Saturday, March 26, 2005

Resurrection Day

Jon Meacham of Newsweek, perhaps chastened by the criticism he received following his foray into Christian theology over Christmas, pens a much less offensive column about the Resurrection of Jesus in the current issue. He notes that the tomb of Christ was almost certainly empty that first Easter morning. If it were not, he observes, the opponents of Christ had only to produce the body to abort the religious turmoil that the sect of Christians was beginning to arouse. This they did not do, a startling historical fact, really, which leads us to the obvious conclusion that they couldn't do it. This leads us in turn to ask why not.

No naturalistic explanation of the empty tomb makes sense. The most common of these is that the disciples stole the corpse, but this hypothesis is credible only if one assumes a priori that non-natural explanations are impossible. To believe that the disciples stole the body one must believe that a band of terrified fishermen overpowered an armed military guard, a crime for which they were never arrested or charged, stole the cadaver, and eventually underwent torture and martyrdom for preaching around the world what they knew to be a lie. People will die for a lie they believe to be true, but only men suffering from some form of dementia would die for a lie they knew to be a lie, and there's no reason to think these men were demented.

Surely, if the authorities believed the disciples had stolen the body they would have brought irresistibly persuasive techniques to bear to coerce them into divulging its whereabouts. Yet there's no indication whatsoever that this was even attempted.

The skeptic says, as was noted above, that no matter how implausible a given naturalistic explanation may be it is still more believable than the claim that a man rose from the dead. This objection, however, rests on the assumption that there is no God, an assumption that is much easier to make than to defend. If, contrary to the skeptical view, it is possible that God exists then miracles are indeed also possible, and if they are possible, we have to examine the evidence for an alleged instance of one, especially one as significant as the resurrection of Jesus, to determine whether it is, in fact, credible. The evidence for the historical, physical revivification of Christ, many scholars have concluded, is at least as powerful as that for any other event in antiquity.

Other attempts to avoid the conclusion that a miracle actually occurred are equally unimpressive. Dan Brown in The Da Vinci Code adopts a version of the swoon theory, that after some thirty six hours without medical care, Jesus somehow recovered from his wounds, including the spear thrust, with sufficient vigor to roll away the heavy stone blocking the tomb. He accomplished this astonishing feat without being detected by the Roman guard, and subsequently appeared to the disciples and dozens, even hundreds, of others, looking so hale and hearty that they believed that he had conquered death and was the very Son of God.

Even if something like this could have happened, the disciples would have known that Jesus had not "risen from the dead" in any theologically significant sense. He would have eventually died (or, as Brown has it, absconded to France with his beloved Mary Magdalene), and his dead body would be proof that he was not the Messiah. This, then, brings us back to the question above: Why would so many have been willing to be tortured and martyred for a man they would have realized was a false messiah?

Skeptics scoff at miracles, but the most important miracle in the history of Christendom is one which defies any attempt to explain away. The most plausible explanation for the empty tomb, unless one holds an a priori commitment to atheism, is that God actually did raise Jesus from the dead just as we are promised that we will be. Because death did not result in the annihilation of His being we have the hope that neither will it result in ours.

This is the wonderful significance of the event Christians celebrate every Easter. Happy Resurrection Day.

How the Jews Saved Civilization

Kathryn Lopez of NRO interviews David Klinghoffer about his new book Why the Jews Rejected Jesus. It's a fascinating interview. A couple of excerpts:

Klinghoffer: I...hope that my book will remind believing Christians of the most important thing we have in common: a belief that there is such a thing as religious truth in the first place. That idea is under attack from the secular left. In this sense, my book is a battle cry on behalf of both Jews and Christians.

NRO: How can the whole of Western Civilization rest on the [Jewish] rejection of Jesus (as Klinghoffer claims in his book)?

Klinghoffer: The earliest Christian church was initially hobbled by insisting that new converts adhere to Jewish law - keep kosher, be circumcised, etc. For an adult man to be circumcised was a bummer, let me tell you. The decision was made, however - at a church council in Jerusalem in 49 - to jettison Jewish law as a requirement for new Christians. This was done at the apostle Paul's insistence, and he explains in Acts that since the Jews were rejecting his presentation of Jesus as savior and messiah, the Christian message would now be taken to the gentiles. Dispensing with Jewish practices like circumcision made this possible. Had the Jews not rejected Paul's preaching about Jesus, the church likely would have held on to those laws. Had it done so, the church would have remained hobbled, and could hardly have become the world-bestriding institution it is today. Jewish Christianity would have remained a sect in Judaism, and probably would have died out along with other such sects in 70 when the Temple was destroyed by Rome and the Jews scattered. In that case, there would be no Christian civilization, and, among other things, no America as we know it - a country whose founding was deeply influenced by Christian faith. There is a possibility that we would all be Muslims.

NRO: Besides maybe converting us, what would you like the Christian reader to get from your book?

Klinghoffer: I don't want to convert you, Kathryn, and I know I couldn't do so no matter how I tried. People believe what we believe for reasons that transcend argument. We believe because we have a certain kind of relationship with God, a certain spiritual experience. The arguments come later. What I want to do for the Christian reader is satisfy your curiosity. Jews, especially those who like me work and socialize with committed and conservative Christians, are asked why we don't share their faith in Jesus. Or Christians wants to ask, but stop themselves. The question is meant sincerely and seriously. It deserves an answer.

Klinghoffer: If you look at the top 20 political issues today, as I will in [my next] book, it turns out there's much stronger support in the Bible from the conservative side in almost every case. The reason has to do with the question of whether people are morally accountable for their actions. The conservative view assumes we are free and responsible, which liberals don't. That same assumption undergirds the Bible everywhere. How else could God issue us commandments?

Klinghoffer is a Jew who doesn't resent being surrounded by expressions of Christian devotion and indeed believes that the best for Judaism is a healthy, vibrant Christian orthodoxy. As you might expect, he's not fond of Abe Foxman or the Anti-Defamation League.

Mendacious Mullahs

The Wall Street Journal has an excellent overview by Carla Anne Robbins of the reasons for U.S. concern over Iran's nuclear weapons program. It is a history of Iran's deception and dissimulation that the world needs to be made aware of.