The nature of the resurrection itself is was what we’d call a high impact event. This is an important detail to make when it comes to how the resurrection memory was remembered within the earliest Christian communities subsequent to the actual crucifixion. Some have challenged the resurrection memory as being susceptible to distortion and mythological embellishment. However, I don’t think that this is a good argument.
A high impact event has a very strong emotional involvement that survives accurately over a long period. For example, think of 9/11. We all saw the towers go down. I saw it when I was nine years old and I can still see it in my mind as if it happened just yesterday. That is the nature of a high impact event. But let’s draw in the resurrection. Imagine being intensely invested in Jesus as one of his followers only to see him murdered for his efforts. If you were like me you’d probably flee just as his disciples did, and we’d certainly not expect him to be raised from the dead since such a belief was contrary to our own shared belief system. Jesus had died and that was the end of it. Jesus, the leader we loved, passionately followed and who we had diligently listened to over the past few years had just died a shameful death, and thus been proved a false Messiah in the process. We’re all profoundly disappointed, confused, and we now have no option but to find another leader or go on with our lives.
However, three days later, just after having seen Jesus pinned to a cross fresh in our minds, he rocks up in our room and begins explaining that God had just raised him from the dead. Would we forget such a thing? Would we forget that we saw, perhaps, our own brother, or mother, or close friend being raised from the dead? Or would that be something we’d be bound to remember for as long as we lived?
When it came to Jesus’ bodily resurrection Paul, James and the early disciples remembered it because of its unique, unusual, and unexpected nature. A dead person being resurrected is a good example of something that is not a normal, usual thing. Professor Richard Bauckham explains as much, “The eyewitnesses who remembered the events of the history of Jesus were remembering inherently very memorable events, unusual events that would have impressed themselves on the memory, events of key significance for those who remembered them, landmark or life-changing events for them in many cases… the central features of the memory, those that constituted its meaning for those who witnessed and attested it, are likely to have been preserved reliably” (1). Bauckham finishes in saying that “We may conclude that the memories of eyewitnesses of the history of Jesus score highly by the criteria for likely reliability that have been established by the psychological study of recollective memory” (2).
1. Richard Bauckham cited in Waterhouse, Jesus and History, How We Know His Life and Claims. 2009. p. 87.
2. Richard Bauckham. Ibid.