This article was originally published at The Christian Post in 2009 under the title “What does Jesus always get picked on?”
How many Shakespeare scholars do you suppose believe Christopher Marlow wrote the great Bard’s plays? Less than one in a hundred, I’m sure. Are Shakespeare scholars fools? That seems a little bit presumptuous I would think. Of course laypeople can always offer their own speculations on how and why they believe Christopher Marlow, or Ben Jonson, or even Queen Elizabeth wrote Shakespeare’s plays. But should we take those speculations seriously? Should they?
Sure, let’s take these speculations seriously. About as seriously as we take the film “National Treasure” or The Da Vinci Code, or the next ex-hippie wearing a sandwich board that reads “The End is Near”. Bottom line, if the majority of Shakespeare scholars firmly believe that Shakespeare wrote his plays, you defer to the experts. Go big or go home.
So why is it that when it comes to Jesus and the history of the early church, all the conspiracy theorists emerge from their fox holes and bomb shelters? While ridiculous speculations on the authorship of Shakespeare’s plays would never be taken seriously, suddenly when it comes to Jesus the rules of scholarly deference are thrown out the window. Everybody’s an expert. Every opinion is worth taking seriously. Every hypothesis casts a further pall of doubt.
Let’s speculate then that the resurrection is a legend co-opted from the dying and rising messiah in Greek mystery religions. Or let’s suppose that the early Christians did not believe in a bodily resurrection. Or let’s suggest that Greek terms like “egeiro” and “anastasis” are consistent with the body remaining in the tomb. While we’re at it, let’s raise a doubt or two that Jesus even existed.
How frustrating this all is! Five bad arguments are still five bad arguments. Ten unsubstantiated claims are still ten unsubstantiated claims. Fifteen theses ignored by the experts are still fifteen theses ignored by the experts. Add them up and evidentially their import is still nil. Each and all would be crucified in the peer-review process.
These wild claims are utterly dismissed by people who have spent their careers looking at the issues. Just like the wacky thesis that Marlowe authored Shakespeare’s plays.
What if we grounded our opinions and speculations on the field of actual scholarly discussion? This would have a much higher likelihood of hitting the truth. But on the downside, the responsible route requires people to take a look at the scholarship and tie their opinions evidentially to it. Even more troubling, this opens up the door that Jesus just might have been resurrected after all.