Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Some discussion of the historicity of the empty tomb

Based on Dale Allison's book.


Mr Veale said...

maybe you have already linked to this Dr Reppert, but the following discussion is also very good!


Mr Veale said...

"Even if the historian chooses to regard the youthful apparition as extra-historical, he cannot justifiably deny the empty tomb. True, this discovery, as so often, is described differently by the various Gospels - as critical pagans eary pointed out. But if we apply the same sort of criteria thta we would apply to othr ancient literary sources, then the evidence is firm and plausible enough to necessitate the conclusion that the Tomb was empty."

Michael Grant Jesus (Phoenix, 1999)p76

Grant finds it highly implausible that the Church would invent the testimony of women, especially a woman associated with demon possession in the Churches traditions. In fact, Grant thinks that John may have it right. Magdelene visited the tomb on her own! It seems incredible to Grant that John would give such a critical role to a woman of dubious background, when John could have given this role to more prominent Church members. (eg. the beloved disciple)

Mr Veale said...

I was looking at some objections to the empty tomb. I think that they do not "explain away" the evidence. In some cases they explain away some of the evidence, but significant residual confirmation remains.

The first two points below don't seem to do any explanatory work at all. This means that the more substantial points in 3-5 don't explain away the evidence for the Empty Tomb.

1) The first Christians only came to believe in a physical Resurrection at a later date. The Empty Tomb tradition is a later apologetic development (Maurice Casey). This founders completely.

(a) The Jewish counter-apologetic ("the disciples stole the body") rules this out. A simpler apologetic would have been "you never looked for the body - you would not even honour the tomb of your master"; "the Romans fed the body to the dogs"; "grave robbers took the body".
It is significant that the counter-apologetic concedes that followers of Jesus were present at the tomb, and that their presence at the tomb accounts for the Empty Tomb traditions.
(b) This scenario suggests that Palestinian Christianity worked with a "non physical" Resurrection, a concept that the Hellenic world was comfortable with. Then as the Church became more Hellenistic, it adopted a Pharisaic view of the Resurrection.

2) The first Christians believed in a physical Resurrection.The Empty Tomb tradition is an apologetic invented by Mark to explain why the First Christians did not know the location of Jesus' tomb. (James Crossley) - "they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid."

(a) Mark seems extraordinarily incompetent if this was his intention. Why draw attention to Joseph of Arimithea? Why not have the angel announce the empty tomb to the women, or to the disciples in Galilee? Why not have the women bury the body in a secret tomb, then find that tomb empty?
(b) But the women, at the very least, told Mark's sources. Mark probably expects us to infer that they eventually told the disciples. Luke 24 v 11 explains the "silence" of the women. They did not "preach" the Empty Tomb traditions, as even the "inner circle" of Disciples did not believe them. This is the sort of unintentional corroboration that the McGrews find impressive. There is no indication that Luke has Mark's account in mind (he doesn't add a 'this is why the women had been silent' etc).

Mr Veale said...

3) Crossley uses Matthew 27v52-53 to argue that "the rewriting of history is everywhere in the ancient world, and that Matthew is obviously engaged in creative story telling.
& 4) He also points out that women had a prominent place in the Early Church
& 5) and that by the time of the Crucifixion, all the male followers of Jesus had fled. The narrative demands that women discover the empty tomb. So the presence of women as the first eyewitnesses is not a mark of authenticity.
6) Paul does not mention the Empty Tomb traditions.

However, this does not "explain away" the evidence for the Empty Tomb.
(I) Whilst women were important in the Early Church, men were the authenticating witnesses for every other event and teaching in Jesus life (with the possible exception of the Lukan birth narratives).
(II) Reintroducing a male, or having a male observe from a distance, then return to watch over the Tomb was a viable option. More simply - don't have all the males flee. Peter was relatively safe after his denial of Jesus.
(III) Suppose that there has been some rewriting. That does not explain away the authentic portions of the text (as Michael Grant observes).
(IV) Suppose Paul did not learn the Empty Tomb traditions. This does not mean that Paul was unaware of the discovery of the Empty Tomb. It just means that he never memorised those stories with an aim to passing them on as oral tradition.
(V)Suppose he hadn't even heard of the empty tomb traditions. That does not mean that the Palestinian church had not. The stories need to be evaluated on their own merits - not on how they would function in Pauline theology.

