I have been reading a rather interesting book (“The Mythmaker” by Hyam Maccoby) about the making of Christianity. Not too long after making the claim that Jesus would have been appalled by the claim that he was God and that he was a human sacrifice, absolving all humans of original sin, the author goes on to say “For Jesus himself had merely claimed to be the Messiah, and that this claim was not in any way blasphemous, and his followers, after his death, had merely continued to believe in his Messiahship in the same way (having come to believe that he had been brought back to life as a miracle), but without regarding him as a deity” (italics mine).
The phrase “having come to believe that he had been brought back to life as a miracle” literally jumped off of the page at me.
What evidence is there that Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem believed he had been resurrected? The only accounts I know of are in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts. The earliest Gospel, Mark, is estimated as having been written around 70 CE or roughly 40 years after the events described. It is also known that in its earliest versions “Mark” included no description of a resurrection. A lot happened between roughly 33-34 CE and the writing of the Gospels (ca 70-120 CE). And the Gospels say almost nothing about what the Jesus followers did after his death. Only in the book of Acts are there any descriptions regarding the actions of these folks. The people involved were Jesus’ mother, Jesus’ brother James, the titular head of the group, and his other sisters and brothers, the remaining disciples, a dozen or so (Acts comments on a replacement for Judas). The only bits and pieces available indicate that this group was a Jewish group, which had no intention of starting a religion, and certainly had no intention of pursuing gentiles to do so (and seem to upset Paul greatly by repeatedly calling him a liar). And, yet, some of these people could have been interviewed and their ideas transcribed in the years following 33-34 CE. Why was this not done? Or if it was done, why were these writings lost or destroyed? Acts and Paul’s letters also paint these people in a bad light (they doubted Jesus, they thought he was crazy, etc.).
If . . . if the remaining members of the Jesus followers did believe that he was raised from the dead in a miracle, why were these people not more active in proclaiming the message? (If you had in hand a person actually raised from the dead, what kind of action would you take?) The only answer is that the Gospels and Acts were written to support Paul’s efforts to create a religion based upon Paul’s ideas, not Jesus’. Paul wrote in Greek and when he quoted scripture he quoted Greek translations (the Septuagint); there is no evidence that he knew Hebrew, could either read or write it, so his connection to the very Jewish group Jesus left behind is tenuous at best. So, when the gospel writers set about to create a pre-history for Jesus (much like U.S. presidential candidates write self-serving biographies before running) they had to pick a side: was the Jesus Movement a sect of Judaism or was it something new. Clearly the writers were describing something new. And where did they get these new ideas? From Paul, whose letters were in circulation well before the writing of the Gospels and the Book of Acts. So, the reason Christian scripture contains virtually nothing in the way of input from all of the people who knew Jesus better than any others and who lived for decades following the death of Jesus, was that they had nothing to say in support of Paul’s ideas. Paul’s ideas were steeped in Greek paganism, not in Judaism and were in fact foreign to most Jews.
So, my question is: why do we casually concede significant points “having come to believe that he had been brought back to life as a miracle” in what is clearly a made up story. What evidence is there that any of Jesus’ followers, the people who actually knew him intimately, believed that he had truly come back from death? And if they did not, why should we?
’Splain that to me, please.