I watched a documentary last night about how the resurrection did not happen.
Whenever I watch these documentaries, I must admit, the content and presenters elicit a wide range of responses in me. At some point I often doubt my own beliefs. I often laugh at the stupidity of some of their hypotheses and accompanying statements. I get angry when some things are deliberately twisted to secure a point. And finally, I am encouraged as I come out the other end after I have dealt with the points that they have offered.
Last night they made two points that appear on the surface quite reasonable and even convincing.
Jesus the faker…
Firstly, they claimed that Jesus did not die on the cross. One university professor cited events in chapter 15 in Mark’s Gospel to question the validity of the resurrection claim in chapter 16. We read in 15:44 that, ‘Pilate was surprised to hear that he (Jesus) was already dead.’ After all it was only 3 hours after the crucifixion, which was half the time it normally took for someone to die by this ancient execution method, especially since he did not have his legs broken!
That Pilate was surprised that he was dead hints at the fact that Jesus was not in fact dead, but was alive. This gives rise to a further defence.
For Jesus to get off the cross alive there needed to be some kind of collaboration between the disciples who knew that Jesus was still alive and the centurion in charge of the operation. Indeed this is what we are told that we find. In 15:43 we see that a wealthy man called Joseph of Arimathea who, at the request of the disciples one assumes, approaches Pilate. Of course the disciples were mere fisherman, etc., who did not have the standing to carry out such a request. After the request by Joseph for Jesus’ ‘dead’ body we read about Pilate’s surprise. Pilate, in verse 44, then follows due process: ‘Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died’. Is it a surprise to find out that the centurion in verse 45 takes the perspective of the disciples and Joseph by confirming that Jesus was indeed dead?
But how can we prove that the centurion was in cahoots with the disciples and therefore with Jesus? It just so happens that this same centurion in 15:39 betrayed his allegiance when he proclaimed that ‘Surely this man (Jesus) was the Son of God!’
So there we have it. The independent inquirer is Pilate who is surprised that Jesus is dead so soon. We have the disciples who are working through a rich man to secure the not yet dead body of Jesus with the help of the converted centurion.
The film makers’ conclusion was that Jesus was taken down from the cross while he was unconscious but alive.
But why did the film makers not engage with the story that preceded Jesus’ crucifixion? Why, even though they admit that the gospels are the greatest source of information about Jesus, do they not engage with the other gospel accounts of Jesus’ death? Maybe because there is much information in those books that run contrary to their plotline?
Why does the fact that Jesus was brutally whipped and beaten (repeatedly on the head we read in Matthew) not come into play?
Why is the fact left out that the centurion was not alone but was with others who also agreed that he was dead?
They conveniently leave out John’s report that the legs of those crucified that day were due to be broken to speed up their deaths, but when they arrived at Jesus he was already dead. His legs did not need to be broken. The centurions (plural) do not leave it to chance, and so they speared Jesus’ side producing a flow of ‘water and blood’, which we are told is what happens after death.
They are happy to employ the Gospel of John to inform us that the legs of Jesus were not broken which supports their view that Jesus could not of had a quick death, but they are not so forthcoming with the surrounding information that speaks of the numerous centurions present to validate the that Jesus was dead, not to mention the spearing of Jesus’ side.
Why is much of this information left our of the picture? Maybe, Jesus was dead on the cross. Maybe the centurion did see Jesus die and the supernatural events that happened in that moment. Maybe Joseph was rich and had Pilate’s ear. Maybe they took the dead body away and put it in a tomb. These maybes are not an elaborate scheme, but rather simple. They don’t reek of a master plan, nor a covert operation. That a man died is much more feasible.
Jesus did his job. Pilate and the centurions did their job. Jesus’ friends did their job. That was how the first century worked.
Jesus on the run…
The fact that Jesus was alive presents a problem. This was the basis for the second claim, that Jesus disappeared to either the south of France (not a bad idea if you ask me!) or the Central Asia. They are right in saying that if Jesus did survive the crucifixion then he would have been a wanted man, after all, he was a traitor and blasphemer who had been sentenced to death.
The film makers betray their own ignorance and agenda in this argument.
As I said earlier, they admit that the vast amount of information that we know about Jesus is by virtue of the four gospel – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. If then we take these accounts as explaining why Jesus was in Jerusalem in the first place why would we think that Jesus would flee Jerusalem after he survives the crucifixion?
The Gospels are very clear that Jesus walked into Jerusalem knowing that his end was nigh. Firstly, if he knew that his end was fast approaching and that the primary antagonists were in Jerusalem, why would he go to Jerusalem? If he wanted to avoid being killed then any sane person would have headed in the opposite direction, or even France!
Secondly, Jesus had an opportunity to say that he was not the king of the Jews and so maybe avoid death, but he chose to engage with what he believed to be the case. To the question, ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is as you say.’ If Jesus was trying to get out of dying then he was doing a really bad job of it.
If Jesus did survive the crucifixion why would he run? If he didn’t run the first time why would he run a second time? He had been defying the religious authorities for three odd years. He was clearly not phased by the idea of standing up to them and the consequences that that would bring.
If the gospels are our best source of information about Jesus then perhaps we should engage them in a more holistic fashion.
The film makers created an amazing plot worthy of, not a religion, but a movie: Jesus did the impossible.
He survived a flogging and crucifixion and being speared his side, he fooled Pilate and the Roman executioners with a nifty blood and water trick, was retrieved off the cross with the help of the role playing rich man and centurions, was smuggled by friends out of the tomb where he lived for three days, before being rescued (again with help of the Roman guards) and fleeing to France and Central Asia.
Sometimes the Gospels don’t sound that wacky at all:)