Sunday, April 4, 2010

The Easter Story: The Greatest Myth Ever Told

We’ve all heard the story. Jesus is resurrected from the dead three days after his crucifixion. His “miraculous recovery” is supposed to prove that his death that he died to save mankind, or at least Christendom, from their sins.

I call the Easter story the greatest myth ever told, well, because it is. The story is great because of the impact it has had on this world, for better or worse. I call it a myth because, as I detail below, this story is inconceivable.

I am certain that this blog entry will not be palatable to any Christian who reads it. To be perfectly frank, that is not my issue, even if you happen to be one of my many Christian friends. Ascertaining truth in this world is of utmost importance to me [and I hope you understand that], which is why such stories need to be classified and recognized for the untruths they are.

Although Christian apologists would claim that there is ample historical evidence proving Jesus’ resurrection, historicity has another tale to tell. When performing historical analysis, we look for the historical evidence to corroborate or negate its veracity. Unlike other historical events, we have no evidence whatsoever of a resurrection, not even a single eyewitness testimony!  The only sources we have around that time period documenting this event are sacred scriptures of a pro-Christian bent.  So, in terms of historical veracity, the evidence we have is of the least objective kind—nothing more than the word of a bunch of biased, unscholarly devotees of Jesus who would have said anything because their devotion to Jesus had been set in stone long before his death. Even if we were to believe Paul when he said that there were over five hundred witnesses to the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:6), we run into a problem. Why didn’t Paul tell us who these witnesses were or where they lived? Why is there no eyewitness testimony from them?  Hypothetically, I can claim that five hundred people saw me make a five-story building disappear. Aside from the initial ridiculousness of the claim, wouldn’t it be all the more embarrassing if I couldn’t produce any eyewitness testimony to my supposed miracle?

If I were an objective historian, I would not use Christian scriptures as my sole basis for proving anything since one can hardly consider such a text to be unbiased. Since Christian scriptures are the only “evidence” for such an event, one would also have to consider that other scenarios were just as plausible. This is precisely what Yisroel Blumenthal does--create reasonable doubt.  One scenario is that Jesus’ followers were in a hurry to bury Jesus [since it was almost the Sabbath], and because they were in a rush, they could have forgotten the location of the burial site. Another possibility is that the disciples, in their zealousness, removed the body themselves and lied to the masses in order to perpetuate the worship of Jesus the man. A third possibility is that Jesus’ body was indeed exhumed by the governing authorities to be put on display to prove that Jesus was never resurrected, but what makes you think that such evidence would have survived centuries of the Catholic Church’s censorship?

But let us put aside notions about eyewitness testimony, reasonable doubt, and corroborating evidence for a moment. After all, Christians tell us we should believe because the Bible tells us so. Just for the record, they’ll also have you believe that the Bible is true because the Bible is true—you have to love that circular argumentation! For argument’s sake, what I will do is temporarily suspend my disbelief by taking Christian scriptures at face value and presume that they were written by well-intentioned men whose goal was to genially “bring the [true] word of Christ to the world.”

When looking at what Christian scriptures has to say about the alleged event, even an unbiased reader has to question the veracity of such a source due to multiple textual issues and inconsistencies. Just to name a few:

1) On which day was Jesus crucified? Some sources say the day before Passover (John 13:1, 29, 18:28, 19:14), whereas others say the first day of Passover (Mark 14:17-25, Luke 22:14-23, Matthew 26:20-30). This causes an even more complicated discrepancy since right before Jesus’ death, he had a Passover seder. There is no way that the seder would have occurred before Passover began, which means that his death could not have either.

2) What were Jesus’ last words? Luke 23:46 says they were “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.” John 19:30 says “It is finished.” Mark 15:34 and Matthew 27:46 both say that they were “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani, which is translated ‘My G-d, My G-d, why have you forsaken me?’” The latter is perturbing since those last words sound more like a man who questions why G-d has abandoned him more than anything else.

3) How many days was Jesus in his tomb? Jesus prophesized (Matthew 12:40) that it would be three days and three nights, the same time that Jonah was in the belly of the whale. John 20:1 said it was two days and two nights, whereas Mark 16:2, Luke 24:1, and Matthew 28:1 say it was three days and two nights. Aside from the contradictions between the Gospels, what is even more glaring is that in either case, his stay in the earth did not last for three days and three nights, thereby making him a false prophet.

