Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Skeptical Response to the Resurrection: The Empty Tomb

View ImageThe resurrection of Jesus is supported by three pillars: the empty tomb, the postmortem appearances, and the birth and growth of the church in the face of severe persecution. In order to undermine the historical support for the resurrection, a naturalistic theory has to explain all three in a way that is scientifically and psychologically viable and not excessively ad hoc.

A greater assortment of sledge hammers have been taken to the empty tomb than either of the other two pillars, but even so, most critical scholars accept its historicity. Jewish scholar Geza Vermez concludes: "But in the end, when every argument has been considered and weighed, the only conclusion acceptable to the historian must be that the opinions of the orthodox, the liberal sympathizer and the critical agnostic alike . . . are simply interpretations of the one disconcerting fact: namely that the women who set out to pay their last respects to Jesus found to their consternation, not a body, but an empty tomb."

But some skeptics try to characterize the story of the empty tomb as legend, so I will start by addressing the historicity of the empty tomb.

Is the empty tomb a legend? Skeptics argue that, unlike 1 Corinthians, the Gospels were written by anonymous authors at least thirty years after the death of Jesus, so enough time passed for legendary embellishment to develop. But there are three major reasons why the empty tomb is not a legend:

First, according to the late historian of ancient Rome and fellow at Oxford, A. N. Sherwin-White, "even two generations are too short a span to allow the mythical tendency to prevail over the hard historic core of the oral tradition." And with respect to historical reconstruction, he says that "we are seldom in the happy position of dealing at only one remove with a contemporary source." But the first Gospel was written while many of the original eyewitnesses were probably still alive. So that is not enough time for legend to have replaced the historical core of the stories of which the Gospels are composed.

Sherwin-White is one of a number of historians who have confirmed the historicity of the book of Acts "even in matters of detail." And he concludes that the reason why the "degree of confirmation in Graeco-Roman terms is less for the Gospels than for Acts is due, as these lectures have tried to show, to the differences in their regional setting. As soon as Christ enters the Roman orbit at Jerusalem, the confirmation begins. For Acts the confirmation of historicity is overwhelming" (italics added). So because of the regional setting of most of the Gospel stories, we cannot directly confirm their basic historicity in the way that we can the book of Acts. But since Acts is by all appearances "no less of a propaganda narrative than the Gospels, liable to similar distortions," there is no reason to think that the Gospels are less historical.

Second, in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7, Paul recites a creedal formula which most scholars, including skeptics like Gerd Lüdemann, date to within a couple of years of the death of Jesus, and in it he says, "and that [Jesus] was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:4). Paul's statement (and by extension, the statement of his predecessors shortly after the death of Jesus) that Jesus was raised on the third day implies that the tomb was empty because otherwise the creed could not have said that Jesus was raised on the third day. If a body remained in the tomb or rotted in a common grave, the day of his resurrection would have been unknown.

The words "according to the Scriptures" do not help here because Hosea 6:2, the Old Testament reference, would be too subtle unless Paul knew of the empty grave on the third day. Hosea 6:2 says "He will revive us after two days; He will raise us up on the third day, that we may live before Him." Unless the early church knew that the tomb was found empty on the third day, it would be too much of a stretch to say that this verse is a Scriptural reference to the day of the resurrection.

This further undermines the theory that the empty tomb was a legend, since the early Christians would have preached it from the very beginning.

Third, critical scholars employ historical criteria to determine whether parts of the Bible are true, and two of them are the criterion of multiple attestation and the criterion of embarrassment. The criterion of multiple attestation is met because the story of women finding the tomb empty is told in each of the four Gospels. (And of course they were not originally part of a compilation labeled the "New Testament." They were the earliest and most reliable documents about Jesus.)

The criterion of embarrassment is met because the male disciples fled in fear after Jesus was arrested, while women, who had virtually no status in first century Palestine, and were not considered reliable witnesses, stayed and went to pay their last respects to Jesus. They were the star witnesses to the empty tomb, something that the authors would be very unlikely to fabricate.

Someone suggested in a previous thread that Mark invented the empty tomb to fill in a gap in his story of what happened to Jesus, and that 16:8 was Mark's way of explaining why the story of the empty tomb had not been told earlier. ("They went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had gripped them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.") That is, the "unreliable" women who said nothing were a later invention. However, the context indicates that the women were only silent temporarily because they were terrorized by their experience. In Mark 16:7 the angel tells them to go tell Peter and the other disciples, and in Matthew, Luke, and John they do exactly that. Most likely Mark just left that part out and instead focused on the women's state of mind immediately after their encounter with the angel.

