Beyond Tradition

Onward Christian Martyrs: The Theories

Part III of V (click here for Part I):


What we know and have established

We know the gospels contain traditions that were heavily influenced by first century Judean Jews one way or another (when exactly in the first century they were written is a moot point next to this fact). The gospel stories are Jewish to the core (as explained in great detail in Part I), thus the gospel traditions came from Jewish sources, both directly and indirectly. We know and have established as a main premise that the tomb burial of Jesus was not fiction but a bonafide historical event and the evidence I laid out in Part II supports the argument that the gospel account of the burial accurately corroborates with historical burials of that time, religiously, socially and culturally. This presumes that the burial place wherein Jesus' body was placed would have been known and accessible by his family, friends and the authorities. As more of an aside, the gospels subtly indicate that he was actually buried in shame as a criminal, which is also historically accurate with Jewish burial protocol of condemned criminals found in other ancient works, thus, not only is this another piece of evidence that the gospel stories are accurate, but the historical fact about criminal burials makes it even more of a certainty the authorities and the public would have known where Jesus' body was placed and by whom.

We know that a "third day resurrection" creed can be dated well within a decade of the crucifixion (discussed here: Part II; The Pauline resurrection creed). Since all four authors unequivocally state that his followers discovered the tomb empty and the body missing, something unusual, indeed historical happened that day, which sparked this very unusual Judaic movement into existence. Something persuaded conservative Jews -- so conservative that some Judeo-Christians were still zealously fastened to the Mosaic law and others were at first apprehensive and even suspicious of "outsiders" brought into this new Judaic movement -- to collectively accept a man from Galilee as the Messiah of Israel, whose life not only ended unexpectedly and disgracefully, but who failed to fulfill a messianic role they were anticipating prior, hence, left expected political aspects about Messiah and the political state of Israel unfulfilled.

The first overall stage we discussed in Part I is enough to end the discussion because any other alternative theory used to explain the formation of the Judeo-Christian faith and its belief in resurrection and Messiah must work within the historical framework I outlined in that article, and those are the bare minimum historical facts we can be certain of. However, putting that aside, there are further problems as we delve deeper and dissect each individual theory itself; theories that are used as alternative natural explanations for the early Christian faith, why and how it came into being.

From a naturalist point of view, we are firm in our belief that corpses don't come back to life after three days, thus we have to come up with other reasons to explain what led these Judean natives into thinking Christ had risen, or at least what gross misconception may have led to this conclusion that became the core catalytic spark to the movement. Even though some of these theories have been exhaustively explored and addressed by Christian apologists in the past, we'll briefly explore them anyway. I have yet to see any new counter critical argument that doesn't basically rehash most of these same theories one way or another.

Theory #1

Argument from rumor

  1. Jewish authorities took the body.
  2. Roman authorities took the body.
  3. Women went to the wrong tomb.
  4. Someone else unknown took the body for legitimate reasons.
  5. Someone else unknown took the body for nefarious reasons.
  6. Disciples took the body.

Though these options slightly vary, the idea is the same: that the body turned up missing because it was either removed or it was the wrong tomb, rumors about visions or sightings of risen Saviors swirled, more rumors swirled, pockets of legends formed, more legends formed, an organized Judean movement formed and built theology around those legends, then the gospel writers collected these legends and reshaped them even more into written narrative stories about the life and resurrection of Jesus.

The problem is that this theory can only be proposed in a historical vacuum. Putting aside what we previously covered about the idea of rapidly developing legends and the extremely shaky suppositions that rest on that idea, the ritualism behind death and burial is just another powerful barrier against this argument, something I covered in great detail in Part II. Among other things, death and burial was an integral part of first century Judaism, considered a deeply religious process of purification.[1] This was the way Jewish communities collectively buried their dead and the protocol demanded strict adherence in how the procedure was carried out, all of which was entrenched in a culture of customary honor, beliefs of uncleanliness and purification, ideologies about individualism, and firm religious beliefs about resurrection.[2]

There was no removing the body until after about a year when the body had atrophied and completed the purification process. Both Josephus and Philo confirm that the laws of first century Jewish burial were strictly adhered to. Philo pointedly emphasized the prohibition of removing the body after burial, as do other various rabbinic writings of that era.[3] It was of utmost importance that bodies were buried properly and that they stayed buried, otherwise, not only were there religious impurity issues, but issues against exceptional laws pertaining to a corpse of a crucified Jew (Deuteronomy 21:22-23) that the whole Jewish community would have had concern about.

