But if there is no resurrection of the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain (1 Corinthians 15:13-14).Throughout its existence, Christianity has been founded upon the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. If Jesus did not die and/or was not raised from the dead, Christianity is just another fiction. But if Jesus did die and He was raised from the dead, then the claim that Jesus is Lord and that we ought to serve Him must be taken very seriously. Therefore, from the beginning until now, the validity of the claims of Jesus' death and resurrection have never lacked a challenger.
Charles Foster enters this fray with The Jesus Inquest: The Case For and Against the Resurrection of the Christ. Foster, an English jurist, attempts to use the same rigorous mode of inquiry that is used before a court in order to weigh the arguments for and against the death and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth. The end result is one of the most comprehensive yet understandable analyses of the current state of arguments for and against Jesus' death and resurrection.
Arguments are made against the claims of Christianity through the guise of "X"; the Christian response is presented though the guise of "Y". The two sides are lined up against each other on whether Jesus really died on the cross or not, how Jesus was buried, the matter of the empty tomb, the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, whether the early church believed in Jesus' physical and bodily resurrection, and the potential sources for the story of the resurrection. Appendices include further examinations into Jesus' cause of death, the Shroud of Turin, statistical analyses and the "Jesus Family Tomb," and the text of the Gospel of Peter.
Foster wonders if he puts the arguments of "X" forcefully enough; as a believer more sympathetic to "Y," I nevertheless believe that he has "X" and his character fairly well presented. The arguments presented are about as well done as can be, under the circumstances.
The presentation of the evidence goes a long way to show just how weak the case against Jesus' death and resurrection is-- one might be able to make a few challenges regarding the way the story is presented in the New Testament, but no credible, serious, and sensible counter-explanation can be provided to explain the emergence of the beliefs surrounding Jesus of Nazareth as the crucified and risen Son of God.
One must take care to remember that "X" is presented as a hot mess-- Foster is providing all kinds of counter-arguments, most of them inconsistent with each other. One does not do well to see the inconsistencies and thus write "X" off entirely. My one criticism of the book would be the fact that "X" will present the sensationalistic as well as the standard challenges to the Christian narrative without a whole lot of clear demarcation between the two. The claims of Holy Blood, Holy Grail or The Jesus Family Tomb do not belong in the same category as arguments about the vinegar as an opiate leading to a coma or arguments about the possibility of the wrong tomb (not that the latter are inherently any more accurate, but they are not as ridiculous). Considering the author's purpose, I don't know how it could be better handled, but I thought it was worth noting.
While Foster never comes out and says where he ultimately stands, his sympathies with "Y" are clear enough, as well they should be. The Jesus Inquest is an excellent resource for everyone, as it provides a good introduction to where the disputes about Jesus' death and resurrection have led and presents the arguments reasonably well.
*--book received as part of early review program