Tuesday, January 18, 2022

Quote of the Day

 For all these reasons I conclude that the historian, of whatever persuasion, has no option but to affirm both the empty tomb and the 'meetings' with Jesus as 'historical events' in all the senses we sketched in chapter 1: they took place as real events; they were significant events; they are, in the normal sense required by historians, provable events; historians can should write about them. We cannot account for early Christianity without them. The tomb-and-meetings scenario is warranted, indeed, by that double similarity and double dissimilarity (to Judaism on the one hand and the early church on the other) for which I argued earlier as a methodological control in the study of Jesus. Stories like these, with the kind of explanation the early Christians offered, make the sense they make within first-century Judaism (similarity), but nobody within first-century Judaism was expecting anything like this (dissimilarity). Stories like these do indeed explain the rise of early Christianity (similarity), but they cannot be explained as the back-projection of early Christian faith, theology and exegesis (dissimilarity).

This conclusion rules out several of the alternative accounts that have been offered from time to time, mostly variations on the theme of mistakes made in the early morning (the women went to the wrong tomb, they mistook someone else for Jesus, and so on). These are in any case trivial when we remember the state of mind of Jesus' followers after his crucifixion and the fact that they were not expecting anything remotely like this to occur. Reports based on misunderstandings would quickly have been sorted out. The hoary old theory that Jesus did not really die on the cross, but revived in the cool of the tomb, has likewise nothing to recommend it, and it is noticeable that even those historians who are passionately committed to denying the resurrection do not attempt to go by this route. Roman soldiers, after all, were rather good at killing people, and when given a rebel leader to practise on they would have had several motives for making sure the job was done properly. A further, more recent suggestion can also be ruled out: that, after his crucifixion, Jesus' body was not buried, but left instead for dogs and vultures to finish off. Had that happened, no matter how many 'visions' they had had, the disciples would not have concluded that he had been raised from the dead. we are left with the secure historical conclusion: the tomb was empty, and various 'meetings' took place not only between Jesus and his followers (including at least one initial sceptic) but also, in at least one case (that of Paul; possibly, too, that of James), between Jesus and people who had not been among his followers. I regard this conclusion as coming in the same sort of category, of historical probability so high as to be virtually certain, as the death of Augustus in AD 14 or the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70.

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