Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The resurrection of Jesus

I have an enormous body of evidence that people do not rise from the dead. Billions of people have died, and I know that most of them have stayed dead. Everything we know about biology, physics, and medicine leads to the conclusion that people cannot rise from the dead. I could — in theory — be persuaded to change my mind. But I would have to see evidence that outweighed the enormous body of evidence presented above. And that seems like a difficult, practically insurmountable task.

I also have a lot of evidence that people exaggerate, fill in the blanks in their perceptions, take things for granted, make up fictions and sometimes lie outright. Ancient history is lousy with stories of resurrected gods:
Male examples include Asclepius, Orpheus, Mithras, Osiris, Tammuz, Jesus, Zalmoxis, Dionysus, and Odin. Female examples are Inanna, also known as Ishtar, whose cult dates to 4000 BCE, and Persephone, the central figure of the Eleusinian Mysteries, whose cult may date to 1700 BCE as the unnamed goddess worshiped in Crete.
And that's just in Western civilization.

Also, the body of evidence underlying our knowledge of ancient history is equivocal or ambiguous about a lot claims that don't contradict my prosaic and scientific knowledge about the world. Who, for example, were the Sea Peoples? How were they able to cause the collapse of the international civilization of the Late Bronze Age? Where did they go? Why was a new international, seafaring civilization (the Phoenicians) able to spring up so quickly in their wake? Nobody really knows.

So you have an enormous body of evidence that undermines the primary idea of a resurrection, a tiny and equivocal body of evidence from which we might support the idea, and considerable evidence that people love to make up myths of resurrected gods.

Furthermore, I cannot investigate every claim directly. I have to, at some level, trust the scholarship and intellectual integrity of others to summarize and present the important evidence in an honest and convincing way. I know no small few scholars of ancient history, professional and amateur, and I find that those claiming insurmountable problems supporting the physical reality of the resurrection of Jesus typically gain my trust. More importantly, I find those historians who claim ancient history does indeed support the physical reality of the resurrection of Jesus invariably undermine and compromise my trust, in ways that have nothing to do with their primary claims.

Given the practical reality, the whole idea of the resurrection of Jesus is a complete non-starter. If you have converted to Christianity on the basis of the historical truth resurrection, you are at best woefully ignorant of basic standards of critical thought and scientific investigation.

1 comment:

  1. Additionally, most Christians are woefully ignorant (as in “not having knowledge”) regarding basic history of the time.

    We were generally taught the Jews (which were considered in one homogenous group, not a variety of beliefs) immediately sensed the competition in Christianity, and immediately began persecuting it.

    [sarcasm]Because the Romans, nor their own political in-fighting, (all of which led to the Jewish War!) was not important. Not at all! Instead they focused their efforts on a small sect who claimed the Messiah died and didn’t establish peace. Clearly such a fringe belief must be quashed immediately because it would spread like wild fire amongst the Jews. [/sarcasm]

    We were taught the Romans would immediately dispatch Christians on sight, and the fact Christianity survived at all was attestation to its truth.

    We were taught to read two (2) paragraphs of Josephus, one (1) paragraph of Tacitus, Suetonius and Pliny the Younger, but ignore their remaining volumes of work, ‘cause those other portions didn’t refer to Jesus.

    We were taught the Pharisees and Jewish Leaders had forensic skills equivalent to modern-day television shows such as CSI, and since they couldn’t prove Jesus was still dead…why…he must be resurrected.

    We were given graphic details as to the horrid deaths the earliest Christians (you know—the ones who saw Jesus) suffered—animals eating them, pulled apart, flayed alive, burning oil, thumbscrews and bamboo sticks under fingernails.

    No one read Roman history. No one studied the Social make-up of the time. We studied First Century History the way Glenn Beck studies American History. From a decidedly myopic view.

    I am being a bit hyperbolic. Alas…only a bit.

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