Numerous theories have been put forth over the years of natural explanations for the empty tomb, and I will briefly mention the major ones:

Did the disciples steal the body? Matthew 28:11-15 says that a story of the disciples stealing the body of Jesus circulated among the Jews. Although we don't have independent corroboration that first century Jews made this arguments (but I'm aware of modern Jews who have been given that explanation growing up in Jewish schools), it is unlikely that Matthew invented this, since he brought it up for the purpose of refuting it. If another argument had been widespread among the Jews at the time, why did he not focus on that on instead?

This argument concedes the empty tomb because if there was some way of denying that the tomb was empty in the first place, the detractors of Christianity would have taken that approach. They could have produced a body, argued that the body was one of many in a common grave, or claimed that the story of the empty tomb was invented later. But instead of denying the empty grave, they chose to explain it away.

The stolen body hypothesis has been rejected by modern critics because the disciples would not have been willing to die for a known lie. Something changed the followers of Jesus from doubting cowards to courageous proclaimers of the Gospel who were willing to die for their faith.

Did Jesus not really die? This was a popular hypothesis around the beginning of the nineteenth century, but like the stolen body theory, it has been almost completely abandoned by modern scholars. It states that Jesus did not fully die on the cross and recovered in the tomb. This hypothesis has major problems. First, since Jesus was at least severely wounded from the crucifixion, there is no way He could have removed the stone covering the entrance to the tomb, so the apparent death theory has to be in part conspiracy theory. Second, as the very liberal scholar David Strauss argued, how did a half-dead Jesus stumble into a meeting of His doubting and fearful disciples and encourage them with the news that He had conquered death and someday they would have a body just like His? Third, numerous studies show that medically there is no way He could have survived the crucifixion. Skeptical Jesus Seminar co-founder John Dominic Crossan has stated that the fact that Jesus died by crucifixion is as sure as any fact could ever be.

Did the women visit the wrong tomb? This hypothesis, put forth in the early twentieth century, says that the women lost their way to the tomb and ended up at one that was unoccupied. A caretaker said to them, "You are looking for Jesus of Nazareth. He is not here," and the women were so unnerved that they ran off without hearing the rest of the explanation. When the disciples started talking about appearances of the risen Christ, the women embellished the story into the account found in Mark.

This hypothesis never took off in large part because it cherry picks certain parts of the Gospel account and dismisses others without giving good justification. And it doesn't explain why nobody, including the Jewish leaders, ever set the record straight.

Did Joseph of Arimathea remove the body from his tomb? One hypothesis states that Joseph was not a follower of Jesus, but that Joseph placed Jesus in his rock-hewn tomb in observance of the Jewish laws that a body had to be buried within 24-hours and that burial was prohibited on the Sabbath. Since Jesus died shortly before the start of the Sabbath (from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday), there was no time to dig a grave. Joseph temporarily stored the body in his tomb, and then removed it after the Sabbath. The women later discovered the tomb empty.

There are several problems with this explanation: First, since Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin and a devout Jew, why did he not announce what he had done when the early Christians began proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead? He could have done much to nip the movement in the bud. Second, if Joseph had taken the body, there is no reason to think that the followers of Jesus would have concluded that He had risen. According to John 20:2, Mary Magdalene immediately assumed that someone had taken the body of Jesus. Third, Joseph must have removed the body after sundown on Saturday and before dawn on Sunday, which is when the Gospels tell us the women arrived. Why did he not wait until daylight before he removed the body? If he was not sympathetic to Jesus, it seems reasonable that he would remove the body, but it makes no sense that he did it after dark and that he failed to later announce what he had done.

Every naturalistic explanation of the empty tomb has serious problems, and even if they can be overcome, another major hurdle remains: the appearances of Jesus as the risen Christ in such a convincing way that his followers--including those who started out as skeptics--were willing to sacrifice their lives for their faith. The subject of my next post will be the skeptical response to the appearances of Jesus.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An Invincible Unbelief?

