Did GosMark's Author Possibly Invent the Empty Tomb? (Nope 1 of 9)
PART 1: A SEPULCHRAL NO
GosMark's author sheerly invented the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth!
This has long been an article of faith for fringe sceptical theories; the most recent wave of which was kicked off back in the 90s by Burton Mack popularizing the theory during the heydey of the Jesus Seminar. Ideas that Mark invented the empty tomb tend to be associated with developmental theories of John Dominic Crossan as well, although he actually argues (somewhat notoriously in how he goes about it and what he tries to make of it) that someone else invented the empty tomb tradition much earlier than Mark did!
(For sake of expediency I'm using "Mark" as a shorthand for "the author", without intending an assumption of author identity. More on this qualification soon.)
JDC essentially argues that Mark borrowed written material, much later also found in GosPeter. The actual argument for pre-Markan written tomb material (even from Crossan) is much more subtle and detailed than that, of course; our Joe Hinman has taken noble and detailed stabs, such as earlier this year (reprinted from material eventually edited into JP Holding's book on the Resurrection several years ago, soon to be revised) at trying to explain why even liberal scholars tend to acknowledge the existence of pre-Markan written tomb material. A few weeks later Joe contributed a shorter version of the same material.
But the question of whether it's even possible that Mark invented the empty tomb, has some relevance to a series I ran several years ago, "A Curious Key to a Historical Jesus", from which I've been considering the best ways to proceed for a while, particularly in introducing Saul of Tarsus, St. Paul, to the analysis. The question happens to provide a nice topical bridge, for later work, upon consideration.
First, the philosophical question: is the proposition of Mark inventing the empty tomb, impossible metaphysically? If so, we need not bother about the historical level of the question.
But the proposition doesn't rely on mutual exclusivities, and it isn't a self-refuting proposition, and it isn't an outright gibberish proposition (like the color of Thursday being red). Consequently, in principle it is metaphysically possible Mark simply made up the empty tomb.
Nor is it historically impossible in the sense that it would be historically impossible for an Australian aborigine in the 10th Christian century to have invented the empty tomb while writing GosMark, since that is also a metaphysically impossible historical claim by tacitly including mutually exclusive contradictions.
When we shift over to the question of non-contradictive historical possibility, though, there are two subtly but crucially different variants.
Is it historically possible that Mark could have invented the empty tomb? This is a question of hypothetical possibility, and I have no problem answering, "yes he could have". He also could have invented a story of Christ being dissected alive on a man-sized fork and then being posthumously fed to his apostles at a Roman purgatorium as their way of assuring the authorities they renounced him completely, whereupon they vomited and shat him into the sewers and eventually into the nearby garbage ditch around the city, from which he eventually bodily resurrected and reconciled with the disciples who betrayed and renounced him.
Mark didn't invent that story, so far as I know -- I invented that story for my fantasy novels! -- but he could have. Mark could have done any of half a trillion things, or more.
Clearly, this isn't a very useful question -- including for any scepticism!
But, is it historically possible that Mark did actually, as a matter of history, invent the empty tomb?
If I had to answer yes to this, that wouldn't necessarily bother me; I could still regard the likelihood he did, as being decisively lower than the likelihood he didn't, and so believe nevertheless that Mark didn't invent the empty tomb.
But I'm going to answer instead: No. In assessing as much of the data as I know about, I don't think it is historically possible that Mark did invent the empty tomb.
Before I continue, let me digress a moment (as I often do), to note that nothing I am writing in this article series is any different than how I would analyze, infer, and argue, if I was an atheist or (by any relevant comparison) some other non-Christian. As a disciplinary rule, I am careful to distinguish when I am including various levels of theism, up to trinitarian Christianity, as ideological components in an analysis. As far as I can tell there is no need for that here.
Also while on various evidence I regard all canonical texts as being certainly or almost surely written pre-70, I won't be factoring specific dating in this analysis. Nor will I be appealing to arguments that one of the other canonicals was written earlier than GosMark and so, consequently, if a canonical author invented the tomb it wasn't Mark. Nor will I be appealing directly to arguments that John Mark wrote the text, in favor of a lack of invention (although the theory of invention does necessarily pass by the question of attributed authorship).
I'll be presenting my argument in a topical order, but not necessarily in order of importance, ascending or descending; which is why I'll start with:
0.) Personally I am not as much a fan of using GosPete as evidence of a written pre-Markan Passion story (including an empty tomb) as Joe is; so I won't be including those arguments here. But I do want to acknowledge them, at the very least as further evidence that arch-sceptics (like Crossan) can come to believe on technical grounds that Mark didn't invent the empty tomb. Crossan thought some unknown person or persons much earlier invented it; so one can even still solidly disbelieve the empty tomb even existed, and still think it was invented earlier than GosMark!
And I think the source critical arguments, more properly form critical in this case, are suggestive. But I myself don't think they're strong enough to hang anything on: the form found in (parts of) GosPete, seems like something that would be more primitive for how Jewish Christians would refer to the trial and death of Jesus (echoing forms preserved in canonical Acts for preaching to fellow Jews, by the way), than the form(s) found in the canonicals including GosMark, and this includes some (but certainly far from all) of the GosPete tomb language.
That isn't nothing, and its weight (as even Crossan had to admit) leaned toward Mark not inventing the empty tomb; but I'd factor it in very secondarily. Joe's argument, and Crossan's and Koester's before him, is more technically detailed than that, and the link to the second article above gives a much better summary. I very much recommend reading at least one of them.
Next time: so where will I actually start? (Well, obviously where I said already...)