Christians: Jesus’ disciples could have been lying. Stop using the resurrection as an argument.

This post is just going to be me repeating some points I’ve made before (for example), but I’m writing it because I don’t think anyone (myself included) has made them loudly enough yet. It has to do with the standard Christian argument that Jesus’ disciples couldn’t have been lying because they were willing to die for their beliefs.

To put it simply, this argument is ignorant. It is ignorant of very basic facts about early Christian history. The fact is that the only surviving accounts of the deaths of Jesus’ apostles are recognized by everyone who’s aware of them to be historically unreliable. Many of them are formally known as the Apocryphal Acts. The gap between when the events supposedly happened and when they were written was significantly greater than for the gospels, making them poor sources for buttressing the claims of the gospels.

On top of this, it just isn’t true that liars never end up as martyrs. See: Joseph Smith. And to anyone who claims Jesus’ disciples were different than Joseph Smith, because they could’ve saved their lives by recanting, see the previous paragraph: we don’t know that. Even if we knew they were martyred, that wouldn’t entail we know that they were willingly martyred.

This isn’t a minor error on the part of Christian apologists. It isn’t a case of an argument being not quite as strong as it’s made out to be. It’s a case of an argument being founded on a demonstrably wrong premise. And once this argument is discarded, the entire Christian attempt to “prove” the resurrection with historical evidence goes with it.

That’s because the claim that the disciples were martyred, therefore they couldn’t possibly have been lying is the main thing which Christians have always claimed distinguishes their miracle from other religions’ miracle claims. The argument is so well entrenched that even “sophisticated” apologists like William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas routinely pass over the issue with a quick appeal to authority.

None of this is to say that “the disciples lied” is the most likely explanation. I have no problem believing they were sincere. People sincerely believe all kinds of crazy things, up to and including “I’ve been abducted by aliens.”

The aliens thing, though, requires a longish digression on the weird side of human psychology. The possibility that the disciples lied is obvious once you know the actual state of the evidence, and it’s enough to destroy the standard Christian claim that the “evidence” for the resurrection can only be explained by a miracle.

On the rare occasions when Christian apologists actually address this flaw in their argument, they only serve to make the situation more embarrassing. In this thread, Calum Miller cited the “risky behavior” of the disciples as evidence for their sincerity.

That argument refutes itself. People engage in risky behavior for selfish reasons all the time. Thieves and drug dealers engage in risky behavior for personal gain. Risk-taking is one of the traits associated with antisocial personality disorder, a.k.a. psychopathy. In fact, Calum’s argument doesn’t even address my original point,

I could discuss other possible ways of shoring up the argument, but it’s probably a mistake to dignify them with a response. They’re mostly arguments which could be used to “prove” just about any religion or supernatural claim. The argument from martyrdom caught on because it admittedly can’t be used to prove just anything. Unfortunately, it’s also based on a couple of demonstrable errors.

Note: for the curious, the page images depict the deaths of the Christian saint Denis and Joseph Smith, respectively.

  • Kevin

    Have you looked at Tim McGrew’s writings regarding this topic?

    • Tony Hoffman

      I have, and I’ve engaged with him on the topic. His historical stance is impossibly bad. In short, he seems to think that correct application of mathematical language can overcome the problem of “sh#t in, sh#t out.”

  • stuart32

    It’s entirely possible that lying did play a part in the
    spread of Christianity. Suppose that the disciples returned to Galilee after
    the crucifixion and one of them, Peter, had some sort of vision of the risen
    Jesus. Peter tries to convince the others that Jesus has appeared to him but
    they don’t believe him and they simply return to their ordinary lives. Peter
    then goes back to Jerusalem and starts telling people that Jesus is risen. He
    genuinely believes this and he wants everyone else to believe it as well. There’s
    one problem though: it doesn’t sound very good if Peter is the only one of the
    disciples who has seen the risen Jesus. So for the best of reasons he decides
    to embellish the truth. He tells people that Jesus appeared to him and all the
    other disciples. Because he is now living in Jerusalem and the other disciples
    are in Galilee they aren’t around to contradict him.

  • Steven Carr

    Gosh, all the disciples had to do was say that they had defrauded, lied and hoaxed people and the authorities would have been powerless to punish them.

    • MNb

      Actually that was pretty much how the Roman legal system worked. Had they accepted polytheism they would have walked free.

      • Steven Carr

        You mean self-confessed fraudsters , liars and hoaxers had a get out of jail free card under the Roman system?

        Apparently, Nero persecuted a lot of Christians because he wanted political scapegoats.

        You can imagine the scene before trial.

        Inquisitor. Admit it you are a Christian.

        Person rounded up. ‘Never heard of them’.

        Skip 20 minutes of ‘interrogation’, the details of which I’ll leave to your imagination.

        Person rounded up ‘.Yes I’m a Christian. So is my wife and my friends. I saw Jesus and can give you the names of 20 others.’

        People will confess to anything, with the right ‘persuasion’.

        • busterggi

          I’m guessing you haven’t read Candida moss’ book ‘The Myth of Persecution’. The whole martyr thing is pretty much a lie.

        • MNb

          There is only one little problem with your lovely scenario – it stems from the 20st Century (KGB, Gestapo). There isn’t any evidence the Romans followed it. It was more like:
          Q: Are you christian?
          A: No.
          Q: So you worship Emperor X as a god?
          A: Yes.
          Q: Show me and make a sacrifice.
          A: Just a minute.


          Q: You are free to go and to worship the other JC too if you like.

          Things went wrong if:
          Q: Are you christian?
          A: Yes.
          Q: Do you worship Emperor X as a god?
          A: No.
          Q: Do you refuse to worship Emperor X as a god?
          A: Yes.
          Q: You stand by this?
          A: Yes.
          Q: OK – bring him, his wife and his offspring to the arena. The wild animals will have a party.

          If you feel the urge you may imagine some refined tortures after “You stand by this?”.

          With Nero there is another itch – christianity wasn’t identified as a separate religion yet when Rome burned down. That only happened after the jewish revolt several years later. The stories of Nero’s christian victims stem from the 4th Century and are an expansion on the account of Suetonius – a notoriously unreliable author.
          But again – in later times christians were persecuted not for worshipping the other JC, but for refusing to worship the Emperor as a god.
          You get your history wrong and use an argument that doesn’t apply.

          • Steven Carr

            So what is your point?

            The Romans had zero interest in whether or not Christians were preaching a resurrection?

          • MNb

            I already made my point clear: you don’t have a point. That’s confirmed by your other question. You typically don’t ask which Romans. There were quite a few of them in the First Century. Now let me still try to answer your question and assume you meant literate Romans. No, they apparently weren’t interested. That’s why they wrote exactly nothing about them in that same First Century. In the first few decades of the Second Century they didn’t write too much about them either: Tacitus, Suetonius and Plinius the Younger, that’s it.
            Ain’t it a shame? Romans writing about issues they were interested in themselves instead of writing about subjects we want to know everything about? How egotistical!

  • MNb

    If any argument for christianity is worse than this one I yet have to meet it. Even if we accept all the necessary premises it proves exactly the opposite of what it aims to prove. Just ask any experienced police officer how many false confessions there are even after horrible crimes. Of course psychologists have researched this phenomenon. It appears that the reward of attention is bigger than the cost of punishment. And early christian martyrs were attention seekers by definition – they badly needed the attention to spread their word.

  • Steven Carr

    Paul makes clear that Christian leaders were persecuted on the issue of circumcision (not resurrection) and that Christian leaders were perfectly willing to compromise their beliefs to avoid persecution for the cross (NB, not resurrection) of Christ.

    Galatians 6:12
    Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ.

    Indeed in Galatians 5, Paul uses the fact that he is still being persecuted as a proof that he has not compromised on the issue of…… circumcision.

    The idea of god raising corpses was controversial in early Christianity (it seems Christian converts in Corinth were scoffing at it), but it didn’t lead to persecution.

  • Chuck Farley

    If the truth of something can be proven based on the willingness of that thing’s martyrs doesn’t that prove Islam to be true as well?

    • Susan Burns

      I get your point, but I think the difference here is that the martyrs in question would KNOW their beliefs are unfounded and still choose martyrdom (I’m assuming your referencing modern-day jihadists and the like).

  • cipher

    But, but… it changed them! They couldn’t have been lying; they just couldn’t! Because if it didn’t really change them, that means maybe it hasn’t really changed me… !

    It’s a reflection of their bipolar thought processes (for which, I’m convinced, they are neurologically programmed). Something is either absolutely true or absolutely false – i.e., a lie. We have free will or we haven’t. You’re saved or you’re damned.

    Fundamentalists are utterly clueless about the way in which the human mind works.

  • Guest

    It also ignores the way human psychology tends to work. The disciplines had spent a year telling people Jesus was the messiah. They’d given up their livelihoods to join him on the road. (This is assuming some bare-bone historical accuracy in the gospels). They would have faced ridicule from their communities and accusations of blasphemy. So, when Jesus dies, what are they supposed to do? Just admit it was all for nothing and go home? People don’t work like that; once you’ve invested a significant amount of energy into something, your brain tends to make up justifications for why you have to keep going with it, even if there’s evidence it’s not worthwhile. Look at ‘the great dissapointment’ where William Miller failed to predict the apocalypse. Did he give up and go home? No, he just set another date, and another, and his followers stayed with him. Look at Chabad messianism- Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson is dead, but his followers still claim he is/was the messiah.

  • L.Long

    Fundies say the where not lying because…
    And name one fundie who has not lied for Cheeses????
    Review FOX news where they have had them on or Utube debate and show me 1 that has been 100% truthful?
    So todays followeers have been shown to lie a lot, and the older ones are different?? How??

  • Visitor

    That also assumes they were lying for selfish gain. If they were lying to keep the memory of Jesus, their friend and master, alive, then they might have been willing to die. Or maybe they thought his message of justice for the poor was worth spreading at any cost, even if it involved a small deception.

    There’s also the possibility that his disciplines preached only an empty tomb, which is how the gospel of Mark originally ended, or that they preached Jesus’ resurrection as spritual only, and the doctrine of bodily resurrection came later.

    Then there’s the possibilty that they hallucinated Jesus. Grief can be the stressor that brings out mental illness in suseptible people, and mass hallucinations are possible. Mary Magdalene was said to have had ‘seven demons’ cast out of her. Nowadays, a lot of things that would have been blamed on demons are known to be the result of illness. What if she had epilepsy or schizophrenia, ‘saw’ Jesus and was charismatic enough to convince the others? She is among the first to see Jesus after his resurrection in most of the gospels.

    They could have dreamed Jesus as well. There’s precedent for dreams being sent by God in the bible, like with Jacob’s ladder or Pharoah’s dreams that Joseph interpreted. Maybe one of them had a really vivid dream that Jesus was there and spoke to them. Some accounts by aliens abductees are clearly just very vivid dreams, so why not one of the disiplines? It’s common to dream of someone you love after they die. It’s also common to hear their voice in your head, feel their presence, or to think you saw them out of the corner of your eye. I once ‘saw’ my grandfather sitting in a rocking chair after he’d died. I realised after a bit it was just a pile of clothes (it was dark in the room).

  • Larger gauger

    There’s the counter-example of Judas. Judas was one of the twelve, he followed Jesus around for a while. He must have seen a miracle or two. How could he have betray Jesus for thirty pieces of silver, when Jesus was raising people from the dead and so on? Even if he was a selfish bastard, if he’d really witnessed a miracle, he’d have known Jesus was too powerful to mess with. I call shenanigans. Maybe Judas didn’t see any miracles because there were none to see. Maybe he betrayed Jesus because he realised Jesus was a false messiah and had therefore betrayed him.

    And we don’t really know how many of the twelve disiplines preached Jesus’ resurrection. Only Peter has left any writings in the christian canon, and those are probably fake. Maybe many of his disiplines did leave after he died, and we never heard about them because they just didn’t want to talk about the whole sorry mess, and anyway they had fish to catch and fields to plough.

  • BobaFuct

    So by that logic, David Koresh really was the messiah! Damn, I should’ve gotten on that train before it left the station…

  • Marshall Fant IV

    If the disciples were lying, then they thought of the worst possible lie to tell. This is because the resurrection could have easily been disproven by any authorities at the time. If the resurrection didn’t happen, all the Romans had to do to prove the Christians wrong would be to produce the body of Jesus. They did not.

    • Pofarmer

      Richard Carriers, “Not the impossible faith” deals with this in detail. To put it bluntly, most of the first converts were Gentiles far away from where the original events happened, and you couldn’t just google search something, even if you wanted to. It would have taken weeks, and some money, just to attempt to check something like that out. Besides, miraculous claims were so common, why would you really check?

      • Marshall Fant IV

        “Most of the first converts were Gentiles far away from the original events happened.”

        That is highly disputed. In fact, most evidence points to the spread of Christianity from Jerusalem outward. The Book of the Acts is incredibly historical–to the point that it correctly gives the name of a proconsul when until the 19th century it was assumed that Luke used incorrect terminology. The illustrations abound where critics criticize the historicity of Acts and then find out the Luke’s writing is confirmed by archaeology (here is an example:

        Much of the early church problems dealt with in books like Galatians are centered around the Jewish church incorporating their new Gentile brothers–not the other way around.

        The leaders of the early church were all Jewish, not Gentiles. And the earliest attest manuscripts (including P52, which is a fragment of the gospel of John) places even the last of the gospels into the first century–eyewitness territory.

        I recommended this to another commenter, but if you’re really interested in what the best of Christian scholarship has to say about these things, I recommend Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach.


        • Pofarmer

          Wow. Just browsing through that pleaseconvinceme site, and some of the arguments they use in the archaeology section can and have been used to make the OPPOSITE arguments of what they conclude. Problems there.

        • Pofarmer

          Also, correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the letters of Paul, the earliest NT documents we have, written to Gentile Church’s?

          • Marshall Fant IV

            Galatians (to Gentiles) and James (to Jews) were written almost at the same time, so it depends on who you read (and what criteria they may be using) as to whether Galatians or James is first. Both are considered earliest.

          • Pofarmer

            You have to be very, very generous to get the epistle of James anywhere close to Galatians. The early writings of Paul are generally agreed to be 50-60 AD, while the earliest attribution for James is around 70 AD, to around 100 AD. So, it could easily have been a 20 year spread, and maybe close to 100. That would put Mark, and the Gospels in between Paul and James, or, possibly put the Gospels contemporaneously.

          • Marshall Fant IV

            Dating the letters is speculative and difficult, but there are a couple reasons people put James early. there are many who would see James’ language in his epistle as pre Jerusalem Council, which would have happened around 48-49. This would fit well with no mentioning of gentile/jewish strife in the church as well as the Jewish flavor of the letter — all while not mentioning at all the Jerusalem council. But there is room for disagreement, of course.

        • GubbaBumpkin

          but if you’re really interested in what the best of Christian scholarship has to say about these things…

          Bleep no. Starting with the conclusion, then looking for evidence to support it, is not the right way to go about things. So “Christian” scholarship on this is inherently bad scholarship.

          • Marshall Fant IV

            that’s not where Licona starts–which is why I recommend the book. He begins with the statement that if he found the resurrection to be historically untenable, then he would acknowledge this. He begins with that premise and moves forward. He does not begin with the premise that the resurrection happened and work backwards.

          • Rain

            Yeah he totally arrived independently at the conclusion that the creator of the universe rose from the dead.

          • Pofarmer

            Yeah, i’m sure that Licona is 100% credible in his doubt.

    • Chris Hallquist

      This assumes that:
      1) The Romans cared about this tiny cult
      2) They bothered to keep track of Jesus body, rather than dumping it in a mass grave as many scholars believe
      3) They would have cared enough to take action before Jesus’ body was rotted to the point of unrecognizability
      4) Frauds would have been stopped by being proven wrong. (History of frauds and hoaxes shows otherwise. See: creationism, Mormonism, etc.)

      • mikespeir

        Not to mention this: ‘The one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days.’ Num 19:11

        It’s highly unlikely the Jews would have hauled a dead body around town.

        • Steven Carr

          1 Corinthians 15
          37 When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be, but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.

          Paul would have simply pointed out that the body which went into the ground was not the body which came out.

          You don’t plant the body that will be, so what was the point of producing the body that was planted into the ground, when that wasn’t the body God created?

    • Steven Carr

      Of course, we have not one word written by any disciple claiming he touched a resurrected Jesus or saw an empty tomb.

      According to Acts 26, Paul defended the resurrection by saying it had been prophesied, rather than saying there were witnesses.

      And according to Acts 25, the Romans were at a loss how even to investigate this,

      Didn’t know where to start.

      So no witnesses, or else the Romans would have been able to ask witnesses.

      No missing body, or else the Romans could have started there.

      And Paul was claiming Jesus ‘became a life-giving spirit’ (1 Corinthians 15).

      I can’t imagine any investigator tracking down whether or not Jesus really did become ‘a life-giving spirit’.

      • Marshall Fant IV

        1 John 1:1 “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life”

        John 20:8 “Then the other disciple (John, who does not refer to himself by name but as “the other disciple” or the “Disciple whom Jesus loved”) who had reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead.”

        Some deny that John wrote his gospel, but their reasons for denying authorship are frail at best–relying on stylistic differences between this gospel and the Revelation. As a reader of the Greek New Testament, I can tell you no text reads more like John than Revelation (and 1, 2, and 3 John)–many of these arguments are overplayed and simplistic. Many come from an a priori assumption that the gospel is fiction and not an eyewitness account. To say that the evidence is strongly against Johannine authorship is overstating the case.

        The disciple John did see the empty tomb. Also Peter, according to Matthew and John saw the empty tomb. The gospel of Mark is often called the Gospel of Peter because it is generally held among scholars that Peter’s kerygma formed the foundation for the gospel.

        What appears to be a throw-away comment from Matthew gives great insight into this question about “no body.” The end of Matthew gives an interesting detail that the guards were paid off and told to say that the disciples had stolen the body (Matt 28:13-15). According to Matthew, this saying had made the rounds in the Jewish (unbelieving/antagonistic) community as the reason for the missing body. If Jesus had not been buried, there would be no reason for a defense against the missing body. Further, it would make less sense that an antagonistic community had come up with a defense against a body missing if they could have used a different excuse (such as the mass burial excuse).

        Paul’s statement that Jesus became a “life giving spirit” does not in any way detract from his resurrection. In 1 Cor 15, it says that he was BURIED (verifiable, not thrown in a mass grave) and rose and appeared to Peter, then the twelve, then to five hundred brothers at one time–whom Paul says many are still living (although some are dead). Why would Paul say something that could so easily be verified as wrong–putting in jeopardy his entire life-change and reputation. If he was making up Jesus’ resurrection, it would not make sense for him to include details such as this.

        • Steven Carr

          In other words, ‘John’ does not name himself in this Gospel.

          And we have the claim that Jesus was buried.

          Which means what?

          .And name one of these alleged 500 people. Just one.

          What were 500 Christians doing gathered together?

          Was there a party?

          Did Paul dream it all up, the way he had a vision of a man from Macedonia?


          What happens in visions is not real.

          Even if Paul had a vision of Jesus appearing to 500 Christians (presumably they’d all come to watch the big football game), that is not real….

          And Paul says outright that Jesus ‘became a life-giving spirit’.

          Note the word ‘spirit’.

          What does ‘spirit’ mean?

          • Steven Carr

            ‘As a reader of the Greek New Testament, I can tell you no text reads more like John than Revelation …’

            Is this a joke? Are you trolling?

            As for women not being credible witnesses, has Licona read the Bible (which never lies.,…)

            John 4:39
            Many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me everything I ever did.”

            Gosh, those idiot Bible writers just have no idea that the testimony of a woman was not credible.

            Haven’t they read their Licona? He will soon educate them…

          • Marshall Fant IV

            some of the 500 are alive — obviously not referring to a “vision” that only happened in his head.
            1 Cor 15:45 contrasts the first man Adam who became man when God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. The word spirit and breath are the same in Greek “pneuma” (as they are in Hebrew – “ruach”). the parallel is simple – as Adam was given life by the “breath of God,” so Jesus reverses the fall and GIVES life by his own power.

          • Steven Carr

            ‘some of the 500 are alive — obviously not referring to a “vision” that only happened in his head.’

            You can’t have a vision about living people?

            When did that rule come in?

            And yes, Paul does contrast Adam, who was made alive from dead matter, with Jesus who became a spirit..

            Notice that the Christians in Corinth accepted that their god could breathe life into dead matter, but scoffed at the idea of their god raising corpses.

          • Steven Carr

            ‘some of the 500 are alive — obviously not referring to a “vision” that only happened in his head.’

            To be fair though, they didn’t have nachos in those days, so it was not like Jesus appeared on a nacho.

            But as Christians can see Jesus in a nacho, a claim that Jesus appeared , means nothing.

            Sorry, but you’ll have to supply more details.

            You can start by naming the foodstuff Jesus appeared on.

            That would at least be a start.

        • Rain

          Why would Paul say something that could so easily be verified as wrong–putting in jeopardy his entire life-change and reputation. If he was making up Jesus’ resurrection, it would not make sense for him to include details such as this.

          Spoken like a true conspiracy nut. Why would the one dude be on the grassy knoll? Why would the buildings fall straight down? Why would the Egyptians build, like, totally flawlessly perfect pyramids? Like totally woah dude.

    • Gust

      How would they have found the body of Jesus in the pile of other criminals buried that day? Why would they even bother? The early Christians weren’t a threatto Rome until years after Jesus’ death. Also, You’re assuming Jesus would have been buried in a clearly marked grave on his own. This is unlikely. Read this for why:

    • Ophis

      According to Acts 1, the apostles did not begin preaching the resurrection until at least 40 days after Jesus’ death. By then, even if the body of Jesus could be found (as Gust points out is unlikely), the Romans’ disproof of the resurrection would have turned into an unrecognisable bag of rotting meat. Once maggots have started eating the evidence, the resurrection turns into a very easy lie to tell.

      • stuart32

        There’s another thing to bear in mind. Jesus had been brutally beaten before being crucified. Decomposition combined with the damage already done to the body would have made it completely unrecognizable within a few days.

        In light of this Marshall’s claim has an interesting implication. The authorities could have found some other mangled body and pretended that it was Jesus. No one would have known the difference. Therefore, the authorities could have stopped Christianity in its tracks with a simple lie. Since people like Marshall think that the authorities were desperate to stop Christianity it’s surprising that they didn’t think of this.

        • Marshall Fant IV

          Which is why the burial of Jesus is well documented, including the family who gave their tomb for his body. The women knew where to go to find the body, the disciples knew where he was buried, etc. Again, does not answer why the Jews would have circulated the lie that the disciples had stolen the body if they could have done the same (See Matthew 28). If he had not been buried, but thrown into a pit, this would have been ammo for those who opposed Christianity (including the Jewish leadership). I don’t believe they ever brought it up (haven’t ever read anything on this, but i’m leaving the door open that I may be wrong… would love a source if it could be provided), because the location of the body was a well known piece of information.

          • stuart32

            The claim in Matthew that the disciples stole the body is a distraction. Matthew was responding to what people were saying in his own time. These were people who had no idea what happened in Jerusalem fifty years before.

            For all we know the body was produced but no one took any notice. The point is that if you think producing the body would have put a stop to Christianity and that the reason why this didn’t happen is that there was no body to produce then you must explain why the authorities didn’t pretend to produce the body.

      • Marshall Fant IV

        I recommend reading Licona’s THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS: A NEW HISTORIOGRAPHICAL APPROACH in order to address some of your concerns here. One of the more interesting points he raises has to do with the information contained in the gospels that would have been embarrassing to the early Christian religion and the disciples of Christ. For example: 1) that the disciples did not understand or preach Jesus’ resurrection until after it happened–that after Jesus death they were actually cowards who went into hiding for fear of those around them and 2) that the first people to see the empty tomb were women (who, at this time, were not even allowed to give legal witness in the Roman court system). When historians look at information and see these embarrassing details, it lends credibility to the account. There is much more here, but if you’re really interested to see what the best of Christian scholarship has to say, I hope you’ll pick up Licona’s book and give it a try. It is very thorough.

        One last thing: the burial of Jesus is described in the gospels as being done by a wealthy, well-known individual — not some random person. According to the gospels, he gave of his family tomb — to ensure that Jesus’ body was not thrown into the mass graves reserved for criminals. If the disciples were lying about the resurrection, it would not make sense for them to create a paper-trail that could be followed up on by skeptics (including specific names, well known people who were involved).

        • Steven Carr

          Those stupid women thought somebody had moved the body.

          How embarrassing!

          No wonder Jesus himself had to appear to one of them and announce to the readers that he had been resurrected.

          And early Christian converts in Corinth must have been scoffing at the very idea of their god choosing to raise corpses.

          How embarrassing!

          And, of course, not one single person in history ever named himself as ever having even heard of Joseph of Arimathea.

          How could he be well known?

          When not even Christians in the first century were prepared to put their name on a document saying they had ever even heard of him?

          Really, Licona is an an embarrassment.

          Because he talks such rubbish.

        • stuart32

          Marshall, since you’re quoting Licona perhaps I can quote John Dominic Crossan. In his new book, “The Power of Parable”, he explains why the alleged discovery of the empty tomb by women isn’t an argument for the resurrection.

          The story of the empty tomb in Mark, the earliest version, is a story of failure rather than a story of triumph. A key theme in Mark is that all of Jesus’ followers, male and female, let him down. The lack of faith of Jesus’ followers is contrasted with the faith shown by strangers. The disciples abandon Jesus while an unnamed Roman centurion is the first to proclaim him the son of God. An unnamed woman anoints Jesus before he is crucified because there won’t be an opportunity to do so afterwards.

          On the other hand, the female followers of Jesus go to the tomb expecting that they will be able to anoint the body. This shows their lack of faith because they didn’t believe Jesus’ prediction that he would be resurrected. They were expecting to find his dead body.

          According to Crossan the story of the empty tomb is symbolic. You might disagree with this but it doesn’t matter. Your argument is that it would be impossible to invent a story about women discovering the empty tomb. Crossan has shown how that could happen, therefore the argument fails.

          • Marshall Fant IV

            You make a couple interesting points. 1. That Mark’s gospel (usually considered earliest) does not give a highly optimistic, victorious ending. Speak to historians and they’ll tell you this is more of a evidence that the gospels are historic accounts and not religious propaganda (normally, propaganda is highly positive and glosses over a figure’s faults). IF Mark was religious propaganda invented in order to sell a religion, it would be highly unlikely that the disciples would admit to not understanding (vs. not believing — my take on the resurrection prophecies, but that’s another whole discussion) the resurrection prophecies, failing in their personal faith (Peter’s denials), embarrassing tidbits (Mark’s inclusion about the naked man running through the forrest), etc. The resurrection account is couched in eyewitness-historic accounts that openly give the faults of the witnesses. The female followers going to the tomb may show (as I mentioned above) not unbelief but not understanding. If they were to preach a literal resurrection of the body of Jesus, it would make the most sense in the ancient context (if one were inventing a story from scratch) to have men do the discovering. That’s the only point I was making.
            2. I don’t think it’s “impossible to invent a story about a woman discovering the empty tomb,” only that if we’re discussing what is MOST LIKELY, considering the information and evidences that we have available to us, the story seems to ring true. When looking at the information available, from the early dates of the gospels to the eyewitness details given in each of the gospels (except Luke, where he says he gathered from various sources), to the embarrassing details that would normally be left out if the writings were just propaganda materials, it seems reasonable to believe that resurrection story is indeed historical.

            thanks for the comments, I will look into crossan’s book.

          • stuart32

            Marshall, you say that Mark’s willingness to report the failings of the disciples is a sign of authenticity. That would only be true if Mark was going against his instincts by revealing the failings of the disciples. According to Crossan, that isn’t the case. His point is that Mark, for whatever reason, is positively enthusiastic about revealing the flaws of the disciples. It is not the case that Mark is so honest that he feels compelled to tell us about the disciples’ failings even though he would rather not. He reveals their failings with relish.

            Your argument about the empty tomb is based on a false dichotomy. You think that the story of the empty tomb is either truth or propaganda. You then come up with reasons why it can’t be propaganda – if it was propaganda they would have done it differently – and then conclude that it must be truth. There is another possibility.

            Let’s say that Mark decided to write his gospel, not to convince anyone of the truth of his beliefs, but to tell a story about Jesus in a largely allegorical form. Mark believes in the resurrection but knows that there wasn’t an empty tomb. He invents the empty tomb as a symbol of the resurrection. Part of his purpose is to show how Jesus’ followers let him down. That purpose is achieved in telling his story of the empty tomb. The role of the women is not to be star witnesses to a miracle, but to show their lack of faith by going to the tomb in the first place.

        • Ophis

          ” …that the disciples did not understand or preach Jesus’ resurrection until after it happened…”

          Much less embarrassing than the alternative, which is to claim that he’s been resurrected and is still on earth. Then people would start asking the obvious questions: where is he, can I get a meeting? Claiming that Jesus told the disciples to stay in Jerusalem and not preach until after he was taken up to heaven avoids this problem.

          “…that the first people to see the empty tomb were women…”

          The unreliability of women may have been the point. Mark’s gospel, in the early manuscripts, ends with the women running away scared and not telling anyone what they had seen. If Mark invented the empty tomb story, he needs to explain why nobody has heard of it before; blame it on the unreliable women who failed to pass on the message. Alternatively pick Stuart32′s explanation from Crossan. There’s more than one plausible explanation for this detail that doesn’t require assuming a miracle.

          “… the burial of Jesus is described in the gospels as being done by a wealthy, well-known individual…”

          A detail taken from Isaiah 53:9, and used to explain why Jesus had his own tomb, which the women could visit and find empty with angels waiting around it. As you pointed out, without a rich, reasonably influential person to bury Jesus’ body, he would have ended up in a mass grave, and Mark would have no empty tomb story.

          On top of this the idea that a skeptic could investigate this and so make early Christianity collapse is absurd. Let’s assume Joseph of Arimathea existed and wasn’t invented by Mark (or a source of his) to plug a potential hole in the story. You’re expecting a skeptic to read this detail in the gospel and take a few weeks off work to go and sail to Judea to hunt down a guy who’s probably dead by that time, all to discredit a small cult. So lets say he does this, finds some friends of Joseph, and finds out from them that the Gospel story’s not true. The skeptic sails back to Corinth/Ephesus/wherever and tells the Christians what he’s found out. The local Christians then immediately drop their new religion, as members of small new religions always do when someone hostile to their beliefs claims he’s seen contrary evidence. Then I guess the skeptic does a Mediterranean tour to let Christians in other cities know that their religion is wrong.

          There’s no way that’s going to happen. Once Christianity’s spread beyond Judea, what limited evidence can still be found will have negligible impact on its growth.

          • Marshall Fant IV

            Your “The unreliability of women” statement doesn’t really get the point I’m making, I’m afraid. If Mark and Matthew were seeking to create a story from nothing, inventing a story that would feel authentic and not have credibility issues with the hearers, then it would be highly unlikely for them to create a story where women are the first to find the empty grave (to an ancient mind — obviously, this is not the case in the modern world).

            thanks for the time to write your comments –

          • Steven Carr

            Let me see.
            Who announces the resurrection to the readers in each Gospel?

            Is it a) women
            b) a young man
            c) an angel
            d) two angels
            e) Jesus himself.

            Who reported that the body had been stolen or moved?

            Those unreilable women(passing over the question of how many there were….)

            Who confused the resurrected Jesus with somebody else?

            Those unreliable women.

            Who went to the tomb, investigated it and found the clothes?

            Those reliable men.

            No wonder women’s testimony was unreliable.

            They actually thought the body had been moved.

            Women are stupid, aren’t they?

            Good job there were some men there to check.

            And, of course, the Gospel of John thought the testimony of a woman was perfectly credible (see John 4:39)

            According to the logic of Christian apologetics, the testimony of a woman today is not considered reliable as women are not allowed to be NFL touch judges.

            Yes, their ‘logic’ is as bad as that….

          • Marshall Fant IV

            Come on, man, don’t be ridiculous.
            “(see John 4:39)”

            The Woman at the well’s testimony was regarding her own encounter with Jesus and how he told her everything she had ever done. It was her personal testimony–the fact that she, a known adulteress, was speaking of redemption–that caused those around her believe her report. It has nothing to do with the legal system.
            The gospel of John’s use of a woman is again a point in favor of its historicity. If the disciples/apostles were seeking to create a religion out of thin air or write fictitious stories about Jesus, then their cultural context would not look kindly on women being given such a high place in the gospels and Acts.
            People can have disagreements over these things and be civil.

          • Steven Carr

            ‘It was her personal testimony–the fact that she, a known adulteress, was speaking of redemption–that caused those around her believe her report. ‘

            But Licona has schooled you into claiming that the testimony of a woman was not found credible.

            And now you are saying that is ‘ridiculous’

            Will you get your story straight?

            Did people believe the personal testimony of a woman?

            Is the answer
            A) No (See Licona)

            B) Yes (See the Bible)

          • Ophis

            Let me compound the embarrassing aspects in Mark’s story. He does not include a single appearance of Jesus, to anyone, after his resurrection. Women are not just the first witnesses, but the only witnesses. They are not merely women, but women too scared to share their story. And they didn’t even witness Jesus, just an empty tomb and an angel.

            Your theory that Mark was writing the Gospel to convince doubters, but was too honest to leave out the detail of female witnesses, does not account for this. Why be so careful about including an embarrassing detail but leave out the much more important and apologetically useful details of Peter and John also seeing the empty tomb, and Jesus’ various appearances to his disciples? Did Mark not know these details? If Mark’s faithfully recording history, why does he say the women “said nothing to any one, for they were afraid,” contradicting the later gospels?

            The problems are better explained by assuming that Mark’s gospel was not written to convince doubters at all.

            As an alternative hypothesis, what if the purpose of Mark’s passion narrative was to persuade Christians who already believed in a spiritual resurrection to accept a physical one? Then he needs some kind of witness to the event, but also needs to explain why these other Christians have not heard of a raised physical body before reading Mark’s gospel. So have unreliable witnesses in the form of scared women, and the disciples failing to meet up with Jesus in Galilee.

        • eric

          “When historians look at information and see these embarrassing details, it lends credibility to the account.”
          No, it doesn’t. Does the name James Frey ring a bell? He’s just one example, but there are many many examples of people fabricating self-effacing details to make their stories either more credible or to create greater empathy.
          Also, as Bart Ehrman notes in Forged (not about this particular story, but about other biblical stories), biblical forgers regularly included errors or embarrassing details to make their forgery more credible. Because they know naive scholars will argue exactly as you do “if the forger was smart, he wouldn’t have done that!”

        • Pofarmer

          It is not a large leap to think that Joseph od arimitea would have buried jesus in a criminals tomb. It would have been extemely, extremely unlikely for any other outcome. The women could have simply had he wrong tomb.

    • Rain

      The Romans should have been tipped off that something was afoot when all of the saints jumped out of their graves and went around hobnobbing in the holy city. They missed their chance to disprove the whole thing by producing a fake body. I guess back then you didn’t exactly have to be a rocket scientist to be a Roman. Romans: dumb as a tree stump.

  • Urbane_Gorilla

    Actually, there really is no proof that Jesus existed. As in the Apocryphal Acts, the only notation of Jesus occurred centuries after his death. There are no records of Jesus during the time he supposedly existed, which is unusual for a supposed “radical” existing in Roman times (as opposed to say Spartacus), when you consider how bureaucratic and document happy the Romans were. In fact, Jesus just seems to be a compilation of other holy figures from prior cultures. It would not be unusual for a false history to evolve. After all, how many modern school kids were told of George Washington (about the same 300+ year passage of time) and the Cherry tree, or how he threw a silver dollar over the Potomac…Both stories are baseless and the latter is pathetically stupid. Not only is the Potomac a mile wide where he supposedly tossed it, but the coin that would surely have disappeared into the waters was worth about $200 in today’s currency. Pretty dumb for a leader of our new country’s army and 1st President.

    • Tugse

      Gospel of Mark was probably written in 75 CE, so not centuries later. “Because of the reference to the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem
      in 70 CE (Mark 13:2), most scholars believe that Mark was written some
      time during the war between Rome and the Jews (66-74). Most early dates
      fall around 65 CE and most late dates fall around 75 CE.” Lots of the stories told about Jesus were undoubtably legends, but it makes more sense for there to have been a historical core to them, rather than them just being made up.

      • busterggi

        And here I recommend Ehrman’s ‘The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture’. The accepted modern version of Mark took centuries of redaction to reach its finished state.

        • Marshall Fant IV

          no manuscript of Mark exists except in its full form (not including the obvious longer ending which even conservative evangelicals admit does not belong in the original text). Manuscripts may exist in fragments, but they do not indicate heavy redaction.
          There is no evidence the accepted modern version of Mark took centuries of redaction to reach its finished state. Not a single manuscript in possession of libraries and museums around the world indicates this to be the case. I’m looking at my Greek New Testament right now and according to it, Philadelphia PA has the manuscript P1 which contains the gospels and it is dated to the third century. Other third century papyri include P4 in Paris, and P5 in London.

          • busterggi

            Okay, you say it was begun being written around 75 CE. The finished version with the obvious longer ending was not accepted until the 3rd century CE. To me 200 + years equals centuries.

    • MNb

      “There are no records of Jesus during the time he supposedly existed”

      That applies to Socrates, Diogenes of Sinope and even Alexander the Great as well. Good luck with this principle.

      • Urbane_Gorilla

        If there are no records of a person, during his time, then why would anyone really believe they existed? As to your saying that Alexander the Great left no current historical notes… That’s patently absurd. The Romans documented him well in his time.

        • MNb

          Nope. The first book about Alexander the Great we have is written about 300 years after his death. You get your history wrong.
          This is the main source:

          • Urbane_Gorilla

            I was actually referring to the normal congratulatory statues that were commissioned during a hero’s lifetime. Like this:

            bronze statue of emperor Alexander the Great flanked by two bronze heads from the Roman period | All Art News –

  • Ophis

    Given the disputes in the early church, the disciples would have had a motive to lie. What better way to back up claims for power or opinions on doctrine, than having Jesus make a post-mortem appearance in a vision to support them? Hence Peter and James, and the followers of each, both claiming to have seen Jesus, with the canonical and apocryphal gospels disagreeing as to who Jesus appeared to first and who he picked to lead the church. Then they end up doing a Joe Smith and having those claims result in their martyrdom, if the martyrdom stories are remotely accurate, which they probably are not.

    Then, after the deaths of Peter, James and Paul, you get the gradual development of post-resurrection appearance stories which can be seen in the gospels. Modern Christians can then claim, without evidence, that these were the kinds of appearances the apostles were claiming had happened.

    In short, the leading apostles lie about visions of Jesus to support their power grabs, and only after their deaths do these claims mutate into the more physical appearance stories in the Gospels.

  • BillYeager

    I have recently been discussing this exact topic with friends and have hypothesised that the whole ‘death cult’ religion being based on the ‘resurrection’ story, ignores an important factor, his disciples never expected him to die. He was supposed to save them from the Romans, not end up as ‘just another dead messiah’ along with the rest of them (there would have been innumerate people walking around claiming to be god, of god, or some such divinity, as there are still now).

    So it is reasonable to suggest that, even after his death, some of the disciples may have truly believed he would come back to life. They steal his body from its tomb, head off into the desert to give him time to be ‘resurrected’ and as the realisation that it isn’t going to happen sinks in, they dispose of the body and return to town, whereupon they are met by some of the other disciples who had no idea what had been going on and have heard that the body of Jesus was discovered to be missing from its tomb. So the ones who took the body go along with it because they clearly had that much invested in their belief they were compelled to take his dead body in the first place and could likely be guilty of throwing in a few ‘he visited me the other night and then disappeared’ anecdotes for themselves . . .long story short . . .therefore ‘resurrection’, therefore divine death cult.

    Trouble is, as you well know, nothing can be proven either way so Xtian theists get to wave around ‘appeal from ignorance’ all day long. The fact that almost ANY alternative hypothesis is vastly more probable than the given resurrection story being true, doesn’t seem to bother them either.

    So, yeah, we can agree it’s the shakiest of shaky ground, but I don’t think it’s going to change their mind about the issue, there is wayyyyy to much invested in the ‘resurrection’ for this death-cult to even consider they could be wrong.

  • Mick

    “Even if we knew they were martyred, that wouldn’t entail we know that they were willingly martyred.”

    They probably were willing. Tertullian made it clear that some Christians deliberately set out to become martyrs and he welcomed their efforts because it had the effect of attracting new converts into the cult.

    A few centuries later though, the whole business of martyrdom had become a nuisance to the church. The Circumcellions would deliberately enter pagan temples and disrupt the services in the hope that they would be put to death for their crime.

    At the height of the frenzy, there were more Circumcellions seeking martyrdom than there were pagan temples to invade, so they resorted to attacking ordinary citizens in the hope that the citizens would retaliate and kill them.

    When not enough of them found death by that method they simply jumped off cliffs! They did it so often that the church eventually ruled that people who commit suicide cannot get into heaven under any circumstances.

    Martyrs or ratbag masochists?

    • Susan Burns

      I’ve never heard about The Circumcellions before; that is fascinating.

  • Randy Gritter

    You say the disciples were sincere. Great. Did they sincerely say they saw Jesus risen from the dead? If so, that is a huge lie. You have to ask why they would tell such a lie. You have to ask how they could convince so many people. What about St Paul. Where did his story come from? Was he sincere? Really all the other miracles give the same issue but St Paul was particularly persuasive.

    So you can say the disciples didn’t make it up. Later generations did. That becomes harder. The apostles have successors. They end up spread far and wide around the known world. Did they just wake up one morning and start teaching something different from their mentor? Would that not produce a mess of different teaching all over the church? That is not what we get.

    The martyrdom objection is a bit weak. The disciples were likely martyred but what if some of them were not? What would that change? They are still dealing with a Jewish and Roman establishment that is hostile to what they are saying. Or do you think Christians faked all that too? Whatever.

    BTW, Joseph Smith is a bad example. First, he was killed in a gunfight while his followers were breaking him out of jail. Secondly, he is one man. One man can be crazy. When you get many eye witnesses saying the same thing then mental defect becomes a less tenable explanation.

    Anyway, getting back to the original point. The problem with atheist attempts to make sense of the origin of Christianity is they reason in circles. If Christianity created Christ then who created Christianity? The answer is that POOF Christianity came from nowhere and tried desperately to manufacture a plausible story of its own origins. It launched a massively successful worldwide conspiracy to forge documents. Who did that? When did it happen? Never mind. This all-powerful church that existed for no apparent reason had to protect its theology which came from nowhere so it made up a story. The story is so unbelievable we know it is not true yet it is so plausible that it is the obvious lie they would tell.

    • Ophis

      “Did they sincerely say they saw Jesus risen from the dead? If so, that
      is a huge lie. You have to ask why they would tell such a lie.”
      I gave one plausible reason in my previous comment: to gain an advantage in disputes within the early church.

      “What about St Paul. Where did his story come from? Was he sincere?”
      Probably, but he never encountered a bodily raised Jesus. A vision/hallucination is not so unusual that it requires a miracle to explain it.

      “Would that not produce a mess of different teaching all over the church? That is not what we get.”
      In fact that is exactly what we get in the early church, and we get it early enough that even the New Testament writers felt the need to include passages against rival Christian doctrines. The later dominance of one particular view of Christianity shouldn’t be projected onto the 1st and 2nd centuries AD.

      “The disciples were likely martyred but what if some of them were not?
      What would that change? They are still dealing with a Jewish and Roman
      establishment that is hostile to what they are saying.”
      Since when did government hostility ever stop cult leaders and their senior followers from making false claims?

      “BTW, Joseph Smith is a bad example… One man can be crazy. When you get many eye witnesses saying the
      same thing then mental defect becomes a less tenable explanation.”

      He managed to get eyewitnesses to claim that an angel showed them the golden plates from which Joseph Smith allegedly translated his writings, and to maintain that claim even after personal disputes with Smith. Again we have multiple witnesses saying the same thing.

      “The problem with atheist attempts to make sense of the origin of Christianity is they reason in circles. If Christianity created Christ then who created Christianity? The answer is that POOF Christianity came from nowhere and tried desperately to manufacture a plausible story of its own origins.”
      This is only really an issue at all for atheists who dispute the historicity of Jesus. I am not one of them, I actually agree that a historical Jesus does make the origins of Christianity much simpler to explain, and plenty of other atheists also accept a historical Jesus.

      “It launched a massively successful worldwide conspiracy to forge documents. Who did that? When did it happen? Never mind. This all-powerful church that existed for no apparent reason had to protect its theology which came from nowhere so it made up a story.”
      There are dozens of apocryphal documents produced by various early Christian groups to promote their own opinions, falsely attributed to disciples. Why assume that the orthodox wouldn’t or couldn’t do the same thing? They don’t need a conspiracy or all-powerful church to do that.

  • Without Malice

    When Jesus asked his disciples who men said that he was some answered Elijah, and some others said, “they say you are John the Baptist come back from the dead”; which shows that already there were rumors that John had been raised from the dead. The fact is that John’s followers thought he was the messiah and he even has his followers to this day that make that claim. The first gospel – Mark – says nothing about post resurrection appearances but instead has the women coming to the tomb and finding it empty, but then saying nothing to anyone about it. Luke, however, has Jesus spending forty days after the resurrection with the disciples and teaching all things about the kingdom of God (it’s too bad he didn’t clear up all the controversies over the circumcision of gentile converts and other things at that time. Or maybe he did and no one kept notes.) And let’s not forget the many saints that were resurrected and came out of their graves along with Jesus, which is a subject most Christians don’t want to talk about because it’s too crazy for even most of them to believe.
    The fact is that nobody knows what happen to the twelve disciples after Jesus went home to Daddy, all we have is myth surrounding all of them with no real evidence to support any of it. And that includes the only apostle of any real importance to Christianity, which is Paul; a shadow figure who comes out of nowhere and whose conversion story is nothing but a rewrite of the conversion of Heliodorus taken from the book of Maccabees. Bible scholars know that half the letters attributed to him are forgeries and most of the others have been reworked and rewritten who knows how many times. It’s very odd that the first person to even collect his letters was Marcion the heretic, who according to Tertulian, was the one who found the letter to Galatians.
    We know (well, we don’t really know, but this all we have) from the book of acts that the Jewish followers of Jesus, far from being dispersed around the world were still in Jerusalem making converts a good twenty years after the death of Jesus. And we know that those followers of Jesus still adhered completely to Jewish law and practice so it is impossible that they – the very people who knew Jesus the best – thought that he came to do away with Judaism and start a new religion that was contrary to Judaism in almost every way.
    There was only one reason for the coming of the messiah, and that was to set up the messianic kingdom, which would usher in an era of world peace and which would see the return to Israel of the diaspora Jews, the rebuilding of the temple, and the universal worship of the one and only God of the Jews. Jesus accomplished none of these things, which is why the Jews rightly rejected him as the messiah; but the later story of the virgin birth of the Son of God would
    catch on with the pagan converts who already believed in such nonsense.

  • paarsurrey

    “It has to do with the standard Christian argument that Jesus’ disciples couldn’t have been lying because they were willing to die for their beliefs.”

    Had the disciples mentioned in the Bible been willing to die for Jesus; they would have stayed at the place of Crucifixion; the fled from the scene as mentioned in Matthew; they were not believers in Jesus. If they had believed that Jesus is going to resurrect from the near-dead or dead; what need they had to flee from the place of crucifixion; Jesus would have saved them when he would have resurrected or even if they have been killed they would have been made alive again as Christians believe.
    They were more of the non-believers, in my opinion.

  • paarsurrey

    “The gap between when the events supposedly happened and when they were written was significantly greater than for the gospels, making them poor sources for buttressing the claims of the gospels.”

    I am with you here.

  • paarsurrey

    “On top of this, it just isn’t true that liars never end up as martyrs.”

    I agree with you.

  • paarsurrey

    “Even if we knew they were martyred, that wouldn’t entail we know that they were willingly martyred.”

    Your argument is good. I agree with you.

  • paarsurrey

    “And once this argument is discarded, the entire Christian attempt to “prove” the resurrection with historical evidence goes with it.”

    Even a more stronger or the most stronger point that should be focused is to highlight the fact that Jesus did no die on the Cross and after healing from the injuries inflicted on him on the Cross he migrated to India and lived there to quite an old age of about 120 years. There is enough historical proof on these points; please view the following:

    Jesus In Kashmir (India) – Documentary by Indian Govt. – YouTube:

  • paarsurrey

    “with a quick appeal to authority.”
    I think it is more of an appeal to the sentiments of the ordinary Christians.

  • Susan Burns

    Here’s the part of this that I haven’t been able to lay to rest, as it were: I just re-read the synoptic Gospels, tossing out the supernatural events (healings and what-not) and paying close attention only to what Jesus actually, allegedly preached. He really didn’t say anything too earth shaking. His main bag was “Be a good Jew, follow the Law.” The only reason this message threatened the Pharisees is because they had moved away from the Law and had developed their own traditions designed to fatten their own money pouches (sound familiar?) “Follow the Law” basically sums up his whole ministry (if you don’t count the Gospel of John, which at present time I don’t).

