Did Jesus really rise from the dead?
The following was put together by Jonathan Jong. Many thanks to you sir. I was planning on tackling it myself by it would have taken me a week to type what Jon hammered out in about an hour. From here on it is all Jon (end alex) (start Jon)
OK, I think this will be a rather long post and I don't know how well-written it will be. Apologies beforehand. A lot of this material can be found in John Barclay's essay in "Resurrection Reconsidered." Barclay hold the theology chair at the University of Durham, taking over from the legendary James Dunn.
The matter of the historicity of the Resurrection is a complicated one, certainly far more complex that trusting four people 2000 years ago. The best New Testament scholars in history have disagreed over this matter, which goes to show that it's not a simple matter of "weighing the evidence." There is, as Barclay says, no such thing as an uninterpreted fact. Keep that in mind as you read this post.
Let's look at what we have to work with. The NT material on the resurrection is twofold. First, there are the four gospels (as Matt pointed out). Mark was written ca. 67-70, followed by Matthew and Luke (ca.70-80), followed by John (ca. 90-100). The second (and more important to me) is 1 Cor. 3:5-7, written in the mid 50s.
Let's look at 1 Cor. 3:5-7 first. In this pericope, Paul hands down what he calls "tradition", and speaks of Jesus' death, burial, resurrection and appearances. That Paul speaks of "tradition" handed down to him strongly implies that this is the stuff told to him upon his conversion, ca. 36. We're talking mere years after Jesus' ministry.
NT scholars who do not believe in the resurrection (e.g., Crossan, Ludemann) rightly point out that Paul does not mention an empty tomb. So, Paul could have referred to a "spiritual resurrection." That is, he could have believed that Jesus' soul went to Heaven, while his body was in a pit somewhere with other criminals. (They don't think Jesus was buried.) However, Paul specifically mentions burial, as if that was important (and it is, considering how most criminals were chucking in a mass grave). Also, this "spiritual resurrection" idea relies on Greek concepts of body-soul dualism. Jews didn't belive in body-soul dualism. Resurrection, for the Jews, was strictly bodily resurrection. There could have been no resurrection without an empty tomb. Now, Crossan and Ludemann would counter by saying that perhaps the Jews were influenced by Hellenistic ideas. Maybe, but there's really no way to know. The rest of the NT appears to be severely Hebrew (not Hellenistic) in thought, though.
And then there's the gospels. Crossan et al. point out that there are many discrepancies among the biblical testimonies, and I agree. But eye-witness testimonies are (as a psychologist) notoriously unreliable. One would expect different testimonies to differ (sometimes markedly!) in the details. However, the basic idea that Jesus rose from the dead is not a detail. Eye-witnesses make errors on the details of a crime, but do not err on whether a crime was committed or not.
And there's the issue of women. Why would anyone make up the story and use WOMEN as the primary eye-witnesses? It's not the thing you'd do if you wanted your story to be credible.
The claims that Jesus rose from the dead were circulating very early on in Christian history, and it was really easy to verify the claims of an empty tomb. It is unlikely that the early church would make such audaciously false claims, if they were easily falsifiable. Some say Jesus' body was stolen. If so, by whom? If the Jews/Romans stole it, why didn't they disclose this to stamp out this new religious movement? If the Christians, why would they die for something they knew to be a lie? Others say Jesus feigned death and crawled out of the tomb. Any historian who knows anything about crucifixion can tell you how unlikely that is.
Finally, the resurrection appearances. Crossan and Ludemann claim these to be hallucinations of three orders. Firstly, mass hallucinations. Secondly, hallucinations of expectation. Thirdly, hallucinations of guilt. To support the first, many people appeal to Jungian psychology...which is no longer taught by psyhchology faculties because it is unscientific. Mass hallucinations of such detail do not occur. Secondly, there is no reason to think that the disciples were expecting a resurrection. The crucifixion would have proven beyond reasonable doubt that Jesus was NOT the Messiah. For the Jews, crucifixion was tantamount to a curse by God. It is the supreme mark of divine disaproval. There are, as such, no crucified martyrs in early Judaism. Even if the disciples did expect some sort of vindication for Christ, it would have been translation a la Enoch, not resurrection. Early Jewish eschatology posited a single general resurrection upon the coming of the Messiah, not a special resurrection of an individual, followed by a long wait, then an eschatological general resurrection. The disciples were faces with the resurrection and then had to radically modify their eschatology (and their theology, in fact). The third suggestion (hallucinations of guilt) just shows how unscientific these suggestions are in general. How unfalsifiable is a claim if two opposites are predicted to have the same outcome: Those who expect resurrection see it, and those who do not also see it. Very Freudian!
All things being equal, I think the chances are good that Jesus died, was buried, and was raised in the flesh. The tomb was empty, etc. There is a very good recent book which paints both sides very well by NT Wright and Dominic Crossan (whom I already mentioned). It's a dialogue. Look it up on Amazon.
All this is from memory because I don't have my notes and stuff with me. So, I apologize for any errors made.