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I've heard, in several informal situations, claims to the effect that there were hundreds of eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus. That many saw him and even interacted with him over the span of many days after his crucifixion. However, I'm not aware of the historical basis for such claims -- if there is, I have not yet had the opportunity to have the evidence presented to me when the claim was made and I asked for the basis.

Obviously, I'm fully aware of the writing of the New Testament in which Jesus is claimed to have been seen in resurrected form. For example, we have the eyewitness accounts of the authors of the gospels. We also have the book of Acts, which mentions Jesus' ascension to Heaven in chapter 1. And we also have the testimony of the apostle Paul, who had an extraordinary conversion experience in which he encountered the living Christ on his way to Damascus. So people who claimed to be eyewitnesses definitely existed, but the aforementioned cases only amount to six, not hundreds.

Question: What is the historical basis for the claim that there were hundreds of eyewitness to the resurrection of Jesus? Are there independent eyewitness accounts, other than the six that I already mentioned, that have been preserved to this day, in which Jesus is claimed to have been seen alive, in resurrected form, after his crucifixion?

Alternatively, have any writings been preserved containing second hand accounts? One example is 1 Cor. 15:3-8 which claims that there were over 500 witnesses to Jesus' resurrection. Are there other examples, e.g., the writings of an early church father providing a similar second hand testimony?

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    Sorry to disappoint you but other than the NT (which Christians argue to be historical) I will be extremely surprised if there is another eyewitness account. This question maybe a duplicate of BH.SE question What happened to the 500 witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15. – GratefulDisciple May 12 at 16:17
  • @GratefulDisciple - what about second-hand accounts? Say, a document reporting others claiming to have seen Jesus resurrected. Though the author of the document himself didn't see Jesus, that would still count as independent evidence for eyewitnesses being around at the time. The same applies to writings written by direct disciples of the apostles, etc. – Spirit Realm Investigator May 12 at 16:25
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    Well, I guess the Holy Angels were there! – Ken Graham May 12 at 16:32
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    Then I recommend to improve your question by 1) adding 1 Cor 15:3-8 as the historical basis for the second hand account for the "more than 500" eyewitness accounts and 2) ask whether any early church fathers writings provide a similar second hand testimony. I extremely doubt that there are 1st century writings from Jewish / Gentile sources. – GratefulDisciple May 12 at 16:34
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    @KenGraham Interesting notion for historians: if angels left an eyewitness account in a papyrus, would that count ? :-) – GratefulDisciple May 12 at 16:36
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Below is a paragraph from Josephus’ ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ (18:63–64). At first I was hopeful that it would provide you with a secular, historical source to support eye-witness testimony to the resurrection of Jesus. However, it turns out that the comments in brackets may have been added by a later translator.

“At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man [if indeed one ought to refer to him as a man]. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. [He was the Messiah-Christ.] And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. [For on the third day he appeared to them again alive, just as the divine prophets had spoken about these and countless other marvelous things about him.] And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.”

Then there is the curious matter of the testimony of women being recorded as evidence:

“When you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, what’s really extraordinary is that this empty tomb story should feature women as the discoverers of the empty tomb in the first place. Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Israel. There are old rabbinical sayings that said, 'Let the words of Law be burned rather than delivered to women' and 'blessed is he whose children are male, but woe to him whose children are female.' Women’s testimony was regarded as so worthless that they weren’t even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of Law. In light of this, it’s absolutely remarkable that the chief witnesses to the empty tomb are these women... Any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discovering the tomb - Peter or John, for example. The fact that women are the first witnesses to the empty tomb is most plausibly explained by the reality that - like it or not - they were the discoverers of the empty tomb! This shows that the Gospel writers faithfully recorded what happened, even if it was embarrassing. This bespeaks the historicity of this tradition rather than its legendary status." (Dr. William Lane Craig, quoted by Lee Strobel, The Case For Christ, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1998, p. 293)

Moving swiftly into the 21st century, you may find the following extract from this article worth considering: https://www.gotquestions.org/why-believe-resurrection.html

The late jurisprudential prodigy and international statesman Sir Lionel Luckhoo (of The Guinness Book of World Records fame for his unprecedented 245 consecutive defense murder trial acquittals) epitomized Christian enthusiasm and confidence in the strength of the case for the resurrection when he wrote, “I have spent more than 42 years as a defense trial lawyer appearing in many parts of the world and am still in active practice. I have been fortunate to secure a number of successes in jury trials and I say unequivocally the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus Christ is so overwhelming that it compels acceptance by proof which leaves absolutely no room for doubt.”

Allow me to leave you with this final quote:

The secular community’s response to the same evidence has been predictably apathetic in accordance with their steadfast commitment to methodological naturalism. For those unfamiliar with the term, methodological naturalism is the human endeavor of explaining everything in terms of natural causes and natural causes only. If an alleged historical event defies natural explanation (e.g., a miraculous resurrection), secular scholars generally treat it with overwhelming skepticism, regardless of the evidence, no matter how favorable and compelling it may be.

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  • @Spirit Realm Investigator - Thank you. As part of my research I investigated counter-claims to the resurrection in the Absurdities List in the Skeptics Annotated Bible. I was not impressed. However, it did seem to back up the last sentence in my final quote. (: – Lesley May 16 at 7:44
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What is the historical basis for the claim that there were hundreds of eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus?

The main sources which directly attest the fact of Christ's Resurrection are the Four Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul.

