Friday, April 16, 2010

Essay: The Historical Event of the Resurrection by Amy Hall

The Historical Event of the Resurrection by Amy Hall
When I say that Christianity is true, I am not merely saying that it's meaningful to me personally. I am saying that it accurately represents the truth about reality. And there is nothing more central to Christianity than the idea that Jesus died on the cross, removing the guilt that separated us from our perfect God by taking the punishment we deserved on Himself, and was resurrected, restoring us to a joyful relationship with God who is the very standard of goodness, truth, and beauty.

No resurrection, no Christianity.

Where does this leave the truth seeker? Fortunately, though miracles have a supernatural cause, the evidence of the effect is available for our scrutiny just as the evidence for any historical event in history is available to us, and so I offer this brief outline of an argument:
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1. The disciples and early Christians believed in an actual, physical resurrection, according to the first-century historical evidence.
(Please note that at this point, I'm only arguing for what the disciples believed, not for whether or not it's true.)  Consider what Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 15:14 (his first-century authorship is generally uncontested): "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith." The context of this passage along with the Jewish concept of resurrection both support the idea that Paul was referring to a bodily resurrection and not merely a "spiritual" one.

So the Christians considered the resurrection to be an actual, bodily event that was central to their faith. Indeed, as Paul asserts, without that resurrection there is no faith.

2. The resurrection was central to Christian teaching early on and was not a later addition.
There is a pre-biblical creed recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:3-5: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now...."

The technical phrase "for I delivered to you...what I also received," along with the phrases "and that...and that...and that" indicate, according to the conventions of the time, that Paul is reciting a creed and this is not his original writing. This creed places the atonement and the resurrection at the center of the Christian faith and is not Pauline material. In fact, it can be traced back to within a few years of Jesus--probably to the ministry of Peter and James who are mentioned specifically in the creed (James is mentioned in v. 7).

If the crucifixion happened in 30 AD, Paul's conversion happened in approximately 33-35 AD. Three years later (36-38) he went to Jerusalem and met with Peter and James (see Galatians 1:18-19), so it's probable that when they discussed the gospel then, this creed was passed on to Paul. (The fact that Peter and James are mentioned specifically in the creed indicates it probably came from their area.) Since the creed was already formulated when it was given to Paul, this means it dates back to earlier than 36-38 AD. And of course, the beliefs that inspired the creed predate even the creed. Again, this time frame is accepted by critics and Christians alike. Some date the creed even earlier.

3. The disciples experienced something.
You must agree that the disciples experienced something. Whatever that something was, it changed them from a group of people who deserted Jesus and began to disperse after His death to bold proclaimers of His resurrection.

What happened to change their minds? They claimed it was seeing the resurrected Jesus. Were they trying to perpetrate a hoax? This is extremely unlikely, for nobody would go through torture and death (as most of them did) for something they knew to be a lie. So the disciples were convinced. Were they fooled by someone or something? Or did Jesus actually rise from the dead?

4. Naturalistic explanations fail.
Different naturalistic explanations have been offered to explain the disciples' experience. Those explanations have either been debunked or do not explain the evidence as adequately as does the resurrection. For example:

"Jesus faked His death (or fainted), and did not really die on the cross." This theory is impossible since if a man were to only pretend to be dead on a cross, he would have to discontinue pushing himself up and down in order to breathe. However, as soon as he did that, he would, of course, not be able to breathe and would be dead anyway.

"The disciples [or some other party] stole the body." We are back now to the idea that the disciples sincerely believed the resurrection to be true. So it's highly unlikely they stole the body. Additionally, had anyone else stolen the body (the Jews or the Romans), they (the body-stealers) could have easily produced a body and put an end to the unrest that was resulting from the birth of the church. This church had its start in Jerusalem where critics had a reason to stop it and the means by which to do so if any body still existed. They did not produce a body, and the church continued to grow.

