Blomberg writes about what he concludes is an “underused” argument for the resurrection.

“Whatever you think of the logic of Gamaliel’s argument as described in Acts 5 (leave the disciples alone and if the movement is not of God it will go away–but that sure hasn’t worked for Islam!), it’s interesting to apply it to first-century rabble rousers.

The origin of the Zealot movement, rightly or wrongly, is traditionally ascribed to Judas the Galilean who revolted in A.D. 6 and who was decisively squelched by the Romans.  Gamaliel makes reference to him and also to a Theudas, a common name (more than a dozen appear in Josephus alone), so it’s hard to be sure who to equate him with.  Then there’s the Egyptian assassin that Paul is mistaken for by the Roman guard when he is arrested in Jerusalem toward the end of his missionary career (Acts 21-22).

 In fact, Josephus narrates, in various lengths, the accounts of a whole array rebels of various kinds throughout the first century, who all contributed in various ways to the growing Jewish discontent with Rome, the slowly organizing Zealot movement, and ultimately to the ill-fated Jewish war with Rome, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem by Rome in A.D. 70.

If you want to read a good, in-depth investigation of these folks and their exploits, see Richard Horsley’s Bandits, Prophets, Messiahs.  I love the title.  Several of these rebel leaders were little more than ancient would-be Robin Hood’s but less consistently noble.  Others believed they were Yahweh’s prophets or even Messiahs.  Some gathered large, reasonably organized followings and armies.  Others garnered little more than other riff-raff, criminals and malcontents.  The Judean hill country, like the caves at the base of the cliffs near the shores of Lake Galilee, always offered such groups the opportunity to hideout and try to surprise smaller Roman outposts here and there with nighttime attacks.

But there was one thing they all had in common.  They all lost, sooner or later.  No one ever succeeded in overthrowing the Romans in the first century, not in Israel, not anywhere in the empire.  Indeed, Jewish guerilla warfare was “small peanuts” compared, say, to the ever-serious Parthian threat to the northeast of the borders of the Roman empire and their raids on and incursion into Roman territory that kept a fair number of Roman troops occupied in defense.

More importantly for historical Jesus research, when a Jewish rebel leader was killed, one of only two things ever happened.  Either the movement died out, or the movement’s adherents turned to a new leader, often a family member of the first one, especially a brother or son off the deceased man (a venerable tradition going all the way back to the Maccabean revolt and succession of Hasmonean leaders in the second century B.C).

What never happened, at least as far as we know from any records still in existence, is that the rebel leaders’  followers continued to accept his claim about his identity, or the claims they had made for him.  The concept of a dead messiahs was simply oxymoronic, if not flat out moronic!  Even prophets, though they certainly could be killed (just read the Old Testament, to say nothing of subsequent Jewish tradition), shouldn’t die in battle against the enemy if they had previously “prophesied” victory.

Suddenly, the first generation of Jesus’ followers stands out in dramatic, unprecedented contrast.  Facts no sensible historians will dispute (yes, I know there are a few of the other kind) include: 1) Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate for the charge of being a would-be king (Messiah) of the Jews.  2) The movement of his followers did not die out but grew.  3) They continued to hail him as some kind of king and Messiah.  4) They did not turn to one of his family members or to one of his disciples to be their next prospective Messiah.  James, Jesus’ half-brother and Peter, the leader of the twelve, played prominent roles but never replaced Jesus’ unique roles from his lifetime.  As far as I know, this quartet of facts is unparalleled in ancient Middle Eastern history from any era.

The question then becomes why this unprecedented and implausible chain of events occur[r]ed.  The traditional Christian answer sounds pretty strong even if one wears just a historian’s hat (i.e., bracketing any religious faith or anti-religious bias for a moment).  That answer is that the disciples saw Jesus alive again, not just in a visionary way–that had plenty of precedent (or alleged precedent) to demonstrate that his spirit lived on in some other world.  Rather they believed they had seen him with a real human, though glorified body.  Can anyone think of a more probable explanation of these four facts than this traditional Christian reply?  I can’t.”

What do you all think?

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

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