In other words, the cultural and religious environment make it extremely improbable to realistically and historically propose these theories, thus must blatantly disregard the reality of it, something fairly easy to do in a 21st century postmodern mindset. In light of this historical context, it wouldn't have just been an isolated issue with some of his followers because there was too much at stake; everyone of the Jewish faith would have been concerned about a missing body from a tomb or even stories of a missing body. The opponents of Jesus would have been just as concerned about the body's whereabouts as additional relatives, friends and acquaintances; hence, the reality makes such a scenario downright offensive to this culture.

A. Jewish authorities took the body.
B. Roman authorities took the body.
C. Women went to the wrong tomb:

Putting the issue of burial ritualism aside for a moment; we don't even need to waste time on A-C, because the core of this can simply be squashed with a bit of common sense: Roman or Jewish authorities or even family members, or all the above, would have had every reason to affirm the presence of Jesus' corpse to counter this misconception, whether orally or via actions (i.e. displaying the right tomb or displaying the corpse itself), particularly Jewish authorities.

Some have tried to downplay this and assume that Jesus' opponents just didn't care to refute it or didn't take it seriously at first, thus even if the body was still in the tomb or available for them to produce, the authorities wouldn't have bothered to refute a bunch of deluded people who thought a resurrection had occurred. I don't buy this one bit not just based on the burial ritualism I discussed previously, but because this is not even logical within the circumstantial framework we know of the religious tension in this environment.

Robert Wilken argues that first-century Romans had about as much interest in refuting Christian claims as 21st century skeptics had in refuting the misguided claims of the Heaven's Gate cult: they simply didn't care to refute it.[4] Not only is this a gross generalization, but the analogy itself is comparing apples to oranges. Had the US authorities executed or even just arrested Major Applewhite, leader of the Heaven's Gate sect, as they did Jesus because he had broken the law, yet still showed little interest in the activity of the adherents of this movement afterwards, then the analogy is a genuine one. But we know the circumstances are not the same. The only similarity is that both leaders of the movement died. However, the fact remains, Wilken's analogy falls apart realistically even from here. Watch how fast the media, the general public, as well as US authorities would take notice of this cult if it were to spark once again and began publicly proclaiming that their infamous leader Applewhite had returned from the dead, and this is true decades after the mass suicide had occurred, let alone days, weeks or even months later, as in the case of the "three day resurrection" proclamation in Jerusalem.

This also doesn't fly in face of the environment illustrated throughout the New Testament, such as the contention and hostile reactions towards Jesus and his subsequent movement that are entrenched in the gospels, Acts, and particularly expressed by Paul (who admitted he took part in the persecution himself as a devout Pharisee), all of which accurately reflect the consequences of attempting to propagate such ideas of Messiah in such a volatile sociopolitical and religious ancient culture.

Another thing to consider is the fact that not only were there many more people than just the authorities that would have been concerned of the whereabouts of a Jewish corpse for ritualistic reasons (as I discussed previously), but there were many other assumed opposition elements against Christianity that would have had equal interest. There may have been quite a few foes from rival sects such as adherents of John the Baptist, other radical messianic or apocalyptic groups who expected a coming militant messianic hero to overthrow Rome (i.e. zealots, sacarii, etc.); groups that didn't necessarily appreciate a movement that swayed Jews to take a more pacifist view of their enemies or a movement that expressed no real political concerns or shared the same sentiments of liberation that was clearly predominant in Judea at this time. These among other reasons presumably would have driven many Jews to take the necessary steps to further discredit the movement and their messianic resurrection claims.

Another critical aspect supposes that the body may not have been recognizable due to decay, thus would have been rendered useless to disprove any immediate resurrection claims even if the body was available at the time. Dale Allison challenges this view by pointing out from rabbinic documents that the body did in fact remain recognizable for some time.[5] Three days seems hardly enough time to render a corpse unrecognizable, particularly in a cool atmosphere such as a tomb. However, whether this was the case or not, once again, it comes down to simply downplaying or disregarding the historical nature of Judean burial protocol and how important the ritual was, something we understand quite well at this point.

