Skeptics will argue that Jesus’ resurrection is just one more instance of the dying-and-rising-god motif prevalent in the religions of the ancient Near East. The Scottish social anthropologist James Frazer popularized this motif in his 1890 book The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion. The idea continued in modern skeptic circles, as the popular film Zeitgeist has shown.
Skeptics like to parallel Jesus’ resurrection with pagan deities such as the Egyptian gods Osiris and Horus, as well as the Greek gods Attis and Adonis. But are these parallels accurate? Do these claims undermine the Christian story of Jesus’ resurrection, making our Christian faith in vain? Here are four responses that show why these claims don’t prove our belief in the resurrection to be in vain.
Response 1: The objection disregards the evidence that supports the historical reliability of the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrection
Multiple eyewitnesses and close associates of eyewitnesses report Jesus’ resurrection (e.g., Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Peter, the women, Clement of Rome, and Polycarp). Paul’s creedal formula—“Christ died . . . was buried . . . and rose on the third day” (1 Cor. 15:3-5)—dates to within six years of Jesus’ death and resurrection, thus satisfying the early testimony criterion. Paul maintains that this saying was a part of the apostolic preaching (1 Cor. 15:11), and therefore it is probable that he received it in A.D. 36 when he visited Peter and James in Jerusalem three years after his conversion in A.D. 33 (Gal. 1:18-19). If he received it at that time, then that means the saying must have been formulated prior to that, thus dating it to within five years after Jesus’ death (A.D. 30).
The historicity of Jesus’ resurrection also stands out when one considers how the alternative naturalistic explanations (e.g. Conspiracy Theory, Hallucination Theory, Legend Theory, etc.) fail in accounting for the historical details that make up the resurrection narratives. For the pagan dying-and-rising-god motif to be a plausible explanation, a skeptic would have to undermine the historicity of the details in the resurrection narratives—a project that will not succeed in the face of all the evidence to the contrary.
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