Did GosMark's Author Possibly Invent the Empty Tomb? (Nope 8 of 9)


Starting from back here, I've been arguing that Mark (the GosMark author) didn't invent the tomb of Jesus Christ or even the emptiness of the tomb: the hypothesis doesn't fit the actual facts of the textual characteristics, and the implications of those textual characteristics, and so I would regard that theory as historically impossible (even though not metaphysically impossible) even if I was an atheist.

But as tomb sceptics are well aware, the only earliest texts that mention a tomb are the four canonical Gospels -- and Acts, which people are sometimes less aware of, since the tomb and its emptiness are only mentioned by heavy implication once (in Simon Peter's first sermon) and only mentioned once explicitly in the first main report of a sermon from Paul of Tarsus.

Some sceptics, not only Jesus Myth proponents (though naturally them, too), like to appeal to an argument from silence in the epistles (and RevJohn) about the tomb, particularly from Paul since he might have been most expected to talk about a tomb and even its emptiness considering what he does actually talk about sometimes. But since he doesn't talk about a tomb explicitly, and his epistles are widely considered (by conservatives and moderates as well as liberals and radical sceptics) to have been written before the first canonical Gospel (whichever one that was but generally regarded to be the Gospel According to Mark), then he's often cited as direct counter-evidence that the empty tomb, i.e. the vanishing of the body of the buried Jesus of Nazareth, or even the tomb itself, is a relatively late invention: later than the Pauline epistles, even as late as the composition of GosMark (on standard dating theories).

That brings me last, and somewhat least, to:

8.) Paul's epistles. As noted from the example of Acts, completely regardless of how sceptical someone is about their accuracy, they stand as explicit testimony that a Christian writing importantly about the risen Christ doesn't have to explicitly mention the empty tomb even if he knows about it as a detail -- and even, if he's the same author as for GosLuke, if he thinks it's an important detail! The author of Acts himself rarely mentions it, even though he knows about it, even when given lots of topical opportunities to do so; and the author of Acts presents Paul as rarely mentioning it, even though he knows about it, even when given lots of topical opportunities to do so. (Ditto for Peter, and so for anyone else giving a speech in Acts, like Stephen Martyr.)

So what's the situation in Paul's epistles? Paul talks on occasion about the risen Christ and how important this is; and talks on occasion about how Christ was raised bodily in some way; and talks on at least one occasion about the importance of Christ being bodily raised after being buried -- but he happens not to mention a tomb.

As commonly known even by sceptics, he mentions that Christ was buried in 1 Corinthians 15, a chapter where he also talks a lot about what kind of body Christ was raised with, i.e. not as a disembodied spirit or a dream or a vision, but with the body he had been buried with transformed into a new kind of body.

Paul also mentions this burial as information he has already passed on to the Corinthians which they, at least nominally, accept: his rhetorical point against opponents in and/or around the congregation who deny all bodily resurrection, is that they (or at least the Corinthian congregation) accepted Christ's bodily resurrection, so if no one can be raised then neither was Christ raised in which case their faith is in vain.

So this burial of the body isn't a new innovation; and it's a detail older than Paul's evangelization of Corinth. Using technical language (referencing how authoritative oral tradition works), Paul says he gave to them the proclamation he received, that Christ was buried and was raised.

Received from whom? Implicitly that would be from the apostles whom he says elsewhere he met and agreed with in doctrine, and whom he is definitely referring to here in 1 Cor 15 as being the authoritative eyewitnesses -- as Paul also regards himself, although admittedly on another level "as one untimely born". When did he meet them? A long time before 1 Cor 15 was written! Depending on Acts' accuracy at relaying information about someone of whom the author presents himself as a disciple and companion, as far back as within 4 years of Jesus' death.

(This timing is based on story cues about the death of Stephen, which Saul of Tarsus approves of, then his official sanction from the Sanhedrin to persecute Christians, then his Damascus road conversion, then some lag time before he goes to Jerusalem to meet with the chief Christian leaders specifically James the brother of Jesus and Simon Peter, combined with details about the political situation which are commonly used by ancient historians for timing cues.)

Now, empty-tomb invention theories, whether they credit Mark with that or not, tend to appeal to legendary accretion to explain how this minimal little kerygma passed on by Paul becomes ever-more-full-blown empty tomb stories and appearance stories in the canonical Gospels. This runs on the loose inference (I'll charitably call it, rather than call it merely an assumption) that surely Paul would have talked more about the details somewhere, especially here, so because he doesn't then that's at least evidence (and for many sceptics decisive evidence) that Paul just doesn't know any more details, and moreover neither do his sources. Maybe someone somewhere is busy inventing those details whenever 1 Cor 15 was written, but Paul and his sources don't know about them yet.

But as even a massively sceptical observation of Acts clearly demonstrates, just because someone doesn't talk about X when we might think X should certainly be topically important, doesn't mean the talker doesn't know about X and even think it's important in some way. And that's specifically demonstrable about the empty tomb detail(s); and Paul himself turns out to be the chief example of this tendency in Acts!

That can only undermine how seriously we should take a proposed argument from silence about what Paul could or couldn't know about when writing 1 Cor, even on a highly sceptical account. And then, so far as someone independently infers that the Acts author knows what he's talking about, at least when it comes to Paul, the sceptical argument from silence here is shattered by the bullet of Paul mentioning the empty tomb in Acts, during his first missionary trip, long before writing 1 Corinthians: he does in fact know about the empty tomb. He just, as usual (even in Acts), happens not to be talking about it, even when it looks topically relevant.

To give a similar and highly pertinent example: which of the Big Three Creeds of Christian history (the Apostles', the Nicean, and the so-called Athanasian) mentions the empty tomb, or even the tomb at all? Not even one of them. Go back as far as you like through various forms of those creeds, and you'll find variations on trinitarian and Christological clarifications (or attempts at them anyway), and you may find references to Jesus dying on the cross and even to being cruficied under Pontius Pilate, and you'll find reference to Jesus being buried and raised again (usually with third-day language) once the Christological second-halfs start to appear in the creeds (sometime in the 3rd century if I recall correctly -- before then proto-forms only include theological devotions to, and relations between, the Father, the Son, and the Spirit). But you will look in vain for any reference to an empty tomb. And yet, it is absolutely indisputable that the empty tomb was acknowledged and regarded as important throughout all that history (at least among the central orthodox/catholic party, although also among some other sects and factions). It just happens not to be mentioned in those important creedal forms. I doubt it's mentioned often in more modern creedal forms either from early medieval times onward.

But any argument of legendary accretion from the 1 Corinthians 15 kerygma to the Gospels is fatally flawed anyway: precisely because Paul doesn't, on the face of it, synch up very well here with any of the Gospel accounts. If this 1st Corinthian kerygma, this authoritative formula proclamation, this creedal statement, was what people were legendarily accreting from, then the Gospels would be about Jesus appearing to Peter, probably still being called "Kephas" (spelled by us nowadays as "Cephas" usually, or rather as variations of the Latin translation such as "Peter"), and probably first out of the gate. Indeed, sceptical theories of dream or visionary inspiration tend to put Peter as the first one to witness Christ. But he isn't in the Gospels (or by implication in Acts), at all. The women are, or Clopas and his companion on the road to Emmaus -- and that's in a Gospel where they come back to find Peter has had a visit from Christ, but Luke doesn't even bother to tell us about it! -- Peter doesn't even get to claim it himself! Peter isn't the first person at the tomb -- he's only shown going to the tomb at all (in original verses) in GosJohn -- and he doesn't even beat the beloved disciple there while racing to see it in GosJohn. Nor does he come to believe Jesus is risen by finding the empty tomb and shroud and face-covering in GosJohn; the BD does (sort of). Nor is he at all specially central to appearances in GosLuke when the apostles start having them on-screen. He is central to exactly one, late, appearance in GosJohn, that's all -- which runs so far against sceptical theories of legendary accretion, that this appearance tends to be conflated with a much earlier catching of fish and/or Jesus walking on the water, and so repurposed by a sort of suspicious innuendo as being really the initial first appearance of Jesus after all! But it's still to a whole group, not merely to Peter, unlike the quick aside talked about in GosLuke.

That isn't legendary accretion from this Pauline material. That's nothing at all from this material!

Nor does it get better after Cephas in the list. Jesus doesn't appear to the twelve after first appearing to Cephas anywhere; and doesn't specifically appear to the twelve before appearing to other disciples anywhere; and appears to other people first besides Cephas and the twelve at all!

Nor does Jesus appear to more than five hundred disciples at any explicit time, although GosMatt's mass appearance could be construed that way -- and usually is, for conservative harmonization theories, not usually for sceptical accretion theories! Nor does this happen in GosMatt after appearing to the twelve first. Nor does Jesus walking from the Jerusalem room to the Mount of Olives in GosLuke clearly count in any way as appearing to 500 witnesses (although that's another harmonization guess), much less show any signs of developing out of legendary accretion from the 1 Cor 15 kerygma Paul is passing on.

Nor does Jesus appear specifically to James, whether the apostle or Jesus' brother, at all in any of the canonicals! -- which is especially amazing considering the importance of James JesusBro as leader of the Jerusalem church, basically at the time the leader of the only Christian church, in Acts!

Nor, since he never appears to James, does Jesus appear anywhere to all the apostles after appearing to James.

Practically none of this is talked about in Acts or the canonical Gospel accounts of Jesus' appearances; or where they talk a little about it, the references fit only vaguely.

Now, there are plenty of ways to account for this in a historical harmonization. There are even ways to account for this (sort of) on theories of sceptical invention. There is no way to account for this on a theory of the tomb and post-tomb stories being legendary accretions of this material. If this isn't independent material by any scholarly standard, there can be no coherent idea of independent material.

Consequently, the tomb story, however it came to be there, wasn't a development of this material.

But Paul's statement does fit burial in a tomb well enough; the term {etaphê} (yep, the exact same word eventually used for Cajun etouffeé dishes, where rice is covered over with something) would normally, in this context, refer to burial in a tomb.

So why do some people refuse to treat it as referring to a tomb burial?

Last up: the best reason why someone could think the tomb had been invented (requires proportionate historical reality).


Jason Pratt said…
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those atheists had better stop saying Mark invented the tomb

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