Esta entrada también está disponible en: Spanish
I remember the day—I was not older than five years old—when I became acutely aware of my doom. “One day I will die,” I thought to myself. This came after watching a fairly dramatic cartoon named “Remi.” I remember my father came into the room to find me crying inconsolably. He reached for a black Catholic catechism and assured me that in those pages it was written that I would not die. What did most good at the time was to find comfort in my father’s arms but still, the thought of my death remained vivid and poignant. Then one day—as an adult many years later—I read the words of Jesus of Nazareth: “Because I live, you also will live.” But these words are only of comfort if they are actually true, because if Jesus did not rise from the dead I would have indeed a false hope. But I believe he was telling the truth as I will argue in this paper, because the claims related to death of Jesus and subsequent events can be submitted to historiography methods to extract truth just like with any other ancient document. History is the bedrock of Christianity.
How do historians separate historical fact from historical chaff? How can we know what happened over 2000 years ago? Here is where the historiography tools and method can help. Historians use several tools and methods to determine if a claim can be determined to be part of history. Here are some that we will use for our investigation:
- Is the claim being analyzed from a source with access to the event? In other words, is this an early source? “The closer the time between an event and the testimony about it, the more reliable the witness, since there is less time for exaggeration and even legend to creep up into the account.” The more “yes” answers to the questions below, the more solid the historical case.
- Do we have eyewitnesses for the event in question? Is the account written by an eyewitness or someone with access to an eyewitness?
- Do the sources of the events include embarrassing details that they would not be otherwise inclined express unless the account is true?
- Are some of the sources affirming an event hostile to the “person, cause or message that profits from the account?” In other words, do we have enemy attestation for the event?
- Do we have multiple independent sources confirming the event in question? The more—non-coerced and independent—sources for an event, the more reliable the account.
These are not all the tools employed by historians, but the ones we have chosen will be largely sufficient for our case. Now we have to choose a method to determine what is historical. The method we will use is called the “minimal facts” approach. This approach uses only data that is A) Strongly evidenced by using historiography and B) The data is granted by the grand majority of scholars of all spectrums—including agnostics and atheists. While the fact that the data is supported by many scholars is indeed encouraging for our case, it is the data itself and the historical analysis that is important to ascertain truth, so this is where the emphasis of the study will focus. What are these facts and why are they considered historical?
It is important to understand that these facts rely on a variety of documents—Jewish and secular included—and not just the New Testament. When using the New Testament documents, we will not consider them “divine” or “inerrant” but as ancient biographies and letters. We will treat them in the same manner as other ancient Greek and Roman writings. It is also vital to clarify that the books of the New Testament were originally separate documents. It wasn’t until a few centuries later that the church put them under the same binder because these constituted the writings from either an eyewitness of Jesus or from someone who knew an eyewitness and wrote their account. “People who insist on evidence taken outside the New Testament only don’t understand what they are asking. They are demanding that we ignore the earliest sources about Jesus in favor of later, secondary and less reliable sources.” The question before us now is: can we extract history from them? And the answer is a resounding yes. Here are the minimal facts—as a result of Historiographical study:
- Jesus died by crucifixion.
- His disciples truly believed to have seen Jesus after his crucifixion.
- Saul of Tarsus (Paul) persecuted Christians but then became one of them.
- James, the skeptic half-brother of Jesus suddenly became a Christian.
- Jesus’ tomb was found Empty
What is the historical bedrock supporting these facts and how do we conclude that they are historical? First let’s name our historical sources.
We will draw from several sources besides the four Gospels, Acts and Galatians:
- Cornelius Tacitus (C. 55-120 A.D.) is considered one of the greatest roman historians credited for writing about 30 books. Tacitus mentions Jesus (likely in the year 115 A.D.) in the context of the burning of Rome during Nero’s reign.
- Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (117-138 A.D.) was a roman historian and royal record-keeper for Emperor Hadrian. Suetonius writes—about Emperor Claudius (41-54 A.D.)—that “He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus.” This seems to match the accounts of Acts 18:2 from Paul. He also mentions—related to Nero—that “[p]unishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”
- Jewish Talmud. This ancient Jewish document is composed of oral tradition written down by the year 135 A.D. by Rabbi Akiba. Our relevant text comes from Sanhedrin 43a.
- Flavius Josephus (C. 37-97 A.D.) was a Jewish soldier turned Historian that mentions several key aspects of the life and death of Jesus.
