Chapter Five

Resurrection

Ed Atkinson

 

I applaud Justin for highlighting the importance of the resurrection. Surely he is right that the Christian claim must stand or fall by it. Without the resurrection, all we are left with is an inspiring Jewish teacher who, for the most part, did no more than adopt the worldview of his culture.

Here is how I came to see the importance of the resurrection. I was having severe doubts as a Christian and I decided to step away from the Christian faith and view it from the outside to check that it was true. I expected to return to the fold. I started my journey of exploration by joining the library at Westminster College in Oxford. An early book I borrowed was a large tome giving an account of all the main religions and patterns of belief in the world. As I worked through it, I became more and more depressed by the scene. My difficulty was not what was taught by them, much of which was inspiring, but it was the answer to the question that was always niggling at the back of my mind: “Why should I believe this?” For each religion, the core ideas seemed to have mere human origin.

Now, there was just one spark of light in this depressing read and that was the mystery behind how Christianity got going. The resurrection seemed to be the explanation but what really happened? At last, there appeared to be a bit of intrigue behind one of the world faiths. Something, perhaps, to suggest it might even have divine inspiration.

We are in a great situation, as we can use historical methodology to investigate this foundational claim of the resurrection and that is what Justin outlined.

First, let’s step back for a moment. How can we know, with even remote certainty, what happened 2,000 years ago? Let’s imagine the parallel idea from Derren Brown that Justin quoted, and expanded here with my imagination. In about 1940, in an African outpost under the control of the British Empire, a new sect emerged. It was claimed that their leader had come back from the dead after being killed in the War serving the Axis Powers. Furthermore, it seems that he had apparently appeared and even had meals with some of his followers before vanishing permanently. Unfortunately, we have no records from the time but there is an authentic letter by a follower who was close to the original witnesses. This letter, stamped 1965, briefly lists the leader’s appearances 1 . Then there is silence until the 1980s, at which point, religious tracts about the affair start to be published in London. These now describe a missing body as well as post-death appearances but there are large discrepancies in their description of the events. The first outsider to write about it that we know of was a specialist historian 2 who was native to that country - he was born in the 1940s, left for London in 1980 and wrote about it in the 2000s but there is good reason to think his words have been corrupted by sect members.

That story roughly matches what we have as source documents for the resurrection, but with a change of geographical setting and with the dates moved from 30AD to 1940. Would you give up all and join that sect based on such evidence? So how can we base a life-changing decision to believe Christianity from such evidence? Historians of the classical world don’t even make a tentative conclusion when the evidence is as weak as this. One example is the death of Nero’s mother Agrippina. There are surviving stories by respected Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius who wrote 60 to 70 years later, which is equivalent to the time gap between the resurrection and the last of the New Testament gospels, John. However, modern historians consider the circumstances of Agrippina’s death as largely unknown because the accounts contradict each other, are generally fantastical and display anti-Nero bias. It seems bizarre to me that I should embrace the entire belief structure of Christianity based on evidence even less solid. The authors are not known historians, they have an obvious strong agenda, which in John’s case he admits 3 , they contradict each other 4 and they include fantastical details that, if true, would surely be confirmed by other contemporary historians (lengthy daytime darkness, major earthquakes, many dead people rising and walking the streets of Jerusalem5).

Minimal Facts?

 

Justin tries to circumvent these problems by pointing to several key ‘minimal facts’ that he claims are agreed by the overwhelming majority of scholars, both sceptical and conservative. He then seeks to show how these ‘facts’ can only be explained by a genuine bodily resurrection of Jesus. But a problem quickly arises in that Justin’s fact 2, the empty tomb, is not that widely supported. Note 2 on the chapter says “75% of scholars support arguments for the empty tomb”, referencing a Gary Habermas paper from 2005. Actually updated information suggests that 75% is an overestimate6. Meanwhile Gary’s website says “there is approximately a 3:1 ratio of works that fall into the category that we have dubbed the moderate conservative position, as compared to more skeptical treatments.” So 75% of scholars are conservative Christians and 25% are everyone else: non-conservative Christians, agnostics and unbelievers. Many of these conservative Christians work in seminaries where a literal reading of the gospels is effectively a condition of employment, and arguing against an empty tomb would be unthinkable. Mike Licona, the other conservative expert in the resurrection who is highlighted in Justin’s chapter, had to resign his post merely when he suggested that the dead rising and walking the streets of Jerusalem (described in Matthew 27:51-3) was metaphorical! Such is the background to 75% of scholars being conservative and yet less than 75% of scholars overall supporting the empty tomb.

There may be a few non-conservative Christian scholars who support the empty tomb, but Gary’s data indicates that there are many more conservative Christian scholars who argue against the empty tomb. That is why the empty tomb is not usually called a ‘minimal fact’ and when Gary was on the show in August 2015 he was careful not to include it in his list of minimal facts. It is clearly not a minimal fact and we must assess the evidence for it ourselves rather than rely on academic consensus.

Let’s look at the minimal facts that do reflect the consensus.

Justin’s first ‘minimal fact’ is that Jesus died on the cross. We should be happy with that. Given that Jesus existed as a historical character (see the previous chapter) then we would have to agree that he died as well. All the near-contemporary sources we have, both Christian and Roman, agree that his death was by crucifixion.7

Justin’s second ‘minimal fact’ was the empty tomb and it should not be in the list. The third was that some disciples thought that they saw Jesus following the crucifixion. The consensus is that it is probably correct for the reason Justin gives: that key passage in a letter by the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3 to 8:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Paul is writing to friends and seems to believe that he is passing on accurate material. It is possible that Paul is passing on information that he has had verified by the disciple Peter (whose Aramaic name is Cephas) and Jesus’s brother, James, i.e. two of the original witnesses as well as people Paul says in another letter, Galatians, that he has met. Paul is probably quoting a creed which implies that it should be dated well before the approximate 55AD date of this letter, but I don’t see why that means ‘the very inception of the church’ as Justin claims.

Justin’s fourth ‘minimal fact’ was the conversion of two people he calls ‘sceptics’: Paul himself and Jesus’ brother James. The evidence regarding Paul is excellent as we have his own words on his opposition to the church and his conversion. However, the evidence regarding James is poor. What we do know with some confidence is that James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem until he was stoned to death by the Jewish authorities in 62AD on the charge of breaking the law8. (As an aside, we can only speculate as to whether this constituted what Justin calls “martyrdom for his beliefs”, to conclude martyrdom would require information we don’t have both on the motives of his killers and on whether James had the chance to recant.)

The important question here is whether James was a ‘sceptic’ before the resurrection. The Gospels record that Jesus’s brothers, and his family in general, were mocking or hostile of Jesus early in his public ministry. 9 Justin claims that James turned around from his unbelief and became a follower of Jesus as a result of the resurrection. But to support this, Justin has to establish as fact that James was still hostile by the time of the crucifixion, which even a prominent conservative scholar denies10, and also that the stories of his hostility are accurate in the first place, which is far from obvious.11 So the fact that James was a leader in the church and is listed in 1 Corinthians 15 as having experienced an appearance will be accepted by the majority of scholars, but whether James was at the time a ‘sceptic’ is not established.

Justin’s fifth and final fact is the rise of Christianity following the execution of its founder. I accept that strong belief in the resurrection seems to be the obvious explanation and Justin’s third fact, the perceived appearances, gives us the explanation for such belief. This was the point that gave me pause for thought as I read my tome on all the world’s religions.

Those are Justin’s five ‘minimal facts’, all apparently agreed upon by scholars except for 2, the empty tomb. Also, I cannot see how James ‘scepticism’ can be included with the agreed fact of his belief in the resurrection but that is a relatively minor issue. Jesus’ death, fact 1, does not need explanation and the other remaining ones boil down to, or are explained by, the perceived appearances. So the million dollar question is then whether these were real physical appearances or not, i.e. whether they were just events in the believers’ heads. Let’s first consider if that is plausible.

Could One or Two Hallucinations Have Prompted the First Belief in Resurrection?

 

I will nail my colours to the mast and use the scientific term ‘hallucination’ for a vivid vision of Jesus. The first thing to say is that hallucinations are common: about 15% percent of the global population experiences them 12 . They are more likely to occur with increasing age, which seems not to apply here, but they are also associated with factors such as stress, grief, trauma and anguish 13 which do. The two most frequent types of hallucination are of a recently deceased loved one (usually a spouse after a long marriage) and of a respected religious figure.

I will discuss the appearances to groups of disciples in the next section. Here I ask: are one or two individual hallucinations capable of doing the job required to get resurrection belief started?

Research by resurrection proponents such as N T Wright has shown that first century Jews, like the disciples, generally had a physical understanding of resurrection, and so a ghostly vision is probably not sufficient. But hallucinations are not mere ghostly visions. The American Psychiatric Association’s well-known manual, “ The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ”, describes hallucinations as ‘ a sensory perception that has the compelling sense of reality of a true perception but that occurs without external stimulation ’. (Note that sensory perception includes all of the senses, not just vision.) And here is a quote from ‘Tara’, a contributor to the discussions on the Unbelievable? show’s website, she wrote after the October 2015 episode on the resurrection: “ I've had two new patients just this week that have told me about their 'visiting' spouses. By the way, no one yet has talked about them as appearing ghostly ....... and I've heard dozens of accounts. Instead, they describe them as seeming very lifelike, as if the spouse is there in complete physicality. 14

How such an experience, with its “compelling sense of reality” and “complete physicality”, would be interpreted is strongly influenced by the expectations of the subject having the experience. Clearly a resurrected Jesus was a possibility here, as we see earlier in the Gospel story: they tell us that a large number of Jews, from all levels of society, thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead.15

Equally relevant are the expectations of the followers of Jesus at the time of his death. This is harder to know. Two conclusions seem to be widely accepted in scholarship: firstly that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher and thus  the end of the age was ‘at hand’. The end of the age was closely associated with resurrection. Indeed, Paul later suggests that Jesus’ resurrection was the ‘first fruits’ anticipating the more general resurrection at the imminent end of the age16.

