The tl;dr review: A good work, more studied than Strobel’s Case for Christ but not as scholarly-driven as Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. Komarnitsky relies upon cognitive dissonance—resolving the conflict of Jesus’ follower’s belief Jesus was the Messiah and the reality of his death—to present the plausible natural resolution for the physical resurrection story’s origin. A good resource responding to many apologists who demand we read this book or that author. If one is looking for a book to utilize in replying, “O.K., I will read and review a book you offer, if you will read and review one I offer,” I would highly recommend this one when discussing the resurrection.
My fellow bloggers, VinnyJH57 and Matthew Ferguson have also reviewed the book, and I invite you to read their thoughts; I will limit repeating their statements.
Now a bit more in-depth. The subtitle highlights the focus here—what happened between Jesus’ death and the gospel stories to bring people to believe Jesus physically rose from the dead? Jesus died in 30-33 CE. The Gospels were written, starting in 70 CE or so. Within those 40 years—the proverbial “black box”—the only glimpses we have regarding Christian beliefs are a few words quoted by Paul, giving the barest highlights on Jesus’ resurrection appearances--the tradition cited in 1 Cor. 15. Understandably Komarnitsky focuses on this tradition.
For me, the greatest value is Komarnitsky’s study regarding 1 Cor. 15:4, “…and he was raised on the third day according to the scriptures…” But what Scripture? And why three days? (Komarnitsky points out other Jewish writings around the 1st Century generally utilized seven as a prophetic figure—not three.) I struggled with this “three days according to the scripture” concept before. The book makes a strong argument this “three-day” concept was NOT based upon an explicit three day reference to Tanakh scripture, but rather was interwoven with the Jewish concept the body starts to decay after three days, and since Jesus’ body could not reach the point of decay, he must have been raised on or before the third day. Komarnitsky points out Jewish passages in the 2nd and 5th Century confirming the Jewish belief regarding this three-day period.
Therefore…the argument is made…the tradition is relying upon Psalm 16:10, “For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the pit.” As the early Christians believed God saved Jesus from the dead, did not let Jesus’ body decay, and the common belief this must be done before the third day, the tradition relies upon Psalm 16:10 to say, “…and he was raised on the third day [before his body could decay, of course] according to Psalmist scripture…”
Now, one may raise an eyebrow at this argument. How do we necessarily know this was tradition based upon later documents? Doesn’t this seem a bit of stretch? To which I would reply—how long must you keep your tax records?
I would bet most of you would immediately respond, “7 years,” right? If I recall my tax law class correctly, there are actually two (2) statute of limitations regarding tax law. For innocuous, unintentional mistakes, the IRS can back three (3) years. For fraud, they can go back six years. There is no “seven year statute of limitations” on taxes! (They can only collect for 10 years.) Yet we think—many “know!”—there must be a seven year reason somewhere. Probably came from accountants adding a one-year buffer for safety.
If anyone 2000 years from now read our actual records, they may never know the commonly held “seven year” tradition. (I have heard it applied to civil cases and criminal cases as well, which also do not necessarily have a seven-year limitation. They vary by action and state.) Yet we hear it over and over. Equally and understandably, there are many traditions we simply do not know about in the First Century, yet may catch glimpses through literature of later periods.
But the nail in the coffin (in my opinion) is how Peter’s initial sermon in Acts 2:24-31 makes direct reference to this belief and explicit reference to Psalm 16:10:
”But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him:
“‘I saw the Lord always before me.
Because he is at my right hand,
I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
my body also will rest in hope,
because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
you will not let your holy one see decay.
You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence.’
“Fellow Israelites, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was to come, he spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, that he was not abandoned to the realm of the dead, nor did his body see decay. ”
Within Peter’s speech, we can see incorporation of Psalm 16:10, and if common belief was decay started after the third day, how Jesus must have been raised by the third day to be effective. Komarnitsky addresses competing claims “according the scripture” would refer to Jonah or Hosea 6:2.
One critique I would have is how Komarnitsky places a Summary of the Hypothesis at Chapter 6…139 pages into the book. I would have placed it first—let the reader know immediately what the theory provides. Indeed, when recommending this book, I will always suggest the reader start with Chapter 6 (it is exactly 2 pages) to understand what is being proposed, and then go back to page one.
