Category Archives: New Testament

The Christmas Story

(Luke chapter 2 is green.)

(Matthew chapter 2 is red.)

1 And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Cæsar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.
2 (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

Caesar Augustus appointed Cyrenius governor of Syria in AD 6, with instructions to “be a judge of that nation, and to take an account of their substance”. Hence, these verses establish this year as the earliest possible birth date of Jesus.

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2 Saying, Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.

Unfortunately, King Herod the Great died in 4 BC (shortly after the lunar eclipse on March 13th).[1] This would have made it difficult for him to converse with the wise men after a decade of decay in his tomb.

Burial tomb of Herod the Great

These accounts, therefore, are mutually exclusive; i.e., we must choose one or the other (or neither), since both cannot be correct.

3 And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.
4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judæa, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)
5 To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

No historical sources mention a Roman-world census of the entire population; those of Augustus covered Roman citizens only.[2] Furthermore, it was never Roman practice to require people to return to their ancestral homes for accounting or taxation.[3] The notion of everyone in the Roman Empire returning to his ancestral city to be taxed is extraordinarily infeasible.

3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him.
4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born.
5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet,
6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.

Luke and Matthew each struggled with the problem as to how to get Jesus born in Bethlehem in order to fulfill Micah 5:2. They sought to overcome the Pharisees’ contention that Jesus was not the Christ (John 7:41-42,52), since he “came from Nazareth of Galilee” (Mark 1:9). Their respective solutions to this problem are completely different; whereas Luke uses the Census of Quirinius as justification to temporarily transport Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem, Matthew simply begins in the requisite city.

6 And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered
7 And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

The King James translators rendered the Greek word kataluma (Gr: καταλυμα  or καταλυματι) as “inn”; however, in this context it means “guest room”. Luke uses this word again in 22:11 in referring to the large upper-story “guestchamber” in the private house where Jesus observed the Last Supper with his disciples. Luke uses pandocheion (Gr: πανδοχειον) (10:34) to denote the public “inn” where the Samaritan brought the wounded traveler.
It was common practice to bring animals into the lower level of rural homes at night for safety and warmth. It thus appears that when the upper level of the house became too crowded with relatives, Mary took the baby downstairs and laid him in a stone feeding trough, which made an excellent cradle.

A stone manger

7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, enquired of them diligently what time the star appeared.
8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.
9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was.
10 When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.
11 ¶And when they were come into the house, they saw the young child with Mary his mother, and fell down, and worshipped him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

For “wise men” Matthew uses μάγους (magi), which, in this context, means “astrologers”. This word is found in LXX Daniel 2:2,10,27 referring to the attendants of the king.[4] Matthew wrote for a Jewish audience who expected their king to be adored by important people with kingly gifts.

8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

Luke, on the other hand, wrote for working-class gentiles; hence, peasant shepherds as opposed to noble magi.

12 And being warned of God in a dream that they should not return to Herod, they departed into their own country another way.
13 And when they were departed, behold, the angel of the Lord appeareth to Joseph in a dream, saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and flee into Egypt, and be thou there until I bring thee word: for Herod will seek the young child to destroy him.
14 When he arose, he took the young child and his mother by night, and departed into Egypt:
15 And was there until the death of Herod: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken of the Lord by the prophet, saying, Out of Egypt have I called my son.

Here Matthew sends the young family on a ~600 mile detour to prevent any rabbis from using Hosea 11:1 against Jesus.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

Luke emphasizes Jesus’ lowly birth and common cloth wrappings in order to persuade the shepherd class that the baby was one of them.

16 ¶Then Herod, when he saw that he was mocked of the wise men, was exceeding wroth, and sent forth, and slew all the children that were in Bethlehem, and in all the coasts thereof, from two years old and under, according to the time which he had diligently enquired of the wise men.
17 Then was fulfilled that which was spoken by Jeremy the prophet, saying,
18 In Rama was there a voice heard, lamentation, and weeping, and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not.

