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This is part of a series of notes in response to "Why I Became an Atheist" by John W. Loftus
Chapter Twenty: Did Jesus Bodily Rise from the Dead?
Some of this chapter brings up what initially began me on my quest. I wondered if anyone outside the gospels had written about Jesus and googled it. I was heavily disappointed. Though some had written about him, all they mentioned was his name and that he had followers. The testimony of Josephus, containing the most details and incredible statements about him, was widely denied as being wholly authentic and many suspected most of it was a later forgery.
I return again, however boringly, to my claim that so much of the scriptural and historical grounds for the god debate seem cloudy beyond reconciliation. It's interesting to ponder whether one could ever, on historical grounds, prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a man reanimated after being dead for a day and a half. Is it even possible to have the evidence needed to make this claim? The quality and trustworthiness of the gospels and their writers are highly debated. I have listened to numerous debates and read a lot of material on this subject and both sides vehemently hold their ground. Many claim quite poor historical status for the gospels as reliable while others claim that they have no motive for lying, are definitely writing historical truth, and that the minor discrepancies are tell-tale signs of eye-witness-style accounts. I find all of these hypotheses frustrating to sort through and it would be refreshing to have some sort of week long conference of all of the eminent scholars in the area in order to definitively establish a ruling. While far fetched, I think this would be a phenomenally helpful event.
I, too, find the discrepancies troubling and think that a very good case can be made for showing that the later gospels build on the earlier ones, especially considering how bare Mark is compared to Matthew, Luke, and John. When considering historical accuracy, one also has to ask why some astounding events/occurrences would be left out of any of the other gospels, considering that they were the result of eye-witness testimony. How could any eye-witness to Doubting Thomas find a compelling reason to omit it from the story? What good reason would Mark have to omit the virgin birth and any of the typical incredible details of the infancy narrative? Why would Mark originally end with no appearance and women who are going to tell no one? I find this all incredibly odd.
My jury is out on things like whether there really was an empty tomb or an actual Joseph of Arimathea. My strongest case against the resurrection at present stems far more from a "common sense objection" than anything casting doubt given the historical evidence. I don't think the state of the evidence does a very good job at all in proving beyond a reasonable doubt that a man 2,000 years ago rose bodily from the ground. On a side note, it's interesting to consider that on one hand, Luke and Johns seem incredibly intent on proving Jesus' humanity via the eating of fish and Doubting Thomas, it's interesting to consider how he was "alive" again given that his heart was pierced. By what means was he alive? Maybe it's a silly point, but I still find it interesting.
In any case, my objection is primarily from what I would expect god to be doing now were he to be triumphant over death. This is not exactly the problem of evil, but more of the problem of absence or hiddenness. I find it unlikely that god would leave the primary evidence for his existence (or at least for the particular form of his existence, namely that taught by Christianity) 2,000 years in the past and handed down via oral tradition, mis-translated and fragmented manuscripts and all kinds of debate as to what such and such writer meant in such and such passages. Jesus explicitly stated that it was better for him to leave so that the Holy Spirit could come (Jn 16:7) so that the world would receive the truth. But we have not seen a revelation of truth in the world. Many believe, according to Christians, utterly foolish things about god and find the Christian message completely uncompelling. Furthermore, the initial release of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost brought forth visible signs upon the essentially unexpecting apostles. Did they have to be "open" to receiving the spirit? They were huddled in fear and then the Holy Spirit just came. Why can't this happen again? Or why can't believers routinely receive such visible signs of the Holy Spirit's descent so that others can be convinced? Or listen to men simultaneously preach so as to be understood in multitudes of languages?
Wouldn't it have been better for Jesus to stay? Anyone from anywhere could go and see him for themselves and realize that this man "truly was the son of god" (Mt. 27:54). An unaging 2,000 year old person would be a real miracle! He could have also been here to clarify all of the misinterpretations of scripture that pervade history and present Christian sects. The Holy Spirit is claimed by all but produces wild results. Why not replace this obviously error-prone internal sense of what god wants to communicate with a far more reliable objective and external transmission of divine thought and intent through Jesus himself? After all, we seem to have communicated with Jesus far better than with the Holy Spirit. I don't know of a single scripture reference illustrating a dialog with the Holy Spirit, but we have many reported of having occurred with Jesus.
Think of it: god in real flesh and blood here with us, as promised (Mt. 28:20), to tell us anything we need to know and to literally prove god's existence through divine wisdom and miracles in every age.
Finally, to restate, then, I see issues with suspecting that timeless, spaceless, all-powerful being would leave such an obscure remnant of evidence for us to study and find convincing. For something that is supposed to affect our immortal souls… I would have simply expected more and frankly think that a god of the omni-max qualities posited would have provided more. Such a god knows our growing predisposition to skepticism toward extraordinary claims and the miraculous. Why would he/she/it not rise to such a growing issue out of compassion so that all might continue to be saved?
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