Was the Resurrection a Legend?

Written decades after the supposed event, the gospels say Jesus died and three days later was found absent from his tomb and appeared alive to his followers.  The evidence given by Paul is too general to count as evidence.  You need detail.


Legend by default is a possibility. The longer the gap between the supposed events and the recording the bigger the possibility.  The writers not giving their names increases it.  The writers  having no fear of accountability to a body that checks data is another increase.  The New Testament gospels fail on all these points and so have a high legend possibility score.


The oldest resurrection of Jesus account is in Mark's gospel and even that one has problems for it has been tampered with or a portion lost.  We do not know either way.  Attempts to argue that there was no legend in the story of the empty tomb in Mark are refuted by the fact that the gospel contains very improbable miracle stories and expects us to take hearsay as evidence for them.  The Mark gospel is sober compared to the others but that does not mean it is credible!  It shows traces of legend which get worse and worse with each future gospel writer.


“I do not think of the evangelists themselves as eyewitnesses of the passion; nor do I think that eyewitness memories of Jesus came down to the evangelists without considerable reshaping and development” Fr Raymond Brown - Death of the Messiah.


Perhaps the story of the resurrection just started off as the result of some unusual event or report and got exaggerated and assembled window dressing as time went on so that the gospel accounts are legendary.


There are no neutral or hostile accounts of Jesus’ alleged comeback from the dead at all in the first century. You would need such accounts at the time it supposedly happened. Some accounts in the first century would be better than nothing but there is nothing. Even until the fourth century there is nobody mentioning the resurrection except Christians who did not even claim to be historians. Oddly enough the Christians were the people who preserved the records in which Jesus is strangely absent.


The problem of absent records or their non-existence is the chief reason for being suspicious that its all a legend.


The main argument Christians use to show that the resurrection was sincerely believed to have happened when the New Testament says is, "Faith in the resurrection of Jesus started soon after his death and spread like wildfire. Though this does not directly prove that Jesus rose from the dead, it does directly prove that lots of people believed he did. It indirectly indicates that Jesus rose. Why would people believe it unless the evidence that it happened appeared sufficient?"  In fact it depends on whether their belief was firm and strong.  If it was a mere opinion then the argument bears no weight.


It can be understood as an argument against the resurrection being mere legend. Or should it be understood like that?


It is wrong to think the resurrection faith is merely about a man coming back from the dead. An alleged miracle in itself does not interest people for long - there needs to be a psychological incentive put into the claimed miracle to get them interested long-term. Thanks to the preaching of Paul, the alleged return of Jesus was turned into hope of deliverance from sickness and death and evil. Jesus' risen body is described as utterly transformed and free from any possibility of these curses. It was a far more attractive idea than the Jewish idea of people becoming sad ghosts in Sheol or reincarnation or anything else on offer by the religions of the time. The idea was so novel and good that it would have been enough for one man to wait until Jesus had decomposed or his body safely out of the way to say, "I experienced Jesus as a resurrected being. Resurrection is so wonderful. You get a changed spiritual body that is unimaginably superior to the body you have now and you need never fear evil and sickness and death again. The dead who believe in Jesus will enjoy this glorious resurrection." The attractiveness of the doctrine would be the secret of its success. A legend can appear rapidly in the right mix.


We must remember too that the resurrection itself was eclipsed by the early Church's obsession with Jesus coming back soon to save it and the world and destroy evil. That hope in those dark and terrible times was enough to help Christianity thrive even if the case for Jesus' resurrection was weak. The gospels mention the coming a lot more than they do the resurrection of Jesus. And the epistles and the Book of Revelation stress the coming more than the resurrection.


It may be that the resurrection was necessary if you want to have a saviour coming back to overthrow the evil order.  The resurrection doctrine in that scheme was not what the apostles were really after.


Nobody forms popular and successful cults based primarily on the appearance of a ghost. Or a reincarnation. Or even a resurrection. It is easy to see why a resurrection would be a different story only if linked to making people feel they can be saved from sin and death and suffering. It needs to be more than an event - a lot lot more.


