A Curious Key to a Historical Jesus (Part 8 of 9)

New to the series? I recommend tracing back through previous entries to catch up. Part 7 is here.

Part 8: So Why a Theft?

On top of everything else so far, I can build some more inferences from the fact that the counter-Christian report (being addressed by the author of GosMatt in the Key) was "the •disciples• •stole• the body".

I will present the most remote and tenuous inference first.

If the disciples had to "steal" the body, then by implication the disciples had no legal right to its possession.

This (if I am not inferring too far) would be an indication that whoever did have the body, was not one of the people commonly recognized to be Jesus' disciples.

Yet neither (certainly) did any of the State Departments have total possession of the body.

Yet (again) whoever controlled the body was someone who had enough clout to keep one of the State Departments (namely the Sanhedrin, who set the guards over the body) from simply taking the body themselves and putting it totally under their control--the chief priests had to send guards somewhere instead.

This may also rule out Jesus' family, if we accept that they were no-better-than-effectively-middle-class carpenters.

And this leaves over an increasingly detailed (if very tenuous) 'fingerprint' for the characteristics of the person, or persons, who had nominal control over the body.

My next inference is a little less tenuous.

It begins with emphasizing that our Jews have been told, by those guards (either directly or more likely indirectly) that the disciples stole the body.

If we stay strictly within the Key, then I can see no clue for why the Sanhedrin thought the body should be guarded in the first place. The moment we step out of the Key, and check the prior Guard Adventure-A which narratively links with it, then of course we have an explanation provided by our writer: the Sanhedrin had decided that Jesus had predicted his resurrection, and they suspected the disciples might try to fake one.

(Note: this is an interesting narrative irony, since GosMatt and the other canonical writers are quite explicit in their insistence that the disciples were practically clueless concerning the meaning of what Jesus had been saying, despite Jesus having nearly hit them upside the head with it in an increasingly frequent and even exasperated manner. This doesn't necessarily acquit the disciples from charges of theft, though!--as I may discuss later...)

I am trying to stay within the Key as much as possible right now, so I won't use this as direct evidence for anything (yet). Instead, I will simply note that if the Sanhedrin had some reason for thinking the body might be tampered with (and they evidently did), by disciples (plural, more than one--and admittedly I can find no evidence in the Key that the chief priests thought this before the theft); then they would naturally have sent more than a measly two soldiers to guard the body. Not fifty or a hundred (the all-asleep explanation cannot be too absurd to accept later, when Jews in contact with GosMatt’s audience were using that explanation), but enough to feasibly repel a determined attempt to tamper with the body.

Yet although there would have to be an upper limit of some sort (for the sake of whatever plausibility the official story was eventually sanctioned with) the fact still remains that for every soldier more than two (say 3 to 10 as a reasonable range), the plausibility of the all-asleep scenario plummets exponentially.

This reduction of plausibility per extra men, might be true even if the guards were drugged: did they all drink from the same skin or skins? Were all the skins, 2 or 3 or 10 or however many, spiked? All the guards fell asleep, none died from overdose, none were burly enough to fight off the drug and stay awake to see something--without anyone afterward drawing the obvious conclusion of 'being drugged'?

On the other hand, the 'drugged' theory might go a long way toward explaining the angel-rolling-stone-away sequence, if a doped-out guard or two, still conscious but unable to do anything, thought he saw something of this sort and reported it later (to be picked up by our GosMatt writer). On the other hand again, unless one person showed up to roll away the stone by himself (very implausible), the story from that scenario would seem to require more 'angelic' activity at the tomb at that time than any of the canonicals relate. (And in fact GosMatt is the only canonical that mentions an angel in connection with the moving of the stone.)

Notably, a few (radically sceptical) scholars have suggested that the late Gospel of Peter contains in its Passion narrative a very early core that predates the canonical documents. This "Cross Gospel" does have the interesting advantage of looking a lot like a drug-induced hallucination of multiple people showing up to raid the tomb, moving the stone, and exiting with Jesus' ("resurrected"-but-needing-support?) body. (In fact, it looks a lot more like that than even GosMatt’s account of the discovery of the empty tomb and Guard Adventure-A!)

The 'drugged guard' theory is still worth considering later in more detail. For the moment, I will merely observe that if the "Cross Gospel" really is the earliest account of the 'resurrection' that we possess, then it becomes difficult to explain why whoever wrote GosMark (which is generally considered to be the first source of the other canonical accounts, on this sceptical theory) would include such an intensely minimalistic version of the same story.

(Note: this should not be confused with the suggestion that the late GosPete contains in its Passion narrative some particular details, not a core narrative, which have survived from a time before the composition of the received canonical Gospels.)

There is still one more highly important conclusion that can be legitimately drawn from the 'key of the Key', that I have not covered yet--a conclusion that excludes a whole branch of theories regarding the development of early 'Christian' groups.

The disciples, said the guards, stole the body. If they had seen this in any fashion, they would have said, "We saw the disciples stealing the body (but were unable to stop them for this-or-that-reason)." But they weren't saying this. They were saying they all fell asleep, and that this was when the disciples stole the body.

Obviously, if they had been asleep (or even just irresponsibly lazy), then they didn't see the disciples steal the body: their story implicitly but strongly requires this. I could go ahead and apply this against the 'drugged hallucination theory' (where someone could certainly have seen something extremely striking!), but I won't. I have something more important to consider first.

