New Book: History Is 'Entirely Incompatible' With Islam

3. Did Jesus die on the cross?

Muslims claim that Jesus was a prophet, and that he did not die on the cross. Qureshi presented two arguments for this position: the theistic swoon theory and the substitution theory. The Quran states, "They did not kill him, nor did they crucify him, but it was made to appear so to them." (Surah 4.157) Some Muslims argue that Jesus was put on the cross, did not die there — he was miraculously sustained by Allah. Others claim that another person, most likely Simon of Cyrene, was made to appear like Jesus and died in his place.

The problems with these theories prove to be manifold. Atheist and agnostic scholars conclude that Jesus did die on the cross, and Qureshi quotes three of them on the subject. John Dominic Crossan, in particular, wrote, "That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be." Jesus' death by crucifixion is reported by Christians (in the Gospels and the Epistles), a Roman historian (Tacitus), and a Jewish historian (Josephus).

Furthermore, the stigma of crucifixion was not something Christians would have chosen in order to convert skeptical Romans. Not only is the method of death literally excruciating (it would take hours to die), no one had ever survived it, and it was also fundamentally degrading. Qureshi notes the ancient Roman graffiti which mocks a Christian known as Alexamenos by showing him worshipping a crucified man with the head of a donkey.

"No one has ever survived a full Roman crucifixion, and had Jesus done so, that would have been a much more appealing message for the early church to proclaim than was the stumbling block of a crucified Savior," Qureshi concludes.

4. Did Jesus rise from the dead?

Similarly, Qureshi argues that Jesus' resurrection is the best explanation of three important historical facts: Jesus died by crucifixion, Jesus' followers truly believed the risen Jesus had appeared to them, and that people who were not followers of Jesus at the time truly believed the risen Jesus had appeared to them.

These facts are fairly straightforward. The crucifixion is well-documented, and the New Testament includes the stories of disciples believing that Jesus appeared to them, and encouraging an investigator to ask the surviving witnesses. The story of Jesus' brother James corroborates that people who did not follow Christ at the time of his crucifixion later believed his resurrection, sincerely enough to die for their beliefs.

The story of the Apostle Paul, who went from killing Christians to leading them, and who gave up a position of great authority as a student of Gamaliel — and ultimately, even gave up his life — to lead a fledgling persecuted movement also provides strong evidence for Paul's sincere belief in the resurrection. Muslims claim that Paul invented the doctrine of Jesus' resurrection and his godhood, but the book of Acts shows him submitting himself to the teaching of the other disciples.

While some arguments aim to deny the resurrection, each fail. Bereavement hallucinations do indeed occur, but never for five hundred people at one time. If the disciples had stolen Jesus' body from the tomb, they would not have submitted to death for their belief in him. The only theory that best fits the facts is the resurrection.

Next Page: But did Jesus actually claim to be God? Muslims say no.