Did Jesus rise from the dead? The stories of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ inspire faith and fuel controversy to this day. But what do we know about what really happened on that first Easter more than 2,000 years ago, a day that changed the course of history?
"He probably literally got up and walked out of the tomb."
-- William Lane Craig, Talbot School of Theology
"I think it was visions or hallucinations."
-- Kathleen E. Corley, Jesus Seminar
"Something definitely happened."
-- Daniel Schwartz, Hebrew University
In a special hour on "20/20," Elizabeth Vargas and ABC News take viewers on an extraordinary journey into the heart of the debate where it all began in Jerusalem in search of the truth about the story that is at the core of the Christian faith ... the Resurrection.
Vargas asks scholars, theologians and archeologists the questions millions of faithful and interested Americans might have pondered: Was the tomb empty? Did Jesus physically walk the Earth after his death? Or were his followers just dreaming?
Sometime between the year 30 and 33 of the first century, a young Jewish preacher named Jesus of Nazareth was crucified in Jerusalem. It was a brutal and humiliating death that should have ended his tiny movement right there. And yet his followers carried on, planting the seeds of a religion that would eventually rule the Western world. What convinced them to continue? The Bible says that after Jesus died, his mother and other women who had followed him actually took his body down off the cross and that he was laid to rest in a tomb owned by Joseph of Arimathea. What happened next is a mystery.
Vargas also interviews Jewish scholars in Jerusalem who are experts in the history of the early Christian movement there. Professor Daniel Schwartz of Hebrew University and professor Albert Baumgarten of Bar Ilan University help shed light on the mindset of the first followers of Jesus. While neither obviously believes a physical resurrection occurred, both concur that something extraordinary took place shortly after Jesus' death. "I think definitely something happened," said Schwartz of Hebrew University in Jerusalem, "I don't know how they convinced themselves. But the historical fact is, you've got people who are convinced he was resurrected."
Some of the other scholars, writers and theologians interviewed by Vargas include: Lee Strobel, author of "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Faith" and host of PAX TV's "Faith Under Fire"; Karen King, Winn professor of Ecclesiastical History, Harvard Divinity School; the Rev John Shelby Spong, Episcopal Bishop Emeritus of Newark and author of "Sins of the Scripture"; Paul L. Maier, professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University; and the Rev. Jerome Murphy O'Connor of the Ecole Biblique in Jerusalem.
Join us for an in-depth exploration on "20/20," Friday, May 20 at 10 p.m./9 Central.
"20/20" is anchored by Elizabeth Vargas and John Stossel. David Sloan is the executive producer.