4) On the Sunday morning, how many people initially approached the empty tomb? This is another one of those “depends on who you ask” questions. John (20:1) says one, Mark (16:1) says three, and Luke (24:10) says four.

5) After seeing the angels, whom did Mary meet first? According to Luke (24:4-10), it was the disciples. John (20:14), Mark (16:9), and Matthew (28:9) all say that she first met Jesus.

6) Did those who were allegedly there doubt that it was Jesus? Answer: Yes! Mary thought it was the gardener (John: 20:14-15). Even some of Jesus’ disciples were unsure that it was actually Jesus (Matthew 28:17).

7) Where did Jesus' post-resurrection appearances take place?  Luke (24:13-53) said they were near Jerusalem, whereas Matthew (28:7-20) said they were near the Galilee, which is in the northern part of Israel.

8) When did the apostles receive the "holy spirit?"  According to John (20:22), it was on Easter Sunday, whereas Luke (Acts 1:5, 8, 2:1-4) insists that it was on Pentecost, which was fifty days later!

I can come up with about twenty other inconsistencies in no time flat, but I'll leave the rest to Rabbi Tovia Singer, who has done what any unbiased reader of the text would do. He has lined up the four versions of the resurrection story here and shows that none of the details in the four accounts are consistent with each other. In case anybody is doubting me, I did verify the citations' veracity, which means that the existence of the inconsistencies is not up for debate. If any other text, religious or secular, had such glaring inconsistencies, I wouldn’t expect Christians to ardently defend it with the [theological] acrobatics that they defend their scriptures.

To say the least, this causes many problems for Christian apologists. In the words of Asher Norman, author of 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus, he ever so eloquently states, on page 274 of his book, the blatant issues with the conflicting eyewitness testimonies:

Missionaries explain these conflicts to be like differences in eyewitness testimony of an event. They assert that conflicts are expected and actually prove the veracity of the witnesses because false witnesses would rehearse their stories. There are three problems with the missionary answer. First, the Gospel writers were not eyewitnesses. None of them are reported to have witnessed the events described above. Second, many of the differences concern times, dates, and places, which cannot be explained away by differences in perspective. Third, the testimony of the authors is supposedly “the inspired word of G-d (2 Timothy 3:16).” Would G-d transmit a garbled version of the story that is the foundation of Christian faith? Since the “resurrection” of a dead body is not scientifically possible, one needs to believe in a miracle to accept the story as true. Since the contradictions prove that G-d did not inspire the text, there is no rational reason to believe in the “resurrection.” It is therefore simply a self-serving explanation to explain the death of a failed messiah.

Conclusion: I find that the inaccuracies this story epitomize my theological frustrations with Christianity, and calling them "frustrations" would be me putting it mildly. After all, this story is unquestionably the cornerstone of Christianity. Without it, there would be no Christianity. This is why an honest, thorough analysis of the text is essential.

I hope I'm not asking for too much here, but I’ll give it a go. What I ask of Christians is that the minimalist standards that you use to prove veracity are those that you would use in any other decision or analysis you make in your daily lives. The very fact that a significantly lower burden of proof is used in Christianity is regrettable, especially from my conservative Christian friends who constantly complain, and accurately so, about the political Left and their usage of double standards.

I’d also like to make another essential point. Even if this “resurrection” ever happened, I would still find it to be a moot point because, as I blogged a couple of months ago, Jesus could not have possibly died for our sins.

This is not to say that I don't think Christians have a right to practice their religion in America.  If Christianity makes you feel happy and it helps you to be a contributing member of society, go for it!  As long as your faith does not interfere with anybody else's right to practice their religion, I will respect your right to practice Christianity. However, I hope that for any Christian who takes their faith seriously, I hope you take my legitimate concerns just as seriously and think about these inconsistencies.


  1. If you analyze the Passover story, you'll find that it has no more historical substance than does the Easter story.

  2. Stu has a solid point. I celebrate Passover because it mirrors events exoduses that have unquestionable historical basis for the Jewish people, like the Babylonian and European returns (and the Mizrahi and Beta Israel-Ethiopian returns as well). Whether the original Exodus occurred means little to me in the celebration of the symbolism. Likewise, Christians celebrate Easter in many different ways, for different reasons. Even if Jesus died on a cross and didn't resurrect in the actual bodily sense, perhaps you could be justified in saying that he did resurrect in the spirit of future Christians all over the world; his ideas certainly were reborn, so I don't think it's fair to judge/condemn a peoples' beliefs and celebrations because you don't find them personally appealing. Just don't celebrate them, and continue doing your own thing.

  3. I have to appreciate the irony that both comments thus far have been from Jews, and not Christians.

    As for there not being ANY evidence Stu, there is the Ipuwer Papyrus, which was discovered in the early 19th-century. It was written by a non-Jewish source documenting events that line up with the Exodus story. Although one can debate the accuracy of the papyrus (after all, it did happen over three millennia ago!), it becomes all the more impressive to find anything that lines up with the Exodus story, which is more than I can say for Jesus’ resurrection. Read this for more info:

    Becky, if you celebrate Pesach because you find the symbolism meaningful, that's great! I do as well. Just being a libertarian, the theme of freedom makes it most appealing for me. But I also celebrate Pesach because I believe in "Torah mi-Sinai."

  4. And for the record, Becky, this has nothing to do with whether Easter is "personally appealing." This has to do with Christians lecturing to others about the divinity and veracity of their texts. Obviously, the Christian NT contains neither divinity nor veracity because an infinite being wouldn't err. The whole premise of the post was that this was based on a myth (i.e., it's not true). I'm pretty sure I stated at the end that if a Christian still wanted to celebrate Easter and be Christian, that's fine. It’s their constitutional right to do so.

    But when anybody tells me with a straight face that this about a true historical occurrence, of course I take issue with that! And even though it sounds highly politically incorrect, yes, I do have the right, not to mention the obligation, to judge somebody for being untruthful, whether doing so innocuously or intentionally. You might want to read my blog on Judaism and judgmentalism:

    And going back to a previous discussion, I severely doubt you would apply the “don’t condemn a person’s beliefs” to the Holocaust denier or to those who practice female circumcision, although I could be wrong about the latter since I don’t know what your take on the practice is. Because if you were going to be consistent with that argumentation, who are you to judge David Duke for being a blatant anti-Semite? So I hope that we can at least agree that the politically correct belief that just because a belief exists, it should be given equal credence and consideration is ridiculous since it obstructs our connections to reality.

  5. No reasonably person would be pro-FGM, but whatever. Religious beliefs that aren't, on their own, harmful is different than someone who is out to cause hate and destruction like David Duke. Someone buying chocolate eggs in front of me at Walgreen's isn't really bothering me. I take it that you've been "witnessed" to (from your lecturing line) and this has enraged you -- I guess I come at it from a different perspective than you or have been treated differently. Maybe people have been more voracious in their witnessing to you because they know you once accepted the beliefs they espouse and they need to win you back. Besides people on the street who have politely handed out pamphlets, I have never experienced proselytizing and I just shrug off people's comments about True Religion and going to Hell, etc. But I can see where it would get old if it's your friends doing it to you. However, no one practices forced conversions anymore so you are free to disregard them. C'est la vie - there are a lot of people in the world and most of them are Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist and Atheist -- not Jewish. We have to learn to live together and a part of that is letting people worship who and how they want even if we disagree. It's not wise for such a small people to take on the whole world.

    Also, it's not really ironic that Jews are commenting on this. It's a debate. We can and will debate anything.

  6. I’ll most definitely give you a “touché” on Jews and debating! I always enjoy it.

    As for your main point, you were spot on. Between the proselytizing attempts by friends and strangers, being told the deepest pits of hell are reserved for me because I’m Jewish, getting the dirtiest looks when I go shopping for food because my head is covered, or even trying to enjoy a nice day in the park while some guy comes up to you, flicks you off, and calls you the k-word, not to mention losing a few friends, I would safely have to say that I have a slightly different take on it all. This isn’t to say that all of my experiences with non-Jews, and particularly Christians, have been like this. Most of them have been positive, and I can say that a good plurality, if not slight majority, of my friends are “faithful Christians.” However, this is not to say that the negative experiences don’t matter. On the contrary! They're learning experiences for how to put up a good defensive. That way, anybody who crosses me with intent to “win me back over” will think twice before tangoing with me again. Aside from that, being the libertarian I am, I understand the pragmatism of respecting others’ religious rights simply because if I don’t, mine would easily get eroded in the process. Got to love religious plurality!