The other contending naturalistic explanations likewise fail to sufficiently account for the available historical data. Instead, the weight of the evidence lies with the resurrection, and rational people should always side with the weight of the evidence--even if they don't like what they find there. As Sherlock Holmes said, "When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

(For more information, see the work of Gary Habermas or this book by an Orthodox Jewish man who, though he has a different idea about the meaning of the resurrection, is convinced by the evidence it actually occurred in history.)


Chad said...

Hello Amy,

Great essay; I really enjoyed the S. Holmes quote:

"When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth."

Well done!


Edwardtbabinski said...

The only first person story we have in the whole NT concerning the resurrection are four little words by Paul, "Jesus appeared to me." And he goes on to conclude that that was as good as anyone else experienced as well, including the apostles. "Jesus appeared to me." Paul doesn't mention where, nor any details, nor any words of the raised Jesus.

We do know however that the words allegedly spoken by the resurrected Jesus grew in their reported number over time:

See also this article on differences between the Gospel resurrection stories:

And see this recent article in JBL, “How Accurate are Eyewitnesses? Bauckham and the Eyewitnesses in the Light of Psychological Research” appears in the latest edition of Journal of Biblical Literature 129 (2010) 177-197:

And see this conclusion as well to a review of Bauckham's book:

It must be said however, that many will remain unconvinced by the alternative model of a “Formal Controlled Tradition” that Bauckham proposes in this book. It may be true that the literary features of mark show a closer connection with the testimony of Peter than is commonly assumed. But the evidence fails to sustain Bauckham’s hypothesis of a fixed body of Jesus tradition formulated by the Twelve in Jerusalem and mediated directly to the author of Mark through the apostolic preaching of Peter. Without accepting Bauckham’s dubious claim that Peter’s appearance at the beginning and end of Mark represents a literary device for identifying the work’s authoritative witness, it is very difficult to affirm the other alleged indication of the author’s reliance on Peter’s testimony, which are ambiguous at best. Equally questionable are the historical conclusions Backham draws from Paul’s Letters about the formal transmission of Jesus traditions. The level of institutionalization thus ascribed to the Jesus movement in the earliest stages of its development strains credibility. Likewise, Bauckham’s hypothesis about the Beloved Disciple as the eyewitness author of the Fourth Gospel will not convince many. Often resting on unproven assumptions, the argument frequently invokes highly conjectural explanations of textual evidence that are not easily affirmed. For examples, most will find fanciful the attempt to account for the infrequency and obscurity of references to the Beloved Disciples by appealing to the author’s need to establish his credibility as a perceptive disciple before disclosing his identity as the actual author of the Gospel. Even if we were to accept as probable many of the conclusions Bauckham draws from the Gospels, there still remains a larger question that weakens the argument of the book. If it is true that the Evangelists attached such importance to eyewitness testimony, then why are indications of this not more obvious and explicit? In response, Bauckham claims that ancient readers would have expected the Gospels to have eyewitness sources and so would have been alert to the subtle indications provided by the text. This explanation ascribes to the Evangelists and their readers a full measure of literary sophistication and an informed familiarity with the canons of Greco-Roman historiography. But this seems to far exceed what we can claim to know about the first eyewitnesses and those who listened to their testimony.
--Dean Bechard of the Pontifico Instituto Biblico, Rome--final paragraph of his review of Richard Bauckham’s, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses. Review published in Biblica, v.90, fasc.1, 2009, p. 126-129.

Peter Grice said...

Hi Edward, you said "The only first person story we have in the whole NT concerning the resurrection are four little words by Paul, "Jesus appeared to me." And he goes on to conclude that that was as good as anyone else experienced as well, including the apostles. "Jesus appeared to me." Paul doesn't mention where, nor any details, nor any words of the raised Jesus."

Your hidden premise that only first person accounts carry weight is not established. If that were the case the work of ancient historians would be almost entirely worthless to us.

