Why Did Jesus Turn Into a Giant? New article proposes an answer


The curious resurrection account in the Gospel of Peter (10.39–42) is not simply the author’s creative innovation, but is based on a Christocentric interpretation of LXX Ps 18.1–7. The Gospel of Peter’s unusual description of Jesus’ exit from the tomb, whereupon he expands gigantically so that his head enters heaven (GPet 10.39–40), derives from an early Christian interpretation of LXX Ps 18.5c–7. The following conversation between God and the glorified cosmic cross (GPet 10.41–2) derives from a Christocentric interpretation of LXX Ps 18.2. In addition, the cross’s verbal affirmation that it had preached to the dead (GPet 10.42) follows from a literalising yet Christocentric reading of LXX Ps 18.2b.


Why Jesus was a Giant: The Messianic Interpretation of Psalm 18(19) in Gosp. Peter 10.38-42

The Weekly World News: Following a fine tradition of Giant Jesuses which may have begun with the Gospel of Peter
The Weekly World News: Following a fine tradition of Giant Jesuses which may have begun with the Gospel of Peter

Here is Paul Foster’s translation of the passage (2010), altered to take into account Mark Goodacre’s conjectural emendation of “cross” to “Crucified One”:

[10.38] Then those soldiers seeing it awoke the centurion and the elders, for they were present also keeping guard. [39] While they were reporting what they had seen, again they saw coming out from the tomb three men, and the two were supporting the one, and a Crucified One following them. [40] And the head of the two reached as far as heaven, but that of the one being led by them surpassed the heavens. [41] And they were hearing a voice from the heavens saying, “Have you preached to those who sleep?” [42] And a response was heard from the Crucified One, “Yes”.

Once the infamous “walking, talking cross” is removed from the text – by Mark’s quite convincing emendation – the text is still a little unusual. For the Crucified One (Jesus) and his two companions, on departing from the tomb, have become giants. And that is, on most accounts, a quite unusual feature. Jesus’ two companions are so tall that their heads touch heaven. But Jesus is even taller, an even bigger Giant. For Jesus’ head surpasses the heavens, implicitly entering into the very throne room of God, where Christ’s head is questioned by the voice of God, and makes a succinct, one-word answer to God in return. The conversation is even overheard on Earth, implicitly by the Roman centurion, guards, and Jewish elders.

From very early times, at least by the first century AD, it was a reasonably common idea that heavenly messengers, or angels, and even Jesus and Christians, had to change their bodily form in order to ascend into the heavens. In the Gospel of John (20.19, 26), the legendary resurrected Jesus walks through locked or shut doors, and in the Gospels of John (20.14) and Luke (24.16), Jesus’ own disciples do not recognise him after he has transformed into a resurrection body. In the second century Christian work, the Acts of Peter (21), different witnesses see Jesus in different forms, even at a single post-resurrection appearance: some see him as an old man, some see him as a young man, some see him as a young boy.

But while the transformation of the post-resurrection Jesus into various forms is not unusual in these early Christian legends, his transformation into a Giant who reaches all the way from Earth into the highest heaven is rather more unusual. How did the Gospel of Peter arrive at such a novel transformation … or giganticization? In the first place, we might note that the Gospel of Peter was, as far as we know, the first gospel to provide a narrative of the resurrection of Jesus. In the earlier extant Gospels, we only get stories of the aftermath of the resurrection. So, there are stories about already emptied tombs, post-resurrection appearances, zombie saints moving about in Jerusalem, etc. What this probably means is that the Gospel of Peter could not rely on any established tradition of the precise mechanics of the resurrection and had to compose his own.

I propose that the author of the Gospel of Peter utilised Old Testament scripture to fill this gap. To wit, he employed LXX Psalm 18 (MT Psalm 19) as the basis of his new resurrection narrative. The LXX translates the Hebrew כגבור (“like a hero/mighty man/man”) as ὡς γίγας (“like a Giant”).

That’s a brief outline of my argument, which I might write up more formally for publication. I haven’t read enough to work out if this has all been suggested before, and haven’t examined variants, let alone much of the secondary literature on the Gospel of Peter. But, in the meantime, I very much welcome comments, questions, and suggestions.

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

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

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
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