Because the scenarios in (1&2) are so specious, Crossley simply fails to "explain away" the evidence with points (3-5). Even though he accounts for some of it's surprising features he cannot explain them all away. Too much remains unaccounted for.

Mr Veale said...

I know, I know, I'm talking far too much, and I apologize. But I just want to point out that Grant was a classical scholar and historian of some repute, and not an orthodox Christian. He did not believe in the Resurrection of Jesus.

Steven Carr said...

'Grant finds it highly implausible that the Church would invent the testimony of women, especially a woman associated with demon possession in the Churches traditions.'

So Grant cannot find a single person who named himself as hearing of these people,and is reduced to claiming 'They wouldn't make it up'.

Where's the evidence that these women existed?

Just produce somebody who wrote and named himself as seeing this empty tomb or saw any of these alleged women.

Just give us some evidence.

Steven Carr said...

Does any person for 30 years after this discovery mention an empty tomb?

If there was an empty tomb, why did Christians wait until after 'Marks' Gospel was written to begin to defend themselves against charges of grave-robbing?

Is it because the charges of grave robbing only appeared after the story of the empty tomb appeared?

If Christians really had been hammered for 30 years by charges of stealing the body,why would ‘Mark’ innocently say the body was left lying around for followers of Jesus to access, if some men could be found to move the stone?

That story was so embarrassing to Christians that 'Matthew' had to change it to say that the tomb was guarded.

So why did it take Christians over 30 years to think of saying that the tomb was guarded, as a defense against charges of grave-robbing, if there really had been an empty tomb and a missing body?

Will Mr. Veale wait 30 years to respond to these charges and then write a document which does not defend against them?

No. In the real world, people accused of crimes like grave-robbing do not ,even 30 years later, write documents saying the body was left lying around and we were going to access the body when we found it had magically gone.

And then it flew into the sky (!)

Mr Veale said...


I've seen your comments strewn around the net. I can't say that I've found any substance in them - and in fact, I have found a great deal of misrepresentation (eg. of Dale Allison's views, of Larry Hutardo's views.)This implies a closed mind, a lack of objectivity.
Mary Magdelene is the name of the witness that you seek.
And if you believe that secondary sources cannot yield solid historical information...well, there's nothing to talk about really.

The best that I can do is suggest that you read Grant's book - especially the appendix. And, perhaps, R Evans "In Defence of History"

Best wishes


Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Good to have Mr. Carr back. We've missed you! I also see that you haven't abandoned your "one note samba", saying the same thing over and over and over (and over) again. I guess there is some merit in consistency, but be careful - there is none in pigheadedness.

I think it's time you realized that NO ONE EXCEPT YOU CARES whether or not there are any "named" sources for the Gospels. Even if they were entirely anonymous (something I don't grant), so what? 90% of ALL sources from centuries ago are anonymous. What is your point? Do you believe this is somehow a mark against them? If so, then you are simply demonstrating that you don't understand the first thing about the historical method, and are only embarrassing yourself.

After all, it's not just the Gospels that are affected by your frankly wierd standards of authorship. Purely literary works such as the Iliad and the Odyssey are in the same boat. The name "Homer" was not attached to these poems until GENERATIONS after their composition. Does this mean that they are somehow less valuable? That maybe we shouldn't read them, or appreciate their incredible wisdom? Would it matter if they had been written by someone named "Bob" rather than "Homer"? I think not.

Help me out here. I have read all of your postings for months now, and I have yet to understand why you think this issue is at all important. I for one haven't lost one nanosecond of sleep over whether "Mark" might really have been named "Edgar", or whatever. IT DOESN'T MATTER!