Such large-scale infanticide demands multiple attestation; however, Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents is not mentioned by Luke, Josephus, Tacitus or any other Jewish or Roman historian. In fact, Herod only executed three Jewish children, whom he perceived as threats to his throne: his sons Alexander and Aristobulus in 7 BC and his son Antipater in 4 BC.[5] Nevertheless, Matthew succeeds here with his Jewish audience in painting infant Jesus as a second Moses, who narrowly escapes the clutches of a murderous tyrant.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

The “multitude of the heavenly host” refers to the army of good angels who fought in the War in Heaven under the leadership of Archangel Michael and/or “Yahweh of hosts”. Luke is appealing to beliefs passed down from ancient Canaanite religion, deriving from Assyro-Babylonian mythology, regarding the motion of the sun, moon and stars (Deuteronomy 4:19; Judges 5:20).

19 ¶But when Herod was dead, behold, an angel of the Lord appeareth in a dream to Joseph in Egypt,
20 Saying, Arise, and take the young child and his mother, and go into the land of Israel: for they are dead which sought the young child’s life.
21 And he arose, and took the young child and his mother, and came into the land of Israel.
22 But when he heard that Archelaus did reign in Judæa in the room of his father Herod, he was afraid to go thither: notwithstanding, being warned of God in a dream, he turned aside into the parts of Galilee:
23 And he came and dwelt in a city called Nazareth: that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophets, He shall be called a Nazarene.

Matthew continues his Moses motif in describing Jesus’ exile. By sending the family from Bethlehem to Egypt to Nazareth, he covers all possible origins for the King of the Jews.

So what do these two different stories teach us?

Just as there was no room in the “inn” for Joseph and Mary, neither is there historical room in The Nativity for Luke’s shepherds or Matthew’s Magi. These mythical figures have got to go.


The sheep however, are welcome to stay.

References:

[1] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 17.6.4 & 17.8.3.

[2] Emil Schürer, Fergus Millar (editor), Geza Vermes (editor), The history of the Jewish people in the age of Jesus Christ Vol I, (Continuum, 1973) 401.

[3] James Douglas Grant Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 344.

[4] In producing his gospel, Matthew relied on the Greek Septuagint translation of the Old Testament. This is known from his misquotes of Hebrew Isaiah et al., based on LXX mistranslations, and from his use of the Septuagint’s parthenos or “virgin” (Matt. 1:23) for the Hebrew almah, meaning “young woman”, in Isaiah 7:14. Had Isaiah specifically meant “virgin”, he would have used bethulah: Tim Callahan, Bible Prophecy: Failure or Fulfillment? 115-16.

[5] Robert Eisenman, James The Brother of Jesus, 1997, I.3 “Romans, Herodians and Jewish sects,” p.49.

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The Easter Story

“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return to God who gave it.” — Ecclesiastes 12:7

A good way to evaluate the historicity of a story is to check whether its constituent events match the chronological order in which they were first reported. Jesus’ crucifixion is followed by two decades of silence in the historical record. However, clues regarding the earliest apostolic teachings during this silent period can be found in the epistles of Paul. One important clue is the pre-Pauline creed recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:[1]

3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures,
4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures,
5 and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.

Paul “received” this “died… buried… raised… appeared” creed from Peter and James, “the Lord’s brother” at Jerusalem three years after his vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus (Galatians 1:18-19). Hence, these beliefs date to about 7 years after the crucifixion and constitute the views of at least two key eyewitnesses to the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection. Paul spent 15 days with Peter gathering the essential facts of the eyewitness accounts; thus, Paul’s teachings, as recorded in his epistles, should closely resemble the views of the original apostles.

So what were these earliest views?

Regarding Jesus’ burial, Paul taught that the Jewish authorities (i.e., the ones who had him executed) took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb.

Acts 13:28 And though they found no ground for putting Him to death, they asked Pilate that He be executed.
29 When they had carried out all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the cross and laid Him in a tomb.

This is consistent with Mishnah Sanhedrin 6:5-6, which relates that the Sanhedrin had established two burial sites for the temporary placing of corpses of Jews executed as criminals. The corpses were later removed and reburied honorably by family members.

Regarding the resurrection, Paul taught that Jesus was the first person to be raised from the dead.

1 Corinthians 15:20 But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep.
21 For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead.
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.
23 But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming,

He preached that the resurrection applied only to our spirits, not to our physical bodies.

