by Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal
The Christian scriptures claim that their leader, one Jesus of Nazareth, was crucified by the Romans and that as a result of this he died. These authors of the Christian scriptures tell us that after Jesus’ death he was sighted by some of his followers alive and well. According to these men, this miraculous event is the sign that Christianity is the true religion. Some Christians look at the alleged resurrection of Jesus as a solid foundation upon which to base their faith. These people feel that there exists solid evidence that proves that the resurrection was an actual historical event. Although this event supposedly took place many centuries ago, still these Christians feel that they can honestly be sure that Jesus really was seen alive after his death on the cross.
We have the testimony of the authors of the Christian scriptures that tell us that this event really did happen. The fact that Jesus’ disciples did not abandon their belief in Jesus after his death is another factor that might lead people to believe that Jesus was resurrected. Why would these people maintain their loyalty to someone who died and was never seen again? The disciples underwent persecution in order to remain faithful to their beliefs. Why would they do so if they had not seen their faith substantiated with the resurrection? How could these disciples preach a lie and then go and die for something that they know to be false?
Another factor which seems to lend credence to the resurrection story, is the fact that Jesus’ opponents did not produce his body in order to disprove the claims of his disciples? What could have prevented them from taking this simple step? In the eyes of many Christians these factors amount to their acceptance of the resurrection story as a substantiated historical fact. Now if Jesus was a fraud as the Jewish people believe him to be, then why was he resurrected?
There are a few points though, which these Christians failed to consider. The first and most basic point is the passage in Deuteronomy 13:2-6. In that passage God clearly instructs us that even if a miracle is performed which seems to substantiate the claims of a prophet, we are not to take this as a sign that God wants us to worship another god. God is testing us to see if we truly love Him with all our hearts. So, even if Jesus were to resurrect himself in front of our eyes, still this cannot serve as a sign that we are to worship him. Since he is not the one who was revealed to the Jewish people at Sinai, then he is "another god", all his claims to the contrary notwithstanding. So the entire claim of the resurrection, even if it could be backed by solid evidence, does not have the strength to prove the veracity of any brand of trinitarian Christianity. But we shall see that the entire claim is without foundation.
How do we know about the story of Jesus’ alleged resurrection? The Christian Church tells us the story. And where did they hear the story? We have to go back in time in order to try to trace the origins of this Christian tradition. (The Catholic Church claims that they have a direct tradition which traces itself back to Peter, the problem is that the dishonesty of the Catholic Church is a well documented fact, furthermore what do we know about Peter that tells us to believe him?)
Protestant Christians (who agree that the Catholic traditions cannot be trusted) would point to the books of the Christian scriptures. These writings, which historical research indicates that they existed quite early on in the history of Christianity, they testify to the story of the resurrection.
Who wrote these books? Who determined that the authors were trustworthy people? What criteria did the early Christians use to determine that these writings should be considered holy? What assures us that the early Christians who had these books, really believed every word that these writings contained in a literal sense? Since there is no direct chain of tradition concerning any of these matters, then there seems to be no definite way to answer these questions.
Let us take the words of the Christian scriptures at face value. Let us assume that the writers of these books were indeed people that lived close to where the events were taking place. Let us also assume that we have no reason to suspect that these authors may have been dishonest. We will open the books and allow them to speak for themselves.
The first thing that becomes immediately obvious is that these authors do not tell you where they are getting their information from. The range of events described by these books precludes the possibility that the authors themselves were eyewitnesses for every event mentioned in the books. Much, if not all of their information was (at best) related to them by other people. (In case you were wondering why we don’t consider the possibility that these books were written by prophetic powers, ask yourself these questions. Who determined that these men were prophets, and if they were prophets then why is there so little conformity in their descriptions of the same events.) How did these authors interview their sources of information? What criteria did they use to determine the reliability of the people that told them the details of the stories that they wrote?
