With 1 out of every 3 people on Earth identifying as Christian, it’s the single most important event in human history. But was Jesus of Nazareth really resurrected from the dead, and is there any evidence for it? Let’s explore the resurrection of Jesus Christ in depth.
To examine the question first we have to establish the historicity of Jesus himself. While some doubt that he ever lived, no critical historian alive today doubts that Jesus of Nazareth was a real man who lived and died in the time attributed to him in the Gospels. The Jewish historian Flavius Josephus mentions Jesus twice in his histories.
The first mention is widely regarded- even amongst Christian scholars- as having been doctored by a later Christian scribe to be more flattering, but still mentions Jesus as having been condemned and crucified by Roman authorities. The second mention of Jesus by Josephus is when he references the death of Jesus’s brother, James, who was stoned to death for his belief in Jesus as the Christ.
Jesus is also mentioned by the Roman historian Tacitus approximately 86 years after his crucifixion, and affirms that he was in fact crucified by Roman authorities and that a sizable contingent of his believers were present in Rome at the time of his writing, which further strengthens the biblical account of Saint Paul.
Next, we have to establish the reliability of the evidence used to argue that the resurrection was a real event- namely Paul’s letters and the synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Today that material is together, along with other books, known as the New Testament, and a critic would be right in arguing that one cannot use one’s own source material to argue for the validity of his or her argument. Except that is a serious misunderstanding of what the New Testament actually is- or what it originally was.
Today the New Testament is considered to be the second half of Christianity’s ‘holy book’, the Bible. Yet before it was largely codified around 200 A.D., the New Testament was a collection of apocalyptic revelations, letters to various churches, and the formal writing down of oral tradition in the form of the gospels. Specifically, Paul’s letters and the synoptic gospels are considered to be valid historical documents, that due to their content were later turned into a ‘holy book’.
In the words of historian and New Testament scholar Dr. Gary Habermas, if you don’t use the historically accepted books of the New Testament to argue for the historicity of Jesus, then critics will use them for you.
But have the gospels reliably preserved historical details through the ages, and are Pauls’ letters still in their original form and untampered with for the purpose of empowering a Christian agenda?
Historian, New Testament scholar, and textual critic Bart Ehrman- himself an agnostic leaning towards atheism- points out that we don’t have the original autographs by which to authenticate the modern gospels and Paul’s letters. At best we have copies of copies of copies of copies, with the earliest recovered fragments dated back to around halfway through the second century. Furthermore, there is clear evidence of tampering with the gospels, with some passages in modern texts today widely known to have been introduced into the text well after the originals.
Perhaps the most iconic of these fabricated bible passages is John 7:53-8:11, the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman. This story tells of how Jesus came across a woman about to be stoned to death for the sin of adultery by the Pharisee authorities. Jesus however interrupts the process and simply asks that the first man without sin cast the first stone, resulting in the accusers dropping their rocks and going home. Finally, Jesus comforts the woman and tells her that he does not condemn her, then encourages her to go forth and sin no more.
It’s a wonderful anecdote and example of Jesus as what 20th century Atheist philosopher Antony Flew called, “a first-rate ethicist”. Except it never happened, the story was fabricated and inserted by an unknown scribe into the text, and is only one example of several.
In further questioning the historical reliability of the gospels, Ehrman also points out that between various surviving ancient copies of the biblical texts are thousands of errors, and that the first written versions of the gospels and Paul’s letters weren’t created until decades after Jesus’ death- leaving plenty of room for details to be omitted, forgotten, or outright fabricated. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church wasn’t written until 55 A.D., with the gospel of Mark being written in 70 AD, Matthew in 80 AD, and John in 95 AD. That’s a spread of 25 to 65 years after the death of Jesus.
So with made-up stories, thousands of textual errors in the earliest available copies, and such a massive time gap between Jesus’s death and his history being recorded, is there any reason to think the New Testament is historically reliable?
Is there any reason to think the New Testament is historically reliable and can we trust it about Resurrection of Jesus Christ
It’s well established that teachings about Jesus spread far and wide very quickly after his death- in fact within as little as two or three years after the crucifixion, Jewish authorities were already persecuting Christians across the near-East in a bid to exterminate what they viewed as a heretical cult.
This wide geographic dissemination of the core Christian knowledge about Jesus and his life events makes it incredibly unlikely that major revisions could have taken place without them being discovered- if for example, Christian leaders in Rome wished to greatly change a core fact of the life, death, or teachings of Jesus, believers in Africa- which has one of the world’s oldest Christian communities- would have immediately identified the manipulation.
