CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth


In recent parts of this series (which starts back here), I've been looking at how various subtle problems around the empty tomb in the Gospel narratives, just don't mesh well with the idea that GosMark's author invented the empty tomb. I've passed by the topic of today's entry a couple of times already, but now I'm going to focus a squinty eye on it more closely.

(If I sound not that reverent to some parts of the topic, that's because per Part 1 I'm talking about why I would think GosMark's author did not invent the empty tomb even if I was an atheist.)

6.) The canonicals, including GosMark, jump through hoops to make the blundering apostles relevant authorities to their readers, especially thanks to being eyewitnesses to the risen Jesus who posthumously reaffirms their authority, gives them spiritual power, etc.

But in none of the accounts, including GosMark, and even including the preaching reports in Acts, are the apostles and their meetings with Jesus connected with the empty tomb. For that matter, there's only one part of one story where an appearance from Jesus is connected directly to the empty tomb at all, and that's Mary Magdalene in GosJohn. Not any of the authoritative disciples or twelve apostles, including Peter and the Beloved Disciple in GosJohn, who are the only Christian authorities (of some kind) ever shown in any proximity to the tomb.

Moreover, none of the first meetings with Jesus in any canonical Gospel involve the apostles or other chief disciples. Granted, GosMark (setting aside any discussion of a lost ending) doesn't feature any meetings at all, but that hardly helps the problem! GosMark does admittedly imply, as far as it goes, an expectation that the apostles will be the first. Which would fit better with a theory that a belief in the risen Jesus started with dreams or visions of Jesus by group authorities (whether they parlayed those visions into authority or not) -- if Mark had actually shown something like that, instead of non-authorities (and women at that) discovering the empty tomb and meeting a young man.

But the other three Gospels don't follow up on GosMark's implied expectation at all! -- not even GosMatt, which has a verbally identical implication from the angel at the tomb! Even GosMark's eventual longer ending doesn't follow up on that implied expectation at all! Mary Magdalene is explicitly said to be the first person to see Jesus, and the disciples still regard her reports as nonsense. Two unnamed disciples on the road, as in GosLuke's Emmaus story, are next; unlike in GosLuke, they also aren't believed, but also unlike GosLuke there is no attempt to interject a prior visit to Peter even at secondhand. When Jesus does appear, he harshly reprimands the apostles for their unbelief.

(Since it might be mentioned, there does exist a super-minority variation of GosMark's longer ending, only a sentence or two in its total length, which suggests briefly that Jesus did appear to the disciples first, but only in a broadly vague and undetailed fashion. This super-minority version doesn't feature any of the details of the traditional longer Mark ending.)

And yet the first appearances narrated in each Gospel (beyond the non-appearance in GosMark) do have topical connections to the tomb: Jesus appears to the women in GosMatt as they're fleeing the tomb area. Jesus appears to the disciples returning to Emmaus while they're "tossing back and forth" among themselves the empty tomb (and the shining men) reported by the women. (A few traditions, if I recall correctly, regard the other disciple here as the wife of Clopas, thus by a slightly differently spelled name in another account, one of the women at the tomb. I happen to like this idea a lot, but I know better than to hang anything on it.) Mary Magdalene is looking into the tomb when Jesus appears behind her (and she's still not expecting him, notably, but rather the groundskeeper).

Whatever else this weird disjunction does or doesn't imply, it means the tomb is constantly treated, including in GosMark, as being completely or (for GosJohn perhaps) almost completely irrelevant to the authority of the apostles -- an authority which is being promoted by the same texts.

Theories where Mark invents the empty tomb, necessarily involve roughly 40 years (maybe a lot more depending on when whoever-it-was wrote GosMark) of authoritative emphasis on the importance of the visions of the apostles, perhaps having developed by legendary accretion from mere dreams, which of course have nothing to do with an empty tomb or Mark wouldn't be inventing (per theory) the empty tomb but instead passing along received tradition about the empty tomb.

This was (up to 2010), and maybe still is, essentially Crossan's sceptical argument, remember, as someone who thought Jesus was just buried as a common criminal to be dug up by wild dogs and vultures: no empty tomb historically, but sometime between then and Mark the tomb developed as a detail out of poetic imagery for consoling the earliest communities about what happened to him -- and Mark is passing those two details along (tomb and emptiness) and making up others.