- Lucian was a Greek satirist from the second century. From his play—The Death of Peregrine—we can deduct several important facts about Christians: 1) Jesus was worshiped by Christians in Palestine, 2) was crucified after living as a “sage” and 3) his followers were considered brothers thought to be immortal and had sacred books which were frequently read.
- Mara Bar-Serapion wrote a letter from prison to his son—dated between 73 A.D and 3rd century A.D—in which we learn that (1) that Jesus was considered to be a wise man 2) executed by the Jews unjustly and that 3) his teachings lived on with the early Christians.
- Thallus wrote a History around 52-55 A.D. and we have some quotes of his work from Julius Africanus (220 A.D.) in which he writes (related to Jesus’ crucifixion) that “[o]n the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.” We can’t know for sure if Thallus had Christ’s death in mind when he wrote his account, but at the same time it can’t be discarded.
- Pliny the Younger (61-112 A.D.) was a Roman author and governor of Bithynia, nephew of Pliny the Elder. He was a great writer of letters—ten books worth of them exist. Pliny started persecuting Christians due to their influence in political associations and the deserting of pagan temples. He wrote to Emperor Trajan for instructions on how to deal with them.
- Emperor Trajan (53-117 A.D.) wrote to Pliny the Younger in response to his request on how to deal with the Christians in the area of Bithynia in Asia Minor.
- The Toledoth Jesu is a Jewish anti-Christian document compiled in the 5th century but contains early Jewish tradition indicating—just as the account in Mathew 28:11-15—that the tomb of Jesus was empty because his disciples allegedly stole the body.
- 1 Corinthians 15:3-5 is an extremely important source for our investigation from Paul: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.” Here Paul uses rabbinical terms “received” and “delivered” in a highly stylized manner with non Pauline terms indicating oral tradition. The form of Greek used indicates possibly an Aramaic origin along with the proper names for Cephas and James (v.7). Paul likely received this creed in his visit to Jerusalem in the mid 30s A.D. (Gal 2:1-2) but such tradition dates back to a couple of years before that and probably even within the year of the crucifixion of Jesus.
Fact #1: Jesus died by crucifixion
Jesus’ death is covered by all of our historical criteria tools. It is attested by multiple Independent sources, both Christian and secular. Jewish historian Josephus reported it. All four Gospel narratives mention it as does the book of Acts. It is specifically called in the early creed of 1 Cor. 15. Roman historians Tacitus and Suetonius affirm it. Other sources including Lucian, Thallus, Mara Bar-Serapion and the Talmud mention it. This overwhelming evidence has driven non-Christian scholars to agree that the crucifixion is as “sure as anything historical can ever be” and “Jesus’ death as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable.” As a group, these sources are not only independent but are very early, they contain embarrassing narrative. Many of the events are testified by eyewitnesses. Finally we have enemy attestation by the Jewish Talmud, the Toledoth Jesu and Josephus. The death and crucifixion of Jesus meets the highest standards of historicity.
Fact #2: His disciples believed to have seen Jesus after his crucifixion
This fact is supported by very early testimony during the lifetime of eyewitnesses. It is mentioned in the 1 Cor. 15 creed , the four Gospels, and the book of Acts. Note that we are not saying that just because his disciples believed they saw Jesus that this makes the resurrection a fact. We are just affirming the “belief of the disciples” because we need to explain the origin of this statement. The early creed negates the hypothesis that this was legendary tradition. There is simply no time for legend to develop. Paul, John and Matthew describe that they saw the risen Jesus and we have no record that they ever recanted that belief. We read in the book of acts that early Christians were persecuted—Paul amongst them before his conversion—and killed for this belief. Not only the disciples wrote about their experiences, but their own disciples—the Apostolic Fathers—testified about this as well. They were willing to suffer and die for what they experienced. What is remarkable is that they were in a position to know if their belief was based on a falsehood. These nine sources confirm the very early belief of the disciples about the risen Jesus. Given this evidence, skeptic scholar Bart Ehrman concludes: “Historians, of course, have no difficulty whatsoever speaking about the belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since this is a matter of public record. For it is a historical fact that some of Jesus’ followers came to believe that he had been raised from the dead soon after his execution.”
