12 Historical Facts About Jesus, 13 Theories to Explain

The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus includes 12 facts agreed upon by scholars, both liberal and conservative. A reasonable approach is to evaluate those 12 known facts against 13 theories about what happened to determine each theory’s explanatory power (which of the 12 facts it doesn’t account for). The only 2 theories that account for all 12 known facts are:

  1. Jesus was an alien
  2. Jesus was bodily resurrected

Here are the 12 facts (gotten from a presentation by Dr. Craig Hazen):

  1. Jesus died by crucifixion [*** core fact #2]
  2. He was buried
  3. Jesus’ death caused the disciples to despair and lose hope, believing that his life was ended
  4. The tomb was discovered to be empty just a few days later
  5. The disciples had experiences which they believed were literal appearances of the risen Jesus [*** core fact #3]
  6. The disciples were transformed from doubters who were afraid to identify themselves with Jesus to bold proclaimers of his death and resurrection [*** core fact #1]
  7. This message was the center of preaching in the early church
  8. This message was especially proclaimed in Jerusalem, where Jesus died and was buried shortly before
  9. As a result of this preaching the church was born and grew
  10. Sunday became the primary day of worship
  11. James, who had been a skeptic, was converted to the faith when he also believed he saw the resurrected Jesus
  12. A few years later, Paul was also converted by an experience which he, likewise, believed to be an appearance of the risen Jesus [***core fact #4]

Here is a chart of 13 theories that attempt to explain the facts (again, credit is given here to Craig Hazen for this excellent chart):

3 thoughts on “12 Historical Facts About Jesus, 13 Theories to Explain

  1. KS

    Most of these “facts” are not facts. Nothing is known about what happened to Jesus’ body after his death. The empty tomb is unattested before 70 CE, is historically implausible and was probably an invention of the author of Mark. Nothing is known about anything the followers of Jesus claimed to have seen or believed. There us no evidence that James was a “skeptic.” Th book of Acts is not evidence, The Gospels are not evidence, Those are the CLAIMS. You can’t use claims as evidence for themselves and we know that here are many, many problems with taking the Gospels as history as well as many contradictions between them.
    First you need to actually prove there was an empty tomb, which you can’t do, but even if you could, a missing body is evidence of nothing but a missing body. You also can’t prove any disciples ever saw Jesus walking around in a physical body. Paul doesn’t claim that. Even the Book of Acts never says that Paul saw Jesus, just saw a light and heard a voice. Paul says nothing about a tomb and never says Jesus walked around on Earth before ascending to Heaven. Since Paul draws no distinction between what he saw and what he thinks the disciples claimed they saw, there is no reason to believe that he thought the others saw anything different from what he did.
    Two book recommendations: Bart Ehrman’s *How Jesus Became God* and John D. Crossan’s *Jesus: A Radical Biography.* Both scholars are highly skeptical of the empty tomb story (with good reason).


  2. taterskank

    The resurrection is a legend that grew over time. Watch how experiencing the Risen Jesus evolves in chronological order. Scholarly consensus dating places the documents as follows:

    Paul c. 50 CE – is the only firsthand report. He says the Risen Jesus “appeared” ὤφθη (1 Cor 15:5-8) and was experienced through “visions” and “revelations” – 2 Cor 12:1. The appearance to Paul was a vision/revelation *from heaven* – Gal. 1:12-16, Acts 26:19 (not a physical encounter with a revived corpse) and he makes no distinction between what he “saw” and what the others “saw” in 1 Cor 15:5-8. This shows that early Christians accepted visions as Resurrection “appearances.” Paul nowhere gives any evidence of the Risen Christ being experienced in a more “physical” way which means you have to necessarily read in the *assumption* that the appearances were physical, from a later source that Paul nowhere corroborates. He had a chance to mention the empty tomb in 1 Cor 15 when it would have greatly helped his argument but doesn’t. Paul’s order of appearances: Peter, the twelve, the 500, James, all the apostles, Paul. No location is mentioned.

    Mark c. 70 CE – introduces the empty tomb but has no appearance report. Predicts Jesus will be “seen” in Galilee. The original ends at 16:8 where the women leave and tell no one. Mark’s order of appearances: Not applicable.

    Matthew c. 80 CE – has the women tell the disciples, contradicting Mark’s ending, has some women grab Jesus’ feet, then has an appearance in Galilee which “some doubt” – Mt. 28:17. Matthew also adds a descending angel, great earthquake, and a zombie apocalypse to spice things up. If these things actually happened then it’s hard to believe the other gospel authors left them out, let alone any other contemporary source from the time period. Matthew’s order of appearances: Two women, eleven disciples. The appearance to the women takes place near the tomb in Jerusalem while the appearance to the disciples happens on a mountain in Galilee.

    Luke 85-95 CE – has the women immediately tell the disciples, contradicting Mark. Jesus appears in Jerusalem, not Galilee, contradicting Matthew’s depiction and Mark’s prediction. He appears to two people on the Emmaus Road who don’t recognize him at first. Jesus then vanishes and suddenly appears to the disciples. This time Jesus is “not a spirit” but a “flesh and bone” body that gets inspected, eats fish, then floats to heaven while all the disciples watch – conspicuously missing from all the earlier reports. Luke’s order of appearances: Two on the Emmaus Road, Peter, rest of the eleven disciples. All appearances happen in Jerusalem.

    John 90-110 CE – Jesus can now walk through walls and has the Doubting Thomas story where Jesus gets poked. Jesus is also basically God in this gospel which represents another astonishing development. John’s order of appearances: Mary Magdalene, eleven disciples, the disciples again plus Thomas, then to seven disciples. In John 20 the appearances happen in Jerusalem and in John 21 they happen near the Sea of Galilee on a fishing trip.

    As you can see, these reports are inconsistent with one another and represent growth that’s better explained as legendary accretion rather than actual history. If these were actual historical reports that were based on eyewitness testimony then we would expect more consistency than we actually get. None of the resurrection reports in the gospels even match Paul’s appearance chronology in 1 Cor 15:5-8 and the later sources have amazing stories that are drastically different from and nowhere even mentioned in the earliest reports. The story evolves from Paul’s spiritual/mystical Christ all the way up to literally touching a resurrected corpse that flies to heaven! So upon critically examining the evidence we can see the clear linear development that Christianity started with spiritual visionary experiences and evolved to the ever-changing physical encounters in the gospels. https://www.reddit.com/r/DebateAChristian/comments/6hj39c/the_resurrection_is_a_legend_that_grew_over_time/


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