On this Easter Sunday I would like to explain what I think led to the belief that Jesus was raised from the dead. A lot of readers over the years have not liked my answer (readers on wide ends of the spectrum): I think some (a few) of the disciples had visions of Jesus. That is, they saw him, or thought they saw him — which for them would have been the same thing.
I dealt with the matter in my book God’s Problem, and responded to a question on the blog about it a long time ago. Here it is.
I am reading How Jesus Became God and would like to comment on some of the content of Chapter 5. To that point in the book, it seems to me you have been very careful to avoid speculation, but it seems to me that the application of your usual standards may have lapsed somewhat in regard to the visions of Jesus after the crucifixion. Specifically, what evidence do we have, apart from the Gospels, that any of Jesus’ disciples actually had visions of Jesus after his death? Certainly, at some point in early Christianity, the story of the visions became part of the lore, but as you have pointed out in previous parts of the book, the oral recounting of the stories was subject to embellishment and even invention. I see no reason that simple rumor among believers, other than the Disciples, could not explain how the visions of the Disciples entered the tradition. Please respond. If I am missing something here I would like to know it.
This is a good and interesting question. The short answer is that apart from the Gospels the only other good evidence we have are the book of Acts and the letters of Paul. There is a lot of *not* very good evidence – for example, later Gospels and writings of later church Fathers, sources that many people would be reluctant to say provide no evidence at all! But having said this, let me stress: this does not make the Gospel accounts of the visions *different* from anything else we might say or think about Jesus. The Gospels (and Paul and Acts) are virtually our only evidence for *everything* having to do with Jesus! So I am no more speculative about the claims I make about visions than I am about anything else connected with Jesus. The New Testament provides us with our sources of information. And I would argue that in this case the evidence is really pretty solid.
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