Your statement that Paul draws said conclusion is false. Rather, in 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 he reports a list of appearances. The conclusion that these are all of the same kind (visions, more or less) is not Paul's, it's whoever sees validity in a narrow textual argument insisting on equivocation of sense for the word translated "appeared," to the exclusion of other textual claims to the contrary. In fact the conclusion Paul draws is explicitly stated in verse 20: "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead." But if by "as good as anyone else experienced" you mean to reference evidential quality of experience, then you must have overlooked the mention of "over 500 brothers at one time." By anyone's reckoning that should be better evidentially than Paul's experience.

From your last statement above, one who is uninformed could be forgiven for assuming that we have no report from Paul of any details or words of Christ from the appearance to him. But as is well-known Luke, the chronicler of Acts, traveled with Paul on his missionary journeys. And we have Luke's account of Paul's defense before the Jerusalem Council, speaking in the first-person, in Acts 22. Here he gives details and words of Jesus.

That you say "The only first person story we have in the whole NT concerning the resurrection are four little words" seems disingenuous, even if you do [for your own reasons] exclude all testimony that is not personally penned, as opposed to penned by a chronicler [widely acknowledged to be a diligent one, at that].

Vinny said...

How can what Paul says someone else saw, i.e., the appearance to the 500, be evidentially better than what Paul says he saw himself?

Peter Grice said...

Hi Vinny,

Edward had talked about Paul's view of each of the appearances he listed, suggesting that to him "Jesus appeared to me" was just "as good as [what] everyone else experienced as well".

So my response was to suggest that this wouldn't have been Paul's view.

Obviously Paul regarded each appearance he listed as genuine, and that each was worth mentioning for the weight he anticipated it would carry.

1 Corinthians 15:1 shows this was not the first time they were hearing about these things. In fact, this is just a written reminder of the things Paul preached to them [no doubt in more detail, since they would have been intensely curious about such recent and profound events], and which form the basis for their belief.

Now, if you were a believer in Corinth, but skeptically natured, you would probably have this thought in mind: it is possible one person (eg. Paul) could be mistaken about what they saw, but over 500 in one place?

And given what we know of Paul being apologetically inclined, he would naturally realise this. As a learned Jew he well understands the reason behind the legal necessity for "two or three witnesses."

Now if Paul feels compelled to add that he is last, least and unworthy to be numbered with the apostles (v9), and given that he didn't know Jesus before the appearance to him, is he really going to be arguing "my experience is just as [evidentially] good as anyone else's"? Or instead is there something qualitatively significant about each in the sequence: first to Cephas! Then to The Twelve. Then 500+! Then James [Jesus' half-brother, head of the whole church in Jerusalem!] Then to all the apostles. Then to one unworthy [after the Ascension, by the way]. Each of these groupings as concepts will have had some significance for his hearers.

So as to the issue of Paul's regard for the evidential value of each experience, for the skeptical among his believing readership, it's dubious to claim he would have seen no difference between them. If so, he needn't have said "at one time" and could have left out some detail, saying: "Jesus appeared to about 550 people, including me!"

Ken Pulliam said...


Thank for the essay. Before I get into the resurrection, I want to comment on your statement: Jesus died on the cross, removing the guilt that separated us from our perfect God by taking the punishment we deserved on Himself, . I think this idea of penal substitution is a huge problem for the Christian faith. How can it possibly be just for an innocent person to be punished in the place of the guilty? Actually, I think that "penal substitution" is an oxymoron. By definition punishment is something that is meted out against a guilty person. You can't actually punish an innocent person. You can inflict harm on him but you cannot punish them in the sense of retributive justice.

I think apologists need to spend more time trying to defend this notion rather than putting all of their attention to the resurrection. As I told a leading apologist the other day, the resurrection ONLY MATTERS because of the atonement.

On your points relative to the resurrection, I pretty much agree with them all except I am not quite sure what Paul thought the nature of the resurrection body was--his language in 1 Cor. 15 is notoriously difficult.

However, one naturalistic explanation that you left out is the idea that a few of the disciples had a vision or hallucination in which they genuinely thought they saw the risen Jesus. As these stories were passed along, a lot embellishment occured to the point where you have Jesus eating fish and asking to be touched. In my opinion, the origin of the disciples belief in the resurrection can be explained in that fashion.