View ImageA few months ago, I spilled a glass of water on my daughter's book. I quickly wiped it off and put it down to go clean the area where I spilled. But when my daughter came to look for it later because she needed it for school, it was gone. We searched everywhere to no avail, so I just bought her a new book. It never reappeared, and at this point I would be surprised if it ever does. 

How could that book have completely disappeared? Did the water have magical properties? Do we have a gnome infestation? That thought has occurred to me a few times when socks go into the laundry chute and never, ever make it out. Maybe the book went the way of those socks, whose partners have taken up permanent residence at the bottom of the clean laundry basket in the hopes that they will someday return.

But enough about my laundry woes, the point here is that in spite of my speculation, I know that we don't have gnomes. I also know that the water did not make the book disappear. In fact, I know that even if the book never shows up there's a natural explanation for its disappearance. I have an invincible unbelief in gnomes and magic water and I believe that to be a rational position.

I used the words "invincible unbelief" because during a debate between Antony Flew and Gary Habermas on the resurrection of Jesus, they agreed on the relevant historical facts, but Flew said that he had an almost invincible unbelief in the resurrection because it was so wildly different from our experience of how the universe functions. Flew agreed with David Hume's argument against miracles in the article "Of Miracles," which states, in a nutshell, that no matter how improbable a naturalistic explanation, a miracle is even less probable. Hume defines a miracle as a violation of the laws of nature and argues that experience is proof against them.

There are several problems with Hume's argument. First, the definition he gives of a miracle is a poor one. A better definition is the one given by J. L. Mackie: "The laws of nature . . . describe the ways in which the world--including, of course, human beings--works when left to itself, when not interfered with. A miracle occurs when the world is not left to itself, when something distinct from the natural order as a whole intrudes into it." That definition is not theologically precise, but it works for the purposes of this discussion.

The example I gave about gnomes stealing my daugther's book or water causing it to disappear would be a violation of the laws of nature in that the universal laws would suddenly not apply. However, the resurrection would be a miracle according to Mackie's definition because God raised Jesus from the dead; this was not simply a violation of the laws of nature, but an intrusion from beyond nature.

This distinction is significant because it is reasonable to believe that the laws of nature are constant. If they were not, the universe would be incomprehensible to us and science would be impossible. We know from experience that the laws of nature are predictable. However, this does not mean that it is reasonable to have an invincible conviction that nothing exists beyond nature. That is a different question altogether.

Second, Hume's argument may be reasonably applied to the disappearing book, but it is not reasonable to apply it to the resurrection of Jesus, which, if true, would be an argument for a God who exists beyond nature. In other words, if God raised Jesus from the dead, then that is an argument for theism, like the fine-tuning argument, the cosmological argument, and the argument from moral law. The argument is not just that a violation of the laws of nature took place, but that God intervened from beyond nature to raise Jesus from the dead, and He would have to exist to do so. And not only is it an argument for theism in general, but it is an argument for the Christian God.

In fact, I have frequently heard non-believers say that they would believe if they witnessed a miracle. Of course, if God had to perform a major miracle in the presence of every person who ever lived, then miracles would be the rule rather than the exception and therefore not evidence for His existence. Instead, He entered His creation in the flesh and did one major miracle that is supported by historical evidence: He rose from the dead. And His resurrection from the dead is the lynchpin of the Christian faith.

So Hume commits the fallacy of begging the question by rejecting the central claim of Christian theism without even considering the evidence. He dismisses the possibility that we could ever have evidence that a God who exists outside of nature revealed Himself to us within nature by doing something that is normally impossible.

Third, Hume's argument is essentially probabilistic, and it has been refuted by Bayes' Theorem. William Lane Craig explained this in his debate with Bart Ehrman, who used a variation of Hume's argument. Craig sets it up as follows:

Calculating the Probability of the Resurrection:

B = Background knowledge
E = Specific evidence (empty tomb, postmortem appearances, etc.)
R = Resurrection of Jesus
Pr (R/B & E) = ?

As I said before, Hume ignores the specific evidence for the resurrection, and says that the probability of the resurrection is R/B, with B representing our background knowledge about the laws of nature and the likelihood of a violation. Of course the probability is very low, in part because of his definition of a miracle and in part because he does not take into consideration the evidence for the resurrection and the plausibility of naturalistic explanations. Agnostic philosopher of physics John Earman (not to be confused with Ehrman) did not mince words in calling Hume's argument fallacious in his book Hume's Abject Failure.

