Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Empty Tomb - as seen by women

Today, the Easter sermon was about, not surprisingly, the Resurrection of Jesus. The empty tomb is seen nowadays as the trump card that apologists have when they want to argue for Jesus' resurrection. The usual argument goes like this - the Gospels tell us that women were the first to see the empty tomb. If the disciples had concealed the body of Jesus and cooked up the story of the empty tomb, surely they would have told the story of the male disciples discovering the tomb? After all, as we all know, the culture then was not to believe the stories of women. The fact that the Gospels tell us that women were the ones who saw the empty tomb makes the Gospel writers more believable. Had the Evangelists wanted to tell an untruth, they would have made the discoverers of the empty tomb men who would be more reliable.

But is that really true?

What if the Tradition of the Empty Tomb (although an important argument for apologists today) only started some decades after Christ's crucifixion?

Scholars tell us that the Synoptic Gospels were written after AD 70 or around that time. All scholars are agreed that the earliest documents in the New Testament are the Pauline epistles and the Gospels were written many years after St Paul's death. As we know, St Paul is a great apologist so let's see how he defends the faith. In all the instances when St Paul wants to argue for our Lord's Resurrection, he does not mention that the tomb was discovered to be empty. Surely that would have been the first thing anyone would have said if he wanted to show that the resurrection probably did happen. In 1 Corinthians 15 (1 Corinthians is one of the earliest epistles of Paul and hence, one of the earliest books of the New Testament), St Paul wants to prove that Jesus did resurrect from the dead. He mentions how the resurrected Jesus was seen by the Apostles and by other people. He did not say the tomb was discovered to be empty. Not in any of St Paul's epistles can we find any declaration that the tomb was discovered to be empty.

From this, some historians are of the view that the Tradition of the Empty Tomb had not been concocted in St Paul's time but decades after, perhaps just before the writing of the Gospels.

If that is true, a Gospel writer who wants to introduce a new element, ie the Empty Tomb, has got to be very careful. He may be met by a storm of protests among church goers who will want to know why it is that they had not heard of the Empty Tomb for some 40 years since Jesus' death.

Mark 16:8 tells us that the women who discovered the empty tomb were too frightened to tell anyone. So, that's why our early Christian church goer and reader of St Paul's epistles didn't get to hear of it.

We learn from Luke 24:10, 11 that the women did talk about having found the empty tomb but their words seemed like "idle tales" and they were not believed.  Again, naturally, it's not so surprising if our early Christian knew nothing about it before reading of this new piece of "fact" in the freshly written Gospels.

Contrary to what modern apologists say, it would be in the interest of the Gospel writers to make the discoverers of the empty tomb people who were not reliable or credible or who were too frightened to talk about what they purportedly saw.

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