Christian apologists often argue that stories and writings about Jesus Christ's resurrection emerged too soon after the event to be considered legendary. They assert that this close timeline precludes fabrication or the evolution into legend. However, this standpoint relies on the assumption that these accounts are accurate representations of the event, overlooking potential fallibility in human memory and the cultural influences of the era. While the Jewish disciples may have had reasons to anticipate Jesus' resurrection based on his teachings, the early emergence of these stories doesn't guarantee historical accuracy. Myths can develop swiftly, especially when there's a strong belief motivation. Therefore, critical examination of this argument's underpinnings is crucial.
Renowned apologists like Licona and Habermas stress that the narratives about Jesus' resurrection emerged too quickly to be mere legends. They believe oral accounts sprang up within weeks, with written records appearing 20-30 years later. But memory is malleable, influenced by factors such as grief. Contemporary research reveals that recent memories can be modified by such influences. Thus, the disciples' grief over losing Jesus could have affected their recollections. Hence, the argument relying on the immediacy of these accounts isn't necessarily compelling.
Emphasizing the importance of this debate, it's puzzling that apologists lean heavily on the narrative's temporal proximity to the resurrection. Various studies, like that of Favilia & Kuhl in 2014, have shown that even external factors like coffee consumption can influence memory. Given the potential impact of grief and other influences on memory, the claim that these stories emerged too early to be legendary might be undermined.
The disciples' grief over Jesus' death was profound, as depicted in the Gospels. Even if they did experience a perceived visitation from the resurrected Jesus, it doesn't confirm the genuineness of such an experience. Analyzing their grief in the context of the five stages outlined by the University of Washington Counseling Center in 2020 can provide insight. The disciples' strong anticipations about Jesus' resurrection might have shaped their grieving process. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her 1969 work, detailed these grief stages which can distort reality perceptions of those grieving. In the disciples' case, it's plausible that their grief stages and expectations influenced their interpretation of post-crucifixion events.
Modern instances further demonstrate how quickly false beliefs can arise and spread. The COVID-19 pandemic and climate change have shown that despite strong evidence, denialism persists. This denialism is fueled by politics, biases, and misinformation. The recent storming of the US Capitol on January 6, 2021, saw individuals denying or downplaying the event, even with concrete video evidence. The explosion of "fake news" on social media platforms illustrates the rapid spread of misinformation. This suggests that our technological advancements don't exempt us from biases or errors. Such a perspective needs to be applied not only to modern events but also to historical claims like Jesus' resurrection.
The 2020 US presidential election provides another example of denial and affirmation of falsehoods. Former President Trump's persistent claims about election rigging, despite no credible evidence, illustrate how beliefs can arise and spread rapidly. Drawing a parallel, the disciples might have sincerely believed in Jesus' resurrection and successfully convinced others. The emergence and persistence of beliefs do not necessarily correspond to their factual accuracy.
Christians frequently challenge beliefs in other religions, like the tale of Muhammad's moon journey or the claims within Mormonism. These examples further highlight the human propensity for accepting claims quickly, even with access to contemporary verifiable information. Similarly, conspiracy theories surrounding events like 9/11, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, persist today.
This discussion doesn't deny the possibility of Jesus' resurrection. It instead challenges the argument that the belief's early emergence post-event lends it credibility. The primary argument is that there isn't a specific time frame that can disqualify events from being legendary. While many arguments support the resurrection, its temporal proximity might not be the most compelling. The examples provided can even invite skepticism regarding the resurrection accounts.
Kubler-Ross, E. (1969). On Death and Dying: What the Dying Have to Teach Doctors, Nurses, Clergy and Their Own Families. New York: The Macmillan Company.
Licona, M. R. (2008, August). The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus:. Department of New Testament Studies.
University of Washington, Counseling Center. (2020, June 8). The Stages of Grief: Accepting the Unacceptable. Retrieved from Washington.edu: https://www.washington.edu/counseling/2020/06/08/the-stages-of-grief-accepting-the-unacceptable/
Suthana N, Aghajan ZM, Mankin EA, Lin A. Reporting Guidelines and Issues to Consider for Using Intracranial Brain Stimulation in Studies of Human Declarative Memory. Frontiers in neuroscience. 2018;12:905. doi:10.3389/fnins.2018.00905
Favila SE, Kuhl BA. Stimulating memory consolidation: a study in this issue of Nature Neuroscience reports that administering caffeine to humans immediately after memory encoding enhances consolidation, as reflected by improved performance in a memory test a day later. Nature Neuroscience. 2014;17(2):151. Accessed April 28, 2023. https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&AuthType=shib&db=edsgao&AN=edsgcl.361242321&site=eds-live&scope=site