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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

James Tabor, the Resurrection and the End of Mark

The resurrection traditions have interested me in recent years (though more by accident intially - anoter story). James Tabor raises similar issues concerning the ending of Mark (i.e. Mk 16.1-8) to those that I also think need to be addressed properly. He argues,

The implications of this earliest tradition of Jesus’ burial and the empty tomb are enormous. Paul, in the 50s AD, reports the tradition that Jesus, after being raised from the dead on the third day, appeared to Peter, then the Twelve, then to a group of five hundred brothers at once, then to James, then to all the apostles, and finally, but much later, to him–Paul (1 Corinthians 15:3-8). Both Luke and John report similar appearances of the risen Jesus to various individuals and groups on several occasions. Indeed, these sightings or appearances are considered by milliions the absolute bedrock of the Christian faith.

So how could it be that Mark knows nothing of any of this? And even Matthew, who does report that Jesus met the women who fled from the tomb, nonetheless knows of none of these specific appearances that Paul, Luke and John record taking place in Jerusalem. He tells us the disciples went to Galilee as they had been instructed and there the Eleven apostles “saw” Jesus on a mountain–but some doubted. It is clear that Matthew has little of substance to add to his basic source Mark, and that what he knows of the “resurrection” is what he expands from Mark, which makes Mark’s account even more noteworthy in terms of its fundamental significance.

The clear implication of Mark’s account of the discovery of the empty tomb and the renewed faith of the disciples in Galilee is that there is a non-Pauline version of the resurrection faith circulating within the Jesus movement that was not built upon the kinds of traditions, tales, and stories we get in Paul, Luke-Acts, and John. Indeed, even though Paul is usually dated ten or fifteen years earlier than Mark, the tradition that Mark reflects could very likely predate Paul. In other words, it is unlikely that Mark could write what he writes for a believing Christian community unless the way he report things is already grounded in the circles within which he moves. It is highly unlikely that Mark was created in a day. On the contrary, one should assume he is passing on and reflecting a way of thinking about the risen Jesus that he finds normative and common, and that Matthew, writing some years later, also passing on with very little expansion or modification. Neither of them know of any tales of appearances of the risen Jesus in Jerusalem in the days following his death. There is no indication that Mark is even aware of any alternative views or traditions. Had he known of such, and agreed with them, he surely would have passed them on. In this case I think we can say that Mark’s silence is “deafening.”

This earliest account of the Jesus story offers us resources to rethink and consider alternative possibilities when it comes to evaluating the significance of Jesus’ death and the nature of the resurrection faith among his earliest followers. Mark offers us a clear indication that Paul’s version of things was not an exclusive way of understanding Jesus and his role as a messianic suffering servant figure and crucified son of God.


There is something else I think is also significant here. I have played around with the idea of using the Markan resurrection account as part of my early dating for Mark and you never know I may still. But, anyway, what I think is notable is that Mark ends with women telling no one and Paul, in contrast to to the visions, has no eyewitness to the empty tomb. It may well be true that Mark and Paul assume an empty tomb but given that these two earliest sources on the resurrection of Jesus give such weak evidence for the bodily resurrection of Jesus, then aren't arguments trying to prove the bodily really resurrection happened doomed to failure (NOTE: this has no bearing on whether the resurrection happened or not but rather that arguments trying to prove the historicity of the bodily resurrection really happening are going to be very difficult to make...you know the arguments...just don't accuse me of things I don't say...)

10 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Alex: I see several problems with Tabor's line of reasoning here; for the most part, the same problems with much of his other work (e.g. he seems to make way too much out of very little, or nothing at all). Firstly, I see potential theological problems in that he seems to imply that historical considerations about the appearances are in some way foundational to Christian faith. *That* Jesus rose from the dead may be foundational to some branches of Christianity, but how the NT expresses this doesn't seem to have any worldview-shattering implications. I doubt the majority of Christians even notice differences between the resurrection accounts in the gospels, let alone have any inkling as to historians' views on the historicity of the appearance narratives. Christians for the overwhelmingly large part don't pay any attention to evidential considerations in favor of, or against, the resurrection of Jesus. The model from Paul and other NT writers is the Spirit as witness to the gospel, not Lee Stroebel's Case for Christ (2 Cor 1:21; 1 John 3:24; Acts 5:32; 1 Thess 1:5).