The simple fact that we today are able to know that the story of Jesus and the adulterous woman was a fabrication is a testament to how difficult it can be to make even minor changes to the text without them being discovered thanks to the wide geographic distribution of the original material.
Further, while Bart Ehrman is correct in pointing out the thousands of errors and discrepancies across various ancient manuscripts, the fact is that the overwhelming amount of these errors are insignificant to the core theology. These errors are overwhelmingly misspellings and other textual errors, or errors so insignificant as to not affect the intended message of the scripture. While some may argue that over time errors can pile up, as in a game of telephone, the discovery of the Dead Sea scrolls proves the great diligence with which holy texts were copied and preserved by Jews.
A medieval copy of the Old Testament compared with a copy discovered with the Dead Sea scrolls dating back to between the third century BC and first century AD showed that there were astonishingly few differences in the text- and once again, mostly copyist errors. The early Christians, being former devout Jews themselves, would have treated their religious texts with the same reverence and exacting care for precision.
Further, while we don’t have the original autographs, we do have many preserved copies of some of the earliest church fathers’ writing on the gospels themselves. From their musings on these earliest versions of the gospels we can be confident that we do in fact, have an incredibly well preserved collection that if not perfectly, extremely accurately reflects the content and message of the autographs.
Professor Ehrman correctly points out to discrepancies in the gospel accounts themselves as proof that they are not reliable. On just the discovery of the empty tomb, the gospels vary in the telling.
Matthew states that Mary Magdalene and “the other Mary” went to the tomb. There they found an angel, who told them that Jesus was risen and that they should tell the disciples and that they should go to Galilee to meet up with Jesus.
Mark states that both Maries, and a third woman- Salome- went to the tomb and found a young man inside who told them to tell the disciples to go meet the risen Jesus in Galilee.
Luke states that “the women” went to the tomb, and entering the empty tomb they could not find Jesus when suddenly two men in bright clothes appeared before them. They are not told to tell the disciples about the tomb nor to go anywhere.
John states that Mary Magadalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance, so she went rushing back to Peter and one of the other disciples and claimed that the Jewish authorities or the Romans had removed Jesus’s body. Peter and the other disciple returned to the tomb to find Jesus’s burial clothing, while Mary somewhere outside the tomb and crying, sees two angels and Jesus- though is not allowed to immediately recognize Jesus.
So how can the various gospels be reconcilable if they differ so much in their re-telling of the empty tomb?
It’s important to note that only one of the gospel acounts- John’s- actually differs in any significant way. Matthew, Mark, and Luke were not written side-by-side, but rather individually by different people, thus it’s unsurprising that they would slightly differ in their historical retelling. Neither of those three gospels contradicts the other, they merely mention details important to them.
While Luke seems to state that a group of women went to the tomb, Matthew and Mark don’t omit the possibility- they simply focus on two of the women in that group important to the writer. Luke also does not say that the women are instructed to tell the disciples, or to tell them to go to Galilee to meet Jesus there, but the omission of this detail does not mean it didn’t happen- the writer of Luke could have very correctly assumed that this part of the history was so well known, it was unnecessary to add it to his account. The presence of the angels is likewise complimentary, as Matthew and Mark may have simply chosen to focus on the important angel- the one speaking.
John is the only gospel that differs significantly, and is thus not considered a synoptic gospel- yet that is consistent with the overall theme of John which explores who Jesus was, not what Jesus historically did. Most historians accept this fact and don’t consider John a purely historical document anyways, and neither should we.
As we can see then, the differences in the gospel accounts are a) insignificant to the core facts, and b) largely an issue of focus, rather than irreconcilable discrepancies. For comparison consider the accounts of the Titanic’s survivors- many of them swore that the ship sunk without breaking in two, while the rest swore that they saw the ship physically break in two.
Nobody however doubted that the ship had sunk, or any of the events immediately after the sinking. Further, if the gospel accounts had been perfectly accurate to each other, they would’ve almost certainly been collaborated, seriously damaging their value as historical documents.
Lastly, while no serious historian objects to the time gap between the gospels and Jesus’s death as being cause for concern over inaccuracy, many non-historian critics do. After all, how accurate can a historical account be if it’s written decades after the subject’s death?
