The Story of the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth
In order to establish peace and harmony in the world, and in order to resolve the doctrinal conflicts between Christianity, Judaism, Islam and other religions, it is necessary to weed out or at least recognize the errors made by those who wrote the books, articles and letters that are regarded as religious scriptures and were used to establish the doctrines of organized religions.
Since Christianity is the largest religion in the world and has the most influence, this article addresses one of several Christian doctrines that are inaccurate. For while Jesus of Nazareth should be glorified for what he was --- a spiritually anointed son of man, a "sacrificial lamb" of God, and Avatar for the passing age --- myths about him should be recognized for what they are, and one of those myths is about his "bodily resurrection."
First of all, the Judaic Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) do not say anything about any son of man (or mashiach/messiah) dying and then rising up physically resurrected. In fact, the book of Isaiah says that the son of man and mashiach who fulfills the ultimate prophecy goes to his grave, and there is no mention in Isaiah or any other book of the Torah and Tanakh that says he would rise up three days after he dies, or be physically resurrected. Therefore, we should consider how and why the story was established to claim Jesus was bodily and physically resurrected.
Let’s start with how and when the stories were written, because for the first twenty or thirty years after Jesus was killed, the story and teachings of Jesus were communicated only orally, by word of mouth.
Since there is no record of anything being written down about Jesus for at least two decades after he died, it is probable that during that time the story tellers, like all story tellers, took liberties. In fact, between the time Jesus died and 43 years later, when the first of the four canonical gospels was written, the story had evolved and been enhanced quite a bit.
There is still some debate among scholars, historians and theologians about the absolute dates of any of the books in the New Testament of the Christian canon and Bible as we know it. However, most mainstream scholars agree that Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians was the first, and being the first Christian writer to produce his work, Paul was the first to write about the resurrection story.
Most mainstream biblical scholars agree that between 50 and 60 CE (AD), between 20 and 30 years after Jesus died, Paul wrote his letters, now called epistles (the first seven of which being I Thessalonians, Galations, I Corinthians, Philemon, Phillipians, 2 Corinthians and Romans).
And, what is significant regarding the resurrection is that Paul wrote in his very first letter what he believed, that God "raised Jesus from the dead." He wrote: "We believe that Jesus died and rose again..." "Jesus was buried and he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures, and he appeared to Peter, and then to the twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time,...then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me..." And "... if there be no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ be not risen, then our preaching is vain, and your faith is also vain."
Obviously Paul believed God raised Jesus from the dead, and it is from Paul’s writings that the idea that the most important Christian belief must be that Jesus rose from the dead as a physically revived corporeal person. However, there is actually no reason to believe that Paul was talking about the physical body of Jesus being resurrected. He may very well have been talking about the fact that the human spirit-soul survives and transcends the human body, and is spiritually resurrected.
But, whether Paul meant that and was talking about visitations of the ghost of Jesus, or whether he meant a physical resurrection, the story developed in later Christian writings as if it were the latter, as you will see.
The point of this article is that if like some of the later gospel writers Paul was talking about a physical resurrection of Jesus, rather than a spiritual resurrection of the soul leaving the body and becoming a ghost, Paul was wrong. And, as is discussed in the article About Christianity, Paul was wrong about several things. (For example, Paul was also wrong about the "second coming of Jesus" and the "end of the world," not only because there will be no second coming or end of the world, but also because Paul claimed both events were imminent and he thought he had to prepare people for it right then.)
Paul set the tone for Christianity, including emphasis on the doctrine of preeminence and superiority, celibacy, the resurrection, and the theory of salvation (which was also contrary to Jewish traditional belief). Paul essentially declared that faith in the Christ Jesus as Lord and Savior made the Torah unnecessary, and depicted the world outside the Christian Church as under judgment by God.
Many modern biblical scholars point out that it was only some time after Paul wrote his early letters or epistles that one or more members of one group of Jesus' followers wrote the first draft of a book called the Gospel of Q, which, along with the writings of Paul, is considered the source document for all the gospels to follow. There is much disagreement about the source and nature of the Gospel of Q, but all scholars knowledgeable about it agree that it did not mention any resurrection.
