“…we will try to explain the resurrection with a natural explanation—that is, without taking the gospel story as history.
…our goal is simply to offer a plausible natural alternative to (the) supernatural one…
Why does the Old Testament say what it says?
The Old Testament looks just like it was written by primitive people from that region of the world. We see polytheism and support for slavery and genocide. We see in early Judaism the Combat Myth, which came from earlier Babylonian and Akkadian stories. We see Sumerian cosmology in the Genesis creation story. Early Judaism was simply another Canaanite religion, and we even read about Elohim and Yahweh in Canaanite holy books that preceded the Old Testament.
again, the natural explanation is plausible…
Why did historians like Josephus write what they did?
who followed Jesus said at most, “there are people called Christians
who worship a man named Jesus,” hardly compelling evidence for the
supernatural stories about Jesus. (I’ve written more on Josephus here.)
What explains the New Testament resurrection story?
Jesus died around 30 CE and the first gospel was written forty years
later, that’s a long time (in an unsophisticated prescientific culture) for the story to evolve.
The gospels were written in Greek, which means that the Jesus story was
filtered through Greek culture, full of their own stories of miracles
and gods (one example: the story of Dionysus dying and rising from the dead).
Some early Greek Christians might well have been former worshipers of
Dionysus. If the Jesus story didn’t have him rising from the dead before
they heard it, there’s a good chance that it did after they got through
I’m not proposing malicious tampering with the story or claiming that any part is a hoax. I’m simply saying that human memory is notoriously inaccurate,
and oral history is an error-prone process. Even in our own time, you
can find errors in newspaper stories from the previous day. Stories
change with the retelling.
As to the elements that are unique to Christianity, how does any new religion branch away from its earlier beliefs? Christianity isn’t the only religion that made innovations.
That’s it. It was oral history for decades in a culture full of supernatural tales, and it picked up changes and “improvements” along the way before being written.
there are other possible variations along Christianity’s path. Maybe
someone was lying along the way. That’s hardly surprising—we know that
people lie. You might ask for their motivation. I dunno, and I don’t
much care—we understand those times so poorly that there could be lots
of surprising reasons.
Or maybe our understanding of the early church is significantly wrong because of deliberate changes to the gospels in the centuries-long period after initial authorship but before we get our first complete New Testament copies in
the fourth century. Gospels could have been amended or added to, and
competing gospels could have been discarded or destroyed. To give one
uncontroversial example, half of the “Pauline” epistles—those that claim
to have been written by Paul—were not.
Or maybe Jesus never existed. Paul was writing about a mythical Jesus in the unspecified past (his understanding of the gospel story is basically nonexistent), and later authors could have historicized the story.
You’ve got a marvelous story full of miracles from a
distant culture 2000 years ago, and you’re wondering which bin to put it
in? Stamp it with “Myth/Legend” and let’s move on. The gospel’s
miracles, the doubts turned into beliefs, and the enthusiastic
eyewitnesses are just a story.