Secondly, scholars widely accept that Jesus did have a reputation for healings and perhaps other miracles. There is one non-Christian source about Jesus that we have from the first century and even this reports his “surprising deeds” 17 . That would also help those experiencing Jesus as being alive after death to interpret it as a resurrection. If any other carpenter from Nazareth had been seen alive after execution, it is rather less likely that such a conclusion would be reached.

I want to pause for a moment and to summarise: is there sufficient reason to accept a hallucination, or a few individual hallucinations, as the reason for the first resurrection belief? I’ve shown that they are common for this kind of setting and that their strong sense of physicality provides the potential for being understood as ‘resurrection’ in first century Judaism, especially in view of the expectations that Jesus’ teaching and activities engendered. Sceptics do not have a single view but I consider that this is one of the best explanations for how resurrection belief might have started. There is certainly no need to posit a miracle to explain it.

Explanations for the Other Appearances?

 

Hallucinations are only individual experiences and group hallucinations with the same content are not reported in the scientific literature. But the key,1 Corinthians 15 creed mentions at least one group experience and the passage it sits within has two more group experiences, one of which is an appearance to more than 500 people18. Even if the appearance to the Twelve means one by one, it is seriously implausible that they each had a hallucination of Jesus. This is the reason Justin gives for completely dismissing hallucinations as an explanation. To me the best explanation is that the first individual experiences of ‘the risen Jesus’ would prime the others. I use ‘priming’ here partly because it is a jargon term from psychology, where it refers to how our behaviour or judgements can be changed by subtle stimuli19 including the behaviour of others.

In this case the stimulus is far from subtle, a close friend and fellow disciple reporting that they had actually seen Jesus in the flesh would be a very strong ‘priming’ factor. When people gathered together, both with this heightened expectation and with the background expectations discussed earlier, it could easily produce something that would later be agreed to be an appearance.

There are many potential examples in recent history, such as appearances of the Virgin Mary to crowds of believers20. Once the expectation is set up that Mary will appear, then the slightest stimulus will be interpreted as an appearance and reported as such to others. That is just human nature.

We can now show, under laboratory conditions, how such false memories are generated. One such example is an experiment in which false memories were induced by suggestion. The subjects were psychology students and so presumably they were reasonably savvy. They individually watched a clip of a magician ‘bending’ a key by sleight of hand. He then placed it on a table. If the magician merely suggested just once that the key was continuing to bend, 37% of the subjects incorrectly reported later that that is what it did. 21 The priming of the magic trick and the magician’s suggestion had produced a false memory of something the subjects knew was impossible under the laws of physics.

Outside the lab, false memories seem even easier to generate: Loch Ness Monster sightings are an obvious example. Many years ago, Richard Frere and a fellow conspirator set up a ruse on the shore of the loch. They waited for passing motorists and then gesticulated and took copious photos. When the people stopped, the conspirators reported sighting Nessie in choppy water which had been made by boat wakes. This was sufficient for three quarters of the people watching them to report seeing long dark humps moving through the water. 22 This seems to be the kind of humdrum process that easily explains how one or two disciples convinced by a hallucination could produce experiences in whole groups that are falsely remembered and retold as appearances. Any initial hallucination would have been compellingly vivid, but these other ‘appearances’ need not have been.

I will discuss later the case of Paul’s appearance that Justin discussed. Here I note how Paul only saw light and heard a voice but, in 1 Corinthians 15, he refers to his appearance using the same Greek word that he uses for all the appearances. This suggests that many of the appearances featured a less tangible version of Jesus.

Note too how the sequence that Paul gives supports this idea of one experience helping cause the next: first it is Peter, then the Twelve, then more than 500. Peter is a good candidate for experiencing a hallucination in view of his feelings of guilt; the Gospels record his denials of Jesus and it is understood that those with a sense of guilt over their relationship with the deceased often have an increased propensity to experience grief hallucinations. 23 Peter, as an authority figure, is also a great candidate for ‘priming’ and ‘suggesting’ to the others. He takes the role played by the magician suggesting the bending key or the convincing conspirators beside Loch Ness.

There is another possible factor to throw in the pot here: Cognitive Dissonance. It can be summarised: “A key tenet of cognitive dissonance theory is that those who have heavily invested in a position may, when confronted with disconfirming evidence, go to greater lengths to justify their position.” 24 . The study of cognitive dissonance began with Leon Festinger's 1956 book, “When Prophecy Fails” 25 . Leon and fellow researchers heard of a cult led by a Chicago housewife. The cult believed that they had received messages from a planet named Clarion, and these messages revealed that the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954, and also that a UFO would rescue the group of true believers. Festinger and his colleagues joined the group. Then the appointed time came ........... and …………. passed without incident. The cult members faced acute cognitive dissonance: had they been the victims of a hoax? Had they donated their worldly possessions in vain? Most members chose to believe something less dissonant in order to resolve their inner tension: they believed that the aliens had given Earth a second chance and that the group was now empowered to spread the word that Earth-spoiling must stop. The group dramatically, and immediately, increased their proselytising as a direct response to the failed prophecy.

The theory of cognitive dissonance has, in the decades since, become established and the general effect is confirmed as being a feature within all of us. The conditions the disciples faced after the execution of their Messiah, in whom they had heavily invested, match perfectly those that are known to produce cognitive dissonance. Hence, when it was suggested that Jesus was risen and was appearing to them, it was easy for them to believe. In order to overcome their cognitive dissonance, they readily believed and preached the appearances. Note that this is not a claim of dishonesty.

If these just-in-the-mind processes of false memories, priming, suggestion and cognitive dissonance were responsible for the disciples’ belief that they had seen Jesus in group settings, then we should expect that there was a range of responses, with some disciples being more convinced than others. And indeed there are indications of just that in the record we have in the Gospels. Most notably, Matthew reports that ‘some doubted’26 during a group appearance. There is also a clear theme of Jesus not being initially recognised during his appearances.27 It seems there is a kind of legacy of doubt in the appearance stories, with the writers perhaps trying too hard to prove that Jesus was himself really physically present. Doubting Thomas is an example, as is the need for “many convincing proofs that he was alive”28 when you’d expect just one to be sufficient.

Before finishing on the appearances, let’s quickly see how they are described in the Gospels. They are described very differently in each Gospel, with some apparent discrepancies:

In Matthew, Jesus appears to the women, then to the eleven on a mountain in Galilee.

In Mark, there are no appearances but one in Galilee is foretold. 29

In Luke, we hear that Jesus appeared to Peter and then to two minor disciples walking out to a town a few hours from Jerusalem. They hurry back to the eleven ‘and those with them’ and Jesus appears to them all. Subsequently, he leads them out of the City and ascends. It all happens in one day in and near Jerusalem. 30

In John, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene alone, then to the disciples in Jerusalem (seemingly the same as in Luke’s report), then again a week later and finally to a small group on the shore of Lake Galilee.

Compared to Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians, not only do we see several extra appearances in the Gospels but also those to the 500 and to James are missing. In addition, Luke’s narrative leaves no room for the Galilee appearances that appear in the other Gospels. This is in keeping with legendary development of the basic tradition, a topic I will cover in more detail in relation to the tomb tradition.

It is time to pause and summarise again. I can agree with Justin that there may well be solid history behind 1 Corinthians 15, which informs us that the disciples did testify to group appearances, but when actual detailed reports are written decades later, we have the diverse - and in places contradictory - descriptions discussed here. It seems to me that factors such as false memories, priming, suggestion and cognitive dissonance can easily explain this. The factors combined with an expectation of seeing Jesus arising from one or two individual hallucinations and so led to religious experiences that were later reported as group appearances.

The Appearance to Paul

 

As noted in the ‘minimal facts’ Paul converted to Christianity from a position of hostility31 and it seems that his ‘Damascus road’ appearance by Jesus was the cause. Paul’s case fits perfectly with my thesis that the appearances were internal religious experiences.

He describes as much in a letter with “reveal his Son in me” 32 and the author of Acts reports Paul calling it a “vision from heaven”33. Paul’s key text on the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15 and the first few verses have been discussed above by myself and Justin in his book. When we go on to read the whole chapter, we see the ‘body’ of the risen Jesus seemingly described as immaterial, as a ‘life giving spirit’, a ‘spiritual body’ and ‘of heaven’ rather than of ‘the dust of the earth’.34 If this immaterial take is accurate, then it suggests that the early tradition regarding the appearances was not physical as the later gospels tend to indicate.

However, there is still the need to explain Paul’s experience. We can assume that there were many early opponents of Christianity, all of whom were exposed to the preaching, hope and fearlessness of the apostles. And people do convert. So it should not be a surprise that one of the opponents converted. Paul himself seemed to be prone to visions: he was later “caught up to the third heaven” in a visionary experience35, so his conversion being prompted by a vision is not so remarkable. An alternative, more cynical take, is that both Paul and his ‘biographer’ in Acts, needed to emphasise his credentials as a leading apostle36 and being an eyewitness of the risen Christ was one key criterion.

The Empty Tomb – A Snowman Scarf?

 

So far in this chapter, I have assessed the evidence provided by Justin’s less controversial ‘minimal facts’: the death of Jesus and the appearances. The question has been whether the appearances happened in physical reality or just in the heads of those experiencing them. But what would be the significance of Justin’s disputed ‘fact’ being correct: Jesus’s tomb really was empty on Easter morning? This is like the famous Christmas cartoon ‘The Snowman’ by Raymond Briggs which was beautifully animated in 1982 and has become a Christmas regular. In this story, a boy makes a snowman and then goes to bed. In the night, he has a wonderful adventure in which the snowman becomes alive. Together, they ride a motorbike across the fields and fly (accompanied by the song, “Walking in the Air”) to the far North. There, they meet Father Christmas, who gives the boy a scarf with a distinctive snowman pattern on it. Eventually, they return home. The following morning, the boy runs out into the garden whereupon he sees that the sun has come out and the snowman has melted. It was all only a dream, just events in the boy’s head. But then, he reaches into his pocket and finds that distinctive snowman scarf.

