversion-why-three-accounts-and-how-do-they-differ/ Not only do the accounts in Acts differ from each other, they also contradict Paul’s account in his (presumably) oldest letter, the letter to the Galatians.