    Chag sameach Pesach!

  7. "Unlike other historical events in history, we have no evidence whatsoever of a resurrection, not even a single eyewitness testimony!"

    This is your biggest problem my friend. The problem is that you seem to think that there is evidence that any event in history ever happened. Not true. Think about it. Did president Lincoln live? Sure he did, he wrote books and papers that we still have today.

    The problem is this; we dont know if he really wrote them, or if this is just what we were told. We dont have any evidence that anything in history ever happened, it is a matter of what you see now, and I see God.

  8. Ty...

    that is exactly why I find this all to be so interesting. everything is all hearsay, unless you have lived it. But on the other hand, just because we haven't lived it, doesn't mean it never happened. That is why I find life itself so surreal.

  9. Steve,

    I would like to hear your thoughts on a few other topics: and if you have already, please direct where to look. I haven't read everyone of your posts, but some things I find too boring of a topic to get all the way through it. But other things are really interesting to me... Here are topics I would like you to cover... The use of narcotics, from alcohol and weed, to cocaine and meth... or worse... 2. your thoughts on mental illnesses (namely, adult ADD, depression) are these real? 3. Pro life: does that mean for both abortion and Capital punishment/ what are your thoughts on CP. 4. Do you KNOW God exists, or do you do you just believe that he does. And I don't want evidence from the torah or bible or whatever. I just want to respond to that question without research but from the heart.

    Thanks, and take care

  10. Response to Ty:

    I would look at your perception on the matter before criticizing my own. You say that we cannot be sure that Abraham Lincoln’s writings are genuinely his, but, as you put it, you’re sure that Abraham Lincoln existed. How can you be so sure? You clearly didn’t live from 1809 to 1865. If you’re going to go down that road, you’d better be willing to apply this line of thinking to everything. How do you know the country of France hasn’t been there? And even if you have been there, how can you be sure that the place you’re in is France? An even better question—how can you be sure that YOU exist? Needless to say, either you need to have a reasonable standard for burden of proof, or that you raise the bar so high that we can believe in anything, whether that would be that it can snow in eighty-degree weather, believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster or even unicorn-riding Yetis. I ask that the following blog that distinguishes between “beyond a reasonable doubt” and “beyond a shadow of a doubt”:

    To respond to your other argument: where you see G-d, I see a religious text in which its parishioners cannot even do something as simple as explain blatant textual inconsistencies. Why is it that the more counter-evidence that mounts against Christianity, the more one believes in it? Out of all my studies in multiple fields, only in Christianity is counter-evidence accepted as actual evidence. If I can provide all the studies in the world that Americans are getting more and more obese, would you then say that the aggregate American population is getting thinner? Of course not! If I tried using counter-evidence as evidence in a court of law, I’d lose hands-down, but somehow, Christians manage to do so with a straight face when saying Jesus died for my sins.

    Response to Anonymous 1:56PM: I do not deny how surreal life can be. I do my best to see G-d’s splendor and wonder in everything I encounter, but to base your certainties on empiricism is intellectually limiting at the least, and at worst, it’s downright foolish to the point you sever yourself from reality. Please refer to my response to Ty above in its entirety, including the link I provided.