Even if we assume the body was unrecognizable by its physical appearance, since the bones, long after putrefaction, were later collected by the family and buried once again, they at least had time-tested methods of identifying the remains so that the correct bones were collected. This isn't logical guesswork on my part. Craig Evans states that this is confirmed from rabbinic sources to be the case.[6] Of course, accidents happen, but considering the tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of such burials that had occurred prior, in addition to the important and meticulous nature of the ritual itself,[7] we might presume they had very effective measures against any such careless accidents that would have allowed very little dispute in the identification of a Jewish corpse erroneously claimed to have been resurrected. Moreover, if we take Matthew's version into account (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-13), the fact a potential scandal was already a concern brewing prior to the burial makes any suggestion of the mishandling of Jesus' corpse even less plausible.

D. Someone else unknown took the body for legitimate reasons:

Perhaps the body was stored temporarily and then moved later to another burial location. There's very little difference with this issue and the problems against it as the previous one. It runs against the barriers I just previously covered, as there are simply too many cultural obstacles in the way, especially the fact that removing a Jewish corpse and carrying it around the countryside on a whim was not only prohibited, but the fact there would have been no reason to move it so quickly. This would have been no informal event in light of the customary Jewish ritualism we now fully understand and a process that we see clearly carried out in the story illustration. We also would need a good enough reason why their actions were not made known once inquisitions were being raised about it at the outset. Obviously inquisitions were being made about a missing body if rumors about a resurrection had sparked as a result of this action. There is simply no good or logical reason why this was not made known at some point when discussion about it was circulating in the community just based on the factors I already elaborated on, if for no other reason than for those involved to absolve themselves from any violation or wrongdoing. 

E. Someone else unknown took the body for nefarious reasons:

We could suppose that the body was intentionally moved for unofficial or even nefarious reasons, which is why this action remained covert and undisclosed. If this is the case, then this opens up a wide range of unlikely suspects, as well as additional problems. What's interesting is that many of these theories actually give the gospel accounts the benefit of the doubt as it tries to offer alternative natural explanations between the gaps in the accounts. So, this theory, like all the other theories would have to be based on the events recorded in the gospels, otherwise, it would be much easier to just make up any meta-narrative we want, such as aliens took the corpse and be done with it.

The prime suspects are the inferences to the men (or man) seen at the tomb upon its discovery (Luke 24:4; Mark 16:5). However, Magdalene certainly wasn't blinded by spectacular delusions of grandeur just from a missing body, whose first assumption was that the Gardener had taken it (John 20:14-15), and some of the disciples still doubted when reports of his appearances were being made. It becomes quite a stretch to assume his followers would not have suspected something up with suspicious men hanging out at the tomb if they in fact had any involvement or even suspicions of involvement. We can assume these were factual accounts, since, as inventions, strange men at the tomb served little purpose other than increasing suspicion surrounding the story.

Others focus on Joseph of Arimathea, the handler of Jesus' body. However, as we discussed in Part II, Joseph was at least of some Jewish official capacity undoubtedly assigned to the task of burying a criminal condemned by the Sanhedrin (Mark 15:43; Luke 23:50-51; John 19:38), which is a scene that is remarkably accurate with other sources in regards to burials from this period. Therefore, he was a highly recognizable figure, which not only makes him an easily accessible suspect but makes it an incredible stretch to assume he would have laid his credibility and even life on the line for such an illicit act.

Motive is an essential component to this, which demands we find one to justify the act. The motive must lie within the historical framework of this culture, and since we now understand the cultural barriers, simply dismissing the motive component as an unknowable one is not an adequate or genuine approach to this problem. What benefit did they get out of it personally that was worth risking committing this crime in defiance of the burial protocol, the Sanhedrin and Roman authority, especially in spite of the controversy and focus already surrounding the body by the authorities prior?

