Monday, May 4, 2009

Creating Jesus 7: What about the empty tomb?

I hope that you noticed that I did not locate the empty tomb stories as an impulse for christology. Rather I view them as a reaction to christology already in the making.

Why? Because the narratives and the letters of Paul suggest that the visions of Jesus were not originally connected to the empty tomb stories. The claim to visions of Jesus were not the same as the claim to the empty tomb. The two are merged in the gospel narratives. You can see how the two claims are woven together nicely in the Lukan narrative where you have a Petrine vision of Jesus which is separate from the empty tomb narrative but edited onto the story about the empty tomb. You have the empty tomb story that has been further embellished with the vision-eucharist story of the two on the road to Emmaus; and you have the confession of the eleven in Jerusalem that Jesus had appeared to Simon, a vision that has nothing to do with the empty tomb at all. We also have Paul's report that Jesus first appeared to Peter (nicknamed "Rocky"), an appearance that has nothing to do with the empty tomb narrative.

So the empty tomb is a later story that developed in order to offer an explanation for a christology that was beginning to ferment in the earliest community after Jesus' death. When we examine how the tradition came into being, it looks to be that the original claim to a vision was Peter's. It may be that we also have an original claim to vision by Mary Magdalene as well, since John preserves an interesting line: "Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples, 'I have seen the Lord.'" This claim to vision has been attached to two empty tomb stories, one in which Mary finds the tomb empty, and the other in which Peter and the beloved disciple (=Lazarus), find the tomb empty. Paul doesn't appear to know the Magdalene claim, just as he does not know the empty tomb story (which isn't the same thing as resurrection from the dead, which I will address shortly).

What was Peter's vision, and Mary's vision? Peter's vision is never related to us in the narratives or Paul's letters. All we know is that the Lord "appeared" to Simon. The Johannine author transmits an elaborate story of Mary going to the tomb and seeing Jesus there in an unrecognizable form. She mistakes him for a gardener. Since the later empty tomb stories all have Mary at the tomb, and John ties her vision to this visit, I think that the Magdalene claim to vision (whatever the vision actually was) may have been a claim to have seen him when she visited his tomb. Like Peter, the claim itself was that Jesus "appeared" to her.

It is not easy to piece together what might have happened. All we have recorded is what they thought happened, or better, how they interpreted what was happening to them. I have blogged on the resurrection of Jesus before, so this is not new news to most of my readers. I maintain that Jesus' physical dead body was not raised. This is not what happened, although this is one of the interpretations of what happened that was put into place by some of the early followers. And at that it isn't even the earliest interpretation! The earliest interpretation appears in the Gospel of Luke, "they supposed that they saw a spirit" (Luke 24:37). Now the Lukan author is going to make an argument against this interpretation, but this argument is later than the original holdings of the disciples. It is a corrective to an earlier tradition that Peter and Mary had visions of Jesus as a spirit (or ghost?!) after his death.

We don't have to look hard to find all sorts of psychological, anthropological, and sociological studies to point out that the death of loved ones, especially traumatic deaths, frequently result in post-traumatic experiences including vivid dreams and sightings of the deceased. In fact, I can relate to this very well on a personal level. When my mother died unexpectedly ten years ago, I experienced very vivid dreams of her visiting me. In these dreams, it was as if she never died, she had only been hidden away by the doctors, who continued to work to heal her. Once cured, she would walk out of a door and embrace me. I would respond stupefied. Why would the doctors have told me she died, when she lived and they knew it? Always there was a sense of relief that she was really alive.

If I had lived in a society that understood dreams to be messages from God, visions to be interpreted, I might have understood my own dreams of my mother as a religious experience, rather than as one of the ways that my own psyche was trying to deal with and accept her death. Given what the gospel narratives tell us, the visions of Peter and Mary (and others?) were interpreted as religious experiences. The simple explanation that they saw Jesus' spirit appears to have not been enough of an explanation. It wasn't simply a ghost. They move to locate their visions of the deceased Jesus within their Jewish belief system, to align them with Judaism's teachings about what happens to a person after death. This is how and why the visions of Jesus' spirit begin to be perceived as visions of Jesus resurrected.

