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This series begins with 10 episodes on Critical Thinking for Mormons. These may be viewed below. As new episodes are created these will be published.
Each week a new essay can be viewed in the Essay Section below. All previous essays have also been archived.
May 19th, 2022.
May 5th, 2022.
May 12th, 2022
May 19th, 2022
May 26th, 2022
June 2, 2022
June 9, 2022
June 16, 2022
June 23, 2022
June 20, 2022
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Each year more and more people leave the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. There has never been a time when the numbers have been so great. Most people leaving the Church are young; the median age is just nineteen,1 and the retention rate for Mormon millennials has recently moved below 64 percent for the first time. In the 1970s and '80s, it was 90 percent for born-and-raised Mormons.
People leave for many different reasons contrary to the popular belief that it is the Internet and the unvarnished information regarding the Church's true historicity and the Joseph Smith story that result in the exodus, the majority leave for other reasons.
The CES-letter model of the temple-married, returned missionary leaving the faith later in adulthood, it would seem, is somewhat quite rare, and an individual doing so primarily because of church history is even more so.
This runs in the face of what people such as John Dehlin1 contend are the most common reasons why members leave - the Church's historicity, Joseph Smith's credibility, the denial of the priesthood for blacks, multiple first vision accounts, Free-Masonic influences, problems with the priesthood restoration, blood atonement and the Mountain Meadows massacre.
While John's 2013 research is interesting and seems to have provided accurate findings regarding those he surveyed, I feel that we must exercise caution with regard to the conclusions he draws from it. The flaw and I might add, fatal flaw, was with his sampling. As John acknowledges, this was a 'snowball' sample or a sample of convenience. The 3,000 respondents in his survey were recruited exclusively through liberal and ex-Mormon websites, forums, blogs and podcasts.
The fact is that this statistically smaller subset of former members involved in ex-Mormon social media groups, podcasts, etc., are not representative of former Mormons as a whole. Most of those leaving the LDS church today do not become involved in Facebook discussions, nor do they view podcasts or join support groups.
In September of 2019, researcher Jana Riess recognizing the inadequacies of the current research in this area designed a study as a part of a second book she and Benjamin Knoll were
writing to get a more accurate reading on the differences that exist between ex-Mormons and what she referred to as social media ex-Mormons. Jana devised a clever way to broaden the potential pool of her interviewees. What her research discovered was quite startling.2
She found that social media ex-Mormons were fully committed to the Church at one time. They left later, often after receiving their endowments in the temple (81.5%, compared to 40% of former Mormons nationally) and were more likely to have served a mission (45% vs. 13%). More than 9 in 10 social media ex-Mormons also reported that they were "very active" in the Church before leaving it. They typically paid tithing, kept the Word of Wisdom, attended meetings, and held callings.
Another significant difference she discovered was how social media ex-Mormons felt about God. Two-thirds of former Mormons said that they either "know God really exists and have no doubts about it" or they "have doubts" but "do believe in God."
This is in stark contrast to social media ex-Mormons. Jana reports that "only 18% of them fit into those two categories of belief in God. For them, the top two categories of the six options provided were agnosticism (32%) and atheism (22%). As a rule, they're also less likely than former Mormons to get involved in another religion after leaving the LDS Church. They seem to be quite done with religion."
Perhaps social media ex-Mormons have discarded religion so fully because they, unlike most abandoning the Church, were much more involved in Mormonism at one time. Seven in ten having been born in the covenant to parents sealed in the temple. Only one in ten was, in fact, a convert.
Of course, those driving the proliferation of ex-Mormon podcasts, Reddit communities, and Facebook groups are those that Jana Riess has labelled as social media ex-Mormons. They typically left the Church in their 30s or beyond, often after serving a mission, marrying in a Latter-day Saint temple and paying thousands of dollars in tithing.
Leaving the Church often cost these men and women their friends and family, and even their marriages. Their road out the door was fraught with pain and brokenness and for some their exit was not voluntary. Those in this group are more likely to harbor feelings of anger toward the Church in particular and, it would seem, religion generally.
The following statements made by the hosts of two popular ex-Mormon podcasts typify their beliefs regarding the New Testament: "How can we trust any history written two thousand years ago?" "It was a time where we don't have verifiable history; how much easier would it have been to create a myth to embellish stories, to create false stories."
Comments such as these are understandable and perhaps shared in large measure by their audiences, but I would suggest they are ill-informed.