First, this is ignoring the strong oral tradition of ancient Jews. In the first century, very few people knew how to read or write, and thus most people would rely on oral retelling of history- and specially of their religious texts, with a very strong emphasis on accuracy. To a devout Jew, the thought of mangling holy scripture by poorly recollecting it was an unthinkable heresy. This strong oral tradition would have been present in the early Christians as well, themselves recently converted Jews.
Next, while the earliest writings on Jesus date to 25 years after his death, the fact that we have at least 11 historical sources for Jesus within a century of his death makes Jesus of Nazareth the gold standard for ancient historians. Take for example Alexander the Great, of whom there’s not a single history class in the world that doesn’t tell of his deeds. Yet the earliest available sources for Alexander date to over 300 years after his death.
How about Tiberius Caesar then, the emperor of the Roman empire during the life and death of Jesus?
Surely if anyone was to be well-attested to it would be the leader of the most powerful empire at the time. Yet while one contemporary source exists, it’s highly unreliable for historians as it speaks on an all-too personal note. The best, and earliest, source for the life and times of Rome’s emperor when Jesus died is Publius Cornelius Tacitus, writing a full eighty years after Tiberius’s death. The next after that is Suetonius, 85 years after his death, and Cassius Dio almost two centuries later.
Simply put, to doubt the veracity of the historical account of the scriptures is to put into doubt every single event of ancient history, as the life, death, and teachings of Jesus are the best sourced histories in the ancient world.
With the gospels and letters of Saint Paul accepted as valid historical documents, is there then any evidence for the resurrection as a historical event?
We can begin our investigation with the empty tomb. In the gospel accounts, the tomb is discovered empty by Mary Magdalene. Jesus’s burial clothes are there, but not the body. Critics have argued that the empty tomb was an early Christian fabrication, and presented various theories as to what really happened.
The first is that the entire empty tomb narrative was a fabrication, yet this has been widely rejected by critical historians as the scriptures themselves record the Jewish authorities reacting to the empty tomb by claiming that the disciples had stolen the body, along with their own refutation to this claim. An obvious back-and-forth dialogue is preserved, showing that whatever the cause, the tomb of Jesus was in fact discovered empty.
Next is the claim that the Jewish Sanhedrin was right, and the disciples did steal the body. This is frankly, an absurd proposition, as guards had been posted to the tomb. In all likelihood these were actually Jewish temple guards, as it’s incredibly unlikely that Pilate would have bothered to involve Roman guards in what he saw as a purely Jewish religious dispute, and instead simply told the Sanhedrin to use the guards they already possessed themselves.
The idea of the disciples bribing Jewish temple guards successfully so as to perpetuate their heretical belief in a resurrected Messiah is incredulous to the point of sheer absurdity, let alone bribing Roman guards who would themselves face death for such a massive dereliction of duty when the tomb was found empty.
The next theory is the ‘apparent death’ theory. This theory states that Jesus didn’t really die on the cross, and instead survived his crucifixion, somehow slipped past his tomb guards, and returned to the disciples who celebrated him as the resurrected Son of God. Once more, it is completely absurd to believe that a severely injured Jesus, who had just survived a scourging, then being crucified, and in need of critical medical care, could possibly return to his disciples and convince them that despite his utterly broken body, he had in fact defeated death, quote, “in glory”.
Secondly, crucifixion was simply not a survivable event unless the person was immediately rescued. The way that a person was crucified would lead to a slow but sure asphyxiation as the downward pull of gravity forced an individual to physically push against the nails embedded in his feet in order to lift their chest up and relieve the pressure, allowing them to gasp for breath.
This would have been not only an excruciatingly painful experience, but an exhausting one, compounded by the effects of blood loss and exposure. Additionally, Roman guards were quite used to crucifying Jewish would-be Messiahs and rebels by this time, and were under pains of their own death to ensure that their prisoner could not be rescued and did indeed die on their cross.
Lastly, in the account of the crucifixion in John 19, we have a Roman centurion ensuring that Jesus is truly dead by piercing his side with a spear, stabbing upwards and into the heart to deliver a killing blow. The scripture states that “blood and water” came out of the wound, which perfectly mirrors exactly what modern medical science would expect from such a wound on a person who died after being crucified.
Before death, fluid would have collected in the membrane around the heart and lungs due to heart failure- this is known as a pericardial and pleural effusion. Upon Jesus’s body being pierced by the spear, this fluid would have leaked out of the wound, followed by blood, exactly as reported in John 19, strongly hinting that whoever wrote the John account either was physically present at the crucifixion or had testimony from a witness who was.
