Dom, it "warms the heart" to experience you "live."
The Emmanus story could be a beautiful parable, which you put
powerfully. And Jesus could have appeared in apparitions.
But that doesn't explain the emphatic claim that Jesus vindicated the
justice of God. That's stronger whiskey than an apparition. Jack is
suggesting that maybe the truth is somewhere in between ( which is actually
suggested as a possibility by your comments, viz: "Even if everything in
our present gospels were taken literally and all of those events were
considered visions/apparitions, they would not necessarily indicate
"resurrection" in 1st century terms."), and that maybe this idea of
vindicating the justice of God arose circumstantially, a culturally
necessary gloss on a set of events that were probably not well
understood. According to reports, Jesus appeared dead when he was taken
down. That doesn't make him dead. There is reliable evidence that a
significant percentage of people (some studies suggest 2%) have actually
buried alive, until fairly recently . Since the medical facts were not
really being monitored, many of the apostles may have gone to their graves
believing that what they had witnessed (indeed, reportedly,they didn't
really witness it) was a "resurrection."
Pilate moreover, was reportedly surprised by the report of his quick
death. Survival is a reasonable explanation of the resurrection story. It
best accords with nature as we know it. We could very well see Jesus, in
Thomas, as Lao Tse. Someone who reached the wilderness and figured it out
better than his biographers.
There are also problems with apparition view. It is fiercely at odds with
the staunchness of belief that it was more than an apparition. As you put
it yourself, "The ancient world knew all about visions and apparitions and
even about such events as revelations from God, but they would not have
used the precise term resurrection for such events." So a question is
raised whether this staunchness is more easily explained as a first century
exegesis of what was regarded as a superhuman live re-appearance, or a
first century exegesis of apparitions. Survival could be the corn, rye,
and barley that goes into that whiskey. Distill those apparitions and you
only get ghosts.
Ultimately, there is a real psychological question about how Christianity
arose out of defeat. Even without further extant reporting, we know there
was a forceful effect of the idea that Yeshu had been alive. I personally
find it hard to believe that Yeshu would have had such a stunning effect on
his disciples if he simply died. Something very powerful fired his
demoralized disciples into the resolute belief which inspired the radical
itinerancy you write about so well in the Birth of Christianity. How
Christianity lost that defining moment ( and re-styled it as a vindication
of God) is a question for the ages.