One Easter Five Ways

Most readers of this magazine will not require special persuasion to dismiss Christian claims for the Resurrection, but it might be very helpful in any discussion with believers to have quick access to a clear and detailed presentation of the inconsistencies and self-contradictions in the biblical accounts. The problems made explicit here can be added to more general arguments that weigh heavily against traditional Christian doctrines. Some of those involve larger issues within the confines of biblical scholarship, while others are more scientific and philosophical in nature (for example, whether miracles are credible—or even, philosophically speaking, possible). Alexander Wedderburn’s Beyond Resurrection and Gerd Lüdemann’s The Resurrection of Jesus are probably the most effective modern critiques of the Resurrection; for miracles and other philosophical topics, the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy is an excellent entry point.

My title, perhaps cryptic at first sight, echoes a minor classic from a bygone era (that is, the world of print-on-paper publication): One Book/Five Ways: The Publishing Procedures of Five University Presses. It shows in remarkable detail the different approaches taken by publishing staffs at universities at Chicago, MIT, North Carolina, Texas, and Toronto to a manuscript titled No Time for Houseplants. Each press agreed to treat it as a real project and record the entire process as it passed through their administrative, acquisitions, editorial, design, production, and sales departments; the book was eventually published by the University of Oklahoma Press. The numerical parallel to the five major sources for the New Testament Resurrection stories inspired me to offer Free Inquiry readers the accompanying chart (.PDF), adapted and expanded from Dan Barker’s Losing Faith in Faith. Barker poses a series of questions with text-based answers, challenging Christians to produce an internally consistent Easter narrative, using every item and omitting none, from those supposedly “inerrant" sources. More than two decades later, Barker’s challenge remains unanswered by the Christian world; I hope the adjoining material will show with maximum clarity why it cannot be done.

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