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Old 11-13-2001, 05:09 PM   #1
drewjenna
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Post Examining Four Resurrection Alternatives

Evaluating Alternatives to the Resurrection
by Andrew Drenth

Introduction

Let me begin by providing the reader with a bit of background on myself. I was formerly a conservative Christian for about two years, although I've always tended to think "outside the box." Gradually, I shifted towards more of a liberal stance in regards to the Bible and have recently become open to religious pluralism.
Although I sometimes try to ignore it, the one factor that keeps me from a complete separation from Christian doctrine is the problem of the resurrection. Obviously, for Christians, the resurrection isn't a problem, but their source of hope. But for skeptical and agnostic thinkers like myself, the resurrection is a problem because of the many factors that need to be examined in order to determine its validity.
In my search for the truth, I've done a lot of reading on both sides of the coin. Honestly, I've done more on the skeptical side recently, as Christian dogma tends to irritate me at times. What I really wanted to find in this search was that the resurrection story was only that, just a story. I wanted Christianity to just go away so that I could choose what my truth would look like. Despite this longing, the data against the resurrection, although growing in quantity and quality, has yet to convince me.
Although I am not a scholar, only an aspiring intellectual, I don't claim to have all the answers. This essay is certainly written as an easy-read in terms of the language used, but hopefully it will promote more thinking and discussion of this difficult topic.

Statement of the Problem

As far as the resurrection discussion goes, I see two primary areas of discussion: the empty tomb and the appearances. In my opinion, there seem to be reasonable naturalistic explanations for the empty tomb, such as those provided by Jeffrey Jay Lowder in "Historical Evidence and the Empty Tomb Story." With the other factors ignored, I can accept the possibility of Jesus being buried elsewhere or only temporarily buried in a tomb. However, the resurrection appearances seem to provide a much greater hurdle for the skeptic trying to disprove the resurrection of Jesus.
I basically see four options for discounting the resurrection appearances. They will be listed here and discussed in the remainder of the essay. They are:

1) The mass hallucination theory.
2) The conspiracy theory.
3) The legend theory.
4) The exegesis to history theory (J.D. Crossan).

Discussion

In my opinion, options 1) and 2) can be more easily dismissed than options 3) and 4). For me, who is open to the possibility of supernatural occurrences, it is simply easier to believe that many people saw the resurrected Jesus than to believe that many people had the same hallucination of seeing Jesus. You can use as much psychological research as you wish, but for me, the hallucination theory just doesn't cut it. The other option that I see as being weak is the conspiracy theory. This theory suggests that the early Christians made up the story in order to convert people. To me, it seems highly unlikely that these Christians would abandon their former lives, endure persecution, and be willing to die for something that they conjured up. Granted, people have been wrong about what they believed before, but if this is the case, were simply back to options 1) and 3).
We can now move on to what I've labeled the "legend theory." This theory suggests that a non-factual or half-truth story eventually led early Christians to the conviction that Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to 500+ people. Perhaps Jesus' tomb was found empty and consequently someone believed that he had risen. Then, like the UFO sightings, people began to report his appearances to them. I think this option is moving a bit more towards plausible, but I think that we're still far from probable. Here's why:
Paul, Peter, and John all composed books of the New Testament and maintained coherence with the resurrection claims. Like what I stated in regards to the conspiracy theory, I find it very difficult to believe that these were men were deceivers. They all had strong convictions about the resurrection of Jesus and lived accordingly. The evidence is especially strong in the case of Paul. He claimed that Jesus appeared to Him (1 Cor 15) personally. Now this claim wouldn't hold as much water if Paul had been a previous follower of Jesus. However, the fact that he had been a persecutor of Christians suggests that something radical happened to make him a fearless preacher of Jesus. Unless someone shows me how Paul was a liar with his own agenda for power, I hesitate to discount his testimony of his encounter with Jesus. Whether he encountered the "earthly Jesus," the "heavenly Jesus" or an angelic messenger, it was clearly enough evidence for Paul to do a 180. Although I feel that Paul's testimony is one of the stronger proofs for the resurrection, I think that the legend theory has the most merit of the available alternatives. It should be explored more.
Last, J.D. Crossan has tried really hard to formulate a fourth option, the "exegesis to history" theory. Basically, Crossan believes that the phrase "according to the Scriptures' suggests that the resurrection and passion narratives may have been constructed through the use of Old Testament materials. Once this construction had taken place, it gradually became accepted as actual history, similar to the legend theory. Though I am surely not as intelligent or skilled in scholarship as Crossan, I think this theory is also unlikely. According to the Gospels, which I don't believe are inerrant, we see the disciples displayed as incompetent (especially in Mark). If this is even remotely accurate, the disciples would not have viewed Jesus as alive after his death. They certainly may have expected a vindication of Jesus' teachings by some act of God, but they would not have the confidence to start a new religion by stating that Jesus had risen because of some Old Testament Scriptures they had taken out of context. Nor would this have been believed by the Jews who condemned Jesus. They probably would have been laughed out of Jerusalem. Maybe I have misunderstood Crossan's thesis, but from my point of view, though more plausible than 1) and 2), it still is less likely than the resurrection being a true event.