As post-Mormons, we lament the ignorance of the average Latter-day Saint when it comes to their Church's true history and rightly so. TBMs are woefully unaware of the obvious contradictions in the Book of Mormon and its anachronisms, plagiarism, and other issues.
Likewise, they are oblivious to the true character of its author Joseph Smith. But many Mormons, including those of us in the post-Mormon community are also ignorant when it comes to the Historicity of the New Testament. This is certainly not surprising as it is not investigated or discussed in any depth in the LDS Church per se. Even institute classes on the New Testament are so heavily correlated to be very useful. When Boyd K. Packer famously said to Church educators, "Not everything that is true is useful," he wasn't just speaking of the Book of Mormon.
The two comments on the New Testament I replicated above show their authors fail to recognize that when it comes to history in general and the New Testament in particular, the crucial time from the perspective of a historian is not the gap between the occurrence of an event and today but rather the time between the event and the recording of that event. It is largely irrelevant how long ago something took place and the present day.
The four canonical gospels were probably written between CE 66 and 110. There is much debate among biblical scholars about the order in which the gospels were written. Almost all Bible scholars tend to agree, however, that John's Gospel was composed last, probably between CE 90 and CE 110. Mark was likely written first around 66 to 70 CE. Luke, it is generally accepted, was written between CE 75 and CE 95.
Some scholars feel that Matthew was the Gospel written first, asserting that people in the Church at Jerusalem realized the need for a written record of the life and teachings of Jesus. Hence, they appointed Jesus' disciple Matthew to the task. Proponents of this view believe Matthew completed his Gospel before the Church at Jerusalem was scattered in CE 42 under Herod Agrippa I.
So, assuming that Jesus died in 33 CE, a period of just ten to seventy-odd years separates the death of Jesus from the writing of the gospels. This is analogous to a history written today (2022) of an event that occurred between 1952 and 2012.
This puts the gospels in marked contrast to the source of Greek and Roman history, usually removed one or two generations or even centuries from the events they recorded. Yet we are confident in our history of Greek and Roman history. By contrast, the Gospels were written down and circulated within the first generation after Christ's death and while eyewitnesses were still alive, A fact confirmed by Oxford professor and outstanding Greco-Roman historian A. N. Sherwin-White, in his book, 'Roman society in Roman law in the New Testament.' 3
As well, within a few decades of His lifetime, Jesus was spoken of by Jewish and Roman historians in ways that corroborate the New Testament and describe His life and death.
Jesus of Nazareth is not just a stained-glass window. Scholars have scrutinized the life of Jesus using the same tools of historical research, applying the same criteria used to investigate the Annals of Tacitus or the Peloponnesian Wars. A wide range of ancient sources, both inside and outside the New Testament, including Christian, Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources, have been utilized.
Who am I, and what do I believe?
First of all, I am a member of the 18% of social media ex-Mormons that have left with a belief in God still firmly in place. I am neither an evangelical Christian nor a member of an opposing church or religion. Indeed, since leaving the LDS Church, I have not entered any other.
My story is quite typical. My parents converted to the Mormon Church in Ireland before emigrating to Canada when I was a boy. I attended seminary, was a boy scout, married in the Salt Lake Temple, raised five kids in the Church, and held numerous stake and ward callings.
Like many, I bought into the "be ye perfect" notion - get an education, work hard, build a business, accept all your callings, be a good father and husband and, oh yeah, read the scriptures, follow the prophet and pay your tithing.
My career was that of a university teacher and management consultant. As a young man, I wanted to pursue a career in academia, ideally teaching in a business school at a large university. With that goal in mind, I completed the requisite graduate degrees returning to my Alma Mater, the University of Alberta, where I had previously completed my four-year bachelor's degree in business administration and my MBA to teach in the Faculty of Business.
But as fate would have it, while moonlighting as a management consultant to supplement my rather meagre salary, I discovered that my real passion was coaching managers and executives on leadership, critical thinking and decision-making. Coming to that realization, I left university to establish a consulting firm and, over the next forty-plus years, built my one-person operation into a multinational Certified Management Consulting company with offices in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom.
As I look back on it now, I realize that while I spent a lifetime teaching others how to make logical decisions, rational decisions, better decisions, I was so busy trying to juggle my career, family and church responsibilities that I literally never had the time to apply my particular set of skills to the LDS Church's dominant narrative or the Joseph Smith story. It wasn't until I retired that I found the time to focus my rationality microscope on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. When I did, like many, I was out.
