Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Casey on Jesus (2) – The Empty Tomb is not Historical

Casey - Jesus of NazarethReview of “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” in Maurice Casey, Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching. London and New York: T&T Clark (Continuum), 2010.

Part 2: The Empty Tomb is not Historical

The four Gospels each include a story about the burial of Jesus in a rich man’s tomb, belonging to Joseph of Arimathea, and the astonishing discovery a day and a half later, by a woman or group of women, that the tomb was empty. Casey concludes that neither the burial in a rich man’s tomb nor the story of an empty tomb are historically true. The familiar Easter Sunday image of Jesus coming out of a tomb, with its stone rolled away, is a late fiction.

Against Dominic Crossan, Casey maintains the dead body of Jesus may have been buried in a common tomb rather than becoming dog-food

Casey begins his discussion with the story of Jesus’ burial, before discussing the story of the discovery of the “empty tomb”. He does not go so far as to accept the widely cited proposal by Dominic Crossan in which the latter argues that Joseph of Arimathea was “a total Markan creation”. Crossan has argued that, consistent with the majority of cases involving the crucifixion of a criminal, Jesus was in fact more likely to have been buried in a common grave, where his remains may even have been eaten by dogs (Who Killed Jesus?, 1995: 172). While Casey acknowledges that this was indeed the regular fate of crucified criminals, he notes evidence that Romans sometimes granted bodies of dead crucified criminals for burial. Further, as Casey argues, a man like Joseph (if he existed) would have motivation not to leave a dead body hanging overnight due to the relevant purification laws on the matter (Deut. 21.22-23), and other aspects of the story are not consistent with the story’s wholesale invention. Casey makes out a feasible case for the essential historicity of Joseph of Arimathea, and his arrangement for the burial of Jesus’ body in a common tomb (cf. m. Sanh. VI, 11). However, for Casey, the details about Jesus being buried in Joseph’s own very expensive and lavish tomb should be understood as Mark’s exaggeration of the tradition.

However, it should also be pointed out that the narrator had a strong motivation to present his hero Jesus as receiving a noble rather than a shameful burial, consistent with tendencies in ancient biography. Moreover, the tradition looks as though it has been invented by a literalistic interpretation of Isaiah 53.9a (“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death”). Other literalistic interpretations of Hebrew parallelism as though they were twofold prophecies of Jesus are evident in Matthew 21.5 (cf. Zechariah 9: two donkeys!); John 19.23-24 (cf. Psalm 22.18: two different treatments of clothing versus garments!); and Acts 4.25-27 (cf. Psalm 1: two different rulers!). The evidence which Casey presents is not conclusive, and does not seem any more likely than the hypothesis that the tradition of burial in a rich man’s tomb is simply invented “wholesale” by Mark or his sources. Furthermore, Mark may have wished to include such a spurious tradition in order to create a narrative connection to the more important empty tomb story. The tradition concerning Joseph of Arimathea is reminiscent of other Christian traditions which invent secret sympathisers among the Jerusalem elite, who, it is claimed, disagreed with the decision to crucify Jesus (cf. Acts 13.28-29). As Casey points out, Mark presents Joseph of Arimathea as “a distinguished councillor”, not a disciple of Jesus, not somebody who the women thought they could approach but could only watch from afar, somebody who was able to deal with Pilate while Jesus’ own disciples had fled – yet, as conveyed by his description as someone who was “expecting the kingdom of God” (Mark 15.43), somebody broadly sympathetic with Jesus’ message. This very convenient tradition of the secret elite Jewish disciples of Jesus culminates in John’s Gospel, where Nicodemus, who John purports to be a Jewish leader who secretly sought Jesus’ teachings by night, even makes an appearance alongside Joseph of Arimathea at Jesus’ burial. In John, the dead body of Jesus is apparently tended to by such a cabal of Jewish leaders who were secret Jesus-movement sympathisers, that it is remarkable that there were any leaders around who wanted to crucify Jesus in the first place! Therefore, it seems that the historicity of Joseph of Arimathea is far from secure, and, as Crossan concludes, seems more likely to be a wholesale invention by Mark or the sources he adopted.

What is more certain about these traditions is that, as Casey notes, the later rewritings of the Joseph of Arimathea story by Matthew and John were made in order to deliberately alter the story and also to redefine Joseph’s identity. Matthew changes Joseph into a “disciple” of Jesus (27.57). John makes him into “a disciple of Jesus, but secretly, because of fear of the Jews” (19.38). If Joseph of Arimathea had any historical involvement with removing Jesus and burying him in a tomb, it seems that the traditions about him lacked any solid details. As a result, Joseph of Arimathea’s identity could float between that of a Jewish leader but not a disciple (Mark), a disciple of Jesus (Matthew), and – in a mixture of the two – a secret disciple of Jesus (John). While Casey makes a case for some kernel of historicity here, I am more suspicious that the whole story is a creative attempt to extol the innocence of Jesus by inventing a pro-Jesus faction among those who had condemned him.

Moving to the story of the discovery of the empty tomb on the morning of Easter Sunday, Casey, as with many before him, considers a significant factor against its historicity to be the fact that Paul makes no mention of it. This is the case, significantly, even where, as in 1 Corinthians 15.4, he would have been expected to mention such a central feature of the resurrection if it were indeed a part of early Christian tradition. In this, Casey opposes a host of recent conservative apologetic scholars who are keen to read an empty tomb into Paul’s account, in particular because Paul’s account is very early (ca. AD 54) and is itself derived from earlier tradition. Paul recounts the ascension of Jesus in this way:

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. (1 Corinthians 15.3-5).

If we follow the logic of Paul’s line of thought, corroborated by what Paul says elsewhere and even in the summaries of Paul’s preaching in Acts – but without prematurely reading into his words the Gospel accounts of the empty tomb – Paul’s understanding never includes the Gospel progression in which Jesus was first raised to the Earth, but only later raised all the way to Heaven. The conception in Paul that Jesus was “raised” envisages nothing more than a simple one-step process, from Jesus’ death to his glorified post-mortem existence. As Paul explains elsewhere, Jesus died, then was raised to be at the right hand of God in Heaven, where he will act as a divine intermediary at the final judgment (e.g. Rom. 8.34; Eph. 1.19-23; 2.6-7; Col. 3.1-4; Phil. 2.8-9). This conception – that Jesus ascended directly from death to Heaven – has often been termed “exaltation Christology”, the belief that Jesus went straight “from grave to glory”. As A.W. Zwiep summarises the belief (in Ascension of the Messiah, 1997: 130):

the general conviction in the earliest Christian preaching is that, as of the day of his resurrection, Jesus was in heaven, seated at the right hand of God. Resurrection and exaltation were regarded as two sides of one coin…

Without knowledge of the two-stage Gospel accounts in Matthew, Luke and John, we would have no reason to interpret “raised” otherwise. One of Casey’s observations in respect of 1 Corinthians 15.3-8, and one made in some detail by Gerd Lüdemann (Resurrection of Jesus, 1995), is that Paul does not distinguish, and in fact equates, his much later and personal vision of Jesus on the Damascus Road with each of the other resurrection appearances. That is, Paul does not indicate any difference in quality between the post-resurrection appearances to the twelve disciples and to him some years later. Yet, from Acts 9.3-8; 22.6-11; 26.12-18 we know that Paul’s Damascus Road experience was something “which other people present at the time did not see or hear properly” (p. 457). The startling conclusion is that Paul does not distinguish a resurrection “appearance” to Cephas/Peter and the other disciples from a personal vision that only Paul himself claims to have had access to. For Paul, a resurrection experience can be entirely subjective, without any shared, objective, public basis; Paul’s understanding of the post-resurrection “appearances” of Jesus to his disciples only requires their visionary experience of subjectively “seeing” Jesus. In Paul’s understanding of these post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, it does not matter if he “appears” to somebody immediately, or many years afterward; if Paul knows of a tradition of a vision of Jesus, no matter how subjective or late, he simply records it as a fact.

This, incidentally, explains some unusual aspects of the other “visions” of Jesus: how the two men walking on the Emmaeus Road did not recognise their vision of Jesus (Matt. 24.15-16); how some of the disciples to whom Jesus “appeared” in Galilee still doubted that their vision was really of him (Matt. 28.16-17). This failure to distinguish visions from real life also occurs in the descriptions of Peter’s experience of visions, which are recorded in the Acts of the Apostles. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul names Cephas (Peter) as the first recipient of a “vision” of the post-resurrection Jesus. In doing so it is significant that Paul omits any mention of the women, even though they were the first to see Jesus in Matthew, Luke, and John. But this omission is quite consistent with Paul’s failure to mention Mark’s story about Jesus’ empty tomb - due to the fact that the story of the women and the story of the empty tomb are intimately connected only in Mark’s later Gospel. In Acts 10.10-17; 11.5-10, Peter is recorded as experiencing visions, understanding his subjective experience as a real message from God. Conversely, in Acts 12.9, the reverse occurs: when Peter receives what Acts claims is “real” assistance from an angel, he misunderstands the “real” help as a vision! Clearly Jesus’ earliest disciples, such as Peter who experienced a post-resurrection vision of Jesus, did not share our modern, rigid distinction between objective reality and subjective vision. The sighting of Jesus in a vision was just as “true” for Peter and Paul as the sighting of Jesus in ordinary, waking life.