15:35 But someone will say, “How are the dead raised? And with what kind of body do they come?”
36 You fool! That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies;
37 and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else.

In Paul’s view, we permanently dispose of our physical bodies at death and are raised again as purely spiritual beings; just as a seed planted in the Earth grows into a new plant.

15:42 So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body;
43 it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power;
44 it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.
45 So also it is written, “The first man, Adam, became a living soul.” The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.

Furthermore, it is impossible for flesh-and-blood bodies to inherit the kingdom of God.

15:50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

In none of his writings does Paul mention the empty tomb, showing of wounds, eating of fish or any other bodily act of the resurrected Jesus.[2]

Paul died in the 60s, along with Peter and James, effectively bringing an end to the generation of contemporary witnesses.

In AD 70, Titus sacked Jerusalem, destroying the Jewish commonwealth along with the temple, which had served as the center of teaching and study for Jewish Christians. This forced an end to the traditional system of oral scholarship and ushered in a new era of written rabbinic discourse. Shortly after the destruction of Jerusalem, an anonymous Christian, not too familiar with the geography and customs of Galilee, took it upon himself to write down the key events of Jesus’ life and death. His story ends thus:[3]

Mark 16:1 And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, bought spices, that they might come and anoint him.
2 And very early on the first day of the week, they come to the tomb when the sun was risen.
3 And they were saying among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the tomb?
4 and looking up, they see that the stone is rolled back: for it was exceeding great.
5 And entering into the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, arrayed in a white robe; and they were amazed.
6 And he saith unto them, Be not amazed: ye seek Jesus, the Nazarene, who hath been crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold, the place where they laid him!
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you.
8 And they went out, and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them: and they said nothing to any one; for they were afraid.

This is the first mention of the empty tomb in any canonical or non-canonical text. Mark deftly employs it as a powerful symbol for dramatic effect.[4] Jesus’ body is missing; however, it’s unclear whether it has reanimated, been moved or has simply evaporated (along with the linen burial wrappings). Indeed, it doesn’t seem to matter, since Mark’s only apparent purpose is to “sow” the “perishable” natural body to enable the “imperishable” spiritual body to rise from its seed. Of course, by introducing an empty tomb with a missing body, Mark creates the obvious question/objection: why didn’t Peter, Paul, James or any other apostles ever mention these things? Mark solves this problem by only having women present and by having them say “nothing to any one”. The Messianic Secret is thus preserved and the apostles never find out about the empty tomb or the young man in the white robe.

For at least a decade after Mark penned his gospel, church leaders continued to teach a spirit-only resurrection; e.g.,[5]

1 Peter 3:18 Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
1 Peter 4:6 For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God.

As post-Pauline leaders with new agendas took over, Christianity began to splinter into competing sects, largely divided along social status lines. Groups of elite Gnostics perpetuated Paul’s Orphic disdain for the flesh (Romans 7:18-8:18) by rejecting any idea of a physical resurrection. Their chief goal was to become free forever from the taint of matter and the shackles of the body, and to return to the heavenly realm as pure spirits. The uneducated masses however, were disturbed by the idea of losing their body. They were not impressed by highbrow arguments for a disembodied immortality; they just wanted to get their bodies back, which is what the Jewish sects and pagan cults offered.[6] As the Christian movement spread throughout the ancient world, it bumped up against these neighboring cults with their rival gods and competing mythologies.

Most of the other gods, including the Jewish god, were able to raise people bodily from the dead. Indeed, physical resurrections were all the rage in the first century.[7] One Greek god in particular, Ἀσκληπιός Σωτήρ (Asclepius the Savior), was so adept at bringing people back from the dead that Hades feared no more dead spirits would come to the underworld.[8] Coincidentally, “Jesus” (properly, Yeshua) means “Savior” in Hebrew. This fact, combined with Jesus’ reputation as a “fisher of men”, made it only natural for first-century Christians to construct an acronym from the Greek word for “fish” (ΙΧΘΥΣ) in which Jesus, like Asclepius, was assigned the title of “Savior”; i.e., ΙΧΘΥΣ = Ἰησοῦς Χριστός, Θεοῦ Υἱός, Σωτήρ (Jesus Christ, God’s son, Savior). This acrostic became a confession of faith, in conjunction with the “friend or foe” fish symbol adapted from Greek and Roman pagans in response to persecutions, which had commenced under Nero (AD 64-68).

