Many times when I argue for the resurrection, I get told that the accounts are just like the accounts of Muhammad’s night journey on a horse. Both of them show up in a book. That’s it. One should not be said to be more historical than the other. The evidence for both is equal.
First off, much of our knowledge of the ancient world comes from books. Archaeology provides some data, but if all we had was just archaeology, our knowledge would be far far less than what it is. If people want to say something is questionable because it’s found in a book, then they will throw out much of our knowledge of the ancient world.
Second, one should treat the Gospels better. (Although of course, the main place is still 1 Cor. 15) They are human and historical and if you treat them differently, you misunderstand and misinterpret them. Sure, these books later became documents of faith for Christianity, but that has no bearing on whether they can be used for historical purposes. It is simply unfair and unscholarly to dismiss them from the historical record.
Yeah. I get it. That sounds like the ravings of a fundamentalist seeking to defend the Gospels. If you think that, you have a problem. I have just simply paraphrased Bart Ehrman with statements he made on pages 72 and 73 of Did Jesus Exist?
Third, I offer this challenge when I meet someone who says this. It’s no doubt Christians will argue for the truth of their book. Muslims will do the same for theirs. What if we went outside of that? Let’s take claims that are in the books that skeptics will grant. What will non-Christian scholars grant about the case surrounding the resurrection of Jesus and what will non-Muslim scholars grant about Muhammad’s travel on a horse?
You see, with the Qur’an, this is the passage often discussed.
Exalted is He who took His Servant by night from al-Masjid al-Haram to al-Masjid al- Aqsa, whose surroundings We have blessed, to show him of Our signs. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Seeing.
Now looking at this, I don’t see anything about a flying horse that’s usually talked about. Of course, the scholars of Islam know better and if they agree that the account is that of the flying horse, then I will not disagree. I also understand that this passage is explained further in the Hadith. Let’s keep in mind the Hadiths come much later, at least a century or so.
There is also the problem that there was no temple and from my understanding, the one that was built that is described in these passages did not come about until 691. Muhammad had been dead for fifty years. I could grant that the passage I see here does not mention a temple, but if the Hadith keeps getting more and more elaborate long after eyewitnesses and has anachronisms, one has to wonder.
What of non-Muslim scholarship? Now I see nothing granting that this story has any validity in any part there. They could grant the story has been handed down, but I have yet to see someone present the scholarship that non-Muslim scholars will grant.
What of the resurrection of Jesus? The first place people go to is 1 Cor. 15. This includes the death, burial, and resurrection. When we go to the Gospels, we find explicit statements of the empty tomb, although I would argue the empty tomb is explicit in 1 Cor. 15.
What do skeptical scholars of the NT grant about Jesus?
Let’s start with the crucifixion.
“The fact of the death of Jesus as a consequence of crucifixion is indisputable, despite hypotheses of a pseudo-death or a deception which are sometimes put forward. It need not be discussed further here.” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” Page 17.)
Christians who wanted to proclaim Jesus as messiah would not have invented the notion that he was crucified because his crucifixion created such a scandal. Indeed, the apostle Paul calls it the chief “stumbling block” for Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). Where did the tradition come from? It must have actually happened. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. Third Edition. pages 221-222)
Jesus was executed by crucifixion, which was a common method of torture and execution used by the Romans. (Dale Martin, New Testament History and Literature. Page 181)
That Jesus was executed because he or someone else was claiming that he was the king of the Jews seems to be historically accurate. (ibid. 186)
Jesus’ execution is as historically certain as any ancient event can ever be but what about all those very specific details that fill out the story? (John Dominic Crossan)
What about his burial?
“Jesus came from a modest family that presumably could not afford a rock- cut tomb. Had Joseph not offered to accommodate Jesus’ body his tomb (according to the Gospel accounts) Jesus likely would have been disposed in the manner of the lower classes: in a pit grave or trench grave dug into the ground. When the Gospels tell us that Joseph of Arimathea offered Jesus a spot in his tomb, it is because Jesus’ family did not own a rock- cut tomb and there was no time to prepare a grave- that is there was no time to dig a grave, not hew a rock cut tomb(!)—before the Sabbath. It is not surprising that Joseph, who is described as a wealthy and perhaps even a member of the Sanhedrin, had a rock-cut family tomb. The Gospel accounts seem to describe Joseph placing Jesus’ body in one of the loculi in his family’s tomb. (Jodi Magness, Stone and Dung, Oil and Spit: Jewish Daily Life in the Time of Jesus, pg 170)
“There is no need to assume that the Gospel accounts of Joseph of Arimathea offering Jesus a place in this family tomb are legendary or apologetic. The Gospel accounts of Jesus’s burial appear to be largely consistent with the archeological evidence” ( Magness, pg 171)
How about the appearances?
“The only thing that we can certainly say to be historical is that there were resurrection appearances in Galilee (and in Jerusalem) soon after Jesus’s death. These appearances cannot be denied” (Gerd Ludemann. .”What Really Happened To Jesus?” p. 81)
“We can say with complete certainty that some of his disciples at some later time insisted that . . . he soon appeared to them, convincing them that he had been raised from the dead.” (Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, pg 230).
“That Jesus’ followers (and later Paul) had resurrection experiences is, in my judgment, a fact. What the reality was that gave rise to the experiences I do not know.” (E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, pg 280)
Now does this mean that these scholars believe in the resurrection of Jesus? No. Does it mean that they accept the data that we use? Yes. The only exception would be some are not as sure of the empty tomb. Bart Ehrman doesn’t even think Jesus was buried for instance.
So compare this to the case for Muhammad’s night journey. Do we have the same? No. Does that mean the account of Muhammad is necessarily false? No. It does mean the evidence is not the same. Does it mean the resurrection of Jesus is true? No. It does mean the evidence is not the same.
Of course, anyone can show up here and show scholarship from non-Muslim sources if they think I’m wrong. I would welcome that. The ball is now in their court.