In a previous article, I highlighted one of the historical criteria used in assessing the veracity of an historical event, the criteria of embarrassment. Another criteria is that of enemy/skeptic attestation of the resurrection. This particular criteria is one of the most powerful historical attestations of both the events of Jesus’ life, as well as the historicity of the resurrection.
There were two subsequent conversions of persons who were witnesses to the risen Jesus—these two people being Paul, the avowed enemy of the followers of Christ, and James the skeptic, the brother of Jesus. These two examples of the criteria of enemy/skeptic attestation are compelling and difficult for the opponent to refute as it moves outside of the testimony of Jesus’ disciples and/or His ‘apologists’ if you will, and places the burden of proof on the opponent to explain how a skeptic and an avowed enemy could experience such a change in views unless it was through an experiential event.
Certainly a fable or nice story would not have convinced Paul that Jesus had risen from the dead. Indeed, in light of his hostile attitude and actions toward Christians, as well as his own Jewish studies, he most likely would have perceived the gospel to be a poor Christian attempt to imitate Jewish fables that later came to be known as Midrash. As an educated man, Paul would most assuredly been familiar with non-historical genre. It would not have lured him to follow the man he considered to be a false messiah who was cursed by God. He would have feared such apostasy from true faith, for it would jeopardize his soul.
It is important to note that Paul came to Christ through an experience in which he thought [and believed] he encountered the risen Jesus, an account that dates very early. We need reasons for his conversion from unbelief, since his conversion was based on a personal appearance of Jesus and counts very heavily against embellishment, with the same applying to James. All things considered, an empty tomb by itself would not have convinced Paul or the skeptic James, both of whom appear to have been convinced by an appearance of the risen Jesus to them personally. It must be noted that it was the appearances that led to the disciples’ belief that Jesus had risen from the dead, not that of the empty tomb, with the exception of John. (John 20:8)
Another criticism offered by skeptics is that all we have are the testimonies of Christians, who most likely transferred their personal biases and traditions into their writings. Therefore, these writings must be considered biased. Thus, we must suspect that they do not accurately report what really occurred. This objection is plagued with several difficulties.
First, Paul’s testimony is stronger than that of a neutral witness of the risen Jesus, since his bias ran in the opposite direction. He was certainly not sympathetic to the Christian cause. Rather he viewed Jesus as a false Christ and severely persecuted his followers. The skeptic may reply, “Yes, but after he became a Christian, he lost his standing as an unbiased source.”
Granted, Paul did lose his status as a hostile source after he became a Christian, however, he maintained hostility toward Christianity right up to the time he believed. So we still have an appearance of the risen Jesus as the reason for the belief of a hostile source. With one who persists in asserting that Christians still lack the testimony of someone who saw Jesus risen and did not convert, we might ask, “If someone actually witnessed the risen Jesus and was not changed by the experience, wouldn’t this indicate that the person was too biased against Jesus to act on the facts? Biases go both ways.” We would question the testimony of a person who really saw the raised Jesus and still rejected him.
Secondly, the biases of James the brother of Jesus also ran contrary to Christianity. The Gospels report that he was an unbeliever during the life of Jesus. Later we find reports of the risen Jesus appearing to James (1 Cor. 15:7a) and of his death for his belief that Jesus was the risen Messiah. So with testimonies in our hands from the disciples Paul and James, we have examples of friends and foes who believed that the risen Jesus had appeared to them.
Third, recognizing the bias of an author does not automatically merit the conclusion that he or she has distorted the facts.
Fourth, if we reject the testimony of all interested parties, we will have to reject most of our standard historical sources. The authors of such works often would not be writing unless they had a personal interest.
It is the role of the historian to comb through the literature and attempt to see pas the writer’s persona biases to ascertain what really happened.
Fifth, the skeptic must be careful not to commit the genetic fallacy. We must recognize the difference between understanding why something is true versus understanding why something is believed or how one came to believe that it is true. N. T. Wright comments, ”It must be asserted most strongly that to discover that a particular writer has a ‘bias’ tells us nothing whatever about the value of the information he or she presents. It merely bids us be aware of the bias (and of our own, for that matter), and to assess the material according to as many sources as we can.”
This logical reasoning applies to the resurrection of Jesus. X is the proposition that the disciples of Jesus sincerely believed that he rose from the dead and appeared to them. Let’s say that there are only fine initially plausible explanations that account for these claims on the part of the disciples:
Explanation 1: Jesus rose from the dead.
Explanation 2: Fraud was involved on the part of the disciples.
Explanation 3: The disciples sincerely believe they saw the risen Jesus, but were hallucinating or delusional.