Anonymous said...

>>I think this idea of penal substitution is a huge problem for the Christian faith. How can it possibly be just for an innocent person to be punished in the place of the guilty?

Ken, we recently had a conversation on our blog that went into this subject in detail. Check out the back-and-forth between RonH and WisdomLover on whether or not even our own current law allows substitutional punishment.

There are some problems with the hallucination theory. The biggest one is the lack of a body. The Romans and the Jewish leaders both had an interest in putting an end to stories of Jesus’ resurrection. This could have been easily done by producing a body, but there was none to be had. In fact, the earliest objection we have coming from the Jewish leaders was that the disciples stole the body. This objection was intended to make sense of the fact that the body was missing, and so it’s a concession that the body was, in fact, missing. The hallucination theory doesn’t take this into account.

Another problem is the state of mind of the people who saw the risen Jesus. People like Paul and James who were against Jesus’ claims were not in a state of excitement and expectation, working themselves up into a state conducive to hallucinations. Their every inclination was to *not* see the risen Jesus. The disciples, also, were not gathering in expectation of seeing Jesus (as people might gather together to see a weeping statue they had heard could heal them). The disciples had deserted Jesus, then given up. They weren't expecting to see anything.

A third problem is that the appearances suddenly stopped after 40 days. Why wouldn’t they continue as more and more people joined them if they were merely hallucinations?

The hallucination theory was popular in the 1800s, but was refuted and died down. It’s making a comeback now (so you’re not alone in thinking this by any means), but the refutations of the past are still available and still compelling. You can read more about it here:

Ken Pulliam said...


Thanks for your reply. On the Penal Sub. theory of the atonement, I am sure that Brian would not want us to debate that here. I have a guest post today on CommonSenseAtheism discussing the issue. I also have a number of other problems with the PST which I discuss on my blog. I will take a look, though, at the link you gave to see what kind of arguments are being put forward.

Regarding the resurrection, you say that the hallucination theory does not explain the empty tomb. That is correct, if one assumes that the empty tomb is historical. I don't think it was for a number of reasons and BTW, Mike Licona no longer uses it as one of his minimal facts in debate. I think it was a later addition to the story. As far as why the enemies didn't produce the body. I think it was buried in the criminal graveyard which was typical of those crucified. But even if they had been able to find it and dig it up, the time lapse of 50 days would have made it impossible to identify. The story in Matthew of someone stealing the body, I think is also a much later embellishment to the story. The fact that it is not in the other gospels, speaks volumes.

Regarding hallucination, you mention that it was refuted in the 1800's. Our knowledge of how the brain works has come a long way since then. As a matter of fact, I have been told that 95% of what we know about the brain has been learned in the last 10-15 years as MRI's of living people could be studied. We know there are many causes for hallucinations, not merely excitement or expectation. While its true that they are a private event, my belief is that Paul, Peter and perhaps a few others had these hallucinaitons individually. If there were any group appearances, it would have been along the lines of a vision or illusion such as modern day apparitions of Mary.

With regard to them stopping after 40 days, that again is I think a much later addition to the tale. 40 is a very significant symbolic number in the Bible and I doubt we are dealing with literal history here. As I mentioned in another post, unless one has already accepted the Bible as true by faith, one would be no more likely to believe Jesus ascended to heaven that one would to believe that Muhammad went to heaven on a winged horse. Of course, faithful Mulsims believe that.

Brian said...

For a treatment of PST, see Contending with Christianity's Critics, chapter 16 by Steven L. Porter.

Ken Pulliam said...


Thanks. I have read that as well as Steven Porter's two other papers on the subject. Both are available on line for free, here and here. I have prepared a critique of Porter's three articles which I have submitted to one journal, waiting to see if its accepted before I publish it on-line. The basic error with Porter is that he does not adhere to the biblical theory of retributive justice. He adopts more of a utilitarian approach.

David said...

"The earliest objection we have coming from the Jewish leaders was that the disciples stole the body."

What is the date and source of this objection?

