Sunday, August 15, 2004

Did the Resurrection really happen?

I was browsing through the Bible today looking up some passages that were cited in a discussion of Mel Gibson's "The Passion" (which I still haven't seen and probably never will -- I don't think I have the stomach for that much gore). I was struck by the sparseness of the description of the Resurrection in Mark, which is the earliest and hence presumably the most historically reliable of the Gospels. Here is the most important event in all of Christianity (in the history of the Universe if you're a Christian) and all the coverage it gets is about a dozen verses. The chronology of events as reported in Mark is:

1. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome go to the tomb of Jesus (who is dead three days now) to annoint his body with spices.

(As an aside, doesn't this seem like a rather odd thing for them to want to do? Remember, they don't know that Jesus is about to be resurrected. They expect to find a three-day-dead body.)

2. The three women puzzle over how they are going to gain access to the tomb given that its entrance is blocked by a large stone, but when they arrive at the tomb they find the stone has been rolled away and Jesus's body is missing. They enter the tomb and find "a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side."

3. The "young man" tells the women that "He [Jesus] has risen!," askes them to pass the word along to "his disciples and Peter" (I always thought Peter was a disciple), and that they will shortly see the risen Jesus with their own eyes.

4. The women flee the tomb, "trembling and bewildered" and say "nothing to anyone, because they were afraid."

All the quotes are from the New International Version as reported by Biblegateway.

At this point in the narrative there is a note in the NIV that reads:

((The most reliable early manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20.))

Now, that came as a bit of a shock to me, because this is the cornerstone of modern Christianity. If this note is true it means that there is no contemporary account of the Resurrection whatsoever beyond what I have just detailed above, and that's a pretty scant account. Taken at face value, it sounds a lot more like an account of a grave robbery than a resurrection.

I note in passing that as the Resurrection took on more of a central role in Christian mythology, so did Jesus's miracles, which also tend to get more embellished and grandiose as one moves through the chronology of the Gospels from Mark to Luke and Matthew and finally to John, where we first encounter the story of Lazarus. Remember Lazarus? He was dead four days when Jesus resurrected him. Funny how that didn't make enough of an impression on the authors of the other three Gospels to be deemed worth mentioning. Maybe it's because they realized that if you're going to hang your religion on a resurrection it's probably best to at least report it as if it were a singular event. The author of John perhaps got a tad carried away and didn't think it all the way through. But that's just a guess.


MTR said...

You spend a lot of time discussing a faith that you don't believe in. Why? Is it enough to live and let live, or do you need to belittle us? Please don't. Please don't become what you accuse us of.

Ron said...

Please don't. Please don't become what you accuse us of.

And what would that be exactly? I don't recall accusing anyone of anything.

Ron said...

multi-hundred pound stone

There's no support for this in the Gospels. Matthew refers to it simply as "a great stone" and says that Joseph of Arimathea rolled the stone into place himself. Mark simply refers to it as "a stone" and also says that Joseph placed it there personally. Neither Luke nor John mention the placement of the stone at all, they just note that "the stone" had been removed.

they stationed guards there to protect it

There is no mention of this in the Gospels.

the guards reported the stone rolled away

Again, not according to the Gospels, which all say that the Resurrection was first reported by Mary Magdelene, either alone (John) or along with Mary mother of James and Salome (the others).