We can be certain of NO resurrection

Aractus 06, September, 2015

The cornerstone of Christianity is the resurrection of their apocalyptic patriarch Jesus. Jesus actually had much less to do with Christianity than you might think. Paul was significantly more influential to the birth and spread of Christianity as we know it than Jesus was. And not Just Paul – John the Baptist, Simeon Peter, and James the Just all may have been more influential than Jesus himself was. Two entries ago I showed you that it was James Peter and Paul who changed the rules in 50AD – 20 years after Jesus had died. Many Christians argue that “Jesus changed the Old Testament order”, but Jesus does no such thing. Jesus in fact says in Matthew 5:17-18 “Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass away from the law, till all things be accomplished.” Most Christians don’t even know what a Jot or Tittle is. Jot is the smallest letter of the Hebrew alphabet, and sometimes you see this translated as ‘iota’ as if Jesus is talking about Greek – when in fact he is clearly talking about Hebrew. Tittles are tiny marks at the ends of Hebrew letters – they aren’t found in Greek or other scripts. So this statement that Jesus gives in Matthew 5:17-18 is very strongly in support of keeping the Law of Moses – it couldn’t be much stronger. It wasn’t Jesus that said you don’t have to keep the covenant of circumcision – that was James 20 years later. It wasn’t Jesus that said you can eat meat with blood in it – that was Paul 25 years later.

“But there was an empty tomb” … seems to be the strongest arguments Christians have for the historicity of the resurrection. The priest at my ex-church would always proclaim that Christians can be certain of the resurrection historically because it was the only logical and sensible explanation for why the tomb was empty three days later. His argument was that if the Romans stole it then they would have displayed it publicly to put an end to the rumours of resurrection and break the spirit of his followers. That argument is probably fair enough. If the Jews stole it they would have done the same thing. And if the disciples stole it then why would they believe in a resurrection? And why would they risk breaking the Roman Seal (an offence punishable by death) to steal the dead body of their saviour? How would they have overcome the Roman guard? They didn’t have the means or the opportunity or the motive to pull off such a stunt. And finally he, and many other Christian leaders and apologists would make the claim that there is overwhelming historical evidence to prove the resurrection of Jesus.

Here are the problems. Firstly we know nothing about the man who took the body in the first place and who owned the tomb: Joseph of Arimathea. It could simply be that Joseph had the body taken out of his tomb and put elsewhere – in an ossuary, or in a grave, or maybe he had the body embalmed, or perhaps even cremated. Maybe he handed the body over to the family of Jesus and they did one of those things – on Sunday evening before the morning and before it was “discovered empty”. It’s even possible that the disciples went to the wrong tomb. Maybe a grave-robber took the body for the jewellery or other valuables that had been placed in the tomb alongside Jesus. He was buried in a wealthy person’s tomb and the tomb was guarded by the Roman guard – so they must have been guarding it for a good reason.

Here’s another problem – several New Testament authors never mention the resurrection of Jesus. Paul never once mentions a physical, bodily, resurrection. He never mentions the empty tomb either. He doesn’t even mention the ascension of Jesus. The most critical cornerstone of the Christian faith today, and he doesn’t have anything to say about it. In Galatians 1 Paul says he had a revelation about Jesus on the road to Damascus – at this stage he doesn’t even say that he saw Jesus in a vision. In the creed he recited in 1 Corinthians 15 all he has to say is that Jesus died for our sins, that God raised him, and that after that he appeared to people (as in visions). In 1 Cor 15:44 he specifically says that God doesn’t raise your physical body but provides you with a “spiritual body”, completely contradicting the later gospel versions of a physical resurrection. His letters are the earliest in the Bible. The epistle of James may also be as early as some of his letters and it doesn’t mention the resurrection of Jesus either. The first of the Christian Gospels to be written is Mark, which does mention the empty tomb but not a resurrected Jesus. Mark simply says that Jesus was raised (this is inline with God taking people up in the antediluvian period in Genesis). Matthew and Luke both include a full bodily resurrection, as does John. If you were able to put the books of the Bible in chronological order it’s not until the later ones are written that you see the bodily resurrection. This is strong evidence that the belief in the resurrection was progressive, it cannot be traced back any earlier than the gospels of Matthew and Luke written after Paul’s epistles, the gospel of Mark, and the epistle of James.

The Bible itself is not always a reliable source for history. Most critical scholars would point out what I have just pointed out and that is that the “Empty Tomb” is only attested by one independent source and that is Mark. Matthew, Luke, and John all used Mark to some degree. Furthermore, one ancient document is never enough to establish any historical facts. It is useful of course, but there are countless examples of things written down much sooner than the Gospels (within 5-10 years of events) containing dubious information that most historians reject. The Gospels were all anonymous. Yes we have some idea about who the author of Luke-Acts is, however knowing that he was either “Luke” or a companion of Luke doesn’t really tell us anything of value when it comes to validating his work. From Acts 13 on the narrative is contemporary, which means that the author probably knew first-hand about some of the events from Acts 13 to the end. From Luke 1 through to Acts 12 however the narrative is historical – the author didn’t have first-hand knowledge of the events. Which is why he needed to use an early copy of Mark as well as at least one other written document in order to write the gospel of Luke. So we know that all of the information is second-hand at best in this gospel, and the same goes for Matthew.

