EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION OF JESUS: PART TWO
Hallucinations and Apparitions:
Could the disciples of Jesus have somehow been deceived into believing He was alive after knowing He was dead? The scriptural record presents Jesus as appearing alive to His disciples after His crucifixion in a variety of ways and under a variety of circumstances over a period of forty days. Some NT scholars have purposed that the disciples experienced hallucinations or apparitions of Jesus. This is the position taken by Professor Bart Ehrman, author of How Jesus Became God. Were the post crucifixion appearances of Jesus hallucinations or apparitions?
Having a hallucination is to experience something that appears to be the real thing but is not connected with any external objective reality. Hallucinations are personal and private experiences that occur in the mind and are very subjective. While two or more people can experience the same or similar hallucination on an individual basis, there is little evidence of the same hallucination being experienced by multiple people at the same time. Hallucinatory experiences are not shared experiences.
The English word "apparition" is derived from the Latin word apparitio which means "appearance" or "presence." Like is true with a hallucination, an apparition is to experience what appears to be the real thing. What distinguishes apparitions from hallucinations is that apparitions are usually associated with an external objective reality that appears to contain the apparition. For example, people have claimed to see the image (apparition) of the Virgin Mary, Jesus or someone else in a cloud, a waterfall, a rock, a hillside, on top of a church steeple or in a bright light.
A greater distinction between a hallucination and an apparition is that while hallucinations are considered private experiences, apparitions can be experienced by more than one person at a time. Apparitions can be very public experiences where sometimes large groups of people experience the presence or appearance of someone or something.
There are a number of extant reports of groups of people seeing the same apparition at the same time. On Friday, December 11, 2009 at 1:00 A.M. it is reported that a group of around 3000 witnessed what was perceived as an appearance of the Virgin Mary between two domes of a Coptic Orthodox Catholic Church in Egypt. This apparition is reported to have occurred repeatedly for over three years and witnessed by millions during that span of time. This apparition was actually photographed and such photos can be seen at: http://jesusphotos.altervista.org/Apparition_at_Warraq.htm
Independent verification of apparitions being what people report them to be is difficult. Of the multiple thousands of reported apparitions of the Virgin Mary, very few have been certified by the Catholic Church to actually be Mary. For non Catholics, there is little faith that any of the apparitions of Mary are really Mary. I have often puzzled over how it is concluded that it is Mary or Jesus that is being seen since we have no record of what Mary or Jesus actually looked like. Photographs of apparitions of Mary and Jesus show them to look like the various images that artists have created to depict Mary and Jesus. This alone should call into question the reality of the apparition being seen.
Whether apparitions can or cannot be shown to be the real thing, the fact remains that multiple thousands of people over the centuries have claimed to see apparitions and many have come away believing what they saw was the real person. In some cases such apparitions are reported to have communicated with them and in some cases touched them and interacted with them in a variety of ways. For those who have had these kinds of experiences, the apparitions are believed to be the real thing.
Some scholars, such as Bart Ehrman, believe it was apparitions of Jesus that His disciples experienced. Since apparitions in general are highly questionable as to their being the real person, it is believed the disciples did not experience the real Jesus. It is argued that a dead person coming back to life is a highly improbable event because such an event is rarely reported to occur. On the other hand, apparitions are very probable because they frequently are reported to occur. Therefore, it is believed that it is more probable that what the disciples of Jesus experienced were apparitions of Jesus and not the real Jesus. Those who take this position firmly believe that apparitions are never the real thing.
Numerous apparitions have been reported over the years. In 1917, three young children claimed the Virgin Mary appeared to them on six separate occasions at a place called Fatima in Portugal. In 1858, a fourteen year old girl claimed to have seen Mary fourteen times at Lourdes France. In Medjugorje Yugoslavia in 1981, four teenagers saw a light on a hillside in which they claim to have seen a young woman holding a child. It is reported that this woman continued to appear to them and several others after which it was concluded the woman was the Virgin Mary.
