Tim’s answer to the question can be found in its original context here. (By the way, my answer to the same question can be found here.) Tim describes himself as “an atheist who has studied the scholarship on the historical Jesus, his Jewish socio-religious context and the origins of Christianity for over 25 years,” which is to say that he is an anti-Christian apologist. He is to be commended for his candor in this regard. It will be important to keep this in mind as you read his answer for it explains much about what information he tends to include, what information he tends to exclude, as well as how he weighs his sources and characterizes various scholarly positions.
Tim’s short answer to the question “What evidence exists for the resurrection of Jesus? would be “None.” However, he takes over 6,000 words to make the point. Given the weight of evidence that exists, it’s not surprising that he would expend that much typewriting to try to discredit it. Alas for him, when his lengthy article concludes, the evidence is all still standing.
I’m simply going to comment section by section, using his headings.
A Story that Grew in the Telling
In this short introductory section, Tim states his thesis: that the resurrection of Jesus was an “idea” that “evolved over time…from an abstract one into one of a more concrete, physical revivification.”
The Nature and Date of the Sources
In this section Tim lays out his timeline for what he calls the “five sources” for the resurrection story: Paul, Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John. He dates these sources from 50 AD to 120 AD. He will return to this time line in a subsequent section.
Miracles and Apotheosis in the Ancient Mediterranean World
In this section Tim attempts to show that miracles were commonly accepted in the first-century Greco-Roman world and that stories of apotheosis were commonplace. This section, however, is completely useless to Tim’s thesis because Paul’s seven letters written 50-60 AD demonstrate that belief in Jesus’ resurrection initially arose in Palestine among pious Jews – people who would have been highly resistant to syncretism in general, and Greco-Roman ideologies in particular.
Resurrection in the Jewish Tradition
In this section Tim seeks to refute N.T. Wright’ claim of the uniqueness of Jesus’ resurrection by inaccurately comparing it to what should more properly be called resuscitations rather than resurrections. Moreover, while resurrection of the dead was instead a topic of great interest in the early first-century, it’s obvious that Jesus’ particular resurrection was anticipated by practically no one – not even his closest disciples whom he told in advance about its occurrence!
The Evolution of the Resurrection Stories
In this section Tim returns to embellish the “five-source resurrection idea timeline” he laid out in an earlier section. He dates the five accounts as follows: Paul (c. 50 AD), Mark (c. 70 AD), Matthew (c. 80 AD), Luke (c. 80 AD), John (c. 90-120 AD).
In this section Tim provides a chart of various aspects of the resurrection story intended to demonstrate that “there is no element found in all five accounts.” Of course, Tim, being an anti-Christian apologist, constructed the chart on details and left out the main points of the testimony about Jesus’ resurrection which was that he was crucified, and on the third day raised from the dead. On these key points, all agree.
The Psychology of Resurrection Belief
In this section Tim refers to a study of failed apocalyptic cults to justify his belief that Jesus’ disciples invented the resurrection idea as coping mechanism to deal with the disappointment they felt over his death, creatively interpreting Israel’s prophets (mainly Isaiah) to make it appear that resurrection of Messiah had been prophesied all along. The 1956 book When Prophecy Fails by Leon Festinger, Henry W. Riecken, and Stanley Schachter (see a few more details at Festinger’s work) introduces the term “cognitive dissonance” and gives five conditions which “specify the circumstances under which increased proselyting would be expected to follow disconfirmation.” Unfortunately for Tim, Festinger and company take themselves out of the discussion of his thesis with the following qualification:
Typically, millennial or messianic movements are organized around the prediction of some future events. Our conditions are satisfied, however, only by those movements that specify a date or an interval of time within which the predicted events will occur as well as detailing exactly what is to happen.
Of course, Jesus’ situation does not meet these conditions. Furthermore, Vaughn Bell writes in a May 20, 2011 Slate posting:
When Prophecy Fails has become a landmark in the history of psychology, but few realize that many other studies have looked at the same question: What happens to a small but dedicated group of people who wait in vain for the end of the world? Ironically, Festinger’s own prediction—that a failed apocalypse leads to a redoubling of recruitment efforts—turned out to be false: Not one of these follow-ups found evidence to support his claim.
This is by no means to discredit Festinger’s research which is valuable. It just makes no claim to be able to explain the belief in Jesus’ resurrection that we see among large numbers of first-century Jews. Thus any connection Tim’s thesis might have to such research is tenuous at best. For more details on Festinger’s work and why Festinger himself says it does not apply here, see Tim O’Neill and “When Prophecy Fails”.
As we’ve seen, there’s practically no connection between Greco-Roman ideas of apotheosis and Jesus’ resurrection. There’s very limited connection – if any at all – between Festinger’s When Prophecy Fails research and Jesus’ resurrection. There’s no unanimity of scholarly opinion or, beyond that, any way to prove the timeline of writings upon which Tim wants to hang his theory of increasing dramatization and detail in the resurrection accounts. (Even if there was, Tim doesn’t both to explain why subsequent embellishments would include, in his estimation, significant contradictions.)
Alas, there’s not much left upon which Tim can hang his thesis – except a wish and a prayer (and he’s already denied himself the latter by virtue of his self-description as an atheist).