Friday, 30 March 2018

On The Resurrection of Jesus

Written as a response to someone else's blog.

You ask, “What are the facts to consider in relation to the resurrection?” First you state as a fact that Jesus died on a cross and that the Romans were good at it. Indeed. But you do not go into Roman crucifixion practices or, more pertinently when it comes to your second point, “Jesus was buried in the tomb of Joseph of Arimathea,” their burial practices of those they had crucified. It was not normal Roman practice even to bury those they crucified. They hung on their crosses as a grisly warning of defying the Pax Romana. In this case we are told that there was a Jewish prohibition against such a thing which motivates Jesus being buried. Fair enough. But it was not normal Roman practice to go handing over the bodies of criminals who had been crucified to friends or family either. And why would it be? They could then claim they had risen from the dead! Enter Joseph of Arimathea, stage right, a person of some local standing who, it is suggested, might have been able to request the body. I wonder, let us imagine that the gospels don’t exist for a moment. Where in history is this Joseph of Arimathea now? Rather fortunate, isn’t it, that such a person, otherwise elsewhere entirely unattested in history, should fortuitously appear, and as a secret follower of Jesus to boot!? The proper doing of history might suggest that such a character was performing a necessary function in the story at this point. What function might this be? The one of facilitating a known tomb, of course, for it was normal Roman practice, if they buried their victims at all, to bury them in anonymous graves, graves with more than one body in them. These were unknown and unmarked graves, graves that even those doing the burying would quickly forget about. Fortunate, indeed, that Joseph the Otherwise Unknown should happen along to give Jesus a known burial spot. He needs one, of course, because Jesus cannot rise if no one knew where to look. This is why Joseph suddenly appears in Mark. The other three all copy his literary device. One witness, not four.
So there is one thesis you are ignoring in your third “fact” and I entirely understand why. This thesis is that NO ONE knew where the body of Jesus was put. This accords with what we know of Roman practices as opposed to believer’s stories. Indeed, if one were not a believer believing the believer’s stories what merely historical reasons would one have for believing them? Name them. Should not historical events have to pass merely historical tests? Your account here amounts to a decision to believe a harmonized version of events not even any one gospel writer supports by himself. Guards at the tomb, for example: only according to Matthew. You introduce Paul as a witness but he equates his vision on a journey with what you say are elsewhere physical appearances. This will not do. Jesus is meant to have taught his death and resurrection all along and yet it strikes the disciples as an event out of the blue. Is that credible? You mention the empty tomb yet… where is this tomb exactly? Strange the entirety of the Christian community seems to have forgotten so that today it is an utter mystery. And if Jesus really did leave an empty tomb then why have all the others aside from the Christians not believed? Such a DEMONSTRABLE event would seem irrefutable… but only if it demonstrably occurred. What ever did occur it seems it didn’t do so very demonstrably.
For your fourth fact you say “there was a long list of eyewitnesses”. But was there? There is a list of BELIEVERS. But so what? I would fully expect people who believe in something and that it has meaning to attest to it. Maurice Casey, a venerable New Testament scholar who taught for many years in my own home town with distinction and who was certainly not a Christian, also believed that the first Christians attested to it. However, he did so by calling upon visions and experiences of the dead as if they were still alive in his book, Jesus of Nazareth. And this would surely be enough. It was for Paul. Paul never claimed a bodily physical Jesus stood in front of him and this doesn’t downplay the authority of his testimony it seems. So what matters is not who says “I believe this happened” but if it can be demonstrated to have happened. And so Thomas was not wrong in John 20, he was actually right. Show me the body. Show me the tomb. These things are lacking and always have been. Perhaps that is why, through the cracks of the gospels, we see glimpses that even some of his followers of the time did not believe. John himself even writes of the Thomas incident “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe.” This is precisely the Christian position. Forget actual evidence, forget demonstration, just believe it and it will be true. Visions, as in the case of Paul, are certainly enough (lucky are those who received them – the first Christians!) and the gospels have woven fiction from religious experience which becomes (incompatible) historical narrative in the minds of subsequent believers as writing something down always does. But would an historical observer have seen these events unfold before them? Unlikely.
“So those are the historical facts, which are (NOT) well attested.” They are attested to only by a few believers and to the uninterested disbelief of the vast majority of the people there at the time. Should this not concern us? I understand where your blog is coming from but it is extremely inadequate in the face of the real facts and the questions they motivate. It is, once more, the victory of faith over the vicissitudes of history.

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