In a book entitled The Apparitions of the Blessed Virgin Mary written by Catholic theologian Rene' Laurentin, the author provides accounts of numerous apparitions of Mary including a report that in 1984 a large group of people attending a Mass in Betania Venezuela witnessed the appearance of Mary above a water fall. Laurentin writes of there being over 200 reported apparitions of Mary in the past 60 years. There are also reports of people claiming to see Jesus. For a review and commentary on Marian apparitions go to: http://www.inplainsite.org/html/apparitions_of_the_virgin_mary.html.
Where the post crucifixion appearances of Jesus apparitions?
Apostle Paul writes that over 500 people saw the risen Christ at one time. Could the recorded post crucifixion appearances of Jesus to groups of people have been apparitions? Some scholars believe this was the case. Since apparitions are often the seeing of things in objects that upon close investigation are not what they are perceived to be, it is believed people saw objects which they perceived as Jesus but in reality were not Jesus. It is believed this would be especially true if people had already been told Jesus was alive and had a desire to see Him. Being predisposed to seeing Jesus alive would add to the possibility of seeing Him as an apparition.
Some have proposed that because Jesus was deeply loved by His disciples and because there were high expectations for him, this produced psychological dynamics in his followers that resulted in them seeing things they interpreted to be Jesus (apparitions of Jesus) but in reality were not Jesus. It is believed reports of such apparitions of Jesus were then circulated and shared with others who believed such reports and before long multiple thousands of people came to believed Jesus was resurrected which led to the worship of Jesus and the development of the Christian Church.
Those who take this position point to how modern day apparitions of Mary have led to the building of shrines were appearances of Mary are said to have taken place. These shrines are visited by millions of people, many of whom believe that Mary actually appeared as reported. It is suggested that the Christian Church developed in the same way. People came to believe the reports that Jesus was seen alive and then built their "shrine," the Christian church, based on such reports.
When my wife and I took our honeymoon in Mexico back in 1965 we visited the Shrine of Guadalupe which is around three miles northeast of Mexico City. Back in December of 1531 a fifty-five years old, man named Juan Diego reported that the Virgin Mary appeared to him and requested that he ask the local bishop to build a temple where she was standing. He appeared before the church bishop with an arm full of roses provided him by Mary as a sign she had really appeared to him. Roses were out of season at the time. As the story goes, when Diego appeared before the bishop with the roses, a life size image of Mary was glowing on Diego which apparently convinced the bishop that Mary had indeed appeared. This led to the building of the Shrine at Guadalupe Mexico. There are many of these kind of shrines around the world where it is believed the Virgin Mary had appeared to an individual or a group of individuals.
Critics of the belief that the Christian Church is the result of the actual resurrection of Jesus point out that the report of someone experiencing a supernatural event has spawned the development of a number of religious organizations over the years. Such organizations have developed in relatively short periods of time even though the validity of the experience that sparked the religion is seen as problematical by many. The raise of Islam and the Mormon Church are prime examples of this phenomenon. Islam developed from the belief that God visited Mohammad and inspired the Koran. Today there are over 1.5 billion Islamics in the world.
The church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (the Mormon Church) developed from the belief the angel Moroni appeared to Joseph Smith which led to the translation of hidden plates into the Book of Mormon. Millions have come to believe the Joseph Smith story and have become members of the Mormon Church. Currently the Mormon Church has over 15 million members and over 29,000 congregations around the world, All this has occurred since the year 1820.
Both these religions have attracted multiple millions of believers even though the the reported events that led to these religions is seen by many as suspect. Some believe the development of Christianity has occurred in the same way. It is believed Christianity developed on the basis of belief in what some consider highly suspect appearances of Jesus after He had been shown to be dead by crucifixion.
So what are we to make of these arguments? To begin with, it must be understood that unlike the development of Islam or Mormonism, the Christian Church did not develop on the basis of one individual reporting a perceived supernatural event. The Christian church developed on the basis of multiple individuals experiencing appearances of a man all knew to be dead who was now seen to be alive.