Since Hume's argument is about the probability of a miracle, Earman and Craig used Bayes' Theorem to refute it. Craig argued that the equation has to look like this:

                                                 Pr (R/B) x Pr (E/B&R)          
Pr (R/B & E) = ____________________________________________
                           Pr (R/B) x Pr (E/B&R) + Pr (not-R/B) x (E/B& not-R)

The numerator is the probability of the resurrection given our background knowledge and the specific evidence for the resurrection. The denominator reproduces the numerator and adds the probability and explanatory power of all the naturalistic explanations. So the lower the probability of those explanations, the higher the probability of the resurrection. But if the naturalistic explanations [Pr (not-R/B) x (E/B& not-R)] are plausible and have explanatory power, then the probability of the resurrection goes down.

If that is not clear, Craig spends more time (and does a much better job) explaining it here.

The point here is not to give a probabilistic value to the resurrection but to demonstrate that Hume's argument is fallacious because he oversimplifies the probability of the resurrection. Instead of dismissing the resurrection as always the least probable, we also have to take into consideration the specific evidence for the resurrection and the probability of the naturalistic explanations, like numerous people--including skeptics--having the same hallucination in different situations and at different times, and being willing to give their lives for the truth of what they perceived.

But even if we ignore the evidence for the resurrection and just go back to the original equation Pr = R/B, then Hume's argument still fails because the arguments for theism in general make the inherent probability of the resurrection greater. If the existence of a God who created ex nihilo is the best explanation for why the universe emerged out of nothing, and an Intelligent Designer is the best explanation for the fine-tuning of the universe, then the probability that God raised Jesus from the dead increases. So the background knowledge is not just the probability of a violation of the laws of nature--it is the probability that God raised His Son from the dead, and the probability of that increases if the evidence in cosmology points to a Creator. Pr = R/B is affected by the probability of the existence of a Creator.

In the introduction to "Of Miracles," Hume says, "I flatter myself, that I have discovered an argument . . . which, if just, will, with the wise and learned, be an everlasting check to all kinds of superstitious delusion, and consequently, will be useful as long as the world endures."

Although those of us in the throes of "superstitious delusions" are eternally grateful to Hume for his thoughtful gesture, the problem is that his argument is far too ambitious because it is only useful with respect to true superstition. For example, if I were tempted to plug in my gap of knowledge about the missing book with an explanation like gnomes, then his argument would be a "check" to that kind of a "superstitious delusion." But it tells us nothing about the probability that a God beyond nature would identify Himself to us within nature by superseding its laws, because for Him to be able to do that the laws of nature would have to be predictable in the first place. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus

View Image

In his autobiography Surprised by Joy, C. S. Lewis wrote:
Early in 1926 [when Lewis was still an atheist] the hardest boiled of all the atheists I ever knew sat in my room on the other side of the fire and remarked that the evidence for the historicity of the Gospels was really surprisingly good. "Rum thing," he went on. "All that stuff of Frazer's about the Dying God. Rum thing. It almost looks as if it had really happened once."
What does it mean to say that there is historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus? It means that historians agree on facts about Jesus that strongly point to His resurrection from the dead. It does not, however, mean that the majority of scholars conclude that Jesus was raised from the dead. They would be at least nominally Christian if they believed that. (And in spite of his off-hand comment, Lewis' friend never since showed any interest in Christianity.)

Over the years, critical scholars have not so much disputed the facts as sought naturalistic explanations, like the swoon theory, the stolen body theory, and the mass hallucination theory. But as we will see in the next post, none of these theories are medically or psychologically plausible, nor do they explain all the facts. Only the bodily resurrection of Jesus explains all the known facts.

These key facts are:

First, Jesus was buried in Jerusalem, in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Sanhedrin.

Second, the disciples lost hope when Jesus was arrested.

Third, the tomb was found empty by a group of Jesus's female followers on the morning of the third day after He was crucified.

Fourth, over a period of time a variety of people had experiences where Jesus appeared to them postmortem, including James, the skeptical brother of Jesus and Paul, the Pharisee who persecuted the church.

Fifth, the resurrection was the central message from the very beginning, and the disciples courageously preached it in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was crucified, willing to forfeit even their lives.

Why do most historians agree on these facts?

