Yesterday I posted an outline making a case for the historicity of the resurrection of Yeshua. Here are the details filling in the first part of that outline. I should be able to post the whole thing in only 3 parts (so no long, unfinished series here).
The Gospels are Credible Accounts of Historical Events
They are not unlike other historical accounts, such as the histories of Josephus. They are from a definite point of view, but they contain legitimate reminiscences of what happened to the early Yeshua movement:
• They are not late documents. Modern scholars date the Gospels to an early period, within the first century. The earliest surviving manuscript of any of the Gospels is a small piece from John dated to 125 C.E. There is a good case for believing Matthew wrote Matthew, John Mark wrote Mark, and Luke wrote Luke. It is harder to prove John as an author. Nonetheless, this means that the Gospels were written by eyewitnesses and friends of eyewitnesses in the same generation.
• They are not fabricated reminiscences. It has been claimed that a few details were stretched into longer stories by people who could not truly remember the words or deeds of Yeshua. It was customary for Jewish students to memorize voluminous collections of sayings and deeds of the masters, as any study of Jewish history will confirm. The details of the Gospels are credible.
• They are not pious fiction. In fictional accounts intended to propagandize the proponents are pictured in positive terms and troublesome details are omitted. The Gospels contain a number of negative portrayals, troublesome depictions, and bothersome details that suggest they are honest accounts:
o The disciples do not make themselves look good. Peter denies Yeshua three times. John is rebuked for asking for power. The whole group is shown defeated after the crucifixion. The doubt of the group is openly declared (Matt. 28:17; Luke 24:11; John 20:25).
o The Gospels show some events in Yeshua’s death that raise questions and would not seem to bolster their case for his great power. On the night before his death, he wept, was afraid, and asked God to find an easier way. On the cross he cried out in agony and asked God why he had been abandoned.
o The first witnesses of the empty tomb were women. In 3rd century Jewish law, and quite likely in 1st century also, the testimony of women was not accepted in court.
o There are a number of discrepancies of detail in the resurrection accounts. These are explainable as either mistakes or honest discrepancies by eyewitnesses who noticed different parts of a complex whole. Either way, it is a sign of credibility that the details do not all match up. These are not the accounts of liars who got their stories together in rehearsed detail.
The Belief in Yeshua’s Resurrection is a Distinctly Jewish Hope
• Old paganism believed in a mindless existence in a dark underworld. This is evident in numerous Ancient Near Eastern and Greek sources. The Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades are not early versions of hell, but a dark underworld in which the ghosts and shades of the dead reside. N.T. Wright uses a passage from The Iliad as typical:
o There came to him the hapless spirit of Patroclus, in all things like his very self, in stature, in fair eyes and in voice, and in raiment was he clad withal; and he stood above Achilles’ head and spoke to him, saying: “Thou sleepest, and hast forgotten me, Achilles. Not in my life was thou unmindful of me, but now in my death! Bury me with all speed that I pass within the gates of Hades. Afar do the spirits keep me aloof, the phantoms of men that have done with the toils, neither suffer they me to join myself to them beyond the River, but vainly do I wander the wide-gated house of Hades. And give me thy hand, I pitifully entreat thee, for never more again shall I come back from out of the land of Hades.” . . . Achilles held out his arms to clasp the spirit, but in vain. It vanished like a wisp of smoke and went gibbering underground. . . . [He said] “Ah, then it is true that something of us does survive, even in the halls of Hades, but with no intellect at all, only the ghost and semblance of a man.”
• Plato introduced a better view of afterlife. In Plato’s view the body is a prison for the soul and the soul is our true self. Many people erroneously think this is the biblical view. Plato taught a bodiless afterlife with reward for the virtuous and punishment for the wicked.
• Older Hebrew theology was firm about the finality of death, on the one hand, and hinted at a continuing existence after death (at least for some). Examples of early hints of afterlife include:
o Exceptions to the general rule that all must die: Enoch and Elijah.
o Samuel’s post-mortem appearance to King Saul.
o The expression about being gathered to the fathers or sleeping with the fathers in some cases meant more than just the place of burial (1 Kings 2:10).
• Later Jewish theology, current in Yeshua’s time, indicated a bodily return to life after a period of being dead. This is evident in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and especially Daniel (Isa. 26:19; Ezek. 37; Daniel 12:2-3). It is also a frequently mentioned belief in 2nd Temple Jewish writings such as 1 Enoch 62:13-15. It was a dispute between the Pharisees and Sadducees also, as mentioned in the New Testament, Josephus, and rabbinic sources.
• Resurrection is a term used only and uniquely to describe the later Jewish belief in a bodily return to life after a period of death. In the New Testament, the term is anastasis, which is not used for any other view of afterlife as N.T. Wright demonstrates thoroughly in The Resurrection of the Son of God.