Jesus is seen as not only appearing to multiple individuals at the same time but interacting with people in a variety of ways. Jesus is seen as verbally communicating and even eating with his disciples. Thomas is shown as touching Jesus. In Acts chapter one, Luke records that after the crucifixion Jesus showed Himself to be alive by many infallible proofs for a period of forty days. Where these appearances apparitions?
It has been found that anticipation is a common element associated with apparitions. For example, various extant accounts of the appearance of the Virgin Mary are seen to have been preceded by high expectation that something miraculous was about to happen. On the other hand, the disciples of Jesus were not anticipating His resurrection. They did not expect Him to be crucified let alone resurrected. The discovery of the empty tomb did not immediately lead them to believe He was alive. Even when the women reported to the eleven disciples that they had seen Jesus alive, the disciples thought they were speaking nonsense. They were not expecting to see Jesus. With some, such as Thomas, it took some real convincing before belief in Jesus' resurrection was established.
Apparitions, by and large, are based on an a priori belief that the person being seen or experienced is alive at some level of existence. An a priori belief is belief that something is self evident. Present day apparitions of Mary and Jesus are based on it being believed to be self evident they are alive in the heavenly realm. The disciples didn't have such a priori belief regarding Jesus. They didn't have an a priori belief Jesus was alive in some other dimension of existence. There is no evidence showing they believed Jesus had passed on to the heavenly realm. While they did learn of the tomb being empty, they did not immediately associate the empty tomb with resurrection. They did not believe Jesus was alive until they saw Him alive. They did not have a priori knowledge of Jesus being alive.
When a person has an apparition of Jesus or Mary they identify them as Jesus or Mary because they already believe they are alive and not because the apparition is causing them to believe they are alive. As already stated, an a priori belief is belief that something is self evident. Apparitions are not generally seen as occurring unless there is belief the person being seen is actually alive in some sense. There is no evidence the disciples of Jesus believed Him to be alive before they actually saw Him alive. There is no record of them believing Jesus had passed on to the heavenly realm and that he would be visiting them from that realm. It was not until He appeared to them that they believed He was resurrected and even then some apparently doubted as the scriptures indicate (Matthew 28:17).
The a priori dynamic associated with apparitions makes the apparition hypothesis regarding the reported post crucifixion appearances of Jesus to His disciples problematic. For the apparition hypothesis to have reasonable probability relative to the post crucifixion appearances of Jesus, there would need to be evidence the disciples believed Jesus to be alive in some sense after having been dead. That is the manner in which apparitions generally occur. They appear as someone already believed to be alive. The evidence points to this not being the case with Jesus. All the evidence points to the disciples first believing Jesus was alive after seeing Him alive and not that they had an a priori sense of Him being alive which then led to them to having apparitions of Jesus.
Modern day apparitions of Mary are based on the Catholic doctrine that Mary was bodily taken up into heaven without having experienced physical death. This doctrine is called the "assumption " of Mary. Therefore, apparitions of Mary are based on an a priori belief Mary is alive in the heavenly realm. Modern day apparitions of Jesus are based on the a priori belief Jesus was resurrected from the dead and ascended to the heavenly realm. As stated above, there is no evidence the disciples had an a priori belief Jesus was alive which would allow for apparitions of Jesus to occur. The disciples did not experience Jesus alive until they saw Him alive.
Jesus is reported to have been seen as a flesh and blood Being who interacted as such with his followers. Apparitions are not like that. Apparitions are often experienced as shadowy almost ethereal figures, often without material substance. Many of them are associated with perceived alterations in the sun or other heavenly bodies. The recorded post crucifixion appearances of Jesus are nothing like what is reported with most apparitions. This is another reason to reject the apparition hypothesis relative to the post crucifixion appearances of Jesus.
Modern day apparitions of Jesus invariably identify Jesus as looking like the Jesus portrayed in art which is usually a Jesus with hair down to His shoulders. That should raise the red flag as to the authenticity of such appearances. All indications are that Jesus had short cropped hair as that was the custom in first century Judea and the Roman world in general. It is instructive that Paul wrote in a letter to the Corinthians that it is a shame for a man to have long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14).