What do I believe?
I believe in God. I believe in the supernatural God who created the heavens and the earth. I believe that largely but not exclusively based on logic and rationality.
I am not ashamed of declaring that I am both a critical thinker and a Christian. In fact, I am amazed that many serious thinkers today continue to ask us to choose between faith and logic, God and science. It seems to me that's like asking us to choose between Isaac Newton and gravity as we witness the apple fall from the tree. God doesn't compete with science, nor is logic and critical thinking and a belief in the Almighty mutually exclusive.
G.K. Chesterton said. "it is absurd to complain, that it is unthinkable to believe that God made everything out of nothing and then propose that it is more thinkable, that nothing could turn itself into everything." 4
I believe that the universe is rationally intelligible. I do not believe this as a result of a 'burning in my bosom.' Rather, I have come to this conclusion after years of study and research.
So, I would like to direct my comments here to the 82% of social media ex-Mormons who form a part of the 29% of post-Mormons in general who have jettisoned their belief in God upon exiting Mormonism.
There is certainly no shortage of arguments that purport to establish God's existence, but they generally distill down to three -.the cosmological argument, the design argument, and the argument from religious experience.
As I began to put my ideas together for this article, it struck me that in the interests of economy, I would not go there since those leaving the LDS Church have a common Christian experience and at least a rudimentary knowledge of the New Testament.
So rather than go all the way back and argue for the existence of God, I will restrict my comments here to the existence of Jesus Christ and most importantly, to His death and Resurrection.
Specifically, I will attempt to answer the following three questions:
1. Is there Proof that Jesus Existed?
2. Is there Evidence of His Crucifixion?
3. Is there Evidence of His Resurrection?
1. Did Jesus Really Exist?
To suggest that Jesus never lived runs in the face of the research and analysis of every major historian who has written about ancient Rome and Palestine. This explains why most Christian critics or apologists don't address the claim much. Nevertheless, in this age of skepticism for all things Christian, I must begin by addressing it.
In December of 2007, The Jesus Project was set up in the United States. The main question it was created to address was whether or not Jesus really existed.
Some authors at that time, and some even today, have argued that neither Jesus nor Nazareth, for that matter really existed, contending that both Jesus and the town of Nazareth are Christian inventions. It is worth noting, though, that the two mainstream historians who have written the most refuting these arguments are both atheists: Maurice Casey (formerly of Nottingham University) and Bart Ehrman (University of North Carolina). They have, in fact, issued stinging criticisms of the "Jesus-myth," branding it as pseudo-scholarship.
While there may be an argument as to Jesus of Nazareth not being who He said He was, there is ample and compelling evidence that Jesus was a historical figure.
As we look at the history of the world, we witness many women and men who could be considered significant and impactful, but no one equals Jesus of Nazareth. No one comes close to the enormous impact on culture and history, as does Jesus Christ. He is the central figure in the largest and arguably the most influential religion in the world; indeed, we divide the history of our planet chronologically in relation to his birth.
But Jesus can also be quite an enigmatic figure, one who people tend to have very different ideas and opinions about. Who He was and what He stood for is greatly debated by historians and theologians alike.
There is considerable disagreement and many divergent opinions about who this man actually was and even what He means to mainstream Christianity. To some, Jesus is the incarnation of God's word, the Son in the Holy Trinity and thus like God Himself. To Muslims, He is a prophet similar to Moses but lessor than Muhammad. To some Hindus, Jesus is seen as an avatar for the God Vishnu. To others, Jesus is a myth, someone who never actually existed, simply the creation of early Christian writers. In New Age circles, He is sometimes seen as a great enlightened being who taught a kind of Christ consciousness.
How can we know which one is most accurate? Scholars and historians have for some time been trying to determine if Jesus existed and if so, who the historical Jesus actually was.
First, I will address the question did Jesus actually exist, and secondly, if he really did exist, then I will discuss whether He was who He said He was?
But before we start our discussion on this subject, let's talk briefly about methodology, and the criterium historians and scholars use to evaluate historical sources.
