Is the Resurrection of Jesus a Legend?

Written decades after the supposed event, the gospels say Jesus died and three days later was found absent from his tomb and appeared alive to his followers.  The evidence given by Paul is too general to count as evidence.  You need detail.

Legend by default is a possibility. The longer the gap between the supposed events and the recording the bigger the possibility.  The writers not giving their names increases it.  The writers  having no fear of accountability to a body that checks data is another increase.  The New Testament gospels fail on all these points and so have a high legend possibility score.


The oldest resurrection of Jesus account is in Mark's gospel and even that one has problems for it has been tampered with or a portion lost.  We do not know either way.  Attempts to argue that there was no legend in the story of the empty tomb in Mark are refuted by the fact that the gospel contains very improbable miracle stories and expects us to take hearsay as evidence for them.  The Mark gospel is sober compared to the others but that does not mean it is credible!  It shows traces of legend which get worse and worse with each future gospel writer.

Here is a citation from a renowned authority.

I do not think of the evangelists themselves as eyewitnesses of the passion; nor do I think that eyewitness memories of Jesus came down to the evangelists without considerable reshaping and development

 Fr Raymond Brown - Death of the Messiah.

Perhaps the story of the resurrection just started off as the result of some unusual event or report and got exaggerated and assembled window dressing as time went on so that the gospel accounts are legendary.

There are no neutral or hostile accounts of the alleged Jesus comeback from the dead at all in the first century. You would need such accounts at the time it supposedly happened. Some accounts in the first century would be better than nothing but there is nothing. Even until the fourth century there is nobody mentioning the resurrection except Christians who did not even claim to be historians. Oddly enough the Christians were the people who preserved the records in which Jesus is strangely absent.

The problem of absent records or their non-existence is the chief reason for being suspicious that it is all a legend.

The main argument Christians use to show that the resurrection was sincerely believed to have happened when the New Testament says is, "Faith in the resurrection of Jesus started soon after his death and spread like wildfire. Though this does not directly prove that Jesus rose from the dead, it does directly prove that lots of people believed he did. It indirectly indicates that Jesus rose. Why would people believe it unless the evidence that it happened appeared sufficient?"  In fact it depends on whether their belief was firm and strong.  If it was a mere opinion then the argument bears no weight.

It can be understood as an argument against the resurrection being mere legend. Or should it be understood like that?

It is wrong to think the resurrection faith is merely about a man coming back from the dead. An alleged miracle in itself does not interest people for long - there needs to be a psychological incentive put into the claimed miracle to get them interested long-term. Thanks to the preaching of Paul, the alleged return of Jesus was turned into hope of deliverance from sickness and death and evil. Jesus' risen body is described as utterly transformed and free from any possibility of these curses. It was a far more attractive idea than the Jewish idea of people becoming sad ghosts in Sheol or reincarnation or anything else on offer by the religions of the time. The idea was so novel and good that it would have been enough for one man to wait until Jesus had decomposed or his body safely out of the way to say, "I experienced Jesus as a resurrected being. Resurrection is so wonderful. You get a changed spiritual body that is unimaginably superior to the body you have now and you need never fear evil and sickness and death again. The dead who believe in Jesus will enjoy this glorious resurrection." The attractiveness of the doctrine would be the secret of its success. A legend can appear rapidly in the right mix.

We must remember too that the resurrection itself was eclipsed by the early Church's obsession with Jesus coming back soon to save it and the world and destroy evil. That hope in those dark and terrible times was enough to help Christianity thrive even if the case for Jesus' resurrection was weak. The gospels mention the coming a lot more than they do the resurrection of Jesus. And the epistles and the Book of Revelation stress the coming more than the resurrection.

It may be that the resurrection was necessary if you want to have a saviour coming back to overthrow the evil order.  The resurrection doctrine in that scheme was not what the apostles were really after.

Nobody forms popular and successful cults based primarily on the appearance of a ghost. Or a reincarnation. Or even a resurrection. It is easy to see why a resurrection would be a different story only if linked to making people feel they can be saved from sin and death and suffering. It needs to be more than an event - a lot lot more.

We must remember that the gospels report that Jesus exercised a lot of pressure on his audience and disciples. He taught that if they stopped believing in him they would be on God's rubbish heap, Hell, to suffer for all eternity. He said that anybody who suspected that Satan was behind any of his miracles was blaspheming the Holy Spirit and there would be no forgiveness for them in this life or the next. In that kind of atmosphere, the witnesses of Jesus would have not just been biased in his defence but totally biased. It was the right cauldron to cook up a legend in.

There has never been one as good since. The apostles (see Galatians 1) put curses called the anathema and the handing over to Satan on those who contradicted them. Jesus accused his critics of being completely bad (Matthew 12:34) - no room for loving the sinner and hating the sin if there is no good in the person at all! This was incitement to hatred.

Proof that the resurrection is a legend is in 1 Corinthians 15. There Paul, the first Christian writer, has to deal with Christians who have decided that there is no resurrection and that Jesus is dead and has not risen at all.

He tells them that if Jesus has not risen then the dead are lost

He tells them that if Jesus has not risen then the witnesses of the apparitions of the risen Jesus are liars.  

He tells them that if Jesus has not risen believers are still in their sins and are to be pitied above all people.

The bad consequences he spells out prove nothing. To believe your grandma is alive because it is dreadful to think she is dead does not mean she really is alive. Dreading to think of her death is not evidence that she is alive. Just because you want to believe your sins are pardoned does not mean you have to believe in the resurrection. His arguments are so weak that they prove that he could not do any better. If Jesus was not the saviour maybe somebody else was.

Paul said that Jesus must have risen for Paul himself and the apostles could not be liars and would not misrepresent God.  That is a sure indication that he thought they were lying and he should have known for he was one of them. If a salesman came to your door telling you that an amulet would solve all your problems for he says so you would see through him for saying that. And the honest give the best evidence they can to support their statements.  They will not let you just take their word for it.

Paul gave a breakdown of the resurrection appearances but did nott use them as evidence or say they were evidence. In fact it was after doing this that he attempted to give evidence in the form of those weak arguments that smack of desperation. They were not evidence for he gave no details and of course he knew that the Corinthians just did not and could not believe the stories of the appearances of the resurrected Jesus any more. They could not function as evidence.

William Lane Craig says that a real legend will have competing accounts.  But the gospel of Peter does.  Also, Matthew opened the door to that by saying Jesus was not the only one who rose at that time.  Plus the believers were able to get rid of many rival gospels.  Some suspect that the original story was that Jesus was exalted and ascended from the cross. And the Matthew gospel says the Jews created the legend of a theft.  If that is a real legend then the competing accounts criteria applies there too. Craig ignores that.

The weakness of the arguments proves the resurrection was a legend. He was unable to even promise to send them affidavits from witnesses.

It is conveniently forgotten by the Church that though the resurrection of Christ has great importance in the New Testament, it is not important by itself. It is important in that Jesus was found alive after his death TO GO UP TO HEAVEN! The resurrection was the salvation of Jesus himself. However, we know that Jesus ascending into Heaven is nonsense for if he went up is he living in a cloud or did he go to the moon or to Mars? It is totally ridiculous to believe in the resurrection and to deny that Jesus is up in the clouds. If one is not true then why trust the other? If one is legend so is the other.

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