The Noble Lie Theory Of Christian Origins

I agree most secularists poke fun at the resurrection miracle claim of apologists, but have no good alternative, as even Dr. Bart Ehrman admits, which really isn’t playing fair. See Ehrman’s debate with William Lane Craig (see time 1:14:00 – 1:19:00):

Ehrman’s argument is that any argument, however improbable, is still more likely than the miracle explanation. I think we do have a good alternative to the resurrection hypothesis: The Noble Lie hypothesis

James Ware’s article “The Resurrection of Jesus in the Pre-Pauline Formula of 1 Cor 15.3–5 (2014)” seems to me persuasive that even though Paul says Jesus was buried and resurrected by God and omits mentioning an empty tomb, we find consistently in the NT literature that narrative accounts of the resurrection include the empty tomb, while confessional statements consistently omit it. So, I concede to apologists for the sake of argument the historicity of the empty tomb and do not find compelling reasons to accept the Tabor hypothesis that Jesus was believed to have left the body behind in the tomb like a discarded cloak and was raised immaterially. We must focus on historical reasoning. What explanation as an alternative to a resurrection miracle can we make?

Walsh shows empty tomb stories were common in antiquity and meant to persuade people that apotheosis or “person becoming a God” had happened, and so the disciples would certainly have motivation to invent such a story. And this certainly fits with the famous Nazareth Insciption from Caesar pointing out bodies being stolen from tombs was a problem at the time.

Their leader had died, and cults usually fizzled out after that, so if they really believed in Jesus’s message, a noble lie certainly may have occurred. Plato famously has Socrates last words to Crito as a thanks to Asclepius for the poison, which would heal him from his bodily suffering, and society. And it worked: Seeing noble Socrates’s unjust death helped society see the lunacy of the charges against him, and we no longer kill people for being a gadfly/nuisance.

The apostles were certainly willing to die for what they believed in (and some did die), you just have to suppose they believed in the message rather than the supernatural magic claims. Such noble suicide pacts were present in the ancient world, like the people of Astapa in 206 BC; the women after the battle of Sextiae in 102 BC; etc. Even in the Jewish tradition where we have frowning on suicide, noble suicide is allowed, especially if you are killed by another. There is no explicit biblical prohibition on suicide, so there is King Saul, who killed himself rather than face torture or forced conversion at the hands of the Philistines. And in fact Jesus deceptively underwent a suicide mission, tricking the rulers into killing him unjustly (1 Cor 2:8), so it makes sense the apostles would honor their master in that way.

And as a Platonic noble lie? As an historical analogy, Josephus reported that at Masada the Jewish defenders had drawn lots and killed each other in turn, down to the last man, who would be the only one to actually take his own life. Josephus says that Eleazar ordered his men to destroy everything except the foodstuffs to show that the defenders retained the ability to live, and so had chosen death over slavery. Now, we know Josephus is lying and inventing this account because of the nobility of it, since for archeological reasons modern historians such as Kenneth Atkinson and Eric H. Cline argue it never happened.

We can conclude Christian apologetics are impotent here because to think there is sufficient evidence to establish a miracle would mean you think all the empty tomb apotheosis stories in antiquity establish miracles, which is silly. All you need is a few post mortem appearance falsehoods and the rest takes care of themselves, like the prompting of the children inspired the mass Fatima hallucinations of the Miracle of the Sun in 1917. There certainly isn’t compelling evidence that a resurrection miracle took place. If I, like apologists claiming a miracle, make such a wildly improbable claim like I own a time machine, I need very compelling and unambiguous evidence, which is certainly not in place for the Christian apologetic interpretation of the empty tomb. I lay out my case for the Noble Lie interpretation of Christian Origins here in this article: