Book review: Evidence for Jesus

by Ralph O. Muncaster


I don’t know where to start with this one. I seldom give bad reviews, preferring to ask the author if they’d rather I withhold my review if I can’t recommend their book, but this is one I bought on my own … and wasted my money.

Of late, I’ve immersed myself in several books attempting to prove not just the historicity of Jesus’ life but the Gospel story of nature miracles and resurrection. They just keep getting worse. In light of my disappointment in these studies, I’ll go out on a limb, here, and state that the worst thing Christians can do is try to “prove” their beliefs. It ain’t working. Religion is not about evidence, but about faith where there is no evidence (or, often, in the face of opposing evidence).

Each chapter of Muncaster’s book wraps up with a short summary of its conclusions, so I went back through the book just reviewing these summaries. They’re a head-shaking assortment of absurdities and false claims. Here are the first few:

“The inability of the Jewish leaders and the Romans to produce the corpse of Jesus is powerful evidence that it didn’t exist—given that everything reasonable was done to protect it and there was no motivation for others to steal it. The logical conclusion would be that Jesus indeed rose from the dead.” How many absurdities can you count in one claim? Why would anyone guard the tomb of a man they considered a crucified criminal? It’s only Matthew who reports this unlikely story. The logical conclusion is not that Jesus rose, but that he was never in a tomb (or at least a known tomb) to begin with.

“The martyrdom of the apostles, who knew Jesus intimately, is a powerful example of eyewitnesses who were absolutely convinced that Jesus Christ died and rose again from the dead.” Well, if we had any reliable historical evidence of martyrdom, we might have some indication that this is true. In truth, we simply don’t know what happened to any of the twelve, beyond some incredible legends.

“There were many highly memorable events during Jesus’ time, capped by his resurrection. These would certainly gain attention and would be widely discussed. The many witnesses of the events and the resurrection—including the apostles, the friends and family of Jesus, and at least 500 others who saw the risen Christ—would attest to his resurrection.”  Wouldn’t it be nice if this were true? But for all the miraculous events (darkness at noon, Herod’s killing of babies, nature miracles), we simply have no corroborating evidence outside of evangelistic Christian writings. No “widely discussed” events. We have complete silence where we should have astounding and surprising historical records. As for the “500 witnesses” to his resurrection, Muncaster’s own summary of the next chapter undermines this:

“Paul, who probably had accepted the ‘official story’ of the corpse of Jesus being stolen, had a radical change of mind upon seeing the risen Christ.” What Paul describes seeing is a light from heaven … and, yes, he counts this “vision” as just as authentic as any of the other Jesus sightings, including his story of 500 people seeing Jesus at once. Where’s the resurrected, physical body Muncaster wants us to see? Had enough, or do we keep going?

“If this resurrection did not take place historically, the Christian church would not have existed at the outset, nor would it exist today.” Muncaster wants us to imagine that Christianity’s entire foundation is on the witnessed resurrection of Jesus. He would do well to open his eyes to the multitude of other religions, both today and then, that thrive and thrived even as Christians pooh-pooh the supernatural claims of their competitors.

I won’t close my review, however, without saying something positive about the book. Nineteen chapters into it I finally came to the final summary. Here, Muncaster concludes,“After 2,000 years, Jesus is still changing people’s lives. The evidence is startling and overwhelming: Millions of people gladly testify to the positive, dramatic difference Christ has made in their lives and the strength and hope he gives them every day.” Finally, I can say that I agree. I do not know how belief works, I do not understand why it doesn’t seem to matter whether or not one’s beliefs are true, I only know that believing is magical. I can imagine just about any explanation for this phenomenon except the one Muncaster pushes—that a man climbed out of his tomb, ascended into heaven, and there controls our destinies. That one must remain a matter of faith.

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