Hallucinations/apparitions and presuppositions about the afterlife:
As already discussed, apparitions and hallucinations are based on an a priori belief the person being experienced is alive in some non-physical dimension of existence. An a priori belief is belief that something is self evident. It is equivalent to a presupposition. In the case of hallucinations and apparitions of a person who has died, it is presupposed the person being experienced is presently alive in another mode of existence.
Ones beliefs about the after life will often be a limiting factor as to whether one can have a hallucination or an apparition of a deceased loved one. If one has an a priori belief there isn't an afterlife, it is unlikely such person will experience a hallucination or an apparition of a deceased loved one, Their lack of belief in the afterlife will limit the possibility of having such experience.
This being said, it is possible for a person who doesn't believe in an afterlife to have a hallucination or an apparition of a deceased loved one. There is often strong emotional trauma associated with the death of a loved one. When this is the case, one could experience a hallucination or apparition of the deceased loved one even though one doesn't believe in an after life. It is unlikely; however, such person will conclude that the person they are experiencing is actually alive. Their presuppositions about the absence of an afterlife will prevent such a conclusion.
While it is possible that a person who presupposes there is no afterlife could be converted to believing in an afterlife upon experiencing a hallucination or an apparition of a deceased loved one, such occurrences are probably very rare. Ones presupposition about the absence of an afterlife would generally stand in the way of such conversion.
Since ones presupposition about the afterlife is such a critical dynamic relative to whether one can or will experience a hallucination or an apparition of a lost loved one, it is important we look at what the disciples of Jesus believed about the afterlife.
What did the disciples of Jesus believe about life after death? What were their presuppositions about what happens at the point of physical death? As will be seen, what the disciples believed about the afterlife has a direct bearing on the arguments presented by skeptics that it is hallucinations or apparitions of Jesus and not a resurrected Jesus that the disciples experienced.
The disciples of Jesus lived according to Old Covenant theology. There are strong indications in Old Testament scripture that physical death was believed to result in total cessation of life. A person who had died was not seen as passing on to some non-physical dimension of existence such as heaven. Life after death was seen as occurring at a future time through resurrection. It was seen as occurring at the time of the end when God would facilitate the restoration of the kingdom of Israel.
While the “dry bones” prophecy in Ezekiel 37 concerns the return of Israel from Babylonian captivity, the fact it uses the metaphor of dead body's returning to life speaks to belief in resurrection. The prophets Isaiah and Daniel speak of resurrection as the method whereby life will be restored.
Isaiah 26:19: Your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You, who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is like the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead.
Daniel 12:1: Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
While belief in individual bodily resurrection is apparent among many second temple period Jews, indications are that first century Jews saw such resurrection in a corporate sense. It was believed the peoples of Israel would be resurrected as a group when the Messiah would appear at the end of the age to restore the Davidic Kingdom. For example, when Jesus told Martha that her brother Lazarus would rise again, Martha said, "I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day" (John 11:24).
Because of this apparent last day resurrection belief among first century Jews, some well respected Christian apologists such as William Lane Craig and NT Wright believe Jesus’ disciples would not have expected Him to be resurrected because they did not see resurrection occurring until the Messianic Kingdom was established at the end of the age. This is seen as evidence for the validity of the resurrection of Jesus. It is believed the disciples of Jesus would not have fabricated a story of His resurrection because of their presupposition that resurrection of the dead would not take place until a yet future to them restoration of the Davidic Kingdom when the dead would be raised as seen in Daniel, chapter 12.
This apologist teaching is somewhat problematical, however. It is apparent from the scriptures that individual resurrections did occur prior to the anticipated general resurrection at the end of the age. Therefore, there must have been recognition of the possibility of resurrections occurring at any time and not just at the time of the end.
