Historical evidence for resurrection
Facts about Jesus of Nazareth attested to by early historical sources – Christian, Jewish and Roman
- A man named Jesus was born in remote corner of Roman Empire, Palestine, among a fiercely Monotheistic, nationalistic Jewish population.
- Lived during reign of the Emperors Caesar Augustus (37 BC-14 AD) and Tiberius (14-37 AD).
- Attracted a band of poor, outcast, mostly illiterate followers.
- Claimed to be the Messiah of Jewish prophesy, and the Son of God.
- Was arrested by Roman authorities and abandoned by followers.
- Was crucified by order of Pontius Pilot.
- He died on the cross and was buried in a tomb, which was sealed with a stone and guarded by Roman soldiers.
- The tomb in which he was buried was found empty.
- His followers claimed he rose from the dead; they claimed to see, touch, and eat with him alive, often and by many disciples together.
- Those who claimed he rose willingly died rather than deny their claim.
- Belief in Jesus spread rapidly among lower classes in Roman world despite persecution by Jewish and Roman authorities.
- Oral eyewitness accounts of his life, teachings, miracles, death and resurrection circulated among disciples.
- Some disciples produced written accounts based on oral testimony within living memory of eyewitnesses.
Either, Jesus rose from the dead, as the Gospels and Saint Paul attest, or some alternative explanation accounts for these historical facts.
Implausibility/impossibility of alternative explanations
- Jesus was a mythical being who never existed.
His myth as a Dying and Rising God-Savior, copied from other ancient myths, was invented to pacify rebellious Jewish locals.
- For a discussion of the implausibility/impossibility of this suggestion, see Historical Evidence for Jesus.
- Christ of faith is a legend.
Jesus really existed but his miracles, claim to be the Son of God, his miracles and resurrection were embellishments which grew in the retelling until written down long after he lived.
- For a discussion of the implausibility/impossibility of this suggestion, see Reliability of the Gospels.
- Jesus did not die on the cross.
He simply swooned or passed out, later awoke in tomb and escaped (possibly visiting disciples as normally alive).
- Plausible explanation for empty tomb
- Plausible explanation for disciples’ willingness to die
- Implausible explanation for disciples’ hallucination
- Highly improbable / impossible Romans were mistaken in declaring Jesus dead
- Impossible a man inside a sealed tomb could roll stone away and overpower guards
- The disciples stole Jesus’ body, and made up the story he rose from the dead.
Overpowered guards, rolled away stone, hid the body.
- Would explain the empty tomb
- Prima facie implausible
– Hapless band of fishermen could not do this.
- No incentive for the disciples to do this. No chance this would be believed (without Jesus being raised from the dead).
– Defeated Messiah not consistent with Jewish belief
– Individual resurrection not consistent with Jewish belief
– Could be expected to bring only persecution (not mass appeal, power and/or riches).
- Highly improbable / impossible
– People do not willingly die for what they know is a lie.
- The disciples hallucinated that Jesus rose from the dead.
Jesus died and stayed buried, but in their grief, the disciples thought they saw (and touched and ate with) Jesus alive.
- Plausible explanation for an individual disciple being willing to die.
- Highly improbable / impossible to happen often and to groups of disciples.
– Mass hallucinations just don’t happen – not recognized by modern psychology
- Does not explain empty tomb
- Early and persistent spread of Christianity (as historical fact that needs an explanation)
It is a fact that the entire world worshipped idols and that the faith of Christ was persecuted, as the histories of the pagans also testify. But now all are turned to Christ, wise men and noble and rich, converted by the words of the poor and simple preachers of Christ. Now, this fact was either miracle or it was not. If it is miraculous, you have what you asked for, a visible fact; if it is not, then there could not be a greater miracle than that the whole world should have been converted without miracles.Saint Thomas Aquinas, On the Apostles Creed, Prologue