20 Sep The Resurrection: Historical Thoughts for Doubting Thomases
By Harry Stevens
“Thomas was not present. The Beloved disciple John records this exchange between the Risen Lord and Thomas which follows: “Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nailmarks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
It seems these days people want proof of everything. Some have typed during an on-line discussion: “Got a link?” A Catholic will harken back to Saint Thomas sticking his finger into Jesus’ (Protestants said he didn’t, but, that is another story) side wound as shown in Caravaggio’s famous painting “The Incredulity of Saint Thomas.”
I want to briefly discuss evidence of Jesus’s existence, both from religious sources and non-religious. If one believes Jesus as God and Man first, then it is a short jump to believe Jesus's Resurrection. Believers are going to believe, doubting Thomases won’t believe.
A skeptical Simon Gathercole writes in The Guardian “Within a few decades of his supposed lifetime, he is mentioned by Jewish and Roman historians, as well as by dozens of Christian writings. Compare that with, for example, King Arthur, who supposedly lived around AD 500. The major historical source for events of that time does not even mention Arthur, and he is first referred to 300 or 400 years after he is supposed to have lived. The evidence for Jesus is not limited to later folklore, as are accounts of Arthur.” (1) Gathercole continues the above to tell us that Saint Paul wrote within 25 years of Jesus death, and that many witnesses were still alive who knew Jesus. (1)
It is a well-known historical fact that Jesus was crucified under Pontius Pilate in Judea in the first century at the bequest of the Jewish Sanhedrin. It may not be known that many secular historians wrote of these accounts: (1) Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian, (2) Suetonius, a Roman historian and court official, (3) Pliny the Younger, a Roman governor, (4) Tallus, a secular historian, (5) Phlegon, a secular scholar, (6) Mara Bar-Serapion, a Syrian stoic philosopher, (7) Josephus ben Mattathias (also known as Flavius Josephus), a Jewish priest, general and historian (8) Lucian of Samosate, a Greek satirist, and (9) The Babylonian Talmud. (2)
These are Josephus’ words regarding Christ's existence: “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of paradoxical deeds, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ And when Pilate at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” (2) Some scholars believe the bolded parts may be later additions by Christians.
These are Tacitus’ words regarding Christ’s existence: But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also.” (2)
Even the emperors Trajan and Hadrian referenced Jesus's existence. (4)
An Atheist Writes
Tim O’Neill, an atheist writer, opines that of the above listed secular writers “But of these only Tacitus and Josephus actually mention Jesus as a historical person – the others are all simply references to early Christianity, some of which mention the “Christ” that was the focus of its worship.” (3)
Nine early non-Christian secular writers mention Jesus as a real person within 150 years of his death. Interestingly, that is the same number of secular writers who mention Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor during Jesus’ time. If we were to consider Christian and non-Christian sources, there are forty-two who mention Jesus, compared to just ten for Tiberius. (4)
Additionally, “According to E. M. Blaiklock, who has catalogued most of the non-Christian writings of the Roman Empire, ‘practically nothing exists from the time of Christ,' even for great secular leaders such as Julius Caesar. Yet no historian questions Caesar’s existence.” (4)
Known Historical Facts about Jesus:
This is what known historical sources reflect about Jesus Christ:
- Jesus was from Nazareth.
- Jesus lived a wise and virtuous life.
- Jesus was crucified in Judea under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius Caesar at Passover time, being considered the Jewish king.
- Jesus was believed by his disciples to have died and risen from the dead three days later.
- Jesus’ enemies acknowledged that he performed unusual feats
- Jesus’ disciples multiplied rapidly, spreading as far as Rome.
