Some unconvinced skeptics attribute the resurrection story to a legend that began with one or more persons lying or thinking they saw the resurrected Jesus. Over time, the legend would have grown and been embellished as it was passed around. In this theory, Jesus' resurrection is on a par with King Arthur's round table, little Georgie Washington's inability to tell a lie, and the promise that Social Security will be solvent when we need it.
But there are three major problems with that theory.
1. Legends rarely develop while multiple eyewitnesses are alive to refute them. One historian of ancient Rome and Greece, A. N. Sherwin-White, argued that the resurrection news spread too soon and too quickly for it to have been a legend. 30
2. Legends develop by oral tradition and don't come with contemporary historical documents that can be verified. Yet the Gospels were written within three decades of the resurrection. 31
3. The legend theory doesn't adequately explain either the fact of the empty tomb or the historically verified conviction of the apostles that Jesus was alive.32 Why Did Christianity Win?
Morison was bewildered by the fact that "a tiny insignificant movement was able to prevail over the cunning grip of the Jewish establishment, as well as the might of Rome." Why did it win, in the face of all those odds against it?
He wrote, "Within twenty years, the claim of these Galilean peasants had disrupted the Jewish church. … In less than fifty years it had begun to threaten the peace of the Roman Empire. When we have said everything that can be said … we stand confronted with the greatest mystery of all. Why did it win?"33 By all rights, Christianity should have died out at the cross when the disciples fled for their lives. But the apostles went on to establish a growing Christian movement.
J. N. D. Anderson wrote, "Think of the psychological absurdity of picturing a little band of defeated cowards cowering in an upper room one day and a few days later transformed into a company that no persecution could silence—and then attempting to attribute this dramatic change to nothing more convincing than a miserable fabrication. … That simply wouldn't make sense." 34
Many scholars believe (in the words of an ancient commentator) that "the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church." Historian Will Durant observed, "Caesar and Christ had met in the arena and Christ had won." 35
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