The resurrected body was understood to be a different thing by different Jews. There was no consensus teaching. There appears to have been a wide range of belief even among the first Christians, from the belief that your raising will be as a new spiritual body of glory like the angels (Paul) to the belief that your raising will be of your physical fleshly body from the grave, a body that still needed to eat (Luke). The empty tomb stories were created in order to correct the earlier tradition that Peter (and others?) had visions of Jesus as a spirit, and its original interpretation (which Paul knows and supports, and Luke alludes to), that Jesus' resurrection was a resurrection of Jesus as a spiritual body.

36 comments:

Scott Ferguson said...

If the empty tomb stories were an attempt by physical-resurrection-believing-Jews to refute earlier claims of spirit appearances, would these earlier have arisen in the areas influenced Greek dichotomous views of body and soul?

Sebastian Heath said...

I'm enjoying the series. A brief question: will you be addressing the Transfiguration and its role in Mark, Matthew and Luke? I would be interested to know what the current critical thinking is on that episode.

Frank McCoy said...

Certainly, people such as James the brother of Jesus and Cephas and Mary the Magdalene might have experienced what they took to be an appearance by the soul/spirit of Jesus.
So, in Resurrection Reconsidered Thomas and John in Controversy (p. 67), Gregory J. Riley states, “Each of the physical activities claimed for the post-Easter Jesus by the writers of the gospels were common religious inheritance for the postmortem soul. Any Semitic or Greco-Roman soul could appear to the living, still bearing the recognizable form of the body. Any soul could pass through closed doors, give preternatural advice, and vanish. Did Jesus appear to and instruct his disciples after his crucifixion? So Patrokos appeared to Achilles, Samuel to Saul, the elder Scipio to his grandson, as did numerous others to their survivors. Did the resurrected Jesus eat broiled fish, and a meal with his disciples? Any soul could, and often did, eat with friends and relatives in the repasts of the cult of the dead, a practice perhaps especially common among Christians. The post-Easter body of Jesus still displayed the imprints of the nails on his hands and feet, and the wound on his side. Yet such would have been the normal expectation for the dead: their souls would, like Hector, have borne their death wounds.” Later (p. 177), he adds this qualification, “Yet one aspect of the soul was relatively fixed in the ancient epic tradition: the post-mortem soul was impalpable, and it was so from the time of Homer through Virgil and the rise of Christianity. Herein lay the motivation in Luke for physical demonstration of the body of Jesus, and in John for the Thomas periscope, in their attempts to counter ideas of a non-physical post-Easter Jesus.”
I think that the empty tomb came into play later when some began to think that Jesus had been translated to heaven by God after God had resolved his body and spirit into pure spirit. The basis for this was the idea was that something similar had happened to Moses--see Moses II (288), where Philo states, "Afterwards the time came when he had to make his pilgrimage from earth to heaven, and leave this mortal life for immortality, summoned thither by the Father Who resolved his twofold nature of soul and body into a single unity, transforming his whole being into mind, pure as sunlight." The important difference: for Moses, the resolution into pure soul/spirit occurs before death, indeed averts it, while for Jesus it occurs after his death and burial.
In this case, the point of the empty tomb narrative in Mk 16:1-6 is that Jesus has been translated by God into heaven. Compare Mark Traditions in Conflict (p. 110), where Theodore J. Weeden, Jr. states, "Jesus is absent! He is absent not just from the grave. He has completely left the human scene and will not return until the Parousia! He has been translated (egerthe) to his Father. The he must await the time when the kingdom dawns in power (9:1) and he is re-united with his community (13:26-37)."
In this case, the transfiguration narrative in Mk is premised on the idea that not just Moses, but Jesus and Elijah as well, had been resolved from body and soul/spirit into pure soul/spirit as pure as sunlight and translated from earth to heaven by the Father--with the transfiguration, hence, being a vision of a future time when these three transformed and translated people will be conversing with each other in heaven.

Michael said...

Thank for you addressing this, April.

Question: Is it really that unlikely that Mark (if he is John Mark) knew Peter and got the empty tomb tradition from him?