- Jesus’ disciples lived moral lives and worshiped Christ as God. (4)
I will finish this section with several observations from atheist Tim O’Neill “The question asked if historians regarded the existence of Jesus to be “historical fact”. The answer is that they do as much as any scholar can do so for the existence of an obscure peasant preacher in the ancient world. There is as much, if not slightly more, evidence for the existence of Yeshua ben Yusef (Jesus) as there is for other comparable Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants, even without looking at the gospel material. Additionally, that material contains elements which only make sense if their stories are about a historical figure.” (3)
Another observation from O'Neill “For example, few people in the ancient world were as prominent, influential, significant and famous as the Carthaginian general Hannibal. He came close to crushing the Roman Republic, was one of the greatest generals of all time and was famed throughout the ancient world for centuries after his death down to today. Yet how many contemporary mentions of Hannibal do we have? Zero. We have none. So if someone as famous and significant as Hannibal has no surviving contemporary references to him in our sources, does it really make sense to base an argument about the existence or non-existence of a Galilean peasant preacher on the lack of contemporary references to him? Clearly it does not.” (3)
There is historical evidence for doubting Thomases. From Michael Gleghorn (PhD): “Let’s summarize what we’ve learned about Jesus from this examination of ancient non-Christian sources. First, both Josephus and Lucian indicate that Jesus was regarded as wise. Second, Pliny, the Talmud, and Lucian imply He was a powerful and revered teacher. Third, both Josephus and the Talmud indicate He performed miraculous feats. Fourth, Tacitus, Josephus, the Talmud, and Lucian all mention that He was crucified. Tacitus and Josephus say this occurred under Pontius Pilate. And the Talmud declares it happened on the eve of Passover. Fifth, there are possible references to the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection in both Tacitus and Josephus. Sixth, Josephus records that Jesus’ followers believed He was the Christ, or Messiah. And finally, both Pliny and Lucian indicate that Christians worshipped Jesus as God!” (6)
Gleghorn the skeptic goes on to surmise: “I hope you see how this small selection of ancient non-Christian sources helps corroborate our knowledge of Jesus from the gospels. Of course, there are many ancient Christian sources of information about Jesus as well. But since the historical reliability of the canonical gospels is so well established, I invite you to read those for an authoritative “life of Jesus!” (6)
The Shroud of Turin
“Unbelievers are in ignorance of things that are of faith, for neither do they see or know them in themselves, nor do they know them to be credible. The faithful, on the other hand, know them, not as by demonstration, but by the light of faith which makes them see that they ought to believe them, as stated above.” (Summa Theologiae II-II, Q. 1, Art. 5, reply obj. 1)
Saint Thomas Aquinas
Then there is the Shroud of Turin. This may cause a doubting Thomas to blabber in disbelief, saying, “The papists are at it again.” Yet, Jerry Newcombe, in an OP Ed piece at the Christian Post editorializes “In addition to the massive historical evidence for the resurrection, I believe there is scientific evidence for the resurrection, and it is to be found in the Shroud of Turin, a linen cloth 14 feet by 3 feet, that purports to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus Christ. (7)
“If it's a hoax, this is no ordinary hoax. The greater evidence argues for its authenticity. As some scientists put it, the Shroud is, if you will, a “snapshot of the resurrection.” At the very moment Christ rose from the dead, something happened-a burst of radiation perhaps-that left a permanent mark on the front and back of the burial cloth that sandwiched the Man who wouldn't stay buried for long. In short, the best theory is that the Shroud of Turin provides scientific evidence for the resurrection of Christ.” (7)
The mysteries of the shroud are the following: “First among the major mysteries is how the image was made. Second, what is the substance constituting the image, which can be scraped away with a razor blade? The substance is undetermined — all man-made materials have been ruled out — and only rests on top of the cloth; it does not penetrate the cloth’s linen fibers. The third mystery is related to the second: Blood from the crucified man penetrated the cloth, as one would expect, but also preceded the impression of the man’s image. “Blood first, image second” is a mantra of Shroud researchers. This order is logical if the “man in the Shroud” was in fact Christ, who would have been wrapped in the linen Shroud days before the electrical event that accompanied his resurrection and resulted in the human image. (10)
Further, according to the Shroud of Turin Research Project, Inc. (STURP), an international team of experts in 1978 concluded ”Thus, the answer to the question of how the image was produced or what produced the image remains, now, as it has in the past, a mystery.