Furthermore, there were dozens of known historians who lived and wrote during the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, the best known of which were Flavius Josephus, Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, and Ptolemy, and none of them wrote of a resurrection. And surely they would have heard about it and wrote about it if such a miraculous event had actually taken place.
It was only much later, possibly in 70 CE but probably in 73 CE, forty-three years after Jesus died, that any other Christian writer besides Paul mentioned anything about a resurrection.
However, we need to realize that by that time many things had changed, and the situation was quite different. For in 70 CE, about forty years after Jesus died and about six years after Paul died, the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, the center of Judaism, and the city of Jerusalem itself was destroyed by the Roman Army.
That was a crushing response to the Jewish uprising incited by the rabble-rousing head of the Jewish Sanhedrin, Shammai, who was very antagonistic toward Romans. Shammai had ignored the advice of his predecessor, the great pacifist Jewish leader Hillel the Elder, who had developed the Talmudic tradition and taught the Golden Rule before Jesus did. And, because Shammai and his Jewish followers antagonized the Romans, and because the Paulist or Pauline Christians had also caused a great deal of antagonism toward both Rabbinical Jews and Romans, the Romans decided to put down all the Jewish and Christian upstarts and reacted violently with a very destructive iron fist.
All that is crucial, because following that, in about 73 CE, amidst all this turmoil and when both Jews and Christians were held in suspicion by the Romans, an unidentified author wrote the first of the gospels which eventually made it into the official Christian canon (Bible), and became known as the Gospel of Mark.
That first gospel (Mark) mentions that after his death Jesus had "risen." But we should keep in mind that by 73 CE, forty-three years after the death of Jesus, a legend had grown up by word of mouth about Jesus' death and resurrection. The legend was about the body of Jesus being put in a tomb, or a visitation by some women, and then of the body being missing and a "young man" telling the women that the body of Jesus was not there but had risen, leading to the assumption and claim that the actual body of Jesus had been physically resurrected.
However, the book of James doesn't even mention any resurrection, which is telling. Of course, it should be mentioned that the dating of the book of James is the most disputed, with estimates ranging from the late '50s to the '80s in the first century. And James not only dismisses the resurrection story, he does not try to idolize Jesus even though he recognizes him as "the Lord." James understood that Jesus served the Lord of Lords, Jehovah or Yahweh, which is why there was a well known conflict between James and Paul (as is discussed in the article About Christianity.)
Then, in about 83 CE, the Gospel of Matthew was written, using the text of Mark as a foundation and adding to Mark's account of the resurrection. The book of Matthew added some elements to the story that the author had gathered during the decade after the book of Mark was written, and one of the elements was added because there was a serious conflict between the Christian movements and the Jewish authorities.
You see, the Rabbinical Jews had accused the Christian disciples of stealing Jesus' body from the tomb in order to falsely claim that he had risen from the dead. In response, the book of Matthew, like the book of Mark, tried to counter the Jewish argument by submitting the story as "gospel truth."
The book of Matthew added a verse to say that when Jesus was entombed the chief Jewish priests had commanded Pilate to make sure that the tomb of Jesus be secured so that the Christian disciples could not remove the body and claim that it had "risen" after three days.
As you can see, as the years passed after Jesus died, the stories about him kept taking on a new twist. Mark 8:31 and Luke 9:22 (written in the late '80s or '90s) say that Jesus said he would "be rejected of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be slain, and be raised after three days [or rise again in three days]." And Mark says that the "temple" will be destroyed then be "built again without hands."
The reference to the temple built without hands is to the book of Isaiah, and that was true then and is true now. However, while the Christian scribes claimed Jesus fulfilled a prophecy of being raised from the dead in three days, that would not have fulfilled any prophecy. They only thing remotely similar is in Hosea 6:2, which states: "After two days will he revive us. On the third day he will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight."
Yet the book of Matthew enhanced and exaggerated the story. Rather than a "young man" being in the opened tomb to tell the women Jesus was not there, Matthew says there was an earthquake and an angel came out of heaven and rolled away the stone that had closed the tomb. The angel then told the women who visited the tomb that Jesus was not there but had risen from the dead, as he said he would. And even though the women were afraid of the angel they were filled with joy.
