In 1876, a Kentucky grandmother was making lye soap on her front porch. Suddenly, an odd series of thuds in the field beside her house interrupted the silence of her labors. She sent her grandson out to see what was happening. He claimed it was snowing, but the weather was too warm and clear for snow. So Mrs. Crouch stepped off the porch to see for herself.
What the grandmother saw when she walked across the field still sounds unbelievable.
Scraps of raw meat rained down from a cloudless sky.
In the months that followed, the Kentucky Meat Shower was featured in newspapers and academic journals throughout the United States. Scientists offered a multitude of speculations about the cause. Early hypotheses ranged from airborne bacteria to vomiting vultures. Still, no one knows for certain how a half-bushel of raw meat fell from the heavens. The very idea of a meat shower seems absurd.
And yet there are good reasons to think it really happened. Two of them can also help us trust the veracity of Jesus’s resurrection.
1. The story originated where the event took place.
I don’t know precisely how the meat shower happened, but I do know where it occurred. Every account identifies a hard-to-reach area along the southern edge of Bath County, Kentucky. I’ve hiked this region, and it’s one of the most backwoods places you’ll find in the United States. And yet, early reports preserve minute details about this area that would be impossible to know unless they originated with people there. Newspaper articles mention obscure spots like Slate Creek, Spencer Pike, and an abandoned army barracks from the War of 1812.
None of this proves the meat shower happened, but it does make it unlikely that the event was fabricated by someone sitting in a newspaper office in Louisville, Nashville, or New York City. Geographical details in the testimonies render the claims far more believable.
That’s even more true when it comes to the testimony of the Gospels. Today, if you wanted to write about a location you haven’t visited, you might be able to unearth enough detail on the internet to fabricate a credible account. In the first century, however, there were no maps or texts that included topographical details about Judea and Galilee. Yet the descriptions in the Gospels reveal intimate knowledge of these locales. The Gospel writers’ geographic awareness is so detailed that it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion the stories of Jesus originated among people who spent time in those locations.
The Gospel writers’ geographic awareness is so detailed that it’s difficult to avoid the conclusion the stories of Jesus originated among people who spent time in those locations.
The Gospels not only reference well-known cities like Jerusalem and Tyre but also obscure villages like Aenon, Cana, Bethphage, and Bethany, places virtually unknown beyond the borders of Galilee and Judea. Not only that, the author of Mark’s Gospel also knew it was possible to proceed directly from the Sea of Galilee into the Galilean hill country—a detail that also would have been unknown outside this region (Mark 3:7, 13). All four Gospels repeatedly reference the fact that a journey to Jerusalem required going uphill (Matt. 20:17–18; Mark 10:32–33; Luke 2:4, 42; John 2:13; 5:1) and even more obscurely, that the trip from Cana to Capernaum was downhill (John 2:12).
This tiny sample from hundreds of similar ones reveals intimate knowledge of the lands that would later become known as Palestine. No one could know such minutiae without trekking the terrain or writing down detailed testimonies from witnesses who lived there.
2. The witnesses had nothing to gain.
Newspaper reports about the Kentucky Meat Shower preserve not only the name of Mrs. Crouch but also of at least four other witnesses who glimpsed the results of this bizarre bestowal from the sky. One of these individuals was Harrison Gill, whose truthfulness and integrity was—according to the New York Times—“unquestionable.” Despite the event’s sheer absurdity, firsthand testimonies and secondary reports have convinced those who study such matters that dozens of fragments of raw meat did indeed fall to the earth in 1876.
Multiple independent witnesses also testify to the veracity of the Bible’s claim that the corpse of a crucified Jew made the ultimate comeback 2,000 years ago. Jesus’s resurrection appears not only in the four Gospels but also in an early oral history recorded by Paul (Matt. 27:62–28:1; Mark 8:31; 9:31; 10:34; 16:1–2; Luke 24:1–49; John 19:38–20:2; 1 Cor. 15:3–7). Some details differ, but all these disparate accounts agree Jesus died and then returned to life three days later.
Multiple independent witnesses testify to the Bible’s claim that a crucified Jew made the ultimate comeback 2,000 years ago.
All but one of these reports also include incidental details such as the claim Mary Magdalene was the first witness—a fact that was unlikely to have been fabricated in a first-century context where there was systemic bias against testimony from women. If the Jews of the first century expected any resurrection, it would have been a resurrection of the righteous at the end of time. They knew death was a one-way street, and they were fully aware of alternative explanations such as post-mortem dreams and hallucinations. And still, somehow, the men and women who first followed Jesus concluded that what they saw three days after Jesus died was evidence physical resuscitation, and they shared this news from one end of the Roman Empire to the other.
What’s more, encounters with the resurrected Jesus reshaped the lives of certain witnesses in such a way that they eventually chose death over denying it. At the very least, Simon Peter, James the son of Zebedee, and James the brother of Jesus died for this claim. Of course, millions of people throughout history have died for lies they believed were true—but people do not typically give their lives for a lie if they’re in a position to know it’s a lie. Peter and the two Jameses were in that position if anyone was, and yet they went to their deaths declaring that Jesus had been raised.
Belief in any past event is an act of faith; the crucial question has to do with whether this faith is internally coherent and grounded in evidence. In the end, the stories in the Gospels make better sense of the possibilities than any of the alternatives. I’ve found no purely natural explanation that can plausibly account for all the evidence. Only the resurrection of Jesus provides a necessary and sufficient reason for the faith of Jesus’s first followers.