The problems with his historical argument regarding Mark are that a) its an argument from silence - definitely one of the weakest kinds of historical argument b) the silence really isn't even there in Mark, who clearly knows of appearances as 14:28 has Jesus predicting that he will go before the disciples into Galilee, resonating with 16:7. In fact, the singling out of Peter coheres well with 1 Cor and Luke 24:34 which do the same c) the proposition that there *were* 'appearances' (whatever they consisted of) is just extremely probable (e.g. early, multiply attested, and has good explanatory scope in several regards), and even if Mark *did* have another tradition, or *explicitly* denied them, it wouldn't put this in much doubt historically which cuts against his claim of "enormous implications" if he means them to be "for the Christian faith" d) if Matt. is just expanding from Mark as Tabor says, obviously appearances do not really conflict with anything in Mark, where he derives their very location from e) there's also at least the possibility of the loss of the original Markan ending, which would undercut this line of argument. f) the argument that he makes about Mark not being able to write something new to a community "already grounded" cuts both ways - saying the same would push Paul's formula back further (as most scholars do anyway, even the Jesus Seminar). This kind of argument can be used for *any* tradition really so it’s a bit useless. I like how he states it: "could very likely predate Paul". Right, it's possible that its very likely. Sure, I'll grant that, which is to say, it's *possible*. g) Further, on the hypothesis that the "Pauline" appearance tradition is widely known, the "already grounded" tradition could be just as much of a reason to let the hearers finish the story on their own with the resurrection appearances they know of. This hypothesis has been proposed by several scholars but Tabor doesn't interact with it.

Now, even if someone disagrees with some of my arguments here, surely Tabor is vastly overstating when he speaks of the "clear implications" of an alternate tradition in Mark. If *anything*, he's got an historical *possibility* or hypothesis, which are a dime a dozen in NT studies.

Alex

December 20, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

I think the silent women witnesses speak twice for the absence of an empty tomb - and where are the pilgrimages to the tomb that was? Surely it would still be venerated today if two thousand years ago it was found empty?

Early Mark Part II?

December 20, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As Loron Rossen, relying on Allison, writes here, "'they said nothing to anyone' trails not a command to proclaim the empty tomb but a command to tell the disciples about Jesus going before them to Galilee (p 303). The angel simply says that Jesus has been raised and his tomb is empty (Mk 16:6); it orders the women on another account entirely (Mk 16:7), and that's what their saying nothing (Mk 16:8) is linked to." Robert Gundry makes a similar argument to this effect in his commentary on Mark. And I consider it unlikely that Mark would fabricate an account like this, writing fairly early, using the names of apparently well-known people in the community (thus making the account extremely vulnerable). Making them women compounds the problem as many have noted. Further, Mark indeed presupposes that the women did indeed tell *someone* as he's relating the story, so obviously their silence was not permanent regarding the order they received from the angel. We may be seeing a temporary or restricted silence (Catchpole), which would make more sense given Jesus' and the angels' prediction that the events would indeed come to pass. Given these predictions and the necessity of their fulfillment, its even a legitimate question to what extent the appearances are even contingent upon the womens' relaying the message, even assuming the women's utter failure to convey the message. There's also Corley's point about cultural expectations for women not to have prominent *public* roles which may be a factor in Mark's ending here. So ultimately, I don't consider the silence argument to count against the empty tomb, especially in that I think there are other independent lines of evidence in its favor (Allison).