The book of Matthew also contains the first written description of Jesus in his original physical body talking to and being touched by believers after he died. However, we should keep in mind that the book of Matthew contains other exaggerations as well, and even erroneous references or attributions to Jewish scriptures. (For example, one of the most blatant examples of that is where Matthew claims that Jesus was born of a virgin according to the prophecy in Isaiah 7:14 about the child Immanuel. But, as is explained in the article about The Virgin Birth Story, that is simply not true. The actual child named Immanuel was not born of a virgin, and the Immanuel mentioned in Isaiah lived and died long before Jesus was even born.)
Now, in about 90 CE, fifty years after Jesus died, the Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts were written. The resurrection or physical life-after-death story had been enhanced even more by that time, and Jesus is said to have talked to many people, appeared to disciples and others and even had a meal with some, and that was obviously written to prove Jesus had actually been bodily resurrected and his physical body was still real and corporeal. And then, so the story goes, Jesus took disciples to Bethany, blessed them, and then ascended into heaven magically.
It should be obvious that all such claims are myths — similar to myths about Moses and other historical Jewish leaders, and similar to myths about the founders or builders of almost all other religions in the world. And all myths were created for basically the same reason: to establish a person as having divine supernatural stature, which is common with mythology.
Anyway, in about 90 CE (or perhaps even later) the Gospel of John was written. Still more details to the resurrection story were added. The story about the two men became a story about two angels. The story changed to say that Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalene after the empty tomb was discovered. Jesus miraculously catches fish, and Peter is elevated to a position of authority replacing James as head of the church.
Now of course, the story about Jesus having been touched and eaten meals was added to be considered proof that Jesus was not merely a ghost, but was in a resurrected physical body. However, if the legend has any basis in fact, and it was true that Jesus did manage to appear to loved ones after his death, it was as a ghost.
Ironically, this is consistent with references in the epistles and gospels to the spiritual resurrection of Jesus, and these references were probably influenced by Gnostic Christian writers, whose books were not included in official Christian canon or Bible. The Gnostic Christians did not believe in the idea of a physical resurrection of the material body, but of the spirit-soul and the holy ghost.
For example, in reporting events following the death of Jesus, Luke 24:31 states that Jesus disappeared from sight suddenly. Luke 24:37 states that the disciples thought that Jesus was a ghost. John 20:17 states that Jesus told Mary Magdalene not to hold on to him because he had not yet "returned to God" or been spiritually transcended. And John 20:19-26 apparently states that Jesus walked through a wall or a closed door.
Since Jesus was obviously a very advanced soul, it is certainly possible that we was able to appear as a ghost to his disciples and loved ones. Even though it is not common knowledge, even many normal departed ones have managed to appear as a ghost to their loved ones. Obviously most of those who have witnessed ghosts don’t talk about it for fear of being labeled as odd or delusional, or dismissed as merely dreaming it. But the case of Jesus is unique, because in most cases a ghost can appear only to one person at a time, and usually it is not as a clearly visible entity. Therefore, if the stories of Jesus visiting several loved ones and followers after his death as a ghost are true, Jesus was indeed a very special, advanced soul.
However, the bodily, physical resurrection story is no doubt a myth, just like the virgin birth myth and the myth about the reason for Jesus’ sacrifice.
We know for certain that Paul’s claim that Jesus appeared to a crowd of more than 500 people after he died is false. A dead man being seen by and talking to such a large group of people would be such a miraculous event that it would have become widely known. It would have been recorded by other Christian authors, and also by non-Christian Jewish and Greek historians of the time. There were, after all, many Greek and Jewish historians around at the time. And yet none mentioned it, or any resurrection.
In the final analysis, the proof is in the fact that IF the physical body of Jesus was actually resurrected, he would have been an immortal corporeal being here on earth. And, if that were the case, why did he go away? Why did he not stay as a permanent, immortal world teacher? And why would the so-called "second coming" be necessary?