The "honorable burial" by Joseph of Arimathea in Jerusalem. Most historians agree that the Gospel accounts are correct about the honorable burial for the following reasons: First, the burial is independently attested in several early sources. Skeptical scholar Bart Ehrman acknowledges that "the earliest accounts we have are unanimous in saying that Jesus was in fact buried by this fellow, Joseph of Arimathea, and so it's relatively reliable that that's what happened."

Second, Joseph was a member of the Sanhedrin, which means that he was a celebrity at the time. The authors of the Gospels could not have made this up and not been called on it because many people would have known, at the time when the Gospels were written, whether or not it was true. And the Jewish leaders certainly would have set everyone straight if this had been fabricated.

Third, it seems unlikely that the Christians would have made this up. The Jewish leaders are the villains in the Gospel accounts, and the early Christians blamed them for Jesus's death (Acts 7). So how likely is it that the Gospel authors would all agree to fabricate this ironic twist--that a good and honorable Jewish leader would bury Jesus in his own tomb?

The historicity of this fact is significant because it tells us that Jesus was buried in Jerusalem, in the very city where the message of the resurrection was initially proclaimed. So if any body remained in the tomb, the authorities could have produced it and the message would have been disproved immediately. But there is no evidence of any body having been produced. Gary Habermas says, "We certainly would expect to have heard from Celsus, the second-century critic of Christianity, if Jesus' corpse had been produced. When he wrote against Jesus' resurrection, it would have been to his advantage to include this damaging information, had it been available." But neither he nor any of the Christian apologists of the second or third centuries mentioned it.

The disciples' initial doubt and fear. One of the criteria Bible historians use to determine whether an event in the life of Jesus really took place is the criterion of embarrassment. That is, if it is embarrassing and still included, it is most likely true because why would someone fabricate something to make a significant person in the early church look bad? Well, Peter's denial of Jesus makes him look really bad. First we have the initial bravado: "I'll never deny you, even if I have to die for you!" Then after Jesus was arrested, we have the cowardly denial to a servant girl who recognized him. And when they didn't accept his denials, the future St. Peter the great church leader started cursing and swearing: "I do not know the man!"

This story clearly qualifies under the criterion of embarrassment, and it tells us that the budding ministry started to collapse when their Leader died. As Peter demonstrates, the disciples were stricken with fear and began to doubt everything they had seen and experienced. And this incident is told in all four Gospels so it also qualifies under the criterion of multiple attestation.

The discovery of the empty tomb by female disciples. Was the tomb really empty? This is probably the most controversial fact of the five, and even so, William Lane Craig says: "According to Jacob Kremer, a New Testament critic who has specialized in the study of the resurrection: 'By far most exegetes hold firmly to the reliability of the biblical statements about the empty tomb.' In fact in a bibliographical survey of over 2,200 publications on the resurrection in English, French, and German since 1975, Habermas found that 75 percent of scholars accepted the historicity of the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb. The evidence is so compelling that even a number of Jewish scholars, such as Pinchas Lapide and Geza Vermes, have declared themselves convinced on the basis of the evidence that Jesus' tomb was found empty." And Bart Ehrman admits, "We also have solid traditions to indicate that women found this tomb empty three days later."

The main reason why most scholars accept the historicity of the empty tomb is because each Gospel account insists that women were the chief witnesses. It is not strictly true that they were not permitted to testify, but they were never called upon as witnesses in important matters. So if the story of the empty tomb was legendary, the male disciples would have almost certainly have been the ones to discover it. There is simply no reason to fabricate such a detail.

Some critical scholars, like Gerd Lüdemann, believe that the account of the empty tomb is a legend, but the canonical passion story is too unembellished to read like a legend. Contrast the understated passion story of the Gospel of Mark to the dramatic non-canonical Gospel of Peter, where a gigantic Jesus emerges from the tomb before a vast crowd of witnesses, including the villainous Roman soldiers and Jewish leaders. Two enormous shining men carry Jesus off in glory as a talking cross follows them. A voice from heaven proclaims: "Thou hast preached to them that sleep, and from the cross there was heard the answer, Yea" (10:41-42). Now that's a legend for you!