“We can conclude for now that the Shroud image is that of a real human form of a scourged, crucified man. It is not the product of an artist. The blood stains are composed of hemoglobin and also give a positive test for serum albumin. The image is an ongoing mystery and until further chemical studies are made, perhaps by this group of scientists, or perhaps by some scientists in the future, the problem remains unsolved.” (8)
STURP continues “Although carbon dating of the Shroud in 1988 yielded a 14th century date, newly discovered information has led many researchers to believe the carbon date is in error.” (8)
Further, Moran and Fanti's scientific paper concludes “The authors then conclude that, from a general point of view, there are no contraindications to the hypothesis of the Resurrection as TS (Turin Shroud) body image formation cause, even if scientific must now be postulated.” (9)
Recent DNA of the shroud blood shows likely type AB, a rare type thought to be Jesus’s blood. (11) There have been testing completed on a variety of Eucharistic miracles over the years, all resulting in type AB blood (12). Is this coincidence or verification of truth? I for one do not believe in coincidences.
Jesus Rose from the Dead
“Now a week later his disciples were again inside and Thomas was with them.Jesus came, although the doors were locked, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands, and bring your hand and put it into my side, and do not be unbelieving, but believe.” Thomas answered and said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Believers have all we need in the four gospels and the Epistles of Saint Paul to attest to Jesus’s resurrection. Jesus used Saint Thomas as an important teaching tool. Jesus allowed Doubting Thomas to question, then to believe. St. Gregory writes: “The unbelief of Thomas has been more useful to our belief than the belief of the other disciples of the Lord, who, without hesitation, received the news of His resurrection,” because the unbelief of Thomas gave occasion for new proofs of the resurrection of Christ (as related by Father Francis Xavier Weninger). (5)
Saint Paul preaches in his Letter to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 15:3-8) “The chief message I handed on to you, as it was handed on to me, was that Christ, as the scriptures had foretold, died for our sins; that he was buried, and then, as the scriptures had foretold, rose again on the third day. That he was seen by Cephas, then by the eleven apostles, and afterwards by more than five hundred of the brethren at once, most of whom are alive at this day, though some have gone to their rest. Then he was seen by James, then by all the apostles; and last of all, I too saw him, like the last child, that comes to birth unexpectedly.” (17) Saul at this time was a hostile witness of the risen Christ.
We can listen again to Fr Francis X. Weninger in his Easter sermon “The certainty of the Resurrection, as St. Paul affirms, is a pledge of the whole treasure of faith, “If Christ had not risen again, as He said,” writes the Apostle of the nations, “we would have been miserably deceived and disappointed and left without a name.” (15)
Catechism of the Catholic Church
On the third day He rose from the dead.
“We bring you the good news that what God promised to the fathers, this day he has fulfilled to us their children by raising Jesus.” The Resurrection of Jesus is the crowning truth of our faith in Christ, a faith believed and lived as the central truth by the first Christian community; handed on as fundamental by Tradition; established by the documents of the New Testament; and preached as an essential part of the Paschal mystery along with the cross:
Christ is risen from the dead!
Dying, he conquered death;
To the dead, he has given life. “ (14)
Catholics have an understanding and confirmation of the Resurrection in The Apostles Creed. It is based on faith and faith in the events that happened. It is based on the 2000 years of tradition and oral history. Catholics don’t need proof. Catholics believe that the Eucharist is the Body of Christ, and that the wine is His blood. Catholics believe in the Transubstantiation. We are not doubting Thomases.
I have presented both the historical and non-historical evidence of Jesus of Nazareth, Yeshua ben Yusef, Jesus Christ, God Almighty. “World historian Will Durant notes that no Jew or Gentile from the first-century ever denied the existence of Jesus.” (18) E. M. Blaiklock presented earlier posits: “I claim to be an historian. My approach to Classics is historical. And I tell you that the evidence for the life, the death, and the resurrection of Christ is better authenticated than most of the facts of ancient history …” – E. M. Blaiklock – Professor of Classics, Auckland University (19)
Featured image: Domenico ghirlandaio (bottega), uomo dei dolori, 1475 ca (16)
- Will Durant, “Caesar and Christ,” vol. 3 of The Story of Civilization (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1972), 555.