The empty tomb, if real, is like that scarf. Its existence would put the whole Easter narrative into a different light. For many, the historicity of the empty tomb is the key issue regarding the resurrection.

Was Jesus buried in a tomb at all?

Before I look at whether the tomb was empty, we must first consider whether Jesus was buried in a tomb at all. We turn to the reasonably strong historical basis of the apparent ‘creed’ in 1 Corinthians 15, as quoted earlier, which claims that “he was buried”. That certainly rules out the possibility that Jesus’s body was left on the cross or on the ground to be eaten by scavenging birds and dogs, which was common Roman practice when crucifying insurgents. However, it does not tell us whether the final burial of remains was in a communal grave or in an individual tomb.

The main reason to think that there was a tomb is that it is in the Gospels, in fact in all four of them. It is also mentioned in the sermons in the book of Acts.37 I claim that a communal grave burial is much more plausible and so I must explain both how this myth of a tomb burial arose and also why the actual account was lost.

The earliest account we have for the tomb story is the date of Mark’s Gospel which is usually taken as being about 65-70AD. Are four decades sufficiently long for a false account of the burial to arise? Yes, when we consider the way in which information is distorted as it is passed on. Moreover, scholars think that Mark was written well away from Palestine, and if we also assume the author was using third, fourth or fifth hand information, or even more removed than that, then it is very likely that its stories will be distorted.

Take an incident in the writing of this chapter as an example. At our discussion group, a friend told me about the ‘key bending’ experiment mentioned earlier. He had read the academic paper. I subsequently took part in an Unbelievable discussion on the resurrection38, and I thought my memory of his account would be fine. But I made several important errors as I explained the experiment: I implied that the subjects were sitting round a table, that the magician performed the trick live, that the magician repeatedly said that the key continued to bend and that memories of this were recalled a week later. None of these were the case.

The errors produced by the way people picture events as they hear a story, is one possibility for how the tomb tradition might have arisen. From our 1 Corinthians 15 creed, and elsewhere, we hear the importance of the Easter events being “according to the Scriptures”39 where ‘Scriptures’ here, means the Old Testament. A key passage in these Scriptures is Isaiah 53 which describes a suffering servant who was “pierced for our transgressions” and it further declares that “the punishment that brought us peace was on him”. This became a vital passage for the first Christians as it helps explain why Jesus as the Messiah had to die. It also describes the burial: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death”40. So, if this passage was in mind and believed when a Christian, unaware of the facts, was told of Jesus’s burial then he or she might picture it as a rich person’s burial, and only the rich in Jesus’s day were buried in tombs. (The origin of the criminals crucified each side of Jesus could be seen as arising from “with the wicked” in the same way.) If this hypothesis is correct, the story would have become that Jesus was buried in a tomb. The hypothesis also relies on the ‘real’ account of the burial in a common grave not being widely told, as it would have contradicted the legendary accounts. The shame of a common grave could be the explanation.

When we turn to the gospel accounts of the burial, we see that there is some legendary and theological embellishment41 and one apparent contradiction: Matthew says it is Joseph’s own tomb while John says that Joseph only chose that tomb for Jesus because it was conveniently close. So there is indeed evidence of a developing myth here.

What is the likelihood that the Roman authorities in the first century would have released the body of a Jew crucified for claiming to be Messiah? The expectation would be that it would have been left on the cross or been buried in a common pit42. There were some cases of the Romans releasing bodies. For example, a contemporary Jew in Alexandria, Egypt, knew of cases when crucified victims were released to the family because it was the emperor’s birthday43. There is also archaeological evidence of one Jerusalem case when a crucified victim had their bones preserved; this would imply tomb burial, perhaps after a few days’ decay on the cross44. So, while the evidence does not disallow the possibility that the body of Jesus was buried in a tomb, it remains a very surprising treatment for a Messiah figure executed for treason, as Mark confirms 42.

A tomb burial is only just plausible, and yet there is a simple way that a myth of a tomb burial could have arisen within a Christian community uninformed of the actual events. Perhaps we can investigate the credibility of the burial account itself. In its favour we see that burial of the body on the day of crucifixion, as described in the Gospels, is not without precedent for Palestine45. However, we might consider the role of Joseph of Arimathea, about whom there are some credibility issues. Luke reports “Arimathea” a Judean town but it is not readily identified as such46, and it is unusual for a town to have only one mention throughout the whole of the ancient documents. In addition, the Greek name translates into English as “Ari “ meaning “best” and “mathea” meaning “disciple town”, a name so felicitous as to appear somewhat suspicious. Further, Joseph seems to appear from nowhere in the account only to promptly disappear, with no mention of him in Acts or in the letters. Finally, there seems to be a discrepancy between how, on the one hand, he is described as being very supportive of Jesus47 but, on the other hand, he was a “prominent member of the Council” on which “all condemned him (Jesus) as worthy of death”48. None of these points rule out the historicity of the episode but surely they cast some doubt.

What is notable about the tomb is the absence of its veneration. Both sides of the resurrection debate agree that there is no record in early Christian documents of its veneration49 and, when Constantine sent people to find the tomb in about 325AD, it seems that they just had to guess its location50. Modern apologists argue that the lack of veneration is actually further evidence for an empty tomb because reverence was given, not to the tomb but, instead, to he who had lain within it and who still exists. But there having been no tomb at all is a vastly better explanation. It is deep in our human nature to venerate the locations of significant events and it was part of Hebrew culture51. Of course the empty tomb would be remembered and honoured. While the 1 Corinthians 15 creed does suggest that the burial had to be somewhere, a common grave would not attract veneration. The spot in a Roman penal burial field would not be marked while, in contrast, a tomb clearly had potential for veneration especially as it was supposedly owned by a Christian sympathiser, Joseph of Arimathea.

The Tomb – Was it Empty?

 

Now I will address the evidence Justin gives for the empty tomb, the stories that it was found empty on the Sunday morning by a small group of women.

While the stories are in all the Gospels, there are reasons to doubt them as straightforward accounts. As before there is both legendary embellishment 52 and some discrepancies. By its nature, this is an event that can have happened just once and so the discrepancies between the descriptions must be considered. Some are the kind of discrepancies we might expect in eyewitness statements relayed several years later, for example, the number and names of the women and perhaps whether it happened just before, or after, dawn.

But there are problems. As Matthew and Luke are using Mark as a source, their empty tomb stories are all quite similar. John’s narrative, however, has more differences from Mark’s, these being that, in John’s, no women enter the tomb, there is no messenger and, instead of keeping silent, Mary runs to tell Peter and his companion.

So, to find evidence to confirm an empty tomb, we must turn elsewhere. Justin highlights the way that all the Gospels present women as the first eyewitnesses. The significance here is the attitudes and legal practice in the ancient world whereby a woman’s testimony was considered to be very inferior to a man’s. Surely, runs Justin’s argument, if the Gospel writers are making up the empty tomb, they would not use inferior witnesses?

I would agree that the use of women eyewitnesses is evidence that the tomb narrative was not deceitfully invented to produce belief in the resurrection. But is it evidence that it was not some kind of myth? Remember my poor recollection of those lab-test subjects who ‘saw’ a key continuing to bend. I incorrectly remembered that they sat round a table when, actually, each watched a film. In much the same way, those told of the Resurrection would have filled in the details of the empty tomb in their imagination. Of course, such a story would not be created by just one person but would develop in the telling, as myths do. If this is correct, then how would the imagined scene unfold? Well, in that culture, it was women who would normally apply spices to the bodies of the dead, so it is natural to imagine that it would have been women who visited the tomb and thus that it would have been they who discovered it empty. This speculation does not give evidence for a myth theory, but it does show how a myth would fit well with the first witnesses in the narratives being women.

These eyewitnesses being women may be in keeping with how such events would unfold, and if the prejudice against women is real we would expect the gospel writers to present us with male witnesses as well. And three of the four gospels do have male witnesses. But highlighting that the first eyewitnesses were women can actually cut both ways. Our earliest record, Mark, which is the only one with just female witnesses seems to have as an aim the provision of extremely poor eyewitnesses. The end of his tomb narrative is “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”53 It is hard to imagine eyewitnesses performing any worse. It seems Mark is doing his best to show the event as if it were a private and barely known episode, one perhaps not even known about by the disciples, until it came out later. It would be much more natural for Mark to present the empty tomb as publicly known and to report the people’s amazement, as he does earlier in his Gospel regarding Jesus’s healings54. We are left with a nagging suspicion that Mark knows that the empty tomb was not widely known about before he wrote and he needs to let people understand why that was so.55 The suspicion is enhanced when the later Gospels do describe the women telling the disciples of the empty tomb56 and also they all give male witnesses to it. Mark’s early picture of a very private event was thus developed as the story became more widely known.

Justin listed some of the proposed natural explanations for the empty tomb, and I agree that they generally don’t convince. A simpler view is that it was belief in the resurrection which caused the later Gospel stories of the empty tomb. A weakness in that section by Justin is that he assumes that the resurrection data should have a single simple explanation. That is not the case for events like the outbreak of the First World War, so why should it be for the appearance and tomb narratives?

The Conclusion

 

Is it historically demonstrated that Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead? Or is it all as implausible and unevidenced as the imaginary sect leader in a remote corner of the British Empire? I certainly see it as close to my imaginary sect leader.

