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A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth



PART 1: A SEPULCHRAL NO



GosMark's author sheerly invented the empty tomb of Jesus of Nazareth!

{/clickbait}

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...)

11 comments:

It's a sepulchral no, because I haven't given any reasons yet, so the no is dark and obscure. And in 8 more parts, so deep. And a pun. About tombs.

I have to get my entertainment somehow! Writing a 9125 word series is taxing. Rejoice: I could have posted it in one part...!

Also, registering for comment tracking.

JRP

great article Jason. thanks for posting

Hi Jason,

You start off the article with the suggestion that people that disagree with the position that you are going to defend are fringe skeptics. Then you claim even Crossan argues someone else invented the empty tomb story before Mark. I see two problems with what you assert.

First, arguments of the form "even (fill in name of skeptical scholar) has to admit" are inherently weak. They suggest that if the evidence convinced even the scholar named, who by implication must have been inherently opposed to the conclusion, then the evidence for the conclusion must be overwhelming. This kind of argument is seldom convincing to those who don’t already agree with the conclusion. Try substituting the names of conservative scholars in the argument and see what happens. Should someone arguing for an early date for Acts be persuaded by the fact that even F.F. Bruce thought it was post-70? Or should someone arguing that Paul wrote 1 Timothy abandon his case because even James Dunn and Howard Marshall thought he didn't?

Second, you are wrong about Crossan. He does think Mark created the story of the women discovering the empty tomb in Mark 16.1-8. He first argued this in an article called "Empty Tomb and Absent Lord (Mark 16:1-8),” in The Passion in Mark, edited by Werner Kelber (1976) pp. 135-152, and in several places since (The Cross That Spoke, Who Killed Jesus?, The Birth of Christianity). He does have a complex theory for the development of the Passion Narrative, but he thinks Mark is responsible for the story about the women finding the empty tomb. He traces the development of the Passion Narrative through pre-Canonical, Canonical, and post-Canonical periods of development. In the pre-Canonical period (represented by his hypothetical Cross Gospel) the Passion Narrative did not have the women at the tomb story, it was added by Mark in the Canonical period (which is where the other evangelists got it), and then in the post-Canonical period the Gospel of Peter also took it from Mark. "The empty tomb story is neither an early historical event nor a late legendary narrative but a deliberate Markan creation" (Birth of Christianity, 1998, p. 558).

And Crossan is hardly the only scholar who thinks Mark created the empty tomb story; e.g., Adela Yarbro Collins, Professor of New Testament at the Yale University Divinity School, and a self-identified Roman Catholic, argues that Mark created the empty tomb story in her commentary on Mark in the Hermeneia series (2007, p. 781) and at greater length in a couple of other publications.

This isn't to say that Crossan and Collins are necessarily right. In fact, there are aspects of Crossan’s theory of the Passion Narrative that Collins rejects. Scholars disagree with each other on issues all the time. In this post, you seem to be launching a series in which you will undertake to argue from the evidence that Mark did not create the tomb story himself. That is fine, but starting off the series by labeling those who disagree with your conclusion as fringe skeptics with no academic support and making inaccurate assertions about Crossan's theory is a bit inauspicious.

Best wishes,

Sepulchral Voice

Other Sepulchral,

Are people who defend (or at least hold) the idea that Mark's author invented the empty tomb sceptics? Yes by definition.

Are they fringe sceptics? In my experience they are a fraction of a fraction of a fraction even among sceptics about Christianity, at least among scholars of the NT, so yes I'm going to call that a fringe. Out of the disbelievers in the resurrection among NT scholars, themselves culturally a minority fraction (but which fractionality I'm not counting), only a fraction believe there was no empty tomb one way or another, and only a fraction of those believe there was no tomb one way or another (thus it was invented), and only a fraction of those believe GosMark's author is who invented the tomb (thus also invented the empty tomb).

Not even all extra-minority sceptical theories involve Mark being the one to invent the tomb; but then I didn't say, or require, all fringe theories to involve that idea. Only some fraction of them.

Admittedly, I was teasing with the "article of faith" description. But I obviously don't think articles of faith as a category are necessarily wrong or, by being articles of faith, badly reasoned. I only mean it's an important component of some system of belief. But I know the description will sound more insulting to many sceptics than I myself think it should be.

SV: {{arguments of the form "even (fill in name of skeptical scholar) has to admit" are inherently weak.}}

True; it's a good thing I didn't make that argument in regard to Crossan, hm?

What I actually noted is that proponents of the belief (that Mark invented the empty tomb) have a tendency in my experience to connect that with ideas from Crossan about the original shape of Christian belief and what really happened to Jesus' body. But Crossan serves as a topically handy example thereby that someone who believes the tomb was invented later doesn't have to think Mark invented it per se.


SV: {{Second, you are wrong about Crossan. He does think Mark created the story of the women discovering the empty tomb in Mark 16.1-8.}}

I didn't say he doesn't think Mark created the story of the women. (I know perfectly well Crossan thinks Mark invented that detail and some other things such as Joseph of Arimathea.) I said he thinks Mark didn't create the detail of the empty tomb. And I referenced (Joe referencing Koester and) Crossan's Cross Gospel thesis, which specifically involves the tomb (and the emptiness of the tomb) existing as a literary device before GosMark -- and borrowed (on Crossan's thesis) by Mark for his tomb story, which then (on this these) became the nominal tomb story featuring the women and some other details invented by Mark; to which other authors later added other inventions; some of which show up in exaggerated form later in GosPete which (on Crossan's thesis) is thus borrowing from Markan and post-Markan inventions and also from pre-Markan inventions -- the empty tomb being the relevant detail here.

I'm unfamiliar with Collins -- maybe someone else can fill in the details there -- but considering you couldn't distinguish between story elements being invented when and by who in Crossan, and since she self-identifies as a Roman Catholic, I'm dubious you've understood what Collins means.

Crossan still held that someone else invented the tomb (and the emptiness of the tomb actually, although Crossan holds that this was not originally meant literally but as a poetic figure, and Roman and Jewish authorities at the tomb) in 2010's edition of The Birth of Christianity, long before Mark, as the disciples tried to come to terms with Jesus' disgraceful death and semi-burial. His chart on page 552 makes it as clear as possible that he regards three basic literary details (burial, tomb, vision) to be common to the pre-Markan written source (which he then traces through six texts, CrossGos, GosMark, GosMatt, GosLuke, GosJohn, and GosPete, with cross-reference to the three basic character groups involved with each literary detail, Non-disciples, Women Disciples, and Men Disciples.) Or if you prefer a quote, from 550-551 (because the sentence spans the page break): "Instead, it is the Roman guards and the Jewish authorities who find the tomb empty in that Cross Gospel, and it is to them that Jesus appears."


SV:{{starting off the series by labeling those who disagree with your conclusion as fringe skeptics with no academic support and making inaccurate assertions about Crossan's theory is a bit inauspicious.}}

Well, let's see, I immediately started off the series citing academic support for the theory from Burton Mack -- so I didn't label those who hold it as having no academic support, but exactly the opposite -- and I was one hundred percent correct on what I asserted (with linked evidence) about Crossan: he thinks someone invented the tomb (and thus also its emptiness) as a detail before Mark.

I guess inauspicious criticism is, as inauspicious criticism does?

JRP

I do end with "even Crossan had to admit"-ting something, but you've missed the point of why I was saying it: even Crossan, who was seminal in inventing the whole Cross Gospel thesis to begin with, had to admit that his hypothetical Cross Gospel leaned toward Mark not inventing the empty tomb. I wrote that in context of referring back to Joe's previous articles this year on the Cross Gospel as evidence that the empty tomb detail precedes Mark's authorship of GosMark (even though I'm not going to use that argument, thus #0, within the irony that people who hold to Mark's invention of the tomb and its emptiness have a tendency in my experience to incorporate the work of someone who didn't believe Mark invented the tomb or its emptiness.