Explanation 4: Jesus never really died, so when he appeared to his disciples they thought he had risen from the dead, when he had really only revived from a coma.
Explanation 5: The entire story was a legend that developed over time.
Now consider the additional factors of the empty tomb and the conversions of the church persecutor Paul and the skeptic James because they both believed that the raised Jesus had appeared to them. These provide evidence that explanation 1 is true. One might speculate that explanation 2 (that the disciples stole the body and were lying about the appearances) may also account for the empty tomb. But it does not adequately account for the disciple’ transformed lives and willingness to die, nor does it adequately explain the appearances of the risen Jesus to the skeptics Paul and James.
In regards to enemy attestation—even though such attestation may be considered ‘indirect’—the empty tomb is attested not only by Christian sources, but admitted too by Jesus’ enemies as well. This is not an argument from silence, but rather than point to an occupied tomb, early critics accused Jesus’ disciples of stealing the body. (Matt. 28:12-13; Justin Martyr, Trypho 108; Tertullian, De Spectaculis 30). The earliest Jewish claim reported regarding Jesus’ resurrection was to accuse the disciples of stealing the body, and indirect admission that the body was unavailable for public display. This is the only early opposing theory we know of that was offered by Jesus’ enemies.
This enemy ‘attestation’ to the empty tomb, among other historical aspects of Jesus’ life, is also found in later medieval Jewish writings. One example is that of the Toledot Yeshu (1000AD), a medieval Jewish retelling of the life of Jesus. The following is a portion of the text which is extremely anti-Christian. There are many versions of these ‘retellings’, and as part of the transmitted oral and written tradition of the Jews, we can presume their original place in antiquity, dating back to the time of Jesus’ first appearance as an influential leader who was drawing Jews away from their faith in the Law. The Toledot Yeshu contains a determined effort to explain away the miracles of Jesus, and to deny the virgin birth, Jesus’ resurrection, etc. In some places, the text is quite vicious, but it does confirm many elements of the New Testament writings. Let’s take a look at a portion of the text (Jesus is refered to as ‘Yehoshua’):
“In the year 3671 (in Jewish reckonging, it being ca 90 B.C.) in the days of King Jannaeus, a great misfortune befell Israel, when there arose a certain disreputable man of the tribe of Judah, whose name was Joseph Pandera. He lived at Bethlehem, in Judah. Near his house dwelt a widow and her lovely and chaste daughter named Miriam. Miriam was betrothed to Yohanan, of the royal house of David, a man learned in the Torah and God-fearing. At the close of a certain Sabbath, Joseph Pandera, attractive and like a warrior in appearance, having gazed lustfully upon Miriam, knocked upon the door of her room and betrayed her by pretending that he was her betrothed husband, Yohanan. Even so, she was amazed at this improper conduct and submitted only against her will. Thereafter, when Yohanan came to her, Miriam expressed astonishment at behavior so foreign to his character. It was thus that they both came to know the crime of Joseph Pandera and the terrible mistake on the part of Miriam… Miriam gave birth to a son and named him Yehoshua, after her brother. This name later deteriorated to Yeshu (“Yeshu” is the Jewish “name” for Jesus. It means “May His Name Be Blotted Out”). On the eighth day he was circumcised. When he was old enough the lad was taken by Miriam to the house of study to be instructed in the Jewish tradition. One day Yeshu walked in front of the Sages with his head uncovered, showing shameful disrespect. At this, the discussion arose as to whether this behavior did not truly indicate that Yeshu was an illegitimate child and the son of a niddah. Moreover, the story tells that while the rabbis were discussing the Tractate Nezikin, he gave his own impudent interpretation of the law and in an ensuing debate he held that Moses could not be the greatest of the prophets if he had to receive counsel from Jethro. This led to further inquiry as to the antecedents of Yeshu, and it was discovered through Rabban Shimeon ben Shetah that he was the illegitimate son of Joseph Pandera. Miriam admitted it. After this became known, it was necessary for Yeshu to flee to Upper Galilee. After King Jannaeus, his wife Helene ruled over all Israel…He gathered about himself three hundred and ten young men of Israel and accused those who spoke ill of his birth of being people who desired greatness and power for themselves. Yeshu proclaimed, “I am the Messiah; and concerning me Isaiah prophesied and said, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.'” He quoted other messianic texts, insisting, “David my ancestor prophesied concerning me: ‘The Lord said to me, thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.'” The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore, brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed. Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest. When word of these happenings came to Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin decided to bring about the capture of Yeshu…They replied: “It is in our Torah, but it is not applicable to him, for it is in Scripture: ‘And that prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.’ He has not fulfilled the signs and conditions of the Messiah.” Yeshu spoke up: “Madam, I am the Messiah and I revive the dead.” A dead body was brought in; he pronounced the letters of the Ineffable Name and the corpse came to life. The Queen was greatly moved and said: “This is a true sign.” She reprimanded the Sages and sent them humiliated from her presence. Yeshu’s dissident followers increased and there was controversy in Israel. Yeshu went to Upper Galilee. the Sages came before the Queen, complaining that Yeshu practiced sorcery and was leading everyone astray. Therefore she sent Annanui and Ahaziah to fetch him. The found him in Upper Galilee, proclaiming himself the Son of God. When they tried to take him there was a struggle, but Yeshu said to the men of Upper Galilee: “Wage no battle.” He would prove himself by the power which came to him from his Father in heaven. He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of clay and they flew into the air. He spoke the same letters over a millstone that had been placed upon the waters. He sat in it and it floated like a boat. When they saw this the people marveled. At the behest of Yeshu, the emissaries departed and reported these wonders to the Queen…Yeshu was seized. His head was covered with a garment and he was smitten with pomegranate staves; but he could do nothing, for he no longer had the Ineffable Name. Yeshu was taken prisoner to the synagogue of Tiberias, and they bound him to a pillar. To allay his thirst they gave him vinegar to drink. On his head they set a crown of thorns. There was strife and wrangling between the elders and the unrestrained followers of Yeshu, as a result of which the followers escaped with Yeshu to the region of Antioch; there Yeshu remained until the eve of the Passover. Yeshu then resolved to go the Temple to acquire again the secret of the Name. That year the Passover came on a Sabbath day. On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu, accompanied by his disciples, came to Jerusalem riding upon an ass. Many bowed down before him. He entered the Temple with his three hundred and ten followers. One of them, Judah Iskarioto apprised the Sages that Yeshu was to be found in the Temple, that the disciples had taken a vow by the Ten Commandments not to reveal his identity but that he would point him out by bowing to him. So it was done and Yeshu was seized. Asked his name, he replied to the question by several times giving the names Mattai, Nakki, Buni, Netzer, each time with a verse quoted by him and a counter-verse by the Sages. Yeshu was put to death on the sixth hour on the eve of the Passover and of the Sabbath. When they tried to hang him on a tree it broke, for when he had possessed the power he had pronounced by the Ineffable Name that no tree should hold him. He had failed to pronounce the prohibition over the carob-stalk, for it was a plant more than a tree, and on it he was hanged until the hour for afternoon prayer, for it is written in Scripture, “His body shall not remain all night upon the tree.” They buried him outside the city. On the first day of the week his bold followers came to Queen Helene with the report that he who was slain was truly the Messiah and that he was not in his grave; he had ascended to heaven as he prophesied. Diligent search was made and he was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the sand over which the waters flowed into the garden. Queen Helene demanded, on threat of a severe penalty, that the body of Yeshu be shown to her within a period of three days. There was a great distress. When the keeper of the garden saw Rabbi Tanhuma walking in the field and lamenting over the ultimatum of the Queen, the gardener related what he had done, in order that Yeshu’s followers should not steal the body and then claim that he had ascended into heaven. The Sages removed the body, tied it to the tail of a horse and transported it to the Queen, with the words, “This is Yeshu who is said to have ascended to heaven.” Realizing that Yeshu was a false prophet who enticed the people and led them astray, she mocked the followers but praised the Sages.
In spite of the fact that the ancient Jews who wrote this did their best to argue for another interpretation of the life of Jesus, they did make several claims here about Jesus. This passage, along with several others from the Toledot tradition, confirms that:
- Jesus claimed to be the Messiah,
- healed the lame,
- said that Isaiah foretold of his life,
- was worshipped as God,
- arrested by the Jews,
- beaten with rods,
- given vinegar to drink,
- wore a crown of thorns,
- rode into Jerusalem on a donkey,
- was betrayed by a man named Judah Iskarioto,
- and had followers who claimed he was resurrected and ascended, leaving an empty tomb.
If Jesus’ enemies attested to the same events of that of the Gospel, even though via that of attempted refutation, the case is made as to the events that took place in the life of the historical Jesus—the Christ which is found and attested too in the canonical Gospels.
 Habermas, Gary, Licona, Michael R., The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, pgs 86-87, 97, 124, 208-209, Kregel Publication, 2004
 Is There Any Evidence for Jesus Outside the Bible?, http://www.pleaseconvinceme.com/index/Is_There_Evidence_for_Jesus_Outside_the_Bible
You can also contact the author of this article at: 4Lane.firstname.lastname@example.org
Is enemy attestation an indicator of an empty tomb?–William Lane Craig