Did Jesus Really Rise From the Dead? Questions and answers about the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. by Carl E. Olson. Ignatius Press, 2016
Some Christians confident in their own faith may not immediately see the need to read this book, given their solid belief in the Resurrection.
However, answering the challenges and serious questions of those around us, including family members far from such faith, is motive enough to take up Carl Olson's deft exposition of "the reason for our faith," as St. Peter put it. Olsen equips readers to counter the skepticism of the "Jesus Seminar or the New Atheism" by presenting clear and convincing arguments that the Resurrection actually occurred.
For example, Olson demolishes the theory that Christians stole Jesus' body and then spread the hoax that he had risen (the conspiracy theory). If the apostles and the larger circle of disciples had committed this kind of deception, presumably for personal or nationalistic gain, why would they have persevered through persecution and (for most of them) martyrdom? The Jewish leaders, who presumably would have been only too happy to disprove Christ's resurrection, never identified a body or alternate burial site.
Olson marshals textual evidence to show how early the Resurrection was set down in writing — evidence stronger than that for many ancient secular events that we as a society have no trouble believing in. He also counters the hallucination theory (all those claiming to have seen him only thought they did so through desire and suggestion).
Olson's book provides several other benefits to readers, including a solid explication of what we can know about the difference between a revived and a resurrected body (think of Lazarus versus Jesus). These differences put to rest, for example, the theory that Jesus somehow survived the appalling scourging and crucifixion, with their massive trauma and blood loss, and then also survived the centurion's spear thrust, retaining the strength to push away the stone.
Instead, as the Gospels testify, the Risen Jesus passes through walls, like a pure spirit, but also eats fish and directs doubting Thomas to touch his wounds. He appears and disappears and is not always immediately recognizable. In short, he is neither a ghost nor someone returning after a near-death experience.
What is he then? Olson explains the traditional Christian belief that the Resurrected Jesus is the first instance of what Christians call the "New Creation," in which Jesus' disciples will later share at the end of history. As the Second Epistle of St. Peter states, "But according to his promise, we wait for a new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells." Olson's book delves into all of the fascinating subsidiary questions too, such as: What happened to Jesus' body between the Crucifixion and Resurrection?
Here, the author goes deep and gives the opinions of such great converts as St. Paul, St. Augustine and our own time's St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross (Edith Stein).
Rev. John McCloseky is an author and syndicated columnist. This article first appeared at National Catholic Register, April 2017.