David said...

With respect to penal substitutional, where does it say in the Old Testament that one human being may be killed as atonement for the sins of another human being? If the penalty for sin is, specifically, death and eternal torture, where does it say in the Old Testament that one human being can pay or assume this specific penalty for the sins of another human being? I thought that human sacrifice was a bad thing.

Anonymous said...

>>What is the date and source of this objection?

Matthew reports it (70-85 AD), and this is confirmed by the anti-Christian Toledoth Jesu (which was officially compiled around the fifth century, but reflects earlier Jewish tradition). In addition, Justin Martyr reports that this was being taught by Jewish leaders in 150 AD, as does Tertullian in 200 AD. Had there been other objections circulating, these early apologists would have responded to those, as well.

As for Jesus being buried in a criminal graveyard, it seems strange that this objection has no history and seems to have never been considered. The Jewish leaders of the time would surely have known where Jesus had been buried--they had a good reason to. If they had thought it was even a possibility, they would have latched on to this as another possible objection. And yet no Jewish tradition whatsoever of this position exists. Even if the body could not be recognizably produced, wouldn't the story of what really happened have remained in the Jewish tradition if it had happened the way you claim?

It doesn't seem significant that Matthew reported this but the others did not, considering the fact that Matthew was Jewish, writing to Jews. You see more details than the other Gospels from that perspective throughout the book.

David said...

So, the earliest account of Jewish leaders saying that the body was stolen dates to 40 to 50 years after the fact and is from a Christian source. 40 to 50 years after the fact. No other gospels mention Jewish leaders saying that the body was stolen. The next datable report is from more than a century after the fact and, again, comes from a Christian source. And then we have a fifth century source.

Given all that amazing evidence, I can see why it is promoted as an incontrovertable historical fact that within two or three days after the crucifiction, the Jewish leaders knew that they needed to produce a corpse recognizable as Jesus, that they couldn't find a corpse, and so in the days immediately following the crucifiction, they were all speading the lie that the disciples stole the body.

David said...

"And yet no Jewish tradition whatsoever of this position exists."

Isn't it a little difficult to know about all of the Jewish traditions circulating in the first couple of centuries after Jesus. Do we have records of all of the Jewish traditions that were circulating at this time? Which Jewish writings from the first, second, third or fourth centuries discuss the fate of Jesus' body?

Sam Harper said...

David, why do you think Matthew would feel the need to respond to such a charge if nobody was making the charge?

David said...


I think that you misunderstood my point. I didn't say that no one was making the charge. Obviously, someone made the charge at some point, and this charge was an ideal response, because it offered both a response to claims of resurrection and a way to discredit the Jesus movement at the same time.

What I'm saying is that no one knows when or where the charge originated, a key point, given that bodies rot. At some point in time, Jewish leaders realize that they have to respond to the claims that an executed messiah candidate came back from the dead. But it's impossible to know when they realized this. The historical record is not going to give us the data that we need. What a shame that the resurrected Jesus didn't pay a visit to the Jewish big-wigs after the resurrection.

Further, no one knows if the Jewish leaders ever offered other explanations in response to claims of a resurrection, because the historical record is very incomplete. The record is especially poor with respect to the writings of Jews. How many surviving Jewish-written records dating to the first couple of centuries mention Jesus at all? There's a brief mention by Josephus, but are there any other records?

Kyle Essary said...

(Part 1)

The problem is that there are no other records. Period. There is a total of one Jewish historian writing in the first century, and he mentions Jesus briefly in two locations, which is about on par with his references to others who claimed to be Messiah. Josephus' writings are largely apologetic in that they want Rome to be more accepting of the Jewish world. Thus, regardless of their actual influence, you wouldn't want to mention Messiah's who are crucified under the mocking title "King of the Jews." We can get a pretty good idea of Jewish first century beliefs from the "apocryphal" writings of the time, but there's only one historian.

That's the funny thing about doing "historical investigations." You're always working with biased materials, from your own perspectives of bias and more often than not, there are no records within decades or even centuries of the events you are studying. So does that mean we write off any "knowledge" of history? Of course not, haha.