Mr Veale said...

Those criticisms of Steve seem appropriate.
In any case, I've answered all of his criticisms, which are made with greater insight, and much more force, by Crossley and Casey.

Simply repeating the objections to the historicity of Mark's account doesn't establish anything of substance.

I will simply add that the first WRITTEN source THAT WE HAVE ACCESS TO is Mark.
This does not mean that traditions and written sources did not precede Mark. And in fact, I'm arguing that stable oral traditions about the discovery of Jesus' tomb go back to the first days of the Church. That is the best explanation of all the available evidence .

Victor Reppert said...

Wouldn't the first written source we have access to be Paul?

Alex Dalton said...

You might be interested in my discussion of the empty tomb narratives and various objections made by Crossley and Tabor, with "steph" (apparently a graduate student of Crossley's), on Crossley's blog:


Mr Veale said...

Dr Reppert

Paul doesn't provide any evidence of the Empty Tomb narratives (that the women went to the tomb Joseph provided, and found that tomb empty).
Crossley acknowledges that Paul believed in a physical resurrection, but denies that Paul had any knowledge of these narratives. (So Paul believed in an Empty Tomb, but did not know who discovered it, and quite possibly did not care!)

My point is that we don't have any good reason to assert that Paul didn't know these narratives. He simply did not see a need to cite them.
Or he may not have "received" the narratives (memorised them) in a form that could be "passed on" (in an authoritative form that could be given to others for repetition.Paul only gives knowledge of the Resurrection appearances as oral tradition that could be "passed on".)

And even if Paul did not know about the discovery of the Tomb, this does not mean that the stories of the discovery weren't important in Palestinian Churches.

Mr Veale said...

Dr Reppert

I think that the testimony of the women is so powerful that the only response available to the sceptic is to claim that they never gave this testimony. The sceptic needs to show that these narratives are a fabrication of the later Church.

However, perhaps you feel that a case for a physical Resurrection can be made in the absence of the women's testimony. I think that I agree. The appearances of Jesus, coupled with the uniform testimony that a "Resurrection" had been witnessed, and the fact that the message was preached and believed in the area where Jesus was buried, does give powerful evidence for the Resurrection. And the Pauline evidence would provide part of THAT case.

Mr Veale said...


that link is very helpful. I've always been puzzled by the fact that Sadducees, who didn't believe in a physical resurrection, would preserve the bones of their dead.

If there was a wider Mediterranean culture of honouring tombs, then this begins to make sense. Obviously it would take on a Jewish "flavour" in Palestine.

Good stuff. And a very good reply to Tabor/Crossley.
(I have to admit, I like Crossley a lot! He's certainly prepared to swim against the tide on some issues, isn't he?)


Victor Reppert said...

Quite right. Paul doesn't mention an empty tomb, which provides the basis for one of the skeptics' favorite arguments from silence (SURELY Paul would have mentioned it if it had really happened.....)

Anonymous said...

Bob Prokop writing:

Why should there be any fuss over whether Paul mentioned the empty tomb? He does, after all, proclaim the Resurrection many, many times. And that event implies an empty tomb, does it not?

Also, all we have from Paul are a sampling of his letters (we know, for instance, that there were at least three to the Corinthians), and an even smaller sampling of his oral preaching (in Acts). The incident of the boy falling asleep from boredom during one of his talks indicates that a full record of his preaching would probably run for thousands of pages. For all we know, he could have expounded at length on the empty tomb in his sermons, with us having no extant account of such.

I see no issue here whatsoever.

Mr Veale said...

It strikes me that Paul had good reason for NOT drawing attention to the women. (A) It is embarrassing that they are the first witnesses, and not an apostle (B) One of the issues in Corinthians is Paul's authority. The appearance of the risen Christ to Paul gives him status and authority.An appearance to women would undermine that claim. (C) One of the issues at Corinth was the authority of women in the Church. Citing the women as primary witnesses would add fuel to that controversy.