In 1 Kings 17 we have the account of Elijah raising the widows son from the dead. In 2 Kings 4 we see Elisha raise the son of the Shunammite woman. In 2 Kings 13 is an account of a dead body touching the dead body of Elisha and returning to life. In the NT we have the account of Jesus raising from the dead the daughter of the ruler of a synagogue and the widows son (Mark 5:35 and Luke 7:11-17). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We have the account in Acts 9 of Peter raising Tabitha from the dead. In sending His disciples to the lost sheep of Israel, Jesus told them to heal the sick and raise the dead.
Matthew 10:5-8: These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, preach this message: `The kingdom of heaven is near.' Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received, freely give.
In view of Jesus' instruction to the twelve to raise the dead, I have to wonder if there may not have been a number of resurrections that were facilitated by the disciples that are not recorded in the scriptures.
When John the Baptist, while in prison, had doubts about Jesus, Jesus sent word to John that the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear and the dead are raised (Matthew 11:5). There is the account of people coming out of tombs at the time Jesus was resurrected (Matthew 27:52-53). Jesus prophesied His own resurrection (Mark 8:31, 9:31 and 10:33-34). We have the account in Luke of people believing Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead or that Jesus was one of the prophets that had been raised. This shows there was general belief that resurrections could occur at any time and not just at the end of the age in conjunction with the restoration of the kingdom.
Luke 9:7-8: Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that John had been raised from the dead, others that Elijah had appeared, and still others that one of the prophets of long ago had come back to life.
As a point of interest, it does appear rather strange that some would think Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead seeing that John the Baptist was contemporary with Jesus. However, John was killed near the beginning of Jesus' ministry and maybe those that thought Jesus was John resurrected weren't aware that John and Jesus had both been alive at the same time.
It is apparent from the scriptures that resurrection was understood by the disciples of Jesus as the pathway to facilitate a return to physical life. The fact that the disciples saw Jesus resurrect people and they themselves having been granted the power to resurrect, must have established in their understanding that people could be brought back to life in the here and know and not just at the time of a yet future to them Messianic age. It may also be the case that their faith in a resurrection at the end of the age was belief in a resurrection to eternal life in distinction from the temporal resurrections they were witness too.
Does the fact there were resurrections to physical life taking place in their lifetime mean the disciples could have had apparitions or hallucinations of what they thought was a resurrected Jesus? Could reports of the empty tomb have led the eleven and other disciples of Jesus to assume Jesus was physically resurrected which in turn led them to have apparitions of Jesus? Could the women on finding the tomb empty been led to believe Jesus was resurrected which in turn led to them have apparitions or hallucinations of Jesus which they believed was really Jesus but in reality was not Jesus?
All such conclusions are very problematical because of one dominant fact about the belief system of first century Jews which included the the disciples of Jesus. As was true of first century Jews in general and is still true of twenty-first century Jews, they didn't believe the coming Messiah would be someone who would die and have to be resurrected. That was a foreign concept to the Jews of Jesus day and remains a foreign concept to Jews of our day.
The disciples had come to believe Jesus was the promised Messiah. Seeing Him crucified must have virtually obliterated that belief. How could the Messiah be crucified? While it is true that Jesus had told them He would die and be resurrected, it is apparent they didn't understand what He meant by that. A dying and resurrected Messiah did not fit their paradigm of what the Messiah would be.
When Jesus, Peter, James and John came down from the mountain of transfiguration, Jesus told them not to tell anyone what they had seen until after He was raised from the dead. It is recorded that the disciples discussed among themselves what Jesus meant by "rising from the dead." A later discussion between Jesus and the disciples revealed they simply did not understand what Jesus was talking about when He spoke of His dying and being resurrected.
Mark 9:10-11: As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what "rising from the dead" meant.
Mark 9:31-32: He said to them, "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men. They will kill him, and after three days he will rise." But they did not understand what he meant and were afraid to ask him about it.