I think in our minds we assume that there are tons of historical records from the time, historians writing books, etc. and that Jesus is "missing" from these secular documents. That's the common perception given by mythicists who talk about how Jesus is missing from non-Christian writings in the first century (they naïvely discount all of Josephus' references). That's a terribly faulty assumption though.

Actual records are scant throughout the empire for the first century, and nonexistent in ancient Roman Palestine. As for writers, Plutarch (c. 40-110 CE) wrote some biographies of key Roman leaders, but never had contact with the ancient Jewish world. Studies have been conducted to show similarities between his work and the gospels, which most scholars now admit are shaped after Roman bioi. There are clearly similarities, but it's not a perfect fit.

Kyle Essary said...

(Part 2)

As far as "historians," everything we know about the first century Roman world comes from three main sources: Suetonius (c. 70-135 CE), Tacitus (c. 55-117 CE) and Dio Cassius (c. 155-230 CE). In each case, only portions of their entire corpus remains and only in a few manuscripts. Furthermore, all were concerned with Rome and the central sphere of the Roman world. As such, Jewish affairs didn't make it into their accounts unless Jews (and/or Christians) were causing problems in the empire. Thus, you have a possible reference to Christians in Suetonius (for causing disturbances in Rome), a reference to Christians in Tacitus (and a brief interlude on the origins of the movement) and everything in Dio Cassius is so late that he has been influenced by Christianity, which was already thriving in parts of the Empire.

There were some other first century historians (like Thallus), although our knowledge of their work only remains from later quotations as the actual texts are no longer extant in any form, nor even in surviving quotations.

There is also some extant correspondences, such as letters from the second century which give us an idea of Christian practices, but hold little value for historical studies on Jesus himself. Of course, by the 2nd century there is also apologetic literature and anti-Christian literature popping up all over the place, but this (like Dio Cassius) is far removed.

There is also the rabbinic material that dates to the first century, but as Amy said above, it wasn't compiled until much later (5th century). Of course, all records salvaged from the destruction of the temple in 70 CE were kept rather secure since the prevailing Pharisaical school wanted to preserve their pre-destruction traditions in case Jerusalem was restored so that they could regain religious authority.

There is also non-biblical Christian literature that most would date to the first century such as the Didache, the Shepherd of Hermas, 1 Clement, etc. which can tell us about the consistency of Christian belief in various areas. For instance, if different movements within Christianity all have the same core “facts” at the middle of their story, it adds a small amount to the overall credibility of their unified sources.

If the standard for historical reliability is that the characters and events have to be written about by non-biased historians writing within a few decades of the individuals/events, then there is nothing that can be learned about the first century world since each of the historians mentioned above were biased toward Rome (and toward specific Roman policies), Josephus was intentionally apologetic toward Jews being accepted by Rome and the gospel are obviously apologetic as well. If that's the standard then we should write off history in general...heck we should write off everything reported to us on the daily news.

Instead though, what's much more fun, is digging into Josephus, the gospels, Tacitus, etc. seeing where they match up, differ, how they fit with what is known from archaeology in the period, etc. Ask questions like, "Why are certain passages in the text that don't seem to make sense from a pro-Christian perspective? Wouldn’t Christians have wanted to edit this out?" "Do the gospels make sense of Jesus in a first-century Jewish perspective?" “What can we learn about oral tradition and transmission and what can that tell us in favor or against the gospels?” It’s fascinating stuff. Few scholars today would disagree that the basic outline of the gospels is historical (interesting birth, life in Galilee, baptism by John, perceived miracles, Jewish/Roman opposition in Jerusalem, crucifixion, mysterious post-death events). A few are skeptical of one or two of these events, and most are convinced of much more of the gospel’s historicity. I find myself in the latter camp, and think that it's a fascinating field of study that gets more and more fun the further you dig into it.

Ken Pulliam said...