Were they Jewish? Was this done on the Sabbath? Was it done for religious reasons? If so, this raises issues with regards to impurity laws about corpses (see Numbers 19:11-22),[8] issues of general morality and their personal faith and belief in Yahweh. What did they gain if it wasn't for religious reasons? What eventually happened to the body afterwards, especially in light of the Jewish formality of burial and just how the ancients in general regarded the rites of death and burial? Were they friend or foe? If the latter, was the body just discarded and left to rot? Why didn't anyone else notice it? Why didn't the family inquire the whereabouts of the body? If more than one party was involved, how did this remain a secret and why?

So, to even suggest E, one needs to not only come up with speculative explanations to these questions, but pick a suspect, suppose more speculations about the suspect and then guess the motive behind it. Then it becomes a matter of prerogative for the person analyzing this as to whether believing the official story is less or more problematic than trying to solve it with an even more problematic alternative.

Lastly, most of these theories move from improbable to virtually impossible if Matthew's account about the sentries guarding the tomb is true, in addition to the conspiracy involving the Jewish authorities to explain what happened as a result (Matthew 27:62-66; 28:11-13). The only way to get by this is to abruptly dismiss the guard as a Matthean fabrication. However, even though the guard account is only recorded in Matthew's gospel, there is no logical reason to dismiss it, at least from a historical point of view other than the necessity to remove it merely as an inconvenience. Moreover, Matthew's account is not only historically plausible but doesn't follow a logical course we would expect as an invention, which I discussed in greater detail in another article (here: The Evangelists, Matthew's harebrained scheme?).

F: Disciples took the body:

Aside from these unsolved issues, an empty tomb alone still does nothing to solve the claims of Jesus' appearance alive after his death and burial, nor does it explain why and how the strange theology about salvation in a dead and resurrected Messiah came about so rapidly when this was not at all what they were expecting the Messiah to accomplish. Thus, not only are we left without an explanation as to where this immediate theology -- resurrection and salvation through a crucified Messiah -- came from, in spite of their stark predisposed socioreligious views about crucifixion, resurrection and Messiah to the contrary prior to the resurrection claim, but left without an explanation for the number of eyewitnesses, what they saw and why they saw it.

The problem with F, as well as E, is not only that they're up against some of the same barriers that plague A-D, but they inevitably take us to Theory #4, which I'll discuss in the last part of these articles.

Theory #2

Argument from delusion


  1. Disciples had collective hallucinations or visions.
  2. Disciples were drunk or had drug trips.
  3. Disciples were just a bunch of primitive superstitious gullible dolts who were easily fooled by trickery or natural anomalies.
  4. A combination of two or all the above.


Though these options also vary slightly, they're all essentially associated with the same general idea. The delusion theory solves apostolic martyrdom or potential persecution from a naturalistic perspective other than the alternative -- to simply dismiss martyrdom or community persecution all together which stands against a slew of evidence to the contrary. Most of the martyrdoms of the early apostles are indeed iffy, but we know from numerous biblical and extrabiblical sources describing the historical environment of Judea that the early Judeo-Christian movement would have been under at least some pressure, if not severe hostility and antagonism towards their claims and beliefs. We have no reason to doubt the legitimacy of the persecution described in the New Testament considering how it accurately coincides with other ancient records that describe a staunchly fundamentalist Judean environment during this time (I go into detail about this hostile environment in the last article of this series). Assuming apostolic martyrdom or even persecution the early church faced to be true, people don't typically die or even risk their lives in such an opposing and hostile environment for what they consciously know is not true, especially within their own communities. However, it's certainly possible to believe they would take such a risk for what they thought was true. Therefore, an argument from delusion or what they thought was true basically solves this problem by providing two premises:


  • Lack of accurate medical analysis, or a swoon hypothesis (that I'll discuss in the next article) which they believed was a miracle.
  • They all collectively experienced some sort of delusion or vision that convinced them it was the risen Lord.


The first thing one would note about the latter choice is that it doesn't account for the empty tomb, the missing body, or why nobody -- authorities, early inquisitors, opposing religious sects, family, friends, skeptics, etc. -- pointed this out or cited the tomb as evidence to squash this misconception, which takes us back to Theory #1 -- who took the body and why wasn't it available to counter this belief? Now you can see the necessity of a tomb legend theory wild card here to solve this problem (a theory I debunked here: Part II). Simply put, if there was no tomb with a body, there's obviously no issue here to solve. However, since we established the fact that there indeed was a tomb burial and a body, one would have to in this case conflate two theories: Theory #2 -- delusions with Theory #1 -- removed body. In other words, we would speculate that Theory #1 -- someone removed the body, preceded Theory #2 -- they had delusions or hallucinations as a result of the missing body. Theory #1, however, is unresolved and doubtful in and of itself, and this only furthers the complications than it actually solves. But overlooking Theory #1, Theory #2 also has its own problems.