Fact #3: The Conversion of Paul the Persecutor of the Church
Paul was a persecutor of Christians until he became one himself. He writes about his experience in letters to Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, and Luke writes about it in tree passages in the book of Acts. This is an astonishing fact as we have a former enemy changing worldviews instantly after witnessing, leading and endorsing the killing of Christians. This constitutes early enemy attestation form multiple eyewitnesses. But what caused this dramatic change? Both Paul and Luke affirm that he experienced what he believed was the risen Jesus. Additionally the fact that Paul was a persecutor was known in the early church. Paul suffered immensely and was finally martyred in Rome as attested by Tertullian, Origen, Clement of Rome, Polycarp and Dionysius of Corinth.
Fact #4: James, the skeptic half-brother of Jesus, became a Christian
James was the half-brother of Jesus and he is mentioned prominently by Josephus in a non-disputed passage. In fact Josephus testified of James’ martyrdom:
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.
Here Josephus confirms James as Jesus’ brother, killed by stoning (enemy attestation). We also know that before his conversion he did not believe in Jesus’ claims (embarrassing testimony). Moreover, James later is found a believer and the leader of the Church in Jerusalem. The question here is: what changed James’ mind? How is it that he grew up with Jesus as a skeptic and one day he was changed? We have the answer on the early creed (early testimony) of 1 Cor. 15 in verse 7, “Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles” (eyewitness testimony). It is safe to say that James believed to have seen Jesus alive after his crucifixion and this was enough to turn him into a bold believer to the point of death. James conversion can be safely considered historical.
Fact #5: Jesus’ Tomb was Found Empty
The fact that all four Gospels and Acts (multiple independent sources) affirm that women (eyewitness testimony) found the empty tomb in spite of it being an embarrassing admittance is remarkable. If the writers of the Gospel accounts wanted to give credence to this story they could have used a prominent male (maybe John or Peter), but they did not. Women did not enjoy the same credibility as men as primary witnesses. Also, the tomb was in Jerusalem—the very same place where Christianity flourished. It would have been extremely easy for Jewish authorities to identify the tomb and showcase the body, but they did not. In fact they bribed a group of soldiers to say that the disciples stole the body while they were asleep.” But if they were asleep how did they know it was the disciples? We have also seen from our historical sources that the Toledoth Jesu (an enemy source) affirms the empty tomb. The empty tomb is also implied very early in the creed of 1 Cor. 15, for if Jesus died, was buried and was raised as the creed claims then it follows that the tomb was vacant.
Pulling all Threads
Jesus was not the first messiah to come to the historical scene, but he was the only one to turn the lives of many first-century Jews upside down to the point of being willing to suffer greatly and even die for what they believed to be true. Second-temple Jews had no concept of a resurrected messiah or even a suffering and crucified messiah! Thus a skeptic needs to explain where this very early belief came from. Why did Christianity take the shape that it did? Why did early Christians believe their messiah to be also God when this concept was foreign in their Jewish scriptures? Skeptics have tried to explain these facts as the result of hallucinations, tomb robbers, swoon theories and fraud. But none of these explanations account for the historical data.
Some suggest that the disciples stole the body. But what kind of person would be willing to die for a known lie. Liars make poor martyrs and in fact the disciples were transformed from runaway cowards to bold proponents of the resurrection very early in history. Others have concluded that the disciples and followers of Jesus did not really see him but experienced hallucinations. But this theory fails because there is no evidence that mass hallucinations actually happen. It is also evident that Jesus appeared to many individuals and groups of people, both believers and unbelievers. Also hallucinations don’t explain the empty tomb and missing corpse. Besides, hallucinations are not “contagious” can’t interlock, and yet we read reports of people having the same experience of Jesus alive.
Finally, others have suggested that Jesus was actually not dead but appeared dead (swoon theory). This theory fails for several reasons: Romans were extremely effective at killing, but let’s suppose for a moment that he did indeed survive the brutal beating with a flagrum, the nailing of his feet and arms to the cross, the piercing with a spear and the blood loss that ensued. Are we to think that he was in shape to unwrap himself from his burial garments, push the tomb, and evade the roman guard? Let’s suppose that he was able to do all that. Once he got to his disciples are we to think they saw a conquering messiah? I think not, they would have seen a bloody human beaten down to a pulp in need of medical assistance. But even Pontius Pilate was smart enough to check if Jesus was really dead by sending a centurion to make sure the job was done.
I have to say that studying these facts carefully has given me hope. It has given me such hope that I can face death—look at it in the eye—and be reassured that it has lost its grip on me and on those loved ones who share that same hope. Death has been defeated. For the Apostle Paul this became an evident reality as he wrote “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” Simply put, in the words of professor Habermas: “Death, you’ve got nothing!”
To Know More:
- Michael Licona, Gray Habermas. The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus.