When we realize that the writers of the Christian scriptures contradict each other concerning the basic elements of the resurrection story, we realize that someone did his homework sloppily. Luke tells us that Jesus’ first appearance to his disciples took place in Jerusalem, Matthew and Mark (if we accept the version of Mark which contains the resurrection story) claim that this took place in the Galilee.
Matthew has an angel informing Mary that the resurrection had taken place, before Jesus is sighted. John tells us that until Mary had met with the resurrected Jesus, she was under the assumption that human hands had removed the body of Jesus from its grave. The fact that these authors contradict themselves tells us that someone is lying somewhere.
Another interesting factor that comes to light when examining the various sightings of Jesus, is the point that the only ones who testified that they saw him were people who were already totally devoted to him. Even among the devotees, the Christian scriptures report that there was an element of doubt concerning the truth of the resurrection story.
Realize what this means. We have a beloved leader; a leader whom his followers believe to be greater than Moses, and wiser than Solomon. Protestant Christianity would have us believe that his disciples believed him to be an almighty god. The devotion of his disciples was extreme. The Christian scriptures report that the followers of Jesus had to relinquish all of their possessions in order to join the following. Jesus demanded that his followers love him more than they love their parents, spouses or their children. It is clear that what these people would require as evidence to the resurrection of their adored teacher, would be much less than the evidence required by one who is unaffected by this bias. With all this in mind Matthew reports (28:17) that when Jesus reappeared to his disciples, some worshiped him, but some doubted.
This is comparable to a cult leader who is accused of shoplifting. Some of his followers come to court to testify that their leader was elsewhere at the time that the crime had taken place. As you watch the witnesses filing in to testify on behalf of the accused, it strikes you that the only ones who are testifying, are people who are totally blinded by devotion to this man. When these devotees open their mouth to speak, each one contradicts the other on every point of their testimony. The only thing they all agree on is that their leader was not in the place where his accusers claim he was. They do not agree about basic details of their story such as the actual location of their leader during the time of the crime. Furthermore it is brought to your attention that even some of his devoted followers who were with these witnesses, did not come to court. They doubted the veracity of the testimony of their fellow devotees. Could you decide that you are totally convinced that this cult leader was definitely not guilty of shoplifting?
The testimony of the Christian Scriptures concerning the resurrection story is sorely lacking. It is difficult to see how one can consider these writings as "convincing evidence" to the resurrection of Jesus.
But what about the disciples? Why were they so devoted to Jesus if they did not have their faith substantiated by an actual resurrection? The problem with this argument is that the devotion of the disciples preceded the resurrection story. It seems that the devotion to their leader produced the resurrection story and not the other way around. The way the Christian Scriptures describe the devotion of Jesus’ disciples it would almost be surprising if there were no resurrection story. Does this mean that the disciples were preaching a deliberate lie? Not necessarily. There is no way of knowing today at what point in time was it that the resurrection story came to be accepted by the followers of Jesus. It is possible that it took years for the story to develop until it was actually believed in a literal sense. It may have started with reports of visions, which over the course of time came to be spoken of as actual sightings. This would explain the manifold contradictions in the Christian scriptures. It would also explain why the early Christians did not maintain a tradition concerning the concrete occurrences of Jesus’ reappearance. If indeed Jesus did reappear in a physical sense it would make sense that the physical details of the event should have been recorded. These include the noting of the precise location at which these reappearances took place. We should have the early Church pointing to a particular physical spot and saying, that this is where the most important event in world history took place. But no record exists of such a claim. This lends weight to the theory that the resurrection story began with a series of emotional visions.
Even if we were to assume that the original disciples believed that Jesus was resurrected in a physical sense, still, we must take into consideration the simple fact that these people would not demand the same standard of evidence that an unbiased person would require before believing a resurrection story. There are many scenarios that would have the disciples believe that their leader is resurrected which are more plausible than an actual resurrection. There could have been an empty grave. It is doubtful if his loyal followers would have required more evidence than an empty grave before preaching and believing that an actual resurrection took place.