Nor at any point did I once argue (and neither am I going to argue later, by the way), that if the evidence convinces even named-scholar who must have been inherently opposed to the conclusion (and I have certainly never claimed that Crossan would be inherently opposed to someone inventing the tomb before 70 -- maybe he would be, maybe not, I don't know, although I've never seen any indication from him that he would be), then the evidence for the conclusion must be overwhelming.

However, supposing for purposes of argument I held position X -- let's say Christian universalism is true (which I do) -- and strongly salted it with details from C. S. Lewis (which I do) -- who thinks Christian universalism is false (which he did) -- then I would grant someone else the amusement at the irony that C. S. Lewis whom I am otherwise borrowing a lot from for my position, thought Christian universalism was false. But so what? Unless I was ill-informed enough about Lewis to think I was using his works as a Christian universalist himself, I would have nothing to be embarrassed about, especially if I occasionally made the distinction myself; he and I would happen to differ on the implications of his work, as in fact he differed posthumously with his own Teacher George MacDonald on whether it was true.

But I commonly get the impression that proponents of this position think Crossan agrees with the position. When in fact he does not; he thinks the tomb (and its emptiness) were invented by someone else before Mark.

JRP

"Second, you are wrong about Crossan. He does think Mark created the story of the women discovering the empty tomb in Mark 16.1-8."

There is a huge difference in saying Mark made up the women and Mark made up the empty tomb. You are trying to leverage in the made up tomb because the women are made up that not what Crosson believes. Yes he believes the women were made up, He believes Paul quote the original story s]when says James saw him first. But he does not believe the Tomb was made up or at least not contrived. He doesn't believe in resurrection but he does not believe the tomb was a contrivance.

btw I do not believe the women were made up.I believe there are two different stories because different squads of witnesses in different communities,

>>I said he thinks Mark didn't create the detail of the empty tomb<<

>>Crossan's Cross Gospel thesis, which specifically involves the tomb (and the emptiness of the tomb) existing as a literary device before GosMark<<

OK, that gets close to my point. If one holds to the theory of a bodily resurrection one could deduce that the tomb must have been empty of Jesus's body from Cross Gospel/GPeter 9:34-10:42, where two men enter the tomb and three leave, and the third is presumably Jesus. This is apparently what Crossan thinks Mark did. But Crossan's Cross Gospel does not actually contain the detail that the tomb was empty. There's a tomb in the Cross Gospel, but Mark created the " empty tomb tradition". We probably wouldn't call it the Empty Tomb if all we had was the Cross Gospel, which doesn't actually comment on the tomb's emptiness. Mark didn't just add the detail of the women, he added the detail of the emptiness. Crossan actually describes his Cross Gospel somewhat inaccurately in the quotation you gave. The Roman guards and the Jewish authorities don't actually "find the tomb empty" -- they're out in front of the tomb and see three men leave it.

By all means, do check what Collins says in her commentary on Mark. She has another book, The Beginnings of the Gospel (1992), where she discusses the empty tomb in detail in chapter 5, 119-148. She has a draft of her paper on the development of the Passion Narrative where she critiques Crossan and Koester online, but unfortuately she doesn't discuss the empy tomb directly in it: http://austingrad.edu/images/SBL/Collins.pdf

OK, that gets close to my point. If one holds to the theory of a bodily resurrection one could deduce that the tomb must have been empty of Jesus's body from Cross Gospel/GPeter 9:34-10:42, where two men enter the tomb and three leave, and the third is presumably Jesus. This is apparently what Crossan thinks Mark did. But Crossan's Cross Gospel does not actually contain the detail that the tomb was empty.

there is no text called the cross gospel. it's a theoretical text like Q. GPete contains readings from the pre mark redaction but that doesn't mean it's a ver batium transcript of it. it's re worked in the second century,


