Opposing Theories to the Resurrection
In these next few posts I will be looking at some of the opposing theories critics and skeptics use to counter the claim that Jesus actually rose from the dead. In this post, however, we will be looking at whether or not the resurrection was legend. Are the claims of the resurrection legendary embellishments from later Christians? Were the writers of the Gospels actually writing history or a non-historical account of Jesus? Do the claims of resurrections that are found in other religions discredit the claim that Jesus rose from the dead? These are the questions we will be looking at in this post.
The Resurrection “Legend”
Is the resurrection story merely a legendary embellishment that was inserted to the story over time? The problem with this claim is that is discounts the fact that the resurrection account can be traced to the original disciples. While critics and skeptics can accuse the original disciples of lying or hallucinating, they cannot claim that the resurrection was a legend that developed after the time of the disciples. The reason is that the disciples made the claim to the resurrection.
Both Paul and James came to believe in Jesus’ resurrection apart from the testimony of the disciples.
While it is true that embellishments can occur over time with stories, the issue is whether or not embellishments occurred with the resurrection claim of Christianity? Without any supporting evidence of said embellishments this theory is merely an assertion.
Non-Historical Literary Genre
Did the writers of the Gospels write in a literary style to honor their teacher as opposed to actually writing an historical account of a literal resurrection? First, the empty tomb has attestation from outside the New Testament. Second, the skeptic Paul was hostile to Christianity and a Pharisee. As a Pharisee, Paul would have been familiar with Jewish fable, and he would not have been persuaded by what he would have rightly as a feeble attempt by Christians at Jewish Midrash, nor would he follow someone he considered a false Messiah (thereby placing his own soul in jeopardy). The same issues are true with James. According to Hegesippus (as quoted by Eusebius) James remained pious towards the Jewish Law even after becoming a Christian. It would then be extremely unlikely that he would convert over a mere story he would have considered fiction, change his worldview, follow a false Messiah who was cursed by God (since Jesus was crucified), and jeopardize his soul.
We concede that the fable genre existed, we also know that historical genre existed. Merely pointing out that mythical accounts exist does nothing to demonstrate that the Christian accounts are of the same genre. When one looks at the resurrection accounts it appears that the historical genre is the most likely genre that the authors wanted to write in. For example, in Acts 2:13 David is contrasted with Jesus. In this account David’s body decayed but Jesus’ did not.
It is clear from the responses of the early critics of the church (such as Celsus and the Jewish leaders) that the primitive church believed in the resurrection of Jesus as an historical event. The responses of these critics present arguments against the view of a literal and bodily resurrection. Why argue against a literal and bodily resurrection if such was not claimed?
Resurrections in Other Religions
The accounts of rising gods in other religions are vague and unclear. Scholars do not regard these stories as parallels since the details of the accounts are vague and not similar to Jesus’ resurrection. Aesculapius was struck by lightning and ascended to heaven. Baccus and Heracles and a few other sons rose to heaven on the horse Pegasus, having died violent deaths.
The first clear parallel is 100-plus years after Jesus’ death and resurrection. That a resurrection was reported in the earlier accounts of pagan deities is questionable. There is no clear death and resurrection of Marduk. In the earliest versions of Adonis no death or resurrection is reported. There is no clear account of Osirus rising from the dead. Further accounts rising gods in other religions lack evidence and can be easily accounted for by opposing theories. In contrast, there is no opposing theory that can explain away the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
In our next post we will look at another opposing theory, the “fraud” theory.