- Michael Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus.
 Jn. 14:19b. All Scripture quotations from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.
 See Michael L. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 93-102 for a detailed treatment of Historiography.
 Gary Habermas and Michael L. Licona, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 2004), 39.
 Ibid., 37.
 The basis to affirm that the grand majority of scholars grant these facts comes from an ongoing study from Dr. Gary Habermas in which he has tracked over 3400 scholarly sources in French, German and English since 1975. This includes scholars in all spectrums, from liberal to conservative. Habermas claims that you can “count the exceptions with one hand, maybe two” related to the scholars that disagree with these facts. Gary Habermas, “The Minimal Facts Approach to the Resurrection of Jesus”, Personal Website, http://www.garyhabermas.com/articles/southeastern_theological_review/minimal-facts-methodology_08-02-2012.htm (accessed November 11, 2013).
 This early attestation is also the reason why all other apocryphal gospels were not recognized as authoritative. They were just simply not close to the original sources and witnesses of Jesus’ life.
 William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2010), 185-6.
 From this account we can learn that (1) Christians were named for their founder, Chrestus (from the Latin), (2) who was put to death by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilatus (also Latin), (3) during the reign of emperor Tiberius (14 37 A.D.). (4) His death ended the “superstition” for a short time, (5) but it broke out again, (6) especially in Judaea, where the teaching had its origin. (7) His followers carried his doctrine to Rome. (8) When the great fire destroyed a large part of the city during the reign of Nero (54 68 A.D.), the emperor placed the blame on the Christians who lived in Rome. (9) Tacitus reports that this group was hated for their abominations. (10) These Christians were arrested after pleading guilty, (11) and many were convicted for “hatred for mankind.” (12) They were mocked and (13) then tortured, including being “nailed to crosses” or burnt to death. (14) Because of these actions, the people had compassion on the Christians. (15) Tacitus therefore concluded that such punishments were not for the public good but were simply “to glut one man’s cruelty.” Gary Habermas, “The Historical Jesus,” Personal Website, http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm (accessed November 11th 2013).
 Gaius Suetonius, “Life of Claudius”, Ancient History Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/suetonius-claudius-worthington.asp (accessed November 11th 2013).
 Gaius Suetonius, “De Vita Caesarum–Nero, c. 110 C.E.”, Ancient History Sourcebook, http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/ancient/suet-nero-rolfe.asp (accessed November 11th 2013).
 On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover. Gary Habermas, “The Historical Jesus,” Personal Website, http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm (accessed November 11th 2013).
 There is controversy about this passage due to Christian interpolations in the text. For this document I have taken the most conservative approach of using a version of the text with the following possible interpolations removed: “that Jesus was more than a man, that he was the messiah, and that he arose from the dead in fulfillment of the scriptures.” We will thus use the text from renowned Josephus scholar John P. Meier as he agrees that there are good reasons to regard this text as authentic once the suspect text is removed: “At that time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) has not died out.” John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. Vol. 1, The Roots of the Problem and the Person (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1991), 60-67.
 Lucian of Samosata, “The Passing of Peregrinus”, http://www.tertullian.org/rpearse/lucian/peregrinus.htm (accessed Nov 11th 2013).
 Pliny writes: “In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have been brought before me as Christians is this: I asked them whether they were Christians; if they admitted it, I repeated the question twice, and threatened them with punishment; if they persisted, I ordered them to be at once punished: for I was persuaded, whatever the nature of their opinions might be, a contumacious and inflexible obstinacy certainly deserved correction…. [Others were anonymously charged but] upon examination denied they were Christians, or had ever been so. They repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and incense before your statue (which for that purpose I had ordered to be brought, together with those of the gods), and even reviled the name of Christ: whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians into any of these compliances: I thought it proper, therefore, to discharge them.” Pliny the Younger, Letter XCVII to the Emperor Trajan from The Harvard Classics available through Bartleby.com: Great Books Online http://www.bartleby.com/9/4/2097.html (accessed November 11th 2013).
 Trajan replies to Pliny: “You have adopted the right course, my dearest Secundus, in investigating the charges against the Christians who were brought before you. It is not possible to lay down any general rule for all such cases. Do not go out of your way to look for them. If indeed they should be brought before you, and the crime is proved, they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that where the party denies he is a Christian, and shall make it evident that he is not, by invoking our gods, let him notwithstanding any former suspicion) be pardoned upon his repentance. Anonymous informations ought not to be received in any sort of prosecution. It is introducing a very dangerous precedent, and is quite foreign to the spirit of our age.” Pliny the Younger, Letter XCVII to the Emperor Trajan from The Harvard Classics available through Bartleby.com: Great Books Online http://www.bartleby.com/9/4/2098.html (accessed November 11th 2013).