As large numbers of lower-class Jews and pagans streamed into the church, bringing their former beliefs along with them, a natural syncretism developed between Yahweh and several other gods.[9] Additionally, many Jewish Christians were of the opinion that Jesus was the earthly manifestation of Yahweh.[10] These two forces combined to imbue Jesus with popular features of several other deities, especially those of Asclepius.

Asclepius heals a sick girl

Jesus heals a sick girl

Asclepius was a 12th-century-BC physician, renowned for his miraculous healings. It was believed that he was born of a heavenly father and earthly mother. He restored sight to the blind, made the lame to walk, cast out demons, calmed the elements and prophesied the future.[11] He died a real death, then physically resurrected and ascended into heaven.

Asclepius, a prophet like unto Moses

Church Father Justin Martyr pointed out to Antoninus Pius and his fellow pagans in the Roman senate that Jesus and Asclepius were nothing different and their deeds were essentially identical:

“And when we say also that the Word, who is the first-birth of God, Jesus Christ, our teacher, was produced without sexual union, and that He was crucified and died, and rose again, and ascended into heaven, we propound nothing new and different from what you believe regarding those whom you esteem sons of Jupiter… Asclepius, who, though he was a great healer, was struck by a thunderbolt, and ascended to heaven.”First Apology, 21:1-2.

“When we say that He [Jesus] made well the lame and the paralytic and those who were feeble from birth and that he resurrected the dead, we shall seem to be mentioning deeds similar to and even identical with those which were said to have been performed by Asclepius.”First Apology,  22:6.

Later, when Jewish skeptics pointed out that Jesus and Asclepius were too identical, Justin blamed it on the devil:

“And when he [the devil] brings forward Asclepius as the raiser of the dead and healer of all diseases, may I not say that in this matter likewise he has imitated the prophecies about Christ?”Dialogue with Trypho, 69.[12]

Jesus, a savior like unto Asclepius

 Asclepius initially served to inspire Christianity but later turned into one of its chief rivals. For example, it was claimed that numerous people had seen the risen Asclepius:

“And again, when it is said of Asclepius that a great multitude both of Greeks and Barbarians acknowledge that they have frequently seen, and still see, no mere phantom, but Asclepius himself, healing and doing good, and foretelling the future; Celsus requires us to believe this, and finds no fault with the believers in Jesus, when we express our belief in such stories, but when we give our assent to the disciples, and eye-witnesses of the miracles of Jesus, who clearly manifest the honesty of their convictions (because we see their guilelessness, as far as it is possible to see the conscience revealed in writing), we are called by him a set of ‘silly’ individuals, although he cannot demonstrate that an incalculable number, as he asserts, of Greeks and Barbarians acknowledge the existence of Asclepius; while we, if we deem this a matter of importance, can clearly show a countless multitude of Greeks and Barbarians who acknowledge the existence of Jesus.” — Origen, Contra Celsus, 3.24.

Whereas, the Jesus sightings were relatively few, and of only a shadow:

“But this low jester Celsus, omitting no species of mockery and ridicule which can be employed against us, mentions in his treatise the Dioscuri, and Hercules, and Asclepius, and Dionysus, who are believed by the Greeks to have become gods after being men, and says that ‘we cannot bear to call such beings gods, because they were at first men, and yet they manifested many noble qualifies, which were displayed for the benefit of mankind, while we assert that Jesus was seen after His death by His own followers;’ and he brings against us an additional charge, as if we said that ‘He was seen indeed, but was only a shadow!’”Contra Celsus, 3.22.

In the waning years of the first century, Mark’s gospel was found inadequate to compete with the Jewish sects and pagan cults; hence, new expanded narratives were needed. Accordingly, an anonymous Jewish Christian (Matthew) and an anonymous Gentile Christian (Luke) each took it upon himself to embellish Mark’s account. They both liked the bit about the empty tomb but apparently weren’t satisfied with the characters, dialogue or locales. The Christians needed more and Matthew and Luke were only too happy to oblige.