So is the empty tomb narrative accurate? There is no real reason to believe that Jesus’s body was stolen, or that Jesus survived his crucifixion. Without an empty tomb, there could be no Christian narrative of resurrection.
As a well-known figure due to his perceived blasphemy and heresy, the site of Jesus’s burial would have been known to anyone looking to debunk the disciple’s earliest claims of resurrection, and all the Jewish authorities would have had to do to shut the entire Christian movement down as soon as it arouse was to simply unseal the tomb and show that Jesus still lay there, dead and that the disciples were liars.
It’s important to note who discovered the empty tomb as well- women. In the very patriarchal society of the ancient Jews, women were not regarded as credible witnesses in court. Both Jewish historian Josephus and Jewish philosopher Maimonides made it clear that women were not competent to testify in court. As Josephus pointed out, the testimony of a deaf, mentally incompetent, or young person, as well as women, was excluded in most cases.
Despite women being ineligible to serve as witnesses in most Jewish courts, the early Christians publicly proclaimed women- the least trustworthy members of society- as the discoverers of the empty tomb. This would not just have been an incredulous, but hugely embarrassing detail for the early disciples, and the fact that the detail remains is strong evidence that the disciples were simply accurately relaying the discovery of the empty tomb- no matter how embarrassing it was for them personally.
Next in our investigation of the resurrection is the appearances of Jesus after his death.
The majority of new testament historians affirm that Jesus appeared to his disciples after his death. In the words of Ed Sanders, New Testament scholar and former professor at Duke University, “The following is an historical fact: the earliest disciples saw the risen Jesus. I don’t know how exactly they saw him, but they saw him.”
Most critics, including 20th century atheist philosopher Antony Flew ascribe to the hallucination theory to explain the postmortem appearances of Jesus. This theory posits that the disciples were stricken with grief-inspired hallucinations, and confused them as the real, bodily appearance of a risen Jesus.
There are, however, serious problems with this theory.
First, any belief in Jesus’s resurrection due to a hallucination could have easily been dispelled by Jewish authorities by simply checking the tomb and finding the body still resting there. Second, as is established by medical science, hallucinations cannot create new ideas- they simply work within the preexisting mental framework.
As devout Jews, the disciples had no belief, let alone an ‘idea’ of a bodily resurrection that predated the end of days. In the Jewish faith, resurrection only occurred on the last day, as God cast his judgment and called the faithful to live in paradise- before this event there could be no resurrection of the dead. Revivification of the recently dead, much like happens in our modern hospitals every day, was certainly possible, but not a resurrection to a “glorified body” as described by the disciples of Jesus.
Therefore a hallucination could not have convinced a devout Jew that an event for which he had no basis for believing in, had occurred.
Secondly, the odds of all of the disciples- or at least enough to jump-start the Christian church- all suffering from grief hallucinations are astronomical to the point of, once more, absurdity. There is not a single other recorded case like it in verified medical history. Further, it’s well recorded that Jesus appeared to groups of the disciples at the same time, and hallucinations cannot be shared between individuals. One individual cannot see what another is hallucinating, and vice-versa.
Lastly, there’s the case of Saint Paul. Paul was in effect, a religious terrorist. As the early Christian church spread rapidly, Paul was tasked with finding Christians and imprisoning or killing them on behalf of the Jewish authorities. Yet two to three years after the crucifixion, Paul- by his own account- encountered Jesus.
At the time he was on the way to the synagogues in Damascus to request their aid in arresting Christians and bringing them back to Jerusalem to undergo trial and possible execution. While on the road, Paul encounters Jesus and is blinded, and remains so until one of the very Christians he was sent to arrest or kill finds him and heals him.
In ‘The Psychological Origins of the Resurrection Myth’, Jack Kent argues that Paul suffered from conversion disorder, a very real psychological disorder that commonly affects soldiers, police officers, and prison guards. Commonly, sufferers will experience physical maladies with no apparent cause while under severe psychological stress- thus Paul’s blindness is believed to be a psychosomatic syndrome of his conversion disorder, itself caused by his internal conflict in killing and imprisoning innocent Christians.
However, there are as usual problems with this theory. Conversion disorder is short-lived, and thus would not explain Paul’s dramatic and lifelong change from devout Jew and persecutor of Christians, to a champion of the early Christian faith. It’s also incredibly implausible that Paul experienced conversion disorder along with visual and auditory hallucinations which led him to believe that Jesus was talking to him personally- not to mention the Messiah complex that would arise as Paul took on the mission of spreading the Christian faith far and wide.
