Why is it so important to deal with the question of “legend” as it pertains to the resurrection?
Legends allow people to pick and choose what was real and what was not in the absence of evidence to the contrary (or in the face of evidence against their legend). When it comes to the resurrection of Jesus it is critical to address the legend or myth theories.
Three types of legends exists: embellishments, nonhistorical literary style, and myths from religions.
It is important to note that the texts that we have for the New Testament are rarely questioned from a scholarly accurate standpoint. Meaning, they are very close to the original texts and any differences between them do not affect doctrine. So the question becomes, did legend enter Christian tradition prior to the writing of the different books? I will address this from the viewpoint of each type of legend.
1. Regarding embellishment: the resurrection story can be traced to the eye-witness experiences of the original apostles. So if embellishments entered over time then it would not match what the disciples have said. The apostle Paul’s conversion based on an encounter with the resurrected Jesus would need to be explained away, as does the conversion of James, Jesus’ brother. Lastly, just by suggesting embellishments occurred does not make it true. Each individual account would need to be studied and scrutinized to determine what was embellished. Simply stating that the resurrection was an embellishment is not a valid argument.
2. When it comes to nonhistorical genre (basically stories that people make-up for various reasons) there are several issues. First, we still have the empty tomb as an established historical fact (see this post). To go with this accusation other theories have to be used and these will be addressed in later posts. Second, the conversion of Paul would not have come about from a fable or story. Paul was a well educated man, a man of high renown and impeccable service to his God. To say that he changed his beliefs and incurred the scorn of his people for a lie would make him crazy at best. James falls into this category as well. Why would the brother of Jesus knowingly follow a story about his dead brother? What did Paul or James have to gain from preaching the gospel of the Christians that was powerful enough to make them give up their Jewish faith? Fourth, if educated people used non-historical literature (other works of fiction) and were aware of it then they also knew about HISTORICAL works – meaning factual works. Just because the works existed at the same time does not mean those works were used. Those citing any nonhistorical works that have resurrection accounts in them need to show evidence for how they know it was used to create the resurrection belief. Lastly, early second century critics, although well after the resurrection was in place, felt a need to address the resurrection from a historical perspective and not as legend. They argued from the viewpoint that Jesus did exist and that the tomb was indeed found empty.
The last type of legend suggests that because other legends have figures who were resurrected that Jesus’ resurrection is not any different and should be seen as folklore of sorts. First off, the only account before Christ that had a god rising from the grave is out of Egyptian culture regarding the cult of Osiris. Study it yourself, the differences are huge. Even the life after death piece differs drastically. Where Jesus is seen physically, in good health, eating, fellowshipping with others, walking, talking, etc… it is questionable whether Osiris was brought back from the dead or even seen by anyone after his death. Osiris’ story has differing accounts (major differences) and the resurrection is more like a haunting or ghost than what Jesus did. Secondly, opposing theories can easily account for other stories while the resurrection of Jesus’ has no opposing theories that have evidence to support them (again this will be addressed in future posts). Third, simply because other religions have resurrection stories does not dispel the facts behind the resurrection of Jesus.
So what we have is enough evidence to dispel legend as the culprit behind the resurrection. The biggest ones in my opinion are: first hand accounts of what happened – namely Matthew and John’s testimony coupled with secondhand testimony from Mark and Luke (a physician – a well respected profession even in the 1st Century), Paul’s conversion and life history, Jesus’ brother James’ conversion and subsequent ministry, and early critics addressing the empty tomb and life of Jesus as though they happened instead of as legend or myth.
This is already long enough and there were four more questions that were supposed to go with this post. Like I put in the original – I will break this one down into several posts.