 Habermas states that “[even] though Jewish scholars scorn the reliability of this source, the teaching that the disciples were the ones who removed the dead body of Jesus persisted in the early centuries after Jesus’ death.” Gary Habermas, “The Historical Jesus,” Personal Website, http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/historicaljesus/historicaljesus.htm (accessed November 11th 2013).
 Non-Christian Critics including Bart Ehrman, Gerd Lüdemann, John Dominic Crossan agree that this is an extremely early formula.
 Even if the critic eliminates the Gospels and Acts a-priori, there remain still multiple sources. Most historians agree that 2 sources are good enough to establish historicity. Here we have at least 10 sources if we remove Gospel narratives.
 John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991), 145.
 Gerd Lüdemann. The Resurrection of Christ (Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 2004), 50.
 Peter denied Jesus 3 times, Jesus is ridiculed and beaten to be executed as a common criminal. The disciples are shown are cowards and are absent during the crucifixion of their leader and master.
 John and Peter testified of events surrounding the crucifixion. John was present along with Mary, mother of Jesus and other women.
 Josephus is not a hostile source to the events but he certainly was not a Christian.
 The same can be said for all of the apostles. We may not know for sure how all of them died but we have no records that any of them recanted. If that had been the case, the news would have spread like wildfire.
 As an example of Christian persecution in the early church from a secular source, please review the quotes from Emperor Trajan and Pliny the Younger in the “Historical Sources” section of this document.
 Paul constitutes enemy attestation via the writings of Luke in the book of Acts.
 These are church leaders who succeeded the apostles and had fellowship with them. These include Clement of Rome (c. 30-100 A.D), Tertullian (200 A.D.), Polycarp (c. 69-c. 155). All of these writers affirm that the apostles believed to have seen the risen Jesus.
 Bart D. Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (Oxford: OUP, 2001), 231.
 Stephen is the first recorded Christian martyr in history. The book of Acts indicates Paul was not only a witness to his martyrdom in 7:58 but also to have approved of it (8:1). He then took to the task of persecuting the church (8:3).
 See Acts 9:1-19; 22:3-21; 26:9-23; 1Cor. 9:1; 15:8.
 See Gal 1:13;23.
 Just prior to 200 A.D. Tertullian reported the deaths of Paul and Peter. Tertulian, Antidote for the Scorpion’s Sting, XV, Christian Classics Ethereal Library, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.v.x.xv.html?http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf03.v.x.xv.html (accessed Nov 11th 2013).
 His family and siblings believed he was indeed “out of his mind” and did not believe him as the Messiah or the “Son of God.” See Mark 3:21, 31; 6:3-4; John 7:5.
 See Acts 15:13; 21:18, Gal 1:19; 2:9.
 The Gospels constitute independent sources given that 1) John is independent of the synoptic Gospels, 2) Luke and John have the story of Peter and another disciple inspecting the tomb independently of Mark, 3) and the Sermons of Acts 2:29-32 imply that the tomb was empty.
 See Mat. 28:11-15
 N.T Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2003), 686.
 What is significant in the context of Jesus is that he made unique claims, in the context of a ministry of healings and exorcisms, about his divine origin. But as N.T Wright argues, there are Jews today that believe Jesus actually was raised from the dead, and yet do not believe him to be the “Son of God.” Ibid., 719-21.
 As eyewitnesses the disciples were in the privileged position to know the truth surrounding the events of the resurrection.
 Dr. Gary Habermas consulted clinical psychologist, Dr. Gary A. Sibcy on the subject. Sibcy concluded: “I have surveyed the professional literature written by psychologists, psychiatrists, and other relevant healthcare professionals during the past two decades and have yet to find a single documented case of a group hallucination…” as Quoted by Michael L. Licona, The Resurrection of Jesus, 484.
 In the case of Paul, we would be pressed to explain how is it that a persecutor of the Christian church became its most ardent proponent to the point of martyrdom after a life of suffering, persecution and imprisonment?
 For details see Habermas and Licona, The Case for the Resurrection, 100.
 See Mark 15:44-45
 1 Cor. 15:55
 Heard from Dr. Habermas during lectures at Biola University, Summer 2013