William Lane Craig

William Lane Craigs arguments for reading entombment into 1 Cor. 15 are "extraordinarily weak" and require "ludicrously over-literalistic" interpretations

Therefore, Paul understood the post-resurrection appearances as visionary appearances  of a Jesus already glorified in Heaven. This is not only different from that of the later Gospels – where Jesus is seen on Earth before his final ascent into Heaven – but it demonstrates that the tradition of earthly post-resurrection appearances is a secondary development. For the earliest Christian belief in Jesus’ ascension involved God resurrecting Jesus directly to Heaven, and this conception is mutually exclusive of the Gospel tradition that Jesus was first resurrected to Earth (where he appeared to his followers) and only later was he resurrected to Heaven. Casey justly concludes that the better historical conclusion must be:

Jesus did not rise bodily from the dead, leaving an empty tomb behind. (p. 497)

This distinction between Paul and the Gospels has not dissuaded the more apologetic biblical commentators from arguing that, despite any mention of an “empty tomb” in Paul’s writings, the story of the empty tomb is somehow “implied” here in Paul’s words! At this point, Casey marshals a number of arguments against such a harmonizing interpretation (pp. 457-461). Casey rightly dismisses William Lane Craig’s arguments to this effect (in Resurrection of Jesus, 1989: 88) as “extraordinarily weak”. In that work, Craig attempts to argue that the resurrection must have been a bodily resurrection, and by implication, must have involved the bodily resurrection from the empty tomb – just as it is narrated in the Gospels. Craig’s specious method is to maintain that the meaning of the Greek word for “raised” (egēgertai) must mean “to raise upright”, that is “to erect”, and therefore can only apply “to the body in the grave”! Casey points out that such a distinction is impossible given the probable Aramaic Vorlage of egēgertai: qum, which simply cannot be given such an exclusive meaning. As Casey summarises, Craig’s argument is a “ludicrously over-literal” intepretation of egēgertai:

Craig’s arguments illustrate the extent to which he thinks logically only within his ideological convictions, and their function is to remove one of the most important pieces of evidence in the primary sources: neither the earliest kerygmatic formulation, nor Paul himself, mentions the empty tomb. (p. 459)

Moreover, the earliest Christian belief in the afterlife did not require the physical, buried body of Jesus to disappear from his grave, in order that Christians might believe in the resurrection. In 1 Corinthians 15, Paul distinguishes the spiritual body which is raised to the afterlife from the natural body which decays in the ground. For Paul, while the righteous lived in “bodies” of some sort, they were of a quite different nature to their earthly bodies. As Jesus is Paul’s exemplar for every person’s resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15, we can conclude that Paul’s distinction between the decaying earthly body and new spiritual body would apply to Jesus too. Therefore, in Paul’s conception of resurrection, Jesus’ physical body would have rotted in his grave; Jesus was resurrected in a new, spiritual body. 

Reviewing the variety of Jewish beliefs about life after death, the only thing that is clear is that there was not great consensus on the matter. For example, resurrection was sometimes believed to involve bodies after a final judgment (2 Bar. 50-51.3), but sometimes believed to involve souls passing on immediately after death and before any final judgment (Pharisees, in Jos, Ant. 18.14). Casey discusses further examples which make it clear that it is unwise to demand early Christian belief in the resurrection of an earthly body, and the example of 1 Corinthians 15 suggests that the conception underlying the “empty tomb” stories was a later development. Therefore, Casey concludes:

The process of going to heaven after death has no necessary connection with a person’s tomb being empty. (p. 469)

Conservative Christian apologists such as James Dunn attempt "to circumvent" the clear inference to be taken from the fact that no tomb of Jesus was venerated by early Christians

James Dunn follows the tactic of conservative Christian apologists in his attempt "to circumvent" the clear inference to be taken from the fact that no tomb of Jesus was venerated by early Christians

As a further argument against the historicity of any empty tomb, Casey also observes that the site of Jesus’ alleged tomb is not known in Acts – nor in any other early source. The problem with this fact for those who would hold the empty tomb as an historical fact is that typical Jewish and Christian practice was to venerate the tombs of the dead. Therefore, the lack of evidence for the veneration of Jesus’ tomb is good evidence that there was no such tomb. Again, in making this clear argument, Casey is forced to counter “[t]he attempts of conservative Christian apologists to circumvent this aspect of the primary sources”. Casey cites James Dunn, who admits the lack of evidence for the veneration of Jesus’ tomb, and who acknowledges that it is “striking”, but attempts to explain the discrepancy by appeal to the Christian belief that there would be no remains of Jesus left to venerate. However, as Casey points out, Dunn’s explanation just side-steps the issue with the red herring of Jesus’ “remains”. For the issue of veneration does not even concern “remains”, but of honouring the site of Jesus’ burial. Casey concludes:

We should again infer that Jesus was probably buried in a common tomb for criminals. The earliest form of belief in his Resurrection was that God had vindicated him by taking him up to heaven, where he sat at God’s right hand. (p. 461)

In summary, Casey provides very persuasive evidence that the tradition found in Mark 16.1-8, with its account of women finding Jesus’ tomb empty, was a secondary development from the earliest Christian belief that Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances were visionary appearances from Heaven which occurred after his ascension.

Next part: (3) The Gospel of Mark’s Missing Ending
Previous part: (1) Countering the dominance of conservative apologetic works in New Testament studies

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50 responses to “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Casey on Jesus (2) – The Empty Tomb is not Historical

  1. Crossan’s hair matches his shirt… Craig’s tie matches Genesis and Dunn is preaching a sermon. Nice pictures Deane. Very good, accurate and thorough review.

    • Vm

      I’m still not entirely convinced Crossan doesn’t have a combover. I think the photo Deane posted is sufficient evidence to re-open in inquiry.

      • Na – I’ve suspected for a while it’s a toupee. I was very tempted to give it a tug once. I’m kicking myself I didn’t. I blinking well should have, then the case would be solved!

  2. Jeremy Wales

    Did Casey really say as you summarised that “from Acts 9.3-8; 22.6-11; 26.12-18 we know that Paul’s Damascus Road experience was something ‘which other people present at the time did not see or hear properly (p. 457)”?
    If Casey was being consistently “critical” why wouldn’t he examine the possibility that this description in Acts is a purely Lukan invention, as he apparently assumes of Luke’s resurrection account? Is it the case that Casey is “critical” whenever the traditions don’t support his case but whenever they do he accepts them unquestioningly like a fundamentalist?
    Either way it does not seem at all like good, critical scholarship to read in what “we know” from Acts into Paul. When we look at what Paul himself says here, the risen Jesus “appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time” (1Cor 15:6). I’m curious as to what Casey does with that. It seems undeniable that in 1Cor 15 Paul thinks every wing of the church agrees on a risen Jesus objectively visible to multiple people simultaneously. Paul himself gives absolutely no hint of the purely subjective visions which, if I have understood him correctly, Casey reads in to Paul’s text from outside.

    Are these fair points? Or have I misunderstood Casey’s approach?

    • Deane Galbraith

      Yes, that is what Casey says. Yet I detect another “tu quoque” accusation – as though finding a rather technical fault somehow brings Casey’s argument down to the blatantly uncritical level of some of his opponents. This is far from the truth. Casey accepts the basic historicity of many of the events narrated in Luke. He does so consistently here. It is reasonable and critical to assume that the tradition of Paul’s subjective experience of a vision of Jesus has some connection with the person who first delivered his vision report of the subjective experience (Paul). It is, alternatively, as you point out, possible that the aspect of subjectivity was invented only in subsequent transmission. But Casey’s judgment that this is in fact Paul’s own understanding is not inconsistent with, for example, his judgment that the post-resurrection appearances reported in the Gospels were based on “genuine” visionary experiences of Jesus’ followers. It is also a reasonable conclusion, given that accounts of visions tend to go back to an originary vision report.

      Contrary to your conclusion, there is no basis to conclude an objective vision of Jesus in 1 Cor 15. To the contrary, the plain conception of “raised” in v. 4 is “raised to Heaven”, so that the subsequent appearances are from Heaven – and probably therefore subjective vision experiences. In Part 7 I discuss Casey’s work on visionary experiences in more detail, and the appearance to the 500. But I note that such group experiences are not unusual – and while they might be considered “objective” by participants, are purely subjective experiences.

      • Jeremy Wales

        Thank you for your reply. You are right to detect something like a “tu quoque” accusation, but not exactly. I am indeed suggesting that Casey’s methodological accusation against conservatives regarding the “empty tomb” in 1Cor 15 is one of which he himself is guilty, but not that it therefore follows that this particular conservative argument stands. Indeed, I agree with Casey as you’ve summarised him this particular conservative argument is terrible, but that does not mean that Casey’s arguments therefore stand. In fact, my point is that where he makes the same mistake as they do he deserves as much criticism as they. This constitutes far more than “a rather technical fault”.
        As I understand your summary of Casey, the very accusation he makes against many conservatives regarding 1Cor 15 is precisely that they read into it from a other accounts the idea of an empty tomb. I agree with him: no one could read 1Cor 15 and deduce from it alone an empty tomb unless they read the idea in from another account such as Mark 16, Matthew 28, Luke 24 or John 20.
        However, I cannot see how he does not commit exactly the same gross methodological error. Just as the conservatives he accuses cannot find the idea of an empty tomb in 1Cor 15 unless they read it in from other accounts, I contend that he cannot find the idea of purely subjective visions in 1Cor 15 unless he too reads it in from other accounts, namely Acts 9 & 22.
        Sure, once you have read that idea into the text, even though the idea is not at all clearly implied by the text itself, then you can try to find a way in which the same “purely subjective vision” might be said to have been seen by 500 people at once. However, you would of course only attempt the latter explanation if you had already committed the former methodological error.
        If instead we ask what does 1Cor 15 itself suggest as to the nature of the sightings, by far the strongest clue we get is that the same sighting was made by multiple people when co-located. This description, taken alone and without any other accounts being read in, would of course suggest sightings which are objective rather than purely subjective.

      • Deane Galbraith

        I think there is a major difference in that Casey is not using the evidence to claim that 1 Cor 15 itself says that visions are subjective or objective. Whereas some of the conservative interpreters read things into the text so as to deny its particular meaning, for harmonistic purposes, etc, Casey is by contrast not denying the particular meaning of 1 Cor 15. Instead, he is making a point about the historical facts behind the claims to see a resurrected Jesus. There is a gap between historical fact and textual claim for Casey, which there is not in the case of the purely hermeneutical exercise of his conservative opponents. This is quite different, and a proper way of reaching historical conclusions. (But I don’t want to second guess Casey, here, given his mention of the accounts of Paul’s Damascus road experience is so brief, in a book on the historical Jesus, after all.)

        As for the 500, I don’t doubt that Paul is recollecting a group of people who believed they collectively saw the risen Jesus. They thought what they was seeing had an objective basis in reality, and this would be the case whether it was understood by them as a vision or a waking life experience. History records many mass visions. Are they in fact objective or subjective? I’ll take up the question in part 7 of the review.

  3. Chris W

    Thanks for this series, Deane, I’m glad I stumbled upon it. One question: does Casey explore why the disciples used the term ‘resurrection’ in describing Jesus’s exaltation rather than saying his spirit was taken up to heaven?

