Curiously, Reza Aslan makes an enormously convincing case for the historical veracity of Jesus’ resurrection and yet rejects it as a historical event.

Aslan explains the impossibility of the Christian faith rising from the ashes of deafeat experienced by Jesus followers after his crucifixion. Aslan writes,

As with the followers of every other messiah the empire had killed, there was nothing left for Jesus’s disciples to do but abandon their cause, renounce their revolutionary activities, and return to their farms and villages. 174

Indisputably, this is not what happened. Jesus’ disciples did not “return to their farms and villages” (I did not know they were farmers). Instead the small fragmented band of sad, confused, disillusioned, and, according to Aslan, frustrated revolutionaries, pulled together and, out of the ashes of their humiliating defeat, forged a faith that would become the dominant religious system in the world for the next 2,000 years.

Even Aslan admits that “something extraordinary happened.” In fact Aslan acknowledges,

there is this nagging fact to consider: one after another of those who claimed to have witnessed the risen Jesus went to their own gruesome deaths refusing to recant their testimony.  This is not, in itself, unusual. Many zealous Jews died horribly for refusing to deny their beliefs. But these first followers of Jesus were not being asked to reject matters of faith based on events that took place centuries, if not millenia, before. They were being asked to deny something they themselves personally, directly encountered. 174

Aslan articulates the dilemma well writing that Jesus’ first followers were,

beaten, whipped, stoned, and crucified, yet they wold not cease proclaiming the risen Jesus. And it worked! Perhaps the most obvious reason not to dismiss the disicples’ resurrection experiences out of hand is that, among all the other failed messiahs who came before and after him, Jesus alone is still called messiah. It was precisely the fervor with which the followers of Jesus believed in his resurrection that transformed this tiny Jewish sect into the largest religion of the world. 175

Indeed, Aslan points out that the existence of Christian faith following the crucifixion of its failed messiah, almost guaranteed the impossibility of anyone putting their allegiance in Jesus. Aslan writes

To the Jews, a crucified messiah was nothing less than a contradiction in terms. The very fact of Jesus’s crucifixion annulled his messianic claims. 178

The difficulty for Christianity to establish a foothold in the Jewish community for this crucified messiah was almost insurmountable. As Aslan explains,

The problem was that in a city as steeped in the scriptures as Jerusalem, such an argument would have fallen on deaf ears, especially when it came from a group of illiterate peasants from the backwoods of Galilee whose only experience with the scriptures was what little they heard of them in their synagogues back home. 178

And yet, according to the account of the Acts of the Apsotles, immediately following the first Christian sermon, preached by Peter in Jerusalem and including a clear account of the resurrection of Jesus,

those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. (Acts 2:41)

How can history account for the continued existence of a faith that ended in such utter disrepute? What could possibly have motivated Jesus’ followers to have risked being associated with their crucified leader?

For Aslan, the Christian explanation that following Jesus’ death, his body returned to life and his followers again encountered his living presence is completely disqualified. Despite all evidence, resurrection is the one thing Aslan knows for sure did not happen.

 

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