Information icon.svg

Nominations for the RationalMedia Foundation 2020 board of trustees election are now open!

Resurrection of Jesus

From RationalWiki
Jump to: navigation, search
It's all true.
Christ died for
our articles about

Icon christianity.svg
A multi-chef broth
Devil's in the details
The pearly gates
You HAVE to believe the resurrection if you're a Christian, or the game's up! So, look — I understand the desire to prove that somehow it actually happened. You don't have to prove it, and there's no possible way you could prove that somebody was dead and came back to life [2000 years ago].
Michael Shermer[1]

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in roughly 28 or 29 CE asserted by the Bible (multiple times) and by almost every living Christian. Yet there is not only no evidence that said resurrection ever occurred, but there is essentially no way for it to be proven.

Importance to Christianity[edit]

Ok, if Jesus lived, he had to die. Makes sense. But what happened after he died is a whole other story. Jesus 2: This Time... It's Personal.
Penn Jillette[1]

The resurrection of Jesus is a pivotal one to the Christian faith. writes that the "basis for a Christian's hope lies in one thing: the resurrection of Jesus. Without that resurrection, we would still be trapped in our own sin and weakness."[2]

Apparently, without a human sacrifice, an omnipotent God can't (or won't?) forgive the rest of humanity for something they themselves didn't do.

Resurrection is mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible — both the Resurrection of Christ and the resurrection of humankind to face Christ on Judgment Day. For example, Luke 14:14 (NIV) states:

Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

Christians traditionally believe Jesus' slow, tortuous death and/or damnation was to atone for the existent sins of humankind and for the original sin committed by Adam and Eve. As most educated Christians believe the story of Adam and Eve is either a parable or a myth, this translates to atoning for a sinful and imperfect human nature. Since he ends up back in heaven anyway, modern freethinkers wonder where there was any sacrifice.

Those who believe in the literal truth of original sin have no problem in believing that God caused all humanity to be cursed for the sin of two people and then decided to torture himself to make up for it.

There have been alternative viewpoints that Jesus was not crucified or that he survived crucifixion; see Holy Blood, Holy Grail for an example.

Did it happen?[edit]

I admit I'm surprised whenever I encounter a religious scientist. How can a bench-hazed Ph.D, who might in an afternoon deftly puree a colleague's PowerPoint presentation on the nematode genome into so much fish chow, then go home, read in a two-thousand-year-old chronicle, riddled with internal contradictions, of a meta-Nobel discovery like "Resurrection from the Dead," and say, gee, that sounds convincing? Doesn't the good doctor wonder what the control group looked like?
—Natalie Angier[3]

Let's assume that Jesus Christ existed as a literal, singular, historical person, and he did everything recorded in the Bible up to that point. Even given all this slack, there are real doubts about the accuracy of the Bible's account.


Pretty damn brutal painting of the Crucifixion from 1632.

There are many puzzling details about Jesus' crucifixion.

  • Jesus' trial and the process leading up to the crucifixion are puzzling to say the least. It is clear some distortion if not outright fabrication of events is going on. Romans held to the belief that the people of whatever country they had taken over were free to worship whatever gods or animals they wished, provided they accepted the sovereignty of Rome and the Emperor. Put simply: The Romans were always very careful to avoid becoming involved in the internal religious/political quarrels of the countries they occupied, unless there was a direct threat to public order or Roman authority. Also the behavior of the Sanhedrin is totally at odds with how the court is known to have operated in the 1st century CE[4] including that a unanimous verdict for conviction resulted in acquittal.[5] Also, it is recorded that Pontius Pilate often overreacted to even the potential for sedition, which hit its zenith with his handling of The Samaritan prophet of 36 CE which resulted in him being called to Rome to explain himself.[6]
  • The gospels contradict each other on when the crucifixion took place; the synoptic gospels have Jesus crucified on the day of Passover, while John puts the crucifixion on the day before. It can't be both. Passover is the second holiest of Jewish holidays, a time of forgiveness, making the story that the Jews would condemn a man to death on Passover difficult to believe. Even more problematic is the trial of Jesus which, if the Gospels are credible, violated all of the laws of the Sanhedrin (the Jewish body of judges).[7] Moreover–depending on the translation–the gospels say he was crucified on a cross, whereas Acts 5:30 says he was "slew and hanged on a tree", though this may be referencing the pre-Roman description in Deuteronomy 21. The original untranslated text literally says he was hanged on wood, perhaps implying the wooden cross.
  • Another curiosity is Jesus' nail and spear wounds, considering that the resurrection process presumably would not de-deadify a man only to leave him in his still broken body. Jesus' pending ascension, however, might explain this significant oversight.
  • Crucifixion was perhaps the most drawn-out form of execution ever devised, short of ScaphismWikipedia's W.svg. The condemned often lingered for days in agonizing pain. When the condemned grew tired, they hung limp, stretching out the diaphragm and making it impossible to inhale. The condemned then pulled themselves up by the nails through their wrists/hands. They could breathe as long as they held themselves up in this fashion. Eventually, somebody would break their legs to put them out of their misery, causing them to collapse and suffocate. The Romans then left the body on the cross for days, allowing scavengers to pick at it as a warning to would-be insurrectionists. The problems:
  1. After only a few hours on the cross, Jesus cried out, "It is finished"[8] and "died." Was he in such poor health that he died so quickly? Possibly. He did have to drag the cross to Calvary, falling three times, after having been flogged on several occasions, earlier that day; this isn't exactly conducive to being nailed to things.
  2. According to John 19:31, the Jews asked Pontius Pilate to send a centurion to break the legs of Jesus and the two thieves crucified with him so the three of them could die and be entombed before the Sabbath began. This seems an odd request. Pilate granting their request is equally odd. Since the Romans used crucifixion to intimidate their subjects, isn't it logical that Pilate would say "no" and allow the bodies to remain on their crosses at a time that Jewish law would have required them to be wrapped and entombed? If this was a request normally granted to the Jews on the Sabbath, why would the Romans schedule these crucifixions mere hours before the Sabbath began? Wouldn't they wait until the Sabbath was over and then crucify Jesus and the two thieves?
Fly, Jesus, fly!
  • The three hours of darkness upon Jesus' death around Passover cannot have happened because Passover is celebrated around the time of a full Moon, whereas solar eclipses only occur at the time of a new Moon. David Nineham, author of The Gospel of St. Mark, notes that similar portents are claimed to have marked the deaths of Julius Caesar and other pagan figures, and also some of the great rabbis. In order to get around the problem that no eclipse occurred at the time of the crucifixion, some Christians claim it was a metaphor instead of an actual historical account.[9] One possible out is that Mark does not actually call it a solar eclipse. Solar eclipses also do not last three hours. And most of all, not a single record from any civilization in the world records such an event. Even if it was localized, surely at least the Romans would have remarked on it.


How likely was this resurrection? As an analogy, Richard Carrier wrote:[10]

Can you imagine a movement today claiming that a soldier in World War Two rose physically from the dead, but when you asked for proof all they offered you were a mere handful of anonymous religious tracts written in the 1980s? Would it be even remotely reasonable to believe such a thing on so feeble a proof? Well, no.

If the claim were about an alleged resurrection during the mid 20th century people would certainly ask, "Why was this not recorded at the time? Why did newspapers print nothing? Why were there no radio broadcasts about it? Why was nothing shown in cinemas/movie theatres during newsreel?" All of the above would be expected for a major newsworthy event of that time. Even if the promoters of the resurrection concept could provide plausible explanations why everything except the 1980s tracts was hushed up, ordinary people would still be skeptical. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.

See also[edit]