    • Deane Galbraith

      Off the top of my head, I don’t think he weighs these two particular options, yet “rise” can certainly apply to spirits, too. As he points out, “rise” (from Aramaic qum) has the widest possible meaning, certainly extending to a spiritual, non-bodily resurrection, and he discusses the many different conceptions of life after death in Judaism of this period and the impossibility of restricting “rise” to bodily resurrection.

    • TruthOverfaith

      By using the word “disciples” you must be referring to the gospel stories where a bodily resurrection is intended.

      And even for Paul, it would seem that Jesus ascended to heaven in a new “spiritual” body, not just in spirit.

  4. Isaiah 53.9a (“He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death”)

    My money says: If the Gospel writers said that Jesus had a lowly grave with the outcasts, they were exaggerating and drawing on an over literal reading of Isaiah. On the other hand, if Jesus was buried in a nice tomb… rinse and repeat.

    • Deane Galbraith

      My money says that if you’ve got a pattern of crime, you’ve got a case for a repeat offender. Matthew reads synthetic parallelism in Zephaniah and has Jesus riding on two donkeys. Luke reads synthetic parallelism in Psalm 1, and throws in an extra ruler and appearance before Herod into the trial scene. John reads synthetic parallelism in Psalm 22, and creates two different scenarios for two sets of Jesus’ clothes. What’s the bet that Mark creates two wicked rebels in his crucifixion scene, and a rich benefactor in his burial? Hot damn – and he did just that!! Those followers of Jesus had some wacky hermeneutic going on when they scanned the Old Testament for Jesus-prophecies, didn’t they? Must be an apocalyptic thing – do you remember seeing this at Qumran, too?

      • Yeah but Deane, the thing is, the result now is that whichever way the writers went with the tomb, people could reach for the accusation. A rich tomb confirms the suspicion, as does a poor tomb! The only way the authors can escape is to have Jesus buried in a middle of the road tomb.

      • Deane Galbraith

        What you are claiming is obviously right, and misses the basis for the argument. This is why I gave you one set of evidence that gives this conclusion probative force: Mark does what Matthew, Luke, and John all do: interpret parallelism in a literalistic and yet creative fashion as a prophecy of Jesus. Now, you might dispute this evidence, but it provides good evidence which rebuts the accusation of adhocness you make.

  5. Jeremy Wales

    Thanks, that’s helped me to better understand what Casey is arguing. He’s not denying that the very early 1Cor 15 reports multiple objective sightings. He just prefers the later accounts of a more subjective vision (Acts 9, 22) as a description of what he thinks actually happened.
    I’m still not sure how he could defend that preference from a purely historical perspective but from here I should probably read the book myself. Before that though I look forward to the rest of your series :-)

    • Good idea – read the book yourself. Deane’s reviews are looking very thorough and honest which is more than you can say for reviews generally, but ultimately the aim is for reviewers of these reviews, to read the book…. :) Passing judgement on a book on the basis of a review is [************] Basically Casey is a critical scholar, neither a Christian apologist, nor a blinking myther.

    • Ed Babinski

      Hi Jeremy, The blog ate my first post, perhaps because it contained too many links. But I was responding to your question about the “appearance to over 500.” To repeat what I wrote about it before the blog so rudely erased my ruminations. . .

      The idea of a mass vision is not necessary. We do not know if the “over 500 brethren” knew what Jesus looked like, so we don’t know if they would have recognized it was Jesus, or taken the word of some other member of the crowd. This was a crowd of “brethren,” who already may have heard some stories about Jesus “appearing” to a few people. Who or what they saw is thus the question. Did one of them point over in one direction and another one followed the finger and thought to himself, “hey isn’t that Jesus!” even if the first person doing the pointing was not doing so in order to point out Jesus? Signals got confused perhaps? Like in the game “telephone,” but with a crowd, and soon everyone thought they were seeing Jesus in one or other part of the crowd or over to one side or another? Or some Christian with a white robe drapped over his head repeated some words of Jesus with some authority to his fellow brethren, and many of them imagined that Jesus had just appeared and spoken to them? In other words we don’t know what they saw or thought they saw.

      A few 20th century cases come to mind. One is of a DVD I saw advertised in The Fortean Times that mentioned an interview with someone who was at a crowded Muslim pilgrimage site and who says he saw Mohammed not far away. He was surrounded by people and saw Mohammed. I don’t know how many other people he was able to convince that he saw Mohammed. But in the case of early Jesus sightings by apocalyptic minded followers, you can imagine how just one sighting by one person could have blossomed into expectations by others all starting to keep an eye out, and then more. Perhaps Peter did claim for whatever reason that Jesus “appeared” to him, and soon the other apostles convinced themselves of the same thing. And at least one crowd also convinced itself Jesus appeared to it. But after a while the sightings died down. This was a blossoming special moment of high distress and also high expectation in the history of Christianity. But the moment came and went and expectations of seeing Jesus diminished. (Paul’s vision may have come at the tail end of that bursting bubble, having heard some stories about such appearances, but he was not expecting to see Jesus as in those cases, but experienced something one might nickname “snapping” that sometimes happens to people who are against something so much that they snap the other way after some physical and/or mental trauma. There’s also a book in the U.S. called Snapping that discusses Paul’s conversion story.) Luke-Acts may have been composed to explain the bursting of that initial psychological bubble among the brethren, since it portrays Jesus as finally taking off from earth, exiting and being seen a final time only by the apostles, and not to be seen like that again till he returns to earth from heaven. No crowd of over 500 brethren saw Jesus ascend at the time, since Acts limits it to the twelve. And so after making the raised Jesus wholly corporeal and “not a spirit” in Luke, the book of Acts gets rid of that fish-eating body of the raised Jesus. Gets rid of it till judgment day in fact.

      Speaking of how crowds can get wound up, you can read online about how 6,000 worshippers at Muslim Village, Kawangware, Nairobi, believe they saw Jesus Christ/Maitreya, in broad daylight. There are also photos, and the sighting was recorded in the news. I included links but will not do so now since last time this blog ate my post, probably because of all the links.

      Lastly, I should add that the Mormons have signed papers from people who swear they saw the golden tablets that Joseph Smith translated and which an angel took up to heaven, never to be seen again. First century apocalyptic followers of a charismatic preacher/prophet like Jesus must have had even greater expectations than Smith’s friends had of him.

      I believe there’s also cases of whole crowds of expectant people at Pentecostal rallies or faith healing services who believe that Jesus is among them. They all claim to see miracles such as demons being cast out, people’s legs growing an inch, people getting up from wheelchairs, blind seeing, deaf hearing. Sometimes they all claim they see angels. Same with some Catholic pilgrimage sites. They claims they see angels, or Jesus, or Mary, or the sun coming down out of the sky and dancing. An article after the invasion of Iraq says that Muslims claimed the were seeing angels and that the bodies of dead martyred Muslims were glowing with a holy light. There’s also New Age visions, Hindu and Buddhist visions. Stories of Buddhists who die and become flowers or light or rainbows. Native American vision quests. Visions people have of loved ones that have passed away (I saw he or she as plainly as I’m seeing you, they were standing on the side of the bed, sitting on the bed, in a chair, etc.)

      I might also mention one more thing. While Paul states that Jesus “appeared” to “over 500 brethren at once” (1 Cor. 15:6), Acts 1:9,14-15,22 later stated that “120 brethren” were meeting together in Jerusalem at the time near Jesus’ alleged bodily ascension into heaven. So when did the appearance to “over 500 brethen” take place, and where?

      • Jeremy Wales

        Thank you Ed for your response to my comment, even persevering through the blog eating up the first try! That must have been frustrating.

        However, I’m not sure you’ve quite understood what I was getting at, though I must admit that’s usually because I haven’t made myself clear :-) My argument here was not that because 1Cor 15:6 says 500 people saw Jesus resurrected therefore Jesus must actually have been resurrected. That might be an argument for another time :-) Here my argument was only this: that 1Cor 15 when read by itself cannot be read as intending to report purely subjective visions, because it reports the sightings as made by multiple people (12 and 500 to be precise) when co-located, as if seeing something objective. You might give reasons to disbelieve the report of 1Cor 15, but I feel we should at least be able to agree on what it intends to report.

        Though I didn’t raise it earlier, this understanding is confirmed by Paul’s later explication of the resurrection body in 1Cor 15:35-55. It is clear that Paul does not envision a material body abandoned in favour of immaterial exaltation, as I understood Deane to be claiming following Casey (though as I recall perhaps I misunderstood?). Rather the same body which is sown perishable is raised imperishable (15:42-43) and “this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality” (15:53). This concept of the same natural/perishable body being not abandoned but transformed into a spiritual/imperishable body (rather than a non-body) is not distinct from Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection body but precisely modelled on it (15:49).

        I was merely making the point that our earliest written account (1Cor 15) clearly reports a bodily resurrection objectively visible. I had understood Deane to be claiming following Casey that it did not and that it therefore constituted early evidence against the later gospel accounts which did. I was objecting to that particular line of reasoning as dependant on what I have argued is a blatant misinterpretation of 1Cor 15 itself.

        However, whether 1Cor 15 is to be believed in what it clearly reports, just because it’s the earliest written account, is obviously quite another question… worthy of discussion sometime my schedule affords me shorter procrastination breaks than it does right now! I have regrettably lacked time to interact with the other posts in this interesting series… it’s just that your post on a comment thread I was following made its way into my email and addressed me directly so that I couldn’t resist :-)

        I hope that’s at least clarified what I was arguing here and what I was not.

  6. Deane, what? I’m not denying that there is evidence that the Gospel writers deliberately made the life of Jesus “look” more like Old Testament prophetic descriptions. Not sure why you’d think that! However, the evidence that they did this clearly doesn’t “rebut” what I said.

    All I’m saying is that this claim about modelling Jesus’ burial on that saying from Isaiah is itself a claim that is not susceptible to evidence. If Isaiah had only spoken of someone being buried with the rich, and then in the Gospels Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man, then someone could say that there’s a parallel. If Isaiah had only spoken of someone being buried with the rich and then the Gospel writers depicted Jesus being buried in a poor grave, then the claim about parallels could be disconfirmed in this case. But as it stands, Isaiah refers to both the rich and the poor! The Gospel writers will be damned if they do and damned if they don’t, leaving us with no actual way of telling whether or not they were following Isaiah’s lead or not. I guess someone like Casey can select whichever explanation suits him, given that opposite claims here are equally evidence based! The claim is immune from disconfirmation.

