Skeptics and Another Natural Explanation for the Resurrection Narratives

Christians claim that until skeptics can agree on an alternative natural explanation to the resurrection accounts told in the Gospels that the Gospels should be accepted as the truth. They further claim that by offering other natural explanations to these accounts it shows that skeptics are merely grasping at straws to reject the claims of the gospel. But these accusations are Balderdash! They're not even close...not even in the ballpark...not even on the radar.

Every single one of our natural explanations requires denying something in one or more of the gospel narratives, yes. But no one can take these narratives as straightforward history either. Can we really believe Pilate was afraid of a Jewish mob, of that he had a custom such as releasing a prisoner like Barabbas, that Joseph of Arimathea wasn't one mixed up person if he existed at all, that the saints came out of the tombs upon Jesus' death, that the sun was darkened, or that the Pharisees really thought a guard needed to be at his tomb? Can we really believe women went to his tomb on Sunday morning thinking someone would roll back the stone, or that the different accounts of all of these stories can be harmonized? All of these problems, plus many more, must be looked at even before we get to the extraordinary miraculous claim that a body with total cell necrosis came back from the dead. So it is nearly impossible to take the Gospels at face value. Now what?

Let's do the work of a historian and try to figure what might have really happened if anything happened at all, since we cannot take the gospels at face value. Then let's not forget that kicker, you know, the one about miracles, the one that requires a lot of evidence for it? Since this is the case why not deny it all as propaganda? Why must we accept any of it, really? With these textual problems staring us in the face it's hard to accept the miraculous option even if we grant that Yahweh exists and miracles are possible. You know, Yahweh, the Jewish tribal god? The Jews didn't see any reason to accept the claims that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah who resurrected from the grave as the son of God. What they needed, even granting the existence of Yahweh and miracles, is that Yahweh did this particular miracle in this particular case, and they overwhelmingly concluded he did not--even though they lived in that era, in that place, and among the very people making the claim. And they and knew their Scriptures too! Surely if they were Yahweh's chosen ones he would be sure to help convince the very people who were the experts in what he revealed in the OT canon. Since they couldn't believe, neither can I. So I look for natural explanations. There is nothing disingenuous or deceptive or any attempt to escape the claims of the gospel here at all. It's merely trying to come to the truth.

In any case, someone named Stuart Murray emailed me about a different natural explanation of the resurrection accounts in the Gospels. Here is what he wrote, see what you think:
I begin by assuming that Jesus's death at the hands of the Romans wasn't public knowledge. When the Romans arrested Jesus, they did so when Jesus was alone and there was no one to witness it. There are hints of this in the gospels. Jesus went to a secluded spot in the Garden of Gethsemene and none of his followers were arrested. I just assume that his capture was even more surreptitious. This would have been the best way for the Romans to do things without causing a riot. Although people would obviously have their suspicions about what had happened to Jesus they wouldn't know for sure. In other words, Jesus' disappearance would be a mystery.

There would undoubtedly have been enormous interest in and speculation about what had happened. I think that three theories would arise to explain the disappearance. The first, and correct, theory would be that Jesus had been killed by the Romans. The second would be that Jesus was still alive somewhere, perhaps in hiding. The third would be that Jesus had been taken up to heaven like Elijah. This would be an odd explanation for a disappearance to us today but I think it would make sense to his disciples. If they believed that the kingdom of heaven was about to arrive at any moment, then it would make sense for their leader to be taken up to heaven first so that he could bring the kingdom to earth in person.

It's interesting to consider what happens when there are highly publicised disappearances. You can virtually guarantee that there will be sightings of the misssing person. Think of the case of Madeleine McCann, the British girl who disappeared in Portugal. There was huge interest in the case and there were literally hundreds of alleged sightings of her all over the world. There were people who were absolutely convinced that they had seen her. If she had simply been found murdered this wouldn't have happened. I think something similar happened with Jesus. The mystery over his disappearance and the interest in his case would ensure that there would be lots of sightings of him. These would of course be sightings of a flesh and blood man, not a ghost.

Initially the three theories I've mentioned would be seen as incompatible, and the proponents of the theories would argue with each other. After a while, however, someone would realise that the theories could actually be combined. People would eventually accept that Jesus had been killed and that those who thought he must still be alive because he'd been seen by so many people were wrong. However, the sightings of Jesus wouldn't simply have to be dismissed, instead, they could be reinterpreted as sightings of a risen Jesus! So what would emerge was the belief that Jesus had died, that he had appeared after his death, and then he'd been taken up to heaven.

Once the sightings were interpreted as sightings of a risen Jesus, people would be falling over themselves to claim that they were amongst those who had seen him. Some of the disciples may have actually 'seen' him in those early stages but if they hadn't it would be easy to claim afterwards that they had. There would in any case be a natural tendency to restrict sightings to the church leaders as time passed. Paul's famous passage in 1 Corinthians 15 would be a midpoint in this trend. Appearances are attributed to the disciples but they're also attributed to 'more than 500', a claim which is later dropped.

Because no one would know what happened to Jesus's body it's easy to see how the legend of the empty tomb could develop later. My theory also explains how the so-called appearances of Jesus were appearances of a flesh and blood man and not a ghost.

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