Tag Archives: Jesus of Nazareth

Biblioblog Carnival for April 2011 – with Giants


Dr. Jim Linville, on the weekend

Dr. Jim Linville, on the weekend

Jim Linville of Dr Jim’s Thinking Shop has compiled a rather fun carnival of the best in biblical studies blogging for April 2011. If you want to find out what biblical scholars found exciting last month, this is definitely the place to look.

Some highlights:

Dean[e] Galbraith made a startling discovery:  The Lead Codices were NOT Forged! They were cast, the usual way of working lead. Besides, he said, they were not hammered. As far as I am concerned, this rules out a Maccabean date.

Some guy, who claimed NOT to be Deane Galbraith (perhaps because he hasn’t got much “giant” left), sent me the links to an in depth, multipart review of “Did Jesus Rise from the Dead?” in Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching. Part One discusses how NT scholarship is dominated by conservative apologetics. Next, the empty tomb  empty tomb then  the end of Mark. The fourth instalment  looks text critically at the post-resurrection episodes and their inconsistencies. Then there is the question of whether Jesus thought of himself as the Son of Man. Sixth, the women at the empty tomb and finally, “how all of the early Christians were doing some really wicked drugs and having spaced-out visions”.

There was a bit of a ganging up on Joshua’s Genocide and Matt Flannagan who provoked the ire of Thom Stark and Deane Galbraith.

The Bible Reader Divide between the church and academy is the subject of a post by Jr. Daniel Kirk at Storied Theology. He hopes for a synergy between the two. He returns to this theme at Church and Academy Need Each Other and then again: Reading the Bible with Academy and Church. Dean[e] Galbraith seems to be of a different opinion, if his views on the InterVarsity Press are any indication.

Zondervan’s Big Bad Bible Giants, & The Boys Bible, reviewed by Deane Galbraith.

Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? by Maurice Casey, reviewed by Dean[e] Galbraith.

A tribute to the Bible by Christopher Hitchens is reported by Remnants of Giants. The Remaining Giant muses briefly at Greco-Biblical Comic books.

In addition, Dr. Jim alerted me to the fact that Remnant of Giants accidentally entered the despicable mainstream “popular” biblical studies blogging, in April 2011 – ranked by the Industry at number 30. But let me just say that we’re staying true to our fans, and vow to return to our regular alt.giant status in May. We’ll never sell out, man. I mean, we’re all about the credibility.

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Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Casey on Jesus (7) – Visionary Experiences of Jesus’ Resurrection

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 7: Visionary Experiences of Jesus’ Resurrection

As the arguments and examples provided throughout this review have shown, any attempt to appreciate Jesus’ own self-understanding as Son of Man, the vision reports of the earliest Christians, and the development of post-resurrection stories must come to terms with the pervasive influence of visionary experiences. Many of the stories found in, for example, the Acts of the Apostles are a world away from our everyday experience. In it we find stories of interactions with angelic visitors, the account of Peter’s vision of a large sheet being lowered from Heaven symbolizing that all animals are kosher, and different accounts of Paul’s vision on the road to Damascus. It can only be reasonably concluded that the earliest Christians experienced a world in which not only everyday waking life was real, but so too were the “subjective” images and experiences within visions and dreams. It was, Casey says, “a culture in which visions were normal, and considered to be perfectly real.” While first-century Christians still made distinctions between waking life and the world of dreams and visions, they were not what most of us would count as our own distinctions. In fact, in first century Palestine, a visionary or dreamed experience might even offer a deeper experience of “reality” than did more quotidian and tangible tasks such as going down to the local market to buy groceries. Furthermore, even in what we would consider these ordinary everyday tasks, the world was categorized in radically different ways: a purchase of meat was not merely an item on your grocery list, but risked participation in the spiritual realm of sacrifice to gods or demons.

The earliest Christians experienced a world in which not only everyday life was real, but so too were the subjective images and experiences within visions and dreams

Second Temple Judaism was a visionary culture, in which people believed that people saw appearances of God and angels, and had visions and dreams in which God and angels appeared to them. (p. 488)

So when we read accounts in the Gospels, in particular certain episodes more obviously coloured by the indicators of vision reports (e.g. Jesus’ baptism, temptation, transfiguration, resurrection appearances), we should consider how these accounts have been shaped by the visionary experiences of the early Christians who created them. Biblical scholarship, which originated in and continues to be dominated by Protestant scholars operating in a rationalistic framework, has always been suspicious or even dismissive of visionary experiences. Traditionally, biblical scholars have been a lot more comfortable examining, for example, how certain Old Testament passages have influenced the telling of the Gospel stories about Jesus. But given the great importance of visionary experiences attested throughout the New Testament and later Christian writings, any examination of the development of Jesus traditions must consider a complex interaction between the historical Jesus’ life and teaching, Jewish beliefs found in the Old Testament, Enochic books, New Testament and other literature, visionary experiences, other social and ritual practices of the earliest Christians, and the workings of oral tradition and memory. What is more, consideration of this complex socio-cultural environment tends to complicate any simple solution of cause and influence, rather that provide clear solutions. The proposed solutions hopefully help us think through the problems inherent to understanding the Gospels and the historical Jesus, but at best they are only working models hoping to approximate what happened, and not what in fact happened.

Some New Testament scholars have been all too quickly dismissive of the explanation of the resurrection appearances in terms of visionary experiences

Some New Testament scholars have been all too quickly dismissive of the explanation of the resurrection appearances in terms of visionary experiences

What should be positively shunned by scholars, however, is the uncritical dismissal of options without due consideration. For the reasons offered above, some New Testament scholars have been all too quickly dismissive of the explanation of the resurrection appearances in terms of visionary experiences. They fail to acknowledge that “some [ancient worldviews] are so odd that they may just have happened” (to employ the formulation of N.T. Wright in Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003: 636). And indeed, the pervasive examples of visions and vision reports throughout earliest Christian literature, including many of those books that came to be included in the New Testament, provide positive proof of what an odd and foreign world we are dealing with.

Casey devotes many pages to the analysis of Late Second Temple and New Testament data on visions, which in Jesus studies are still underexplored. I have mentioned Casey’s observations in respect of 1 Corinthians 15.3-8, in which he concludes 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. In fact, as Casey notes (p. 488), in the presentation of Acts, Paul claims that he was “not disobedient to the heavenly vision” (26.19). Noting the similarity of Paul’s reported speech in Acts to his description of a “vision… of the Lord” in 2 Cor. 12.1, Casey concludes: “It follows that Paul and Luke were both happy to think of Resurrection appearances as visions.”

In Acts 10.10-17; 11.5-10, another of Christianity’s early leaders, Peter, is presented as experiencing visions. Peter sees his vision of a heavenly sheet while in a “trance”, and interprets its symbolic meaning as annulling the kosher laws. Peter simply accepts that what he sees during a vision must convey some real message from the divine realm. Conversely, in Acts 12.9, Peter claims that his escape from prison was facilitated by instructions he received from an angel. But significantly, Peter cannot determine whether the angelic instructions and his own escape were real or part of a vision. Grappling under a different conception of the boundaries between reality and nonreality, vision and waking life, Peter finally concludes that both the prison escape and the angel must have been real.

Maurice Casey: "Jesus' closest followers during the historic ministry were much more likely to have visions of him after his death than normal people in our culture today" (painting by James Gleeson).

Maurice Casey: "Jesus' closest followers during the historic ministry were much more likely to have visions of him after his death than normal people in our culture today" (painting by James Gleeson).

Although Casey is somewhat at a loss to make sense of the unusual Transfiguration of Jesus, he concludes that in this account too, “someone thought it appropriate to tell a story of the inner circle of three, Simeon the Rock with Jacob and John, the sons of Zebedee seeing Jesus with his clothing temporarily transformed into the whiteness characteristic of heavenly beings” (p. 489). As Christopher Rowland maintains also, Casey concludes, “Jesus himself was a visionary” (p. 489). Casey notes Jesus’ call vision at his baptism by John the Baptist (Mark 1.9-11) and his vision of the spiritual consequences of the sending out of 72: “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven” (Luke 10.18; p. 490). Jesus’ visions taught him that his Movement was beginning to displace Satan from the heavens (and, I would add, that Jesus himself would be glorified as leading power under God in the highest heavens, following the similar belief recorded in the Similitudes). Casey is right to conclude, therefore, that it was to be expected that Jesus’ own followers would have followed their leader and experienced visionary experiences based expecially on his teachings about his own resurrection and glorification in Heaven.

