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This is the final column in response to a recent the article, “12 reasons to accept the empty tomb as a historical fact.” Before you read my reasons nine through twelve, I recommend that you check out Part 1 and Part 2. And, if you can find points that I’ve missed, share them in the comments.

9. The leaders of the day didn’t produce a body

If Christianity were a nuisance, why not shut it down by presenting the body? The Jewish and Roman leaders could’ve undercut Christianity’s central claim. That they didn’t produce a body suggests that they didn’t have one. An empty tomb would explain this.

Critiquing the gospel story by assuming the story is like taking the Goldilocks story up to where she was woken by the bears and demanding to know what she should’ve done besides run away.

The resurrection didn’t happen two days after the crucifixion of Jesus; it happened two decades later in Paul’s 1 Corinthians 15. Or two decades after that in Mark. The Jewish and Roman leaders in the story are in a story. If Christianity was troublesome in Paul’s or Mark’s time, the time to reveal the body was long passed.

If Jesus were a real person who was a real rabble-rouser (the “King of the Jews” title would’ve been a very clear poke in the eye to Rome) and really was executed by the Romans, then why produce the body? The leader was dead; case closed.

The book of Acts agrees. It has no “was he/wasn’t he resurrected?” arguments. There was no seditious behavior at that first Pentecost, fifty days after Easter (see Acts 2). Again, what would producing the body be a response to?

And why imagine the body of Jesus would have changed things? Remember the example of the Millerites—religion is largely above the facts. It took years for Christianity to evolve its interpretation of Jesus’s death. In the days after the first Easter, it would’ve made no sense for the Romans to say, “Y’know how the bodily resurrection of Jesus will be a big deal within Christianity years from now? Well, guess whose body we just found!”

Christianity with the corpse of Jesus could’ve seen Jesus as a martyr—it’s a much more powerful sacrifice if Jesus stayed dead. Or maybe Jesus would’ve risen as a spirit to rule in heaven, discarding his useless body. Or the early Christians could’ve just dismissed any body as a Roman deception.

10. The empty tomb hypothesis is widely accepted

A strong majority of scholars accept the empty tomb hypothesis. “[Gary] Habermas notes that over one-hundred contemporary scholars accept at least some of the arguments for the empty tomb.”

Do Muslim scholars accept the empty tomb? Nope. They are comfortable with the supernatural, they revere Jesus, they accept him as a prophet, but they reject the resurrection. Are they biased? Probably, but by the same logic, so is your “strong majority [of scholars].”

11. The story is simple

“The story of Jesus’s burial is simple without any form of theological development. Its simplicity argues for the empty tomb’s authenticity. Signs of legendary development are simply not found in the empty tomb hypothesis.”

Suppose our oldest tale of Merlin the magician has him buried without ceremony. Or maybe it says “And then Merlin died,” and that’s it. Would that make believable the tales of his magic? And if not, why imagine that this process would make believable the far more fanciful tales of Jesus?

You claim that complexity suggests legendary accretion. I’ll buy that, but why bring this up since Christianity is extremely complicated! Books on systematic theology are 1500 pages and more. The Bible has close to a million words, and the church needed more than twenty worldwide councils to fill in its gaps.

12. The resurrection and empty tomb were too early to be legend

“The resurrection story and the empty tomb are part of the pre-Markan passion story which is extremely early which precludes any time for legendary development. Legendary claims do not apply to the empty tomb hypothesis. This suggests that the tomb was not something that came later in the Christian story but was rather found at ground zero.”

You want legendary development? Before Mark was Paul, and here’s what Paul says about the divinity of Jesus:

[Jesus], who as to his earthly life was a descendant of David, and who through the Spirit of holiness was appointed the Son of God in power by his resurrection from the dead: Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 1:3–4).

That’s right—Jesus became divine at his resurrection.

Let’s move forward in time to the first gospel, Mark. Here, Jesus becomes divine at his baptism:

Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:10–11).

Then it gets earlier: Matthew and Luke are the two gospels with nativity stories. Angels announce the supernatural birth.

And in John,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning (John 1:1–2).

The later the New Testament book, the earlier and grander is the stature of Jesus. That’s legendary development!

But back to our Christian argument. Its focus is the historicity of the empty tomb. Did just that element stay simple?

Hardly. The gospels aren’t consistent on whose tomb it was and where it was. Matthew alone has the bit about Pilate ordering guards to keep the tomb secure and the guards being told to lie that the disciples took the body. The synoptic gospels say the death and burial were on the day after the Passover, while John says the day before. The events at the tomb on Easter morning vary: the number of angels, how the stone was moved from the entrance, who applied spices, which women went to the tomb, which male disciples went to the tomb, if Jesus was there and who he spoke to, what the women did afterwards, whether Jesus met with the disciples afterwards in Galilee or Jerusalem, and so on. Sounds like a textbook example of legend to me.

Conclusion

The author of this Christian article realizes that the empty tomb is just a part of a historical critique of the resurrection claim. But given the naïve scholarship in this one, I don’t hold out much hope for the rest of the series.

As human beings, we’re desperate to do
the minimum amount of research
that allows us to keep on believing
what already makes us feel good about ourselves
.
— Dave Holmes, Esquire

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CROSS EXAMINED After graduating from MIT, Bob Seidensticker designed digital hardware, and he is a co-contributor to 14 software patents. For more than a decade, he has explored the debate between Christianity...