Resurrection, Interrupted

Bart Ehrman’s Jesus Interrupted is filled with fascinating insights into the Biblical scriptures. Today it seems appropriate to touch on some of his notes about the resurrection of Jesus.

Ehrman points out, “[W]e don’t have the originals of any of these Gospels, only copies made later, in most instances many centuries later. These copies all differ from one another, very often in the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection” (pages 47-48).

The scholarly consensus, Ehrman notes, is that “the final twelve versus of Mark’s Gospel are not original to Mark’s Gospel but were added by a scribe in a later generation” (page 48). This is particularly interesting given that Mark was the primary source for Matthew and Luke.

Because the Gospels draw on the same narratives, they “agree that on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and found it empty. But on virtually every detail they disagree” (page 48).

For instance, who went to the tomb? After he rises from the dead, to whom does Jesus appear, and what does he say?

For instance, in Mark Jesus tells “Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome” to “tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee” (16:7). In Luke, Jesus says, “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” (24:6-7). Ehrman points out that Luke also authored Acts, which states that Jesus charged his disciples “not to depart from Jerusalem” (1:4). (See Ehrman page 49 for commentary on this point.)

Of course many will see this as missing the forest for the trees: is not the central narrative the resurrection, and the rest detail? Perhaps, but the details do matter when evaluating the nature of the overall narrative. (Obviously, looking at this resurrection story from the perspective of its canonized representatives hardly exhausts the types of criticism to which it may be subjected.)

Though it strays from the resurrection narrative, another interesting point that Ehrman makes is that Matthew had an odd way of fulfilling Old Testament prophesies (see page 50).

Zechariah 9:9 says: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! [Note the repetitive verse.] Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on an ass, on a colt and the foal of an ass.” (I’m using a different translation than Ehrman uses.)

The last part of the line modifies the first instance of “ass” or donkey. “But Matthew evidently did not understand this poetic convention in this place,” Ehrman notes; thus Matthew writes, “The disciples… brought the ass and the colt, and put their garments on them, and he sat thereon” (21:6-7).

I have no doubt that, in the Gospels, Jesus fulfills (select and vague) Old Testament prophesies, for the Gospels were written precisely to make him do so.

But the narrative of Jesus’s resurrection is itself only a tree in the broader forest of spring-time life-generation myths. It is a lovely, sunny day, the earth (in my part of the world) is returning to summer life, and it’s time to celebrate plants, fertility, bunnies, eggs, and long life!