Also, the fact that people frequently have dreams about loved ones who tragically die does not mean that the earliest followers of Jesus had such dreams. We don't know either way. In addition, if, for the sake of argument, they did have such dreams/visions, it would seem strange to me that these dreams/visions would be described using "resurrection" language. While there was a variety of conceptions of what a "resurrection body" entailed, they had terms for describing visions rather than physical encounters. However, the resurrection appearances are described as physical encounters. His body may have been presented as being different, but it was still corporeal in some since. At least that's where I think the evidence points.

Liam Madden said...

Dear April, I hope that you don't mind my asking--but since you don't believe that the physical body of Jesus was raised (an idea which though I was raised to believe differently, most of my readings of recent years are leading me to be open to), I can't help but wonder: what is your gut feeling about the Talpiot Tomb? My own reaction is that the particular collection of names is compelling once one has accepted the idea that the physical body of the Lord was not raised and therefore may/must have ended up buried (or re-buried) somewhere. The other extreme position, of course, is Crossan's who argues for an unrecovered body. Crossan argues that practically no crucified bodies were recovered by their loved ones, an embarassing fact for the followers of Christ; thus for Crossan, the empty tomb story a is cover for that embarassing fact. Which is closest to your assessment? Interment in a "family tomb" or the total loss of the body by burial in an unmarked grave (or as Crossan says, at the worst possible extreme--not buried at all/eaten by dogs?)

Scott Ferguson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Ferguson said...

Michael: If we are going to assume the the traditional position that the Gospel's were authored by eye witnesses then we would be having a very different discussion.

As to any "resurrection language" used to describe dream experiences, Dr McConick might be able to address such a phenomenon in the ancient world but I would point out that (avoiding the assumption above) the language used by Simon or James to describe their experiences is not necessarily that which has been handed down to us. We are likely stuck with works where the language has been "adjusted" to address alternative narratives that the author was seeking to refute.

Michael said...

Scott: Thanks for your response. I wasn't assuming that an eye witness wrote Mark. BTW - John Mark, IF he were the author, would not have been an eye witness. He would, however, have been the friend of an eye witness, viz., Peter.

As far as I know, it is quite well-accepted amongst scholars of all view points that some of the material in the Synoptics can be traced by to eye-witness account. Admittedly, the accounts may be smudged through the traditioning process, but I'm not aware of many who think that the gospel accounts are wholesale fiction, meaning they have no connection whatsoever to anything that happened in reality.

Back to Mark: If, as Adela Collins has argued, Mark is written by a close associate of Paul shortly after his death, then we would still lack warrant for ruling out the possibility that Mark had access to eye witness testimony because Paul knew several of them (including Peter). Of course, we don't know that the author had access to eye witness, but we don't know that he didn't either. In fact, I would argue that it's more likely that he did.

Now, does any of this have direct relevance on the empty tomb narrative? Maybe. We just don't have enough evidence, in my opinion, to say one way or another.

Michael F. Bird said...

April,
There's alot to chew on here. A few things come to mind:

(1) Mark 16.1-8 is, as Dale Allison points out, distinctly non-Markan in language, it seems palestinian and early based on the titles use of Jesus like "the Nazarene" and the women are doing law observant stuff even when the Marcan Jesus is pretty liberal with the law (or at least Pharisaic halakah on obeying the law).

(2) Paul doesn't mention the empty tomb in 1 Cor. 15.2-8, but neither does he mention Jerusalem or Pontius Pilate. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. If Paul simply said, Jesus died and rose then I think the point would stand, but the reference to burial surely implies an emtpy tomb.

(3) I also would contest whether the empty tomb was necessary to affirm the physical element against Peter's subjective visions and Paul's articulation of the Rez body as pneuma somatikos (in fact Paul's somatic understanding of the resurrection body is both opaque and disputed on several fronts). Afterall, in the Testament of Job you can have disppearing dead bodies (of Job's children beneath the rubble) but without resurrection.

That's enough from me!

Pastor Bob said...

