The Resurrection: Searching for Answers

And there are stories about Jesus appearing to his original followers in various places over the next 40 days. In one, he appears to two other followers as they are walking home from Jerusalem to a place called Emmaus -- today a Palestinian village called Qu'beibeh.

A stranger just appears beside them and asks why they are so depressed. The three continue walking and talking for some time talking together. But it isn't until they stop to eat, to break bread, that the disciples realize the man they've been walking with is Jesus. There is a church in Qu'beibeh commemorating the story.

Something Happened

Did anything like this really happen? Historians can't agree on what -- but most agree that something happened. Something powerful enough to convince the people who knew Jesus in life, that he was back from the dead.

"I think definitely something happened. I don't know how they convinced themselves. But the historical fact is, you've got people who are convinced he was resurrected," said Schwartz.

Historians point out that we know of half a dozen leaders who claimed to be the messiah around Jerusalem in the first century. But their movements all died when the Romans crucified them.

"There were lots of executions. There were lots of people who claimed in one way or other to be redeemers of the world," said Baumgarten.

"The people who crucified Jesus and wanted him removed were almost certainly working on the assumption, which is, if you have a movement like this, and you get rid of the leader, eventually the movement collapses," he said. But what makes the Jesus story so interesting, Baumgarten said, is that this movement did not collapse.

Instead, the disciples who had abandoned Jesus changed -- dramatically. The men who had fled after his crucifixion were now in the streets proclaiming Jesus as the messiah.

"I think there can be no doubt that the earliest disciples sincerely believed that God had raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead," Craig said.

"I don't think there would have been a New Testament or a Jesus movement had there not been some astonishing experience of power," said Bishop John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal bishop of Newark, N.J.

Was It Physical?

The Bible gives no description of the Resurrection. There is no information about what exactly happened in that tomb. And faith is an important component in the equation when considering the Resurrection was a physical event or a vision by Jesus' followers.

"The first question is, do you believe in the Resurrection? My answer is, if you don't ... you're not a Christian. But that's the easy question. The second question is well, what do you mean by the Resurrection? That's where the difference of opinions come in," said McBrien.

Today, the notion of a physical Resurrection seems otherworldly. But the concept of Resurrection was familiar to early Jews. The Old Testament Book of Daniel talks of physical Resurrection.

And for Christians today who believe in the physical Resurrection of Jesus, the hope of a physical triumph over death remains the central point of Christianity.

"If the world view is this is only a material world, and there can be no outside intervention, then, you got a problem explaining the Resurrection," said Strobel. "But ... if God exists and created the universe, this is child's play for him."

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