In Matthew’s redaction of Mark, he deletes Salome, and turns the unremarkable “young man” into a blazing angel who introduces himself with a “great earthquake”, descends like lightning, paralyzes the guards, and rolls the stone away single-handedly.[13] (Matthew was apparently a man of action.) The angel sits down on top of the stone door but then changes his mind and takes the two women on a tour of the sepulchre, but they don’t seem to find any burial wrappings. He commands the women to tell the disciples that Jesus is risen and on his way to Galilee, where they will see him. In contrast to Mark’s women, who were frightened speechless, Matthew’s women depart with “great joy;” and “did run to bring his disciples word.” On their way they encounter Jesus himself, whereupon they hold his feet but don’t seem to notice any wounds. This, finally, is the first mention of any tangible aspect of Jesus’ resurrected body. Jesus confirms that he’s indeed on his way to Galilee and that his brethren will see him when he gets there. The eleven disciples go to a mountain in Galilee where Jesus appears to them but some doubt it’s really him. Except for the unwounded feet, Matthew gives no indication that the resurrected Jesus has a physical body.

In contradistinction to Matthew, Luke replaces Salome with Joanna and some unspecified “other women”.[14] He trades the “young man”, already present when the women arrived, for “two men” in “dazzling clothing” who suddenly materialize inside the tomb while the women are perplexed about the situation. The men help the women remember Jesus’ earlier saying that he would rise again and the women go tell the apostles. Peter, the only one to believe them, rushes to the tomb and sees the linen wrappings. Unlike Mark and Matthew, who put the risen Jesus on the road to Galilee, Luke puts him on the road to Emmaus. He first appears incognito to Cleopas and his companion, and hints at his bodily form by reclining at their table and breaking bread, but then he suddenly vanishes. The men go to Jerusalem, where they find the Eleven and begin relating their recent experience to them. Suddenly Jesus materializes and everybody thinks he’s “a spirit.” Jesus shows them his wounds and declares, “a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” Then he further proves his physicality by eating a piece of a broiled fish. He commands them to “stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high” and leads them to Bethany where he ascends into Heaven. The apostles return to Jerusalem without visiting any mountains in Galilee.

The radical differences between Matthew’s and Luke’s accounts were likely of little consequence to the early Christians, since they were received by separate audiences.[15] All that really mattered to the masses of illiterate converts who heard these stories were the additional proofs and witnesses they provided (according to ancient standards), which helped build their faith and strengthen their hand against rival religions.

Despite Matthew’s and Luke’s literary prowess, many people remained unimpressed. The risen Jesus was simply unremarkable compared to other resurrected heroes in popular mythology. For example, after rattling off a long list of resurrected man-gods, Celsus asks:[16]

“But the question is, whether anyone who was really dead ever rose with a veritable body. Or do you imagine the statements of others not only to be myths, but to have the appearance of such, while you have discovered a becoming and credible termination to your drama in the voice from the cross, when he breathed his last, and in the earthquake and the darkness? That while alive he was of no assistance to himself, but that when dead he rose again, and showed the marks of his punishment, and how his hands were pierced with nails: who beheld this? A hysterical woman, as you state, and some other one, perhaps, of those who were engaged in the same system of delusion, who had either dreamed so, owing to a peculiar state of mind, or under the influence of a wandering imagination had formed to himself an appearance according to his own wishes, which has been the case with numberless individuals; or, which is most probable, one who desired to impress others with this portent, and by such a falsehood to furnish an occasion to impostors like himself.”Contra Celsus, 2.55.