All this means that Jesus’ closest followers during the historic ministry were much more likely to have visions of him after his death than normal people in our culture today. Moreover, they might relate such an event as if it were what we may reasonably call an “appearance” of the risen Jesus. (p. 490)

The tactic of conservative commentators in recent years, notably N.T. Wright, has been to attempt to restrict the meaning of “resurrection” to a bodily resurrection from a physical grave. But as Casey demonstrates, this very conveniently and arbitrarily limits the great diversity of early Jewish beliefs in how a righteous man or woman would “awaken” into eternal life (pp. 466-468). The restriction of “resurrection” even has to minimise some of the contrary presentations of life after death which are available within the Gospels. In Mark 12.25, Jesus assumes there will be a single occasion on which the dead would arise, and that “when they rise from the dead” they will have spiritual bodies, “like angels in the heavens” (p. 468). By contrast, in Luke 16.19-31, Abraham is presented as already active in the next world, before any general resurrection. When we add the great diversity of other Second Temple notions of the afterlife, Casey is right to conclude:

The stories of the Resurrection appearances in the New Testament fall within the range of what was believed to be possible in Second Temple Judaism. (p. 490)

Casey also argues that the appearance of Jesus to “more than 500 brethren at once” reported by Paul (1 Cor. 15.6) “is paradoxically not as improbable as an appearance to the Eleven all at once” (p. 495). For there are many instances of “strange experiences by large numbers of people at once”.  He refers to Allison (Resurrecting Jesus, 283 n. 333), who cites “the 1968–1969 sightings of the Virgin Mary at St. Mary’s Coptic church in Zeitoun, Egypt; she was reportedly seen by tens of thousands, both Muslims and Christians”. So as Casey concludes, “It is entirely plausible to suppose that some of more than 500 followers of Jesus thought that they saw something on a given occasion, that the dominant interpretation was that it was Jesus, but that he said nothing.” What Casey is describing is a mass form of pareidolia, of which the examples are numerous. While widely reported, such mass visions are never very convincing to everybody present. So this is probably why, as Casey notes:

neither Luke, who cannot have failed to know of this incident from St Paul, nor any of the other Gospel writers, thought this supposedly amazing incident worthy of recording. If this experience was not worth writing up, it cannot have been as unambiguous as conservative Christians like to believe. (p. 495)

In conclusion therefore, at least some of those who followed Jesus during his life accepted that he would be martyred in Jerusalem and would be vindicated by God, to take up a preeminent place in Heaven. Although these disciples had to flee the authorities at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion because of the animosity of some officials, and some appear to have later given up on Jesus (see Matthew 28.17), others continued to believe in Jesus’ message that he was the Son of Man. These faithful disciples saw Jesus appear to them in visions which they experienced in their native Galilee at some point after Jesus’ death. These visions were informed by Jesus’ own teachings about his heavenly exaltation after death, depending as all visions do on the visionary’s existing knowledge. As such visions were considered real, even “more real” than everyday experience, they would have helped to consolidate the early faith of the disciples and their small but growing community.

One of the great benefits and joys of Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth, and one of the reasons I have chosen to review it by concentrating especially on a single chapter, is his careful attention to detail, clear argumentation, and refusal to rely on accepted authority for its own sake. As the most suitable textbook on the historical Jesus for university study, it is resolutely critical in its methodology and conclusions, and does not contain any of the embarrassing confessional acclamations which blight most alternative treatments. In comparison to what has been offered in recent decades, with the partial exception of Dale Allison’s recent work, it provides by far the best introduction to the historical Jesus today, as well as so many original ideas as to make it most worthwhile for the more experienced Jesus scholars. I warmly and enthusiastically recommend Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth to all who are interested in the study of Jesus, the Gospels, and the origins of earliest Christianity.

Previous part: (6) Women Witnesses to the Empty Tomb and Their Significance


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Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Casey on Jesus (6) – Women Witnesses to the Empty Tomb and Their Significance

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 6: Women Witnesses to the Empty Tomb and Their Significance

All four Gospels feature a tradition in which one or more women discover the empty tomb of Jesus on the morning of Easter Sunday. None of the Gospels can agree on the identities of these women, but all of them name Mary Magdalene among them (the Synoptics) or Mary Magdalene as visiting the empty tomb on her own (John). As discussed earlier, the entire idea of finding an empty tomb is secondary to an earlier conception of Jesus’ resurrection, in which Jesus is resurrected to a new spiritual body, to spend the afterlife beside God in Heaven – for in such a scenario there was never any requirement for Jesus’ natural physical body to go missing from a tomb somewhere. Furthermore, as I have argued, the “discovery” of an empty tomb probably only occurred in Mary Magdalene’s vision “confirming” the resurrection of Jesus, not in the real world, and in fact, Jesus may not even have been buried in a tomb at all.

A common apologetic defense of the story of the women’s discovery of the empty tomb makes the argument that the story is historically reliable on the basis that it involves only women. What is typically argued is that women were not accepted as reliable legal witnesses in ancient Judea, that nobody would have any cause to later invent a story involving women if they wanted to persuade others that it is true, and that therefore the story must be true. The argument is not really logical from the outset, because it argues from a very modernist false dichotomy that either the story is literally true, or somebody has intentionally fabricated the story. But there are many other options for the development of this tradition and its inclusion in Mark, most of which would be more probable and in accord with ancient Jewish beliefs. Not the least of these alternative options is that a woman or group of women, who were followers of Jesus during his lifetime, experienced a vision of an empty tomb after his death, which they interpreted as proof of his resurrection to Heaven, and this tradition was told and retold until included and adapted in Mark’s Gospel. So as there are a number of different ways which such a story could develop in earliest Christianity, not just according to the modern and fundamentalist divide of truth versus legendary fabrication, one cannot logically make such an argument.

Mary Magdalene: Her report of the empty tomb was one that was made by a close follower of Jesus to fellow close followers of Jesus - yet scholars such as N.T. Wright, Dale Allison, and William Lane Craig want to impose on it the rules of a first-century Jewish lawcourt! (Photo from the music video "Judas" by Lady Gaga.)

Mary Magdalene: Her report of the empty tomb was one that was made by a close follower of Jesus to fellow close followers of Jesus – yet scholars such as N.T. Wright, Dale Allison, and William Lane Craig want to impose on it the rules of a first-century Jewish lawcourt! This is one of the first indications that their apologetic argument is quite unsound. (Photo from “Judas” by Lady Gaga.)

Despite the flawed logic which undermines the heart of its construction, the argument is defended, for example, by the conservative bishop-scholar, N.T. Wright, who claims,

The point has been repeated over and over in scholarship, but its full impact has not always been felt: women were simply not acceptable as legal witnesses.
(Resurrection of the Son of God, 2003: 607)

It is also argued by Dale Allison, who comes to a similar conclusion:

So, the reasoning runs, it is precisely the testimony of women, once suspects, that confirms for us the truth of the story.
(Resurrecting Jesus, 2005: 328)

And it is also argued by William Lane Craig, who sets out his reasoning as follows:

“Given the second-class status of women in first-century Palestine and their inability to serve as witnesses in a Jewish court, it is amazing they should appear here as the discoverers and chief witnesses to the fact of Jesus’ empty tomb, for so unreliable a witness was an embarrassment to the Christian proclamation. Any later, legendary account would surely have made male disciples discover the empty tomb…. The fact that it is women, whose testimony was worthless, rather than men who are said in the earliest narrative to be the discoverers of the empty tomb is best explained by the fact that the tradition here is reliable.”
(Jesus’ Resurrection, 2000: 176-177)

It is pleasing that Casey has taken the time to explain why “there are several things wrong” with this argument concerning the women witnesses (p. 475) – even if it is highly unlikely that we have seen the end of an argument which is so poor that it seems a shame to have to address it at all in serious scholarship. In the first place, Casey notes that the position of women in a court is simply irrelevant to Mark’s story. This point alone should rightly have put a stop to the unusual defence of Jesus’ resurrection. For the apologetic argument sets up a standard which does not even apply, because it involves a report by followers of Jesus given to other followers of Jesus! Even if it can be shown that there was some legal bias against women, which is probable but debatable, one may safely conclude that the level of proof demanded by fellow believers who already accepted the resurrection of Jesus would be significantly lower than the evidentiary requirements of a law court. This was not a hard sell!