We must remember that the gospels report that Jesus exercised a lot of pressure on his audience and disciples. He taught that if they stopped believing in him they would be on God's rubbish heap, Hell, to suffer for all eternity. He said that anybody who suspected that Satan was behind any of his miracles was blaspheming the Holy Spirit and there would be no forgiveness for them in this life or the next. In that kind of atmosphere, the witnesses of Jesus would have not just been biased in his defence but totally biased. It was the right cauldron to cook up a legend in.


There has never been one as good since. The apostles (see Galatians 1) put curses called the anathema and the handing over to Satan on those who contradicted them. Jesus accused his critics of being completely bad (Matthew 12:34) - no room for loving the sinner and hating the sin if there is no good in the person at all! This was incitement to hatred.


Proof that the resurrection is a legend is in 1 Corinthians 15. There Paul, the first Christian writer, has to deal with Christians who have decided that there is no resurrection and that Jesus is dead and hasn’t risen at all.


He tells them that if Jesus hasn’t risen then the dead are lost


He tells them that if Jesus hasn’t risen then the witnesses of the apparitions of the risen Jesus are liars.

He tells them that if Jesus hasn’t risen believers are still in their sins and are to be pitied above all people.


The bad consequences he spells out prove nothing. To believe your grandma is alive because it is dreadful to think she is dead doesn’t mean she really is alive. Dreading to think of her death is not evidence that she is alive. Just because you want to believe your sins are pardoned doesn’t meant you have to believe in the resurrection. His arguments are so weak that they prove that he couldn’t do any better. If Jesus wasn’t the saviour maybe somebody else was.


Paul said that Jesus must have risen for Paul himself and the apostles could not be liars and would not misrepresent God – a sure indication that he thought they were lying and he should have known for he was one of them. If a salesman came to your door telling you that an amulet would solve all your problems for he says so you would see through him for saying that. And the honest give the best evidence they can to support their statements and don’t want you to just take their word for it.


Paul gave a breakdown of the resurrection appearances but didn’t use them as evidence or say they were evidence. In fact it was after doing this that he attempted to give evidence in the form of those weak arguments that smack of desperation. They were not evidence for he gave no details and of course he knew that the Corinthians just didn’t believe the stories of the appearances of the resurrected Jesus any more. They couldn’t function as evidence.


The weakness of the arguments proves the resurrection was a legend. He couldn’t even promise to send them affidavits from witnesses.


It is conveniently forgotten by the Church that though the resurrection of Christ has great importance in the New Testament, it is not important by itself. It is important in that Jesus was found alive after his death TO GO UP TO HEAVEN! The resurrection was Jesus’ salvation. However, we know that Jesus ascending into Heaven is nonsense for if he went up is he living in a cloud or did he go to the moon or to Mars? It is totally ridiculous to believe in the resurrection and to deny that Jesus is up in the clouds. If one is not true then why trust the other? If one is legend so is the other.


Christians say the gospels were written in the seventh decade of the first century which was too soon for legends of that proportion to develop. They reject accounts written sooner after the alleged miraculous events – like the Bell Witch and the Blair Witch story. They are showing undue prejudice. Faith never depended on charity despite the Church linking the two as two sides of the one coin. The Christians say that the resurrection of Jesus Christ was the most stupendous miracle ever. The apostles agreed for they heralded the resurrection as the one miracle Satan or nature could not fake and the crown of God’s miraculous achievements and the credential that established that Jesus Christ was the Son of God. Christians neglect their duty to make sure it is all that before they believe in it. Now if the resurrection is all that then it puts the miracles of the god-man Apollonius to shame in comparison even though this character also appeared after his death, had miraculous escapes and fought with vampires and demons. Yet Christians say the accounts of Apollonius are fabricated for they are full of miracles! But surely if the greatness of the miracle indicates fabrication then the resurrection cannot be true? Apollonius’s miracles though many would be more believable than the resurrection if this is the case for as a whole even then they cannot compete with it. This repetitive perversion of logic and facts that takes place in Christian circles is really tiresome and distressing for unbelievers.

Robert Price in Beyond Born Again reminds us that when the false Jewish Messiah Sabbatai Zevi was alive and despite him and his disciples saying there would be no miracles there were still miracle stories about him. He was said to have walked into a fire and emerged unscathed. After his death he was alleged to have appeared to many. His cult eventually died out from the blow he struck it when he converted to Islam but still despite the evidence that he was not God’s chosen the legends appeared.