In short, Paul would have had to have been one of the most mentally ill individuals in history to suffer from all four mental disorders simultaneously at exactly this stretch of road on the way to Damascus.
Hallucination theory simply can’t explain why a sworn enemy of the Christian church would experience the same hallucination as Jesus’s own disciples, years after Jesus’s death. It also cannot explain the postmortem appearances to entire groups of people as recorded by the disciples, as hallucinations are a personal experience. Finally, a hallucination could not have led the disciples to believe in something they had no concept of before the event- namely, the preapocalyptic resurrection of their former teacher.
Next is the marked change in the disciple’s lives as a result of their postmortem encounters with Jesus. As stated about Paul, hallucinations simply do not lead to lifelong ideological changes, and the disciples clearly underwent dramatic and unprecedented ideological and theological changes practically overnight as a result of their experiences after the crucifixion.
Immediately after Jesus’s death, the disciples went into hiding, fearful that the Jewish authorities would crucify them next. It can’t be understated how devastating the crucifixion was for the disciples- not only had they lost their teacher, but he had suffered a criminal’s death, one so abhorrent to Jewish society that it was believed those who were crucified would not experience resurrection on the final day. In the eyes of the disciples, Jesus had proven himself to be no different than the dozens of other self-proclaimed Jewish messiahs that came before, and after, his death.
Yet we know that within months of the resurrection, possibly even weeks, the disciples were boldly proclaiming Jesus’s resurrection. This is evidenced by two facts: the first is that the Christian church had spread so quickly that Paul was on his way to root it out in Damascus just two to three years after Jesus’s death. The second is what is known as the ‘Corinthian creed’, written down by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, which reads:
…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures.
This creedial statement in Paul’s letter is authenticated as an early Christian creed by the format it is written in the original Greek, which differs from the way the rest of Paul’s letter is written. In the ancient world, when you wanted to help someone who couldn’t read or write remember something, you put it in the form of a creed, and as Bart Ehrman himself attests, the Corinthian creed can be dated back to within one or two years of the crucifixion, with some historians dating it as early as mere months after Jesus’s death.
This means that within months after the crucifixion, the earliest Christians were already teaching Jesus’s resurrection- a concept that they had no ideological basis for prior to the crucifixion. And not only were the demoralized and terrified disciples coming to believe Jesus had risen from the dead, but they were almost immediately spreading their belief to thousands of other Jews.
Belief in the resurrection was far from the only heretical belief of the disciples however, as almost immediately after the crucifixion the young Christian church changed their celebration of the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. This move was motivated by the day of Jesus’s alleged resurrection and discovery of the empty tomb, and to first century Jews, would have been the height of heresy. Handed down to them by God himself, and honored for two thousand years, the sabbath and God’s commands to keep it holy were of paramount importance to the Jews, and suffused nearly every aspect of their culture.
For the early Christians to be convinced that Jesus had risen from the dead, and thus shift their sabbath celebration from Saturday to Sunday, defying almost two thousand years of tradition, would have required an incredible burden of proof. As observed across history, religious schisms simply don’t spring up overnight, and yet one of the immediate defining characteristics of the early Christian church was its adoption of Sunday as the new sabbath.
Belief in Jesus as the messiah also completely defied all Jewish messianic expectations. To first century Jews, living under the Roman yoke and having experienced no independence for hundreds of years, the messiah was supposed to triumph over Israel’s enemies and drive them out of the land. The messiah was not supposed to be tried by his enemies and then sentenced to a humiliating death on a cross- let alone be resurrected three days later only to leave Israel’s enemies in power.
For the early Jews, the messiah was a triumphant figure, leading them to victory- not an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the world.
Explaining how so many 1st century Jews could come to believe in this radically different version of a messiah is difficult, unless the disciples had proof in the postmortem encounters with Jesus, and the instructions they received during those visitations. Critics argue that the entire narrative was fabricated by the early church, yet fail to account for how truly difficult it would be to come to believe in Jesus as messiah when he defied centuries of messianic expectations within a deeply religious society by dying as a criminal and not driving out Israel’s enemies.
Lastly, we have the faith of the disciples themselves. Christian claims that all or most of the original disciples were martyred cannot be substantiated, but there are good sources for several of the disciples.
Peter’s martyrdom is attested to by Clement of Rome, an early church leader elected from amongst individuals who personally knew the disciples. He was crucified upside down, not believing himself worthy to die the same way as Jesus.