When studying a historical figure, scholars look for sources or materials that are as reliable as possible. There are, however, different levels of reliability. The best evidence for examining a historical person is direct and reliable evidence from the person himself or herself, such as personal items or objects that the person owned or literary remains such as diaries or books written by the subject. Absent this; they must rely on secondary sources such as stories about the person told by eyewitnesses and the like. And, of course, the closer to the actual event in time, the better. Contemporary sources coming directly from the period of a person's life are the most reliable. But if this is not available, they seek sources as close in time as possible.
For example, when it comes to the life of Jesus, the Bible is a more reliable source than the Quran insofar as the latter appeared six centuries after Jesus lived, whereas the New Testament only a few decades.
And finally, they want the sources they employ to be as unbiased or as neutral as possible. This is, of course, in many cases, pretty much a lost cause, at least in some respects. For obvious reasons, reports of Jesus coming from people who are not Christians are usually considered more reliable than Christian sources themselves.
The proponents of the Jesus never existed position argue that the Gospels are fundamentally unreliable as the Gospel authors were terribly biased toward Christianity. They contend that the Gospel writers had something to gain in advancing the idea of Jesus' divinity, so their writings should be dismissed as myth. They submit that outside of the Gospels; there was very little—if anything—written about Jesus.
I think we need to recognize that simply having a bias is not in itself disqualifying. Dismissing someone's writing due to bias is fallacious. Rejecting a statement based merely on who the speaker is, provides an example of the circumstantial ad hominem. To illustrate, when someone says of a politician, 'He doesn't really care about a woman's right to choose; he is just pandering votes.' In this example, even if the politician may benefit from his argument's acceptance, this does not mean that his stated position must necessarily be wrong.
We don't dismiss out-of-hand contemporary accounts of George Washington written by his devoted followers; they still have valuable insights about early America. We simply take their biases into consideration. We do not refuse to use them as historical sources, for to do so would be to forgo many of the most important avenues to the past we have.
With all of this in mind, what do we have in terms of physical evidence for the life of Jesus?
Sadly, not all that much, but we have some.
In terms of material evidence, we have essentially nothing. No archaeological remains have been uncovered that can prove Jesus' existence, for as Biblical archeologist Lawrence Mykytiuk
Says, "Peasants don't normally leave an archaeological trail."
Indeed, there have been claims in recent years that such evidence has been found – the house where Jesus grew up in Nazareth, for example, but this is far from a certainty. Therefore, we can't rely on that as a resource as such. Historians cannot rely on speculation.
As post-Mormons, we are familiar with the fanciful claims made by Church apologists that steel swords and Hebrew inscriptions have been found in Central America, as well as the skeletal remains of horses, etc.
In terms of contemporary written material, from Jesus Himself or His family, there is nothing here either. This shouldn't be too surprising since, of course, most people in first-century Palestine couldn't read or write, and Jesus during His life would probably not have been famous enough to be mentioned in any kind of official documents.
This leads many to argue today that Jesus never actually existed as a historical person and that He was a later construct by Christian writers. This is a serious idea or theory that can't be overlooked completely as there is some merit to it.
But the reality is that the majority of historians and scholars who work on the subject today hold the opinion that unquestioningly Jesus was a real historical person who lived in first-century Palestine. This is because we do have more than enough convincing evidence pointing to His existence.
Now, as I have said, there are essentially no contemporary sources from the time of the life of Jesus, but many begin to appear not too long after His death. In fact, the earliest sources for the life of Jesus are some of the New Testament books themselves.
Yes, based on the bias criteria I mentioned earlier, the New Testament accounts would definitely be considered biased, but this doesn't mean they must be discarded completely. The New Testament does give us some very valuable and significant historical information. Much of it is deemed by Bible scholars to be trustworthy
The earliest writings in the New Testament are usually considered to be the letters of the apostle Paul, written sometime around 50 CE. This is just 20 years after the commonly believed death of Jesus (33 CE), which is pretty close in time.
Since Paul never met Jesus personally, he cannot be considered an eyewitness as such. Still, his letters show that very shortly after Jesus' death, Paul became the central figure in the community of Jesus' followers that quickly became widespread across the Roman Empire. His letters also show that there was a community of leaders in Jerusalem, including apostles, like James and Peter, who indeed did meet Jesus and that Paul spent weeks communicating face-to-face with Peter. While the letters of Paul show there was a Christian community established at the time, they don't talk much about the life and times of Jesus. Instead, this is left to the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
The widely accepted theory is that Mark was the earliest Gospel written sometime around the year 70 CE, with the gospels of Matthew and Luke being written a little later, around 80 to 85. The last Gospel of John was likely written sometime in the 90s CE; however, a few scholars, although outliers, suggest the Gospel of John was written as late as 110 CE.
