The Christian Easter story mounts to little more than hearsay as I will show in this article. But, if you are a Christian, please do not get very upset. Veneration and awe of the Transcendent is inherent in human nature, but we need to find the most appropriate channels for that rather than insisting on myth and legend of resurrection.
So, buckle up for the bumpy ride!
In a recent book, ‘Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the entrance into Jerusalem to the Resurrection;’ Pope Benedict XVI has tried to present the case for resurrection. The case is based on the testimony of St. Paul and the apostles as recorded in the New Testament. Saint Paul according to his own testimony came on the scene 20 years after Jesus was put on cross and the authors of Mark, Matthew, Luke and John were not eye witnesses, according to the best university based scholarship of the New Testament.
According to Encyclopedia Britannica:
Hearsay, in Anglo-American law, testimony that consists of what the witness has heard others say. United States and English courts may refuse to admit testimony that depends for its value upon the truthfulness and accuracy of one who is neither under oath nor available for cross-examination. The rule is subject, however, to many exceptions.
So, the accounts we have for resurrection are only hearsay, by definition. The details follow:
“The Gospel According to Mark, also called The Holy Gospel Of Jesus Christ According To St. Mark, second of the four New Testament Gospels (narratives recounting the life and death of Jesus Christ), and, with Matthew and Luke, one of the three Synoptic Gospels (i.e., those presenting a common view). It is attributed to John Mark (Acts 12:12; 15:37), an associate of Paul and a disciple of Peter, whose teachings the Gospel may reflect. It is the shortest and the earliest of the four Gospels, presumably written during the decade preceding the destruction of Jerusalem in ad 70. Most scholars agree that it was used by Matthew and Luke in composing their accounts; more than 90 percent of the content of Mark’s Gospel appears in Matthew’s, and more than 50 percent in the Gospel of Luke. Although the text lacks literary polish, it is simple and direct; and, as the earliest Gospel, it is the primary source of information about the ministry of Jesus.”
Hearsay is information gathered by one person from another person concerning some event, condition, or thing of which the first person had no direct experience. When submitted as evidence, such statements are called hearsay evidence. As a legal term, “hearsay” can also have the narrower meaning of the use of such information as evidence to prove the truth of what is asserted. Such use of “hearsay evidence” in court is generally not allowed. This prohibition is called the hearsay rule.
For example, a witness says “Susan told me Tom was in town”. Since the witness did not see Tom in town, the statement would be hearsay evidence to the fact that Tom was in town, and not admissible. However, it would be admissible as evidence that Susan said Tom was in town, and on the issue of her knowledge of whether he was in town.
“Hearsay is a statement, other than one made by the declarant while testifying at the trial or hearing, offered in evidence to prove the truth of the matter asserted.”  Per Federal Rule of Evidence 801(d)(2)(a), a statement made by a defendant is only admissible as evidence if it is inculpatory; exculpatory statements made to an investigator are hearsay and therefore cannot be admitted as evidence unless the defendant testifies. This has been cited by James Duane, a law professor at Regent University, as a reason why talking to the government’s criminal investigators cannot possibly help a defendant.
England and Wales
In England and Wales, hearsay is generally admissible in civil proceedings but is only admissible in criminal proceedings if it falls within a statutory or a preserved common law exception, all of the parties to the proceedings agree, or the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice that the evidence is admissible.
Section 116 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 provides that where a witness is unavailable, hearsay is admissible where a) the relevant person is dead; b) the relevant person is unfit to be a witness because of his bodily or mental condition; c) the relevant person is outside the UK and it is not reasonably practicable to secure his attendance; d) the relevant person cannot be found; e) through fear, the relevant person does not give oral evidence in the proceedings and the court gives leave for the statement to be given in evidence.
The two main common law exceptions to the rule that hearsay is inadmissible are res gestae and confessions.
Now that you know about hearsay, let us talk about resurrection story of Jesus and see if there are parallels between the two.
The Resurrection of Christ, a central doctrine of Christianity, is based on the belief that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead on the third day after his Crucifixion and that through his conquering of death all believers will subsequently share in his victory over “sin, death, and the Devil.” The celebration of this event, called Easter, or the Festival of the Resurrection, is the major feast day of the church. The accounts of the Resurrection of Jesus are found in the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—and various theological expressions of the early church’s universal conviction and consensus that Christ rose from the dead are found throughout the rest of the New Testament, especially in the letters of the Apostle Paul (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15).
According to the Gospel accounts, certain woman disciples went to the tomb of Jesus, which was located in the garden of Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin (the supreme Jewish religious court) and a secret disciple of Jesus. They found the stone sealing the tomb moved and the tomb empty, and they informed Peter and other disciples that the body of Jesus was not there. Later, various disciples saw Jesus in Jerusalem, even entering a room that was locked; he was also seen in Galilee. (Accounts of the locations and occasions of the appearances differ in various Gospels.) Other than such appearances noted in the Gospels, the account of the resurrected Lord’s walking the Earth for 40 days and subsequently ascending into heaven is found only in the book of the Acts of the Apostles.