    It’s a bit like when the Jesus Seminar treated statements that were “too Jewish” or “too gentile” as being inauthentic!

  7. Ed Babinski

    See also this discussion by Price concerning the list in 1 Cor. and the appearance to over 500 brethren:

    He appeared to Cephas,
    then [he appeared] to the Twelve,
    then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time,
    most of whom are still alive,
    though some have fallen asleep,
    then he appeared to James,
    then [he appeared] to all the apostles.

    “Since the focus of the tradition seems to be on notable leaders of the community [Peter, James, the Twelve], the mention of the 500 anonymous brethren seems to be an intrusion [sandwiched as it is between appearances to Peter & James, as if Jesus would have shown himself to five hundred anonymous brethren before appearing to James--ETB]. Beyond this, though, the reference to the 500, most still available for questioning, raises another question: what was the intended function of the list? Was it, as Bultmann holds, a piece of apologetics trying to prove the resurrection? Or is Wilckens right, in which case the list is a list of credentials? One who claimed an apostolate had better have seen the Lord (cf. 1 Cor. 9:1). These had. The reference to the 500 unnamed witnesses certainly implies, as Sider argues, that the list is an apologetical device, especially with the note of most of the crowd still being available for corroboration. But the focus on community leaders seems to me to demand Wilckens’s view. It is therefore not unlikely that the list began as a list of credentials for Cephas, the Twelve, James, and the other apostles, but that subsequently someone, reading the list as evidence for the resurrection, inserted the reference to the 500 brethren.

    “I judge the very notion of a resurrection appearance to 500 at one time to be a late piece of apocrypha, reminiscent of the extravagances of the Acts of Pilate. If the claim of 500 witnesses were early tradition, can anyone explain its total absence from the gospel tradition? E. L. Allen sees the problem here:

    “Why did not the evangelists include the appearances of 1 Cor. XV? It is difficult to understand why the tradition behind 1Cor. XV should be passed over if it was known. Was it then lost?

    “His answer is, “The Gospel narratives of the Resurrection are governed by another set of needs and meet another situation than those of the first kerygma” but this is unsatisfactory on his own accounting, since all the apologetical and liturgical motives Allen sees at play in the gospels may be paralleled in the various functions suggested by scholars for the 1 Corinthians 15 list itself. Again, “If we suppose, as we well may, that this incident [the appearance to the 500] is to be located in Galilee, it is not difficult to imagine why it was not taken up into the mainstream of tradition.” But clearly the whole point of 1 Cor 15:11, and at least the clear implication of verses 5-7, is that the quoted creed is the mainstream of the tradition.

    “Barrett, on the other hand, counsels that “it may be better to recognize that the Pauline list and the gospel narratives of resurrection appearances cannot be harmonized into a neat chronological sequence.” But Barrett’s agnosticism itself functions as a harmonization. It implies there is a great cloud of unknown circumstance: if we knew more we might be able to see where it all fits in. But in fact we know enough. It must at least be clear that if such an overwhelmingly potent proof of the resurrection had ever occurred it would have been widely repeated from the first. Surely no selection of resurrection appearances would have left it out. The story of the apparition to the 500 can only stem from a time posterior to the composition of the gospel tradition, and this latter, in comparison with Paul, is already very late.

    “True, ever since Christian Hermann Weisse some scholars have tried to see the episode of the 500 dimly reflected in the Pentecost story of Acts 2. Fuller, representing this position, asks, “Could it not be that, at an earlier stage of the tradition, the [Pentecost] pericope narrated an appearance of the Risen One in which he imparted the Spirit to the +500, as in the appearance to the disciples in John 20:19-23?” But despite the considerable expenditure of scholarly ink the suggestion has generated, including its recent espousal by Gerd Lüdemann, its epitaph must be the words of C. H. Dodd: “it remains a pure speculation.”

    “In fact, would it not be far more natural to suppose that if any connection existed between the two passages, the relation must be just the opposite? That, rather, an originally subjective pneumatic ecstasy on the part of a smaller number at Pentecost has been concretized into the appearance of the Risen Lord to a larger group on Easter? But then we are simply underscoring more heavily the apocryphal character of the result. Lüdemann unwittingly confirms this: “The number ‘more than 500 brethren’ is to be understood as ‘an enormous number’, i.e., not taken literally. (Who could have counted?)” It is just this sort of detail that denotes the fictive character of a narrative. It is like asking how the narrator knew the inner thoughts of a character: he knows them because he made them up! No more successful is the suggestion that the appearance to the 500 be identified with Luke 24:36ff. The same question presents itself: if there were as many as 500 present on that occasion, how can the evangelist have thought this “detail” unworthy of mention? And if we suppose he did include it, what copyist in his right mind would have omitted it?

    “Some might challenge my ascription of the 500 brethren note to a later period in view of the challenge to the reader to confirm the testimony of the 500 for himself. But the whole point is that the interpolation is Paulinist pseudepigraphy; the actual author (the anonymous interpolator) did not intend for the actual reader to interview the 500 in his own day. His invitation is issued by the narrator (Paul) to the narratees, the fictive readers, the first-century Corinthians. His point is that had the actual readers been lucky enough to live in Paul’s day, we might have checked for ourselves.

    End of Price quotation, though his entire article, that also examines the appearances to Cephas and James, is online.

  8. Deane, was my reply really so disconcerting that it had to be deleted?

    • Deane Galbraith

      It wasn’t deleted; it just went to spam. Now made available in its full glory. Although, you’ve said the same thing three times now, so refer above where I actually provided corroboration of my conclusion. How do you explain that Luke added an extra “ruler” (Herod) to the passion story? How do you explain that John added an extra set of clothing? How do you explain that Matthew inserted an extra donkey? I argue that there is a hermeneutic that interprets Hebrew parallelism as though literally referring to two different events. So you see, whether or not Jesus was in fact crucified with the wicked and buried in a rich man’s tomb, it artificially splits apart a Hebrew couplet which refers to somebody being buried with the wicked rich. Both this artificial splitting apart of a single parallelism, and the evidence in every other Gospel that this was a usual tactic of the Jesus Movement show that the hermeneutic drove the story, not vice-versa.

      • “you’ve said the same thing three times now, so refer above where I actually provided corroboration of my conclusion”

        Your response has been the same each time but it really hasn’t connected. Your “corroboration” was merely to say that elsewhere the Gospel writers fudged the story to sound more like a fulfilled prophecy. But this doesn’t address the concern here in any way at all. The point here is that the accusation was made because the Gospels all say that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a rich man, and Isaiah refers to a grave with the rich. But this methodology is obviously a problem here because Isaiah’s comment allows for more than one way of being fulfilled. I mean just look what Casey says – that Jesus was probably buried in a common grace like a criminal. But how does this not equally fall prey to your claim, since Isaiah also refers to being buried with criminals?

        So you have a method that can’t even be challenged, since anything the Gospel writers said at this point would be counted as proof of the claim! The reason I make the point again is that none of the previous replies were even relevant.

      • Deane Galbraith

        Isaiah’s saying: the good servant gets buried along with the wicked rich. He says this using a two-line parallelism. Mark interprets this literalistically as predicting two different things. So Mark splits it into two “fulfillments”: death with the wicked and burial with the rich. This can only be written by a hermeneutic which literalistically splits a single poetic description (burial with the wicked rich) into two (death with the wicked but burial with the rich). The conclusion is completely falsifiable: if Mark had buried Jesus in a wicked rich man’s tomb rather than a good rich man’s tomb, it wouldn’t apply the Hebrew parallelism in Isaiah 53.9a. Ergo: Mark constructed his crucifixion between two wicked rebels and burial in Joseph of Arimathea’s tomb based on Isaiah 53.9.

        You haven’t answered my questions: How do you explain that Luke added an extra “ruler” (Herod) to the passion story? How do you explain that John added an extra set of clothing? How do you explain that Matthew inserted an extra donkey? I’ve got a really economical answer that says they all used the same hermeneutic as Mark did for his crucifixion with the wicked / burial for the rich composition. But I’d be interested to see you you explain it.

  9. Wait, so your view, Deane, is that Mark was so thick that he didn’t realise that both halves of that parallelism spoke of one event?

    So which event do you think Mark invented, and why that choice? All of the Gospels say that Jesus was buried in Joseph’s tomb, and they all depict him as being crucified with criminals. So the question, the test here is this: Deane, if Jesus had been crucified with criminals and buried in Joseph’s tomb, as all the Gospels say, how could they have actually stated this in a way that did not attract this accusation from you?

    See, I have a really really really economical theory for why they described events that way, but I’d like to know how you think those events should have been described, if they actually happened.

    As for the rest, I don’t understand why you think those questions about Herod or clothing are relevant.

    • Deane Galbraith

      No, Glenn, as I explained, the interpretation derives from the peculiar hermeneutic exercised by Mark, and also by Matthew, Luke, and John with him. He is not “thick” to interpret each half of a piece of Hebrew parallelism as containing two predictions about Jesus, but not as literal-minded as some of his modern interpreters. Similar to Qumran Pesharim and some Rabbinic exegesis, Mark creates two predictions out of the two halves of a single piece of Hebrew parallelism – he really gets his prophetic money’s worth!

      Likewise, Matthew reads a passage in Zephaniah which refers to a single donkey in parallelism, and creates two donkeys for Jesus to ride into Jerusalem. Luke reads a Psalm containing a single parallel reference to “rulers” and creates two rulers at Jesus’ passion (he adds an appearance before Herod, and is the only evangelist to do so). John reads a Psalm containing a single parallel reference to clothing, and creates two sets of clothing with different fates for Jesus. Do you see the pattern, now?