A. Disciples had collective hallucinations or visions.
B. Disciples were drunk or had drug trips:

It's easy at first glance to just believe that an actual miraculous event outside of religious perceptions they had about Messiah jolted them into beliefs that were contrary to prior religious norms or expectations of Messiah, but the idea of such a psychological experience brought on this change is working in reverse. Hallucinations or visions work from within the mind, therefore are predisposed to current social and cultural factors outside the mind.[9] In other words, what's known within a culture and society influences hallucinations; hallucinations don't happen in spite of this knowledge only to change the direction of knowledge.

Collective visions are a rare historical phenomenon to begin with even though such a phenomenon is often compared to other remote accounts involving a number of people, such as the visions of Lady of Fatima.[10] Aside from the obvious bias dismissal of an actual supernatural event and the presupposition that the crowd of witnesses during that event were collectively experiencing something only imagined in their mind all at the same time -- which is not just pure assumption but a rather extraordinary assumption -- the difference is that the recipients in those cases were not void of any psychological expectancy of the religious vision, nor were they culturally and theologically preconditioned against such religious expectations in a similar way ancient Jews were in regards to a crucified and resurrected Messiah. We know from both extrabiblical sources and the scattered incidents recorded in the biblical sources, death and resurrection was contrary to what the disciples believed about Messiah's role prior to Jesus' death and resurrection, and I describe this in detail in other articles (discussed in Part I; and The Messianic Matrix: The first century Judean Messiah).

Ironically, while there are critics who unjustifiably dismiss as fabrication Matthew's account of the guard placed at the tomb and the conspiracy between the Jewish authorities that ensued after the fact to cover it up, some critics actually use it as a way of necessitating a counter argument against this cultural problem. The argument they make is that since Matthew records the Jewish authorities recalling the resurrection predictions Jesus made prior (Matthew 27:62-63), worried the disciples would steal the body in order to perpetuate those predictions which is why they made such precautions to assign guards to watch the tomb, then there's every reason to assume that Jesus' claims would have also induced the necessary conditions for post-crucifixion visions by the disciples. In short, if the authorities recalled Jesus' claims about his resurrection after his death, why not his followers which could have produced the visions? It would seem they want their cake and eat it too. The problem here is that one must accept as authentic Matthew's account of the guards placed there. Once again, this takes us full circle and back to Theory #1 with an even greater problem: who took the body, why and how did they get passed the guards; or if the rumors about the empty tomb were based on imagined visions of a resurrected executed Messiah, or vice versa, why no one addressed or corrected this misconception since it was now imperial defiance?

There is simply no reason not to assume that any psychological condition necessary to produce these visions would have been restrained by more than one external obstacle, such as the burial ritualism I discussed earlier in Theory #1. In other words, in this culture, the dead stayed dead and bodies stayed where they were placed because there was strict religious protocol to ensure this, so resurrection visions would have occurred against cultural factors that would have presumably interfered with this. Rumors of resurrection at least implies a missing body which implies violation of burial protocol, and since the latter is a serious matter to both Roman and Jewish elements, in fact the entire Jewish community, this would have led to inquiry about such rumors which would have led to inevitable refutation and correction. The second external problem is that since this idea of Messiah and his resurrection was not consistent with prior beliefs, visions can't explain the origins of this concept or the sudden theological switch from the Jewish cultural norm. X = something powerful triggered a collective vision that lead to Y = a belief that ran against prior religious perception that was firmly ingrained in their culture, thus forced a change from an old to a new perception. A crucified Messiah who had to die for the sins of mankind that is suddenly resurrected and flies off into clouds without avenging his death or delivering Israel not only works against the grain of death and burial ritualism but was the complete opposite their socioreligious messianic preconception.