One would logically expect the resulting Gospels, then, to not even have a tomb; or if the tomb had developed out of authoritative dreams or visions, to focus on the importance of the tomb in the authorities' visions of Jesus. But none of the Gospels do, not even GosMark where, on the theory under examination, the tomb was supposed to be invented! Not even GosPete, which features ludicrous crowds of enemies to witness the Resurrection! -- the women are still the first allies to find the empty tomb.

Even on an account like Crossan's, the empty tomb stories as they actually exist, don't make sense as extensions of non-tomb original visions. (Although to be fair, Crossan's mature theory doesn't exactly involve dreams or visions or hallucinations. It's about poetic language mistaken for actual history. But a tomb and its emptiness, figuratively speaking, shows up originally with that poetic image.) GosJohn, for example, ought to be about Peter and/or the Beloved Disciple waking up after a dream of Jesus (narrated in detail as such) and saying, hey, let's go see the tomb (if any such detail was even wanted or needed), and then finding Jesus' body gone, and then meeting Jesus there (perhaps), and going off to tell everyone that Jesus is risen and they've seen him, and he told them they're the ones to be in charge now for sure, and if anyone doesn't believe it they can go look at the empty tomb!

But that isn't what happens. At all. Maybe because that would be indistinguishable from a stupidly transparent attempt, among disciples reportedly (in the same texts) sniping at one another over who's the most special and awesomest snowflake, at faking a resurrection to get power over the group! -- meaning it isn't very likely such a story would have survived until now, against huge competitive pressure from other super-special snowflakes.

Let me emphasize, if it isn't obvious enough already, that any theory about the return of Jesus being based on dream/visions or hallucinations of the apostles, has to deal with any such visions being absolutely ignored, not only in regard to the tomb and its emptiness, but in regard to the first appearances of Jesus which in the canonicals are never to anyone in the group authority promoted by the canonicals. Regardless of any theories about the narrated appearances to the apostles and other major disciples (up to and including Saul of Tarsus eventually) being based on consolation hallucinations extrapolated to group visions, or on dream visions extrapolated to a group experience (mass delusions of belief being one thing, but group hallucinations about the same event being something else unknown to medical science) -- those theories all crash up against the rock of the tomb jutting out by itself in stark disregard of being the product of such fancies. Theories about those special snowflakes swirling around themselves waaaaay over there in the distance, just shatter in collision on that rock.

I find it hard to overestimate the importance of this for our topic: this total disjunction between the authority of the disciples (even from the authority of St. Paul, whom we'll be getting to soon), and the empty tomb, would be enough by itself to convince me, not only that whoever wrote GosMark didn't invent the empty tomb, but that no one else invented it either at any time prior. Whatever might or might not have been invented, the empty tomb was not invented, including by GosMark.

Dovetailing with point (1), not even counting anything else, just makes this purported invention more impossible as a historical fact (even if as a proposition taken by itself it isn't metaphysically impossible). Crossan's Cross Gospel theory is admittedly ingenious about avoiding a need to transition from authoritative visions about a risen Jesus to stories about an empty tomb (the women being the first allies to find the empty tomb would be later on his account, as inventions by GosMark long after the tomb imagery had become mistaken for a historical reality) -- because on his theory, there are no authoritative visions or dreams or hallucinations, just a poetic figure about an eschatological hope. The absence of the apostles from the scene doesn't run against the purpose of that figure, even though it's still weird that they wouldn't be represented at the validation of their own hope (even in a poetic figure).

But his theory doesn't at all explain the hind end of polemic preserved at the end of GosMatt, where rival communities both appeal back to guard testimony that the body went missing shortly after death. On Crossan's account, those guards (inflated through legendary accretion to ridiculous numbers by the time his hypothetical "Cross Gospel" gets incorporated into the Gospel of Peter in the late 2nd century) are only a sort of poetic wishful thinking by the very first Christians about how someday their enemies will realize that Jesus was innocent after all. But there's no way to get from that to Jewish anti-Christian opponents appealing to a weak explanation provided by the guards themselves with enough authoritative clout to make the weak explanation seem feasible enough to use against the Christians.

Counting everything else from point (2) onward so far, only locks Mark's non-invention of the empty tomb ever-tighter in my judgment.

But I'm not done.

Next up: disappearing acts


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I think with Luke Jesus' post res stroll through the streets of Bethany is really the centerpiece of the epiphanies, If it really happened it must have been a powerful thing if that;s the origin of Paul's statment to the Greeks about the 500.

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