An excellent critical examination of Jesus' resurrection

Review: The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry by Michael J Alter


The Resurrection: A Critical Inquiry by Michael J Alter is outstanding. The book literally tries to think of every problem with the core belief of Christianity that Jesus was saved from the dead bodily by God. Jesus supposedly died and rose to live forever in glory and perfection and happiness. The sign of the resurrection was to be the essential authentication of Jesus claims.

To me the book's most important point is that the Christian scriptures never report even one direct eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. That settles the dispute. It does not stop Christians from trying to make out accounts that don't claim to be eyewitness actually are. Christians show themselves dishonest and incompetent or they think everybody is stupid.

It is odd that the gospel of John author claims to be an eyewitness to the blood and water coming out of Jesus' side after he died but does not claim to have eyewitnessed a resurrection appearance. This is as good an admission that there is only hearsay in favour of a resurrection.

Let us have a few headings and look at the issues in the light of the book.


John blames the Jews for asking for the men on the crosses to have their legs broken. He tells us,

It was the day of Preparation, and the next day was a High Sabbath. In order that the bodies would not remain on the cross during the Sabbath, the Jews asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies removed.

So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first man who had been crucified with Jesus, and those of the other.

But when they came to Jesus and saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.

First the Jews did not need to ask.

Second they would not have let Jesus be left out.

Three even if he were dead the legs could have been broken so there would be no doubt and thus to add more insult.

Four the Jews had a festival to think about not this nonsense.

Five no other source says that about the Jews that they would even entertain asking such a thing!


Mark, Matthew, and Luke omit any discussion about the hundred pound weight of myrrh and aloes being employed during the preparation of the corpse for its burial.

John 19: 39 alone reports:


And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight.

Huh!  One-hundred pounds of plant leaves would occupy a substantial volume even larger than Jesus himself.


My other comment here is: The earliest gospels say the whole Sanhedrin agreed Jesus should be destroyed and put to death. Luke tries to make out Joseph of Arimathea however did not go along with it. John lies that Joseph and Nicodemus did the unlikely task of being Jesus' actual hands on undertakers. It is a lie if these men had to eat the Passover for touching a body made you unclean for days.  All those lies could be about pretending to have got the body - was it missing as soon as it left the cross?  Or was the lie that Jesus was put in the tomb when he was in fact spirited away without burial?


The request by the Jews to guard the grave until the third day is interesting. The text says some guards left when third day not even over! What was supposed to happen when the time was up? Was anybody to look in tomb to make sure it was empty? The story does not say. It looks like something just thrown together by the gospeller without any proper thought.

The guards got a shock and fainted when an angel came and rolled the stone away. Some went to the Jews who told them to say they slept on duty and the disciples stole Jesus away.

Nobody says however that the tomb was checked so it's a case of - "the angel appeared and opened the tomb so that is proof that Jesus is not in it!"

If the guards were bribed to lie and keep the secret who bribed them to tell?

The gospel tries to make out the resurrection is true for the Jews tried to cover it up. Jewish deceptive is irrelevant here. We cannot and should not defend the resurrection with an attack on the Jews.

The soldiers would have been told to deny anything odd or untoward happened at the tomb. It is that simple. It was a neat answer and would have embarrassed the women into silence. Matthew's tale can only be lies.

Allen (p. 76) writes: Had it been true that the guards ran away on account of the earthquake, then the story of the chief priests would have been like this:

Owing to the earthquake the guards became alarmed and ran away. The disciples took advantage of their absence and stole the body, and that is how it came to be missing.

 Then the priests would have had the fact of the earthquake, which the people also experienced, to assist their story. This story would have been more credible to the guards than that they had been asleep on post, and more reasonable to the people who knew of the earthquake. Whereas it seems to me those priests were too intelligent to pay large money to the guards to say they were asleep while a great earthquake was in progress, when the other story would have answered their purpose much better, and also had been more credible to the guards, in fact, would have excused them from punishment if it were shown that the earthquake was so frightful that any reasonable men would have done as they did.

Surely the best cover if Jesus rose was for the Jews to say the soldiers were saying they slept on duty. The Jews could twist that around and get them silenced by execution for saying they were careless as shown by sleeping and thus let somebody rob the tomb.

As some of the guards, not all, went to the Jewish leaders after, it would imply a minimum of four at the tomb. It is reasoned there were more than eleven as Jesus had eleven followers who could steal him. Where did the rest of the watch go? Did they know where the others went? And why?

There would have been many people camping about that night around the tomb as happened for every major festival. Anybody could have stolen the body and the guards were probably patrollling and not sitting with their eyes fixed on a tomb all night. It did not need that all-day all-night kind of constant supervision.


