Historical Jesus

Historical Jesus

Articles on Jesus of Nazareth as a historical figure, focusing on the historicity of his resurrection from the dead.


'Noli Me Tangere': Why John Meier Won't Touch The Risen Lord

John Meier distinguishes 'the real Jesus' from 'the historical Jesus.' Meier claims that whatever happened to the real Jesus after his death, his resurrection cannot belong to the historical Jesus because that event is in principle not open to the observation of any observer. But why think that the resurrection is not observable in this way? Meier finds justification in Gerald O'Collins' view that although the resurrection of Jesus is a real event, it is not an event in space and time and hence should not be called historical, since a necessary condition of historical occurrences is that they are known to have happened in our space-time continuum. Is this a good argument for the resurrection's being in principle excludable from the historical Jesus? A close examination of the argument reveals that it is not and that Meier's adoption of such a procedure contradicts Meier's own historical methodology.

This is the pre-peer-reviewed version of the following article: "'Noli Me Tangere': Why John Meier Won't Touch the Risen Lord," which has been published in final form at Heythrop Journal 50 (2009): 91-97.

Dale Allison On Jesus' Empty Tomb, His Post-Mortem Appearances, and the Origin of the Disciples' Belief in His Resurrection

I limit myself principally to a discussion of Dale Allison's treatment of what I take to be the three central facts undergirding a historical inference to Jesus' resurrection, namely, the discovery of his empty tomb, his post-mortem appearances, and the origin of the disciples' belief that God had raised Jesus from the dead. I am not here concerned with the question of which hypothesis best explains these three facts but rather with the historicity of the events themselves. I argue that Allison's handling of the evidence, particularly for the empty tomb, is uneven and overly sceptical, while his case against the empty tomb is surprisingly weak. I close with some reflections on why worldview considerations need not lead to a suspension of judgement on the best explanation of these facts.

"Dale Allison on Jesus' Empty Tomb, his Postmortem Appearances, and the Origin of the Disciples' Belief in his Resurrection," Philosophia Christi 10 (2008): 293-301.

Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: Presuppositions and Pretensions of the Jesus Seminar

In this first part of a two-part article, the presuppositions and pretentions of the Jesus Seminar are exposited and assessed. It is found that the principal presuppositions of (i) scientific naturalism, (ii) the primacy of the apocryphal gospels, and (iii) the necessity of a politically correct Jesus are unjustified and issue in a distorted portrait of the historical Jesus. Although the Jesus Seminar makes a pretention of speaking for scholarship on the quest of the historical Jesus, it is shown that in fact it is a small body of critics in pursuit of a cultural agenda.

"Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Presuppositions and Pressumptions of the Jesus Seminar." Faith and Mission 15 (1998): 3-15.

Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus

Five reasons are presented for thinking that critics who accept the historical credibility of the gospel accounts of Jesus do not bear a special burden of proof relative to more skeptical critics. Then the historicity of a few specific aspects of Jesus' life are addressed, including his radical self-concept as the divine Son of God, his role as a miracle-worker, his trial and crucifixion, and his resurrection from the dead.

"Rediscovering the Historical Jesus: The Evidence for Jesus." Faith and Mission 15 (1998): 16-26.

Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Lüdemann's Hallucination Hypothesis

Gerd Lüdemann's provocative hypothesis that early Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection was the product of hallucinatory experiences originally induced by guilt-complexes in Peter and Paul is assessed and contrasted with the traditional resurrection hypothesis in terms of the usual standards of hypothesis testing: explanatory power, explanatory scope, plausibility, ad hoc-ness, accord with accepted beliefs, and superiority to rival hypotheses.

"Visions of Jesus: A Critical Assessment of Gerd Lüdemann's Hallucination Hypothesis," Edwin Mellen Press.

Reply to Evan Fales: On the Empty Tomb of Jesus

Evan Fales' curious hypothesis that the gospel narratives of the empty tomb are of the genre of mythology and so were not taken to be historical accounts by either their purveyors or their recipients is critically examined. Then Fales's responses to eleven lines of evidence supporting the historicity of the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb are considered.

"Reply to Evan Fales: On the Empty Tomb of Jesus." Philosophia Christi 3 (2001): 67-76.

From Easter to Valentinus and the Apostles' Creed Once More: A Critical Examination of James Robinson's Proposed Resurrection Appearance Trajectories

James Robinson argues that parallel trajectories, springing from primitive Christian experiences of post-resurrection appearances of Christ as a luminous bodily form, issued in the second-century Gnostic understanding of the appearances as unembodied radiance and in the second-century orthodox view of the appearances as non-luminous physical encounter. Craig examines his four arguments in support of these hypothesized trajectories and finds them unconvincing. There is no reason to think that the primitive experiences always involved luminosity or that if they did, this was taken to imply non-physicality. Nor does the evidence support the view that Gnostics rejected corporal or even physical resurrection appearances of Christ.

"From Easter to Valentinus and the Apostle's Creed Once More: A Critical Examination of James Robinson's Proposed Resurrection Appearance Trajectories." Journal for the Study of the New Testament 52 (1993): 19-39.

