We should reasonably asked whether or not the Easter story really happened or is merely a fable filled with accretions. Years ago I made an intentional exploration of the question of whether or not God was real. I made a point of studying everything I could about it. I read the holy books of many different religions with only one question in mind – could any of this be true?
One of the tests scholars may use to evaluate the validity of a historical claim is called “the criterion of embarrassment.” They say that if a story from history is embarrassing to the author or to the hero of the story, it is probably true. We usually don’t like to tell embarrassing stories about ourselves, and history is usually written by people in power. Most stories are edited to make the author of the story look better.
When I use the criterion of embarrassment on the story of Jesus, I see something interesting. The story is terribly embarrassing to Jesus. It would have been embarrassing to any 1st century Jewish person waiting for a Messiah. If a 1st century Jewish person wanted to make up a story about a Messiah, they would have changed a lot of the details about it. For instance:
* They would not make up a story about the Messiah being born in a barn to unwed parents
* They would not make up a story about wise men from the east finding Jesus, because it makes it look like someone else’s religion steered them correctly
* They would not make up stories about the Messiah getting in arguments with the religious leaders, who were generally respected and represented the kind of endorsement a hero would need
* They would not make up a story in which he was not only tortured but humiliated by the Romans
* They would not make up a story about him dying on a cross, because the Jewish Scriptures say that being hung on a tree is a sign of God cursing someone
* They would not say that women were the first ones to discover the empty tomb, because women’s testimony was not respected in that culture
* They would not make up a story about him appearing after rising from the dead in which some people were not sure if it was him or not
And yet, all of these are parts of the story of Jesus. They are all embarrassing to Jesus and to his followers. If they were making the story up, they wouldn’t have written it this way. And if they wanted to edit things out, they would have edited out some if not all of this.
From a historian’s perspective, there is no way this story if made up. This is a true historical event. And the truth is that there was a moment in history where God walked among us.