Before saying anything else, though, if you’re looking for a great book-length study of this issue, Funny Jesus I saw that Christian T-Shirt you absolutely can’t do better than Dale Allison’s The Resurrection of Jesus: Apologetics, Polemics, History, published last year. Allison, one of the most respected scholars of early Christianity, by both Christians and non-Christians alike, has done absolutely superb work on this issue, and synthesizes the data and arguments in a singular and engaging way.
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First off, your intuitions about the unlikelihood of Jesus’ followers “colluding” to knowingly fabricate this idea of his resurrection, despite not actually believing this themselves, are correct. Offhand, I can’t think of a single scholar today, religious or secular, who considers it seriously.Funny Jesus I saw that Christian T-Shirt You also correctly surmise that many reject this idea in light of the early Jesus-followers’ apparent willingness to die in their proclamation; but this isn’t the only counter-argument, or even the main one.
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It’s hard to explain this succinctly, but a lot of it has to do with the Jesus having already created a distinct and firmly established movement. Even before Jesus’ death, his followers seem to have placed their utmost trust in him, as an expression of their own individual hopes in his teachings and in the future reality that he promised. Funny Jesus I saw that Christian T-Shirt They seemed to have abandoned their livelihood to follow him; and statements and teachings ascribed both to Jesus himself and to his followers in fact explicitly discuss this idea of unconditional support (Mark 8:35; Matthew 26:33; John 13:37).