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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


SCHOLTZ, Leopold. Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection: An academic-historical evaluation of the sources. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.1, pp.282-306. ISSN 2224-7912.

By far the majority of academic analyses of the events surrounding the alleged resurrection of Jesus Christ have been carried out by theologians. However, this analysis is written from the viewpoint of an academic historian. The fact (or myth, if so preferred) of Jesus' resurrection is based on certain historical sources. The traditional Christian approach of Scripture is akin to how Muslims view their Quran, namely that it is perfect, true and complete; that it was (so to speak) dictated by God and that the biblical authors were merely transcribers of His words. A critical approach shows, however, that the biblical authors were fallible human beings, influenced by their time and environment, and that they based their accounts on identifiable sources. The purpose of this article is to identify those sources and to evaluate their trustworthiness, in the same way any other historical source would be evaluated. However, in doing so, one should avoid going too far: Some disillusioned theologians seem to think that because not everything in the Bible is true, it follows that nothing in the Bible could be true. This article first examines the intellectual tools historians normally use, citing several well-known historians on the nature of historical writing, before identifying and evaluating the biblical authors'sources. It was established that the oldest source - a credo in Paul s first letter to the Corinthians - dates from only a few years after the crucifixion and resurrection itself. On the basis of indications in the Gospels themselves, a case is also put forward for the Gospels being older and closer to the events recorded than is often claimed; that they were, in fact, written about fifty or seventy years after the crucifixon and reported resurrection of Jesus. This signals one of the main arguments in this article, namely that the Gospels are in time considerably closer to the events they are communicating than is generally assumed. Another aspect concerns the undeniable, often irreconcilable, differences in detail in the different versions of the Gospels'accunt of the events surrounding the resurrection. However, the mere fact that these differences do exist, is found to enhance the credibility of the accounts. In this regard, examples of my own work are cited, especially my description of two battles in South African history, namely the Battle of Sannah's Post (30 March 1900) and the Battle of the Lomba (3 October 1987). It is argued that the eyewitness accounts of these battles differ considerably insofar as the detail is concerned, but that they all have the same basic thrust - a Boer victory in 1900 and a South African victory in 1987 respectively. Likewise, biblical differences in detail notwithstanding, all accounts do agree that Jesus was crucified, that the grave was empty on the morning of the third day, and that Jesus appeared to several of his disciples. If all accounts had agreed in respect of all details, one would have surmised that they had to have been tampered with. The nature of the witnesses themselves are also significant. The very first witnesses were women, a sex which was, at the time, generally considered to be very untrustworthy. In fact, women were just about the worst kind of witnesses one could imagine. If the resurrection was a piece of fiction originating in the mind of the biblical authors, more credible witnesses, like well-known and respected males, would have been quoted. Nevertheless, in the end, the academic historian is still confronted with an insoluble problem: On the one hand, the physical impossibility of someone tortured and crucified and deceased miraculously coming to life again; on the other, sources which satisfy all academic conditions usually applied to historical sources claiming the opposite. A solution to this problem does not appear to be in sight, and in the end one is left with the choice of either believing - or not.

Keywords : Jesus; Christ; cross; resurrection; gospels; Mark; Matthew; Luke; John; Paul.

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