These are the questions I have in mind. They stem from a discussion I had with a friend of mine who likes Christianity (especially Bart Ehrman and the Gnostic Gospels) [Editor's note: we are not sure what the questioner means by this comment], but rejects the idea that Jesus was resurrected because:
- It reminds him of the "Rising God" archetype JG Frazier discusses, which indicates it's part of a universal human myth making process.
- Jesus' tomb can't be proven to have been empty, and if it is it's more likely someone robbed it.
- Other historical figures have had supernatural stories added years later (like Siddhartha Guatanema).
- There isn't any extrabiblical account of Jesus' divinity and the biblical one comes at least 20 years later and with a conversion agenda which makes it suspect.
- The whole argument put forth by folks like Mike Licona and NT Wright that the early Christians' sincere belief in Jesus resurrection despite cultural beliefs going against that is evidence of it's authenticity bothers him because the same argument could be made hundreds of years from now by scientologists (thousands of people, despite cultural attitudes against it, chose to believe it so in the future historians could say that's proof of it's authenticity)
Yes, of course there is a response to this. In fact, our organization, Apologetics Research Society sponsored a debate on this topic with one of the chief supporters of the Jesus myth hypothesis--Robert Price. You can get a copy of this debate with Douglas Jacoby at www.ipibooks.com. It is titled "Jesus: Man, Myth or Messiah."
I do not deny that there is a god-man archetype. There are many examples of this myth, such as Krishna, Osiris and more. The claim that the "rising god" myth is common is harder to support. Some of the supposed examples, such as Osiris, are really nothing like a physical resurrection at all. Nevertheless, I will concede that something at least a little bit analogous to a god-man resurrection is in the mythology of various cultures.
Here is my response. The Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus is not in even the slightest way like ANY of these supposed parallels in the world's mythologies. Here is why. First of all, Jesus was, unquestionably, a real person. We know where he was born, where he was raised, and where he spent his last few years (Capernaum). We know the name of his mother, his adopted father, two of his brothers and more than twenty of his best friends. We know the basic outlines of his ministry (miracle-worker and preacher of righteousness), and we know how and where he died. All reputable scholars agree with these things. This is certainly not like any of the other supposed mythical parallels. Mithra, Osiris, Horus, Empodocles, Krishna, Peregrinus. Mithra others are purely mythical figures. They simply are not real. In a conversation with a Hindu who was upset with me for saying that Krishna was a myth, I asked him when Krishna lived and where. He said "somewhere between 2000 and 300 BC." As to the place of his birth, it was in a city whose location is not known. Krishna is a myth, as are Horus, Osiris and Mithra. These supposed god-men are not real people and they certainly were not raised from the dead, as they never lived. The supposed parallel is bogus.
This is obviously different from Jesus. We can debate whether Jesus was in fact resurrected, but the claim that this story was taken from the myth of Horus or Mithra is really quite silly. Whether or not Jesus was raised, you cannot possibly explain the beginning and the exponential growth of Christianity from a Jewish band of believers to become the chief religion of Rome unless you agree that the Church believed he was actually raised. Again, whether or not he was raised is a separate but very important question, but what is not in doubt is that the Christians in the first century believed that he was resurrected. The idea that the idea was borrowed from a polytheistic religion is simply ludicrous!!!
I suppose that it is true that we cannot "prove" that Jesus' tomb was empty. We cannot "prove" virtually any individual event in the ancient past. The question is whether the empty tomb is the most reasonable interpretation of the information we have. I say it is the only reasonable interpretation of the information we have. If Jesus' tomb was not empty, then the Christian movement would not have begun or grown as it did. Like I said, we can say with certainty that the Church believed in the resurrection beginning from Jerusalem within weeks of the death of Jesus. If his body had in fact been in the tomb, then this belief would have been unsustainable. This is an unavoidable inference. You say, "It cannot be proved that his tomb, but it is more likely that his body was robbed." OK, then according to your scenario, the tomb was empty, so your premise is not that the tomb was not empty but that his body was stolen. OK. By whom? By the Christians, who then gave their lives for a belief they knew was a total lie. You (or someone else) are proposing a conspiracy of massive proportions, performed by people who had literally nothing to gain from this conspiracy. Besides, there was a Roman military guard at the tomb, as asked for by the Jews, making the stealing of the body, even if the Christians would do this (sure they would not, but...), they could not have. The stolen body theory is not believable.
True, stories of miracles performed by religious leaders have been made up, for example about Buddha, but there is a huge difference. The evidence we have is that the disciples of Buddha during his ilfe and immediately after did not make such claims. It was only hundreds of years later, or at least a few generations later, that such stories emerged. Your choice of Buddha is a good one because, unlike Osiris, Krishna, Horus, etc., he was a real person. However, the parallel with Jesus ends there. Even the Jews in the Talmud called Jesus a worker of miracles (Babylonian Talmud, claiming that his works were of the devil) and even Josephus says that he was considered to be a miracle worker. Mark was written, most likely in the 50s AD, or perhaps even in the 40s AD. Within about twenty years of Jesus' life, when most of the eye-witnesses to his ministry were still alive, Mark gave detailed accounts of miracles Jesus performed. There is a unanimous agreement among all who wrote about Jesus in the century after he was killed that he was a miracle-worker. This does not, in and of itself "prove" that he worked miracles, but it proves that the comparison with Buddha is not an appropriate one. The evidence does NOT support the claim that the miracles were invented generations after Jesus lived. This thesis cannot be supported by the data.
Obviously, there are no non-Christians who agreed that Jesus is God. All such people would be Christians. Even the skeptics you seem to be quoting seem to agree that the Christians believed that Jesus was God within twenty years of his death. The fact is that, from the beginning, the Jesus movement agreed that he claimed to be God. The early church fathers (Polycarp, Clement of Rome, Ignatius) who wrote around AD 100 all agree that Jesus was God. There were some who doubted his deity, but the evidence is that this was a small minority. Whether Jesus was in fact God is something to be discussed, of course, but that he claimed it and that the Christian church as a whole believed is not in reasonable doubt. You say that those who claimed Jesus was God had a conversion agenda. I suppose I agree with that, but the evidence leads me to conclude that they actually believed their message. Their conversion agenda was to something they actually believed in. The number of martyrs in the first century proves that they were not inventing beliefs in order to manipulate people into accepting the religion. Skeptics can propose this, but it is not a reasonable scenario, given the facts about the early church.
Your last point is an interesting one. It does not refute N. T. Wright's argument, but it does show that this argument alone is not sufficient to "prove" that Jesus was God. Wright is using this as additional corroboratory evidence, not as ultimate proof. Nevertheless, I am a bit skeptical of your parallel with scientology. What claim of scientology would be even somewhat equivalent to the Christian belief that Jesus was physically raised from the dead or that he performed many miracles? Scientologists make claims about non-physical things which are subjective. If people believe that we have engrams removed by their sessions, this is not a claim with historical significance. Jesus' raising Lazarus from the dead is not a subjective claim. There is no parallel in scientology about a physical historically-verifiable event such as the resurrection of Jesus. Or if they were to invent something about L. Ron Hubbard some time in the future we would have smoking gun evidence that this was invented many years after Hubbard died, so I do not agree that your argument is applicable to the Christian claims.
I hope this helps address your concerns.