One of the foundational ideas—to some even a proof—of Christianity is that God sent His son to live on Earth for a time so that He could suffer and die, and through His suffering and death relieve humanity of the original sin committed in the Garden of Eden. After His death, goes the story, Jesus rose from death and rejoined God. This works both as a miracle: an apparently mortal man is killed but rises from the dead, as only God can, and as symbolism: people can find a rebirth by killing the sin within them.
If this story is true, it provides powerful evidence that Christians are correct about the nature of God, and belief in its veracity helps many Christian sects focus on an individual relationship with Christ as a route to salvation. Unfortunately, there is no very compelling reason to believe that the resurrection really happened, and at least two reasons to think it did not.
First, no contemporary accounts of the resurrection exist. No Jewish or Pagan accounts of such an historic event survived. Further, no one witnessed the resurrection itself, and we have only second hand accounts of what those who saw Jesus after His death experienced. In Paul’s account, he saw only a light, not a man. Even Mark, the earliest Gospel, did not include the story of Jesus’ appearance to others after His death until it was added later. Only Paul mentions the appearance of Christ to over five hundred people at the same time, and such a historical and widely experienced event should have generated contemporary accounts from other sources—at least within the Bible. That is, it is difficult to believe that an event like the resurrection generated no surviving discussion, nor even a coherent Biblical account.
Establishing the veracity of the resurrection story told in the Bible faces other difficulties. For example, it does not appear to fit the customs of the time. Burial of a crucifixion victim in a tomb would have been an exception to the typical disposition of the bodies of those punished by crucifixion. Jewish law of the time mandated common graves for criminals, and since the Sanhedrin had found Jesus guilty of blasphemy there is no reason to believe that He would have received an honorable burial except for the account told in the Gospels. It is possible that Joseph, a Sanhedrin himself, violated custom and law to give Christ an honorable burial, though this would go against the man’s professed beliefs.
None of this, of course, proves that the corpse of Jesus Christ did not reanimate after three days, and that the resurrected Christ did not appear before His followers. But the historical evidence is thin and contradictory, and all of it was written by those who had a reason to create such a story. No evidence exists to suggest that any non-followers of Jesus noticed the hubbub, nor that the people who crucified Christ worried themselves over the miracle and what it would mean for their own spiritual beliefs—no one tried to disprove the account.
The historical record, then, does not fully support the story of the physical resurrection of Christ. More importantly, I would argue that because such a miracle would prove the nature of God, it would make faith unnecessary, and change the relationship between God and Man. No miracle that can be directly and objectively attributed to God has ever been thoroughly documented outside the Bible—no second resurrection, no re-growth of a severed limb, no violation of the laws of biology or physics as we know them. To be sure, a great many people believe that God has answered prayers with cured disease or renewed prosperity, but no miracle has been fully documented that could only have come from the Hand of God, and admits no other explanation.
The reason for this, I believe, is that the God of Christianity does not want to prove His existence to Man. He wants us to figure it out for ourselves, and He wants the relationship between God and Man to depend on love and faith, not the rational cost-benefit calculation that proof of His existence—and therefore of the existence of Heaven and Hell—would generate. This is why He has caused no miracle under conditions that do not allow for alternative explanation, and the physical resurrection of Jesus and His appearance to others three days after His death would violate this condition.
Forgive me if my knowledge of the relevant historical data is lacking, and I certainly welcome presentation of existing accounts that I missed which deconstruct this argument. But I believe that the Biblical accounts do not adequately support the idea that the resurrection actually took place, and that this is true for good reason: God does not want to prove His existence. If He had ever wished to do so, He could at any time. He does not, and did not, because He does not wish to change His relationship with Man. As I have said before, I do not think this disproves the existence of God Himself—He could exist, even if the resurrection never happened. But it does discount the veracity of one of the central tenets of Christianity that Richard asked about: the resurrection never happened.