Visions of Jesus in Paradise (Luke 23:42-43) with other righteous Jewish Patriarchs awaiting final resurrection of the last days for example is a vision consistent with Judaic beliefs and norms. Perhaps a vision taking place during the Jewish revolt or even activities leading up to that point; a psychological experience reinforcing their belief in the deliverance of Israel would have also been consistent. Peter taking up arms against Rome because of a vision of the resurrected Christ that assures him victory is what we might expect. These are the type of visions consistent with the socioreligous atmosphere wherein they are spawned. This was the religious expectation and clearly the psychology of his followers at the time (see Luke 22:38, 22:49; John 18:10). In fact, we do have an actual report of visions outside of the gospels that serve as an example of this consistency. Josephus records visions that led up the final war of 70 CE that consisted of chariots and armored clad soldiers running about the clouds in the sky and was seen by multiple eyewitnesses who were undoubtedly preoccupied with rumors of revolt and war swirling in the air during this time.[11]

Drug trips, visions and hallucinations are not produced by ideas that are outside the mind's scope of political and socioreligious expectation or cognitive preconception. Thus, we can conclude that we not only don't have the ideal circumstances that would induce this experience, but contrary circumstances that would have directly interfered with it or served as obstacles -- i.e. the type of execution he experienced that was unexpected, the burial ritualism, religious and political preconceptions of the role of Messiah, etc. 

Jesus' appearances are incompatible to just visions

The sightings were more like Elvis sightings than sightings similar to visions of Lady Fatima; sightings of an actual individual, maybe mistaken identity, but not typical hallucinations or visions that have spectacle or mystical connotations. Absent are visual spectacle that typically garnish such psychological religious experiences or even religious fictional stories. Yes, there are angel sightings (that are actually described as mere men in Mark and Luke), but the resurrection account in the gospels is a regression of spectacle for the most part in contrast to visuals of Jesus descending into hell and battling Satan at the gates, appearing as tall as a skyscraper as he exits the tomb accompanied by a talking cross, or many more witnesses involved along with confrontations of his enemies that we see written in the later ancient legendary Christian works.

There were no mystical or spiritual attachments to the resurrection outside of the gospels like we see in later apocryphal gospels. There were no visuals of the actual resurrection itself; no visuals of Jesus rising from the grave wrappings, stepping out of the tomb and glowing like the sun, or sitting at the right hand of God, surrounded by ostentatious religious imagery such as similar visions experienced throughout the New Testament (examples: Mark 9:2-7; Matthew 17:1-7; Luke 9:28-35; Acts 9:1-6; Revelation 1:9-20).

Moreover, Jesus' gospel appearances are multiple-attested and span across a great many diverse appearances, and in each case other than Paul's sighting of Christ that came many years later, he wasn't in any abstract spirit form or apparition. He talked with them and walked with them. He prepared and ate meals with them; he instructed them just like he had done before his crucifixion; he came to them both at night (John 20:19) and in broad daylight (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:29; John 21:4), both indoors (Mark 16:14; John 20:26) and outdoors (Matthew 28:16-17; John 21:4; Acts 1:9); he met them singly (Luke 24:33-34; John 20:14-16; 1 Corinthians. 15:5), in small groups (Matthew 28:8-10; Luke 24:13-15), and in large groups (1 Corinthians. 15:6; Acts 1:6-15); and in every case of his appearance, he was physical and could both be seen and handled (Matthew 28:9; Luke 24:39-40; John 20:27-28).

The idea of the resurrection in and of itself is indeed miraculous, but the illustrations of how it occurred don't have the spiritual spectacle that we would expect in light of how such events were described in other literature of this time, including and especially Christian literature. The vision theory is simply not plausible at all in association with what the actual visions consisted of and how they're described, therefore, to propose a vision theory, one would have to totally put everything I just discussed about the psychological implausibly aside, completely isolate this theory from the gospel stories and how the resurrection is described, focus solely on just the visions declared by Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), and then overlook the implausibility of multiple people having the same visions at the same time.