Justin spent a few pages on defending the possibility of a supernatural explanation for historical data. I am not concerned by such issues as the resurrection data we have has such readily available explanation within naturalism. The apologist can’t have it both ways: EITHER a miraculous physical resurrection is so amazingly unlikely that if it happened it confirms the truth of Christianity (in which case almost any naturalist explanations will be more plausible) OR a miraculous physical resurrection is not inherently amazing and so becomes a somewhat better explanation than naturalist ones (in which case it can’t confirm the truth of Christianity).

1 See 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3 to 8

2 The equivalent here is Josephus who went Rome in AD70 a captive and mentioned Jesus briefly in his writings

3 John 20:30-31

4 For example Luke seems to have all the appearances occurring over one day in Jerusalem while Matthew and John include appearances in Galilee.

5 Matthew 27:45, 51, 52-53 and 28:2

6 Gary appeared on the Unbelievable? Show on 1st Aug 2015 and gave: “between a quarter and a third scholars will disagree with the empty tomb”. So that is not 75% support but only between 67% and 75%. For website ref: http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/JStudyHistoricalJesus3-22005/JStudyHistoricalJesus3-22005.htm

7 If this book were written principally for Muslims, who believe Jesus did not die on the cross, then this minimal fact would need to be justified more carefully.

8 from Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, (xx.9)

9 See Mark 3v21-34, 6v3-4 and John 7v3-4

10 For example NT Wright quotes conservative scholar Richard Bauckham (who has been on Unbelievable? several times) from his “James and Jesus” in “The Brother of Jesus: James the Just and His Mission” (editors Chilton and Neusner) p109, “…James was among the disciples who accompanied Jesus and learned his teaching, at least for a significant part of Jesus’ ministry”. Also John tells us that Jesus’ mother had come round before the crucifixion, see the next note.

11 A comparison with Mary the mother of Jesus may be helpful, according to the Gospels she started fully believing after several supernatural confirmations that Jesus was very special, then later during his ministry she thought “He is out of his mind”, Mark 3v26, but by the time of the crucifixion she was in the circle of the followers of Jesus, John 19v25-7. In that context, Mary’s hostility seems questionable.

12 See Aleman and Larøi, Hallucinations: The Science of Idiosyncratic Perception, American Psychological Association, 2008.

13 “Hallucinatory experiences.” by Richard P. Bentall, a chapter in “Varieties of anomalous experience: Examining the scientific evidence.” American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, US. 2000. A useful overview of post-bereavement hallucinations is given by “Post-bereavement hallucinatory experiences: A critical overview of population and clinical studies.” by Anna Castelnovo, Simone Cavallotti, Orsola Gambini and Armando D’Agostino. Journal of Affective Disorders 186, p266–274, 2015

14 www.premierchristianradio.com/content/view/full/575803#comment-2318528438

15 Matthew 14v1, Mark 6v14,16 and 8v27-28. Note both the common people and Herod thought it.

16 1 Corinthians 15 v 20-24 “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. ……..so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come,…”

17 Flavius Josephus: “Antiquities of the Jews”, Book 18, Chapter 3. Most scholars agree that this passage is originally by Josephus but has been ‘improved’ by Christian copiers of the manuscripts. However the phrase he uses here “performed surprising deeds” sounds like it was original rather than copied from a Gospel.

18 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3 to 8, which is quoted in full above.

19 For example, in a test, subjects were primed with words related to the stereotype of elderly people (eg ‘forgetful’ and ‘wrinkle’) were found to walk more slowly after the test. Amazingly, the words did not explicitly mention speed or slowness, but they still had this effect. See: Bargh, John A.; Chen, Mark; Burrows, Laura (1996). "Automaticity of Social Behavior: Direct Effects of Trait Construct and Stereotype Activation on Action". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71 (2): 230–44. While the subtle stimuli associated with social priming research are not directly relevant to the strong impact of earlier reported resurrection appearances, the terminology and general mechanism is useful in assessing whether reported appearances can help produce perceptions of more appearances.

20 Potentially similar examples that can be looked up online are the appearance of Our Lady of Zeitoun, Cairo in 1968, Our Lady of Fatima and at the waterfall near Betania, Venezuela in 1984

21 "‘It’s still bending’: Verbal suggestion and alleged psychokinetic ability", Richard Wiseman and Emma Greening, British Journal of Psychology (2005), 96, 115–127. Only one person of the 71 in the control group, who were not given the suggestion, reported the bending. Surprisingly, a prior belief in the paranormal did not increase the likelihood that a subject would report the key bending.

22 “Loch Ness Monster: Fact or Fiction?” (Creature Scene Investigation), Rick Emmer, 2009. Page 80. The eyewitnesses were passing motorists who stopped to see.

23 From Dale Allison, “Resurrecting Jesus: the Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters”, New York: T & T Clark, 2005. pp269-82. Allison also notes that anger over the loved one’s death is a factor.

24 Quoted from the page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitivedissonance 29/10/2015

25 Publisher Harper-Torchbooks, full authors: Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, Stanley Schachter

26 Matthew 28v17 “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Also Luke 24v37-9

27 Luke 24v15-6, John 20v14 & 21v4

28 John 20v19-29 for Thomas and Acts 1v3. See also Luke 24v36-43.

29 Some think the ending of Mark is lost and this appearance is in the lost ending. The text after verse Mark 16v8 in our Bibles is not considered original, but rather added one or two centuries later.

30 Luke also wrote the book of Acts which has appearances, all in Jerusalem, over 40 days and then the ascension. As the same author is not likely to be contradicting himself, scholars usually assume the ‘all on Easter day’ narrative in Luke’s gospel is a literary device.

31 As well as all the stories, we have his own word on it Galatians 1v13,22-3 and Philippians 3v6

32 Galatians 1v16, a reading of the context is needed to see that this is referring to the vision.

33 Acts 26v19

34 Debate rages over this, hence my qualification ‘seemingly’.

35 2 Corinthians 12v1-5. Paul experienced further visions in Acts 9v12, 16v9-10 and 18v9

36 See 2 Corinthians chapters 10 and 11 for Paul’s struggles regarding his status as an apostle.

37 Acts 13v29, and surely a tomb is implied by Acts 2v19-21. It is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT.

38 17th October 2015, listen at 1hr 2mins.

39 1 Corinthians 15v3 and again in v4, see also Luke 24v25-7, v44-7, Mark 14v49, Acts 18v28

40 Isaiah 53v9

41 Scholars see theological embellishment in the unrealistically large quantity of spices (about 35kg) in John 19v39. The legendary development, as with the spices, is always to make the burial more honourable (new tomb, clean cloth, etc).

42 The unlikelihood of the Romans releasing an insurrectionist’s body is shown by Mark 15v43, Joseph had to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, so the normal procedure would have been for the Romans to keep it. That Joseph had to go “boldly” to Pilate suggests that it was a very unusual request. Acting alone adds to this picture.

43 Philo (c. 20 BC – 50 AD). "I have known cases when on the eve of a holiday of this kind, people who have been crucified have been taken down and their bodies delivered to their kinsfolk, because it was thought well to give them burial and allow them the ordinary rites. For it was meet that the dead also should have the advantage of some kind treatment upon the birthday of the emperor and also that the sanctity of the festival should be maintained.” (Flaccus 83)

44 The skeletal remains of a man named Yehohanan was found, he had been nailed to an upright beam of wood through the ankle; but the nail hit a knot in the wood and bent, making it difficult to be removed after his death. And so a chunk of the wood was broken off, and Yehohanan was buried with wood and nail still attached to the ankle bone. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehohanan. The remains were in a special box for bones that were only associated with tomb burials.

45 Indeed it seems to be required under Jewish law, Deuteronomy 21v23. The writings of the Jewish historian Josephus show that it was practiced on occasion at least in the AD60s: “they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” The Wars of The Jews, Book IV, 5.2. He also gives cases when it did not occur.

46 Eg http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/arimathea.html says it is “possibly identical with Ramah …. but many associate it with Ramleh”

47 “a disciple of Jesus” Matthew 27v57, “waiting for the kingdom of God” Mark 15v43, “a good and upright man,” Luke 23v50 and “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly” John 19v38.

48 Mark 15v43 and 14v64 respectively.

49 E.g. from the well know Christian apologist website http://www.reasonablefaith.org/dale-allison-on-jesus-empty-tomb-his-post-mortem-appearances

50 Even the website for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre admits this: “Constantine … had the temple of Venus in Jerusalem demolished to make way for a church. In the course of the demolition a tomb was discovered that was thought to be the tomb of Jesus.” http://churchoftheholysepulchre.net/

51 E.g. After the crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land, God commanded Joshua to set up a memorial in stones, Joshua 4v1-9

52 Matthew adds the guards, which will be discussed later, and an earthquake, both Matthew and Luke add a supernatural glory to the young man in Mark, John gives a lot more detail but it is not legendary in nature.

53 Mark 16v8. The gospel seems to end here, see Note 25.

54 E.g. Mark 1v27 “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”” See also Mark 1v45, 2v12, 3v8, 5v20 and 7v37

55 For example James Crossley, a regular on the Unbelievable? Show, makes this point. He says “a narrative which suspiciously has the women not telling anyone that they had seen an empty tomb. This is an important indication of the secondary nature of the Markan account.” (in "Against the Historical Plausibility of the Empty Tomb Story and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus: A response to N.T.Wright", Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus Vol. 3.2 pp. 171-186, 2005)

56 Matthew 28v4,9&11, Luke 24v8,22-3, John 20v3-8

 



Chapter Five

Resurrection

Ed Atkinson

 

I applaud Justin for highlighting the importance of the resurrection. Surely he is right that the Christian claim must stand or fall by it. Without the resurrection, all we are left with is an inspiring Jewish teacher who, for the most part, did no more than adopt the worldview of his culture.

