There are a few theories I’ve found regarding the death of Jesus. I really like how Bart Ehrman talks about how history always tries to find the most likely explanation for an event. A miracle, by definition, is the most unlikely explanation and as such most historians won’t “go to there”.
But I’m not a historian, so I’ll happily go into the world of speculation. Not that I’m the first or last because both non-religious and religious people do this all the time. Religious people speculate on where the wise men from the east came while non-religious people speculate that to there was no wise men and that Jesus was probably born in Nazareth. So let’s go through some of these theories
Theory 1: There was no missing body
This theory seems to be Ehrman’s favorite. He puts forth that Jesus body probably was left on the tomb for scavengers to pick apart and eat and then after time was put into an unmarked shallow grave.
Evidence for this is as follows:
- Pilate probably made no allowances for a criminal to be taken down early and other sources talk about what seems to have happened.
- The 4 gospels widely diverge on what happened in the resurrection
- The gospel writers and Paul were not eye witnesses to what had happened.
To explain the Jesus movement afterwards, he attributes it to Jesus followers having visions about him. He notes its common for people today to have these visions about people they love as well as religious people. Thousands of people have visions about dead relatives speaking to them or the virgin Mary appearing to them. So visions are common.
What I don’t like about this theory is that:
- There were other people claiming to be the Messiah that were then crucified so why is Jesus still remembered? It is likely he taught similar things that these others taught.
- It seems likely that there was some event to support the idea of a resurrection, or of Jesus body not being found. Whatever it was, the disciples fully believed it.
I think Ehrman’s idea is probably about as likely as some type of body snatching story, that even the Gospels (Matthew 28:13) mention to refute such claims.
Theory 2: Jesus Lived on by some sort of massive coverup
The Da Vinci code speculates that there was a cover up, Jesus somehow lived through the resurrection, married Mary Magdalene, had children and fled Israel and probably lived a sequestered life in Ethiopia, India, or England. Or something like that.
This theory is good in that it does the following:
- It explains how disciples and followers might believe that Jesus did in fact live but his body could not be found.
- Might explain how some of them saw Jesus shortly after he died and helped them propagate the legend.
- Shows a more humane side to Jesus, the nice family man.
But again, there are things I don’t like about it:
- While Jesus may have been married it could be that he never did. The gospels really say nothing about it. Ever. No mention of him ever being in a relationship.
- I think Jesus was so committed to his cause that if he found he had a second life, he’d still be all in and want to keep challenging the oppressors. I don’t think he’d leave.
Based on some of this (not well thought out, but this is my drafts, so I can say what I want), I think Jesus probably did not live after the resurrection. My mind wasn’t settled on this until today. The biggest reason is because I think had he really somehow escaped the flogging and the crucifixion as depicted in in the Bible he would have wanted to continue to lead his charge.
But this of course, is more supposition. I want Jesus to be the hero, Maybe if he did manage to escape with his life, he changed his mind and went far away so he couldn’t be taken a prisoner by the Roman empire. He didn’t want to go through that torture anymore!
But if we are to believe anything he taught, it would be hard to think that someone like him, if he did escape death through cunning artifice would have just abandoned his followers. The accounts record how they were even more emboldened after Jesus died.
Theory 3: A compromising theory
Here is what sounds more likely to me:
- Jesus probably did die, and did not live on. Now of the thousands or people crucified, could one of those people gotten away? Absolutely yes. But as explained above, I don’t think Jesus would have encouraged his followers to preach his message from a hiding place especially if he was out of the picture.
- Jesus body was somehow missing. I think there is probably some merit to a theory that Jesus body was not where they supposed it to be. In other words: There was an empty tomb. There could be all kinds of things to explain this.
Whatever the fate of Jesus after the crucifixion, we can certainly say it set off a giant series of events that would lead to the deification of Jesus and to Christianity conquering the entire western world.