There is something very strange going on here about the willingness of conservative Christian academics to attempt such an argument in what are purportedly scholarly works. For the evidentiary requirements of an ancient Jewish lawcourt are completely inapplicable to the specific circumstances of a Christian woman (Mary Magdalene) telling a story about the leader of her religious group to fellow members of her religious group. What we see here is the imposition of modern standards of apologetics, which for more than a century have been frequently self-styled with law-court imagery, and often authored by legal dilettantes (see, as only a selection: Simon Greenleaf’s The Testimony of the Evangelists, Examined by the Rules of Evidence Administered in Courts of Justice (1846); Josh McDowell’s Evidence That Demands a Verdict (1972), with its early cover imagery of a judge’s gavel; Ross Clifford, Leading Lawyers Look at the Resurrection (1991); and Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus (1998)). Most regrettably, scholars such as N.T. Wright and Dale Allison, publishing academic biblical studies, have uncritically accepted these modern, fundamentalist legal standards of proof – which is completely inappropriate for any proper analysis of the growth of a religious tradition within a nascent religious community. Instead of applying, for example, the relevant scholarship on the growth of new religious movements to determine how the empty tomb story may have become accepted in earliest Christianity, a certain type of New Testament scholar is now examining the rules of ancient Jewish lawcourts! This only illustrates how close some historical Jesus scholarship is to popular apologetics, and how far it is from mainstream religious studies.

Judith leaving the tent of Holofernes

Judith leaving the tent of Holofernes (Full copyright asserted by the artist. Used by permission. Click on the picture to view larger size.)

By contrast, Casey examines some relevant religious traditions concerning the role of women in Jewish narrative: how women were frequently presented as heroines in Jewish stories. In light of this approach, the role of women in the post-resurrection narrative is not surprising, but to be expected. He gives the examples of the story of Deborah the prophetess and judge (Judges 4-5) who summoned Barak and 10,000 warriors, Jael who had sex with the leader of Israel’s enemies in order to drive a tent-peg through his skull during his post-coital snooze, as well as noting the centrality of powerful women to the scriptural books named after them: Ruth, Esther, and Judith. As Casey concludes, against the conservative interpreters who would, irrelevantly, belittle the role of women witnesses in Jewish lawcourts:

This is the real cultural background for the role of women in the stories of the empty tomb: they are heroines, not witnesses in a court of Law. (p. 475)

In addition, Casey notes that the particular women who claimed to have seen the empty tomb were well known to the community as witnesses of the crucifixion (Mark 15.40-41). The women may even have been the source of Mark’s crucifixion narrative. These women were the only ones who, according to Mark’s tradition, had remained in Jerusalem, because the male disciples had already fled at the time of Jesus’ arrest. (The later tradition in Luke and John claims instead that the male disciples remained in Jerusalem, and that the male disciples also witnessed appearances of the post-resurrection Jesus in Jerusalem. But this development in the post-resurrection traditions occurs after the first Gospel, where the tradition about the women witnesses of the “empty tomb” is first recorded.)

Jael, Killing of Sisera

Jael, Killing of Sisera (by Kevin Rolly, aka. ‘Kevissimo’)

Therefore, far from it being unlikely that Mark would present the women as the witnesses to the empty tomb – in the absence of every one of the male disciples, one of whom was in such a hurry to get away that he fled away naked – Mark had no good option but to include women followers of Jesus at Jerusalem! This does not mean that the male disciples had fled all the way to Galilee already by Sunday morning, as some apologetic scholars (and recently Dale Allison, Resurrecting Jesus, 2005) have presented as the only alternative. We must instead pay careful attention to what Mark narrates: the male disciples had fled the scene of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion; the women made the journey to the empty tomb alone (unusually unchaperoned in a graveyard); and Jesus promised he would “go before” the male disciples to Galilee.

Therefore, if we accept this reason for the presence of women in Mark’s story, it is irrelevant whether or not we can also demonstrate first-century Jewish bias against the reports of women. We might even say that it is safe to assume that there was some male bias against reports derived from women. Even the two disciples of Jesus on the Emmaeus Road appear reluctant to believe the report that they had heard from the women (Luke 24.22-24). In the second century, Celsus mocks the report as though told by “half-frantic women” (Origen, Contra Celsus,2.59). But the apologetic argument for historicity loses even what little credibility it might have had when we recognise that Mark had a very good reason not to include male disciples: none of them were there!

Furthermore, against another common apologetic argument, there was never any desire or ability for any “officials” to produce the body of Jesus, so as to “disprove” the resurrection. In the first place, the apologetic argument that the resurrection must be true or officials would have produced Jesus’ body presumes that the officials cared about the religious fantasies of a small Jewish sect and their dead leader. In the second place, the tradition that the tomb belonged to a rich man is, as argued, invented so as to make Jesus’ death all the more noble; in reality, we are dealing with a common tomb, or no tomb at all if it only ever appeared in a vision. Third, even if we were to accept that Jesus had been buried in a tomb known to officials and for some unknown reason they were eager to disprove the religious claims of a small group of heretical Jews, Jesus’ body would have been unrecognizable well before the development of this secondary tradition. As Casey puts it:

[Even after a few weeks,] Jesus’ remains would be unrecognizable. Even if someone knew where his tomb was, for example if Joseph of Arimathea was back in Jerusalem too, some of his helpers probably being there anyway, the revolting task of trying to identify which body it was would not have been decisive at all. It would not have silenced his followers, because their faith that Jesus had risen was not dependent on the missing remains of Jesus’ body. They would have continued to preach the good news that God had raised Jesus from the dead in accordance with Psalm 16, and he now sits at the right hand of God in accordance with Psalm 110. Producing Jesus’ remains would impress only those who did not believe in resurrection, those who believed God never took anyone to heaven, and those who believed that Jesus was a seditious criminal. Like most Jews in Jerusalem, such people did not believe in Jesus’ Resurrection anyway, so producing Jesus’ remains would have been a revolting exercise which had no significant effect.
(p. 497)

Sometime after the first vision reports about a post-resurrected Jesus were circulated, a further tradition arose about women finding the tomb of Jesus empty on the morning of Easter Sunday. This tradition included women because it was accepted that only women remained in Jerusalem at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus, while the male disciples had fled, and women were frequently presented as heroes in Jewish narrative. There was, however, no real “empty tomb”, only a tradition about an empty tomb, in which I find a number of motifs which suggest its origin in a woman’s vision. The apologetic argument that the women’s report is true merely because it is by women falsely assumes the alternatives of fabrication versus truth, bizarrely demands that a tale told by Christians to other Christians should meet the requirements of an ancient Jewish law-court, and belittles the role of women in Jewish story-telling. For these reasons, the apologetic argument does not even merit consideration in critical scholarship on the resurrection reports, belonging as it does to popular apologetics peddled by dilettantes.

Next part: (7) Visionary Experiences of Jesus’ Resurrection
Previous part: (5) Did Jesus consider himself to be “The Son of Man”?


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Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Casey on Jesus (5) – Did Jesus consider himself to be “The Son of Man”?

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 5: Did Jesus consider himself to be “The Son of Man”?

According to Casey, belief in the resurrection of Jesus was one of the earliest aspects of the Christian faith, and was based on visionary appearances witnessed by his earliest followers. But the manner in which these visions were experienced and interpreted by Jesus’ followers was determined by Jesus’ own prediction that he would die and subsequently be raised to life again (p. 456). In a series of sayings which Casey concludes originates with the historical Jesus, Jesus, speaking of himself as “the son of man” (ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου), predicts that he will rise again after three days (Mark 8.31; 9.31; 10.33-34). Furthermore, as Casey argues, in addition to Jesus’ prediction of his death, Jesus deliberately provoked his own crucifixion. His journey to Jerusalem and challenge to the temple authorities should be viewed as a deliberate attempt to effect his own martyrdom. In short, Jesus was on a suicide mission. Therefore, concludes Casey, the nature of the post-resurrection visions is a reflection of Jesus’ own teaching about his future death and resurrection; they are not just the Church’s invention, not – for example – an ad hoc explanation why their hero had met with an untimely death. Instead, Casey holds that, Jesus deliberately followed in the steps of the Jewish prophets and more recent Maccabean rebels, inviting his own martyrdom. Moreover, following the Maccabean belief in the post-mortem vindication of righteous martyrs, Jesus believed that following his death, he too would be given eternal life.