A variety of people had experiences, at different times and in different ways, in which Jesus appeared to them postmortem. Scholars are virtually unanimous in their acceptance of this fact. Gerd Lüdemann, an eminent atheistic scholar who has written a book seeking to prove that the resurrection did not take place, has said, "It may be taken as historically certain that Peter and the disciples had experiences after Jesus's death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ." As I will discuss in the next post, Lüdemann contends that everybody who thought they saw him actually hallucinated. However, for now it is significant that just about all scholars accept this fact, including those who are strongly biased against Christianity.

Why would an opponent of Christianity say that this is historically certain? In the first letter to the Corinthians, written by Paul around 55AD, he says: "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas [Peter], then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also" (1 Corinthians 15:3-8).

So at the time when Paul wrote this, there were hundreds of people still alive claiming to have seen the risen Christ and willing to testify as witnesses. Were they all friendly witnesses? No, James the brother of Jesus was a skeptic until He saw Jesus postmortem, and that is when he was converted and became one of the leaders of early church. And, according to Josephus, James and some companions were stoned to death by the Sanhedrin of judges in 62 BC (Antiquities of the Jews 20:200).

Paul himself was certainly no friendly witness. Until his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul was a Pharisee who violently persecuted the church, having been commissioned by the Sanhedrin. "For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions" (Galatians 1:13-14).

So Paul was well-respected among the very people who sought to destroy the Christian movement, but he gave that all up after Jesus appeared to him. Instead of prestige and money, he chose ridicule, imprisonment, and poverty for the sake of the Gospel. Why did he do that? If he had really seen Jesus, he did it for the hope of his own resurrection and the resurrection of others. But if the incident on the road to Damascus never happened, what then could possibly have motivated him?

The resurrection of Christ was the central message of Christianity from the very beginning, and the disciples courageously preached it in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was crucified. In 1 Corinthians 15:3-4, Paul sets forth the creed that he received, "that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures." This is an early creedal formula that most critical scholars believe Paul received in 35 AD, during his visit to see Peter and James in Jerusalem three years after his conversion (Galatians 1:18). So within five years of the resurrection, the beliefs of the early church had been formulated into a creed and passed on to Paul. German historian Hans von Campenhausen says of the dating of the creedal formula: "This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text." However, this does not mean that the creed was formulated as late as 35 AD; it simply means that it already existed at that time.

It is well established that the early church flourished in Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was crucified and buried. If the tomb had not been empty and the Sanhedrin had produced a body--any body--it would have significantly weakened the movement if not disproved the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead. But the early Christians boldly proclaimed the resurrection in Jerusalem, willingly facing torture and death for their conviction.

Those historical facts have stood immutable as a rock in spite of many attempts to explain them away. Did Jesus not really die? Did the disciples steal the body and conspire to deceive? Did everybody who thought they saw the resurrected Christ hallucinate? Were people in first century Palestine so superstitious and ignorant of science that they readily believed that someone could be raised bodily from the dead?

The last point was raised in the comments to the prior post, so I'll reply to that here. In The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright said that the idea of a bodily resurrection was considered impossible among the pagans. They might not have been very scientific (and they may have believed in ghosts), but they knew that dead people stayed dead. Wright says: "Not even in myth was it permitted. When Apollo tried to raise a child from the dead, Zeus punished them both with a thunderbolt." In 1 Corinthians 1:23, Paul says that the Gospel is foolishness to the Gentiles, and that is probably because they had no belief in the possibility of a bodily resurrection of the dead. In Acts 26:24, the Roman governor Festus accuses Paul of being out of his mind when he tells King Agrippa about the resurrection. The Jews, on the other hand, believed only in a resurrection at the end of time, and they had no concept of a dying and rising Messiah.

The skeptic who rejects the resurrection will have to propose an alternative explanation for the evidence, and I will elaborate on some of them  in the next post. Lüdemann has argued that those who believed they saw Jesus really hallucinated, a problematic hypothesis given the nature of hallucinations. Bart Ehrman relies on David Hume's argument that the supernatural is inherently the least probable explanation, but that argument has been refuted using Bayes' Theorem. And Anthony Flew admitted, in a debate with Gary Habermas in 1993, that he had an almost invincible unbelief in the resurrection because it seemed to him so "wildly inconsistent with everything else that happens in the universe."

Flew is right that the resurrection is wildly inconsistent with everything we know; people have always known that dead people stay dead. But that is precisely why it would be logical for the Creator of this ordered universe to reveal Himself to us in that way, as a miracle within His original miracle--creation itself.