The book says that Mark 16: 5 reports that three women entered the tomb and found a young man inside. However, there is no mention of Jesus's clothes or the hundred pound weight of myrrh. Matthew 28: 6 has two women offered the opportunity by an angel to explore the tomb: He is not here: for he is risen, as he said. Come, see the place where the Lord lay.


However, there is no indication that the women accepted the offer.

Nobody then wants to think about if there was still a body in the tomb. That is a sign that there could have been and in retrospect the believers don't want to know.

On Sunday morning women went to the tomb to go in and tend the corpse with spices and were made aware that Jesus was risen.

The story of the women's visit is not likely.

Women unrelated to Jesus were not going to be allowed near the tomb of an executed state criminal.

Or near a guarded tomb.

It was on Joseph of Arimathea's property. Joseph by the way was supposed to be a secret disciple. He must have had a death wish then. The Jewish leaders and priests had to know. He could surely with his money found a more discreet way to bury Jesus. And what about his permission?

Under Roman law the women could not open the tomb or enter had they found it open. They were Roman subjects.

Under Jewish law their presence at the tomb of a convicted blasphemer who was a false prophet and politically loaded figure was banned under severe penalty as well.

The women were carrying spices when there was no need according to John. They had no reason to even been considered to be allowed near the tomb.

Even the angel that allegedly took the rock away did not say Jesus body was gone so the whole point is for somebody to say Jesus rose. That is all the women had to be got to the tomb for.

If Mark's gospel ends with the women saying nothing maybe that is a device for explaining why this tomb was not known of before.

None of it rings true.


The women came with the burial spices after the Sabbath early when it was dark. There was no market for days. Where did they get them? If they stocked them before Jesus died that is very strange and turns our conspiracy detectors on.

Luke has Jesus being funeral prepared on Friday and as Sabbath was looming there was no time then to purchase.

Jesus was already in his winding cloth and it would take so much effort to get him out it would not be worth it. And the women coming to attend the body would mean they had another shroud with them. The women brought a lot of aromatics as if they expected a gross stench. The days and nights could have been unusually warm. Could it be that there was a smell and there were complaints from campers or neighbours? Or was that the excuse?


The John Gospel simply says Jesus burial was done in line with Jewish tradition which is why he gives no explanation for what brought Magdalene to the tomb. Nothing is said of visitors to the tomb coming with spices and ointments. That would have been taken care of already.

Magdalene saw the stone moved and told Peter etc that the body of the Lord was taken. She said that later to supposed angels on another visit. She was that sure. How Magdalene can think a man who is the Lord can stay in a tomb and be taken away, stolen, is outlandish.

Jesus appeared to Magdalene at the tomb and did not want her touching him. Why did Jesus not want Mary touching him? The only plausible possibilities are, he was sore. He didn't want a woman touching him. His body was risen but not cured. Was he near naked or nude? Far-fetched theology explanations are too speculative and best ignored.


John says the body was gone and burial cloths were left behind. That may indicate theft. The thieves did not want the melting body identified as Jesus while in their possession. They had to be careful carrying it away as there were campers and soldiers about.

William Lane Craig (1989b, 242) discusses the idea that:

the clothes were still in their wrapped-up shape, and the body had passed through them, leaving them like an unbroken, though collapsed, cocoon.

However, then he rejects this idea:


But there is no evidence that the Jews wrapped their dead like mummies, and if the burial were in a shroud, the jaw band should have been found inside the shroud, not in a place by itself.

D. A. Carson (1991, 637), a conservative Christian evangelist, writes: Some have thought that the burial cloth still retained the shape of Jesus' head, and was separated from the strips of linen by a distance equivalent to the length of Jesus' neck. Others have suggested that, owing to the mix of spices separating the layers, even the strips of linen retained the shape they had when Jesus' body filled them out. Both of these suggestions say more than the text requires. What seems clearest is the contrast with the resurrection of Lazarus ([John] 11: 44). Lazarus came from the tomb wearing his grave-clothes, the additional burial cloth still wrapped around his head.  Jesus' resurrection body apparently passed through his grave-clothes, spices and all, in much the same way that he later appeared in a locked room. (vv. 19, 26). The description of the burial cloth that had been around Jesus' head does not suggest that it still retained the shape of the corpse, but that it had been neatly rolled up and set to one side by the one who no longer had any use for it.

The point is that Jesus could have passed through it. He didn't so if he rose then he got out of the robes himself and tidied them up. That is an odd way to rise from the dead!


The gospels say there were men found at the tomb saying Jesus rose but gives no hint of them being anything other than ordinary men. Neaniskos or young men is what we are told they are. As the book tells us, other uses of neaniskos in the NT were of clearly human figures (Mt 19: 20, 22; Lk 7: 14; Acts 5: 10; 1 Jn 2: 13).