  11. Response to Anonymous 2:05PM: I’ll be honest. So far, I like you. Your questions are thought-provoking (albeit a bit random and unrelated), and you’re willing to hear me out. We’re already on a good start, and that makes me happy. Hopefully, if this progresses, maybe you could be less “Anonymous,” and we can have further intellectual discussions [elsewhere]. To give you brief synopses to your questions, here they are:

    1. This is an interesting discussion topic, particularly of marijuana reform being on a California referendum this upcoming November. The potential for marijuana to be a gateway drug, the overall detrimental effects of marijuana, and its potential harm to those around marijuana smokers are all legitimate obstacles to me being anywhere near advocating for marijuana reform. More about that as the referendum approaches, but if you really want to see something, I think I can write something.
    2. Mental illnesses are not particularly of a political or religious nature, unless you were setting me up for a discussion about determinism vs. free will, but here's an abbreviated version of my two cents. There are certain cases of mental illness that are 100% legitimate, and as members of society, we should care for these individuals. However, I think that most cases of ADD and depression linger because of a lack of willpower to overcome it. ADD primarily comes from a societally-induced short attention span, whereas many cases of depression can be attributed to many things (which can be easily overcome), including rampant materialism becoming an ends rather than a means, lack of religion, lack of communal ties, and a society that overtly emphasizes the work world and the futile attempt to win the rat race.
    3. I do consider myself to be pro-life. Short of an unborn child immediately threatening a mother's life, I am anti-abortion. Please read my blog on the topic: . As for capital punishment, it's trickier for me. I used to be pro-death penalty. But things such as giving the government power over life and death stops and makes one think, as does certain Jewish teachings. The death penalty is one of those topics I personally put in the "undecided" column at this point in life.
    4. I can safely say that I know beyond all reasonable doubt that G-d exists. I do not use "G-d exists because the Bible told me so. The Bible is true because the Bible told me so." I criticize people who do use that thinking because it's a circular non-argument. Fortunately, it's your lucky day because I did a previous blog on this topic, and I didn't have to cite Torah once:

  12. Ah, history -- what is truth? I recall a paper I did on Ethan Allen in 4th grade. My father gave me the "true" words our "cousin" Ethan Allen had said when he captured Ft. Ticonderoga. In my paper, I related the "correct" statement instead of the customary "In the name of the Great Jehovah and the Continental Congress!" I received quite the backlash for my reporting. The יצר הרע‎,evil inclination or natural man likes to hold onto what they believe is true to the exclusion of other truth! Why do parents perpetuate such tales as the easter bunny, the tooth fairy, santa claus? Perhaps there are patterns of truth even within these fables/fabels.

  13. In the words of Asher Norman, author of 26 Reasons Why Jews Don’t Believe in Jesus,...
    Shouldn't that be 'most Jews' in the title as some Jews do believe in Jesus.
    Also, who witnessed all the events in the OT other than (to use modern day religious designations) Jews?
    We have scholars who disagree about OT-era stuff we have found.
    Even Jews disagree about some things (the existence of Israel of a state prior to the return of the Messiah, etc)
    I won't even get into the whole issue of God's promise to Abram.

    1. Dear Steve C,

      I'm not sure whether you are a Christian or your lean more on the agnostic/atheistic end. I'll try to incorporate both possibilities in my response.

      If Norman questioned the choice of the title of his book post facto, that doesn't concern me nearly as much as the general premise of his book, which is the unbelievability of Christian theology, and within the specific context of this blog entry, the Resurrection of Jesus.

      Who witnessed the events in the Tanach (Hebrew Bible)? The existence of the Kingdom of Israel since circa 1020 BCE is historic fact. As a kingdom, Israel didn't live in a bubble in which no one would have heard of them; they interacted with other kingdoms in the region. Whether we are talking about King David, Solomon, the destruction of the First Temple and the subsequent exile, etc., the historic events approximately line up with Tanach, given the archaeological tools we have to discern that alignment. Aside from historicity of the text, there is also the matter of divinity of the text which is debated. However, there is more proof to substantiate an argument that events in the Tanach took place than the life of Jesus, especially since the only early sources that confirm Jesus' existence are pro-Christian in nature (e.g., the Christian New Testament, Josephus).

      Jews have and do disagree about quite a bit. Debating has become something of a pastime amongst the Jewish people. However, not even my very liberal friends in the Reform movement would ever agree that belief in Jesus as some sort of savior is part of Judaism. Even they know where to draw the line on that one.

      There is room for disagreement and discussion, to be sure. However, I don't want this to detract from the main point of this blog entry, which is that the belief of the Resurrection of Jesus, whether based on the probability of an individual actually being resurrected or on the Christian New Testament itself, is tenuous at best.