There's a tomb in the Cross Gospel, but Mark created the " empty tomb tradition". We probably wouldn't call it the Empty Tomb if all we had was the Cross Gospel, which doesn't actually comment on the tomb's emptiness. Mark didn't just add the detail of the women, he added the detail of the emptiness. Crossan actually describes his Cross Gospel somewhat inaccurately in the quotation you gave. The Roman guards and the Jewish authorities don't actually "find the tomb empty" -- they're out in front of the tomb and see three men leave it.

that is not what Crosson and Koester are saying they are saying the pre amark redaction had an actual empty tomb so Mark could not have made it up.

By all means, do check what Collins says in her commentary on Mark. She has another book, The Beginnings of the Gospel (1992), where she discusses the empty tomb in detail in chapter 5, 119-148. She has a draft of her paper on the development of the Passion Narrative where she critiques Crossan and Koester online, but unfortuately she doesn't discuss the empy tomb directly in it: http://austingrad.edu/images/SBL/Collins.pdf

7/15/2016 05:59:00 AM Delete

why think Collins kmnokws naything?

from my apologetics website religious aprioir this is about the preMark redaction he empty tomb, It;s two pages so be sure and clickon link at bottom ofpage 2

Gospel behind the gospels

Anon: {{OK, that gets close to my point. If one holds to the theory of a bodily resurrection one could deduce that the tomb must have been empty of Jesus's body from Cross Gospel/GPeter}}

Of course nobody's doing that; not me, not Joe, certainly not Crossan, and not Mark on Crossan's theory based on things written there (and previously). Crossan isn't arguing that Mark started from a belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus and then deduced from the Cross Gospel that the tomb must be empty. He's arguing that Christian groups eventually came to misunderstand what the Cross Gospel was (on his theory) poetically talking about to be what literally happened, and that Mark is working within that subsequent tradition (subsequent to the Cross Gospel production by about 30 years) as an apologist to answer various issues by inventing details like the women and JosArim (and eliminating the tomb guards for some reason mumble mumble).


John Dominic Crossan: "Instead, it is the Roman guards and the Jewish authorities who find the tomb empty in that Cross Gospel, and it is to them that Jesus appears."

Anon: {{But Crossan's Cross Gospel does not actually contain the detail that the tomb was empty.}}

Crossan calls it that, so I guess I'm going to go with what Crossan says he believes about his own theory. I grant that it seems more than a little weird for Crossan to go that far in extrapolating the Cross Gospel from GosPete -- and beyond that to include the guards, too -- but it makes more sense why he does so when his whole layered layers of invention theory is spelled out. (I mean it makes more sense for him psychologically to do so within his own theory. I don't think his theory holds up at all, and hardly anyone else has followed him on it, but that's a whole other plate of flank steak to chew on.)


Anon: {{Crossan actually describes his Cross Gospel somewhat inaccurately in the quotation you gave. The Roman guards and the Jewish authorities don't actually "find the tomb empty" -- they're out in front of the tomb and see three men leave it.}}

Or, you're being desperately over-picky about the grammar in order to avoid Crossan acknowledging it counts conceptually as an empty tomb.

Crossan thinks the material in the CrosGos reflects Christians poetically honoring Jesus (and working in some vision imagery) by a story where Jesus comes out of the tomb, i.e. out of hades. That's why he can conceptually recognize and categorize it as an empty tomb story; they aren't saying Jesus stayed in sheol/hades, thus the imagery also involves Jesus not staying in the tomb but coming out of it. He isn't still there.

It's totally irrelelvant whether or not the tomb is visually verified to be empty in (what he extrapolates as) CrossGos material -- it would still count either way for Crossan as a poetic figure misunderstood by the 70s to be an actual empty tomb. A established misunderstanding which (on his theory) Mark is picking up and running with, not innovating.

JRP

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