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Jesus is not Dead! (part 2 – Jesus’ Resurrection)

In the previous article, which can be read here, we looked at the historical evidence that Jesus really was crucified.  Now we turn to the more important question: what happened after Jesus’ crucifixion?  Did He remain dead as happens to everyone, or did He really rise from the dead?  While many reject the New Testament out of hand, in the previous article I noted how it is historically inappropriate to reject a whole body of literature, just because you do not like its message.  These documents, the best preserved of all ancient documents, demand to be taken seriously as a historical witness.

It is also curious to note that the New Testament writings, in particular the Gospels, agree upon one interesting point: the first witnesses of the resurrection were women.  This is significant because if these stories were made up, the authors would never have placed women as the primary witnesses.  In Jewish culture of that day, a woman was not allowed to testify in court, because their testimony was considered unreliable.  In fact, the Jewish historian Josephus went so far as to write “But let not the testimony of a women be admitted, on account of the levity and boldness of their sex.”  This means that if you were to make up an incredible story in first century Palestine and expect someone to believe it, the last thing you would want to do would be to place women as key witnesses.

However, there is also other evidence beyond just the New Testament.

The most famous resource is from Josephus.  However, there are some questions about the reliability of the text.  The Greek text that we have seems to have been edited by Christians to beef up Jesus’ claim to be Messiah.  However, even modern reconstructions argue that Josephus clearly did state that Jesus did wonders, was crucified, and that His disciples claimed that He rose from the dead.  It is important to note that Josephus wrote around 93-94 AD which would have been during the lifetime of witnesses of the events, and when people could have refuted him.  The simpler and presumably historically accurate Arabic version states:

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus.  And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous.  And many people from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples.  Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die.  And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship.  They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. (Antiquities of the Jews, Chapter 3)

Then there is the work known as 1 Clement, written around 95-97 AD.  Which observed: “Let us consider, dear friends, how the Master continually points out to us the coming resurrection of which he made the Lord Jesus Christ the firstfruit when he raised him from the dead.” (para. 24)

Ignatius, a first century Christian writer also mentions Jesus’ resurrection numerous times, as do others.  In fact there are a number of writings that refer to Jesus’ resurrection as fact, that were written within the living memories of witnesses or just one generation removed, when the story was still very fresh and easy to be verified.

Of course, many will argue that these sources are all Christians (except Josephus) so they should be discounted.  This line of argument falls on the simple fact that it would be absurd to argue that we must reject the historicity of an event, because all of the witnesses to that event believe it happened.  Otherwise, we would have people who would say that Jesus rose from the dead, and yet not take seriously the implications that Jesus rose from the dead – an idea that strains credulity.

One strong piece of evidence is the simple lack of any contrary evidence.  In theory, Christianity should be the easiest religion in the world to disprove.  All you have to do is produce one piece of evidence that Jesus is still dead and the whole religion crumbles.  Yet, you had men and women proclaiming in Jerusalem shortly after Jesus’ death that the man who was killed and buried just outside of town was now alive.  The Roman civil authorities and the Jewish religious authorities (who agreed on little else) both wanted to quash this story ASAP and the evidence they produced was – nothing!  No body, no witnesses of a tomb robbery, no conspiracy, nothing!  They did try to start a rumor that Jesus’ body was stolen, but it is significant that no evidence was brought forth, and from a historian’s perspective, it is curious that this more logical explanation did not gain traction with the people who were there when the events happened.  Furthermore, the men who you could accuse with being the conspirators maintained that Jesus really did rise from the dead even when they were tortured and killed – something that you don’t do for a ruse.

There are, in fact, many other sources as well that point to Jesus’ resurrection.  It should be noted that there is probably no single ancient event that has as much historical evidence that it occurred.  Jesus is risen!  He is alive!

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