The Guard at the Tomb

Matthew's story of the guard at the tomb of Jesus is widely regarded as an apologetic legend. Although some of the reasons given in support of this judgement are not weighty, two are more serious: (1) the story is found only in Matthew, and (2) the story presupposes that Jesus predicted his resurrection and that only the Jewish leaders understood those predictions. But the absence of the story from the other gospels may be due to their lack of interest in Jewish-Christian polemics. There are no good reasons to deny that Jesus predicted his resurrection, in which case the second objection becomes basically an argument from silence. On the positive side, the historicity of the story is supported by two considerations: (1) as an apologetic, the story is not a fail-safe answer to the charge of body-snatching, and (2) a reconstruction of the history of tradition lying behind Jewish-Christian polemic makes the fictitiousness of the guard unlikely.

"The Guard at the Tomb." New Testament Studies 30 (1984): 273-81

The Problem of Miracles:  A Historical and Philosophical Perspective

Modern skepticism concerning the gospel miracles first asserted itself by denying the miraculous nature of the events. Soon, however, the historicity of the events themselves was denied. Behind this skepticism lay the broad conception of a Newtonian world-machine, the arguments of Spinoza against the possibility of miracles, and the arguments of Hume against the identification of miracles. Counterpoised to these attacks were the defenses of miracles written by Le Clerc, Clarke, Less, Paley, and others. An assessment of the debate shows that, contra the Newtonian conception, miracles should not be understood as violations of the laws of nature, but as naturally impossible events. Contra Spinoza, admission of miracles would not serve to subvert natural law, and the possibility that a miracle is a result of an unknown natural law is minimized when the miracles are numerous, various, momentous, and unique. Contra Hume, it is question-begging or invalid to claim that uniform experience is against miracles.

"The Problem of Miracles: A Historical and Philosophical Perspective." In Gospel Perspectives VI, pp. 9-40. Edited by David Wenham and Craig Blomberg. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1986.

The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus

An examination of both Pauline and gospel material leads to eight lines of evidence in support of the conclusion that Jesus's tomb was discovered empty: (1) Paul's testimony implies the historicity of the empty tomb, (2) the presence of the empty tomb pericope in the pre-Markan passion story supports its historicity, (3) the use of 'on the first day of the week' instead of 'on the third day' points to the primitiveness of the tradition, (4) the narrative is theologically unadorned and non-apologetic, (5) the discovery of the tomb by women is highly probable, (6) the investigation of the empty tomb by the disciples is historically probable, (7) it would have been impossible for the disciples to proclaim the resurrection in Jerusalem had the tomb not been empty, (8) the Jewish polemic presupposes the empty tomb.

Source: "The Historicity of the Empty Tomb of Jesus." New Testament Studies 31 (1985): 39-67.

Jesus' Resurrection

In writing to the church at Corinth, the Apostle Paul declared that without Jesus’ resurrection their faith is worthless. The resurrection of Christ is central to Christianity and it is thus often attacked by skeptics and others antagonistic to the faith. After an appraisal of recent scholarship on the historicity of the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Dr. Craig contends that the resurrection appearances, the empty tomb, and the origin of the Christian faith all point unavoidably to one conclusion: Jesus’ resurrection is a historical reality.

Source: "Contemporary Scholarship and the Historical Evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ," Truth 1 (1985): 89-95.

The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus

It has been argued on the basis of Paul’s testimony that Jesus’s resurrection body was spiritual in the sense of being unextended, immaterial, intangible, and so forth. But neither the argument appealing to the nature of Paul’s Damascus Road experience nor the argument from Paul’s doctrine of the resurrection body supports such a conclusion. On the contrary, Paul’s information serves to confirm the gospels’ narratives of Jesus’s bodily resurrection. Not only is the gospels’ physicalism well-founded, but it is also, like Paul’s doctrine, a nuanced physicalism.

Source: "The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus," in Gospel Perspectives I, pp. 47-74. Edited by R.T. France and D. Wenham. Sheffield, England: JSOT Press, 1980.

The Disciples' Inspection of the Empty Tomb

There are three alternatives concerning the relation of Luke and John's stories of the disciples' inspection of Jesus's empty tomb: (1) Luke is dependent upon John, (2) John is dependent upon Luke, or (3) Luke and John are dependent upon a common tradition. (1) is not a plausible hypothesis because in light of Luke 24:24, a later scribe borrowing from John would have had another disciple accompany Peter. (2) is not plausible in view of the non-Lukan elements in 24:12 which are characteristic of Johannine tradition. Moreover, good grounds exist for positing pre-Lukan tradition. (3) is most plausible in view of its ability to explain all the relevant data, the improbability of Luke's dependence on John, and the improbability of John's dependence on Luke.

Source: "The Disciples' Inspection of the Empty Tomb (Luke 24, 12. 24; John 20, 1-10)," in John and the Synoptics, pp. 614-619. Edited by A. Denaux. Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 101. Louvain: University Press, 1992.