Guest Post by Kris Komarnitsky on his New Book, "Doubting Jesus' Resurrection"

DOUBTING JESUS’ RESURRECTION: What Happened in the Black Box?

There is one especially intriguing question that Christians frequently ask non-Christians. A recent example of this question comes from Christian apologists Lee Strobel and Dr. Gary Habermas:
Utilizing each of the historical facts conceded by virtually all contemporary scholars, please produce a comprehensive natural explanation of Jesus’ resurrection that makes better sense than the event itself. These historical facts are: (1) Jesus was killed by crucifixion; (2) Jesus’ disciples believed that he rose and appeared to them; (3) The conversion of the church persecutor Saul, who became the Apostle Paul; (4) the conversion of the skeptic James, Jesus’ half-brother; (5) The empty tomb of Jesus. These “minimal facts” are strongly evidenced and are regarded as historical by the vast majority of scholars, including skeptics, who have written about the resurrection in French, German, and English since 1975. While the fifth fact doesn’t have quite the same virtual universal consensus, it nevertheless is conceded by 75 percent of the scholars and is well supported by the historical data if assessed without preconceptions.
We see this same basic challenge from resurrection defender Dr. N.T. Wright: “The [discovered] empty tomb and the ‘meetings’ with Jesus, when combined, present us with not only a sufficient condition for the rise of early Christian belief, but also, it seems, a necessary one. Nothing else historians have been able to come up with has the power to explain the phenomena before us” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003, pg. 706).

In my opinion these are fair questions from the traditional side of scholarship, and as a layman studying Christian origins, I found the responses from non-traditional scholarship not completely satisfying, or at least not very well or completely explained. The lack of a satisfactory response does not by default mean that Jesus resurrected from the dead, but it does spark the imagination. What really happened 2000 years ago that gave birth to Christianity?

I began my own inquiry into this question several years ago. I took as my starting point the beliefs and traditions expressed in 1 Corinthians 15:3-7 – Jesus died for our sins, was raised on the third day, and appeared to many people – widely recognized amongst scholars on both sides of the aisle to be the earliest known Christian beliefs and traditions, in existence well before any of the gospels were written.

In considering the possible causes of these beliefs and traditions, notice that Dr. Wright does not appeal to the historical reliability of the gospels. He is saying that even apart from the gospel accounts of a discovered empty tomb and “meetings” with Jesus, nothing else historians have been able to come up with has the power to explain early Christian belief. Strobel and Habermas are not as open to explanations outside the confines of the gospels, but as Habermas admits, the discovered empty tomb tradition is the weakest of his five “facts”. Given this, I start my investigation by accepting the possibility that the gospels could be mostly legend, including the discovered empty tomb tradition, but I accept as historical all four of Habermas’ other facts. For those who object to starting with the idea that the gospels could be mostly legend, hear me out, for not only is this exactly what Dr. Wright asked for, but I will show in a moment how this approach comes back full circle and impacts on the historical reliability of the gospels.

If the discovered empty tomb tradition is a legend, not only is Jesus’ resurrection effectively ruled out, but so are several non-traditional explanations for the rise of early Christian belief, like the stolen body theory, the moved body theory, and the theory that Jesus only appeared to be dead and then resuscitated. With these ruled out, there is only one explanation that jumps out at me as a plausible cause of the two-pronged belief that Jesus died for our sins and was raised, half of the 1 Cor 15:3-7 formula. That cause is the human phenomenon of cognitive dissonance reduction. Basically, this is the human tendency to rationalize a discontinuity between reality and one’s current beliefs in such a way that current beliefs are modified or added to instead of being rejected. Sometimes this results in extremely radical rationalizations. We have solid examples of this from other religious movements in history, such as the Millerite movement, the Sabbatai Zevi movement, and others.

