Scholars' Perspectives

ByABC News

May 10, 2005 — -- In a special "20/20" hour, Elizabeth Vargas travels to the Holy Land and talks to scholars, writers and theologians about the mystery at the heart of the Christian faith.

Below are brief biographies of those included in the special report, which airs Friday, May 20 at 10 p.m. ET /9 Central on "20/20."

Albert Baumgarten

Professor, Bar Ilan University in Jerusalem

Baumgarten's expertise is in the application of social scientific methods to writing Jewish history and the history of Second Temple Judaism.

"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. It normally works. What makes the Jesus story so interesting and so different, is that the usual expectation that the movement will collapse did not take place."

Kathleen E. Corley

Oshkosh Northwestern Distinguished Professor of New Testament, University of Wisconsin-OshKosh

Corley is the author of "Women and the Historical Jesus"

"I think that his women followers would have looked for his body to give him burial rites as much as they possibly could. I think they were unsuccessful in finding his -- the location of his body because I think Jesus was probably buried in a criminal's grave that would have been a large pit for a large number of people."

William Lane Craig

research professor, Talbot School of Theology in La Miranda, Calif.

Craig is the author of "The Son Rises"

"Jesus took off the grave clothes and unbound himself. He probably would've literally got up and ... and shed these grave clothes and walked out of the tomb. He would be palpable, he would be physical. He would be tangible."

Arthur Dewey

professor of Theology, Xavier University in Cincinnati

Dewey is the author of "Spirit and Letter in Paul" and "The World in Time."

"As a historian, one could say, that there was no Resurrection as a fact. What we can say is that, people claim to have visions. People claim to, uh, have as it was -- sightings -- post-mortem sightings, of Jesus."

Luke Timothy Johnson

R.W. Woodruff Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins, Emory University

Johnson's books include "The Creed" and "The Real Jesus."

"I must respectfully suggest that those who are obsessed about the physicality of the resurrection don't really understand what they're talking about. Because if they really get a purely physical resurrection, then all they have is a resuscitation, and that's not good news."

Karen L. King

Winn Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Harvard Divinity School

King is the author of "The Gospel of Mary of Magdala" and "What Is Gnosticism?"

"I don't believe it was a physical resurrection exactly in the way we understand the body today-we have Jesus walking through walls -- those kinds of experiences suggest not the kind of physical body that we would see today. But something that if we have to use our categories would look much more like a visionary experience."

Paul L. Maier

Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

Maier's books include "In the Fullness of Time" and "Pontius Pilate."

"If the body had been discovered, there would be no Christian church today. It would have died out as a little sect in the Judean wilderness probably and everybody would have laughed about a crucified criminal being the son of God, come on."

Rev. Richard P. McBrien

Crowley-O'Brien Professor of Roman Catholic Theology, University of Notre Dame

McBrien's books include "Catholicism, Lives of the Popes," and he is the general editor of the HarperCollins "Catholic Encyclopedia."

"If they had digital cameras in those days, and they took ... tried to take a photo of Jesus, you know, 'Get over there with Peter ... would you stand with Mary Magdalene? This would make a great shot. I mean, no one will ever believe this.' You take a photo of that scene and you'd get Peter and Mary Magdalene, but not Jesus."

Father Jerome Murphy-O'Connor

Ordained Roman Catholic Priest, Professor of New Testament, Ecole Biblique et Archeologique Francais in Jerusalem

Murphy-O'Connor's books include "Paul: His Story" and The Oxford Press Archaeological Guidebook, "The Holy Land."

"See, from my point of view, that resurrection is part of nature, and it's not normal, but it's not absolutely impossible either. How do we know what the laws of nature are, is the question that should be asked."

Daniel Schwartz

professor of history, Hebrew University in Jerusalem

Schwartz's research interests include Jewish history in the Second Temple Period with special emphasis on the origins of Christianity.

"So the people who wanted very much to believe that Jesus was the coming redeemer of Israel, saw something perhaps as minimal as an empty tomb and it fit into what they wanted to believe. And when people want to believe things, they believe it. Beyond that, I have no idea. There are lots of mysteries in this world."

Lee Strobel

A former teaching pastor at two of America's largest churches, Strobel now hosts "Faith Under Fire" on PAX television. He is the author of "The Case for Christ" and "The Case for Faith."

"If the world view is, this is only a material world, and there can be no outside intervention, then, yeah, you got a problem explaining the Resurrection, because there is no naturalistic way that Jesus rose from the dead. It's ... it's not possible. But, if we open ourselves up to the possibility that God exists, and created the universe. If God exists and created the universe, this is child's play for him."

Bishop John Shelby Spong

Episcopal Bishop Emeritus of Newark, N.J.

Spong's books include "The Sins of Scripture" and "Resurrection: Myth or Reality."

"I don't think that most of the Resurrection narratives in the New Testament are historical at all. But I don't think there would have been a New Testament or a Jesus movement had there not been some astonishing experience of power. That caused these people to see Jesus in a way they had never seen him before."

Ben Witherington III

professor of New Testament, Asbury Theological Seminary, Kentucky

Witherington's books include "The Jesus Quest," "The Gospel Code" and "The New Testament Story."

As a historian, you have to really be like Sherlock Holmes and say what best explains the phenomena. And the answer to that question is, I think, beyond a shadow of a reasonable doubt, that what best explains the rise of early Christianity is the actual death and resurrection of Jesus, which led almost immediately, very early on to a worshipping of Jesus as the risen Lord.

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