      Soares Prabhu discusses this unusual yet widespread hermeneutic, also failing to conclude that the evangelists are “thick”, but rather that they have a strange hermeneutic:

      “…That Matthew (the presumed author of the formula quotations) should
      have misunderstood the Hebrew and given us an over-literal
      translation, is per se possible, specially since his translation,
      unlike that of the LXX does in fact correspond word for word with the
      Hebrew. But it is very unlikely, given that Matthew (or, for that
      matter, whoever is responsible for the formula quotations) shows an
      excellent command of Hebrew in the other quotations he presents. The
      hypothesis of a mistranslation, in fact, is tenable only if we are
      prepared to admit that Mt 21,4f has an origin different from that of
      the other formula quotations of the Gospel – a drastic way out, with
      little to recommend it.

      “It is better, then, to suppose that Mt’s version of the quotation is
      a deliberate, ad hoc, targumizing translation, in which Mt has
      intentionally and according to approved rabbinic techniques
      interpreted the w’al of the Hebrew as copulative, in order to read
      two animals into Zechariah’s text. This is not without parallel in
      the NT itself. The fulfilment quotation of Jn 19,24 refers… Ps
      22,19, which in the Psalm are two parallel ways of saying the same
      thing, to two distinct actions: the partitioning of the garments
      (himatia) of Jesus, and the casting of lots upon his tunic (chiton).
      Read in this disjunctive way, the Psalm become an astonishingly
      literal prediction o the events at the Cross!”

      There is a good reason that all the Gospels follow Mark: Matthew and Luke copied him directly, John, writing perhaps half a century later, knew about the tradition. You can hardly appeal to multiple versions when they are dependent versions.

      “How could they have actually stated this in a way that did not attract this accusation from you?” Easy: if Mark had claimed that Jesus fulfilled Isa. 53.9a by being buried in the tomb of a wicked rich man, this would show that he did not attempt to break up the Hebrew parallelism into two separate “predictions”. But Mark, like Matthew, Luke, and John, claimed that Jesus was (1) killed with the wicked; (2) buried with the rich – a clear indication that he read Isa 53.9a in his peculiar way, and then used it to construct his ‘fulfillments” within his narrative of the passion of Jesus.

      • No, Deane, you misunderstand the question. The question is: Had Jesus been crucified with criminals and buried in Joseph’s tomb, how could they have recorded this in a way that did not draw this criticism from you?

        It’s no good saying that they could have claimed that Jesus was buried in the tomb of a wicked rich man. This just misses the point. The question is: If Jesus had been buried in Joseph’s tomb (not a wicked man’s tomb) and crucified with criminals, how, in your opinion, should they have recorded it?

        How could they convince you that this is what they believed to have happened, Deane?

        I think the answer to this will be telling.

      • Deane Galbraith

        Again, easy: they could not have alluded to the language of Isaiah 53.9a, which describes a single thing: burial in among rich wicked men. As soon as Mark alludes to this verse, he reveals his hermeneutic of interpreting prophetic parallelism as though it refers to two separate descriptions. If Mark’s description did make this verbal allusion to Isa 53.9a, and if Matthew, Luke, and John did not operate with the same hermeneutic of reinterpreting parallelism as two different things, I wouldn’t be able to make this particular argument.

        But you still haven’t answered my questions: How do you explain that Luke added an extra “ruler” (Herod) to the passion story? How do you explain that John added an extra set of clothing? How do you explain that Matthew inserted an extra donkey?

    • Edward T. Babinski

      Glenn, “All of the Gospels say. . .” is not a convincing argument to a biblical scholar who believes that Mark instituted the creation of the Gospel format by writing a first draft the others followed. Mark’s Gospel is but a passion story with an extended introduction. Later Gospels were composed not just to supplement Mark but to correct Mark and supersede that Gospel which they found insufficient. They deleted some embarrassing sayings and stories, added others, added more parables and interpretations, and clearer Christological statements. Matthew reproduces a whole lot of Mark, Luke less so, John the latter most Gospel differs from the previous three the most. But even John appears to have known stories in both Mark and Luke and combined stories from them. (Though story combinations could have arisen not by the author of John but simply as part of people hearing different stories from different Gospels and retelling what they heard and combining them in new ways until the time when the Gospel of John was composed.) See my post on the way the anointing story changed throughout the Gospels. Or even my post on how the words allegedly spoken by the raised Jesus grew in number from Gospel to Gospel. So, did all of the latter Gospel writers obtain the story of “Joseph’s tomb” from Mark or not? That’s the question. Markan priority remains the majority opinion among biblical scholars. Even Evangelical Christian scholars have begun acknowledging Markan priority since the 1990s if you read their commentaries. And so the question remains, what kind of story did Mark write? How can we know it was true? Mark bases a lot of his stories about Jesus on Old Testament miracle stories about Elijah, Elisha, Moses. Just as the O.T. has Elisha perform DOUBLE the number of miracles as his mentor Elijah, Jesus was being portrayed by Mark as performing stories that paralleled those of Elisha, but taking things even further. Dale Allison admits that the parallels are such that we can’t really know how much such stories were meant to merely mimic O.T. stories or were composed on the basis of O.T. stories. We simply don’t know. There is a lot one can read on this matter. I have summed up a lot of discrete data and findings in what I just wrote. You’d have to study passages in the Greek O.T. to see all of the parallels between Greek O.T. miracle stories and Gospel miracle stories (also written in Greek) about Jesus. And then there’s the influence of Hellenistic religious ideas as well. Emperor worship and god and goddess worship was taking place in Roman occupied Palestine. Any new religious ideas in Palestine had to compete with those as well, and appear superior to them. And add to that the intense friction between Jews and Romans from the second century BCE to the second Jewish revolt in the early second century CE, and the rise of apocalyptic madness, and the expectation that God was going to supernaturally intervene and free the Jews once again, by providing a leader. This was all a heady brew, and the matrix in which the Dead Sea Scrolls were composed, with their tale of the sons of darkness and sons of light fighting a final battle round Jerusalem within a generation; and the matrix in which John the Baptist lived, and Jesus, and others like the person whom Josephus mentions who led thousands of people out of Jerusalem, and predicted the walls would fall. The Gospel of Mark was composed around the time of the first major Jewish revolt, but the tensions remained high even up till the time of the second major Jewish revolt.

  10. Edward T. Babinski

    Jeremy, You think you know what Paul “intended” after reading the barest list of “appearances” he wrote in 1 Cor? You also think you know there was a tomb and that it was empty, based on some metaphors Paul spouted (though Paul lacked mentioning a tomb or the discovery of its emptiness or any appearances to women)? How do you know so much? There was an extensive debate on the topic of what Paul believed, an analysis of a host of metaphorical passages from Paul, between Carrier and O’Connell that you can read on the Secular Web, but I found MacDonald’s assessment of the debate to be the most incisive, and also the most amusing since he replied in the format of the apostle Paul writing a letter concerning his assessment of the debate! WELL WORTH READING, but I can’t post the link inside this blog comment, otherwise my post will be devoured by “the machine.” So click on my name which should lead you to the right link, or google up “the Secular Web” and look for On Paul’s Theory of Resurrection: The Carrier-O’Connell Debate (2008), and go to the Final Assessment by MacDonald.

    I hope you will read MacDonald’s insightful assessment. But I’d like to add something else here, some words from Thomas Paine that I hope will not prejudice you against reading the words of MacDonald, which are more to the point. For Paine raises a different question, one concerning Paul’s use of metaphors that really don’t explain anything. I’d much rather have liked to have read a detailed description from Paul himself or from any other so-called witness to an “appearance” of Jesus , as to what they saw and heard, instead of reading Gospel tales written by God knows who, or reading third person lists. Here’s what Paine wrote:

    “As to the doubtful jargon ascribed to Paul in 1 Corinthians xv., which makes part of the burial service of some Christian sectaries, it is as destitute of meaning as the tolling of a bell at the funeral; it explains nothing to the understanding, it illustrates nothing to the imagination, but leaves the reader to find any meaning if he can. “All flesh,” says he, “is not the same flesh. There is one flesh of men, another of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds.” And what then? nothing. A cook could have said as much. “There are also,” says he, “bodies celestial and bodies terrestrial; the glory of the celestial is one and the glory of the terrestrial is the other.” And what then? nothing. And what is the difference? nothing that he has told. “There is,” says he, “one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars.” And what then? nothing; except that he says that one star differeth from another star in glory, instead of distance; and he might as well have told us that the moon did not shine so bright as the sun. All this is nothing better than the jargon of a conjuror, who picks up phrases he does not understand to confound the credulous people who come to have their fortune told. Priests and conjurors are of the same trade.

    “Sometimes Paul affects to be a naturalist, and to prove his system of resurrection from the principles of vegetation. “Thou fool” says he, “that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die.” To which one might reply in his own language, and say, Thou fool, Paul, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die not; for the grain that dies in the ground never does, nor can vegetate. It is only the living grains that produce the next crop. But the metaphor, in any point of view, is no simile. It is succession, and [not] resurrection.

    “The progress of an animal from one state of being to another, as from a worm to a butterfly, applies to the case; but this of a grain does not, and shows Paul to have been what he says of others, a fool.”

    • Jeremy Wales

      You think you know what Paul “intended” after reading the barest list of “appearances” he wrote in 1 Cor?
      My earliest comments did create that impression, I realise. That’s why I tried to clarify in my last comment that my understanding of Paul’s intention is based on the whole of 1Cor 15, not just 15:5-8.
      You also think you know there was a tomb and that it was empty, based on some metaphors Paul spouted (though Paul lacked mentioning a tomb or the discovery of its emptiness or any appearances to women)?
      No, you really need to read what I actually wrote :-) I explicitly denied, against many Christian apologists I have read, that 1Cor 15 says or even implies anything about a tomb. I suspect you are conflating my argument with those you’ve encountered previously from others. 1Cor 15 is equally compatible with Jesus having been buried in a rich tomb, a common tomb, a shallow grave or whatever, for it says precisely nothing about how Jesus was buried.

      Thanks for pointing me to the O’Connell/Carrier debate. The final assessments make me wish I had time to read the whole thing :-) However, I’ll make just a couple of points from MacDonald’s assessment to which you particularly pointed me.