Here is how I came to see the importance of the resurrection. I was having severe doubts as a Christian and I decided to step away from the Christian faith and view it from the outside to check that it was true. I expected to return to the fold. I started my journey of exploration by joining the library at Westminster College in Oxford. An early book I borrowed was a large tome giving an account of all the main religions and patterns of belief in the world. As I worked through it, I became more and more depressed by the scene. My difficulty was not what was taught by them, much of which was inspiring, but it was the answer to the question that was always niggling at the back of my mind: “Why should I believe this?” For each religion, the core ideas seemed to have mere human origin.

Now, there was just one spark of light in this depressing read and that was the mystery behind how Christianity got going. The resurrection seemed to be the explanation but what really happened? At last, there appeared to be a bit of intrigue behind one of the world faiths. Something, perhaps, to suggest it might even have divine inspiration.

We are in a great situation, as we can use historical methodology to investigate this foundational claim of the resurrection and that is what Justin outlined.

First, let’s step back for a moment. How can we know, with even remote certainty, what happened 2,000 years ago? Let’s imagine the parallel idea from Derren Brown that Justin quoted, and expanded here with my imagination. In about 1940, in an African outpost under the control of the British Empire, a new sect emerged. It was claimed that their leader had come back from the dead after being killed in the War serving the Axis Powers. Furthermore, it seems that he had apparently appeared and even had meals with some of his followers before vanishing permanently. Unfortunately, we have no records from the time but there is an authentic letter by a follower who was close to the original witnesses. This letter, stamped 1965, briefly lists the leader’s appearances 1 . Then there is silence until the 1980s, at which point, religious tracts about the affair start to be published in London. These now describe a missing body as well as post-death appearances but there are large discrepancies in their description of the events. The first outsider to write about it that we know of was a specialist historian 2 who was native to that country - he was born in the 1940s, left for London in 1980 and wrote about it in the 2000s but there is good reason to think his words have been corrupted by sect members.

That story roughly matches what we have as source documents for the resurrection, but with a change of geographical setting and with the dates moved from 30AD to 1940. Would you give up all and join that sect based on such evidence? So how can we base a life-changing decision to believe Christianity from such evidence? Historians of the classical world don’t even make a tentative conclusion when the evidence is as weak as this. One example is the death of Nero’s mother Agrippina. There are surviving stories by respected Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius who wrote 60 to 70 years later, which is equivalent to the time gap between the resurrection and the last of the New Testament gospels, John. However, modern historians consider the circumstances of Agrippina’s death as largely unknown because the accounts contradict each other, are generally fantastical and display anti-Nero bias. It seems bizarre to me that I should embrace the entire belief structure of Christianity based on evidence even less solid. The authors are not known historians, they have an obvious strong agenda, which in John’s case he admits 3 , they contradict each other 4 and they include fantastical details that, if true, would surely be confirmed by other contemporary historians (lengthy daytime darkness, major earthquakes, many dead people rising and walking the streets of Jerusalem5).

Minimal Facts?

 

Justin tries to circumvent these problems by pointing to several key ‘minimal facts’ that he claims are agreed by the overwhelming majority of scholars, both sceptical and conservative. He then seeks to show how these ‘facts’ can only be explained by a genuine bodily resurrection of Jesus. But a problem quickly arises in that Justin’s fact 2, the empty tomb, is not that widely supported. Note 2 on the chapter says “75% of scholars support arguments for the empty tomb”, referencing a Gary Habermas paper from 2005. Actually updated information suggests that 75% is an overestimate6. Meanwhile Gary’s website says “there is approximately a 3:1 ratio of works that fall into the category that we have dubbed the moderate conservative position, as compared to more skeptical treatments.” So 75% of scholars are conservative Christians and 25% are everyone else: non-conservative Christians, agnostics and unbelievers. Many of these conservative Christians work in seminaries where a literal reading of the gospels is effectively a condition of employment, and arguing against an empty tomb would be unthinkable. Mike Licona, the other conservative expert in the resurrection who is highlighted in Justin’s chapter, had to resign his post merely when he suggested that the dead rising and walking the streets of Jerusalem (described in Matthew 27:51-3) was metaphorical! Such is the background to 75% of scholars being conservative and yet less than 75% of scholars overall supporting the empty tomb.

There may be a few non-conservative Christian scholars who support the empty tomb, but Gary’s data indicates that there are many more conservative Christian scholars who argue against the empty tomb. That is why the empty tomb is not usually called a ‘minimal fact’ and when Gary was on the show in August 2015 he was careful not to include it in his list of minimal facts. It is clearly not a minimal fact and we must assess the evidence for it ourselves rather than rely on academic consensus.

Let’s look at the minimal facts that do reflect the consensus.

Justin’s first ‘minimal fact’ is that Jesus died on the cross. We should be happy with that. Given that Jesus existed as a historical character (see the previous chapter) then we would have to agree that he died as well. All the near-contemporary sources we have, both Christian and Roman, agree that his death was by crucifixion.7

Justin’s second ‘minimal fact’ was the empty tomb and it should not be in the list. The third was that some disciples thought that they saw Jesus following the crucifixion. The consensus is that it is probably correct for the reason Justin gives: that key passage in a letter by the apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3 to 8:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

Paul is writing to friends and seems to believe that he is passing on accurate material. It is possible that Paul is passing on information that he has had verified by the disciple Peter (whose Aramaic name is Cephas) and Jesus’s brother, James, i.e. two of the original witnesses as well as people Paul says in another letter, Galatians, that he has met. Paul is probably quoting a creed which implies that it should be dated well before the approximate 55AD date of this letter, but I don’t see why that means ‘the very inception of the church’ as Justin claims.

Justin’s fourth ‘minimal fact’ was the conversion of two people he calls ‘sceptics’: Paul himself and Jesus’ brother James. The evidence regarding Paul is excellent as we have his own words on his opposition to the church and his conversion. However, the evidence regarding James is poor. What we do know with some confidence is that James became the leader of the church in Jerusalem until he was stoned to death by the Jewish authorities in 62AD on the charge of breaking the law8. (As an aside, we can only speculate as to whether this constituted what Justin calls “martyrdom for his beliefs”, to conclude martyrdom would require information we don’t have both on the motives of his killers and on whether James had the chance to recant.)

The important question here is whether James was a ‘sceptic’ before the resurrection. The Gospels record that Jesus’s brothers, and his family in general, were mocking or hostile of Jesus early in his public ministry. 9 Justin claims that James turned around from his unbelief and became a follower of Jesus as a result of the resurrection. But to support this, Justin has to establish as fact that James was still hostile by the time of the crucifixion, which even a prominent conservative scholar denies10, and also that the stories of his hostility are accurate in the first place, which is far from obvious.11 So the fact that James was a leader in the church and is listed in 1 Corinthians 15 as having experienced an appearance will be accepted by the majority of scholars, but whether James was at the time a ‘sceptic’ is not established.

Justin’s fifth and final fact is the rise of Christianity following the execution of its founder. I accept that strong belief in the resurrection seems to be the obvious explanation and Justin’s third fact, the perceived appearances, gives us the explanation for such belief. This was the point that gave me pause for thought as I read my tome on all the world’s religions.

Those are Justin’s five ‘minimal facts’, all apparently agreed upon by scholars except for 2, the empty tomb. Also, I cannot see how James ‘scepticism’ can be included with the agreed fact of his belief in the resurrection but that is a relatively minor issue. Jesus’ death, fact 1, does not need explanation and the other remaining ones boil down to, or are explained by, the perceived appearances. So the million dollar question is then whether these were real physical appearances or not, i.e. whether they were just events in the believers’ heads. Let’s first consider if that is plausible.

Could One or Two Hallucinations Have Prompted the First Belief in Resurrection?

 

I will nail my colours to the mast and use the scientific term ‘hallucination’ for a vivid vision of Jesus. The first thing to say is that hallucinations are common: about 15% percent of the global population experiences them 12 . They are more likely to occur with increasing age, which seems not to apply here, but they are also associated with factors such as stress, grief, trauma and anguish 13 which do. The two most frequent types of hallucination are of a recently deceased loved one (usually a spouse after a long marriage) and of a respected religious figure.

I will discuss the appearances to groups of disciples in the next section. Here I ask: are one or two individual hallucinations capable of doing the job required to get resurrection belief started?

Research by resurrection proponents such as N T Wright has shown that first century Jews, like the disciples, generally had a physical understanding of resurrection, and so a ghostly vision is probably not sufficient. But hallucinations are not mere ghostly visions. The American Psychiatric Association’s well-known manual, “ The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders ”, describes hallucinations as ‘ a sensory perception that has the compelling sense of reality of a true perception but that occurs without external stimulation ’. (Note that sensory perception includes all of the senses, not just vision.) And here is a quote from ‘Tara’, a contributor to the discussions on the Unbelievable? show’s website, she wrote after the October 2015 episode on the resurrection: “ I've had two new patients just this week that have told me about their 'visiting' spouses. By the way, no one yet has talked about them as appearing ghostly ....... and I've heard dozens of accounts. Instead, they describe them as seeming very lifelike, as if the spouse is there in complete physicality. 14

How such an experience, with its “compelling sense of reality” and “complete physicality”, would be interpreted is strongly influenced by the expectations of the subject having the experience. Clearly a resurrected Jesus was a possibility here, as we see earlier in the Gospel story: they tell us that a large number of Jews, from all levels of society, thought that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead.15

Equally relevant are the expectations of the followers of Jesus at the time of his death. This is harder to know. Two conclusions seem to be widely accepted in scholarship: firstly that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher and thus  the end of the age was ‘at hand’. The end of the age was closely associated with resurrection. Indeed, Paul later suggests that Jesus’ resurrection was the ‘first fruits’ anticipating the more general resurrection at the imminent end of the age16.