If they didn't see who stole the body, then how do they know the disciples were the ones who stole it?

More precisely, why were they saying that? Why not (for instance) say the family stole it? Or the Herodians?--there are traditions indicating Jesus wasn't very fond of the Herods, and so the political faction of the Herodians might want to trash his body rather than let it be buried with some dignity.

For that matter... why say stole at all?

This indicates that someone thought someone else somewhere was doing something in regard to that body, which was illegal and/or immoral. Rightfully, the body ought to have stayed where it was (wherever that was); or if it was taken, it should have been taken by someone who had the right to do so. The actual disappearance of the body was regarded instead as being ethically 'wrong'.

And the disciples (as a group, not even this or that particular one) are being blamed.

And they are being blamed very early. Even if the resulting thrust/counterthrust between GosMatt's writer and his Jewish opponents is taking place around 80 CE (or later?), the Christian-countering Jews are referencing an extremely early (even if not overly prevalent) tradition. That tradition is: the guards testified that the disciples stole the body.

GosMatt's writer, of course, provides his own explanation of how it got started so early. But this presupposes he agrees with the objective fact of the existence of such an early guard-testimony.

When two hostile opponents (who are not really all that divorced in time from the events in question--only 55 years at the extreme outside even by 80 or 85 CE) agree to agree on something like this, may we not reasonably conclude that we are looking at a confirmed historical certainty?

Very shortly after Jesus' death (within a couple of years at the outside), the guards who were posted by the Sanhedrin to watch over his body, were telling Jews that they had fallen asleep and that this was when the disciples stole the body.

Why were they saying that, this early?

There can be only one historically plausible answer, I think: the disciples themselves were making some kind of claim about that body, or could be expected to do so. Claims at least as threatening to the culture as the claims of GosMatt’s Christian audience to their local Jewish culture, which is why their Jewish neighbors were responding with this explanation from the testimony of the guards.

What were those claims, that early?--claims expected as early as the guard testimony itself (against which the testimony was aimed, perhaps pre-emptively)?

The Key itself gives no clue. But the moment we step outside the Key, and allow the remotest serious credence to the historical accuracy of anything testified by the canonical authors as having taken place during this very early, very narrow slice of time and space; then we know what the answer is.

The disciples (and not just one or two easily named individuals) were claiming to have seen the resurrected person of Jesus.

And they weren't only claiming this in private, for their own intellectual inquiry or mystical enlightenment.

They were claiming it publicly.

Publicly, and with certain implications about what the reappearance of that body meant.

Implications that impinged against the authorities in question.

That would readily explain why this official explanation, during at least some period of time (conjoined with GosMatt’s authorship) wasn't, "The disciples became crazed and thought they had seen the body."

This official explanation was: "The disciples of Jesus stole the body."

And this simply annihilates any proposition concerning how the early followers of Jesus didn't give a hoot about the body, and the resurrection was never even mentioned until 20 years later or so when the story had traveled up into the Greek quarter of the Empire where it got fused with Greco-Roman-Persian mystery cults. (Note: Fused by who? By the Jewish Pharisee named Saul of Tarsus of course; who then proceeded to warn his congregations not to get involved in pagan cults, and congratulated them for having gotten out of such things! But that's another discussion...)

The Key tells us otherwise. The opponents to the Christians, as echoed in the Key, tell us otherwise.

If the first disciples were simply enacting a radical social experiment with free meals and enlightening discourse (per John Dominic Crossan etc.), with no early claim about the relevance of a missing body; then guards would not have been going around claiming that the disciples •stole• the body.

Or, more likely, the early Christian community would have met such a claim, itself perhaps not immediately unreasonable, with the considerably more reasonable counterclaim: “We not only had nothing to do with it, we don't even care the body is gone!”

If we persist in imagining, despite zero historical evidence, that the early disciples accepted Jesus' death somewhat like the disciples of Socrates (well, bummer, he's dead, but hey he was a great teacher wasn't he, pass the casserole...); then we must face an unexplainable persistence in the survival of this 'official' counter-Christian explanation of the missing body.

Historically speaking, it is far more plausible to accept that the early disciples, making culture-threatening claims about that vanished body, are the proper cause for the testimony of the guards, and for the survival of that testimony.

And prevalently consistent data outside the Key, including in GosMatt, sure gives an idea of claims which would be exactly that culture-threatening:

Our God, the God, the OverGod worshiped by us Jews, sent the Anointed One we've all been praying for.

And our religious leaders betrayed the Anointed One to the heathens in order to murder him.

And he let them do it.

And then God brought him back, better than ever.

And this proves, despite dying a death cursed by God, that he was the Messiah after all.

Note: I am not saying that these cultural-threatening claims are positions I have just concluded we should historically accept from the analysis. I am not even saying that the historical existence of these particular claims (being made historically by the disciples) have been altogether argued for, by this analysis. All I am saying is that the evidence points to some kind of major culture-threatening claim being made by the disciples in regard to that missing body; and that the material elsewhere (outside our analysis scope at the moment) is pretty consistent about what those disciples were claiming.

Next up: tallying the results of the exercise.


Jason Pratt said…
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