One example for such a situation would be that there may have been confusion concerning the precise burial site of Jesus. According to the Christian Scriptures the burial took place hastily, and close to nightfall. There were no more than four people claimed to be present at the time of the burial. This being the case, it is quite possible that his followers pointed to an empty burial spot in which Jesus was never buried. (Since the graves were hewn into stone it was customary to have such spots empty, even without anyone dying - the Christian Scriptures tell us that Jesus was laid in a grave which was opened for someone else who had not yet died.)
Furthermore if indeed the body was put in a grave which was meant for someone else, it is possible that the body was eventually removed from there. Remember, John reports that Mary believed that the body was misplaced by people who were in charge of the burial site. She was under this assumption for quite a while. She was under this assumption even after she had spoken to the disciples and reported to them that the grave was empty.
It is also possible that some of the disciples removed the body from the grave. Matthew tells us that this is what the general population believed at that time. If this were the case it is obvious that the disciples who actually removed the body would not believe the resurrection story, but the rest of the following would have no problem believing it.
Some missionaries try to negate the plausibility of these scenarios. They point to the guards that Matthew places to protect the grave, and to the enormous rock which prevented access to the grave. But we must note that according to the book of Matthew, the general population who were far more familiar than the circumstances than we are, considered it entirely plausible that the body was stolen. The book of John reports that Mary who was an eyewitness to much of what was happening, thought it reasonable to assume that the corpse was removed by the caretakers of the burial site. If these people who were familiar with the ways of the times thought these scenarios to be plausible, then we have no right to differ.
Another rather simple possibility that would have the followers of Jesus believing a resurrection story, is the scenario in which some followers deliberately lied and the rest believed. Those who lied would not have a guilty conscience about it. These people were convinced of the truth of Jesus’ mission long before the death of their leader. They were already convinced that he healed the blind, and resurrected the dead. What would a little lie do to their conscience if they were promoting what they considered to be the greatest truth that exists? The rest of the following would have little problem believing the "reliable" testimony of their fellow devotees. There could also have been some imaginary "sightings" similar to the Elvis Presley sightings that are commonplace today. There are other possibilities that come to mind, in any case the garbled story of the Christian Scriptures does not deserve so much consideration.
Why did the Roman and Jewish opponents of Jesus not dig up the body of Jesus in order to disprove the resurrection story touted by Jesus’ followers? This question is based on the assumption that the resurrection story is actually true. When we hear the story of the resurrection we are faced with two choices. We can assume that it did happen, or we can assume that it did not happen. If it did not happen, then the story was made up. It does not matter much if the story was deliberately invented by his followers, or if his followers were mistaken in their assumption that the story is true. In any case, if the story is not true, then there is no reason to assume that the story began circulating so soon after Jesus’ death. In fact it is quite improbable that the story began to be heard in the semi-coherent form that it possesses today, in the weeks following Jesus’ demise. If the story is not true than it is reasonable to assume that it took months if not years for a clear story to get around. In that time Jesus’ body would have been totally unrecognizable to anyone. By that time it would have been futile to exhume his body. Since all that would have been left would be a decayed corpse, his followers could claim that the body is not that of their beloved teacher.
Furthermore it is possible that Jesus’ opponents could not find his grave. Since time had passed between his burial and the time that the resurrection story got to the ears of Jesus’ opponents there could easily have arisen confusion concerning the exact location of his grave. This is even more plausible when we realize that at the time of his death his opponents did not consider it important to note where exactly he is buried.
Last but not least we must ask ourselves a basic question. How could we know that his opponents did not dig up his body in order to disprove the resurrection story? If the governing authorities did exhume the decaying corpse and display it in order to discount the claims of his followers, how would we hear about it today? Realize, that if such an event indeed happened, the record would have to survive centuries of Catholic censorship in order to arrive here today. That is asking for the impossible. If indeed the body was brought to the attention of the public then why would his disciples still believe the resurrection story? They probably claimed that the body displayed by the authorities was not the one that belonged to their teacher. Who knows? And frankly, who cares.
Copyright Yisroel Blumenthal - All rights reserved