Sunday, March 23, 2008

The Biblical Easter Story, Versions I through IV

Ah Easter, the creme de la creme of Christian holy days. No day, not even Christmas, matches Easter for importance. No Easter, no risen Jesus, no salvation, no Christianity. So, one would think the Biblical documentation of the resurrection of Christ on Easter would be as iron-clad solid as anything could be. Let's check it out:

Matthew 28: 1-10: Now after the sabbath, toward the dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the sepulchre. And behold, there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled back the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. And for fear of him the guards trembled and became like dead men. But the angel said to the women "Do not be afraid; for I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has risen, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples he has risen from the dead, and behold, he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him. Lo, I have told you." So they departed quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to tell the disciples. And behold, Jesus met them and said "Hail!" And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him. Then Jesus said to them "Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me."

Interesting story. Now let's compare that to the next Gospel. Given the fervency with which many Christians argue that the resurrection story is true and confirmed, we'd expect this version to be similar, perhaps differing in some subjective detail, but otherwise identical. After all, they are supposedly eyewitness accounts:

Mark 16:1-8: And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, brought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sub had risen. And they were saying to one another "Who will roll away the stone for us from the door of the tomb?" And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazereth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee; there you will see him, as he told you. And they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and the said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

This is supposed to be a confirmatory account? Where's the earthquake? Where's the angel rolling back the stone? Did they just miss it? Was he an angel or a boy? What about Jesus meeting them on the path to Galilee? Was the writer of Matthew a straggler who got there late and missed everything, or was the writer of Mark on some serious drugs? And did they run and tell everyone or did they tell no one? These are not trifling details. These are the sorts of inconsistencies that police detectives look for to identify liars and poor alibis. The performance of the Gospels is quite poor so far. Let's see what the next one has to say. Perhaps it will clear things up.

Luke 24:1-11: But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed by this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, "Why do you seek the living among the dead? Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified, and on the third day rise." And they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told this to the apostles; but these words seemed to them as idle tale, ad they did not believe them."

You've got to be kidding. This version has them meeting not one person at the tomb, but two. No earthquake, and now they are telling everyone about it again. And what happened to Salome? And what they were told by whoever they met keeps changing. This is starting to look, not like complimentary historical documents, but embellished legend. Perhaps the fourth and final gospel will turn the tide.

John 20: 1-18: Now on the first day of the week, Mary Magdelene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran, and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him." Peter then came out with the other disciple, and they went toward the tomb. They both ran, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first; and stooping to look in, he saw the linen cloths lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter cane, following him, and went into the tomb; he saw the linen cloths lying, and the napkin, which had been on his head, not lying with the linen cloths but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not know the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples went back to their homes.

But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet. They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She sad to them "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him." Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away." Jesus said to her "Mary." She turned and said to him in Hebrew "Rab-boni!" (which means teacher). Jesus said to her, "Do not hold me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brethren and say to them, I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and our God. Mary Magdelen went and said to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"; and she told them that he had said these things to her.

Sheesh. This story is so different from the others it would be easier to list the commonalities. These are starting to sound like the different versions of the King Arthur sagas - different author's impressions of a legend. Or a propaganda piece. Am I the only one getting the distinct impression that this story is changing as needed? Luke's women weren't believed, so John gave them a bonafied appearance of Jesus. He's not too creative a writer though. Mary Magdelene mistaking Jesus for the gardener? Are you kidding me? Why not say it was all a dream? Indeed, why not?

I have intellectual sympathies for theists and deists. I was a believer in an Abrahamic god of sorts for many of my early years. It made sense in a lot of subjective ways, and wasn't obviously an obviously flawed concept. But if you call yourself a Christian, if you believe the story told in those four radically conflicting versions above, I ask you, I implore you, look inside yourself intellectually.

Would you accept that level of inconsistency on such an amazing claim as a resurrection in any other area of life? Would you buy a car based on opinions that varied that wildly? If I gave you directions that varied that much, what are your odds of getting lost (for 40 years maybe)? Would you make a wager based on information of that poor quality? I sure as hell wouldn't. So why would you gamble your moral and intellectual life on it?

1 comment:

Marty said...

Comment found here: