Of Eyewitnesses, the Resurrection, and the Gold Plates

Of Eyewitnesses, the Resurrection, and the Gold Plates November 13, 2020

 

An empty Herodian tomb in Jerusalem
An empty tomb in Jerusalem dating (unlike the Garden T0mb) to the Herodian period. The photograph was taken by my friend and colleague Dr. Jeffrey Chadwick, and I use it here with his kind permission. Neither of us believes either the Garden Tomb or the Holy Sepulcher to be the right place, so this will have to represent the as-yet unknown site of Christ’s burial and resurrection.

 

Here are some notes on the earliest Christian disciples and the raising of Jesus from the tomb:

 

The appearances of Jesus are as well authenticated as anything in antiquity. . . .  There can be no rational doubt that they occurred, and that the main reason why Christians became sure of the resurrection in the earliest days was just this.  They could say with assurance, ‘We have seen the Lord.’  They knew it was he.  (Michael Green, The Empty Cross of Jesus [Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1984], 97)

 

We are thus left with the fact that the earliest Christians . . . stressed a material notion of resurrection, including a material notion of what happened to their Founder at Easter.  I submit that the best explanation for this phenomenon is that something indeed must have happened to Jesus’ body, and he must have been in personal and visible contact with his followers after Easter.  (Ben Witherington III, “Resurrection Redux,” 129-145, in Will the Real Jesus Please Stand Up?, ed. Paul Copan, 136)

 

The eyewitness testimony for the Resurrection is exceptionally strong. . . .  It is testimony based on eyewitness accounts that can be located in the years immediately following the event and publicly proclaimed during the lifetime of people who were alive when the events occurred.  (Ronald Nash, Faith and Reason [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1988], 270)

 

In 56 A.D. Paul wrote that over 500 people had seen the risen Jesus and that most of them were still alive (1 Corinthians 15:6ff.).  It passes the bounds of credibility that the early Christians should have manufactured such a tale and then preached it among those who might easily have refuted it simply by producing the body of Jesus.  (John Warwick Montgomery [Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1964], 78)

 

There is virtual consensus among scholars who study Jesus’ resurrection that, subsequent to Jesus’ death by crucifixion, his disciples really believed that he appeared to them risen from the dead.  (Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, 49)

 

It was the conviction of the resurrection of Jesus which lifted his followers out of the despair into which his death had cast them and which led to the perpetuation of the movement begun by him.  But for their profound belief that the crucified had risen from the dead and they had seen him and talked with him, the death of Jesus and even Jesus himself would probably have been all but forgotten.  (Kenneth Scott Latourette, History of the Expansion of Christianity [New York: Harper & Row, 1970], 1:59)

 

[S]omething happened to produce the set of historical facts available to us . . . the only rational explanation for these historical facts is that God raised Jesus in bodily form from the realm of mortality into the world of God.  (George Eldon Ladd, I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus [Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1980], 141)

 

Not even the disciples themselves had reckoned with [the Resurrection]; it took them quite by surprise.  But it transformed them almost on the spot from a crowd of demoralized and frightened people into a band of men with a mission and purpose in life which, without delay, they proceeded to translate into action.  (F. F. Bruce, New Testament History [New York: Doubleday, 1980], 205)

 

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Speaking of eyewitnesses:  I spent much of today recording interviews on that subject for the Interpreter Foundation’s Witnesses film project.   The interviews involved former federal prosecutor Richard N. W. Lambert and retired federal magistrate judge Paul Warner.  I think that they went quite well and that we captured some excellent material for use in the documentary and short-feature portions of our project.

 

I first came to know Richard Lambert when I was retained as an expert witness for the competency hearing in the federal case against Brian David Mitchell, the kidnapper of Elizabeth Smart.  He had retired from the Department of Justice by the time, almost exactly a year later, that I served as an expert witness for the prosecution in Mitchell’s actual criminal trial.  I distinctly remember thinking, when Mitchell was finally convicted, that, even if I never achieved anything else of value over the rest of my life — a standard of low accomplishment that, some of my critics would eagerly testify, I’ve clearly met — I would at least have done one very good thing.

 

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Two new book reviews appeared today in Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship:

 

““We May Not Understand Our Words”: The Book of Abraham and the Concept of Translation in The Pearl of Greatest Price,” written by John S. Thompson

Review of Terryl Givens with Brian Hauglid, The Pearl of Greatest Price: Mormonism’s Most Controversial Scripture (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019). 285 pages. $34.95 (hardback).

Abstract: In recent years there has been an effort among some scholars to make sense of the historical sources surrounding Joseph Smith’s claims to be a translator of ancient records. Terryl Givens, with some assistance from Brian Hauglid, has explored the evidence surrounding the Book of Abraham and suggests that, in this case, Joseph Smith may not have translated an ancient record of Abraham’s writings into English as typically believed in the Latter-day Saint community. Consequently, Givens provides four alternative ways the work of “translating” may have been understood or practiced by the Prophet and his scribes. This essay highlights some evidence that was overlooked, misunderstood, and glossed by Givens, calling into question his fourfold attempt at redefining what it meant for Joseph Smith to translate this ancient record.

 

“A Priesthood Restoration Narrative for Latter-day Saints Believers,” written by Brian C. Hales

Review of Michael Hubbard MacKay, Prophetic Authority: Democratic Hierarchy and the Mormon Priesthood (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 2020). 184 pages. $22.95 (paperback).

Abstract: With ready access to all the documents acquired by the Joseph Smith Papers project, Michael Hubbard MacKay, co-editor of the Joseph Smith Papers’ Documents, Volume 1: July 1828–June 1831, presents a new historical reconstruction of the priesthood restoration in Prophetic Authority: Democratic Hierarchy and the Mormon Priesthood. MacKay summarizes how Joseph Smith’s initial authority was based primarily on charisma drawn from the Book of Mormon translation and his revelations. The transition next to apostolic authority — derived from priesthood keys restored by Peter, James and John — is also detailed. MacKay contextualizes the priesthood as part of Smith’s efforts to offer “salvation to humankind and [bind] individuals to Christ” (37‒38). Historical controversies are handled with frankness and depth. This study constitutes an important upgrade in the historiography of this controversial topic.

 

 


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