Christian apologists try to use the label of ‘facts,’ to create credibility for the hearsay evidence that they present for resurrection. But, the ‘facts’ of one apologist differ in some ways from the ‘facts’ of another apologist and in this comparison we can see that all the evidence mounts to no more than hearsay, which is antonym for ‘fact.’
Additionally, different apologists will acknowledge, in an overt or occult manner, vulnerability of different aspects of the resurrection story. If these confessions are collected in one single article the whole case of resurrection disappears in thin air like the human part of Jesus allegedly disappeared in thin air at the time of ascension.
“Jesus traveled the path of death right to the bitter and seemingly hopeless end in the tomb. Jesus’ tomb was evidently known. And here the question naturally arises: Did he remain in the tomb? Or was it empty after he had risen?In modern theology this question has been extensively debated. Most commentators come to the conclusion that an empty tomb would not be enough to prove the Resurrection. If the tomb were indeed empty, there could be some other explanation for it. On this basis, the commentators conclude that the question of the empty tomb is immaterial and can therefore be ignored, which tends also to mean that it probably was not empty anyway, so at least a dispute with modern science over the possibility of bodily resurrection can be avoided. But at the basis of all this lies a distorted way of posing the question.Naturally, the empty tomb as such does not prove the Resurrection. Mary Magdalene, in John’s account, found it empty and assumed that someone must have taken Jesus’ body away. The empty tomb is no proof of the Resurrection, that much is undeniable. Conversely, though, one might ask: Is the Resurrection compatible with the body remaining in the tomb? Can Jesus be risen if he is still lying in the tomb? What kind of resurrection would that be? Today, notions of resurrection have been developed for which the fate of the corpse is inconsequential. Yet the content of the Resurrection becomes so vague in the process that one must ask with what kind of reality we are dealing in this form of Christianity.Be that as it may: Thomas Soding, Ulrich Wilckens, and others rightly point out that in Jerusalem at the time, the proclamation of the Resurrection would have been completely impossible if anyone had been able to point to a body lying in the tomb. To this extent, for the sake of posing the question correctly, we have to say that the empty tomb as such, while it cannot prove the Resurrection, is nevertheless a necessary condition for Resurrection faith, which was specifically concerned with the body and, consequently, with the whole of the person.”
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. (Acts 9:1-9)
Now it must be acknowledged that if in Jesus’ Resurrection we were dealing simply with the miracle of a resuscitated corpse, it would ultimately be of no concern to us. For it would be no more important than the resuscitation of a clinically dead person through the art of doctors. For the world as such and for our human existence, nothing would have changed. The miracle of a resuscitated corpse would indicate that Jesus’ Resurrection was equivalent to the raising of the son of the widow of Nain (Lk 7:II-I7), the daughter of Jairus (Mk 5:22-24, 35-43 and parallel passages), and Lazarus (Jn 11:1-44). After a more or less short period, these individuals returned to their former lives, and then at a later point they died definitively.
“About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’“‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.“‘I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,’ he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me.“‘What shall I do, Lord?’ I asked.“‘Get up,’ the Lord said, ‘and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.’ My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me. (Acts 22:6-11)
According to all three accounts of Saint Paul’s conversion in the Acts of the Apostles, there were two elements to his encounter with the risen Christ: a light that shone “brighter than the sun” (26:13) together with a voice that spoke to Saul “in the Hebrew language” (26:14). Whereas the first account says that the people accompanying Saul could hear the voice but “[saw] no one” (9:7), the second account says, conversely, that they “saw the light but did not hear the voice of the one who was speaking to me” (22:9). The third account says of the people accompanying Saul only that they all fell to the ground with him (cf 26:14).
I was so obsessed with persecuting them that I even hunted them down in foreign cities. “On one of these journeys I was going to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. About noon, King Agrippa, as I was on the road, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’“Then I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’
“‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,’ the Lord replied. ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ (Acts 26:11-18)
On this basis we can understand the unique character of this New Testament testimony. Jesus has not returned to a normal human life in this world like Lazarus and the others whom Jesus raised from the dead. He has entered upon a different life, a new life-he has entered the vast breadth of God himself, and it is from there that he reveals himself to his followers.