The apostle James, not to be confused with Jesus’s brother, was killed by King Herod in about AD 44. The martyrdom is attested to in the book of Acts, but also recorded by Clement of Alexandria who was born 100 years after James died.
Paul, the famous persecutor of Christians, is widely attested to by the earliest church leadership as having been beheaded by emperor Nero sometime before 68 AD.
James, brother of Jesus, is written about by Jewish historian Josephus, who writes that James was executed by stoning in 62 AD. James’ murder, according to Josephus, offended many of the citizens as it had been carried out by a hastily organized Jewish court during a lapse in imperial oversight of the region. James’ martyrdom is particularly striking because as the gospels state, he believed Jesus was crazy while alive, and yet would later die for his faith that his own brother was indeed the messiah.
While the rest of the disciples cannot be confirmed as having been martyred, the ones which can be confirmed paint a telling picture of a group of men who refused to give up their belief in Jesus as messiah despite the threat of death. Often painted as con artists by critics, there is no possible reason to believe that if the disciples were truly con men, they would have stuck to the con all the way up to their own execution- and yet history records no mention of their recanting of their beliefs. Simply put, men don’t die for false beliefs.
The final argument for the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth as a historical event argues that the crucifixion and resurrection account simply lacks legendary embellishments, as is present in nearly every other religion. This however is only mostly true, as there are clear signs of legendary-ism that creep into scripture. For example, when Jesus dies the gospels speak of a period of darkness, or of many of the dead returning to life briefly, or of the veil in the temple separating the holy of holies from the public tearing in two.
While there is some evidence that an eclipse may have occurred on the day Jesus died, there is no evidence that the dead walked briefly through the streets of Jerusalem, or that the earth shook and the temple was damaged in any way. These are almost certainly, simply legendary embellishments.
However, when compared with other religious texts what immediately stands out about the New Testament is the starkness of the text. In fact, the entire account of the life, death, and postmortem appearances of Jesus is quite embarrassing to the early church.
Even before Jesus dies, the scriptures attest to bickering, whining, and complaining from his own disciples. Jesus frequently rebuffs them for their lack of faith or foolishness, and even outright chastises Peter- the man on whom the church would be built- as having an ungodly way of thinking about things. One of Jesus’s closest disciples is a tax collector for the Romans- men who were seen as traitors and were so reviled by Jewish society that they were not allowed to worship at the temple and were considered unclean along with various animals.
Jesus’s own family was no better, with the gospels recording that they believed he was crazy- this would be most telling for James, his brother, who would shortly after the crucifixion come to believe in Jesus as messiah and even die for that belief.
When Jesus is arrested, Peter- again, the most important of the disciples- denies Jesus three times, then flees along with the rest of the disciples to hide in fear and shame. When Jesus is crucified, most of the gospel accounts state that at best, only a few of the disciples watched from a great distance. Only the gospel of John, least reliable in this matter, mentions that a single disciple was even near the cross- though what’s clear is that the disciples didn’t dare come close for fear of their own arrest.
After Jesus’s death, none of the disciples believe in his promise to return after three days. They are so demoralized by the crucifixion that they are hiding from the Jewish authorities, and even when Mary Magdalene brings them news of the empty tomb, they refuse to believe. It’s only when Jesus appears bodily to them that they believe, and even then at least one of them, Thomas, refuses to believe Jesus isn’t a ghost until Jesus offers that he physically touch him.
The picture painted by the gospels of the original disciples is that of scared, doubting, at times unfaithful men- exactly the opposite of what you would expect if the entire narrative had simply been created for the purposes of legitimizing a belief in Jesus. Rather than painting them as great patriarchs of wisdom and faith as would be expected, the New Testament is downright frequently embarrassing in its portrayal of the disciples- evidence that the scribes who penned the original gospels were more interested in recording truth than fictionalizing accounts and infusing them with legendary attributes.
From a radical and sudden shift in deeply held religious beliefs, to the independently attested accounts of bodily postmortem appearances of Jesus, to the inexplicable explosion in growth of the early church, the question of if Jesus rose from the dead or not remains without a plausible naturalistic answer. While a naturalistic theory can be posited that answers one or more of the facts behind the early church, no one theory can explain all of them together.
The truth is something significant happened in Jerusalem in the early 30s AD, an event so incredible that it immediately split the Jewish faith in two and led to an explosion in belief in Jesus of Nazareth, executed as a blasphemer and criminal, as the risen Messiah.