A long time ago I was caught in an argument regarding the resurrection of Jesus Christ. We considered a number of possibilities:
(1) The resurrection story was made up.
That makes sense to me. After all, the Bible doesn’t report any body to have seen all the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. So, at best, the story is piecemeal. Add to that the earliest Gospel, the Gospel of Mark originally omitted the resurrection altogether. Adding the story to the Gospel means Jesus fulfils the prophecy, so of course if it wasn’t in the original it better get added in.
As my sparring partner pointed out, if the powers that be added the resurrection after some else had written what we call “the Gospel of Mark”, it wasn’t part of the story for 60 years. That doesn’t account for the early spread of Christianity. Except it kind of does; it is perfectly reasonable that an oral tale existed in other areas that did include a resurrection. Let’s say, for example, the people in the North had a flair for imagination and Christianity started there, and the people of the South had less of the flair and wrote the story without magic (as it was originally told).
(2) People were mistaken about what they saw
Some people saw him die, other people saw him get buried, others apparently then saw him alive. Peasants didn’t have calendars. Piecing the story together wouldn’t actually have been easy.
(3) Jesus didn’t die
In Matthew 27: 33-34, Jesus is given bitter wine. A lot of apologists like to discuss whether the wine was some sort of anaesthetic as mercy, or some sort of mockery. However, that sour wine or gall could have been a poison that induced bradycardia or cardiomyopathy or something else that made Jesus’ pulse and breathing too weak for the experts of the day to detect life. It’s not impressive to resurrect if you didn’t really die.
(4 – related to 1) There was no Jesus
There is a theory of public relations, that Romans invented Christianity so that Titus could fulfil the prophecy of the Jewish Torah. This would be so that the Jews would include the Roman emperor in their pantheon of Gods like the other religions in the area had. There are other theories to explain Jesus never existed and being made up for political reasons.
(5) Group hallucinations
My sparring partner and I agree to ignore the possibility of a group shared hallucination. After all, that doesn’t make sense. Even if two people hallucinate at the same time, why would they be the same? It’s too far a reach to be a reasonable alternative. As it turns out, that’s not true. Group hallucinations are real. It’s mass hysteria. The Salem Witch trials are an example of this happening. People were honestly convinced they saw the devil in the corner of crowded rooms, and as one person claimed it more people began to share the hallucination. If hysteria grips a crowd, the power of suggestion can completely control the hallucination. Dancing mania is my favourite of a related disorder. Just read it.
If Jesus was real, had followers and was killed for political reasons in a cultural context awaiting a resurrection then all the suggestion and hysteria necessary for group hallucinations existed.