All the signs are that the first disciples really did believe that Jesus was bodily alive again–albeit in a new body which seemed to possess properties for which they were quite unprepared–and that easily the best explanation for this is that they were right. But since accepting this conclusion involves some theory about the way the world is which cuts clean across the normal assumption, from Homer to the present day, that dead people stay dead, many will naturally hold back. Some, indeed, may attempt other theories, perhaps that Jesus has become a remarkable human being that, uniquely so far, he managed to survive death by the sheer force of his own character. (In other words, there might be ways of saying that he really was in some sense alive again which do not involve ascribing this event to divine action.) Others will prefer to say that since they hold an a priori believe in the non-existence or non-intervention of a deity–in other words, some variation on Epicureanism or Deism–they believe that there must be some other explanation for the rise of Christianity even though they are unable to say what it is.
At this the discipline of history can having nothing more to say. If it cannot be invoked in aid of Humean reductionism (‘scientific history shows that resurrection cannot happen’), nor can it be invoked in aid of a rationalistic orthodoxy such that to refuse to believe would be an admission of intellectual incompetence or wickedness. But what the task of history can do, as part of drawing attention to all relevant evidence, is to point out that the beliefs which humans hold about what can and cannot happen in ‘real life’ are always a function of larger worldviews or unspoken philosophical assumptions. History thus tells a story about how and why humans come to believe what they believe, a story in which History’s own role is necessary but by itself insufficient. It can lead us to the water but cannot make us drink.
N.T. Wright, History and Eschatology: Jesus and the Promise of Natural Theology, 198-199.
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