Summary

We've evaluated, albeit briefly, four of the major alternatives to the resurrection. The most likely alternative seems to be a non-factual or partially-true story that quickly developed into the belief in Jesus' resurrection and his appearances to the masses. The problem with this alternative is it would have had to have developed within 25 years or so when Paul wrote to the Corinthians. At that point, alleged witnesses, including Paul himself, could still be consulted regarding the truth of these appearances. Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that many of these witnesses were still living at the time.
Although there are some plausible naturalistic explanations for the tomb being empty, we've seen that it is more difficult to deny the likelihood of these appearances. Without these appearances, Christianity wouldn't have made it out of Jerusalem. It'd still be a sect of Judaism. However, until a better theory can be produced, perhaps through further research, this writer is unable to forcefully discount the resurrection of Jesus. Again, the purpose of this essay is not to convert people to Christianity, as I'm still agnostic about much of it, but to promote positive dialogue regarding this important subject.
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Old 11-13-2001, 05:34 PM   #2
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Quote:
Although there are some plausible naturalistic explanations for the tomb being empty, we've seen that it is more difficult to deny the likelihood of these appearances. Without these appearances, Christianity wouldn't have made it out of Jerusalem. It'd still be a sect of Judaism.

I may be inclined to agree only if Christianity was the only religion in town. Scientology and Mormonism have picked up a very strong following in a very short time. Also, Islam is currently the fastest growing religion.
Would it be fair to say that there must be some truth to the fables surrounding these other religions, otherwise they would never become so wide-spread?
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Old 11-13-2001, 06:47 PM   #3
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This essay seems a little bit disingenuous.

From a google search on "Andrew Drenth", the author appears to be, not an agnostic or a skeptic, but a somewhat committed Christian, either a "Preterist" or a "Transmillenialist" . Perhaps he has become more liberal in the last two years, but he shows no evidence of real skepticism.

In particular, his approach to the New Testament is anything but skeptical. He takes as a fact that 500 people saw the resurrected Jesus (based on one passage of one letter ascribed to Paul), and that Paul saw the resurrected Jesus (based on Paul's report). This is flimsy evidence to a skeptic - 500 people may have had visions that they thought were the same entity, but mass halucination is a very common phenomemon, and a much more likely explanation than bodily resurrection.

In addition, Drenth gives Paul's testimony as evidence of the Resurrection. This should be news to everyone - Paul never saw Jesus in the flesh, was not around at the crucifiction, and only claimed that he was visited by the spirit of Jesus. That is no evidence at all for a resurrection.

Andrew, if you are really sincere about looking for a rational explanation of these points, there is a lot of good material in the SecWeb Library. I recommend in particular
Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story. Section 3 of that essay discusses all of the problems with your "evidence".

Why don't you read that and come back if you have any questions.
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Old 11-13-2001, 09:14 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally posted by Toto:
<STRONG>This essay seems a little bit disingenuous.
</STRONG>
Not to mention laughable. In an age where urban legends amply demonstrate the viability of both the legend and Crossan theories, this guy would have us believe the most likely scenario is that a peasant Jewish preacher was actually a god in disguise who "sacrificed" himself in order to "save" us. It's prima facie absurd. Even the mass hallucination theory is rational in comparison.
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Old 11-13-2001, 10:58 PM   #5
Storm and Stress
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Cool

The Resurrection is the biggie isn't..what really happened. Here are some Pro and Contra views:

1) Jesus never really died on the cross:

Problem here is after being on his feet for at least three meetings...Sanhedrin, Herod, and Pilate..plus a severe scourging and beating, the man can barely carry the cross all the way to the Golgatha..the place of the skulls. Blood loss, dehydration, plus a spear thru his chest in the name of good old fashioned Roman efficiency, I doubt a modern paramedic team could have brought the man back.

But lets assume he did fall into a coma and did not die. He awakes in the tomb. Wrists shattered, shoulders disclocated. Somehow he is able to stand and roll back a two ton stone. Are you kidding, he would have tried to sit up, tried to walk and fell over..and then really died.

2)Roman Guards were alseep while body was stolen.

Answer: Punishement is death for a sleeping Roman guards, who certainly must have known that Pilate himself had given the order to watch the tomb.

3. Mary, and co, and the diciples got the wrong tomb.

Answer: Doesn't hold water. These people had followed Jesus for three years. Forget where he was buried !, you must be joking.