While the four Gospels can have seemingly different and contradictory views and essentials as to who Jesus was and the important details of His life and death are the same. They all described Him as a Jewish man who lived and walked the land of Palestine. While the Gospels are not contemporary sources, they were written about 40 to 60 years after Jesus' death, which is very close in time.
Most historians accept the New Testament books as evidence for the existence and life of Jesus, but others are not convinced.
Fortunately, however, we also have external sources, that is, from outside of the Bible written just a couple of decades after the life of Jesus which, not a Christian source, meet the criteria of being unbiased.
Perhaps the earliest and most significant of these is the writings of the Jewish historian. Josephus is considered one of the most influential Jewish figures of his time and a hugely invaluable source for what we know about first-century Palestine.
Within his writings, there are sections that are very valuable and important. In his book, Antiquities, written around 93 CE, Josephus talks about an event that took place in 62 CE, in which a religious leader in a misuse of power had a number of people executed. His text reads, "…the sun had risen of judges and brought before them James, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ and some others. And when he had formed an accusation against him as breakers of the law, he delivers them to be stoned." 5 Not only does this mention Jesus and the fact that His followers called Him the Messiah or Christ, but he also mentions James, Jesus' brother, who was an early leader of the Christian community. This is a highly significant historical document and one of our best proofs.
Josephus also provides another even more striking section, which has become known as the Flavius Josephus. This is a much longer reference and reads: "Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works-a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians so named from him, are not extinct at this day." 6
He refers to Jesus as a wise man, a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who received the truth, and He gained a following, both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin, that He was the Messiah. He writes that Pilate condemned Him to the cross because of an accusation made by the Jewish leaders. He tells us that those who had loved Him did not abandon him, that He returned from the dead, and that He appeared to his friends on the third day, just as the divine prophets had spoken of.
Most historians consider quite rightly that this quote has been tampered with in some way; Josephus being a devout Jew who never converted to Christianity, would not likely have referred to Jesus unequivocally as the Messiah nor is it likely that he would report his rising from the dead on the third day. The original quote was probably massaged by later Christians who added some faith-promoting theological spin to it.
Nevertheless, if we look past those obviously biased statements, the remaining message of Josephus gives us some significant and valuable information. Specifically, there was a 'wise man' called Jesus, who gained a significant following among the Jews and who was believed to have done remarkable things. That He was executed by crucifixion at the command of Pontius Pilate and that He continued to have devoted followers even after His death.
These statements by Josephus are some of the most significant non-Christian sources that we have but not the only ones. Another often-quoted source is the Roman historian Tacitus. In his Annals of Imperial Rome, written in 115 CE, when talking about the great fire in Rome that broke out in the year 64 CE under Emperor Nero; he writes, "Nero falsely accused those whom the populace called Christians, the author of which Christ was put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate. As well, Tiberius was Emperor, but this dangerous superstition, those suppressed for the moment, broke out. Again, not only in Judea the origin of this evil but even in this city of Rome." 7
Pliny the Younger provides another valuable historical source of information on Jesus. Pliny the Younger was the governor of the Roman province of Bithynia, located in Asia Minor. In 112 CE, he wrote to the emperor Trajan, seeking help as to how he might deal with those in his province accused of being Christians.
Here he describes the practices of these 'criminals:'
"They were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind." 8
From this passage, we can deduce that:
1. Christians met on a "certain fixed day, before it was light," undoubtedly a reference to the Sabbath.
2. They "sang…a hymn to Christ, as to a God." This is early, extrabiblical evidence of Christian belief in the Deity of Christ and also indicates that the Divinity of Jesus was not a later creation of the Church.
3. It shows the Christian adherence to the teaching of Christ as to both faith (what to believe) and morality (how to live).
4. The reference to their "partaking of food – but food of an ordinary and innocent kind," shows that the early Christians celebrated the Eucharist (taking the Sacrament).
Based on this, the consensus among Biblical scholars and historians is that Jesus unquestioningly existed, that He was indeed a real person, there is universal agreement that Jesus of Nazareth was a Jewish man who was born sometime around the year zero, that He grew up and lived in first-century Palestine in adulthood, He gathered a group of followers among his fellow Jews through His preaching and teaching. That He had aroused the suspicions of the authorities, causing some kind of brouhaha in Jerusalem. That the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate had Him executed by crucifixion.