Alex

December 20, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, and on tomb veneration, I have seen this argument pressed both for and against the historicity of the empty tomb. I think its weak both ways (but even weaker against); a) we don't know that there *wasn't* tomb veneration. Indeed some, who think they know where the tomb *was*, argue that it did occur (not conclusive at all IMO). b) we could be talking about a site that was destroyed by the time the gospels are written, given what occurred in the 70's c) there's really no argument here as we have *no* evidence of veneration of *empty* tombs on the part of Jews. They venerated and visited tombs that had bones *in* them, as the bones were thought to preserve a continuity with the person (see Eric M. Meyers work here). d) even if there were some reason to think they'd venerate an *empty* tomb, on the traditional account, its unlikely that they would. On that account, its Joe of A.'s family tomb, and will most likely be filled with the bones of his own family members. e) we have no idea whether or not there might have been measures taken to suppress mourning at the tomb (likely) and even later veneration, were this something early Christians would even want to do. Denial of initial mourning rites was part of the shameful burial rites associated with executed criminals (see Byron McCane here).

Alex

December 20, 2006

 
Blogger steph said...

I find it weird that ordinary tombs are venerated but Jesus' tomb wasn't properly remembered and preserved especially with it's uniqueness in being empty. I am persuaded by the arguments in favour of an early date for Mark's gospel well before the temple destruction (read "The Date of Mark"). I also agree with the theories that suggest that we don't actually have a complete edition of Mark - perhaps only a first draft (what rotten Greek fixed up by Matthew and Luke) with a lost ending - maybe he did indeed suddenly die. Maybe there was an empty tomb.

December 21, 2006

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Steph: I find it weird that ordinary tombs are venerated but Jesus' tomb wasn't properly remembered and preserved especially with it's uniqueness in being empty.

Alex: I don't find it all that odd for all of the reasons I stated. The venerated tombs were venerated specifically for the reason that there was a continuity with the person. In other words, assuming the empty tomb narratives are true, it wasn't Jesus' tomb or resting place. Its simply a place where his body was laid in haste (and that, most likely, temporarily). If Brown and McCane are right, it may even be a cave for common burial of criminals (even less likely to be a place of veneration, absent the body).

Now, *if* his body remained in the tomb, then I see a slight problem with lack of veneration. This is why I think this weak 'argument from silence' counts more in favor of the empty tomb (if it counts for anything at all).

To further support the point, beyond the facts of popular beliefs about the spirits of the dead hovering near their tombs and Meyers documenting the importance of the bones themselves as bound up with the essence of the deceased to those who visited the tombs, there is the work of Elizabeth Bloch-Smith (see her Judahite Burial Practices and Beliefs about the Dead), who, overturning the previous consensus, lays out the evidence for a deeply rooted and widespread Jewish cult of the ancestors or cult of the dead. This of course was already very much a part of every day life for the wider Mediterranean world world in the first century. The care of the dead had benefits for the living. It was believed they could still powerfully affect this world, and they were feared for the possibility of negative influence. Hence they were appeased with tithes of food, oil, sacrifices, etc. A very common item among the various types of ceramic vessels found in Jewish tombs is the cooking pot. Those interred in the tombs were thought to continue some form of existence and were provided with the necessities of life in vessels for food, jewelry, lamps, tools, etc., and even comfort (e.g. stone pillows or headrests carved in benches). Tomb veneration was not just for the exceptionally holy, but was a way in general of continuing to commune with one's ancestors who were often seen as being extremely powerful, and now having intimate access to God himself, capable of offering intercessory prayer. Corley points out that the importance of secondary burial coheres well with this "interest in a sense of continuity or connection with the dead." Bloch-Smith's work is essential here. She makes a very solid case for this being the root of all the warnings *against* this practice in the Bible. Now, this is the background of tomb veneration simpliciter and veneration of the tombs of especially holy men is an outgrowth of this. So we can see here, that a tomb *without* the person's body in it, is discontinuous and the idea that it should be venerated is more of an anachronistic notion of Christian tourist attraction than anything else -- *especially* given that there was an inherent tension in tomb veneration and the problem of ritual impurity from the start. Going to visit someone else's ancestral tomb where the body of the person you seek to venerate is no longer interred is a good way to contract unnecessary ritual impurity. The early Christians believed they could remember and commune with Christ and be indwellt by his spirit in a multitude of other ways to render something like this superfluous.

Further, this type of burial may have more resonance with shame than anything, as it was the family tomb of someone *else* - honorable burials technically consisting, per McCane, of burials with one's own family (and mourning rituals).