One small but important question:

There seems to be some difference between the early verses in 1 Cor. 15 and later verses. What exactly was the problem in Corinth about resurrection? Was the problem related to earlier problems about the Greek view of separation of body and spirit as over against the Hebrew unitive view? If they thought that Jesus was a spirit why would there be a problem among Greeks? After all spirit was better than flesh, right?

And if that was not the issue what was Paul arguing against in the earlier verses?

Then, of course, the later verses in the chapter confuse the whole issue.

Another question: yes there seems to be a discontinuity between Paul who doesn't mention the empty tomb and the Gospels. But how do we account for the relatively short period of time between Paul's letters (around 50-55) and Mark (around 70?)

Just some thoughts.

Makarios said...

Paul doesn't mention the empty tomb? ". . . that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day and that He appeared to Peter . . ." So he was raised but was still in the tomb. He walked and talked and ate with and touched 500 people but was still in the tomb?

Pastor Bob said...

Makarios

To be explicit Paul does not refer to the empty tomb narratives that are in the Gospels.

I think the real question is: did Paul believe the word resurrection meant physical or not?

Scott Ferguson said...

Michael - if we are to accept Jesus as an historical person there would indeed have to be some kernel of eyewitness information. It becomes a debate of smudge vs smear.

To say that Paul "knew" the apostles is like saying that the Hatfields "knew" the McCoys. Paul is utterly dimissive of the Jerusalem gang. One is left wondering where his relationship with Peter ended up. I have not encountered the idea of the Pauline community as the source for Mark. Wouldn't that be an interesting wrinkle.

As you said, weren't we talking about an empty tomb ... :)

Scott Ferguson said...

Oops! Sorry Frank - no aspersions intended with that McCoy reference :)

Steven Carr said...

PASTOR BOB
If they thought that Jesus was a spirit why would there be a problem among Greeks?

CARR
There would be no problem.

Clearly the Christian converts did not believe that they themselves would become (in Paul's phrase, a life-giving spirit), or else Paul would have attacked that belief.

They believed Jesus was alive, or else Paul would have attacked their belief that their god was dead.

So their problem seems to be that they believed Jesus was still alive, because he was a god and so could live after death.

But they themselves only had a physical body and so could not survive death, as who had heard of a god raising corpses.


Paul, of course, never mentions an empty tomb, or Jerusalem , or Pilate, or one single eyewitness detail of what a resurrected body was like.

Even though his Lord and Saviour was alleged to have taught on the very subject of resurrection, neither Paul nor the Christian converts he was writing to seemed to want to drag Jesus in to their debate.

Now if Paul was me, he would have rubbed the Christian converts noses in stories of Jesus eating fish, having wounds, proving the resurrection in Matthew 22, being touched, and Jesus declaring that he had flesh and bone.

Then those Christian converts might have understood what a resurrected body was really like.

Instead Paul writes to them in 2
Corinthians 5 to say that the earthly body is destroyed.

I guess Paul is not as clever as me.

I could have worked up some of those Gospel stories into a really good argument about the nature of a resurrected body, which Paul was trying to teach on.

Paul had a lot to learn about how to use facts to bolster your arguments.

Steven Carr said...

MAKARIOS
He walked and talked and ate with and touched 500 people but was still in the tomb?


CARR
Who were these 500+ brethren who were gathered together?

That is a lot of people for a movement which was allegedly crushed by the death of their leader.

pascal said...

Michael

On the dreaming/vision point you raise, William Harris's 'Dreaming and Experience in Classical Antiquity' may be of interest once it's published...

Jerome said...

Very interesting blog series!

Regarding the 'resurrection' I would like to point out Gerd Luedemann's scholarly works on the subject. They include some of the points being made here.

Another point: what about the fact that Paul does not refer to a betrayal of Jesus by Judas but rather portrays it as God delivering Jesus to Death (in order to then destroy Death and Sin)? I guess this will be referred to in a later post in the series?

Have a nice day everOne and looking fwd to read more on these fascinating subjects!

Michael said...

Thanks for the book recommendation, Pascal. I'll check Harris out once it comes out.

Makarios said...

"Who were these 500+ brethren who were gathered together?"