These are valid questions, and all these facts illustrate how important modern scholarship and education is. For example, understanding that Paul's letters and epistles were the first Christian texts illustrates that there were Christian communities spread throughout the Roman Empire before there were written gospels. Furthermore, dating the canonical gospels and understanding that they were written after Paul’s letters makes it clear that as written documents the gospels were not the source of early Christianity. The written gospels were the result of it, long after the death of Jesus.
In fact, dating the Christian texts enables us to understand that the stories of Jesus had been told by word of mouth for 30 years before the first canonical gospel was produced, and 20 years after Paul’s first letter was distributed.
Furthermore, reading the canonical gospels in chronological order beginning with Mark enables us to see that Matthew and Luke used Mark as a source, not only adding to Mark but modifying Mark. And seeing John as a later gospel helps us to see how different the Gospel of John is.
Modern Discovery of The Tomb of Jesus
Now, in addition to all that, there is other evidence that has only been discovered in modern times. Unfortunately, Christian investment in the bodily resurrection myth is so strong that in 1980 when archaeologists reported that the family tomb of Jesus had been discovered in the hills behind Jerusalem, it caused a huge backlash among fundamentalist Christians. When the Discovery Channel aired a TV documentary in 2012 called The Lost Tomb of Jesus, it was virtually ignored and even panned by some academics and fundamentalist Christians.
That documentary, made by Hollywood director James Cameron and Canadian investigative journalist Simcha Jacobovici, was panned because it reexamines the archeological discovery of a crypt containing what were said to be the bones of Joseph, Mary, Jesus, the son of Joseph, and Mariamne (probably Mary Magdalene). But, as the Times magazine has reported, many archeologists and Biblical scholars were still intrigued, so a leading New Testament expert from Princeton Theological Seminary, Professor James Charlesworth, organize a conference in Jerusalem in March 1013 with the participation of more than 50 archaeologists, statisticians and experts in DNA, ceramics and ancient languages, to provide and consider evidence as to whether or not the crypt of Jesus and his family had actually been found.
After three days of debate, the experts remained divided and opinions of the experts ranged from "no way" to "very possible." Professor Charlesworth told the Time magazine: "I have reservations, but I can't dismiss the possibility that this tomb was related to the Jesus clan." Charlesworth said, "we can tell that this was the tomb of a Jewish family from the time of Jesus. And we know that the names on the ossuaries are expressed the correct way as 'Jesus, son of Joseph.'" Furthermore the widow of the chief archeologist of the 1980 excavation told the conference that: "My husband believed that this was Jesus's tomb, but because of his experiences as a Holocaust survivor, he was worried about a backlash of anti-Semitism and he didn't think he could say this."
Statistical analysis seems to indicate that even though the names of Joseph, Mary and even Jesus (or Yeshuah) were not uncommon during the Second Temple period, the chances of them all being found in the same crypt, belonging to the same family, were rare. And the conference attendees voted unanimously that the tomb, which was buried under the garden of an apartment building, should be reopened and examined more carefully. Jacobovici, who was instrumental in making the documentary, told Time magazine: "I feel vindicated. It's moved from 'it can't be the Jesus' family tomb' to 'it could be.' "
Charlesworth, a Methodist minister, believes that the faith of some believers will be buoyed by historical proof that the Christ Jesus, the son of Joseph and Mary, did exist. "I don't think it will undermine belief in the resurrection, only that Jesus rose as a spiritual body, not in the flesh."
Charelesworth added: "Christianity is a strong religion, based on faith and experience, and I don't think that any discovery by archaeologists will change that."
That is probably true. Most Christians will eventually view the idea that the real tomb of Jesus has been found to be a positive advance and evolution of the Christian belief system.
Anyway, the overall point is that it is time to understand and acknowledge that Yeshuah or Jesus of Nazareth was a son of man, the son of Joseph and Mary, an enlightened spiritual teacher, a sacrificial lamb of God, and the Avatar for the passing age. But he was not magically born of a "virgin," nor did he undergo a bodily resurrection. His resurrection was of the spirit-soul, just as ours can or will be.
(By the way, many educated, reasonable, fair and progressive Christian scholars have been and are writing about these kinds of issues, and you can read their views in many books and web sites, like Religious Tolerance.)