C. Disciples were just a bunch of primitive superstitious gullible dolts who were easily fooled by trickery or natural anomalies:

Superstition faces the same obstacles as many of the previous issues I've discussed. Superstition alone wouldn't produce a resurrected Messiah and atonement theology that ran contrary to their preconceived cultural and religious expectations anymore than hallucinations. Moreover, superstition is not anything like people assume it was during this era, specifically in this culture. It is assumed that since the first century Greco-Roman world was filled with magic, spirits and miracles (this of course is once again under the presupposition that these things aren't true), Judea can be lumped into one collective group of primitive half-wits who would have worshiped a chipmunk had they thought it resurrected from the dead.

However, the first century ancients, particularly Jews, were no more gullible or willing to accept any esoteric claim that came along than any of us today, undoubtedly much less so. Conservatism and religious intolerance deemed ungodly sorcery highly suspicious and guarded against. Other than a difference between their culture and ours in the ability to explain things using modern scientific knowledge and technology, they used the same methodology and were just as capable of skepticism, critical thinking, reasoning and sifting through evidence as we are today. We see instances in the gospels where the religious leaders often consulted one another, engaged in investigative scrutiny and critical group analysis about a claim or a certain paranormal event that had occurred and that they couldn't readily explain as a trick or a fraud.

This is also made clear by the fact that even Jesus' followers doubted he had risen, and some at first even assumed natural explanations no different than a 21st century modern would consider as the cause of the empty tomb. It should also be noted that, though there were some proclaimed miracle workers of this era, this phenomenon was rare relative to the sheer volume of historical people that were honored and esteemed in ancient literature. Miracle working was an extreme minority phenomenon, hence the majority of notorious men of all walks of life described in ancient literature, religious and political, men of exceptional power, authority and influence -- i.e. John the Baptist, the Teacher of Righteousness, Hillel, Shammai, Gamaliel, even the many false teachers and messiahs described in Josephus' works, etc. -- were not known for miracles at all, which is a fact that isn't consistent with a supposed superstitious gullible culture.

Arguing superstition is also irrelevant and cannot really counter the claims or beliefs of a resurrection because there is no exceptional intellectual wherewithal in our modern culture against a belief in a resurrection of an individual. There isn't much technical nuance about a man alive after being dead that ancients could have gotten wrong that we scientifically endowed moderns would have corrected, unless of course we assume Jesus medically resuscitated, which was something an ancient presumably couldn't explain as proficiently against the medical knowledge we have today. We do know that there are instances even today of people who are misdiagnosed as being dead only to revive later on at the complete surprise of the medical staff. Would Jesus have been officially confirmed dead, or could he have medically resuscitated? I'll discuss this in Part IV.

Click here for Part IV, or here to go home 


Source References

1. Eldad Keynan, Jewish Burials: Preliminary burial, secondary burial; 2010 (

2. Rachel Hachlili, Jewish Funerary Customs, Practices and Rites in the Second Temple Period, p.302; 2005.

    Byron R. McCane, Roll Back the Stone, p.29-40; 2003.

3. Josephus, Against Apion, book 2:27, 30 (

    Philo, Apology For the Jews, 7.7 (

    Dina Teitelbaum, The Relationship between Ossuan, Burial and the Belief in Resurrection, (pdf) p.31; 1997.

4. Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them, p.14; 2003.

5. Dale C. Allison, Resurrecting Jesus: the earliest Christian tradition and its interpreters, p.318; 2005.

6. Craig A. Evans, Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus; (pdf) (html), p.12; 2005.

7. Teitelbaum, ibid., pp.33-34.

8. ibid, pp.157-158.

9. Kwangiel Kim, Delusions and hallucinations in East Asians with Schizophrenia, - "These studies reconfirmed that delusional and hallucinatory themes or content are sensitively influenced by a patient’s cultural or political experiences at the time" - pdf, p.5; 2006.

    Omer Gecici, Phenomenology of Delusions and Hallucinations in Patients with Schizophrenia - "The research conducted over the last few decades has indicated that social and cultural factors exert a significant influence on many aspects of psychiatric disorders. A considerable amount of work conducted in cross-cultural settings has provided evidence that the types of delusions and hallucinations experienced by an individual reflect both the place and time in which the person is living" - pdf, p. 1; 2010.

10. See Our Lady of Fatima: History.

11. Josephus, War of the Jews, book 6, chap. 5:3 (