So Paul is a liar who developed a theology of a resurrected body from an subjective experience, complete with comparison between earthly body and resurrected body?

I'm not willing to go there but you're welcome to it.

Jim Deardorff said...

Jerome,

To bolster your interesting point:

"what about the fact that Paul does not refer to a betrayal of Jesus by Judas but rather portrays it as God delivering Jesus to Death,"

there is also the fact that in 1 Cor 15:5, in speaking of appearances following the crucifixion, Paul speaks of "the twelve", not "the eleven."

So it seems that either (a) Paul did not know about Judas as betrayer (which seems improbable in view of Saul's interest in tracking down the disciples and persecuting them), or (b) he knew that Judas wasn't the culprit, that it had been someone else.

Sebastian Heath said...

To the extent that the comments are pursuing the relationship between Paul and the canonical gospels, readers might enjoy D. Sim's article in the current volume of the Journal for the Study of the New Testament:

Matthew and the Pauline Corpus: A Preliminary Intertextual Study
2009 31: pp. 401-422

Abstract:
This study investigates the possibility that the author of Matthew’s Gospel had access to the letters of Paul. Using the methods of intertextuality, it establishes criteria for determining whether this was indeed the case and concludes that it is more probable than not that the evangelist did know the Pauline epistles. An intertextual relationship between the Gospel and the Pauline corpus becomes clear once we understand that Matthew, as a Law-observant Christian Jew, was opposed to the more liberal theology of Paul. A single test case reveals that the evangelist was reacting to certain claims of the apostle expressed in his letters, and raises the prospect of further intertextual connections between these early Christian documents.

http://hdl.handle.net/10.1177/0142064X09104958

Sim puts a lot of weight on only a few examples but also includes useful summaries of recent scholarship.

Scott Ferguson said...

Jim:

I would add C) Paul was repeating a list of appearances that he had been taught and the number 11 had been changed during transmission because everyone knew that there were 12 disciples.

David said...

April,

Regarding your reference to Peter as "Rocky", I always thought that Petros was slang for "head of stone", that is, "blockhead". Can't remember where I heard that though.

N T Wrong said...

April - Thanks for pointing out the difference in attitude towards visions in the ancient world and in much of the modern Western world. If only more people would point this out! It's differences like this that so many of the more apologetic New Testament scholars have either overlooked or paid insufficient attention to.

Even in quite recent works we find New Testament scholars who wrongly state that it is 'obvious' that ancient peoples distinguished visions from waking life in the way that we do. But what is obvious is that these scholars have failed to sufficiently study the ancient context, or have been unduly dismissive of the very significant differences that exist between then and now.

As a random example, one New Testament scholar (now a bishop in the Church of England) makes the argument that the distinction between visions/dreams and ordinary waking life was 'obvious' or 'natural' to these ancient people! In The Resurrection of the Son of God, N. T. Wright makes the unreflective and uninformed assertion that people in the ancient world "knew the difference between visions and things that happen in the 'real' world" (p.690) - and he uses this unsupported and unsupportable assertion as a basis for dismissing the explanation of the resurrection appearances as originating in visions. Yet any study of the widespread presence of belief in the reality of visions in early Christianity and the wider ancient world demonstrates that such a statement is completely incorrect.

Liam Madden said...

(I'm reposting my question since it got passed over :)!
Dear April (and fellow bloggers), Since you don't believe that the physical body of Jesus was raised (an idea which though I was raised to believe differently, most of my readings of recent years are leading me to be open to), I can't help but wonder: what is your gut feeling about the Talpiot Tomb? My own reaction is that the particular collection of names is compelling once one has accepted the idea that the physical body of the Lord was not raised and therefore may/must have ended up buried (or re-buried) somewhere. The other extreme position, of course, is Crossan's who argues for an unrecovered body. Crossan argues that practically no crucified bodies were recovered by their loved ones, an embarassing fact for the followers of Christ; thus for Crossan, the empty tomb story a is cover for that embarassing fact. Which is closest to your assessment? Interment in a "family tomb" or the total loss of the body by burial in an unmarked grave (or as Crossan says, at the worst possible extreme--not buried at all/eaten by dogs?)