Like the other Jews of Jesus day, there was no expectation that the Messiah was going to die, let alone die by crucifixion which was a manner of death believed to be a curse from God (Deuteronomy 21:23). The disciples of Jesus believed He was the promised Messiah to Israel and they were anticipating Him restoring the Davidic Kingdom. Now the one they thought was the Messiah was killed by crucifixion. He had been hung on a tree, a humiliating and disgraceful death.
As previously pointed out, when the women brought the Apostles news about the empty tomb, the disciples didn't believe them. They certainly didn't believe a resurrection had taken place. The disciples at first didn't believe the report of the women that the tomb was empty. It wasn't until Peter verified it was empty that they believed it was empty and it is apparent they did not immediately reach the conclusion it was empty because a resurrection had taken place. They weren't expecting a resurrection. It is only after Jesus appeared to them that they believed His resurrection occurred.
Therefore, it is extremely improbable the appearances of Jesus were hallucinations or apparitions. Hallucinations are personal, private experiences. The post crucifixion appearances of Jesus were primarily to multiple individuals at the same time. This makes hallucinations as what was experienced by the followers of Jesus highly improbable. While apparitions can be seen by multiple individuals at the same time, they are generally based on an a priori belief the apparition is alive and resides in the heavenly realm. There was no such a priori belief held by the disciples of Jesus. There is no evidence the disciples believed Jesus was alive and was appearing to them from some different realm of existence. All indications are that Jesus was presumed to be dead and wasn’t believed to be alive until He spoke to them and eat with them.
It should be noted that after the reported ascension of Jesus to the Father after He having appeared for forty days to His disciples after the resurrection, there are no additional scriptural reports of Jesus appearing to His disciples accept possibly to Paul at the time of his conversion although the scriptures only speak of Paul hearing Jesus and not actually seeing Him. If it was hallucinations or apparitions of Jesus that the disciples were experiencing, why didn't such experiences continue to occur on an ongoing basis? Why did they suddenly stop? Why don't we see in the scriptures reports of Jesus appearing to people after the ascension? The fact that appearances of Jesus suddenly end gives evidence to they having been the real thing during the forty day period following the reported resurrection of Jesus..
Since historians draw conclusions based on the probability that something can or cannot happen, Church historians, who believe the post crucifixion appearances of Jesus were hallucinations or apparitions, must take note of the above discussed reasons why the reported post crucifixion appearances of Jesus being hallucinations or apparitions is highly improbable.
The brothers of Jesus:
It is instructive that the brothers of Jesus are not seen as believing in Him while He was alive. In the three pericopes in the Gospels where the brothers of Jesus are mentioned, they do not appear to see Jesus as the promised Messiah and even appear to doubt His miracle working.
John 7:5: Jesus' brothers said to him, "You ought to leave here and go to Judea, so that your disciples may see the miracles you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world." For even his own brothers did not believe in him.
Yet after the resurrection, we see the brothers of Jesus now part of the growing Christian movement. Jesus' brother James is seen as taking a leading role in the church and dying for his efforts. First century historian Josephus, in his Antiquities of the Jews, shows James to be the brother of Jesus and that he was stoned to death. Eusebius, in his Ecclesiastical History, mentions that James is "the brother of the Lord" that Paul speaks of in Galatians 1:19. He quotes several ancient sources that speak of the martyrdom of James.
What turned things around for James to the extent that he was willing to die for his belief that his brother Jesus was the Christ? All indications are that during Jesus' ministry, James was not convinced that his brother was someone special. Now he was willing to die in defense of his brother. Like others who dedicated their lives to preaching the resurrection of Jesus, James had become convinced that the man he knew had been crucified was no longer dead but was alive.
It is to be noted that most martyrs die believing the testimony of others as to the truth of the event for which they are willing to die. Since they were not present to witness the original event, they are not in a position to personally confirm the truth or falsity of such event. They simply have been convinced of the validity of an event based on the witness of others.
