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Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box? (First Edition) Paperback – April 16, 2009
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Komarnitsky never delivers the knockout punch in Doubting Jesus' Resurrection--nor could he. It was not his intention to do so. What he does is show a very plausible alternative explanation for the Empty Tomb that doesn't involve an actual resurrection. He does this while granting certain basal assumptions of the Christian believer.
But "plausible" amounts at best to a draw in the debate over the historical Jesus. To show how something might have happened is not the same thing as showing how it did happen. What ought to give the believer pause is that the author managed to exhibit a perfectly credible scenario that doesn't appeal to unseen and unprovable entities. It won't do that because the believer neither needs to see God nor have him proven. God's existence is taken as a given, the starting point of the discussion. That is something the non-believer needs to recognize. The believer will not accept the burden of proof simply because God is unseen and untestable.
The real damage this kind of work does to the Faith is in that it demonstrates that the one who does not share the believer's convictions need not. One who doesn't start from a position of faith is not inclined in the direction of faith and would thus find Komarnitsky's analysis at least as likely as the supernatural alternative. In short, it shows that doubting the Resurrection is a reasonable and honest--an honorable--posture.
For Christians who insist there's no excuse for not believing, that unbelief must be met with ultimate judgment, this is intolerable. It's intolerable because we all intuitively understand that it would be unjust to punish someone for holding a reasonable and honest opinion. Desperate attempts will therefore have to be made to show that doubt of Jesus' rising from the dead is not, in fact, a reasonably and honestly held opinion.
The last few years of my Christian life were spent in just such a search for a convincing, countervailing argument: a rationale that could justify a hard line against unbelief of fundamental teachings like the Resurrection and all it implied. But I could not succeed. I'm not aware of anyone who has. At the very least, Komarnitsky had helped to show how unlikely it is that anyone ever will.
However, I do think that the book could be improved slightly. Kris never addresses the question, "Why would the disciples be willing to die for something about which they had little evidence?" Of course this question is completely illegitimate (as I will show) but nevertheless it is a widespread myth that Kris should have addressed (perhaps he could launch a companion site or blog to answer questions like these).
The question "Why would they die..." is not legitimate for many reasons: first, there is no solid evidence that any of the disciples were martyred for their belief in the resurrection, much less any evidence that they were given a chance to recant. As Kenneth Daniels says in his book Why I Believed:
"[T]he assertion that Jesus' disciples died for their faith has no historical foundation; it is mere hearsay, as Bart Ehrman informs us:
"'And an earlier point that Bill made was that the disciples were all willing to die for their faith. I didn't hear one piece of evidence for that. I hear that claim a lot, but having read every Christian source from the first five hundred years of Christianity, I'd like him to tell us what the piece of evidence is that the disciples died for their belief in the resurrection (Craig and Ehrman 2006, 28-29).'
"What Erhman is saying is that we have no historical grounding for the martyrdom of even one of Jesus' disciples. All details regarding their manner of dying emerge years later in accounts that are far removed from the actual events. Even if it could be proven historically that some of the earliest disciples were martyred, we would still be unable to look into their minds and know they died specifically for their belief in Jesus' Resurrection.
"Joseph Smith was murdered by a mob in 1844 in Nauvoo, Illinois. Latter Day Saints believe he was martyred for his unwavering conviction that God revealed himself through golden tablets that Smith had discovered in 1830. Many non-Mormons believe he was killed because he was a criminal. If the facts are so readily disputed for a relatively recent and well-documented event like Joseph Smith's death, how can we say with any confidence how or why Jesus' disciples perished, let alone what was in their minds when they died?"
Another point that Kris does not address is the claim that the resurrection hypothesis is simpler than all secular explanations of the facts surrounding Jesus' death. This claim is commonly made by William Lane Craig and Gary Habermas, and I would imagine that they would make the same point to Kris if ever they engaged him in debate: Isn't the single hypothesis of Jesus' resurrection simpler (and therefore more likely to be true) than Kris' multi-hypothesis explanation of the origins of Christianity (Kris' hypothesis requires numerous hypotheses, such as grief hallucinations to the individual appearances of Jesus after his death, plus postulating that Paul's report of an appearance to the 500 is a fringe legend and not at all factual, and so on)?
Of course Kris could easily counter this question: Occam's razor (the principle of simplicity) states that all things being equal, the simplest explanation is most probably correct. But all things are not equal in this instance: Each of Kris' hypotheses occurs with relatively high frequency (people exaggerate, hallucinate, etc. all the time) while resurrections either never occur or occur on a mind-bogglingly low basis (so low that we know of no other cases). So even the conjunction of all of Kris' hypotheses together is a lot more likely than the resurrection. The only way that a Christian could get out of this is if he could successfully show that Kris' hypothesis was less likely than the existence of a miracle-working God of the sort who would actually want to raise Jesus from the dead. Any takers on that one?
P.S. Kris has commented on my blog that,
"I purposely did not make in my book a comparison of the plausibility of my hypothesis to the resurrection hypotheses, or for that matter to the various other non-traditional hypotheses, because when I've seen others (on both sides of this issue) attempt to do so, it looks to me like a fruitless attempt to objectively measure something that is largely subjective."
I suppose we'll have to disagree on that one. I think that the resurrection can be deemed highly improbable on the grounds that resurrections do not occur today, and what is true about the present is almost certainly true about the past (this is standard inductive reasoning).
On the contrary, the explanations Kris presents are of such a kind that happen very frequently (every kind of explanation he presents is one that has been directly observed dozens if not hundreds of times over) so that even the combination of all his explanations put together is still more likely than a resurrection.