It also seems quite certain that shortly after His death, His followers were convinced that He had risen from the dead. These things we know with, at least some level of certainty, anything outside of this framework, enters the realm of speculation.
Because so little is known about Him as a historical person, some people like to fit Him into their own narratives. Jesus was a socialist, a capitalist or a feminist. He was a revolutionary or that He was a pacifist; all kinds of different ideas are out there. There is little if any evidence of these interpretations.
The mainstream churches of Christianity, which developed gradually over the centuries, also showcase a variety of perspectives, but most accept the idea that Jesus was the Messiah promised in the Old Testament. That He was the son of God. That He took human flesh and died on the cross to bring Salvation to all.
So, in answer to our first question, did Jesus exist? I would submit that there is overwhelming and compelling evidence that, yes, Jesus lived and walked the earth in the meridian of time.
2. Evidence of His Crucifixion
We need to begin by asking, was there such a thing as crucifixion and was it practiced by the Romans as a form of capital punishment?
As to the validity of this mode of execution, it is well established that by the first century, crucifixion was the Roman method of capital punishment for non-Roman criminals.
It was employed as a form of punishment, causing extreme pain and humiliation. The word "excruciating" was created for the express purpose of describing the unfathomable horror of an individual's suffering on the cross. Excruciating means literally "out of the cross."
Crucifixion as a form of torture and death most likely began with the Assyrians and Babylonians, but it also came to be practiced by the Persians in the sixth century BCE; Alexander the Great, who invaded Persia as he built his empire, brought the practice to the eastern Mediterranean countries in the fourth century BCE.
But the Romans weren't aware of the practice until they encountered it while fighting Carthage during the Punic Wars in the third century BCE. However, having been exposed to it for the next 500 years, the Romans "perfected crucifixion" until Constantine I abolished crucifixion in the Roman Empire at the end of his reign. Thus, crucifixion was used by the Romans until about 313 CE, when Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire.
The practice became extremely popular in the Roman-occupied Holy Land. In 4 BCE, the Roman general Varus crucified 2,000 Jews. The Romans crucified thousands upon thousands of people; in Rome and her colonies, the crucifixion process was long, entailing scourging before the victim was nailed and hung from the cross. The person being crucified was sometimes attached to the cross by ropes, but nails were, as indicated not only by the New Testament accounts of the crucifixion of Jesus but also in a passage of Josephus, where he mentions that, at the Siege of Jerusalem (70 CE), "the soldiers out of rage and hatred, nailed those they caught, one after one way, and another after another, to the crosses, by way of jest." 9 Notorious mass crucifixions followed the Third Servile War (the slave rebellion under Spartacus), the Roman Civil War, and the destruction of Jerusalem. So, yes, crucifixion was sadly a very real thing.
The more crucial question is, of course, was Jesus of Nazareth crucified? Is there historical evidence of His crucifixion?
We first need to note that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ did not occur in obscurity. The writers of the four gospels all establish the fact that Jesus suffered this heinous death. The Jews, both those who hated Him and those who would become His future followers, witnessed His death on the cross. It was a public event.
Standing near the cross at one time or another during the crucifixion was His mother, Mary, as well as Ruth, Jude, John, John's mother (Salome), and a group of women believers, including Mary, the wife of Clopas and sister of Jesus' as well as Mary Magdalene, and Rebecca.
The crucifixion of Jesus has several points going for it. First, It is attested in our earliest source for Jesus, the authentic Pauline epistles. Second, it was a standard Roman form of punishment; third, crucifixion is consistent with all early sources and many later ones, such as the Talmud.
To me, Paul's writings provide enough reason to think he was executed via crucifixion. Extrabiblical sources such as Tacitus and possibly Josephus are all reliant on Christian tradition and come long after the fact. Therefore the only thing they attest to is that Christians ca. 90 CE and onward consistently held to the idea that Jesus of Nazareth was crucifixion.
However, Cornelius Tacitus is significant; he provides the extra-biblical source that mentions the crucifixion in his Annals, xv. 44: "Christus ... was executed at the hands of the procurator Pontious Pilate." We also have Lucian of Samosata, who wrote, "Christ was the man who was crucified in Palestine." 10
It is interesting that the Talmud provides strong evidence of the crucifixion of Jesus. Talmud, b. Sanhedrin 43a reads: "On the eve of the Passover Yeshu [Jesus] was hanged [or crucified]. ... Since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover."