As for arguments about the early date of Mark, I'm definitely not persuaded, but I don't think they matter much. What is claimed to be improbable is lack of *evidence* for tomb veneration, not lack of evidence of such in Mark, which wouldn't have continued past the 70's if the tomb was destroyed as I mentioned in my post above.

Alex

December 21, 2006

 
Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Isn't 1 Cor 15 particularly strong evidence for the resurrection? The only strong evidence, in fact, in the entire NT, aside from perhaps an agreed empty-tomb tradition and the Acts preaching.

If Mark does date early, it may predate 1 Cor - but 1 Cor 15 clearly embodies a considerably older tradition; and in any case Peter etc (and most of the 500) were still alive when it was written (mid-50s) let alone when the tradition itself began (or rather whatever events led to the tradition).

December 22, 2006

 
Blogger Danny Zacharias said...

James, your view is slightly askew as usual!

Seriously though, I am a little more than confused. Tabor says Mark is the earliest account of the tomb tradition (and you quote him and presumably agree) but it is clear that Paul's tradition is historically the earliest.

Second, if we were put all NT scholars on a balance, wouldn't the side in favor of the thesis that the original ending of Mark's gospel is lost not prevail? That is certainly my impression of Markan scholarship. Yet you both are talking about Mark as if 16:8 was obviously the ending- it is far from obvious and probably wasn't.

Last, your final mention of no 'body' resurrection in Paul is a decent point but just does not jive with a Jewish perspective on Resurrection. If I first century Jew was talking about resurrection, physical resurrection is intrinsic to its meaning.

Danny

January 02, 2007

 
Blogger lis said...

As a sojourner here in Jerusalem, I can say that there *is* an empty tomb that is very much venerated!

I am a Protestant Christian myself, but Jewish scholars such as Gabi Barkai (who can't be accused of any "need" to prove this point) agree that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (once named "Anastasis," or "resurrection," is an archaeologically sound candidate for the burial place (and resurrection site) of Jesus.

If you're looking for visible evidence, the fact that Hadrian built a Temple of Aphrodite on this spot (to go along with his Temple of Jupiter on the Temple Mount, the Temple of Aesclepius at the pools of Bethesda and yet another pagan temple at the present site of the Church of the Nativity) is a sign that he knew of the tradition linking this site with Jesus, and included it in his campaign of blotting out Jewish and Christian sites.

There is much more that can be said on this subject, and I encourage you to look into it.

March 23, 2007

 
Blogger Gary said...

Jesus' Tomb was not Guarded or Sealed the entire First Night!

Holy Grave Robbers!

I had never heard of this until today: How many Christians are aware that Jesus’ grave was unguarded AND unsecured the entire first night after his crucifixion??? Isn’t that a huge hole in the Christian explanation for the empty tomb?? Notice in this quote from Matthew chapter 27 below that the Pharisees do not ask Pilate for guards to guard the tomb until the next day after Jesus’ crucifixion, and, even though Joseph of Arimethea had rolled a great stone in front of the tomb’s door, he had not SEALED it shut!

Anyone could have stolen the body during those 12 hours!

The empty tomb “evidence” for the supernatural reanimation/resurrection of Jesus by Yahweh has a HUGE hole in it!

“When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who was also a disciple of Jesus. 58 He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus; then Pilate ordered it to be given to him. 59 So Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a clean linen cloth 60 and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock. He then rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were there, sitting opposite the tomb.

The next day, that is, after the day of Preparation, the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered before Pilate 63 and said, “Sir, we remember what that impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ 64 Therefore command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead,’ and the last deception would be worse than the first.” 65 Pilate said to them, “You have a guard[a] of soldiers; go, make it as secure as you can.”[b] 66 So they went with the guard and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone.”

—Matthew 27

So when did the guards show up to the tomb? Early the next morning or late in the afternoon? If late in the afternoon, the tomb of Jesus had been unguarded and unsealed for almost TWENTY FOUR hours!

The empty tomb is NOT good evidence for the resurrection claim. The most plausible explanation, based on the Bible itself, is that someone stole or moved the body!

April 30, 2015

 

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