This theory has of course been proposed before and the controversy surrounding it can be seen in Dr. Wright’s strong disagreement with it followed by Dr. Robert M. Price’s response to Wright’s critique. According to Wright, “The flaws in this argument [that cognitive dissonance caused early Christian belief] are so enormous that it is puzzling to find serious scholars still referring to it in deferential terms” (The Resurrection of the Son of God, pg. 698; full critique pg. 697-701). Price responds with:
...there are many viable explanations [for the rise of the belief that Jesus resurrected], not least Festinger’s theory of cognitive dissonance reduction, whereby more than one disappointed sect has turned defeat into zeal by means of face-saving denial. Wright suicidally mentions this theory, only to dismiss it…with no serious attempt at refutation [emphasis added].
I agree with Price; Wright does not adequately rebut this idea.

Finding the cognitive dissonance solution very plausible myself but feeling that it has not been communicated very well in discussions about Christian origins, and also feeling that there are solid explanations for the remaining beliefs and traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7, I decided to write a book about it. For those who might be interested in this topic, my book can be found here (and at,, and various other outlets). Here are excerpts of what a few well-known scholars have so far said about my book:
“Rare is it when a lay author puts in the effort of wide research, gathers the references to every point together, interacts with the leading disputes, and offers something soundly argued that hadn’t been so well argued before. Komarnitsky does all of that and presents a surprisingly excellent demonstration of how belief in the resurrection of Jesus could plausibly have originated by natural means....” –– Richard Carrier, Ph.D. Ancient History
“Komarnitsky shows great acuity of judgment and clear-eyed perception of the issues. He does not claim to have proof of what happened at Christian origins, but he does present a powerfully plausible hypothesis for what might have happened...” –– Robert M. Price, Ph.D. Theology, Ph.D. New Testament
“...Komarnitsky’s book makes a solid contribution to the historical-critical understanding of these immensely important texts. This book deserves serious attention from scholars and all those interested in Christian Origins.” –– Robert J. Miller, Professor of Religious Studies, Juniata College
“Komarnitsky is addressing an important topic in a considered and rational way. This book offers the open-minded reader an opportunity to work through some of the key questions surrounding the Easter mystery that lies at the heart of Christian faith.” –– Gregory C. Jenks, Ph.D. FaithFutures Foundation
In short, my book attempts to condense a lot of thought that has gone into this topic, and adds what I think are a few missing links, to produce a single comprehensive natural explanation for the rise of the beliefs and traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7, exactly what Strobel, Habermas, Wright, and others are asking for. I should add too that those looking for a confrontational repudiation of the Christian faith will be disappointed in my book. Instead, my book invites both believer and non-believer into a non-confrontational inquiry – a sequence of questions which all seem to have plausible answers and that together form an overall plausible answer for the rise of early Christian belief.

A plausible non-traditional explanation for the rise of the beliefs and traditions in 1 Cor 15:3-7 comes full circle and impacts on the historical reliability of the gospels. Why? Because 1 Cor 15:3-7 is used by traditionalists as external evidence for the historical reliability of the gospels. But if there is another plausible explanation for the rise of these beliefs and traditions, there is nothing about 1 Cor 15:3-7 itself that supports the conclusion that the gospels are more likely historical rather than legendary expansions of these beliefs and traditions. In short, traditional scholarship should not be using 1 Cor 15:3-7 to support their assertion that the gospels are historically reliable.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to voice my opinion and introduce my book. I think other laypeople especially will find it readable and original in its approach to Christian origins, and I think it is the laypeople of the world who need to make sense of the arguments and claims that scholars make about their religious traditions.
Doubting Jesus’ Resurrection: What Happened In The Black Box? is also available for immediate download to any personal computer for $9.99 at various ebook outlets.


isom kuade said...

very interesting. book purchased. thx for the recommendation.

Steven Carr said...

'....nothing else historians have been able to come up with has the power to explain early Christian belief.'

Don't you need a psychiatrist or a policeman to explain how religions start, rather than a historian?

Sabio Lantz said...

Excellent. It is now on my list.
Does anyone have a link to a listing of the dates of the gospels by critical scholars? Thanx.