      I concede to him that Paul is not explicitly addressing the question of whether there is one body which is resurrected or a dead body distinct from a new body (though I would still argue that Paul here far more strongly implies the former than the latter). Rather, Paul and the Corinthians “agreed that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God,’ but they… took this to mean that God raised only the soul, not the body” and this is what Paul counters. So even if one cannot resolve the question of one body or two, either way there is still for Paul certainly a resurrection body. This observation is all I need to establish, against the argument that 1Cor 15 reports an immaterial exaltation only subjectively visible, that in fact 1Cor 15 reports a bodily resurrection objectively visible.

      For the sake of my case I could stop there and probably should :-) However, when MacDonald says on behalf of Paul, “I assume that Jesus’ fleshly body rotted in a Palestine tomb”, I would point out: not only can he not establish this alleged belief of Paul’s from anything Paul ever said, it seems contrary to 1Cor 15. For the traditional formula which Paul quotes approvingly (15:3-4) explicitly mentions burial before raising. As such it apparently includes burial along with death as something which the raising of Jesus has now reversed. i.e. It it seems to claim that because of having been raised Jesus is both no longer dead and no longer buried. Otherwise what is the point of the explicit mention of burial before raising? If his burial was completely unaffected by his exaltation why mention it all? Why not just say he died and was raised? Indeed, those who assume 15:3-4 is compatible with the belief that Jesus was still buried, are you consistent in also assuming it is compatible with the belief that Jesus is still dead?

      So I contend there are three elements of 1 Cor 15 that disambiguate the nature of the “raising” of Jesus reported here:
      1) The explicit mention of burial before raising seems to include it along with death as something reversed by that raising.
      2) Some of the appearances of the raised Jesus are made to everyone in the same location (12 and 500), not subjectively to one person while inaccessible to others in the same place (as described by Acts 9 & 22).
      3) Paul goes on to argue that believers will be raised with a body precisely on analogy to Jesus’ resurrection body. Indeed, the fact that Paul bases his argument for the resurrection body of a believer upon that of Jesus demonstrates how sure he is that such an understanding of Jesus’ resurrection body is shared by every faction of the church which has influence on the Corinthians at the time (i.e. the factions following Peter/James, Paul, Apollos etc).

      I had understood Deane to be arguing (perhaps following Casey) that the earliest belief in Jesus’ “raising” was actually as an immaterial exaltation straight to heaven and therefore only subjectively visible. I believe the observations of 1Cor 15 I have offered demonstrate the contrary, that our earliest written account refers to a bodily resurrection objectively visible. However, does anyone think that this particular argument of Deane’s (perhaps following Casey) still has legs? If so, why? I confess have been known to be wrong once or twice in the past :-)

      • TruthOverfaith

        Jeremy wrote “Why not just say that he died and was raised?”

        Very likely it was to combat gnostic and docetist ideas that contested the reality of Jesus’ death. And if Pauls idea of Jesus’ burial is that of being thrown into a pit for criminals, as is believed by many scholars, then that would be evidence of an actual resurrection and not just a resuscitation.

        And also, I think you’re missing an important part of Pauls words. He states in 1 Cor-”And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures.” What scriptures Paul has in mind have never been agreed upon by scholars, but it appears that Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection are fulfillments of scripture.

        “…an immaterial exaltation straight to heaven and therefore only subjective visible.”
        Why couldn’t Jesus’ appearances to the apostles happen after his ascension to heaven, when he then returned to earth in his new “spiritual” body?

        Jeremy is right about a “bodily” resurrection but he can’t seem to get it in his mind that Paul has in mind a new spiritual body that doesn’t require an empty tomb or a resuscitated corpse.

  11. Deane, as I said already, I think the question about Herod etc is simply irrelevant. You aren’t going to get an answer.

    But in essence then, you’re saying that you won’t accept the events the way the Gospel writers recorded them unless they themselves believed that there was no parallel between Jesus’ death/burial and this saying from Isaiah (or at least unless they never wrote about any parallel). As long as they maintained this belief, you aren’t willing to think that they wrongly held it – no, you’ve got to maintain that the events themselves had to have been fictional (or at least some of them must have been). Why not instead just say “look evangelists, record the events, but spare us the strained commentary.”

    In short, the level of sceptical response from you looks plainly unwarranted.

    • Deane Galbraith

      Ah – no, that’s not what I’m saying “in essence” or in actuality. Almost completely the opposite of what you conclude, actually. Perhaps when you work out the relevance of Herod, the clothing, and the donkeys, you can get back to me on this, as I seem to be saying much the same thing, and you’re not yet getting it.

  12. Jeremy Wales


    You make a good point about the alternative possibility of “buried” being mentioned to confirm “died”. However, your point about “buried” being “according to the scriptures” is slightly off target.

    The traditional formula of 1Cor 15:3b-5 consists of four statements:
    1) that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures
    2) that he was buried
    3) that was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures
    4) that he was seen by Cephas then by the twelve
    This structure is made clear from the observation that the first statement begins with ὅτι and, while it follows with explicit subject (Christ)|active verb (died), each of the three subsequent statements begins with καὶ|ὅτι|passive verb with Christ as implicit subject (was buried/was raised/was seen). The further statements of 15:6-10 seem to be Paul’s own elaboration on the traditional formula for they don’t begin with ὅτι etc.

    Crucially, “according to the Scriptures” is explicitly applied to only two of the four statements. It is not added simply to the final statement as if all four statements were “according to the Scriptures”. Rather, statements 1 and 3 are “according to the Scriptures” and statements 2 and 4 are not. This shows that the reason for including “was buried” was not that it was “according to the Scriptures” as you suggested.

    However, I’m glad you got me to look at it more closely because it helped me to notice what seems to be a double bi-colon structure (which probably every commentary notes and it’s only me who’s only just catching up :-). There seems to be one statement “according to the Scriptures” paired with one statement not “according to the Scriptures”, then a repetition of the same thing. This suggests to me that statements 2 and 4 should have parallel functions in the same way that statements 1 and 3 are parallel in both claiming fulfilments of the Scriptures. Now the function of statement 4 in relation to statement 3 seems to be confirmation: “that he was seen” confirms “that he was raised”. This would in turn suggest that the function of statement 2 is to confirm statement 1: “that he was buried” confirms “that Christ died”.

    Basically I’m conceding that the function of “that he was buried” is not, as I had suggested previously, primarily to say that burial is something reversed by “he was raised”. Rather, it is as you have said, to confirm that he really died.

    However, I suspect this particular concession actually strengthens my argument overall (paradoxical as that may seem :-). For this understanding of the structure actually pairs “was buried” with “died” far more closely than I had previously realised. It’s not just that both come before “was raised” as I had previously said. Rather, “he was buried” is the very proof of “Christ died”, as you have said. I think this actually makes it even more likely that statements in the same context such as “Christ has been raised from the dead” imply that he was raised from burial, because on this understanding “died” and “was buried” are inextricably linked. How is it natural to read the passage as it stands as saying that although Jesus’ death was obviously undone by his resurrection nevertheless the very proof that he was dead carried on regardless? I’m not sure how you’ll argue that this is the most natural reading (as opposed to one forced to fit an external conception).

    However, while this is significant, I’m not sure I even need it for my original argument concerning 1Cor 15. It was being argued (I think by Deane perhaps following Casey perhaps following Ludemann) that 1Cor 15 can legitimately be read in light of both the description of Paul’s subjective vision in Acts 9 & 22 and the fact that Paul makes no explicit distinction in 1Cor 15 between the nature of his sighting and that of the sightings by others. This reading of 1Cor 15 was being used to argue that the early accounts (1Cor 15 being the earliest) report an immaterial exaltation only subjectively visible which therefore shows up the later accounts (e.g. Matt 28, Luke 24, John 20) as distortions precisely in that they differed from the early accounts in reporting a bodily resurrection objectively visible. I think that argument is now dead. Even your speculation of “Jesus’ appearances to the apostles… after his ascension to heaven, when he… returned to earth in his new ‘spiritual’ body” would do just as well to kill that argument, for it too rightly understands 1Cor 15 to report a bodily resurrection objectively visible. I’d only note concerning that particular speculation that it would have to read in a crucial statement or two in between “he was raised” and “he was seen” without any support from the text for doing so. Nevertheless, I think we can now all agree that the attempt to read earliest account in 1Cor 15 as compatible with an immaterial exaltation only subjectively visible is not just wrong but methodologically silly.

  13. TruthOverfaith

    Jeremy writes “…although Jesus’ death was obviously undone by his resurrection nevertheless the very proof that he was dead carried on regardless.”

    The fact that his old corrupted physical body was dead is irrelevant to Paul:
    (1 Cor. 15:50 -”I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God..”
    “you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be save in the day of the Lord.”
    “that which you sow is not the body which will come to be” but “God supplies a body as he pleases”(1 Cor. 15 :35-38)

    “There are bodies in heaven and bodies on earth, but the glory of the heavenly ones is different from the glory of the earthly ones.”
    “So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable.”
    “It is sown a physical body, it is raised a spiritual body.”
    “For we know that if our earthly house of a tabernacle is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.”

    Paul never states that Jesus’ “physical” death was undone by his resurrection. A new, glorified, heavenly body with the “spirit” of the old physical body is in no way affected by a “corrupted” corpse lying in some grave.

    Your last paragraph is so muddled I wonder if you yourself actually understand what you were trying to say. What, exactly, the apostles believed that they actually witnessed is never described in any kind of detail,even by Paul, our only early firsthand account. This is a fact even N.T. Wright acknowledges. But nowhere in Pauls letters is there an idea of a bodily resurrection like that described by the later gospel authors. When Paul tries to answer the question “how are the dead raised, with what kind of bodies do they come?” in Corinthians, please show me where he says a single word about Jesus’ exit from a tomb,nail scarred hands, speaking to and being touched by the disciples, eating fish etc.
    Since Paul believed that Jesus was raised the same way that we would be(1 Cor. 15:13-16,20-23,49; 1 Thess. 4:14; Phil. 3:21;Rom. 6:5) he must also have believed that Jesus did not rise in the body that was buried.(“that which was sown”)
    Any number of things from the empty tomb story from the gospels would have been a pretty good response to the resurrected body question but, strangely, Paul is silent on that episode.

    And seeing you hypothesize that someones explanation might have to be forced to “fit an external conception” is quite funny, really.