As an example, when writing briefs I often place a box, with a few lines telling the Judge(s) exactly what is in dispute and what I am arguing. It informs the Judge what she is looking for or what is important. I once had a judge tell me, “While I read your extensive brief, it turns out everything you argued was already in the boxed section.” In the same way—give us the hypothesis first, then flesh out the details!
Komarnitsky argues Jesus’ followers, firmly convinced he was the Messiah, found it impossible to believe their hopes were dashed by his death. They began to rationalize Jesus was raised to heaven and would shortly return to complete the Messianic mission. They utilized cognitive dissonance to explain away the apparent inconsistency. Peter then had a vision he interpreted as a visitation of Jesus, and others did as well. (Komarnitsky accurately points out the “group-think” of heightened spiritual cohesiveness we see today in Pentecostal gatherings.) Komarnitsky concludes, “As the years and decades passed, the above experiences, beliefs and traditions gave birth to legends like Jesus’ burial in a rock-hewn tomb, that tomb being discovered empty three days later, his corporeal post-mortem appearances to individuals and groups described in the Gospels, and his appearance to over five hundred people mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians.” Pg. 140.
To demonstrate cognitive dissonance in action, Komarnitsky goes through numerous examples whereby groups believed the end of the world would occur on a specific date, and when the end failed to materialize, would rationalize away the reason, often finding a new date. We are all familiar with the recent Harold Camping claim the world would end May 21, 2011. When it failed to do so, Camping rationalized it away, obtaining a new date of October, 2011.
Directly on-point Komarnitsky details the Lubavitch Hassidic Jews who maintained the belief Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson was the long-awaited Messiah, even after Rebbe Schneerson suffered two strokes, was rendered comatose and then died. Many Lubatvichers believe he will be resurrected and return as the Messiah.
Komarnitsky updated this Second Edition to include a chapter responding to Dr. William Craig and Dr. Licona. In Dr. Licona’s work, “The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach,” he provides historical analysis both in approach to historical method and historical claims surrounding Jesus’ resurrection. Dr. Licona’s final chapter compares varying natural explanations for the Resurrection to his supernatural explanation.
Likewise, Komarnitsky follows Dr. Licona’s format, comparing his own hypothesis of cognitive dissonance to Dr. Licona’s hypothesis of supernatural intervention, comparing each element: Explanatory Power, Explanatory Scope, Disconfirmation, Ad hocness and Plausibility. Komarnitsky concludes his hypothesis is at least equal (if not better) than Licona’s on the first four factors, leaving the sole factor—plausibility—the determinate. He expresses experience-based doubt God intervenes in a physical way in the world, stating, “Based on this specific background, knowledge, bias and personal experience, Jesus’ resurrection seems far less plausible to me than fallible human beings in a highly charged religious environment falling into a swirl of rare rationalizations, individual hallucinations, scriptural interpretation, designations of authority, religious conversions and legendary growth.” (emphasis in original) Pg. 174
Unfortunately, I fear he has done a disservice to his hypothesis here, by including the words “to me.” Under this approach, I anticipate a Christian barking up the tree it is dependent on Kris Komarnitsky’s view of God, or his predispositions against miracles, or his own personal experience which is countered by the Christian’s experience of miracles. (Komarnitsky even anticipates such a claim by referencing Licona’s position miracles occur.)
Rather than let the debate boil down to “what is true for me, based upon my biases is not true for you, based on your biases” I would have appreciated a more extensive attempt to neutralize and remove the bias as much as possible. What would a neutral third party think is more plausible? Not Licona, or Komarnitsky, or me or the local apologist.
For example, as recent as the May/June 2014 Touchstone Magazine, Tom Gilson touches upon Komarnitsky’s theory, but responds with a cursory, “It lacks, if I may say so, the ring of plausibility.” Great. A Christian apologist says it isn’t plausible; an agnostic scholar says it is. How do we weigh the actual claim?
That complaint aside (albeit a fairly large one), I found the material helpful. I learned something (the use of Psalm 16:10), it parallels my own opinion as to what happened—cognitive dissonance—and it offers a reasonable natural explanation for the origin of Christian belief in the Resurrection hypothesis. Rather than spin their wheels addressing whether Jesus actually died (by using the Bible), or claims the Disciples stole the body (by using the Bible), I would hope Christian apologists