The Easter Moment: What Really Happened?

Is the literal claim of Easter still believable? Can Christianity afford to debate its originating moment?

In anticipation of Easter, I begin a series designed to explore in-depth the foundational Christian claim that the death of Jesus culminated in his resurrection. In these columns, I will raise difficult and, for some, even frightening questions. Among them will be: "Is the literal claim of Easter still believable? Can we get beyond such legendary details as angelic messengers, empty tombs, and resuscitated bodies, and still discover a reality that is firm and convincing? Can we separate the truth from the interpreted framework that has carried that truth for so long?"



I intend to look at the biblical stories of Jesus' resurrection openly,honestly, historically, and critically. I will not fall back on the lineof last resort and insist that before such mysteries one simply "musthave faith." I will follow wherever the search for truth takes me. Ibelieve we are well beyond the day when the leaders of the church canstill protect their weakest members by not sharing with them thefindings of scholars on matters of critical religiousimportance.



I hear well-meaning but not necessarily well-informed religious leaderssay such things as, "If the biblical story of Easter is not literallytrue, if there is no physical resurrection of Jesus, then Christianitywill surely die." They actually quote St. Paul to buttress their claim.However, no creditable New Testament scholar in the world, Protestant orCatholic, will defend those simplistic propositions.



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People who employ this line of defense seem to forget that at one timealmost all Christians believed that the story of Adam and Eve wasliteral history. They also asserted that the Christmas narratives ofwandering stars, angels singing to hillside shepherds, and virgins whogive birth were literally true and that all accounts of miraclesattributed to Jesus actually happened. The fact is that the greatmajority of contemporary biblical scholars have for almost 100 yearsbeen moving away from these conclusions. Yet Christianity has survivedthat transition.



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