    • Jeremy Wales

      As I expect all will acknowledge, 1Cor 15 includes many statements concerning the relation between the ‘perishable body’ and the ‘imperishable body’, many of which stress aspects of discontinuity and some of which stress continuity. So it’s no good quoting the former at me and ignoring the latter. In fact, your understanding of the (absolute non-)relation leaves no place for the latter at all. Is that why you ignore them?

      When you say that “Paul never states that Jesus’ ‘physical’ death was undone by his resurrection,” are you sure you are reading the same 1Cor 15? Paul refers to Jesus in 15:12 as “out of dead ones raised” (ἐκ νεκρῶν ἐγήγερται). This means that because Christ died he was previously among those who are dead but now he has been raised out of that group. For Paul, Christ is clearly no longer among the dead, a group he only entered by his ‘physical’ death. That death clearly is undone by being raised.

      So then, beyond that, do you agree that “he was buried” functions as the proof of “Christ died”? This is actually something I thought you were saying and that I thought you were right about :-) If so it seems quite forced to say that though the death is undone the proof of it is not. It’s especially strange to argue that this is not only a possible reading but the most natural reading.

      The final paragraph in my previous comment might seem muddled for one of several reasons. 1) I used long sentences. I shouldn’t have. I’m trying to do better. 2) It relied on you having followed what I was arguing in the comments here, which you don’t seem to have done at all. My thesis here was merely this: 1Cor 15 reports Jesus to have undergone a bodily resurrection which was objectively visible, not an immaterial exaltation which was only subjectively visible. That thesis contradicts a major premise in an argument in the main post. That’s all.

      I’ve made some supporting arguments concerning 1Cor 15:
      1) The probable implication that burial was undone with the undoing of death because the burial functioned as the proof of the death
      2) Jesus being visible to multiple people co-located, not subjectively to one person to the exclusion of others present
      3) Indications not only of discontinuity but also continuity between the ‘perishable body’ and the ‘imperishable body’
      4) Jesus’ resurrection said to be ‘bodily’ regardless
      All these make a cumulative case for the above thesis concerning the very general contours of what 1Cor 15 reports: a bodily resurrection which was objectively visible. Your problem seems to be with 1) and 3) but, as I hope you can see, I probably only needed to argue 2) and 4) make my case about a bodily resurrection which was objectively visible.

      So, once more, just to make it clear: 1Cor 15 reports Jesus to have undergone a bodily resurrection which was objectively visible as opposed to an immaterial exaltation which was only subjectively visible. Agree? Disagree? Why?

      If you’re not interested in discussing that, that’s fine. Though it doesn’t take long to dash out these replies there’s certainly better things for me to do with that time. In fact, as no one seems to offer any decent arguments against what I was originally arguing I’m getting really bored with it myself.

      • daniel almeida

        Tyrone… anyone going to respond to this guy… You just gonna let him get away with this?

  14. TruthOverfaith

    “1 Cor 15 reports Jesus to have undergone a bodily resurrection which was objectively visible as opposed to an immaterial exaltation which was only subjectively visible.”

    Please quote the verse from Paul where he states that Jesus appeared with his crucified body. Like to know how you can do that? Just show where Paul relates something, anything, that the resurrected Jesus supposedly said to his disciples after exiting his tomb. Or any action that Jesus performed for those 40 days that he was trotting around with the disciples. Walking,eating,gesturing,praying, etc.
    Show me where Paul, while answering the question, “how are the dead raised, with what kind of body do they come?” refers to Jesus’ post crucifixion body;-nail scarred hands, spear wound to his side,scars from the crown of thorns, Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds , being lifted up to heaven in the presence of the disciples, etc.
    You can’t do any of the above , of course. You insist on reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ death back into Paul.

    And the idea that we know with any certainty what these ancient,pre scientific, superstitious, mostly uneducated and illiterate people may have believed that they were witnessing is simply wishful thinking on your part.
    But there’s nothing in the language of 1 Cor 15 that implies or necessitates a resurrected corpse. What you need to do to is to provide some logical,rational reason why Paul never acknowledges this “physical” body when defending the resurrection (the list of witnesses, including his own) or when describing the resurrected body.

    Paul includes his own appearance of Jesus alongside the other apostles as proof of Jesus’ resurrection. He makes no distinction whatsoever as to the type of appearances although he could have very easily done so. Even simply changing the Greek word for his ‘appearance” could have signaled that he was acknowledging a different experience than the other apostles were having, but Paul does no such thing. A natural reading of Pauls account of Jesus’ appearances seem quite clearly to indicate that Pauls “experience” of seeing Jesus was no different than any other apostle. And what exactly did Paul see? A bright light with a voice? That’s what Acts would have us believe.

    You have nowhere shown why Paul must have Jesus’ physical (sown in corruption) body return from death, and not have a “new, glorified” body instead, which is how Paul himself speaks of the resurrected body.
    And if you can refer me to Pauls’ explanations of the resurrected body that show continuity, please do so. Pauls discourse in 1 Cor does exactly the opposite, over and over expressing discontinuity.

    • Jeremy Wales


      “if you can refer me to Pauls’ explanations of the resurrected body that show continuity, please do so”
      To quote just one commentary I happen to have available:

      The clothing imagery in 1 Cor. 15:53–54 provides a concrete picture of the transformation mystery by which a mortal, corruptible body changes to an immortal, incorruptible body. Putting on garments of glory as a metaphor for eternal life is familiar in Jewish apocalyptic tradition (see 1 Enoch 62:15–16; 1QS 4:7–8). “Putting on” is equivalent to bearing the image of the heavenly one (15:49) and affirms that the new existence will be corporeal. The demonstrative τοῦτο in 15:53 refers to the bodies of all believers, living and dead. …
      Gillman notes that Paul does not say that the old, earthly body is to be stripped off so that the (immortal) soul may escape—an idea found in Philo (Alleg. Interp. 2.15 §§54–59; 2.19 §80; Dreams 1.8 §43) and in the Corpus Hermeticum (1.24–26; 10.18; 13.3, 14). Instead, Paul’s clothing imagery conveys the idea that the transformation to an immortal body is accomplished by adding a new garment to the mortal body. In 2 Cor. 5:2 and 5:4, he uses the doubly compounded verb ἐπενδύσασθαι (ep + en + dysasthai), meaning “to put on over,” to stress continuity in the process of moving from an earthly tent to a heavenly dwelling (M. Harris 1971: 44). Therefore, “one does not have to slip off the earthly body before being garbed in the heavenly one” (Garland 1999: 258). Though Paul never attempts to explain “the nexus between the present physical frame and the spiritual body” (Moffatt 1938: 265), he understands the change as something that occurs within the same genus, like the seed miraculously changing into the plant.

      Your concept of complete discontinuity fails to explain this particular aspect of continuity present within the overall emphasis on discontinuity. However, you keep majoring on this as if being wrong on this would destroy my case. This indicates that still, even after I have explained over and over, you still don’t get what my thesis is here. I can’t lay the blame entirely on you, I suppose, but I’m at a loss to know how I can state it any more clearly and simply than I did last time. Did you read the bit where I laid out the four supporting arguments for my thesis? The part that made clear how, though bodily continuity was one supporting argument, it wasn’t essential to the thesis?

      “there’s nothing in the language of 1 Cor 15 that implies or necessitates a resurrected corpse”
      Except of course the bits I’ve mentioned which yet again you’ve failed to provide an alternative explanation for :-)

      “Just show where Paul relates something, anything, that the resurrected Jesus supposedly said to his disciples after exiting his tomb. Or any action that Jesus performed for those 40 days that he was trotting around with the disciples. Walking,eating,gesturing,praying, etc. Show me where Paul, while answering the question, ‘how are the dead raised, with what kind of body do they come?’ refers to Jesus’ post crucifixion body;-nail scarred hands, spear wound to his side,scars from the crown of thorns, Thomas touching Jesus’ wounds , being lifted up to heaven in the presence of the disciples, etc.”
      Oh boy… this just shows you haven’t even TRIED to understand what I’ve written. Why would inclusion of the specifics of other resurrection accounts be essential to what I’m arguing concerning 1Cor 15? Would you please state precisely what you think I’m arguing? A misunderstanding here must be the problem. I’ve tried to state it myself over and over again yet nothing seems to get through: 1Cor 15 reports a “raising of Jesus” which is not exclusively spiritual and immaterial but is at least in some sense “bodily” (whether or not this leaves a different body still in the ground is related but not essential) and was therefore objectively visible as distinct from only subjectively visible. That’s all. Why don’t you focus on the two arguments I’ve said are important to my thesis: that the resurrection is certainly said to have a “body”, of whatever kind, certainly not disembodied, and was seen not merely by one person in a subjective vision but by multiple people in the same place at the same time? I think if you still can’t raise any objection to what I’m actually arguing, no alternative explanation of the particular evidence which my thesis purports to explain, then it’s probably best for all concerned if we just drop it.

  15. Ed Babinski

    Jeremy, Before discussing what’s “objective” and what’s “subjective,” one must deal with WHAT “appeared.” And HOW exactly did it appear to each person? HOW clearly did it appear? HOW certain or doubtful was each person that it was “Jesus?’ etc. (See Matt. “but some doubted”)

    The only first hand description in the entire New Testament appears to be Paul’s in his letter. And all he says is that “Jesus appeared to me.” Any further description of what appeared and how it appeared to Paul comes from different passages in Acts, not written by Paul, which also contain disagreements, and one such passages contains a lengthy message from the raised Jesus to Paul (see my online piece on the increasing number of words allegedly spoken by the raised Jesus over time and why that raises questions) .

    So every description involving details of the resurrection in the Gospels and Acts are not first hand. We’re not dealing with first hand info. Neither does anyone claim they saw Jesus exit the empty tomb. The empty tomb story appears to be less connected with appearance stories than one might like. Perhaps it IS a later tale? For “they told no one.” And in that Gospel the women do not see the raised Jesus, which at least agrees with Paul’s list of people to whom Jesus appeared, which also does not include appearances to women. In fact modern studies of Mark have pointed out various correspondences between Mark and Pauline teachings.

    • Jeremy Wales


      Before discussing what’s “objective” and what’s “subjective,” one must deal with WHAT “appeared.”
      Why do you think this?
      I have been thinking precisely the opposite. As all will acknowledge, we know far less than we would like about precisely WHAT Paul thought he and others saw. e.g. Could the resurrected body be touched by non-resurrected bodies? No one knows what Paul thought about that. He doesn’t say. Did the resurrection body consist of a radical transformation of the dead body or did it have a separate creation which left the dead body in the ground? As I’ve argued I think Paul’s text strongly implies the former but I concede it’s not a primary question he’s answering. However, from his text we do at least get some very general parameters: it was thought to be a “body” of some kind (σῶμα throughout 15:35-44), i.e. not completely immaterial, and it was thought to be objectively visible to multiple people in the same place and time (the appearance to the 12 and 500 and 15:5-6), i.e. not merely subjectively visible to one person at a time to the exclusion of others present in the same location (as in the description of Paul’s vision in Acts 9 & 22). Obviously within these very general parameters there is much room to speculate. But at least there are these parameters with which I would argue we must in fact begin.

      • Edward T. Babinski

        Jeremy, What do you mean by “objectively visible?” Adding the adverb “objectively” to the word “visible” doesn’t make an unsubstantiated story any more believable. If multiple people claim to have seen something, I’d have to ask them what each of their stories were. Then we might know more about what direction each person was looking in, and what each claimed to have seen, and where they each first saw something, and where and when that something vanished from their view, and whether the people up close saw something different from the people far away. If anyone heard a sound or not, or a voice, and or what they all heard it say. (No mention of the raised Jesus saying a word in 1 Cor. Nor of Paul saying anything in his first-hand letters like, “the raised Jesus said. . . “) Or we might even discover the experience was due to a sort of mass hysteria or apocalyptic frenzy based on overinflated hopes and religious devotion, or based on a rising expectation based on a few stories from the apostles (and I don’t know enough about the appearance to the Twelve either which could have a similarly questionable basis), and no one recalled much of anything afterwords. Perhaps one disciple pointed at another further away from the crowd, who appeared over a hill with the sun behind him, and then vanished behind another hill as he walked on. And even that disciple when he reached the group, believed they had not seen him but Jesus. Fact is, we don’t know anything about the story itself. Having the faith to pass on stories is also something quite common to Christians over the ages. The ancient world including the early Christian world passed on lots of tales. They didn’t have Snopes.com back then. And there was enough political unrest and hope of God’s intervention back then, by different groups, that I doubt anyone thought to police Christians in particular as to the truth of their tales. If Acts is correct, Christians began preaching in Jerusalem seven weeks after Jesus’ death, at the next major festival. That’s if Acts is right. I’m sure there were other types of sectarians preaching their own views in Jerusalem as well, political leaders and prophets. I don’t think John the Baptist and Jesus were the only two sects in Jerusalem the drew people to themselves. Josephus mentions an Egyptian with thousands of followers. And he mentions a particular prophet who predicted Jerusalem’s fall years before it happened, going about the city warning folks. Doesn’t Josephus spend more time mentioning John the Baptist than Jesus in his writing? And there were the Essenes, who may or may not have been connected with the Dead Sea Scroll writers. There may have been several different sects round the desert region. Certainly the DDS write about a final battle of sons of light and darkness round Jerusalem within a generation, and also of a human appointed by God to come down from heaven and judge mankind, named Melchizadek in another scroll. Later portions of the Book of Enoch speak of a Son of Man doing so, and they apparently were composed around the time of Jesus, possible right before Jesus started preaching such things. We don’t know their exact dates of composition of course, which is part of what makes all of these questions unsolvable. What do any of us know for sure about what influences went into the early life and upbringing of Jesus himself? As Mark Goodacre wrote: “Perhaps the major influence on Jesus was his grandfather, whose fascination with Daniel 7 informed Jesus’ apocalyptic mindset? Or perhaps it was Rabbi Matia in Capernaum who used to enjoy telling parables drawn from local agriculture? Or perhaps it was that crazy wandering Galilean exorcist Lebbaeus who used to talk about casting out demons by the Spirit of God? The fact is that we just don’t know. We can’t know. Our knowledge about the historical Jesus is always and inevitably partial. If we take the quest of the historical Jesus seriously as an aspect of ancient history, we have to admit that many of the key pieces must be missing. The problem is that we are in denial. We simply do not want to admit that we do not have all the data we need to paint a complete picture of the historical Jesus? ” Same goes for painting a picture of the in-group structure of “brethren” who claim to have “seen” Jesus alive after he was crucified. We don’t have first hand info concerning claims of “appearances.” And what we do have is from in-group authors. When we compare the stories that we DO possess, which are not first person, we get everything from early Pauline writings about a “spiritual body” to latter writings about Jesus speaking and serm6onizing and proving he is “not a spirit” (Luke-Act-John, latter most Gospels).

  16. Pingback: Biblioblog Carnival for April 2011 – with Giants | Remnant of Giants

  17. Paul D Baxter

    Sorry to be late to this discussion, but I just wanted to raise the subject of a very basic semantic problem here, namely the meaning of the term “historical”. None of the standard definitions of this term include the question of whether something REALLY happened versus something alleged to have happened.

    The way I was taught to use the term “history” in my history program was as “the study of the records of the past”. We have no DIRECT access to the past, so we have to make do with books, artifacts, etc.

    While Casey’s assorted arguments may or may not have merit, it’s a pretty simple matter that there is record, i.e. the gospel accounts, of Jesus’ empty tomb, and thus the empty tomb is, properly speaking, historical.

    I think the appropriately phased question would be what degree of doubt is or isn’t warranted about the empty tomb accounts.

    • Deane Galbraith

      Really? If accuracy is your concern, can you accurately say “the empty tomb is, properly speaking, historical”? I would have thought that, to be semantically accurate to your use of the term “historical”, the empty tomb is not “historical”, rather there are stories about an empty tomb that are “historical” sources.

      But we use words differently in different contexts. In a more academic setting, I wouldn’t use the term in its common sense, which does in fact mean “really happened” (i.e. was there an “empty tomb” or wasn’t there?). But here, in a blog title, I was quite happy using “historical” in this way.

  18. Jeremy Wales


    “Adding the adverb ‘objectively’ to the word ‘visible’ doesn’t make an unsubstantiated story any more believable”
    That’s entirely true. But I’m not arguing here that 1Cor 15 is believable at all. I’m simply advocating a particular interpretation of what 1Cor 15 is actually saying in opposition to other interpretations. Whether what 1Cor 15 turns out to be saying is then considered believable or not is another question.

    “When we compare the stories… we get everything from early Pauline writings about a ‘spiritual body’ to latter writings about Jesus speaking and serm6onizing and proving he is ‘not a spirit’ (Luke-Act-John, latter most Gospels).”
    This actually does concern the main point I’m arguing here. I concede that 1Cor 15 shows that Paul probably didn’t know about accounts such as Luke 24:36-42 (though of course it’s always possible he did and had some reason I don’t know of not to use them here). However, I think 1Cor 15 also shows that Paul’s understanding of Jesus’ resurrection agreed with the understanding evident in Luke 24:36-42, for Paul and Luke think of the resurrected Jesus as not merely a spirit (as rejected also by Luke 24:39) but as having a ‘spiritual body‘ (1Cor 15:35-44), not as lacking flesh altogether (as rejected also by Luke 24:39) but as having a radically different kind of flesh (15:39).

    So, the early Christian understanding of Jesus’ resurrection does seems not to have begun with a spiritual exaltation only subjectively visible which only later was developed into a bodily resurrection objectively visible. Rather our earliest written account, 1Cor 15, shows that from the beginning Jesus’ resurrection was at least widely believed to be bodily (in some sense opposed to immaterial/disembodied) and objectively visible (not merely subjectively visible to only one person in a particular location). What I’m arguing implies that if there’s any development from early written accounts to later ones it’s not from immaterial/subjective to bodily/objective, it’s from less detailed accounts of a bodily resurrection objectively visible (1Cor 15) to more detailed accounts of something similar (Luke 24 etc) to some even later accounts (Acts 9&22) which report a subjective vision of the same (nb. if Luke 24 and Acts 9&22 have the same author then the latter cannot be thought to report a different understanding of the resurrection of Jesus than the former, rather the difference can only be in the mode of seeing). Of course it’s an entirely subsequent question whether that early widespread belief in a bodily resurrection objectively visible should be perpetuated today.

  19. TruthOverfaith

    Regarding Jeremys clothing analogy;

    “The clothing imagery in 1 Cor. 15:53-54 provides a concrete picture of the transformation mystery by which a mortal, corruptible body changes to an immortal, incorruptible body.”
    “Paul’s clothing imagery conveys the idea that the transformation to an immortal body is accomplished by adding a new garment to the mortal body.”

    First, contrary to the text that you cite, Paul never states that a “transformation” takes place. He could have easily done so but he conspicuously does not. He never says that one body “becomes” or “changes into” the other. Odd, isn’t it?
    And the word “body” is not even in the text of 1 Cor. 15 53-54 (or verse 50).
    In these verses Paul seems to be speaking of “our present mortal corruptible existence” per Jean Hering.

    “to stress continuity in the process of moving from an earthly tent to a heavenly dwelling”
    There’s nothing about “to put on over” that “stresses continuity”. Paul could have stressed continuity quite easily if that is what he intended.
    Paul clearly states that our “earthly” tents will be destroyed/dissolved. And that we will have a building from God, not made with earthly hands, eternal in the heavens.

    “Therefore one does not have to slip off the earthly body before being garbed in the heavenly one.”
    So Paul thinks they’ll all be walking around Heaven with their heavenly, glorified body on top of their earthly corpse? If a corpse enters a new garment, it’s still a corpse.

    My argument all along has been that Paul did indeed believe that Jesus had a bodily resurrection, but not a resuscitated corpse.
    What type (objective/subjective) of appearance this “body” had to the apostles cannot be reasonably known. To suggest that only “flesh and blood/bone” could have been “objectively” visible to these ancient, superstitious people is pure conjecture. Or to suggest that multiple people cannot possible “believe” that they shared a common supernatural experience of some kind is absurd. Google mass visions/hallucinations/sightings or whatever and then tell me how “objective” that humans are.
    We don’t know what “kind” of body that the apostles believed they were “seeing” and we’ll likely never know.


    Fine article.
    But it would be better English to restore the possessive for Jesus as “Jesus’s” (disciples, burial, resurrection).

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