The Resurrection -- of Zeus

Do not let the seemingly flippant essay title trick you -- take this argument seriously as I am trying to make an important point.

I will present a section from Acts that talks about Paul preaching to some Greeks in Lystra. The passage shows the crowds think that the apostles Paul and Barnabus are Zeus and Hermes. In fact, the crowds really want to offer a sacrifice to the gods that walk among them in human form -- so much so that the head priest of the Zeus temple even brings some oxen out for the sacrifice.

I then honestly consider a mistaken letter that the Zeus priest of the passage could write to a fellow congregation based on the situation.

Acts 14:8-20 (NRSV) -- [my emphasis throughout]

In Lystra there was a man sitting who could not use his feet and had never walked, for he had been crippled from birth. He listened to Paul as he was speaking. And Paul, looking at him intently and seeing that he had faith to be healed, said in a loud voice, ‘Stand upright on your feet.’ And the man sprang up and began to walk.

When the crowds saw what Paul had done, they shouted in the Lycaonian language, ‘The gods have come down to us in human form!’ Barnabas they called Zeus, and Paul they called Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose temple was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates; he and the crowds wanted to offer sacrifice.

When the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting, ‘Friends, why are you doing this? We are mortals just like you, and we bring you good news, that you should turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and all that is in them. In past generations he allowed all the nations to follow their own ways; yet he has not left himself without a witness in doing good—giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, and filling you with food and your hearts with joy.’ Even with these words, they scarcely restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them.

But Jews came there from Antioch and Iconium and won over the crowds. Then they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead. But when the disciples surrounded him, he got up and went into the city. The next day he went on with Barnabas to Derbe.

Let's take this account at face value. The following letter is an example  of something that could easily have been crafted by the priest of Zeus talked about in this account.

Dear Fellow Zeus - worshippers,

The gods have come down to us in human form! Zeus and Hermes came and spoke to hundreds of the faithful. Our faith has been justified. As head priest of the Zeus temple, I brought oxen forth to sacrifice them to our honored guests -- but they wisely declined the sacrifice because the crowds were against us.

The Jews in the area stoned Zeus-incarnate to death -- in front of all our eyes. But, mere humans could not possibly harm a deity, and so, after the life went out of him, Zeus came back to life and moved on. A truly spectacular miracle that affirms our faith in Zeus. No human could rise himself from the dead! He truly was Zeus incarnate!

Keep the faith,

Head Zeus priest

The point of this letter is to show a very conceivable letter that could be produced -- written mere days after the event, with hundreds of witnesses that could be checked up on by anyone who wanted -- that is completely wrong. If such a letter were found today that dated to this event, would anyone be impressed that Zeus walked around in human form in Lystra?

No. Clearly, there needs to be far more evidence than the claim that hundreds of people witnessed a supernatural event for belief in that event is justified. Far more difficult -- even if there are hundreds of people who witnessed an alleged supernatural event -- the correct interpretation of the event is even more difficult to ascertain.