At that time period, finding twelve religious fanatics who would go to their death doesn’t seem that unlikely (one could do it even in our time- Heaven’s Gate, for example). If we look at the Gospels, the Apostles didn’t recognize Jesus anyway! He had to tell them who he was. What is more likely, that twelve people (well, eleven anyway, remember Judas wasn’t around anymore- unless one counts Rufus ), who lived in a fanatical era and location, were fanatics themselves (which of the Apostles have left us their own, personal testimony, written by them?), or that a man died and came back to life?
What information do we have about their lives prior to meeting Jesus? How do we know they didn’t follow another alleged messiah before then? Maybe they were simple people previous to their ‘religious experience’, but were they after? “Cult mentality” can develop in three years that would turn an average Joe into a fanatic.
Basically, the question I ask myself is this: what seems more likely- that eleven people were “deranged religious fanatics”, or that every piece of empirical data I’ve collected regarding life and death are invalid? All the information I’ve encountered states that when you a person dies, they are dead, and they don’t get up and walk around three days later! Is the idea of a “deranged religious fanatic” (or a dozen) as contradictory to experience and evidence as a dead man reanimating? How many radical Muslim’s would gladly martyr themselves today- how many of them look forward to it? The Middle East has historically been quite skilled in the production of religious fanatics; why is it far fetched to think that twelve of the many religious fanatics chose Jesus?