Friday, April 06, 2007

Easter Conspiracy

Around two thousand years ago there lived a man.

He lived in an obscure backwater of the Roman Empire,

and never ventured out of that region.

For three years he walked from town to town with a small group of friends,

an itinerant story teller.

He held no formal position of civic, religious or military authority,

or even owned property beyond the clothing he wore.

He was executed with common criminals, and laid to rest in a borrowed tomb.

And yet, the implications of this life and death are still felt today.

When Jesus was buried, his followers were a dispirited lot. One of them had even hung himself when he realized that betraying him into the hands of the authorities would not result in glorious revolution against the Romans, but a cruel, shameful death. Their world had caved in. The One they thought would bring about God’s Kingdom on Earth was dead.

Could it be then that this small group of ordinary people could pull off the greatest hoax in history by stealing the body of Jesus from the tomb, and proclaiming him alive?

Firstly the disciples would have to come up with the story – Myth making of epic proportions – that Jesus had risen from the dead, and the redemptive outcomes of that in God’s great scheme of things. They had virtually one day of mourning to come up with a huge, subtle and sophisticated theology – and this from the minds of a bunch of rough, thick-headed fishermen and other un-learned working men!

Next they needed to steal the body. If Jesus’ body was not hidden away, the authorities only had to produce it to prove that the disciples were lying. To steal the body, this group of ordinary guys, who two days earlier were too afraid to even witness the crucifixion, would need to take on a contingent of heavily armed Roman troops who were guarding the tomb. And if that occurred, all Jerusalem would have heard of it. As it was, the guards maintained that the Disciples stole the body as they slept. They must’ve been heavy sleepers not to hear the huge stone dragged away from the entrance of the tomb! But sleeping on duty was punishable by death for Roman Soldiers. It was generally accepted that the Jewish religious leaders bribed them to tell that story after promising to fix things up with their superiors.

And then, they would need to stick to this story, no matter what. How could they get away with this, telling this story in the very time and place that it happened unless it was true? There would’ve been plenty of witnesses to confirm or deny what had happened, a fraud would’ve quickly been exposed. Apart from a certain amount of fame, there would be no gain for them in proclaiming a risen Jesus. What selfish advantage could be gained from such a story? Virtually all of the disciples would die martyrs deaths maintaining the truth of the resurrection right to the end. Who knowingly would die for a lie?

But perhaps Jesus didn’t die on the cross. Maybe he was unconscious and revived in the cool of the tomb?

There are a few problems with this theory. When Roman Soldiers execute people, they are extremely efficient, nobody survives a crucifixion. There were strict procedures in place; in fact bungled crucifixions resulted in the would-be executors being executed themselves. Jesus’ legs were not broken to hasten his death because he was already dead on the cross. John, an eyewitness, wrote in his Gospel that when the soldier put his spear through Jesus’ side, blood and water flowed out. Forensic experts would attest that this is a sure sign of death, total lung collapse, asphyxiation, the blood breaking down into its constituent parts.

If by some miracle Jesus had survived and was laid unconscious in the tomb, and revived, this badly beaten, seriously injured man had to singled-handedly move the huge stone in front of the tomb entrance and overpower a contingent of Roman Guards, who would be in deadly trouble for letting a dead man escape.

And when Jesus did re-unite with his followers, they were convinced that he was gloriously resurrected and not someone in need of intensive care. He was able to convince ‘Doubting’ Thomas (my Lord and my God) and his own disbelieving brother James that something miraculous had happened.

Jesus’ life and death are the most recorded events of the Ancient era; there is no doubt that they actually happened. And the circumstances surrounding his resurrection make it’s happening far more likely than it not happening. The evidence adds plausibility to his claims of being the son of God. It’s worth thinking about.

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