Secondly, scholars widely accept that Jesus did have a reputation for healings and perhaps other miracles. There is one non-Christian source about Jesus that we have from the first century and even this reports his “surprising deeds” 17 . That would also help those experiencing Jesus as being alive after death to interpret it as a resurrection. If any other carpenter from Nazareth had been seen alive after execution, it is rather less likely that such a conclusion would be reached.

I want to pause for a moment and to summarise: is there sufficient reason to accept a hallucination, or a few individual hallucinations, as the reason for the first resurrection belief? I’ve shown that they are common for this kind of setting and that their strong sense of physicality provides the potential for being understood as ‘resurrection’ in first century Judaism, especially in view of the expectations that Jesus’ teaching and activities engendered. Sceptics do not have a single view but I consider that this is one of the best explanations for how resurrection belief might have started. There is certainly no need to posit a miracle to explain it.

Explanations for the Other Appearances?

 

Hallucinations are only individual experiences and group hallucinations with the same content are not reported in the scientific literature. But the key,1 Corinthians 15 creed mentions at least one group experience and the passage it sits within has two more group experiences, one of which is an appearance to more than 500 people18. Even if the appearance to the Twelve means one by one, it is seriously implausible that they each had a hallucination of Jesus. This is the reason Justin gives for completely dismissing hallucinations as an explanation. To me the best explanation is that the first individual experiences of ‘the risen Jesus’ would prime the others. I use ‘priming’ here partly because it is a jargon term from psychology, where it refers to how our behaviour or judgements can be changed by subtle stimuli19 including the behaviour of others.

In this case the stimulus is far from subtle, a close friend and fellow disciple reporting that they had actually seen Jesus in the flesh would be a very strong ‘priming’ factor. When people gathered together, both with this heightened expectation and with the background expectations discussed earlier, it could easily produce something that would later be agreed to be an appearance.

There are many potential examples in recent history, such as appearances of the Virgin Mary to crowds of believers20. Once the expectation is set up that Mary will appear, then the slightest stimulus will be interpreted as an appearance and reported as such to others. That is just human nature.

We can now show, under laboratory conditions, how such false memories are generated. One such example is an experiment in which false memories were induced by suggestion. The subjects were psychology students and so presumably they were reasonably savvy. They individually watched a clip of a magician ‘bending’ a key by sleight of hand. He then placed it on a table. If the magician merely suggested just once that the key was continuing to bend, 37% of the subjects incorrectly reported later that that is what it did. 21 The priming of the magic trick and the magician’s suggestion had produced a false memory of something the subjects knew was impossible under the laws of physics.

Outside the lab, false memories seem even easier to generate: Loch Ness Monster sightings are an obvious example. Many years ago, Richard Frere and a fellow conspirator set up a ruse on the shore of the loch. They waited for passing motorists and then gesticulated and took copious photos. When the people stopped, the conspirators reported sighting Nessie in choppy water which had been made by boat wakes. This was sufficient for three quarters of the people watching them to report seeing long dark humps moving through the water. 22 This seems to be the kind of humdrum process that easily explains how one or two disciples convinced by a hallucination could produce experiences in whole groups that are falsely remembered and retold as appearances. Any initial hallucination would have been compellingly vivid, but these other ‘appearances’ need not have been.

I will discuss later the case of Paul’s appearance that Justin discussed. Here I note how Paul only saw light and heard a voice but, in 1 Corinthians 15, he refers to his appearance using the same Greek word that he uses for all the appearances. This suggests that many of the appearances featured a less tangible version of Jesus.

Note too how the sequence that Paul gives supports this idea of one experience helping cause the next: first it is Peter, then the Twelve, then more than 500. Peter is a good candidate for experiencing a hallucination in view of his feelings of guilt; the Gospels record his denials of Jesus and it is understood that those with a sense of guilt over their relationship with the deceased often have an increased propensity to experience grief hallucinations. 23 Peter, as an authority figure, is also a great candidate for ‘priming’ and ‘suggesting’ to the others. He takes the role played by the magician suggesting the bending key or the convincing conspirators beside Loch Ness.

There is another possible factor to throw in the pot here: Cognitive Dissonance. It can be summarised: “A key tenet of cognitive dissonance theory is that those who have heavily invested in a position may, when confronted with disconfirming evidence, go to greater lengths to justify their position.” 24 . The study of cognitive dissonance began with Leon Festinger's 1956 book, “When Prophecy Fails” 25 . Leon and fellow researchers heard of a cult led by a Chicago housewife. The cult believed that they had received messages from a planet named Clarion, and these messages revealed that the world would end in a great flood before dawn on December 21, 1954, and also that a UFO would rescue the group of true believers. Festinger and his colleagues joined the group. Then the appointed time came ........... and …………. passed without incident. The cult members faced acute cognitive dissonance: had they been the victims of a hoax? Had they donated their worldly possessions in vain? Most members chose to believe something less dissonant in order to resolve their inner tension: they believed that the aliens had given Earth a second chance and that the group was now empowered to spread the word that Earth-spoiling must stop. The group dramatically, and immediately, increased their proselytising as a direct response to the failed prophecy.

The theory of cognitive dissonance has, in the decades since, become established and the general effect is confirmed as being a feature within all of us. The conditions the disciples faced after the execution of their Messiah, in whom they had heavily invested, match perfectly those that are known to produce cognitive dissonance. Hence, when it was suggested that Jesus was risen and was appearing to them, it was easy for them to believe. In order to overcome their cognitive dissonance, they readily believed and preached the appearances. Note that this is not a claim of dishonesty.

If these just-in-the-mind processes of false memories, priming, suggestion and cognitive dissonance were responsible for the disciples’ belief that they had seen Jesus in group settings, then we should expect that there was a range of responses, with some disciples being more convinced than others. And indeed there are indications of just that in the record we have in the Gospels. Most notably, Matthew reports that ‘some doubted’26 during a group appearance. There is also a clear theme of Jesus not being initially recognised during his appearances.27 It seems there is a kind of legacy of doubt in the appearance stories, with the writers perhaps trying too hard to prove that Jesus was himself really physically present. Doubting Thomas is an example, as is the need for “many convincing proofs that he was alive”28 when you’d expect just one to be sufficient.

Before finishing on the appearances, let’s quickly see how they are described in the Gospels. They are described very differently in each Gospel, with some apparent discrepancies:

In Matthew, Jesus appears to the women, then to the eleven on a mountain in Galilee.

In Mark, there are no appearances but one in Galilee is foretold. 29

In Luke, we hear that Jesus appeared to Peter and then to two minor disciples walking out to a town a few hours from Jerusalem. They hurry back to the eleven ‘and those with them’ and Jesus appears to them all. Subsequently, he leads them out of the City and ascends. It all happens in one day in and near Jerusalem.30

In John, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene alone, then to the disciples in Jerusalem (seemingly the same as in Luke’s report), then again a week later and finally to a small group on the shore of Lake Galilee.

Compared to Paul’s list in 1 Corinthians, not only do we see several extra appearances in the Gospels but also those to the 500 and to James are missing. In addition, Luke’s narrative leaves no room for the Galilee appearances that appear in the other Gospels. This is in keeping with legendary development of the basic tradition, a topic I will cover in more detail in relation to the tomb tradition.

It is time to pause and summarise again. I can agree with Justin that there may well be solid history behind 1 Corinthians 15, which informs us that the disciples did testify to group appearances, but when actual detailed reports are written decades later, we have the diverse - and in places contradictory - descriptions discussed here. It seems to me that factors such as false memories, priming, suggestion and cognitive dissonance can easily explain this. The factors combined with an expectation of seeing Jesus arising from one or two individual hallucinations and so led to religious experiences that were later reported as group appearances.

The Appearance to Paul

 

As noted in the ‘minimal facts’ Paul converted to Christianity from a position of hostility31 and it seems that his ‘Damascus road’ appearance by Jesus was the cause. Paul’s case fits perfectly with my thesis that the appearances were internal religious experiences.

He describes as much in a letter with “reveal his Son in me” 32 and the author of Acts reports Paul calling it a “vision from heaven”33. Paul’s key text on the resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15 and the first few verses have been discussed above by myself and Justin in his book. When we go on to read the whole chapter, we see the ‘body’ of the risen Jesus seemingly described as immaterial, as a ‘life giving spirit’, a ‘spiritual body’ and ‘of heaven’ rather than of ‘the dust of the earth’.34 If this immaterial take is accurate, then it suggests that the early tradition regarding the appearances was not physical as the later gospels tend to indicate.

However, there is still the need to explain Paul’s experience. We can assume that there were many early opponents of Christianity, all of whom were exposed to the preaching, hope and fearlessness of the apostles. And people do convert. So it should not be a surprise that one of the opponents converted. Paul himself seemed to be prone to visions: he was later “caught up to the third heaven” in a visionary experience35, so his conversion being prompted by a vision is not so remarkable. An alternative, more cynical take, is that both Paul and his ‘biographer’ in Acts, needed to emphasise his credentials as a leading apostle36 and being an eyewitness of the risen Christ was one key criterion.

The Empty Tomb – A Snowman Scarf?

 

So far in this chapter, I have assessed the evidence provided by Justin’s less controversial ‘minimal facts’: the death of Jesus and the appearances. The question has been whether the appearances happened in physical reality or just in the heads of those experiencing them. But what would be the significance of Justin’s disputed ‘fact’ being correct: Jesus’s tomb really was empty on Easter morning? This is like the famous Christmas cartoon ‘The Snowman’ by Raymond Briggs which was beautifully animated in 1982 and has become a Christmas regular. In this story, a boy makes a snowman and then goes to bed. In the night, he has a wonderful adventure in which the snowman becomes alive. Together, they ride a motorbike across the fields and fly (accompanied by the song, “Walking in the Air”) to the far North. There, they meet Father Christmas, who gives the boy a scarf with a distinctive snowman pattern on it. Eventually, they return home. The following morning, the boy runs out into the garden whereupon he sees that the sun has come out and the snowman has melted. It was all only a dream, just events in the boy’s head. But then, he reaches into his pocket and finds that distinctive snowman scarf.