And Mark is not a first-hand account either, it’s a second-hand account – at best. There is no contemporary eye-witness testimony. There are no first century accounts independent form Christian texts – from the Romans or Jews – of such an event. Josephus didn’t write about it. Pliny the Younger doesn’t write about it. There’s no physical evidence to speak of. A historically-valid resurrection is not required to explain the expansion of Christianity – I already covered this two entries ago, Christianity succeeded because it had leaders who met in 50AD and were determined to see their religion grow and spread the gospel of salvation independent from being shackled to Judaism.

So does the resurrection of Jesus actually have any historically-valid evidence at all? Well yes it does. It has one single original account written by an unknown anonymous writer who is biased, religiously-motivated, and writing based on word-of-mouth hearsay. In scholarly terms it’s about the worst level of evidence you could expect. Furthermore it’s riddled with supernatural activity which would lead any historian towards further scepticism.

In contrast, the crucifixion of Jesus itself is actually well attested to. We have one gospel account that forms the basis for all the other four gospels, but there is sufficient detail added to the other gospels to show influence from other narratives, we have Paul attesting to it, Mara bar Serapion’s letter, and it’s mentioned in The Annals by Tacitus. Finally, of course Jesus had to have died somehow, and there no alternative accounts of how he died.

People in these times were hugely superstitious. It’s not unusual to find ancient writings attesting to magnificent supernatural things. There was no scientific process, there was no way to verify the claims that were made by ancient people. Many peasants throughout history would refuse the care of physicians and prefer the quackery offered from spiritual leaders – even when physicians were willing to treat the poor for free. What’s interesting is that the healing talked about so much in the New Testament no longer happens now that we would be able to verify divine intervention scientifically. Jesus instructs his disciples to go out and heal the sick. James says in his epistle that the prayer offered in faith will heal the sick. Not “might” or “could if God chooses to” but “will” heal the sick. Today we have physicians who can transplant organs or even limbs from another body. When someone has prayed for healing has God ever regrown their organ? Has he ever regrown their limbs? If the answer is no – then what exactly does God do? Is this just yet another broken promise – Jesus claimed to have healed the sick during his ministry, he instructed his followers to do it, and his brother James writes that a righteous person can heal the sick through prayer! So perhaps the fact that God is incapable of performing healing tasks that today’s surgeons can perform is the strongest evidence of all that he actually doesn’t exist. And if Yahweh doesn’t exist there is no one to resurrect Jesus following his crucifixion.

The Biblical claim that eyewitnesses attest to the resurrection is in itself useless. Matthew 28:17 says that some of these supposed eyewitnesses didn’t believe it. As I already pointed out none of the eyewitnesses who apparently bore witnesses wrote down anything anyway, and the gospels don’t mention anyone independent actually attesting to the resurrection either. But the Gospel of Matthew itself admits there are eyewitnesses who say that a resurrection didn’t take place! You can hardly expect the doubters to bother writing anything down – as far as they’re concerned the tale is nonsense and they don’t want to hear any more about it. As another example in Acts 7:54-60 Stephen is stoned to death. Yet the author tells us that Stephen sees Jesus – or at least he thinks he does. No one else saw him, so he can’t be physically present in Acts 7, and who knows what he really saw because he never met Jesus when he was alive. No one can question Stephen about this vision because he was stoned to death there and then. Was it simply a hallucination? Was it simply that the tale of his stoning had become embellished by the time Acts was written?

In 50 AD the church appears to have been controlled from Jerusalem. Whatever leaders in the Christian church were alive after the Jewish war (and it appears Paul probably wasn’t), they probably weren’t the main leaders of the Christian church before the war, because the war completely destroyed Jerusalem. What’s interesting is that Jesus seemingly makes a prophecy that Jerusalem will soon be destroyed, and he makes it twice according to Luke. Yet the early church didn’t even seem to believe this prophecy because 20 years later in AD 50 the church was still based in Jerusalem. Either that or they literally believed the prophecy to signify the end of the world, or Jesus hadn’t actually made the prophecy in the first place. These are all possibilities that we need to consider, and the least likely one is that Jesus’s followers believed the prophecy but didn’t see it as apocalyptic.

As I mentioned two entries ago, Paul and Barnabas have to travel from Syria to participate in the Jerusalem Council. Furthermore Nero persecuted the church in Jerusalem in the two years leading up to the war. These facts help explain why there is a huge gap in the chronology of the early church – we know somewhat about what happened in the first century up to 61AD because Paul and Luke wrote it down, and their narratives end around that time. From that time through to the end of the first century there is no information whatsoever to inform us about what the early church was doing. What seems very likely is that all the main authority figures in the early church – Peter, Paul, James, Barnabas, and even Luke had died, as well as every other important leader based in Jerusalem.

This left the early church in ruins – and it seems it slowly rebuilt itself in its gentile territories. Perhaps this goes someway to explaining the origins of the Deutero-Pauline epistles, and the other Gnostic texts perhaps written to reassure the frightened Christians that their leaders were still alive – when really they weren’t. But in truth we will never know what really happened in those decades. I believe that during this time the church reformed itself moving further from the hard-line apocalyptic origins (which in response prompted someone to write the book of Revelation). We don’t know who came up with the bodily resurrection or why. It wasn’t unique though – other legends before Christianity in the region had their own bodily resurrections too. The only difference between those ones and the Christian one is that there are still people alive today that believe that latter. What we do know, however, is that is never mentioned by Paul, James, Jude, the author of Hebrews, the author/s of the Deutero-Pauline epistles, or the author/s of the gospel of Mark. In particular it is difficult to believe that “Mark” and Paul would have left out the resurrection – the cornerstone of today’s Christianity – if they had known about it and believed it.

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