As Paul makes clear in 1 Corinthians 15 (12-19) if Jesus didn't rise from the dead our trust is useless and we should be pitied more than any people. So without getting into the deep theological meaning behind the resurrection and its clear importance I'm going to spend five posts examining five pieces of historical data. Many people feel Jesus resurrection from the dead best explains the historical evidence over alternative explanations.
These five facts are described by Habermas & Licona as historically factual and can be backed up with evidence and granted by the vast majority of scholars on the subject, this includes many of the most sceptical who may disagree with the conclusions.
The First Fact
Jesus Died by Crucifixion under Pontius Pilate -
So this is to say that Jesus existed and was killed under Pontius Pilate who was the Roman governor of Judea from AD 26-36. This puts Jesus clearly within a historical context that clearly separates him from other savour myths. For some years even Pontius Pilates existence was seen as suspect by some radical scholars because we had only the New Testament writings, one mention by Tacitus and two writings by the Jewish historian Josephus and Philo of Alexandria. Although this is more than many figures of ancient history, if Pilates existence couldn't be sure of then some hyper-sceptical scholars could have legitimate reason to doubt Jesus historicity. However over the years there have been some amazing archaeological discoveries that clearly put Pontius Pilates historical existence way beyond reasonable doubt. Pilate is clearly an important figure since he was the person who handed over Jesus for crucifixion.
The Pilate Stone
It was discovered in the summer of 1961 in Israel and is kept in the Israel museum in Jerusalem, it can be examined in more depth here This inscription has helped to prove to sceptics once again that the New Testament writers weren't in the habit of including people who never existed in their accounts!
The Historical Evidence
Many people seem to think that when we talk about Jesus we have only the gospels to rely on, and although there is an array of evidence to support them as valuable and accurate historical documents I will look at some of the evidence outside of the gospels (I have addressed the secular sources for Jesus crucifixion in more detail in previous posts, see here.
The above link examines sources such as Tacitus, Josephus, Mara Bar-Serapion and Lucian of Samosata which were all written prior to AD 160 and mention Jesus' crucifixion. However some people may claim that this isn't very much information for someone so important however we are talking about something that happened almost two thousand years ago, and since we have only a minute fraction of the historical books written from that time, what we do have is actually rather substantial especially in reference to the crucifixion. So far we have seen that clearly Jesus was a historical figure who was condemned to death upon the cross but what exactly was so bad about crucifixion?
Couldn't Jesus have survived the crucifixion?
In the first century BC, Cicero calls crucifixion the most horrendous torture and Tacitus refers to it as "the extreme penalty." The theory that Jesus wasn't killed when he was crucified and was perhaps instead just hurt and in a coma is known as the Swoon theory. For many this seems like a reasonable solution but I will make a few points that will show that this is clearly a false conclusion.
1 - Even the preparation for crucifixion was enough to kill many and show us that Jesus would have been in a terrible state before he even made it to the cross. Jesus was flogged with a lead tipped whip and slapped in John 19:1-3. The whips often had jagged pieces of bone and lead woven into it. So before even getting to the cross Jesus would have undergone a minimum of 39 hits with the whip which was often enough to expose the victims veins and organs. Struck with a reed-stick, spit on, blindfolded and beat with fists in Mark 14:65, 15:19, I can imagine that the Roman soldiers knew how to punch properly as-well . A thorn crown was put on his head and beaten Matthew 27:29, the thorns found in Israel are often 3 inches or longer.
2 - So following on from what was just the preparation for crucifixion Jesus would have had nails (Roman nails were five to seven inches long.) put through his wrists and feet. Not only would this be extraordinary painful it would have made it extremely difficult to breath. This is because once on the cross the victim would be in a position where to breath he would have to take all the pressure on his arms to inhale, this would usually lead to a very slow and painful death that could often take days. The pain was so unbearable that a new word had to be created 'excruciating' (literally out of the cross) to describe the torment people would have gone through during this terrible means of execution. Recent medical research on the cause of death during crucifixion does however vary depending on the exact methods used and the individual themselves, it has been suggested that some would have died of shock or pulmonary embolism etc.
3 - Jesus' legs weren't broken by the Roman soldiers, this is for two reasons. It was often seen as a merciful act to put someone out of their misery due to the pain they were going through. This wasn't seen as necessary by the soldiers since Jesus appeared to die quite quickly following his horrendous preparation. It was also used as a means of speeding things up since once a victims legs were broken they could no longer lift themselves up to breath, and would then die of asphyxiation. So what we can see is that Jesus was quite clearly dead and since these soldiers had overseen many deaths who better to make such a decision.
4 - But anyway like good Roman soldiers just to make sure of the job they thrust their spear through Jesus' side (John 19:34-35) this mix of blood and water is described by medical experts as being due to to the rupturing of the the pericardium which is the sac that surrounds the heart. This puncturing would have lead to a small amount of clear fluid followed by a large amount of blood just as John describes in his gospel account.
5 - It is clearly preposterous to think that Jesus after being punched, flogged, crucified and stabbed in the side would have managed to convince anyone three days later that he was the risen messiah. To think otherwise is clearly a view that doesn't take into account the facts surrounding the crucifixion process and the resurrection appearances. In fact the disciples probably would have felt pity for him and tried to nurse him back to health and not change from crybabies to bold preachers of the resurrection.
Accounts that Mention Jesus within 150 years of his Crucifixion
NT Authors - Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter, Jude.
Early Christian Writers outside the NT - Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martydom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter and Epistula Apostolorum.
Secular/ Non-Christian Sources - Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny the Younger, Phlegon, Lucian of Samosata, Celsus, Mara Bar-Serapion, Suetonius and Thallus
So considering we have only a fraction of the writings from the period what we have is as you can see clearly a substantial wealth of information from which we can draw our conclusions.
So in conclusion we have Jesus within a clear historical context which can place his crucifixion within Pontius Pilates time in government, we have have at least four secular sources that record Jesus crucifixion as-well as over 35 more sources that record him as a historical figure. We can also see that from the nature of crucifixion that Jesus was clearly no longer alive, and there's certainly no way a half dead, bleeding Jesus would have persuaded anyone that he was the savour of the world who had conquered death!
Let me know your thoughts.