Scott Ferguson said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Scott Ferguson said...

people in the ancient world "knew the difference between visions and things that happen in the 'real' world"

I know people in the modern world who are casual concerningthe difference!

José Solano said...

First we must understand what the authors of the texts are actually saying and what they believe. Whether they are liars or confused is a totally different issue and you cannot simply rely on your limited experience and consciousness to make such a determination. But we can figure out what they are saying. In view of this Makarios makes the most rational statement when he says:

"Paul doesn't mention the empty tomb? '. . . that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day and that He appeared to Peter . . .' So he was raised but was still in the tomb. He walked and talked and ate with and touched 500 people but was still in the tomb?"

Now we can fabricate and make wild allegations about ancient people not knowing the difference between apparitions, dreams and living bodies walking about; we can make up our own contemporary christologies from a wide range of syncretistic assimilations, but we cannot deny what Paul believed and wrote. He thoroughly believed in the corporeal resurrection of Jesus and that the tomb was empty, because, as Makarios points out, you cannot be both raised and walking about while remaining in the tomb. Case closed.

As for Crossen's speculation about discarded and dog eaten crucified bodies, we must recall that they pleaded for the body from a governor reluctant to crucify Jesus, and he consented. We should really stick to the text when examining the text or we can go off on any number of wild and irresponsible imaginings for popular entertainment and book marketing.

Otis said...

Your comments about Jesus appear quite similar to the raw speculation of critics of ID. When all is sorted out, what we have is "might have, could have been," The only reliable record we have to pin our opinions/interpre- pretations on is the New Testament. Upward of a billion Christians believe it to be the word of God. You take liberties with Christianity.
Could you be as openly critical of Mohammed? Why not try it.
I've spent 50 years in the study of the Bible. Have you read Fox's Book of Martyrs? Of the Apostles, all but the Apostle John suffered a martyr's death. Your contribution to literature is not just another atheistic diatribe indirectly to Christians but motivation to kill us. Nero would be proud of you. Signed: opinsight@gmail.com

informadordeopiniao said...

I think that getting the story from I Corinthians 15, and had the opportunity to ask Paul "but the tomb was empty?", you get a response at least ironic, and probably harsh. Like to ask if someone today said that taking a bus and attended a concert in the park, and asked: "you get off the bus"?

Rodrigo said...

A more complete and undisputed evidence that the former had the clear difference between ghostly apparitions and physical contact is evident to anyone of good will, to compare the speculations about the "angel" from appearing in Acts when Peter thought he had died and described how the contact with Jesus after the resurrection. Even the Gospel of John, that would be what color would the post-resurrection encounters with Jesus given its characteristics, in contrast, is what gives a more vivid appearance and concrete material (although in his spiritual perspective, to see "Reality of Heaven" and "earthly reality" overlap). you, and anyway, congratulations for the effort and for us with great information.

Rodrigo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rodrigo said...

Something that felt more important to correct, that when Lucas talks to "find that they have seen a ghost," has absolutely nothing whatsoever to indicate that this was a tradition (here the desire to infer that, will override reason) but an impression. He isse that was a first impression, scared, as not expecting the resurrection. This indicates that the contact was yes, and they get taken to assess what was happening, be intellectually and not a hysterical outbreak. Hence, to say that this was a tradition, is an intellectual contortionist, with all due respect. Just finished up to confess that they knew, and well, distinguish one thing from another, rsrsrs.

informadordeopiniao said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
informadordeopiniao said...

Finally, the teacher used an April arbitrary intellectual device of all: searched against the "spiritual body" or "glorified body" of Paul, before the doctrine of the resurrection body, it is notable that when Paul spoke of the eschatological resurrection, the nature and condition of the body after the final resurrection, which for him, as Pharisee, body and would be happening to everyone.
In any way would be similar to a "body spectrum, opposed the resurrection body. So he said that "we would be transformed," which does not apply the concept of immortality of the soul, or spectrum, and reached some speculate that the experience without going for the death. He was speaking of the same kind of resurrection body like Lucas and recorded.

The teacher April is cultured, do not need these appeals with sloppy logic.