Finally, remember all the Sanhedrin or Pilate had to do was produce the body to shatter any rumors of Jesus's resurrection.


Contra views:

1)Essenes reclaim body. The mysterious young man in Mark, who is not described as an angel. Was Jesus an Essene like his cousin John was?

2)The Gardener in John: Mary at first mistakes a gardner for Jesus, and begs him to lead her to the body. Was there a Gardener who removed the body to stop sightseers from trampling on his nice garden. (Problemactic, no gardener would remove a corpse to preserves his "garden", let alone suffer the weight of the law for such desecration.)

3)Crossan's view: Jesus dies on cross, body buried in shallow grave. Dogs have supper. All part of the humiliation process of the Romans.

4) Jesus never existed or
Jesus dies and myth arises of his resurrection.

5) Conspiracy Theory: Diciples pull of greatest hoax of all time, and claim "the Master" has risen. (Problematic: Most of the diciples die horrible deaths..and not one of them says.."hey, it was all a bad joke".)

Anyway....I hope that gives views about the many different ways to slice up the resurrection.

[ November 14, 2001: Message edited by: Storm and Stress ]
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Old 11-13-2001, 11:49 PM   #6
Benjamin Franklin
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As an alternative to mass hallunications, isn't it possible that a few disiciples of Christ had visions of Christ (Paul's claims for many witness should be treated with skepticism). After all the many people like Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc had visions which inspired them to do great things. And there is no evidence that discples were ever persecuted for preaching the resurrection. It is possible that they used claims of vision to legitimize their authority. Just like Mohammed and Joseph Smith who were also persecuted for their beliefs. As for the discple continuing the Christian movement after Christ death, why not ? After all Jesus promised to come again during their life time and the Christian movement(for the lack of a better word) did not die off after John the Baptist's death. For a better explanation on how the the disciples could have come to believe Jesus resurrected without acutally seeing his physically resurrected body, one can read Thomas Seehan's book "The first coming: how the kingdom of God became Christianity" http://www.infidels.org/library/mode...n/firstcoming/
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Old 11-14-2001, 04:02 AM   #7
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What about the dopple-ganger or twin hypothesis, i.e someone looking very much like the crucified chap is seen around town during the period of grieving and word gets about that he is still alive. Several of the disciples then get stoned after not eating for a few days and hallucinate his appearance prompted by the rumours. Or someone who looked like him could have been persuaded to pretend to be him in order to start the rumour. The whole empty tomb bit could easily have been made up as apologetics for those claiming that the body was thrown to the dogs in typical Roman fashion, the fact is that the Romans could not possibly produce a body when the rumours had spread around after a few weeks so some enterprosing fellows could then claim the empty tomb story as most likely becasue there is no body.

Amen-Moses
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Old 11-14-2001, 06:28 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally posted by Storm and Stress:<STRONG>

5) Conspiracy Theory: Diciples pull of greatest hoax of all time, and claim "the Master" has risen. (Problematic: Most of the diciples die horrbile deaths..and not one of them says.."hey, it was all a bad joke".)
</STRONG>

The only problem with this is that the legends of the martyrdom of apostles such as Peter, Paul, James, Andrew, Thomas, Philip, Matthew, Bartholomew, and so on are all later developments.
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Old 11-14-2001, 07:36 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally posted by Amen-Moses:
<STRONG>What about the dopple-ganger or twin hypothesis, i.e someone looking very much like the crucified chap is seen around town during the period of grieving and word gets about that he is still alive. </STRONG>
Can we all just agree to call this the
"Elvis Sighting Hypothesis?"


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Old 11-14-2001, 09:05 AM   #10
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Quote:
What about the dopple-ganger or twin hypothesis, i.e someone looking very much like the crucified chap is seen around town during the period of grieving and word gets about that he is still alive. Several of the disciples then get stoned after not eating for a few days and hallucinate his appearance prompted by the rumours. Or someone who looked like him could have been persuaded to pretend to be him in order to start the rumour. The whole empty tomb bit could easily have been made up as apologetics for those claiming that the body was thrown to the dogs in typical Roman fashion, the fact is that the Romans could not possibly produce a body when the rumours had spread around after a few weeks so some enterprosing fellows could then claim the empty tomb story as most likely becasue there is no body.
Amen-Moses
This is my personal favorite theory (the "Elvis Sighting Hypothesis" - love that!). Especially in light of the fact that at first, people (starting with Mary at the tomb who thought JC was the gardener) didn't seem to recognize him. Of course you could explain this away by saying of course people wouldn't recognize him because they wouldn't expect to see him up and about, walking around. Or perhaps his transfigured body was so dazzling as to be virtually unrecognizable (celestial plastic surgery - something all born-again believers look forward to after their bodies are resurrected).
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