There is at least one source, The Secret Book of James , which dates to the first half of the second century, that claims that Jesus was buried in the sand . Burial in the sand would have meant a shallow grave which is consistent with what we know about the criminal graveyard. Since we know that burial in the criminal graveyard was typical for those who were crucified (unless they were left to hang on the cross for the animals to eat), then it seems reasonable to me to assume this is what happened to Jesus' body. For him to have been buried honorably in a tomb is less likely.

In addition, there are good reasons to doubt the story of J of A burying Jesus in his own tomb. First, for a criminal to be buried in a tomb would have desecrated the tomb in the minds of Jewish people. Since a tomb was used for more than one person, it would have "ruined" the tomb for any future use. Second, even if J of A's family would have had no problem with Jesus being buried there, since if they were believers, they didn't really consider him a criminal, that doesn't change the fact that other Jews, whose tombs were in the vicinity would not have seen it as contaminating their burial places as well. Third, as I have mentioned before, if the story about J of A is true, it is incredible that there is no mention of him or the tomb in the book of Acts or anywhere else in the NT.

Kyle Essary said...

To supplement what Ken said (from a different perspective), here is an article that shows the academic perspective on Jesus' burial by Craig Evans. This was published in the Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus in 2005 (i.e. the top academic journal on historical Jesus studies):

Evans is the probably the most respected scholar on historical Jesus studies that nobody knows about, haha. Everyone knows Wright, Borg and Crossan due to their popular literature, but I'm confident that if you polled the SBL on who was more significant in terms of their academic work, Evans would top all three.

Kyle Essary said...

This is such a side issue from the post, but let me push back a little since I know this is a topic you have thought much about and I'm sure I can learn from you.

I'm wondering what would cause you to date the Apocryphon of James to the early 2nd century? We have only one manuscript which we conjecture was translated from Greek, but unlike some of the other Nag Hammadi material, we have no evidence this is actually the case. Most scholars speculate that it was written late 2nd century like most of the material from the collection, but the reliability of the dating would be around 2 on a scale of 10 since it's based purely on speculation.

Also, why do you prefer literalizing the Coptic idiom for a shameful burial (i.e. buried in the sand)? Can you name any Coptic scholars who agree with this literal translation of the idiom, because everyone I'm aware of translates it as "shamefully." The only people I know who have argued differently were internet atheists trying to make their case. I'm just wondering if their are any actual scholars you are aware of that support this translation? Of course, as you surely know, this doesn't even deal with the fact that the very phrase in question has corruption leading some to not even translate it.

Of course, at Infidels, former atheist, but an atheist at the time, Peter Kirby has an article against the empty tomb where he quotes the passage in question. Interestingly, it is almost word-for-word the same as the Williams translation (below) with the addition of the phrase in question. Unsurprisingly, he offers no reference for his source. Kirby is a smart guy, but since I believe he was still in high school at the time, I'm going to assume that his knowledge of Coptic wasn't on par with most scholars.

For those interested, there are various translations of the Apocryphon of James online. Here are two. The phrase comes in the ninth paragraph:

Ken Pulliam said...


Thanks for the link to Evans' paper. I had not seen it before. Evans is a careful scholar and I respect his opinion. I am not dogmatic on what happened to the body of Jesus simply because as with most of the data surrounding the life and death of Jesus there is just not enough information to make a definitive conclusion. Thus, I tend to work under the assumption that the "normal" procedure was followed. It is certainly possible that some devout Jew took the body of Jesus and buried it in a tomb especially since the Passover was about to commence. It could be though that some unknown person did this and the exact location of the tomb was never known. Its of course also possible that J of A did it as the gospels report but I doubt it based on the reasons given above.

My point in mentioning the Secret Book of James was in response to Amy's contention that there was no tradition whatsoever for burial in a criminal graveyard. I have no problem translating the word "shamefully" instead of "sand." I think the end result is the same. A shameful burial is a burial like a criminal.