In the case of the apostles, they were willing to suffer and die based on what they could personally confirm to be true or false. They were personally able to verify that Jesus was alive and not have to depend on second hand testimony. They had first hand opportunity to prove or disprove the resurrection of Jesus. It is noteworthy that there is no record of any one of the post resurrection apostles recanting under the weight of persecution and in some cases death. This shows how convinced they were about the reality that Jesus was alive after having been dead.
Those who believe in the divinity of other “saviors” do not have the kind of eyewitness evidence for their return to life from the dead that is inherent in Christianity. There are no multiple attestations in other religious systems of people witnessing the appearances of a person that was known to be dead but is now alive. While other religious systems have crucified and resurrected “saviors” as part of their system, they do not have documented attestations and therefore they lack any preponderance of evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, that would support their conclusions.
The response of the disciples to seeing the resurrected Christ was to proclaim and witness what they had seen to the world. That witness was supported through many miracles, signs and wonders. Paul was able to convince many Jews from the Hebrew Scriptures that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah and the facilitator of salvation through His death and resurrection.
While other religious systems have arisen based on reports of miraculous events that came to be believed by many people, belief in the validity of the Christian religious system must rest on determining whether there is sufficient and reasonable evidence to conclude that Jesus rose from the dead. While there are no records of anyone seeing Jesus leave the tomb, there is an abundance of circumstantial evidence that He did indeed leave the tomb alive. Multiple appearances of the resurrected Christ are attested to by the authors of the Gospels. Peter, James and John wrote letters that reflect their belief they had seen Jesus alive after He had been dead. Paul, who was out to destroy Christianity, became convinced Jesus was alive after initially concluding such a belief was preposterous.
This level of attestation is not apparent in the raise of other religious systems that began with a purported supernatural event. There is no recorded witness to the claim of Mohammad that he was visited by Allah. There is no record of anyone witnessing Joseph Smith's claim he was visited by the angel Moroni. This lack of attestation is missing from other purported supernatural events that have led to the development of various religious systems.
Some question the reliability of the Scriptural record and question whether the accounts of Jesus' resurrection and all related events can be shown to be true. The reliability of the Scriptural record is discussed in detail in my series entitled, "Are the Biblical Scriptures Reliable?". It should be noted, however, that even if one doubts the reliability of the Scriptural record, the fact remains that the Christian system developed rapidly in response to belief in the resurrection of Jesus before such belief was recorded in what became the NT.
Christianity developed before there was written attestation to the resurrection. The NT documents didn't produce belief in the resurrection. Belief in the resurrection produced the NT documents. Belief in the resurrection preceded the writing of the NT documents and thus was the immediate impetus for the development of the Christian Church. It wasn't the NT documents that led to the rapid development of Christianity. It was belief in the resurrection of Jesus. The NT is a product of belief in the resurrection. The New Testament documents were written after thousands had been convinced of the resurrection of Jesus.
The resurrection of Jesus was convincingly communicated to a wide range of people including Jewish leaders, Roman officials and other Gentiles who had been worshiping pagan gods. This all happened in a short time frame subsequent to the crucifixion. The crucifixion of Jesus was well known to have taken place. Both the Roman historian Tacitus and the Jewish historian Josephus write of it in their histories. Yet, within a short period of time subsequent to the crucifixion, thousands came to believe this crucified Jesus had been resurrected and was alive.
The sudden and rapid growth of Christianity strongly points to the validity of the resurrection as the impetus for this sudden and rapid development. The Biblical and secular histories of persecution and death that Christians were willing to suffer give additional credence to the resurrection having taken place. Many disciples were willing to die for their conviction that the man they knew to have been put to death on a cross was now alive.
The opportunity was there to disprove the resurrection occurred. Yet we find the behavior of the Christians to strongly support the reality of the resurrection. Much of the Jewish leadership was vehemently opposed to the developing Christian faith. Yet they were unable to prevent thousands of their own flock from accepting the Christian message. Something extraordinary had happened. I submit it was the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
In Part Three of this series we will begin to explore what some New Testament scholars see as irreconcilable contradictions and inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts of the resurrection of Jesus.