Amoa Ulla, a disciple of Youchanan who lived in Palestine at the end of the third century, adds: "And do you suppose that for (Yeshu of Nazareth - Jesus) there was any right of appeal? He was a beguiler, and the Merciful One hath said: "Thou shalt not spare neither shalt thou conceal him."
The writers of the Talmud took their job very seriously. They were Jews, not Christians, who certainly did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah, yet they documented Christ's crucifixion.
When doing history, we also have to take into account differing standards of evidence. Different historical figures require different standards depending on their socio-economic class, gender, race, etc., because individuals in those differing categories are likely to receive more or less attention depending on their status. For example, a poor Jewish woman is less likely to be written about than a rich, Roman, aristocratic senator. Jesus, being a first-century Palestinian Jew, from the backwaters of Galilee, with no noteworthy background, is not the type of person who would be written about. We should expect not to have much. The fact that we do have as much as we do, not only meets but surpasses that expectation.
Therefore, based on the current evidence, I believe there is good reason to postulate that Jesus was, in fact, crucified by the Romans.
Did Jesus die as a result of His crucifixion?
Some, although very few, suggest that Jesus did not die on the cross. The acceptance of this theory, however, provides a convenient answer as to how so many can claim to have seen him after his crucifixion.
This theory is often referred to as the 'swoon hypothesis' and proposes that Jesus did not die on the cross but merely fell unconscious ("swooned"), and was later revived in the tomb in the same mortal body. The proponents of this hypothesis suggest that Jesus deliberately feigned His death, using drugs provided by the physician Luke to appear as a spiritual messiah and get Israel to abandon the idea of a political messiah. In this interpretation of the events described in the Gospels, Jesus was resuscitated by Joseph of Arimathea, with whom He shared a connection through a secret order they both belonged to.
I don't think this hypothesis passes the Occam Razor test.
Medical experts such as diagnostician Dr. Alexander Metherell, assert that Jesus' survival after his crucifixion is "impossible" and "a fanciful theory without any possible basis in fact." 5 As well, a thorough analysis conducted by the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded Jesus was very probably dead even before the spear was thrust into his side and that any swoon hypothesis is entirely irreconcilable with contemporary medical science.11
Jesus underwent both Jewish and Roman trials and was flogged prior to his crucifixion. Scourging produces deep stripe-like lacerations and appreciable blood loss, and it probably sets the stage for hypovolemic shock, as evidenced by the fact that Jesus was too weakened to carry His cross to Golgotha. At the site of the crucifixion, his wrists were nailed to the cross, and after it was lifted upright, his feet were also nailed to the cross.
The major pathophysiologic effect of crucifixion is the interference with normal respiration. Thereby, death results primarily from hypovolemic shock and exhaustion asphyxia.
Jesus' death was also ensured by the thrust of a soldier's spear into His side. The other men executed alongside Jesus were still alive, and therefore their legs were broken to hasten their deaths. Jesus, on the other hand, had already died as a result of His ill-treatment in the hours prior to His crucifixion. Still, to make sure, he was pierced with a spear, most likely through a lung and into his heart, since we are told that blood and water immediately came out of the wound.
If more expert opinions are needed, forensic pathologist Frederick T. Zugibe has described the swoon hypothesis as completely unfounded and contradicted by medical evidence.12 According to Zugibe the long spikes that penetrated Jesus' feet would have caused massive swelling and severe pain beginning in the first hour on the cross. Jesus would not have been able to stand or walk on his feet for at least a month or longer. Zugibe argued that it was not possible for Jesus to have survived his crucifixion, and no drugs or medications of the time would have been able to stop the pain Jesus had experienced or put him into a deep sleep to feign death.
I think any reasonable person, let alone a critical thinker, has to conclude that Jesus died on the cross.
3. Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?
Now we get to the heart of the matter, as Shawn McCraney would say.
Many people will tell you that "based on logic," the Resurrection makes no sense. While I disagree with this assessment, I think we need to remember that "human logic" is not omnipotence. In Isaiah, God makes it very clear that "His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts." 13 feel it is illogical to think that 'man' is the center of the universe. The truth is that Christianity is far more logical than many people give it credit for, certainly more rational than atheism.
