Christian apologists often claim that the alleged resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is the best evidenced miracle claim. It’s sometimes unclear to me what they mean by this. Consider the following two claims:
1. The resurrection of Jesus is the best evidenced miracle claim.
2. The resurrection of Jesus is the best evidenced miracle claim on historical grounds alone.
Which of these claims are apologists making? If the first, I’m not convinced it’s true. The evidence for the resurrection that we have is basically documentary and testimonial, at best. We don’t have any physical traces of the resurrection.* In the case of other miracle claims, such as some of the Lourdes cases, we have evidence like medical records, X-rays, photographs, etc. These were not available in the ancient world. Hence, it seems to be the case that modern miracle claims are better evidenced than the resurrection. So I’m not confident that 1 is true.
What about about the more qualified second statement? Is the resurrection the best evidenced miracle on historical grounds alone? I’m not sure 2 is true either. Again, the type of evidence that we have is basically documentary and testimonial. We have documents, the gospels and some of Paul’s epistles, which give testimony to the resurrection. It’s debatable to what extent the gospels provide eyewitness testimony (of the four canonical gospels, only two even claim to be written by eyewitnesses) but let’s assume for the sake of argument that they do. We don’t have expert testimony in the case of the gospels like we do in the case of some modern miracles claims (doctor’s testimony, for example). We also don’t have any of the original documents in the case of the gospels, but even if we did, the gospels are a genre of ancient literature. Even if one assumes that the gospels are examples of ancient biographies, they’re not disinterested biographies in the modern sense. The gospel writers are evangelists, after all. One could argue that it’s unfair to hold the gospels to modern standards. But I’m not asking whether the gospels provide documentation comparable to other ancient sources. Rather, the question is whether the resurrection is the best evidenced miracle claim on historical grounds.
I’m not convinced that it is. Compare, for example, two miracle claims I mentioned in my last post, the alleged healing of Mr. Savini by Padre Pio in 1949, and the alleged Miracle of Calanda in 1640. In both cases, we have expert witness testimony and medical documentation. In the latter case, we also have extant original documents that are signed and notarized. We simply don’t have such evidence in the case of the resurrection. To say that such evidence wasn’t available in the ancient world is beside the point.** Again, apologists don’t claim that the resurrection is the best evidenced miracle claim of the ancient world. At least that doesn’t seem to be their position and if it is they should be more clear about it. So I’m not convinced that 2 is true either. Where does this leave the apologist’s claim? Note that nothing I’ve said is incompatible with the resurrection having happened. But in that case, one has to ask: if the resurrection happened, and it’s Christianity’s central miracle, why wouldn’t it be the best evidenced miracle?
* Of course, one may count the Shroud of Turin as authentic or think that the Church of the Holy Sepulcher is the actual (vacant) burial place of Jesus; however, most Protestant apologists don’t argue in favor of either.
** While it’s true that modern medical evidence wasn’t available, I’m not so sure about signed and notarized documents being uncommon in the ancient world. The Romans were judicious record-keepers.