The fact of Christ's resurrection

The main sources which directly attest the fact of Christ's Resurrection are the Four Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul. Easter morning is so rich in incident, and so crowded with interested persons, that its complete history presents a rather complicated tableau. It is not surprising, therefore, that the partial accounts contained in each of the Four Gospels appear at first sight hard to harmonize. But whatever exegetic view as to the visit to the sepulchre by the pious women and the appearance of the angels we may defend, we cannot deny the Evangelists' agreement as to the fact that the risen Christ appeared to one or more persons. According to St. Matthew, He appeared to the holy women, and again on a mountain in Galilee; according to St. Mark, He was seen by Mary Magdalen, by the two disciples at Emmaus, and the Eleven before his Ascension into heaven; according to St. Luke, He walked with the disciples to Emmaus, appeared to Peter and to the assembled disciples in Jerusalem; according to St. John, Jesus appeared to Mary Magdalen, to the ten Apostles on Easter Sunday, to the Eleven a week later, and to the seven disciples at the Sea of Tiberias. St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8) enumerates another series of apparitions of Jesus after His Resurrection; he was seen by Cephas, by the Eleven, by more than 500 brethren, many of whom were still alive at the time of the Apostle's writing, by James, by all the Apostles, and lastly by Paul himself.

Here is an outline of a possible harmony of the Evangelists' account concerning the principal events of Easter Sunday:

  • The holy women carrying the spices previously prepared start out for the sepulchre before dawn, and reach it after sunrise; they are anxious about the heavy stone, but know nothing of the official guard of the sepulchre (Matthew 28:1-3; Mark 16:1-3; Luke 24:1; John 20:1).

  • The angel frightened the guards by his brightness, put them to flight, rolled away the stone, and seated himself not upon (ep autou), but above (epano autou) the stone (Matthew 28:2-4). Mary Magdalen, Mary the Mother of James, and Salome approach the sepulchre, and see the stone rolled back, whereupon Mary Magdalen immediately returns to inform the Apostles (Mark 16:4; Luke 24:2; John 20:1-2).

  • The other two holy women enter the sepulchre, find an angel seated in the vestibule, who shows them the empty sepulchre, announces the Resurrection, and commissions them to tell the disciples and Peter that they shall see Jesus in Galilee (Matthew 28:5-7; Mark 16:5-7).

  • A second group of holy women, consisting of Joanna and her companions, arrive at the sepulchre, where they have probably agreed to meet the first group, enter the empty interior, and are admonished by two angels that Jesus has risen according to His prediction (Luke 24:10).

  • Not long after, Peter and John, who were notified by Mary Magdalen, arrive at the sepulchre and find the linen cloth in such a position as to exclude the supposition that the body was stolen; for they lay simply flat on the ground, showing that the sacred body had vanished out of them without touching them. When John notices this he believes (John 20:3-10). Mary Magdalen returns to the sepulchre, sees first two angels within, and then Jesus Himself (John 20:11-16; Mark 16:9).

  • The two groups of pious women, who probably met on their return to the city, are favored with the sight of Christ arisen, who commissions them to tell His brethren that they will see him in Galilee (Matthew 28:8-10; Mark 16:8).

  • The holy women relate their experiences to the Apostles, but find no belief (Mark 16:10-11; Luke 24:9-11).

  • Jesus appears to the disciples, at Emmaus, and they return to Jerusalem; the Apostles appear to waver between doubt and belief (Mark 16:12-13; Luke 24:13-35).

  • Christ appears to Peter, and therefore Peter and John firmly believe in the Resurrection (Luke 24:34; John 20:8).

  • After the return of the disciples from Emmaus, Jesus appears to all the Apostles excepting Thomas (Mark 16:14; Luke 24:36-43; John 20:19-25).

The harmony of the other apparitions of Christ after His Resurrection presents no special difficulties.

It is not impossible, that Christ appeared to other after the Resurrection. Catholic tradition first appeared to his Mother Mary.

“The Gospels mention various appearances of the risen Christ, but not a meeting between Jesus and his Mother. This silence must not lead to the conclusion that after the Resurrection Christ did not appear to Mary; rather it invites us to seek the reasons why the Evangelists made such a choice,” - St. John Paul II, the great Marian saint, told everyone at a general audience May 21, 1997.

Even the Evangelist, St. John admits the the Gospels do not contain everything Christ did and taught, so one can speculate that Christ appeared to others and that there may have been more than just two Angels that were at the tomb when the women went there. Only two were physically seen during that event! Other Holy Angels could have been present.

25 There is much else besides that Jesus did; if all of it were put in writing, I do not think the world itself would contain the books which would have to be written. - John 21:25

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  • Ken, that “He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once” (1 Cor 15:6), beside being bizarre, seems to me to fly right in the face of the letter and of the spirit of Acts 10:39-41 (“God raised him up on the third day and caused him to be seen, not by all the people, but by us, the witnesses God had already chosen, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.”) – Miguel de Servet May 13 at 0:36
  • @Miguel de Servet My post makes mention of the 500 already. Does not St. Paul's work count? – Ken Graham May 13 at 5:55
  • Ken, unless you provide an independent source, Paul's 1 Cor 15:6 remains the only source for “He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once”. I confirm the criticism of 1 Cor 15:6 vis a vis Acts 10:39-41. Paul is not a proper witness of the Resurrection: he only had a vision of the resurrected Jesus. [continues] – Miguel de Servet May 13 at 8:05
  • [continued] My two cents is that, by his "mention of the 500", he was trying (trying ...) to play down the importance of the witness to the life, death, Resurrection and Ascension of Jesus, in particular by the Eleven (Acts 10:39-41; see also Acts 1:21-22). – Miguel de Servet May 13 at 8:06
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    @MigueldeServet By any chance, are you one who prefers to disregard Paul (such as the Jesus Words Only crowd)? Some are so extreme as to consider Paul apostate. – Mike Borden May 13 at 12:18

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