The empty tomb, if real, is like that scarf. Its existence would put the whole Easter narrative into a different light. For many, the historicity of the empty tomb is the key issue regarding the resurrection.

Was Jesus buried in a tomb at all?

Before I look at whether the tomb was empty, we must first consider whether Jesus was buried in a tomb at all. We turn to the reasonably strong historical basis of the apparent ‘creed’ in 1 Corinthians 15, as quoted earlier, which claims that “he was buried”. That certainly rules out the possibility that Jesus’s body was left on the cross or on the ground to be eaten by scavenging birds and dogs, which was common Roman practice when crucifying insurgents. However, it does not tell us whether the final burial of remains was in a communal grave or in an individual tomb.

The main reason to think that there was a tomb is that it is in the Gospels, in fact in all four of them. It is also mentioned in the sermons in the book of Acts.37 I claim that a communal grave burial is much more plausible and so I must explain both how this myth of a tomb burial arose and also why the actual account was lost.

The earliest account we have for the tomb story is the date of Mark’s Gospel which is usually taken as being about 65-70AD. Are four decades sufficiently long for a false account of the burial to arise? Yes, when we consider the way in which information is distorted as it is passed on. Moreover, scholars think that Mark was written well away from Palestine, and if we also assume the author was using third, fourth or fifth hand information, or even more removed than that, then it is very likely that its stories will be distorted.

Take an incident in the writing of this chapter as an example. At our discussion group, a friend told me about the ‘key bending’ experiment mentioned earlier. He had read the academic paper. I subsequently took part in an Unbelievable discussion on the resurrection38, and I thought my memory of his account would be fine. But I made several important errors as I explained the experiment: I implied that the subjects were sitting round a table, that the magician performed the trick live, that the magician repeatedly said that the key continued to bend and that memories of this were recalled a week later. None of these were the case.

The errors produced by the way people picture events as they hear a story, is one possibility for how the tomb tradition might have arisen. From our 1 Corinthians 15 creed, and elsewhere, we hear the importance of the Easter events being “according to the Scriptures”39 where ‘Scriptures’ here, means the Old Testament. A key passage in these Scriptures is Isaiah 53 which describes a suffering servant who was “pierced for our transgressions” and it further declares that “the punishment that brought us peace was on him”. This became a vital passage for the first Christians as it helps explain why Jesus as the Messiah had to die. It also describes the burial: “He was assigned a grave with the wicked and with the rich in his death”40. So, if this passage was in mind and believed when a Christian, unaware of the facts, was told of Jesus’s burial then he or she might picture it as a rich person’s burial, and only the rich in Jesus’s day were buried in tombs. (The origin of the criminals crucified each side of Jesus could be seen as arising from “with the wicked” in the same way.) If this hypothesis is correct, the story would have become that Jesus was buried in a tomb. The hypothesis also relies on the ‘real’ account of the burial in a common grave not being widely told, as it would have contradicted the legendary accounts. The shame of a common grave could be the explanation.

When we turn to the gospel accounts of the burial, we see that there is some legendary and theological embellishment41 and one apparent contradiction: Matthew says it is Joseph’s own tomb while John says that Joseph only chose that tomb for Jesus because it was conveniently close. So there is indeed evidence of a developing myth here.

What is the likelihood that the Roman authorities in the first century would have released the body of a Jew crucified for claiming to be Messiah? The expectation would be that it would have been left on the cross or been buried in a common pit42. There were some cases of the Romans releasing bodies. For example, a contemporary Jew in Alexandria, Egypt, knew of cases when crucified victims were released to the family because it was the emperor’s birthday43. There is also archaeological evidence of one Jerusalem case when a crucified victim had their bones preserved; this would imply tomb burial, perhaps after a few days’ decay on the cross44. So, while the evidence does not disallow the possibility that the body of Jesus was buried in a tomb, it remains a very surprising treatment for a Messiah figure executed for treason, as Mark confirms 42.

A tomb burial is only just plausible, and yet there is a simple way that a myth of a tomb burial could have arisen within a Christian community uninformed of the actual events. Perhaps we can investigate the credibility of the burial account itself. In its favour we see that burial of the body on the day of crucifixion, as described in the Gospels, is not without precedent for Palestine45. However, we might consider the role of Joseph of Arimathea, about whom there are some credibility issues. Luke reports “Arimathea” a Judean town but it is not readily identified as such46, and it is unusual for a town to have only one mention throughout the whole of the ancient documents. In addition, the Greek name translates into English as “Ari “ meaning “best” and “mathea” meaning “disciple town”, a name so felicitous as to appear somewhat suspicious. Further, Joseph seems to appear from nowhere in the account only to promptly disappear, with no mention of him in Acts or in the letters. Finally, there seems to be a discrepancy between how, on the one hand, he is described as being very supportive of Jesus47 but, on the other hand, he was a “prominent member of the Council” on which “all condemned him (Jesus) as worthy of death”48. None of these points rule out the historicity of the episode but surely they cast some doubt.

What is notable about the tomb is the absence of its veneration. Both sides of the resurrection debate agree that there is no record in early Christian documents of its veneration49 and, when Constantine sent people to find the tomb in about 325AD, it seems that they just had to guess its location50. Modern apologists argue that the lack of veneration is actually further evidence for an empty tomb because reverence was given, not to the tomb but, instead, to he who had lain within it and who still exists. But there having been no tomb at all is a vastly better explanation. It is deep in our human nature to venerate the locations of significant events and it was part of Hebrew culture51. Of course the empty tomb would be remembered and honoured. While the 1 Corinthians 15 creed does suggest that the burial had to be somewhere, a common grave would not attract veneration. The spot in a Roman penal burial field would not be marked while, in contrast, a tomb clearly had potential for veneration especially as it was supposedly owned by a Christian sympathiser, Joseph of Arimathea.

The Tomb – Was it Empty?

 

Now I will address the evidence Justin gives for the empty tomb, the stories that it was found empty on the Sunday morning by a small group of women.

While the stories are in all the Gospels, there are reasons to doubt them as straightforward accounts. As before there is both legendary embellishment 52 and some discrepancies. By its nature, this is an event that can have happened just once and so the discrepancies between the descriptions must be considered. Some are the kind of discrepancies we might expect in eyewitness statements relayed several years later, for example, the number and names of the women and perhaps whether it happened just before, or after, dawn.

But there are problems. As Matthew and Luke are using Mark as a source, their empty tomb stories are all quite similar. John’s narrative, however, has more differences from Mark’s, these being that, in John’s, no women enter the tomb, there is no messenger and, instead of keeping silent, Mary runs to tell Peter and his companion.

So, to find evidence to confirm an empty tomb, we must turn elsewhere. Justin highlights the way that all the Gospels present women as the first eyewitnesses. The significance here is the attitudes and legal practice in the ancient world whereby a woman’s testimony was considered to be very inferior to a man’s. Surely, runs Justin’s argument, if the Gospel writers are making up the empty tomb, they would not use inferior witnesses?

I would agree that the use of women eyewitnesses is evidence that the tomb narrative was not deceitfully invented to produce belief in the resurrection. But is it evidence that it was not some kind of myth? Remember my poor recollection of those lab-test subjects who ‘saw’ a key continuing to bend. I incorrectly remembered that they sat round a table when, actually, each watched a film. In much the same way, those told of the Resurrection would have filled in the details of the empty tomb in their imagination. Of course, such a story would not be created by just one person but would develop in the telling, as myths do. If this is correct, then how would the imagined scene unfold? Well, in that culture, it was women who would normally apply spices to the bodies of the dead, so it is natural to imagine that it would have been women who visited the tomb and thus that it would have been they who discovered it empty. This speculation does not give evidence for a myth theory, but it does show how a myth would fit well with the first witnesses in the narratives being women.

These eyewitnesses being women may be in keeping with how such events would unfold, and if the prejudice against women is real we would expect the gospel writers to present us with male witnesses as well. And three of the four gospels do have male witnesses. But highlighting that the first eyewitnesses were women can actually cut both ways. Our earliest record, Mark, which is the only one with just female witnesses seems to have as an aim the provision of extremely poor eyewitnesses. The end of his tomb narrative is “Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”53 It is hard to imagine eyewitnesses performing any worse. It seems Mark is doing his best to show the event as if it were a private and barely known episode, one perhaps not even known about by the disciples, until it came out later. It would be much more natural for Mark to present the empty tomb as publicly known and to report the people’s amazement, as he does earlier in his Gospel regarding Jesus’s healings54. We are left with a nagging suspicion that Mark knows that the empty tomb was not widely known about before he wrote and he needs to let people understand why that was so.55 The suspicion is enhanced when the later Gospels do describe the women telling the disciples of the empty tomb56 and also they all give male witnesses to it. Mark’s early picture of a very private event was thus developed as the story became more widely known.

Justin listed some of the proposed natural explanations for the empty tomb, and I agree that they generally don’t convince. A simpler view is that it was belief in the resurrection which caused the later Gospel stories of the empty tomb. A weakness in that section by Justin is that he assumes that the resurrection data should have a single simple explanation. That is not the case for events like the outbreak of the First World War, so why should it be for the appearance and tomb narratives?

The Conclusion

 

Is it historically demonstrated that Jesus of Nazareth actually rose from the dead? Or is it all as implausible and unevidenced as the imaginary sect leader in a remote corner of the British Empire? I certainly see it as close to my imaginary sect leader.

