Thursday, 7 July 2016

Posted by John Dixon

Numerous secular specialists in Jewish and Roman antiquity regard the story of Jesus' resurrection as (at least) a subject of serious historical inquiry, about which one can: (a) know beyond doubting that the basic claim was instantaneous with the purported events and not the result of legendary accumulation; (b) be reasonably confident there was an empty tomb requiring explanation; and (c) be certain the first disciples thought they had witnessed a resurrected Jesus.
Of course, what one makes of these historical conclusions depends on far more than historical arguments. They probe our background beliefs about God, and they challenge our preferences about life. Nevertheless, here are a few historical quotations from said secular specialists:

1. Long time Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford, Geza Vermes: “From these various records two reasonably convincing points merge, one positive and the other negative. First, the women belonging to the entourage of Jesus discovered an empty tomb and were definite that it was the tomb. Second, the rumour that the apostles stole that body is most improbable.” (Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels. Collins, 40)

2. The father of the Jewish study of Jesus, Prof Joseph Klausner insisted concerning the resurrection: “it is impossible to suppose there was any conscious deception.” (Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching. Menorah Publishing, 359.)

3. David Flusser, a classicist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem: “The Lord’s brother, James, came to believe as a result of a resurrection appearance. In A.D. 62 the Sadducean high priest murdered James for his faith in his brother.” (The Sage from Galilee. Eerdmans, 16.)

4. Leading agnostic New Testament historian, Ed Sanders of Duke University (US): “I do not regard deliberate fraud as a worthwhile explanation. Many of the people in these lists (of witnesses) were to spend the rest of their lives proclaiming that they had seen the risen Lord, and several of them would die for their cause. That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgement, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (The Historical Figure of Jesus, 280).

5. Orthodox Jewish historian Pinchas Lapide of Bar-Ilan University, Tel Aviv: "If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception – without a fundamental faith experience – then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself. In a purely logical analysis, the resurrection of Jesus is ‘the lesser of two evils’ for all those who seek a rational explanation of the worldwide consequences of that Easter faith." (The Resurrection of Jesus: a Jewish Perspective. Wipf and Stock, 125-126).

Happy Easter!

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