Perhaps there is a better explanation for the facts than the resurrection?

I really liked the lines of evidence that Jesus rose from the dead.

I tried sharing those points with a skeptic, but he responded by saying that “The Romans stole Jesus body to provide another interpretation of the mission of the Messiah rather than being a Warrior King who would liberate the Jewish people under their rule. The Jewish conception of the Messiah is that he is going to liberate his people from the Romans, which caused many false messiahs to rise and cause conflict within the empire, therefore by stealing the Crucified Jesus corpse, they would force his followers to adopt a view which would lead to the resurrection; which will be in conflict with the mainstream Judaic view of who the Messiah is.

By confusing the sects of Judaism together by the resurrection, the Roman Empire can dwell securely not being bothered by Messiahs rising up and causing chaos” so I responded by saying that the belief of the resurrection of Jesus is foreign to Judaism.

He responded by pointing out “Gabriel’s Revelations/Tablets” found at the Dead Sea which claim that after 3 days, The prince of princes will rise. He also pointed to the passage of Matthew 16 when Jesus asked the disciples who he is, and they responded by saying that some believed that he is the resurrected John the Baptist or one of the Prophets.

I personally don’t know how to answer the points he raised. Please advise


Ok, so what you have here is an alternate explanation of the facts.  You did not include any dispute over the facts in your e-mail so I must assume that he is not disputing those.  Recall that the four facts are:

  1. After being crucified under Pontius Pilate, Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea.
  2. The tomb was found empty on the third day by a group of Jesus’s women followers.
  3. Individuals and groups of people reported post-mortem appearances of Jesus.
  4. The disciples of Jesus suddenly and sincerely came to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

Your friend’s explanation of these facts is that the Roman’s stole the body in order to counter the Jewish belief in a political messiah (trying to mold the Jewish belief of a political messiah into a purely religious one).

Recall as well the criteria we use in evaluating explanations.

  1. Explanatory scope (does the explanation cover all the facts?)
  2. Explanatory power (does the explanation make the facts more likely?)
  3. Plausibility (does the explanation cohere with what we already know?)
  4. Ad Hoc (does the explanation require us to believe in unjustified claims?)

Explanatory Scope

His explanation does explain 1 and 2.  Jesus was in fact crucified (there was a body) and he was then buried (the location from which the body was stolen).  Although he doesn’t explicitly attempt to cover the fourth fact, one might take him to mean that the disciples jumped to the conclusion that Jesus was raised from the dead because the body was missing.

His explanation does not even attempt to explain the post-mortem appearances, however.

Explanatory Power

I don’t see any weakness in the explanation for facts 1 and 2.  It seems incredibly weak, however, for fact #4.  It seems incredible that the missing body would lead the disciples to jump to the conclusion that Jesus had been miraculously raised from the dead.  The gospels themselves record the women’s first reaction.  They jumped to the conclusion that the body had been stolen, not that Jesus had been raised.

So his explanation has absolutely no power for #3 (since it doesn’t cover it) and is incredibly weak for fact #4.

Plausibility

Given that the Romans crushed Jerusalem in short order in 70 A.D. the explanation seems highly implausible.  We know historically how the Romans reacted to the series of political messiahs. They crushed Jerusalem and destroyed the temple.  It seems highly improbable that they would bother trying to create a resurrection hoax in order to cause confusion in the religion of what, to them, was a small backwoods nation state which was already occupied by their troops.

Furthermore, conspiracies tend to unravel.  That the Romans would be able to persuade Jews to abandon their religious practices so readily is just incredible.  Why would the Jews follow the Romans, whom they hated, in changing their religion?

Ad Hoc

There is simply no evidence whatsoever that the Romans did this sort of thing.  There are no recorded religious hoaxes perpetrated by the Romans, and thus the belief that this is how the Romans responded to uprisings is completely ad hoc.

Conclusion

The explanation your friend has offered seems woefully inadequate to deal with the evidence.  It seems obviously to be an inferior explanation compared to the explanation that Jesus was in fact raised from the dead.

Sincerely,
Matt Bilyeu