As for the dating of Secret James, I have not studied this in detail but was following the conclusion of Ron Cameron who argues for a date in the first half of the second century based on the reference to the remembrance of the sayings of Jesus points to a time when the oral tradition was still strong, the reference to "scribal production" indicates that there was not yet an established canon of gospel literature, the analysis of the individual sayings suggests that they are independent from the New Testament, and the appeal to James shows that the document comes "from a time when written traditions about Jesus were connected with the competitive claims of authority under the names of individual disciples of Jesus." (The Other Gospels: Non-Canonical Gospel Texts ).

David said...

Let’s see if I understand the argument advanced by several of the commentators.

The argument goes like this. We know that Pilate must have allowed for the removal and burial of Jesus, because Jerusalem during Passover in AD 30 is such a politically volatile place that just the sight of a rotting corpse on a cross could lead to disaster. The people of Jerusalem are so unstable, and so at the edge of revolt, that just the sight of an executed and unburied rebel will tip the balance, rebellion will break out, Jerusalem will go up in flames and Pilate will be next in line for execution.

So, Pilate has no choice but to allow for the removal and burial of the corpse of Jesus. Even though Josephus described Pilate as a man who does not hesitate to employ harsh measures, Pilate must give in to the will of the people of Jerusalem. Therefore, Jesus was buried in a tomb. QED.

Then, two days later, said corpse rises from the dead (along will many of the other dead of Jerusalem), eats some fish and puts in appearances before 500 people in Jerusalem and/or Galilee over a forty day period, all the while neglecting to visit Jewish officials and/or Pilate. And the response of the vast, vast majority of the unstable, politically volatile Jews of Jerusalem to all of these amazing events is…what?

On the one hand, leaving a body on the cross to rot and/or disposing of a body in a ditch is so politically dangerous that Pilate has no choice but to allow for a burial. On the other hand, the long-awaited Messiah rises from the dead, pulling off the greatest miracle in the history of the world in the middle of a population incapable of handling the sight of rotting corpse without exploding…and all is quiet on the Jerusalem front. Something doesn’t add up here.

GalileoUnchained said...

On points 3 and 4, the obvious response seems to be that the gospels are just a story. They're just words on paper. Sure, they say this or that, but why imagine that it's history?

Kyle Essary said...

Your question is largely off-topic from the argument posed above, but let's consider the argument posed above.

1. The disciples believed in a physical resurrection.
2. The physical resurrection was central to early Christian preaching.
3. Multiple disciples in multiple locales at multiple times experienced something, which they claimed was Jesus appearing to them.
4. Natural explanations fail to account for this data.

Eyewitness testimony has plenty of discussion on other posts across this site, but the only relevance it has here would possibly be to the third point. If a case could be made that all of the disciples in all of the locales at each of the times mistakenly interpreted what they believed to have seen, then you might have an argument. Of course, the impetus would be on you to provide such an argument.

Let me give you an example of what your argument should look like. If someone attended a Benny Hinn rally having an amputated left leg (a resurrection is on part with this type of healing), then claimed afterward that Benny Hinn had healed it at a crusade in Phoenix, and showed their mom a regrown leg. They later showed it to a close friend in Tucson who had seen the amputated days before. At another point, they showed it off in front of an audience of 300 at a conference in L.A. Afterward, their physician who had previously been skeptical, sees the leg and writes a paper arguing that they had previously seen it amputated, but now it was regrown. A central aspect of these individuals lives now becomes spreading the validity of Benny Hinn's practices.

If that happened, then I think we would have a similar event to what happened in the first century. Of course, nothing similar to this has ever happened with the supposed healings from Benny Hinn rallies...but it did happen with the resurrection obviously, which is why 2000 years later we are still talking about it from the halls of Oxford university to the street corners or Biloxi, Mississippi.

In the story above, I could question the reliability of eyewitnesses. Trauma can hinder judgment, they could have a cloudy memory, et al. These issues could account for a faulty memory with regard to the details, or for the total reliability of one, or maybe two individual witnesses. Can it account for the multiple witnesses, in multiple locales, and at multiple times, who then change their entire lives to make the regrown leg a central part of their life story? Hardly...

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