The British philosopher Austin Farrer noted, "Rational argument does not create belief, but it maintains a climate in which belief may flourish." In a similar vein, Professor J.P. Moreland, the distinguished American philosopher and theologian, said, "faith involves trusting what we have reason to believe is true."
Neither Farrer nor Moreland are saying that faith per se is not important, but that reason and logic also play an essential role; certainly, any conversation about God is going to necessitate a degree of faith. If people are not willing to humbly admit that they don't have all the answers, then the conversation will not likely go anywhere
In Mormonism, feelings are paramount and belief trumps reason. I think this can be dangerous and can lead to the abuses that have driven many of us from Mormonism. It doesn't matter that there is no archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon or that it abounds with anachronisms, highly plagiarizes the Bible and other sources or that DNA evidence demonstrates no Semitic or Hebrew linage or that Joseph Smith' translated' the book while looking at a magic rock in his hat; the same rock he used in his earlier career as a criminal' glass looker.' Just pray that the book is true and look for a 'burning in your bosom.'
That said, I will continue in this article by presenting evidence that meets the standards of proof we have discussed previously.
When it comes to the Resurrection, to say that there is no logical truth or evidence to this belief is not only ignorant but also untrue.
How do we know that Jesus has risen from the dead? You might answer that He lives in my heart, and I think that this answer, while perfectly appropriate on a personal level, will not convince unbelievers such as the 82% of the social media ex-Mormons that we spoke of earlier or the historians they quote who deny both the divinity of Christ as well as the reality of His Resurrection.
Fortunately, Christianity as a religion is well-grounded in history and can be investigated historically and unlike the Book of Mormon archeologically.
I will discuss six historical indicators of Jesus' Resurrection:
1. The Honorable Burial
2. The Empty Tomb
3. The First Eyewitnesses were Women
4. Multiple Post-Resurrection Eyewitnesses
5. The Commitment and Martyrdom of the Disciples
I want to approach the Resurrection as most Biblical scholars do, not as inspired scripture but rather as an ancient history.
Surprisingly I have found that the majority of historians approaching the New Testament documents have come to regard as historical, the basic facts, which support the Resurrection of Jesus. And I'm not talking solely about conservative or evangelical scholars where you might expect agreement but rather the broad spectrum of New Testament, critics, both, Christian and non-Christian. Those teaching at secular universities as well as those at non-Christian colleges and evangelical, seminaries. Most of in fact have come to regard as historical, the basic facts, which support the resurrection of Jesus.
1. The Honorable Burial
After his crucifixion, Jesus was buried in a tomb belonging to a rich man and a member of the Jewish Sanhedrin named Joseph of Arimathea. This man asked the governor, Pilate, for Jesus' body so that he could bury Him. This fact is important because it means that the location of Jesus' tomb was known in Jerusalem to both Christians and Jews alike.
New Testament scholars agree that the burial story is one of the best-established facts about Jesus' Resurrection. They have established the historicity of this fact on the basis of evidence such as the following:
Jesus' burial was attested multiply times in early independent sources. Remember, this is one of the historians' most important criteria for establishing historical facts. If an event or a document is attested to in multiple sources which are independent of each other, where at least one of which is early, then it is much more probable to be historical rather than made up. The burial of Jesus is mentioned in numerous early sources.
For example, Jesus' burial is mentioned by Paul in his letter to the Church in Corinth; Paul wrote that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter) and then to himself (Paul).
The fact that in Paul's writing, he uses the rabbinical technical terms received and delivered is also convincing to many scholars. As well, when you read the Gospels, you find that they often consist of brief snapshots of Jesus' life loosely connected and not always chronologically arranged. But, in contrast, the burial and empty tomb accounts have grammatical and linguistic ties, indicating that they represent one continuous account. The story of Jesus' passion, the final week of Jesus' life, His suffering and death is one smooth, continuously running narrative. This suggests that the passion story was one of Mark's sources when writing his Gospel.
Most scholars hold that Mark is the earliest of the four gospels and the first source for Jesus' passion. The fact that the Gospel accounts do not diverge from one another until after the burial story implies that the burial account was part of that Markin passion story.
We also have the independent attestation of the burial of Jesus by two of the earliest sources concerning Jesus of Nazareth - the pre-Pauline formula quoted in First Corinthians as well