Justin spent a few pages on defending the possibility of a supernatural explanation for historical data. I am not concerned by such issues as the resurrection data we have has such readily available explanation within naturalism. The apologist can’t have it both ways: EITHER a miraculous physical resurrection is so amazingly unlikely that if it happened it confirms the truth of Christianity (in which case almost any naturalist explanations will be more plausible) OR a miraculous physical resurrection is not inherently amazing and so becomes a somewhat better explanation than naturalist ones (in which case it can’t confirm the truth of Christianity).

1 See 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3 to 8

2 The equivalent here is Josephus who went Rome in AD70 a captive and mentioned Jesus briefly in his writings

3 John 20:30-31

4 For example Luke seems to have all the appearances occurring over one day in Jerusalem while Matthew and John include appearances in Galilee.

5 Matthew 27:45, 51, 52-53 and 28:2

6 Gary appeared on the Unbelievable? Show on 1st Aug 2015 and gave: “between a quarter and a third scholars will disagree with the empty tomb”. So that is not 75% support but only between 67% and 75%. For website ref: http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/JStudyHistoricalJesus3-22005/JStudyHistoricalJesus3-22005.htm

7 If this book were written principally for Muslims, who believe Jesus did not die on the cross, then this minimal fact would need to be justified more carefully.

8 from Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, (xx.9)

9 See Mark 3v21-34, 6v3-4 and John 7v3-4

10 For example NT Wright quotes conservative scholar Richard Bauckham (who has been on Unbelievable? several times) from his “James and Jesus” in “The Brother of Jesus: James the Just and His Mission” (editors Chilton and Neusner) p109, “…James was among the disciples who accompanied Jesus and learned his teaching, at least for a significant part of Jesus’ ministry”. Also John tells us that Jesus’ mother had come round before the crucifixion, see the next note.

11 A comparison with Mary the mother of Jesus may be helpful, according to the Gospels she started fully believing after several supernatural confirmations that Jesus was very special, then later during his ministry she thought “He is out of his mind”, Mark 3v26, but by the time of the crucifixion she was in the circle of the followers of Jesus, John 19v25-7. In that context, Mary’s hostility seems questionable.

12 See Aleman and Larøi, Hallucinations: The Science of Idiosyncratic Perception, American Psychological Association, 2008.

13 “Hallucinatory experiences.” by Richard P. Bentall, a chapter in “Varieties of anomalous experience: Examining the scientific evidence.” American Psychological Association, Washington, DC, US. 2000. A useful overview of post-bereavement hallucinations is given by “Post-bereavement hallucinatory experiences: A critical overview of population and clinical studies.” by Anna Castelnovo, Simone Cavallotti, Orsola Gambini and Armando D’Agostino. Journal of Affective Disorders 186, p266–274, 2015

14 www.premierchristianradio.com/content/view/full/575803#comment-2318528438

15 Matthew 14v1, Mark 6v14,16 and 8v27-28. Note both the common people and Herod thought it.

16 1 Corinthians 15 v 20-24 “But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. ……..so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come,…”

17 Flavius Josephus: “Antiquities of the Jews”, Book 18, Chapter 3. Most scholars agree that this passage is originally by Josephus but has been ‘improved’ by Christian copiers of the manuscripts. However the phrase he uses here “performed surprising deeds” sounds like it was original rather than copied from a Gospel.

18 1 Corinthians 15 verses 3 to 8, which is quoted in full above.

19 For example, in a test, subjects were primed with words related to the stereotype of elderly people (eg ‘forgetful’ and ‘wrinkle’) were found to walk more slowly after the test. Amazingly, the words did not explicitly mention speed or slowness, but they still had this effect. See: Bargh, John A.; Chen, Mark; Burrows, Laura (1996). "Automaticity of Social Behavior: Direct Effects of Trait Construct and Stereotype Activation on Action". Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 71 (2): 230–44. While the subtle stimuli associated with social priming research are not directly relevant to the strong impact of earlier reported resurrection appearances, the terminology and general mechanism is useful in assessing whether reported appearances can help produce perceptions of more appearances.

20 Potentially similar examples that can be looked up online are the appearance of Our Lady of Zeitoun, Cairo in 1968, Our Lady of Fatima and at the waterfall near Betania, Venezuela in 1984

21 "‘It’s still bending’: Verbal suggestion and alleged psychokinetic ability", Richard Wiseman and Emma Greening, British Journal of Psychology (2005), 96, 115–127. Only one person of the 71 in the control group, who were not given the suggestion, reported the bending. Surprisingly, a prior belief in the paranormal did not increase the likelihood that a subject would report the key bending.

22 “Loch Ness Monster: Fact or Fiction?” (Creature Scene Investigation), Rick Emmer, 2009. Page 80. The eyewitnesses were passing motorists who stopped to see.

23 From Dale Allison, “Resurrecting Jesus: the Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Interpreters”, New York: T & T Clark, 2005. pp269-82. Allison also notes that anger over the loved one’s death is a factor.

24 Quoted from the page en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitivedissonance 29/10/2015

25 Publisher Harper-Torchbooks, full authors: Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, Stanley Schachter

26 Matthew 28v17 “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” Also Luke 24v37-9

27 Luke 24v15-6, John 20v14 & 21v4

28 John 20v19-29 for Thomas and Acts 1v3. See also Luke 24v36-43.

29 Some think the ending of Mark is lost and this appearance is in the lost ending. The text after verse Mark 16v8 in our Bibles is not considered original, but rather added one or two centuries later.

30 Luke also wrote the book of Acts which has appearances, all in Jerusalem, over 40 days and then the ascension. As the same author is not likely to be contradicting himself, scholars usually assume the ‘all on Easter day’ narrative in Luke’s gospel is a literary device.

31 As well as all the stories, we have his own word on it Galatians 1v13,22-3 and Philippians 3v6

32 Galatians 1v16, a reading of the context is needed to see that this is referring to the vision.

33 Acts 26v19

34 Debate rages over this, hence my qualification ‘seemingly’.

35 2 Corinthians 12v1-5. Paul experienced further visions in Acts 9v12, 16v9-10 and 18v9

36 See 2 Corinthians chapters 10 and 11 for Paul’s struggles regarding his status as an apostle.

37 Acts 13v29, and surely a tomb is implied by Acts 2v19-21. It is not mentioned elsewhere in the NT.

38 17th October 2015, listen at 1hr 2mins.

39 1 Corinthians 15v3 and again in v4, see also Luke 24v25-7, v44-7, Mark 14v49, Acts 18v28

40 Isaiah 53v9

41 Scholars see theological embellishment in the unrealistically large quantity of spices (about 35kg) in John 19v39. The legendary development, as with the spices, is always to make the burial more honourable (new tomb, clean cloth, etc).

42 The unlikelihood of the Romans releasing an insurrectionist’s body is shown by Mark 15v43, Joseph had to ask Pilate for Jesus’ body, so the normal procedure would have been for the Romans to keep it. That Joseph had to go “boldly” to Pilate suggests that it was a very unusual request. Acting alone adds to this picture.

43 Philo (c. 20 BC – 50 AD). "I have known cases when on the eve of a holiday of this kind, people who have been crucified have been taken down and their bodies delivered to their kinsfolk, because it was thought well to give them burial and allow them the ordinary rites. For it was meet that the dead also should have the advantage of some kind treatment upon the birthday of the emperor and also that the sanctity of the festival should be maintained.” (Flaccus 83)

44 The skeletal remains of a man named Yehohanan was found, he had been nailed to an upright beam of wood through the ankle; but the nail hit a knot in the wood and bent, making it difficult to be removed after his death. And so a chunk of the wood was broken off, and Yehohanan was buried with wood and nail still attached to the ankle bone. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jehohanan. The remains were in a special box for bones that were only associated with tomb burials.

45 Indeed it seems to be required under Jewish law, Deuteronomy 21v23. The writings of the Jewish historian Josephus show that it was practiced on occasion at least in the AD60s: “they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun.” The Wars of The Jews, Book IV, 5.2. He also gives cases when it did not occur.

46 Eg http://www.bible-history.com/geography/ancient-israel/arimathea.html says it is “possibly identical with Ramah …. but many associate it with Ramleh”

47 “a disciple of Jesus” Matthew 27v57, “waiting for the kingdom of God” Mark 15v43, “a good and upright man,” Luke 23v50 and “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly” John 19v38.

48 Mark 15v43 and 14v64 respectively.

49 E.g. from the well know Christian apologist website http://www.reasonablefaith.org/dale-allison-on-jesus-empty-tomb-his-post-mortem-appearances

50 Even the website for the Church of the Holy Sepulchre admits this: “Constantine … had the temple of Venus in Jerusalem demolished to make way for a church. In the course of the demolition a tomb was discovered that was thought to be the tomb of Jesus.” http://churchoftheholysepulchre.net/

51 E.g. After the crossing the Jordan into the Promised Land, God commanded Joshua to set up a memorial in stones, Joshua 4v1-9

52 Matthew adds the guards, which will be discussed later, and an earthquake, both Matthew and Luke add a supernatural glory to the young man in Mark, John gives a lot more detail but it is not legendary in nature.

53 Mark 16v8. The gospel seems to end here, see Note 25.

54 E.g. Mark 1v27 “The people were all so amazed that they asked each other, “What is this? A new teaching—and with authority! He even gives orders to impure spirits and they obey him.”” See also Mark 1v45, 2v12, 3v8, 5v20 and 7v37

55 For example James Crossley, a regular on the Unbelievable? Show, makes this point. He says “a narrative which suspiciously has the women not telling anyone that they had seen an empty tomb. This is an important indication of the secondary nature of the Markan account.” (in "Against the Historical Plausibility of the Empty Tomb Story and the Bodily Resurrection of Jesus: A response to N.T.Wright", Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus Vol. 3.2 pp. 171-186, 2005)

56 Matthew 28v4,9&11, Luke 24v8,22-3, John 20v3-8