Had Mark wanted to plainly and unambiguously imply or infer angels, he could have said so since he employed the word angels in 1: 13, cf. 8: 38; 12: 25, 32. [[ cf.Villers 2010, 3]] 2.

Some say they are in white which is the martyr dress as we can glean from the Book of Revelation. But maybe not! White robes are just a bit unusual and religious people did wear white habits.


The book says that when two men met a man saying he was the risen Jesus at Emmaus and he had nail marks in his feet the two would have noticed. And maybe the wrists or hands too. Only John mentions Jesus having marks in his hands or wrists and does not say if they were crucifixion marks. Jesus could have been tied to the cross. Nailing and tying were both crucifixion methods.


Against the notion that Matthew invented the guards to make it seem like Jesus was not stolen from the tomb, William Lane Craig ...states:


For example, if the story is an apologetic fiction designed to preclude the theft of the body by the disciples, then the story is not entirely successful , for there is an obvious time period during which the disciples could have stolen the body undetected, namely between six o'clock Friday night and sometime Saturday morning.

 So unequivocally, Craig acknowledges and concedes that it is possible that the tomb could have been violated prior to the arrival of the guard.

Further rejecting this Christian apologetic, Craig (1984a, 278) writes:


Matthew fails to say that the sepulchre was opened and checked before it was sealed, so that it is possible that the disciples had removed the body and replaced the stone Friday night after Joseph's departure.


Craig goes on to state: Of course, we would regard such a ruse as historically absurd.


However, the bottom line is that it is possible for Jesus's body to have been removed from the tomb prior to a guard being stationed there. That point needs to be stressed. It is the only point that is really important and essential. It is dishonest of Christians to write books defending the resurrection as true when the matter has been settled - Jesus broke his promise to provide a clear authentication of his new life beyond the grave.


The book tells us that according to Midrash Rabbah Genesis C: 7 (994) the face of a corpse is changed dramatically in about three days.

My comment on that is that Jesus's face would have distorted faster. He had a lot of facial injuries according to the gospels.


Why is it only Matthew, as the book reminds us, who says who rolled the stone and it was an angel?


When Jesus was alive, he allegedly shone in the transfiguration while the long dead Moses and seemingly long dead Elijah appeared with him. Peter and John saw Moses and Elijah appear while Jesus was transfigured. At that time resurrection was not topical among the Jesus entourage. Peter found Moses and Elijah so real though they were not resurrected beings that he wanted to make booths for them.

What did Matthew mean when he said that some who saw Jesus prior to the ascension doubted? Did they think it was a trick? Did they think it was an unreliable dream or vision? Did they think Jesus never died after all? Did they think it was a demonic spirit pretending to be Jesus? Were they in the light of God's law thinking of his command not to engage with ghosts or spirits.


The book says,

Matthew 28:17 reported that when the eleven disciples saw Jesus in the Galilee they proskuneo (worshipped him, however some doubted). Gundry (1994, 595) maintained that the disciples' worshipping Jesus was their acknowledgment of his divinity. To the contrary, the worshipping of Jesus in no way substantiated that he was God in the absolute sense. The Greek verb proskuneo (# 4352 in Strong's Concordance; Strong 1890, 61) is used in reference to worshipping God and human persons. However, it also means showing homage, obeisance, reverence , or supplication to human persons (e.g., kissing the hand, kneeling, or prostrating oneself).

MY THOUGHT: Matthew 12:40 says Jesus will be entombed in the heart of the earth. What an odd expression! Does it hint of a memory where Jesus was lost in an earthquake? Was it supposed as Jehovah's Witnesses suggest that Jesus body was removed from the tomb by God and put in the heart of the earth? The myth value of that is that it makes the whole world Jesus' grave or tomb.


Mark's gospel has an addition that mentions five signs that will follow believers. The New International Version goes, Mark 16:17-20 17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18 they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.

Why the five signs of believers? Why those? They are clearly extremist - no sane person believes they can poison themselves and be okay. Only two out of the five are about looking after others by exorcising them or healing them. And it is clear that condoning exorcism is condoning superstitious abuse of another person. So that leaves one. The rest are just signs for the sake of show. All authorities and philosophers agree that whatever you think about the rationality of believing in miracles that miracles that are claimed just for a performance are an insult to God. God does miracles to show his love. A God who makes suns spin is not dignified. One that gives you a healing spring is. God will not do a miracle for show when so many people desperately need a miracle and do not get one.

The signs are to show that believers are right to accept the resurrection as true. This test has failed - it is immoral as we have seen and also Christians cannot do any of the signs though they lie that they can and do. Jesus himself would praise us for not believing.


There is no way to legitimise faith in Jesus's resurrection or in a risen Jesus.

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