    So, when Jesus died, his disciples could continue to follow his teaching and be “Christians” by just staying Law of Moses-abiding Jews – and that really wouldn’t have ruffled too many feathers. So, why wasn’t that all there was to it? We know that at least some of Jesus’s disciples continued to preach or else the cult wouldn’t have grown. Why the belated emphasis on the Resurrection, the Apocalypse and salvation (which seems to me to have been added on after Jesus’s exit)?

    I know I’m going to get a smack-down from someone, because it’s largely me talking from my head, but I’ve been immersed in this trying to come to grips with a solution that makes sense to me and here’s where I’ve landed: The original disciples were not liars. They also were not witnesses to a bodily resurrection of Jesus. They deserted Jesus during the arrest and crucifixion. Some probably left the cult that night for good, some probably left only to return when the heat died down, and others stuck around on the fringes to watch from the shadows. No doubt, they had guilt and shame on top of their fear. No doubt that their guilty conscience caused one or more of them to dream about Jesus. And they likely took those dreams as important divine visions (common in that day, see Joseph [Jesus's father] & Pilate’s wife; also well-established in traditional Jewish scripture, see Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, etc.). In some of my reading on this, I learned that in Paul’s account of the resurrection (Paul’s is, as far as we know today, the earliest to be written down, even though he wasn’t there) he used the word “ophthe” for the word “appeared.” Ophthe “from the verb horao, is used for both physical sight as well as spiritual visions” (Dan Barker). That is the same choice in words Paul used for his own vision on the road to Damascus, which we all know wasn’t a physical body meeting. So, one or more of the disciples has a vision of Jesus. They tell the others and, believing it a sign that their cowardice has been forgiven, they re-mount their ministries. Maybe this is when they get the idea Jesus is coming back again, who can guess? Over time, the game of early Christian telephone ups the resurrection ante until the oral tradition of Jesus’s life and death finally gets written down (it’s highly unlikely any of original disciples were even still alive when this happened, martyrdom or no). Then, of course, we know that the gospels and other writings were distributed by making handwritten copies, so that opens up all kinds of room for various well-intentioned (or not well-intentioned) people to add their own flair to the narratives as they went along and added/bent things to make it fall in line with the prophecies of Isaiah that had suddenly become important to their legitimacy. And here we are. I really believe it’s that simple.

  • Sean

    This shows how biased you are-literally, Ehrman thinks that the idea that the disciples lied is absurd. As does John Dominic Crossan, as does Robert Price (shocker!)-even Richard Carrier (who’s not a nt scholar, but a hyper fringe-skeptic). Why do all scholars reject that hypothesis, and not just “the Christian apologists”?

    In the first century, the idea of Resurrection was not of one man being raised ahead of everyone else. It was of a corporate resurrection at the end of the world. So to say “yeah, let’s say Jesus was risen from the dead-that’ll carry on the movement” would’ve been absurd. No one was predisposed to believe such a thing. Homer, Pliny, and other Greeks knew that dead people didn’t rise. Resurrection was absurd to them. Jewish people didn’t think the Messiah would be raised ahead of everyone else (especially crushed by the enemy!). No one would proclaim such a thing because historically, it just didn’t make sense with their belief in resurrection or messiah. People would’ve thought the idea absurd, and to the Jews, offensive. Such a proclamation of Resurrection would have been seen in first century Judaism as rank heresy-hence why you have the early Jews persecuting the early Christians, and Paul joining in on that fun. So even if we don’t have direct evidence of willing martyrdom (which we do), we have evidence of people who were willing to be martyred. The fact is that in that context, the people preaching the message of Resurrection knew how absurd it sounded, and knew it invited persecution and prison and such. And yet they still preached the message-which means they were willing to risk persecution. So if they didn’t actually believe it had happened, they never would’ve made it up-this would have been the LAST thing you’d say if you wanted to somehow continue the movement. You could say “his soul is exalted with God”-but you’d never say “He’s been rasied from the dead.”

    As to any “benefit” they may have received-they wouldn’t have received attention in any positive sense. They would have received attention in that they were marked for persecution by both Jews and Greeks alike. Herod executed James, both according to Acts and to Josephus-which would have been a clear red flag to other believers. Yet again, they didn’t back down. Stephen was killed-and Paul himself approved of it pre-conversion, which serves as another red-flag to the Christian community.

    Paul was a Pharisee, and as such, already had attention in a positive sense. He had social standing, and was considered “righteous” by the standards of his day. Yet he threw that all away to be persecuted, beaten, imprisoned (all of which comes from his letters-who he writes to particular churches. They’d have known if he were lying, because word would have gotten out from Paul’s opponents).

    Worshipers of Greek gods rioted when Paul and others preached against their gods. Again, to suggest this doesn’t reflect “willing martyrdom” is absurd, because they knew what their message invited.

    Plus, we have evidence of other messianic movements on either side of Jesus-all of which routinely ended with the violent death of the founder. In no case did the followers continue the cause by saying “he’s been raised from the dead”-because such a thing was considered absurd in first century Judaism. If your Messiah was killed, you disbanded or found yourself a new Messiah because your supposed Messiah was just shown to obviously not be the Messiah. That’s how it happened every time (see Bar-Kochba movement for one of many examples).

    “That argument refutes itself. People engage in risky behavior for selfish reasons all the time. Thieves and drug dealers engage in risky behavior for personal gain. Risk-taking is one of the traits associated with antisocial personality disorder, a.k.a. psychopathy.”

    Where’s the evidence they were psycopaths? But more importantly, this actually proves our point. They do it for personal gain. Yet the disciples, nor Paul, actually gained ANYTHING from it-but death, persecution, isolation from homes. Nor was their wealth involved, as Paul reminds the Corinthians that he didn’t charge them with the preaching of the gospel (I believe in 2 corinthians). “Oh! but they gained followers!” Yeah, and what good is that when Paul already had followers as a Pharisee, and wasn’t being persecuted when he did? What good is that when the disciples had more comfortable lives without followers? And they somehow wanted to gain a following who would refrain from drinking, sex, and even marriage (if necessary) and other pleasures of life to embrace stark suffering? “They wanted a cause to die for!” So they lied about their cause? And their supposed cause was of a crucified Messiah-a laughable idea in the ancient world-for which they would give up pleasure and embrace persecution (and we have evidence of that-Paul’s letters about his life as a Pharisee, and his letters to churches which imply that they suffer persecution, or his letters that he wrote from prison)? Give me a break! The way you guys talk about “Christian apologists” is astounding-NO ONE in NT scholarship affirms what you guys affirm.

    This is why people like you will remain the radical fringe of historical Jesus studies-just like 6-day creationists remain the radical fringe of origin-of-life studies.

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    It’s funny because this post is actually ignorant of the evidence:

    I like how you people think you can ignore the consensus of NT scholarship (no New Testament scholar thinks they just lied. They all affirm that the disciples genuinely believed their message-it’s just the skeptics think the disciples hallucinated). Yet when it comes to evolution, you condemn the Christian for not looking at the evidence (rightly so-but you’re inconsistent). We know James died at the hands of Herod, and Jesus’s brother James was martyred from Josephus, and we know Peter died because the end of John assumes the readers know this. We know Stephen died, and we know the church was being persecuted. Mormons preached under freedom of religion- the disciples were preaching a message they knew they’d get persecuted and killed for. See the blog post.

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