Jesus: Did he imagine he would be transformed into The Son of Man who would come on the clouds of Heaven?

Did Jesus imagine he would be transformed into The Son of Man who would come back to Earth on the clouds of Heaven?

If Jesus made these predictions about himself, we might ask: is this all that Jesus claimed for himself? Did he not also claim for himself a special role in the coming eschatological Kingdom, in particular the role of a semi-divine intermediary like Elijah or the archangel Michael … or like the figure who become known as “the Son of Man”? Casey acknowledges that a passage such as Mark 10.40 envisages a central role for Jesus in his heavenly glory. In Mark 10.35-45, two of Jesus’ disciples, John and his brother James, ask Jesus if they can have pride of position when Jesus is exalted to heavenly glory. Jesus denies this to them, claiming that only God can grant such things. Then, in a private word to all the disciples, which may or may not be an original part of the same tradition, Jesus explains that the Kingdom of God does not involve lording it over others like tyrants, but requires serving others. Jesus concludes, in v. 45, by saying, “The [or “a”?] son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

From this passage, we learn that Jesus and his disciples viewed Jesus as having a special role in Heaven – higher than the disciples and other worthy recipients of heavenly life, but subject to God. Jesus thought that one day he would be a “second power in Heaven”, just under God! This strange belief makes sense of Jesus’ choosing twelve disciples, for in this act, Jesus was reconstituting a new Israel, each disciple a leader of the twelve tribes which made up the idealized Old Testament concept of Israel, with Jesus as their David-like, kingly head. If Jesus believed in a Kingdom of God, it was one in which Jesus was king, and only his followers were truly Israel! But, Jesus also expected hardship while on Earth; he expected that in order to become great in the afterlife, to become first among all people in eternity, they would have to serve as slaves, and be subject to the possibility of martyrdom. In this, Jesus adhered to the idea that earthly suffering and righteousness led to heavenly reward, which was a Jewish belief invented probably only as late as the second century BC (see, e.g., Daniel 12.3; 2 Maccabees 7) – although never a belief which was accepted by all Jews.

Jesus: when he said bar (e)nash(a) did he mean a singular figure or a general figure?

Jesus: when he said bar (e)nash(a) did he mean a singular figure or a general figure?

Clearly Jesus thought that he held a special role in this coming kingdom. But what of his statement that “The [or “a”?] son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many”? The Greek phrase ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου (lit. “the son of the man”) is not normal, native Greek, but is translation Greek, behind which we can detect the clear signs of an Aramaic Vorlage, bar (e)nash(a). In general usage, bar (e)nash(a) is a circumlocution which simply means “a person”. So, by saying, for example, “a son of man is like a worm”, all one would be saying is that “a man/human is like a worm” (cf. Job 25.6). This saying does not mean that Jesus in particular is like a worm! Casey also notes that the term bar (e)nash(a) is sometimes used, as it is by Jesus, to speak of oneself in the third person. So when Jesus says “the son of man is going to die”, it is possible that he might only be saying, “I am going to die”. Casey explains that Jesus might have a reason to speak of his impending death in the third person, because such things are humiliating or difficult to face (p. 368). The context of Mark 10.35-45 does not help us distinguish whether Jesus is referring to a specific, titular Son of Man or just “son of man” (i.e. a person). For in the context of this passage, Jesus is saying that his personal example, in which he predicts that he will serve on Earth and later become a kingly figure in Heaven, is the rule also for John and James and every one of his followers. So bar (e)nash(a) could refer either to Jesus himself as a specific person (“the Son of Man”) or to everybody (“a son of man”, i.e. “a person”).

Jesus said, "everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God"

Jesus said, "everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God." Jesus appears to have had a somewhat overinflated estimation of his own self-importance within the cosmic scheme of things.

There is a fundamental dilemma then in interpreting the “son of man” sayings (or at least in respect of the earliest son of man sayings that go back to the historical Jesus, because in later usage ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου becomes more clearly a title for Jesus). The unusual phrase is, however, very distinctive of Jesus, and is found directly on his lips, not in the narrator’s sections in Mark. Casey provides careful reasons to interpret every one of the genuine bar (e)nash(a) sayings which go back to the historical Jesus as having a general usage, that is, as applying to all people generally. Casey’s discussion of the “son of man” passages here and recently in The Solution to the “Son of Man” Problem (2007) is extremely comprehensive, and even if you ultimately disagree with his conclusions, the clarity of his argument and breadth of knowledge demands engagement. Casey’s discussion of the scholarship on bar (e)nash(a), the few dozen non-Christian usages of bar (e)nash(a), and the use of bar (e)nash(a) by Jesus is unmatched in contemporary scholarship. Moreover, Casey is right to maintain that the titular sense of bar (e)nash(a) (“Son of Man”) simply does not occur in the unequivocal manner of its Christian use before the Gospels. It does not occur in Daniel, where instead the heavenly figure is described as “one like a son of man/human” in appearance, which is not a title, whether it refers symbolically to Israel or, as I favour, to a divine intermediary such as Michael, among other options. It does not occur as a title in the Similitudes of Enoch, although it is used fairly singularly to refer to an individual man who is eventually transformed into the eschatological judge. In the Similitudes, the phrase “son of man” gains a specific association with Enoch and his heavenly counterpart the eschatological judge, because the term is used repeatedly of him. Moreover, it is coloured from the beginning by the clear use of imagery from Daniel 7 (Similitudes 46.1-4). So, while “son of man” is not technically titular in the Similitudes, the term has gathered a specific connotation of the divine intermediary responsible for the eschatological judgement. As many authors in the volume published the same year as Casey’s Son of Man (Gabriele Boccaccini’s Enoch and the Messiah Son of Man) argue, despite the inherent uncertainty, there is a good case to be made for a 20 B.C. dating of the Similitudes. On this basis, the phrase “son of man” was an established address for an individual person, moreover a glorified transformed divine intermediary figure, before the birth of Jesus, and before the floruit of the apocalyptic figure who taught Jesus, John the Baptist.

For Casey, while the historical Jesus believed he would have a special place in Heaven, and believed and predicted that he would have to suffer a martyr’s death to attain it, he did not historically term his heavenly counterpart “The Son of Man”. It is certainly possible to interpret each of the genuine “son of man” sayings of Jesus in a general rather than titular sense, although a full discussion of each case would take us a long way from the present book, into many of Casey’s other publications on this interpretive problem. While I’m not convinced by his conclusion that every reference by the historical Jesus to ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου / bar (e)nash(a) is general; i.e. that none are titular with the meaning “The Son of Man”, the question is admittedly very difficult to determine, not least because – and this is Casey’s (as well as Vermes’) insight – we must first retrovert Mark’s Aramaic-derived Greek Jesus-sayings into their hypothetical Vorlagen before even beginning to consider whether the phrase is titular or generic. Lurking in the background to this issue, also, is the odd fact that the term ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου is almost entirely restricted to the Gospels, and is not included for example in any of the earlier Pauline epistles – although plausibly because the epistles lack the direct speech of Jesus and are composed in native not translation Greek. So was “Son of Man” a title used by Jesus himself, or developed only by Mark and followed by the other Gospels? Mark 14.62 clearly links – similar to the author of the Similitudes before him – the “son of man” sayings with imagery drawn from Daniel 7.13-14, which speaks of “one like a son of man” (i.e. somebody in human form) who “comes with the clouds of Heaven”, puts an end to evil, is “given dominion and glory and kingship”, which lasts for all eternity. For Mark, it seems clear that  ὁ υἱὸς τοῦ ἀνθρώπου has become a title of the divine intermediary who will act as eschatological judge and second in power to God in Heaven. As Casey argues, the historical Jesus accepted this heavenly role, so could the title “Son of Man” which Mark  employs to describe it also go back to the historical Jesus?