The cult-founder William Branham was believed by many to be virgin born though he said in his autobiography that he was anything but.


Kimbangu was made a god against his will when he was alive. If his followers had left writings about him and this was the first century these writings would be edited and the embarrassing stuff removed and burnt and presto we would have him instead of Jesus.


The best foundation for the legend theory is that there is no evidence that the gospels were available to the generation that knew Jesus or their immediate offspring.  The gospel writers were working in secret and their works were kept hidden or heavily censored versions were given out and so they were able to invent all the legends they wished. There was no need for a long process of legend making. If the gospels were published at all before the middle of the second century then it was to a carefully chosen few who would have been too bloody-minded to believe other than what the Church was saying. That means the gospels could be out and out novels presented as true stories. If Justin Martyr and Tatian are the indisputable first people to show knowledge of the gospels as many believe then the problem is that these two were hellbent on promoting Christianity at any cost even telling huge porkies. The first quoted from non-existent books and twisted everything while the second, his close friend, rewrote the Gospels to deceive the Church into accepting his peculiar prejudices.


Robert Price says that the resurrection legend could have started easily because many people believed that Jesus was John the Baptist physically raised from the dead (Mark 6:14). Their evidence was that Jesus was doing miracles but John never did any so if the people wanted to believe something they were not going to let the evidence stop them.


Any good man could die and seem to have come back and sometimes evidence for something can itself be a mistake. For example, a man is murdered in a house. John’s belt buckle is found beside the body and John goes to jail for the murder. But what if John lost it and the dead man had found it and was holding it when the killer struck? So evidence might indicate that a man rose though he did not. Unless we can get the legal reports about the crucifixion and the tomb and the appearances we are entitled to keep an open mind but we certainly are not entitled to believe.


There is not a single eyewitness testimony to the appearances of Jesus following his death. There have been attempts to make the gospels seem to be such accounts but they fail for the gospels do not make that claim. This supports the legend idea.


Jesus at his trial, refused to speak up for himself when accused falsely. According to John, he didn’t want to be asked about what he taught and said to go and ask what his hearers had to say about what he taught. People were brought in who said that he said that he would raze the Temple and in three days raise a new Temple not built by human hands. The gospels are keen though to claim that this was false testimony even though it could be taken as referring to the Temple of his body. Why do they feel this one is the one worth quoting and attacking? Even he had razed the Temple and built a new one not by human hands that wouldn’t be blasphemy if he had the power of God in him as the gospels claim. The answer is that the resurrection was invented and was condemned by the first believers. Even Christians who cannot admit this and that there were legends about Jesus, must admit that there were legends about Jesus even when he was supposedly alive. The people were so sure of them that they testified to them in court. If true, then we have legal statements then to that effect and all we have for the gospels is hearsay and gossip. So it is wiser to believe those testimonies than the gospels.


But nevertheless expressions like that used in court could have led to the idea that Jesus intended to rise again.


The resurrection implies that God protects his own. This suggests the malicious doctrine that God doesn’t not protect sinners and so if people suffer its their own fault. No matter how much good the belief can cause that evil doctrine is behind it. It is it’s very essence.


It is odd how the oldest gospel, Mark, states that Jesus could do no miracle among people because of their great unbelief. If that was the case, then how could he have risen when at that time the people had turned against him and ceased to believe and the disciples had abandoned him? In fairness, the gospel ends without saying there was any real evidence for the resurrection.




Legends do get mass conversions.   But if a legend fails to get them that is a good but not foolproof sign that it is a legend.  It makes legend-making plausible and even probable.


Christianity was not as successful in getting converts as todays Church would have you believe.   All the generation that existed when the apostles supposedly died did was worry about heretics who had gone as far as turning Jesus into a legendary bringer of magical knowledge.  There were as many varieties of Jesus as there were heretics.  If that is a good conversion record then Jesus was actually the man on the moon.

“Only in the 3rd century does material evidence of a Christian presence, anywhere in the Empire, begin to match even that of minor pagan cults” Richard Carrier, Not the Impossible Faith.  Pliny the Younger said he never was at a Christian trial or knew how to punish them. 



We can reason that there were triggers for the resurrection story starting off as hearsay and evolving into the stuff of legend.  The time scale fits the theory.