It also seems to me that Paul has NO REASON TO mention the appearance to the women, or their discovery of an empty tomb.
The Corinthians never denied JESUS' Resurrection. They denied that there would be GENERAL Resurrection. Paul does not have to prove that Jesus rose from the grave. He shares this belief with the Corinthians, (and reminds them of this).
He is arguing from a shared belief (Jesus' Resurrection) to a controversial belief (General Resurrection). As he does not have to prove that Jesus rose from the dead, for the purposes of his argument in Corinthians, he does not have to mention the discovery of the Empty Tomb. This would have been superfluous to Paul's purposes.
It would have been helpful if Paul mentioned the events of mark 16. the fact that he did not is not, however, even slightly embarrassing.

Mr Veale said...

In other words - well said Bob!

Edward T. Babinski said...

Let's say you're the Author of the Universe, but you can't inspire people to write things that make perfect sense.

Instead you inspire them to write things that generate questions, difficulties and confusion. Like comparing the lists of folks to whom Jesus "appeared" in 1 Cor. with the appearances mentioned in the Gospels.

And you have Paul mention a "spiritual [resurrection] body" and "flesh and blood shall not inherit the kingdom" and "the stomach" shall be no more. But you have Luke's Jesus exclaim, that he is "not a spirit" but has "flesh and bone," and fills his stomach with a piece of fish, and then "led them out to Bethany," and rose up into the sky. The fish in Jesus' stomach levitating with the flesh and bones of Jesus up to heaven.

And the question of the ladies visiting the tomb. Mark has the apostles flee at Jesus' crucifixion. He says only the women saw where he was laid. So only women go to the tomb the next day to anoint the body. It says they were going to anoint the body and their only concern was who would move the stone for them.

So in Mark the women are not concerned in the least with any question of "armed Roman quards" or a "sealed tomb."

Somebody changed the story by the time Matthew was composed. And Matthew as we know, reproduces an enormous percentage of Mark, including verbatim Greek connecting passages. Matthew is a literary editing of Mark, a redacting, adding and subtracting from Mark's story.

There are other questions as well.

But think of it. The Author of the Universe can't inspire people to write things that make perfect sense. But inspires people to keep changing the story, to write things that generate questions, difficulties and confusion.

Not only that but the Author of the Universe has our earliest copies of the earliest written Gospel end with the line "the women were much afraid and [fled the tomb] and told no one..."

Some say the ending was "lost." The Author of the Universe simply allowed the ending of the earliest known Gospel to be "lost?" He allowed the earliest known Gospel to contain no description of any meeting with the risen Jesus, not any words of the risen Jesus?

Instead the Author of the Universe inspired three other people to add endings to Mark. There are three known later additions to Mark. Does that impress anyone?

Even Matthew and Luke disagree most in their post-resurrection stories, since they couldn't follow Mark's. Where they could follow Mark they reproduced over 90% of Mark's Gospel. But in the place where they couldn't follow Mark they each told different stories. Quite different in fact, in that Luke's message at the tomb is no longer Matthew's. In Matthew the message is "He has gone before you to Galilee, there ye shall see him." Luke's message at the tomb says nothing about Jesus having "gone before them" to Galilee, and that they would "see him there."

Which one is telling the truth, or doesn't truth matter? And can any later Christian tack on an ending to the Gospel of Mark? And can anyone add guards at the tomb as Matthew did to Mark's story?

Christians continued telling stories, writing stories about Jesus, the apostles, etc. Who knows the origins of any of those stories?

Is this really the Author of the Universe inspiring such stories?

I doubt it. I doubt that the Author of the Universe expects everyone to believe in such stories, and that there is an eternal penalty to pay for not doing so.

Edward T. Babinski said...


Luckily the Author of the Universe creates "apologists" to invent excuses for his own lack of abilities in inspiring and preserving a truly coherent story.

Victor Reppert said...

I don't believe God damns people just for not believing in the Resurrection, so I hope you're not talking to me.