Casey not only argues for the general meaning of  bar (e)nash(a) in each of the specific general uses by Jesus by detailed analysis of text and translation technique, but he raises a further argument which he considers makes the general meaning necessarily present whenever bar (e)nash(a) is employed. Casey argues that “the general level of meaning… cannot be avoided in the original Aramaic” (p. 363). Now it is one thing to argue from the meaning of specific passages that Jesus does not employ the title “Son of Man”; but this goes further and appears to assert that Jesus could not have used the term bar (e)nash(a) without also including its general sense (i.e. “a man”). If true, it would effectively rule out the possibility that Jesus could have used the Aramaic expression bar (e)nash(a) in a titular sense. But is this correct? Can a very general word – even as general a word which simply means “a man” in general use – not have been used by Jesus in a sense which excludes this general level of meaning? A word used very generally can indeed lose its general sense in certain technical usages. Take the word “man” in English, to begin with an analogy. Although it has just the same level of generality, extending to all “humankind”, it can also be restricted to certain people. If I say, “I’ve got to work for the man“, the term “the man” refers only to a white, upper-class man, and excludes the general level of “man”. In this example, although I am a man, I am not “the man”; the specific, technical usage excludes the general use. Closer to home, in Hebrew, the corresponding term ‘ish (“man”/”human”) has a very general semantic range. But now and again it is used restrictively, to refer to a special class of men, to heroes, to mighty men. Take Numbers 13.3b, which refers to the list of spies as ‘ishim (“men”), and uses the term in apposition to roshey beney-yisra’el (“chiefs of the sons of Israel”). Here, the general extent of the term “men” is erased, as it is used to describe the spies with the phrase “all of them men”. The author is not retaining the whole generality of the semantic range (obviously the spies are “men”!), but referring to each of the spies as a special type of man: a hero; a great warrior.

Can a very general word - even as general a word which simply means "a man" in general use - also be used in an exclusive sense?

Can a very general word - even as general a word as simply means "a man" - also be used in an exclusive sense?

Moving from these analogies to Jesus’ use of “son of man”: how might we conclude that the historical Jesus may have employed this Aramaic phrase – which in most circumstances has a very general sense – in a very specific way, in fact, to refer to himself as the divine intermediary understood as the eschatological judge of humankind? The first thing to note is that the circumlocutory form “son of man” would easily attract such a specific secondary, technical, titular meaning – much more easily than the term “man”. Casey only locates 50-odd usages of “son of man” in a millennium of Aramaic usage, as opposed to the many thousands of uses of “man”. In addition, this rare phrase “son of man” would have easily evoked the passage in Daniel for Jesus and his followers, given (1) the highly apocalyptic nature of the earliest Jesus movement, (2) Jesus’ own similar delusion that he was destined to take up the top spot in Heaven under The Power Himself (God), (3) the favouring of this precise circumlocutory phrase to apply to a glorified divine intermediary in the Similitudes by an apocalyptic author exhibiting notable similarities to the Jesus Movement, and (4) the apparent importance of Daniel on Jesus and his followers as evident from the extent and significance of its use in the New Testament. For Jesus, then, bar (e)nash(a) would most probably have had this strong connotation of a divine intermediary figure who wielded divinely instituted power. It is this precise persona that Jesus took on, perhaps as a result of his own visionary experiences (as at his baptism, in the desert, and his transfiguration, etc). Jesus considered himself to be this Son of Man, which provided him with power and authority while on Earth (e.g. regarding the Sabbath law), stimulated his intent to invite death and martyrdom as had the Maccabean martyrs who were transformed into heavenly beings, and formed the basis for his belief in his eschatological role as judge of the living and the dead. So while it is possible that the historical Jesus used bar (e)nash(a) only in a general sense, there is no necessary reason why the Aramaic phrase bar (e)nash(a) could not in a certain context have an exclusive sense. Moreover, this exclusive, titular sense in fact corresponds precisely with Jesus’ conception of himself as deserving of a special role in Heaven as eschatological judge and second power under God.

For example, in Luke 12.8-9, a passage discussed by Casey as a translation of an Aramaic saying originating with the historical Jesus (and which he reconstructs with some significant difference to the Greek translation which follows), Jesus tells his disciples,

And I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man [or, a son of man] also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God.

As Casey affirms, “[t]here should be no doubt that, in two or three sayings, Jesus declared that people’s attitude to him during the historic ministry would condition their fate at the last judgement” (Son of Man, p. 193). Jesus set himself up as the new measure of Jewish exclusivity, the measure of “true Israel” within “Israel”. Jesus appears to have had a somewhat overinflated estimation of his own self-importance within the cosmic scheme of things (readers will recall that the imminent, apocalyptic end-of-the-world scenario which he predicted never in fact came to pass). We might also then conclude that Jesus’ exclusive demand for his follower’s allegiance to him as the sine qua non of attaining eternal life has significant continuity with Paul’s demand for belief “in” Christ as the key to salvation. Far from being the exemplar of  the possibility of a new universalism-to-come – as in the creative but ultimately futile romantic fantasies of Alain Badiou and Slavoj Žižek – Paul was adhering to Jesus’ own exclusivism when he reconstituted the old lines of exclusion (Israelite versus Gentile exclusivity) in an analogical fashion, setting followers of Jesus against non-followers of Jesus (as Daniel Boyarin already observes brilliantly in A Radical Jew, 1997).

Moreover, if “son of man” is titular here, this passage assumes a preeminent position of Jesus on the day of judgment, as judge of the living and the dead. This is consistent with the preeminent heavenly position Jesus saw for himself in his discussion with John and James, and of which his disciples were well aware. The role of Jesus as the judge of the whole earth on the Day of Judgment, and the imminence of this eschatological finale, can be found throughout the New Testament (e.g. Rom. 8.34; Eph. 1.19-23; 2.6-7; Col. 3.1-4; Phil. 2.8-9). This authentic saying of Jesus in Luke 12.8-9 also shows that the belief in a unique apocalyptic role goes back to the historical Jesus. By contrast, Casey argues that “son of man” merely refers to “a man”, that is, that those who confess Jesus on Earth will find somebody-or-another giving them a favourable report in Heaven – not the Son of Man figure. Conversely, when in Luke 12.9, Jesus notes that those who deny Jesus “will be denied”, Casey claims that the denial is by God himself, not by Jesus in his judgment role as “Son of Man”. While, as noted, Casey’s interpretations are possible, they do not seem to offer the better interpretation, and this is so in particular because of the very close match between the “Son of Man” figure here in Luke 12.8-9 and the other New Testament passages in which the figure doing the judging of the living and the dead is Jesus. The most economic explanation must be that in claiming this particular role of eschatological judge and preeminent heavenly power, Jesus is claiming precisely the role of the Son of Man. Casey accepts that Jesus predicted his death; he accepts that Jesus predicted his preeminent position in Heaven; but he does not consider that the “Son of Man” sayings which tell of both Jesus’ earthly suffering and heavenly exaltation refer exclusively to Jesus. But for the reasons given, I would go that extra step.

Jesus understood himself as having an important, even singular role in the entire cosmos. He understood himself as the successor to the lost Davidic kingship in Israel, the eschatological judge of all humanity, destined to be the second power in Heaven under only God himself. Although Casey disagrees, I conclude that Jesus, not just his followers, described this particular role of power and judgment with the term the “Son of Man”. The term Son of Man, so distinctive on the lips of Jesus, was learned by Jesus through instruction by John the Baptist and appropriated through Jesus’ own visionary experiences. Following two centuries of speculation concerning the intriguing description of the principal heavenly angel and harbinger of the eschaton as being “one like a (son of) man” in Daniel 7.13-14, the concept of the Son of Man was developed, and this concept in particular – which was evident in essence in the Similitudes – provided Jesus with his self-understanding as eschatological judge of all humankind, both a transformed man and leading power in Heaven. While the Jesus Seminar and other nineteenth-century liberals like to present Jesus as a cuddly wind-up toy whose string you can pull and make him recite any of a few dozen comforting aphorisms (to borrow an image from Joseph Hoffmeier), the historical Jesus turns out to be more of a David Koresh-type demagogue with an overinflated estimation of himself than some harmless Cynic philosopher.