When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had driven seven demons. She went and told those who had been with him and who were mourning and weeping. When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.Afterward Jesus appeared in a different form to two of them while they were walking in the country. These returned and reported it to the rest; but they did not believe them either. Later Jesus appeared to the Eleven as they were eating; he rebuked them for their lack of faith and their stubborn refusal to believe those who had seen him after he had risen. He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. And these signs will accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues; they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God. Then the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it. (Mark 16:9-20)
“Hard evidence about the ‘historical Jesus’ is scanty. The Bible’s gospel accounts of Jesus’s life and words-the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – were written sometime between 65 and 100 CE, thirty-five to seventy years after his death. By that time, their raw material, stories then circulating about Jesus in oral or written form, had no doubt been shaped by the psychological and rhetorical needs of his followers. (The letters of Paul – New Testament books such as Philippians and Romans – were written earlier, beginning around twenty years after Jesus’s death. Unfortunately, they say almost nothing about Jesus’s life and very little about his words.)The book of Mark is generally considered the most factually reliable of the four gospels. It was written around 70 CE, roughly four decades after the Crucifixion. That’s a long lag, but it offers less time for the accrual of dubious information than the roughly five decades available for Matthew and Luke or the six or seven decades for John. What’s more, during Mark’s composition there would have been people sixty or seventy years old who as young adults had personally witnessed the doings and sayings of Jesus and knew his biographical details – and whose recollections may have constrained the author’s inventiveness. This population would shrink during the decade or more before other gospels took shape, expanding creative freedom.Certainly as we move through the gospels in the order of their composition, we can see the accumulation of more and more dubious information. Mark doesn’t give us anything like ‘the plain unvarnished truth,’ but his story is plainly less varnished than are later accounts. (The actual name and identity of the author of Mark, as with the other gospels, is unknown, but in all cases, for convenience, I’ll call the authors by the names of their books.)Consider the problem of Jesus being from a humble village, Nazareth. The Hebrew Bible had said that the Messiah would be a descendant of King David and, like David, would be born in Bethlehem. Mark never addresses the question of how ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ could have been born in Bethlehem. But by the time Matthew and Luke were written, an answer had emerged – two answers, even. Luke says Jesus’s parents went to Bethlehem for a census and returned to Nazareth after his birth. In Matthew’s version, Jesus’s parents just seem to live in Bethlehem. How then would Jesus wind up in Nazareth? Through an elaborate side story that has the family fleeing to Egypt under duress and then, upon leaving Egypt, deeming a return to Bethlehem dangerous, and settling in ‘a town called Nazareth.’ This contradiction between Luke and Matthew suggests that in this case, Mark, the earliest gospel, is the place to find the awkward truth: Jesus of Nazareth was Jesus of Nazareth. (Mathew 2:23) John (1:46-49) solves the Nazareth problem in yet another way.…Indeed, by the time of John there has been a general change in the tenor of Jesus’s miracles. In Mark, Jesus didn’t do miracles ostentatiously, and sometimes he even took pains to perform them in private. (An answer to critics who .noted that few people other than Jesus’s followers claimed witness to his miracles?) In John, Jesus turns miracles into spectacles. Before raising Lazarus from the dead-something Jesus does in no other gospel-he says Lazarus’s illness was ‘for God’s glory, so that the son of God may be glorified through it.’ Moreover, the miracles are now explicitly symbolic. When Jesus heals a blind man, he says, ‘I am the light of the world.’ (Mark 5:37, Luke 8:51, John 11:4 & 9:5)A fairly immodest claim – but John’s Jesus is not a modest man. In no previous gospel does Jesus equate himself with God. But in John he says, ‘The Father and I are one.’ (John 10:30) Christian legend and theology have by this point had sixty or seventy years to evolve, and they are less obedient than ever to memories of the real, human Jesus.All of this suggests that if we are going to try to make a stab at reconstructing the ‘historical Jesus,’ even in broadest outlines, Mark, the earliest gospel, is the place to start. There, more than in any other account of Jesus’s life and sayings, the number of plainly awkward and barely varnished facts suggests at least some degree of factualness.
- ^ a b c Federal Rules of Evidence, December 1st2009 http://www.uscourts.gov/uscourts/RulesAndPolicies/rules/EV2009.pdf
- ^ Federal Rules of Evidence, http://www.law.cornell.edu/rules/fre/rules.htm
- ^ Duane, James, Don’t Talk to the Police, http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-4097602514885833865&hl=en#
- ^ Civil Evidence Act 1995, s. 1.
- ^ The preserved common law exceptions are held in Criminal Justice Act 2003, s.118
- ^ Criminal Justice Act 2003, s. 114 (1) (d).
- “The Gospel According to Mark.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 25 Apr. 2011. ca.com/EBchecked/topic/365604/The-Gospel-According-to-Mark>.
- “resurrection.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. Encyclopædia Britannica, 2011. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. ca.com/EBchecked/topic/499816/resurrection>.
- Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. Ignatius Press, 2011. Pages 253-254.
- Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. Ignatius Press, 2011. Page 243.
- Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. Ignatius Press, 2011. Page 264.
- Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. Ignatius Press, 2011. Page 244.
- Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. Ignatius Press, 2011. Page 260.
- Robert Wright. The Evolution of God. Little Brown and Company, 2009. Pages 249-254.
- Pope Benedict XVI. Jesus of Nazareth: Holy Week: From the Entrance Into Jerusalem To The Resurrection. Ignatius Press, 2011. Page 241.