This is a nice informal chat between Bart Ehrman and Justin Bass about the historical evidence that Jesus rose from the dead. The conversation began with a number of off the cuff topics, like both scholars making fun of the Christ Myth Theory (the idea that Jesus never lived but was a mythical figure like Hercules). The main discussion begins with Bass outlining why he believes there is good evidence for the resurrection, pointing to our earliest witness of Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians section 15 which says the risen Jesus was believed to have appeared to Peter, James, the 12, a group called the 500, and Paul. Ehrman responds that history is rich in people of all religions claiming to have had such experiences, and the ones Paul relates are no more evidence for the truth of Christianity than any other such claims would be evidence for other faiths.
The point is then extended in that there are a number of eyewitnesses here in Christianity, but we have something similar with eye witnesses of Joseph Smith’s golden plates. 11 eyewitnesses say they saw golden plates and four said they saw the angel Moroni give the plates to Smith. Bass argues that unlike the angel Moroni Jesus has appeared to many people throughout history, so this bolsters Christianity’s claim. Ehrman responds the Mary is thought to appear regularly to Catholics, but this isn’t evidence she actually does or that Catholicism is true. Bass counters that Catholics are expecting Mary to appear, while for the first Christians the appearance of Jesus was a surprise. Ehrman replies that in the literature it is often not expected that Mary will appear.
Ehrman says the disciples did think Jesus was the messiah and did not expect that the messiah would die or be raised from the dead because there was no such expectation. Peter, Mary and Paul thought they saw Jesus alive afterward. Ehrman supposes one, like Peter, thought they saw Jesus, and this ballooned into a chain of others thinking they saw him too. Ehrman doesn’t give this example but the mass Fatima sky “miracle/hallucination” may have been the same sort of thing.
Ehrman points out 1/8 people in the states believe they have seen a deceased loved one after death, although this would have been somewhat different with apocalyptic Jews because they didn’t think in terms of body/souls separation, and so if they saw Jesus after he died they would have thought it must have meant God raised Jesus from the dead. Ehrman mentions that Peter may have hallucinated Jesus out of grief of mistreating him by denying him before Jesus died. Ehrman doesn’t mention this that Paul says he had relatives high up in the Jesus movement such as Junia before he converted so the cognitive dissonance of him persecuting family may have led to hallucination. But, there are also literature on categories of people who were enemies of Christ who converted, so Paul may simply have belonged to that category. Certainly, Paul may even become disenchanted with his own Judaism because it was prompting him to persecute Christians. Ehrman says in the video there are a lot of options as to what happened on the Damascus road and we don’t ultimately know.
This line of argument wasn’t addressed, but another point is there was much to admire about the Christians. The first Christians were willing to suffer and die rather than recant their faith of love of God, neighbor, and enemy, and as far as the visions of the 12, cults usually died off with the death of their leader, and so to keep the movement that they believed in with all their hearts going they may have invented claims (see my article here) …
We don’t simply accept eye witness testimony affirming the wildly improbable miraculous such as the miracles surrounding Joseph Smith or Israel ben Eliezer, known as the Baal Shem Tov or as the Besht, so why should we do so in the case of Jesus? Ehrman says from the point of view of historical probabilities, should the historian conclude that Jesus was 1 out of billions of people in history who broke the laws of physics when God raised him from the dead based on three people thinking they saw him, or is the more reasonable choice that they were like the 1/8 today who mistakenly think they saw a relative/friend alive after death? So, there are many options such as hallucination, Jesus only seemed to die, the disciples stole the body, or whatever – but however unlikely any of these might be from an historical point of view, any of these are more likely than God intervened in history one time and broke the law of physics raising Jesus from the dead. One of Bass’ lines of argument is the sheer number of visions of Jesus throughout history testifies to the truth of the resurrection, but Ehrman responded that visions are common throughout history in non Christian contexts, and so aren’t evidence of anything.
I think Ehrman presented a very solid case that the visions of Jesus could have started as hallucinations, or dreams, or a face in the crowd, which then disseminated to others, so I don’t think Bass made a compelling case that we have better evidence for the wildly improbable miracle claim. I definitely side with Ehrman on this one. Do watch the video through to the end for Ehrman’s physics defying coffee analogy!