Next part: (6) Women Witnesses to the Empty Tomb and Their Significance
Previous part: (4) Inconsistencies and Deliberate Changes in the Gospel Post-Resurrection Accounts


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Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Casey on Jesus (4) – Inconsistencies and Deliberate Changes in the Gospel Post-Resurrection Accounts

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 4: Inconsistencies and Deliberate Changes in the Gospel post-Resurrection Accounts

Of all the episodes in the four Gospels which are recorded in parallel, none are more radically at odds than the accounts of the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

The typical conservative evangelical rejoinder at this point is to argue that each of the four Evangelists recorded different aspects of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, and that they can all be seen to fit together perfectly if we just spend some time considering how they may be harmonized. Sometimes this argument is accompanied by the analogy of independent witnesses at a crime-scene. We would ordinarily expect different witnesses to recall different aspects of the whole, to disagree on the minor details, but to be in fundamental agreement about the story as a whole.

However, such arguments are not so much interested in reconstructing what really happened, that is, the historical details (if any) of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances. Rather, they are primarily interested in saving the credibility of the story for believers, and a certain type of believer at that. What is more, the harmonizing approach to the Gospels runs into at least two significant problems. First, and Casey also makes the point (p. 464), the resulting harmonization looks nothing like any of the individual accounts. In order to incorporate the details of each of the different stories, the resulting harmonization almost inevitably ends up in tension with the overall picture offered by each individual Gospel. Second, the “independent witness” analogy simply does not apply here, because none of the Synoptic Gospels are independent from the others; unlike the scenario of independent witnesses, neither Matthew nor Luke provide a witness which is “independent” of their common source, Mark. According to the most widely accepted account of the evident literary dependence between the Synoptic Gospels, Mark was the first Gospel to be written, and it was used extensively as a source by Matthew, and almost as extensively by Luke. While John records independent traditions, the problem with the Fourth Gospel is precisely the opposite: the traditions are so developed and expanded and bear so little relationship with the traditions in the three Synoptic Gospels that they cannot begin to corroborate the detail in the other Gospels; in fact, it looks as if John did not even know the other traditions. These points provide caution against the naive, uncritical approach of harmonizing the Gospel accounts.

Casey makes one further and decisive argument against attempting to harmonize the Gospels: when we compare the parallel accounts in the Gospels, it is clear that Matthew and Luke not only produce inconsistent accounts, but they deliberately change what Mark wrote.

Maurice Casey: "the Resurrection narratives in our Gospels are not reports of real facts"

Maurice Casey: "the Resurrection narratives in our Gospels are not reports of real facts"

One example of these deliberate changes concerns Mark’s conception that Jesus was going ahead of the disciples, to meet them in Galilee (Mark 14.28; 16.7). For Mark, the first appearance of Jesus was not in Jerusalem, outside of which Jesus was crucified, but in the region that Jesus commenced his movement: Galilee (p. 461).

Matthew agrees with Mark that the post-resurrection appearance of Jesus to his disciples was to occur in Galilee (Matthew 28.7; cf. Mark 16.7), and Matthew consequently narrates Jesus’ first appearance to the disciples as occuring in Galilee (28.16-20). Yet in Matthew we find that two facts have been deliberately changed. First, instead of “saying nothing to anyone” (Mark 1.8), Matthew narrates the women as leaving Jesus’ tomb with the express intention of telling the disciples what the angel had commanded them to tell. Secondly, Matthew includes a single post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, in Jerusalem, to the women. In this appearance, Jesus repeats what the angel had said to the women, instructing the women to inform his disciples that the disciples will see him in Galilee. As Casey notes, Matthew inserted this post-resurrection appearance into the narrative received from Mark

only so that Jesus could tell them to tell other people to get to Galilee for the most important appearance. He was not anticipating the later tradition of appearances in Jerusalem. (p. 463)

So, as Casey observes, the two earliest Gospels are unanimous in placing the major post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, to his disciples, in Galilee. But Luke has deliberately rewritten the tradition “to put all the appearances in Jerusalem” (p. 463).

Maurice Casey: Luke has deliberately rewritten the Galilean post-resurrection appearances "to put all the appearances in Jerusalem"

Maurice Casey: Luke has deliberately rewritten the Galilean post-resurrection appearances "to put all the appearances in Jerusalem"

In Luke’s account, Jesus no longer goes ahead of the disciples to Galilee in order to appear to them there. Instead, Jesus appears to the disciples in Jerusalem. Casey carefully explains how Luke has deliberately changed the Markan tradition in order to effect this change of locations. Whereas the angel in Mark says to the women at the tomb,

But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you (Mark 16.7),

the angel in Luke, at precisely the same point of his address to the women at the tomb, says,

Remember how he [Jesus] told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again (Luke 24.6-7).

Luke has deliberately changed the significance of “Galilee” in the angel’s speech about Jesus’ earlier prediction of his death! In Mark, the point of Jesus’ mention of “Galilee”, according to the angel, is to let the disciples know where they should meet him after the resurrection. But in Luke, by contrast, the angel only mentions “Galilee” as the location at which Jesus’ made the prediction of his death. While Luke has retained Mark’s mention of Galilee, he has changed it to prepare for his subsequent narrative, in which Jesus innovatively appears to his disciples in Jerusalem, not in Galilee! Therefore, between the writing of Mark and Luke, a whole series of post-resurrection appearances have been created which centre on Jerusalem, rather than at Galilee (as in the earliest tradition). As Casey notes, Matthew may have been aware of a tradition of appearances at Jerusalem when he created an appearance of Jesus there to the women. But Matthew reserved the major post-resurrection appearance of Jesus, that is, to the disciples, to Galilee. As Casey summarises, with Luke, we have the “deliberate replacement of one tradition with another” (p. 463). Not only that, but Luke proceeds to narrate every one of the appearances of Jesus in Jerusalem, followed by Jesus’ ascension to Heaven (Jesus’ “resurrection-after-resurrection-after-death”). As Casey notes, this leaves “no room for any appearance in Galilee” (p. 463). Luke has deliberately changed the narrative of post-resurrection appearances in his major source, Mark, and he does this so as to include a series of traditions in which Jesus appears to the women and to his disciples in Jerusalem rather than Galilee (p. 464). The stories of post-resurrection appearances in Luke are creative inventions which have little to do with the earlier tradition (noted in Mark, recorded in Matthew), in which Jesus’ disciples first imagine they have seen Jesus at some stage after fleeing Jerusalem and returning to their homes in Galilee.

Luke rewrote the early tradition of appearances in Galilee, and replaced it with his own tradition of appearances in Jerusalem… Consequently, we cannot expect much early history in Luke’s tradition of appearances. (p. 481)

Apart from the location, the stories in Matthew and Luke do not contradict each other so much as give an impression of total disassociation, as if neither of them knew the traditions to which the other had access (apart from the story of the empty tomb, which both of them took from Mark. (p. 463)

The question remains: why was Luke determined to deliberately change the Galilee appearances to Jerusalem appearances? One probable reason is that Luke had uncovered many of these stories about Jesus’ appearances in Jerusalem, during his “careful investigations” (Luke 1.3). That is, Luke encountered the testimonies of certain Christian faithful who claimed that they had personally “witnessed” (Luke 1.2) the resurrected Jesus in visions, and Luke then assessed which of these accounts were true and real, and his assessment resulted in”eyewitness” stories we now have recorded in Luke’s Gospel. For if Luke’s reference to “careful investigations” of the reports of “eyewitnesses” means anything, it probably does not refer to his copying of two-thirds of Mark, a Gospel not claimed to be written by an eyewitness, and indeed already forming a secondary stage of the transmission of the tradition. It may possibly refer to some of the oral or written material shared with Matthew and not Mark (i.e.  Q), if these traditions were associated with eyewitnesses, and some of the special Lukan material – but in most cases we would have no way of telling which of these sources might be considered to derive from “eyewitnesses”. However, Luke’s “careful investigations” of traditions attributed to eyewitnesses must at minimum refer to his recording of post-resurrection sightings experienced by Christians. For in these post-resurrection visions we certainly have something that Luke would have considered to be a true and first-hand eyewitness tradition.  

For as shown in the historical works of Josephus, our only other extant example of first-century Jewish-Greek “historiography”, vision reports were widely accepted as a legitimate historical source. As Robert Gnuse explains (in Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writings of Josephus, 1996), Josephus considered that by virtue of the revelations that he received in dreams, he was also a prophet, and treated his revelatory experiences on a par with other historical sources. Josephus believed that “the best historians were the prophets who interpreted events under divine inspiration” (Gnuse, p. 23), and also believed that he was creating an “inspired” historiography based on his own revelatory experiences. This only goes to show us how different Luke’s historiographical criteria would have been from our own modern standards. Richard Bauckham then (in Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, 2006) only tells half the story when he tries to argue that some of Luke’s traditions go back to traditions of eyewitnesses. Sure some of them probably do go back to eyewitnesses – but at least some of this “eyewitnessing” was “seen” during a visionary experience that had nothing to do with reality!

Casey provides a further reason for Luke’s transference of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances from Galilee to Jerusalem. In Luke 24.46-49, Jesus designates Jerusalem as the centre and sending-point of the Gentile Mission (p. 463), a designation unique to Luke’s Gospel and revealing Luke’s special interest in Jerusalem. Therefore, by assigning all of Jesus’ appearances to Jerusalem, he heightens his idealization of Jerusalem as the hub of the Christian movement. When we turn to John’s post-resurrection appearances, Casey makes the interesting observation that John is written “as if its authors did not know the tradition of Galilean appearances” (p. 464). That is, by the time that John was written, Jerusalem was simply accepted as the location of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances, and – in contrast to Luke – John does not narrate the appearances as though he is deliberately excluding the Galilean tradition. Even when Galilean appearances are included in John 21 (possibly a redacted appendix to the book), they barely overlap with the earlier Galilean tradition found in Matthew (p. 464). As Casey summarizes:

It has become clear from scholarly analysis that the Resurrection narratives in our Gospels are not reports of real facts (p. 461).

Casey’s astute analysis demonstrates that the post-resurrection traditions were still developing some time after Jesus’ death, as a result of new visionary experiences and the different interests of later Gospel authors. The Gospels, far from constituting a harmony of different aspects of the appearances of Jesus, should be understood as deliberately contradicting each other.

Next part: (5) Did Jesus consider himself to be “The Son of Man”?
Previous part: (3) The Gospel of Mark’s Missing Ending


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Did Jesus Rise from the Dead? Casey on Jesus (3) – The Gospel of Mark’s Missing Ending

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 3: The Gospel of Mark’s Missing Ending

One of the funny things about Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances in the earliest of the four Gospels, Mark, is that there aren’t any. Instead, what we read in Mark’s account of what happened after Jesus’ resurrection (Mark 16.1-8) is that a group of women find Jesus’ tomb already empty when they arrive there, an angel (described as a young man in a white robe) tells them that Jesus has risen, and then, suddenly, there is an abrupt ending which informs us that the women told nobody about their remarkable experience. The allegedly risen Jesus, despite being the hero of Mark’s story, fails to even make an appearance in it. A much later redactor tries to fix this awkward state of affairs by adding a more rounded ending (Mark 16.9-20) – but this longer ending is evidently derived at a later, secondary stage of development. For it includes elements from both Matthew and Luke, does not appear in the better, more reliable manuscripts, and is even marked as a later tradition in some manuscripts. So there is a serious problem: why does the Gospel of Mark finish so abruptly at chapter 16 verse 8?

Scholars have provided no end of speculative reasons for Mark’s “missing ending”; there is nothing like a complete absence of evidence to stimulate creative scholarly suggestions. Scholars ask: was this ending intended or unintended? If intended, for what scheme or purpose? If unintended, has the ending been lost or deliberately truncated? If deliberate, what would be the purpose in truncating Mark’s gospel? In turn, a plethora of scholarly answers has been offered for each question. In particular, a number of recent “literary” approaches have considered that the present ending of Mark 16.8 evidences such literary artistry and fearful symmetry, that we should recognise in the ending of this Gospel either an author whose talents rivalled Shakespeare’s own or the hand of God Almighty… or possibly both.

In contrast to such fertile, albeit often tenuous, procedures, Casey begins his analysis by taking note of a particular aspect of the problem with Mark’s “missing ending”. In Mark 14.27-28, Jesus predicts that after he is raised, he will “go before” the disciples – after they will have deserted him – “to Galilee”. Very unusually, Mark narrates Jesus’ prediction of his first post-resurrection appearance to the disciples in Galilee, but never gets around to narrating its fulfillment. This state of affairs makes it unlikely that the present, abrupt ending of Mark (at 16.8) was intended. In addition, as Casey notes, the angel’s speech in Mark 16.7 clearly alludes to Jesus’ prediction in 14.28. The angel commands the women, in 16.7, to tell the disciples and Peter, “He [Jesus] goes before you into Galilee, just as he said to you” (προάγει ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν• ἐκεῖ αὐτὸν ὄψεσθε, καθὼς εἶπεν ὑμῖν). As Casey notes, the angel’s words “just as he said to you” clearly refer back to Jesus’ own words in 14.28. Moreover, the angel’s description of Jesus going before them to Galilee in Mark 16.7 employs the same vocabulary used by Jesus in 14.28: “I will go before you into Galilee” (προάξω ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν). Yet, far from resolving the prediction in 14.28 or explaining the abruptness of the ending in Mark 16.8, the angel’s allusion to Jesus’ words further anticipates the missing Galilean appearance. Casey’s conclusion is, therefore, surely correct:

Mark cannot possibly have written these passages unless he intended to write an account of at least one Resurrection appearance of Jesus in Galilee. (p. 462)


According to Casey, the whole of the Gospel of Mark is incomplete, a "first draft"

According to Casey, the whole of the Gospel of Mark is incomplete, a "first draft"

Yet instead of positing a missing ending, Casey offers a creative and indeed radical solution, proposing that the ending was never in fact written, because the Gospel as a whole is unfinished. For Casey, it is not merely the case that the author did not finish his Gospel – more radically, none of it was ever in a complete state. What we know as the Gospel of Mark should therefore, according to Casey, be regarded as “a first draft” (p. 76), a hypothesis which explains both the extensive mistakes which the Gospel contains as well as the frequent attempts of copyists to emend the text, and even its adaptation and development by Matthew and Luke. For example, Casey notes Mark’s purported quotation of “Isaiah” in Mark 1.2, which instead begins with Malachi 3.1 before proceeding to Isaiah 40.3. For Casey this is a mistake of someone who didn’t ever get to correct his mistakes (instead, it is corrected by both Matthew and Luke).

Although Casey’s proposal is worth much further consideration, I do not know if it is more persuasive than the immediate alternative: that Mark simply made a lot of mistakes. This alternative seems more attractive when we consider, as Casey does, that “Mark was not an author like Plutarch or Suetonius, well educated, experienced and writing another life of Someone Famous” (p. 77). A further point against Casey’s proposal is that, if the whole of Mark’s Gospel were incomplete, i.e. in “draft form”, it would be hard to explain why the earlier parts of Mark present a complete narrative, and don’t seem to have the sorts of abrupt lacunae that we find only at the end of the Gospel. In particular, Mark 14-16, which narrates Jesus’ last week and the empty tomb story, is particularly tightly narrated – and many would conclude that this is due to Mark’s own contribution as narrator here (working I think with received traditions) – which makes the absence of any prediction-and-fulfilment between Mark 14.27-28 and the ending of Mark look more like an exception than the rule of a “work in draft”.  These latter two factors, I think, tips the balance of explanation toward the Gospel being a final version rather than a “draft”. However, Casey’s argument regarding the predicted appearance of Jesus in Galilee and the missing fulfilment of that prediction does not allow us to accept the recent “literary” approaches to the text, which ironically seem to have neglected one of the most prominent literary features about the Gospel of Mark: it hasn’t got an ending.

So Mark’s missing ending remains a scholarly mysterion. Yet if we return to consider some of Casey’s other observations, discussed earlier, there may still be a more plausible solution. Casey argues, inter alia, that (1) 1 Corinthians 15 does not know of any “empty tomb story” but only of visionary appearances of Jesus who appears from Heaven; (2) Mark does not narrate the story of Jesus’ two-stage resurrection, from Grave to Earth and then from Earth to Heaven (which is narrated first only in Matthew, Luke, and John); and (3) Mark intended to compose a Gospel which featured at least one resurrection appearance at Galilee. Given the trajectory in the development of the post-resurrection traditions, from heavenly to earthly appearances, it is reasonable to posit that Mark, the earliest Gospel, also originally narrated a heavenly appearance of Jesus at Galilee. That is, we should expect that Mark’s missing ending would also have narrated that Jesus appeared in his glorified, heavenly state, in Galilee, an appearance experienced by his Galilean disciples in a genuine, historical visionary experience.

In contrast to Mark’s heavenly manifestation of Jesus, Matthew, Luke, and John each incorporate increasingly expansive traditions about Jesus appearing on Earth, before joining God in Heaven. These traditions about Jesus’ time on Earth before his ascent to Heaven continue to grow and expand, until Jesus is presented as spending an extensive period on Earth in slightly later second-century works such as The Epistle of the Apostles. In summary, therefore, Matthew, Luke and John are the first works to invent the two-stage resurrection, and this tradition becomes a central part of early Christian tradition – despite remaining discrepancies between the three Gospels on its particular nature (see also Luke 24.51, cf. Acts 1.2; Acts 1.3-9).

As a result, the missing ending of Mark – which as hypothesized tells us that Jesus first made an appearance from Heavencame to contradict the later two-stage resurrection. Not only does Jesus first appear in Jerusalem in these later traditions rather than in Galilee (Matt. 28.8-10; Luke 24.15, 26; John 20.14, 19, 26), but he appears immediately after the finding of his empty tomb, unlike in Mark where the disciples had to travel to Galilee before seeing him (cf. Luke 24.15; John 20.14). In light of later tradition, Mark’s original ending would have been seen as a dangerous misrepresentation of accepted doctrine. This contradiction between Mark’s heavenly appearance of Jesus and the earthly appearances in the other Gospels cuts to the core of the nascent Christian faith – because it concerned the resurrection of Jesus, the core tenet on which early Christian faith rested (cf. 1 Corinthians 15.14). Therefore, I further propose that the most likely fate of Mark’s ending, with its account of Jesus’ appearance in Galilee forecast in Mark 14.28 and 16.7, was that it was excised from the Gospel of Mark, as inconsistent with later authoritative tradition. A plausible scenario (among many possiblities) would be that Matthew himself expurgated the copy of Mark’s Gospel which he relied on to write his own Gospel, and that it was such an expurgated copy which became also the authoritative version reproduced by later copyists. In his own Gospel, Matthew transformed Mark’s visionary appearance into an appearance of the not-yet-fully-resurrected Jesus at Galilee. With a nod to N.T. Wright, we might call the second resurrection in Matthew, Luke, and John “resurrection-after-resurrection-after-death”. Moreover, it is only in Matthew, Luke, and John that Jesus emerges bodily from the empty tomb and walks around in Jerusalem. In the original ending of Mark, by contrast, while Jesus’ body is gone from his tomb, Jesus himself is nowhere to be seen on Earth, his body is presumed to have been transformed into its heavenly state, and Jesus eventually makes himself seen to his disciples in Galilee, in his new spiritual form. Jesus is bodily resurrected to the heavens (after transformation of his body into a spiritual body), without any earthly interlude.

While it is admitted that the conclusion involves a risky reconstruction of a missing text, the risk is inherent to any analysis of the Gospel of Mark which is to take seriously a Gospel with a missing ending. What would be even more risky would be to deny that Mark has this clearly incomplete nature, by misreading Mark as though it were a self-contained unit like a brief modern poem, and then superimposing a New Critical-like “literary” analysis on Mark 16 instead of paying attention to its actual literary contours.

There are several indications that Mark has constructed Mark 16.1-8 (the narrative of the women finding the empty tomb) from a vision report

There are several indications that Mark has constructed Mark 16.1-8 (the narrative of the women finding the empty tomb) from a vision report

In addition to the reconstructed visionary nature of Mark’s missing ending, there are several indications that Mark has constructed Mark 16.1-8 (the narrative of the women finding the empty tomb) from a vision report – a view which, incidentally, was already espoused by D.F. Strauss. The tradition of women seeing an empty tomb is best explained as something originally seen in a vision, and which symbolically conveyed Jesus’ ascension to Heaven. Therefore, the whole of the original form of Mark 16 (with its missing ending on a mountain in Galilee, not dissimilarly to the transfiguration) derives from vision reports. It is significant that women visionaries were a quite prominent feature among early Christians (e.g. Acts 2.17-18; 21.9; 1 Corinthians 11.5; cf. Luke 2.36-37). Several second-century sources evidence a cultural memory of Mary Magdalene’s identity as a visionary disciple of Jesus (e.g. Epiphanius, Pan 26.8.1-3; Pistis Sophia) – and Mary Magdalene is the only woman named as present at the empty tomb in all four Gospels.

In Mark 16.1-8, we can find all of the major elements of a generic vision report are present, although incorporated secondarily into the genre of Mark’s Gospel. The vision occurs in a time of grief and lamentation, at the dawn of the day when hypnogogic visions are typically induced or produced. The narrative is filled with verbs of sight: ἀναβλέψασαι (having looked up; v. 4), θεωροῦσιν (they saw, v. 4), εἶδον (they saw, v. 5), ἴδε (look!, v. 6), ὄψεσθε (you will see, v. 7), typical of an account derived from a visionary’s vision report. Mark 16.1-8 describes the women as filled with feelings of astonishment and overwhelming fear, so much so that they become speechless – all frequent motifs of vision reports and frightening dreams. The women also have events explained to them by an angeles interpres (an interpreting angel), whose appearance is described in vague dreamlike terms, and who describes Jesus’ ascension (implicitly through the heavens). The angeles interpres features ubiquitously as a central figure of dream and vision reports (e.g. LAB 9.10; 2 Enoch 1.3-10; Josephus, Life 208-210; Matthew 1.20-25; 2.13-15, 19-23; Acts 16.9-10; 4 Ezra 3.1-5, 20; 5.21-6.13; 6.32-7.2; Ascension of Isaiah 7ff). Mark’s employment of a vision report is also consistent with his utlisation of vision reports elsewhere in his Gospel. Christopher Rowland detects Mark’s reliance on vision reports to compose earlier stories such as the baptism of Jesus, in which Jesus “sees” the heavens open; Jesus’ deprivation in the desert where he “sees” angels waiting on him; and the transfiguration, in which Jesus appears in heavenly white clothes alongside exalted dead people. Interestingly, when Luke summarises the experience of the women, he writes ὀπτασίαν ἀγγέλων ἑωρακέναι (“they had seen a supernatural vision of angels”). Luke interprets their experience using the term ὀπτασία, which is employed elsewhere in LXX Daniel and the New Testament to refer to mystical heavenly vision experiences. Therefore, the origin of the empty tomb tradition in the earliest Gospel is best explained as derived entirely from a woman’s account of her visionary experience. Both the story of the empty tomb and the accounts of post-resurrection appearances have their origins in vision reports by Jesus’ followers.

In summary, there are good grounds to conclude, with Casey, that the two-stage resurrection of Jesus – from Grave to Earth and from Earth to Heaven – is a secondary development. Casey also argues, as a way to explain its missing ending, that Mark’s Gospel is incomplete, that is, that it is wholly in “draft” form. While the suggestion is definitely worthy of further research, I suggest, following the line of some of Casey’s other arguments, that it is more likely that the missing ending was deliberately removed. Mark’s original contention that Jesus only ever appeared from Heaven, in glory, became “unorthodox” in light of later authoritative teachings about Jesus’ two-stage resurrection (i.e. Jesus’ “resurrection-after-resurrection-after death”), and the suspicion must be that Mark’s original ending was later excised from his Gospel.

Next part: (4) Inconsistencies and Deliberate Changes in the Gospel Resurrection Accounts
Previous part: (2) The Empty Tomb is not Historical


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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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