In order to compete successfully against neighboring sects and cults, the Christians needed to: A) strengthen the (non-hysterical) male witnesses, B) further verify the physical body of the risen Jesus, and C) increase Jesus’ powers above those of Asclepius et al. Sometime around the turn of the century, an anonymous Hellenistic philosopher (John) took up the cause.[17]

Jesus performs an Asclepeion foot washing for Simon Peter at the Last Supper

Itching for some head-to-head competition, John sends Jesus to the Asclepium at Bethesda to steal a cultist right out from under his rival’s nose.[18] Then he leaves Lazarus in the grave for four days, thereby surpassing Asclepius’ resurrection of Tyndareus.[19] He deletes all of the “hysterical” women except Mary Magdalene, who finds a deserted tomb with no young man, no earthquake-inducing angel, no stone for the angel to roll away or sit upon, no guards to spook nor any pair of dazzling men. This time around, Mary Magdalene decides all by herself, without any instructions from men or angels, to run tell Peter and “the other disciple whom Jesus loved”[20] that the Lord is missing. The “other disciple” (John) beats Peter to the tomb and robs him of his previous victory in being the first person to behold the linen wrappings. Peter however, is consoled with the Luke-harmonization prize of being the first one to actually enter the tomb and see the previously unnoticed face-cloth, which had been conveniently rolled up and placed separately from the other wrappings. The second disciple enters the tomb, sees and believes, then he and Peter both go home, apparently without saying goodbye to Mary, who is still outside, weeping. As she weeps, she stoops down, looks into the tomb and sees “two angels in white sitting,” like the cherubim atop the Ark of the Covenant, “one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had been lying.” They ask her why she’s weeping and she replies that they’ve taken her Lord away. Then she turns and sees Jesus but thinks he’s the gardener. He says, “Mary!” and she recognizes him. He forbids her from embracing him and commands her to go tell his brethren he’s about to ascend. That evening Jesus suddenly materializes behind shut doors, which must have been much thinner than the stone door to the tomb, since that one had to be rolled out of the way. He shows his wounds to his disciples and breathes on them but Thomas, the representative of all unbelievers, is absent. Eight days later, Jesus repeats the performance, this time inviting Thomas to reach his finger and hand directly into his wounds in an effort to quash allegations about him being “only a shadow” or a “mere phantom”.

John’s gospel brought the empty-tomb story into full bloom, giving Jesus all that could reasonably be expected of a resurrected deity. Nevertheless, controversies and rivalries between Christianity and its detractors persisted throughout the second and third centuries. Ultimately however, Christianity prevailed by drawing in the emperor of Rome. Today there are far more Christian churches than Asclepeion temples in the world.[21] There remain however, no unambiguous answers to the most fundamental questions regarding the resurrection; e.g.,

Who was there (besides Mary Magdalene)?
Did she/they witness the stone being rolled away?
Who appeared to her/them? A man? An angel? Two men? Two angels?
What did the man/men/angel/angels say to the woman/women and vice versa?
Were there linen burial wrappings in the tomb? If so, who saw them?
To whom did Jesus first appear?
Where did he first appear?
What was the first thing he said?
Did the eleven disciples see Jesus in Galilee or Jerusalem?
How does a glorified celestial body retain its wounds of death?
How did Jesus’ invitation to Thomas to feel his wounds prove he was “raised an imperishable body“?
Etc., etc., etc.,

In retrospect, it appears that the sealed tomb was much like a can of worms. When Mark opened it, out spilled a tangled mess of logical inconsistencies which has yet to be straightened out. No two Gospels agree on any appearance of the risen Jesus.

What then are we to make of the wound-showing, bread-breaking, fish-eating, angel-announced resurrected body of Jesus preached in the post-Pauline gospels? Paul gave this advice to the Galatians:

1:8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to what we have preached to you, he is to be accursed!

Some tales get taller with each telling, like the one about the fish that got away.

References:

[1] Paul spent 18 months founding the church in Corinth (Acts 18:1-17), then went to Ephesus (Acts 19:8, 19:10, 20:31), where he wrote this first epistle (16:8) circa AD 53-57.

[2] Earlier in his epistle (1 Corinthians 12:12-27), Paul speaks of the “body of Christ” as metaphor for the church. His imagery here likely derives from his experience with the Temple of Asclepius in Corinth. Throughout his ministry Paul adapted local customs and symbols to his teachings; e.g., his use of the altar “TO THE UNKNOWN GOD” in preaching to the Athenians on Mars’ hill (Acts 17:22-23). Patients who came to the Corinthian Asclepium for healing left terra-cotta votive offerings of their wounded body parts: feet, hands, ears, eyes, heads etc. Paul contrasted the individual dismembered parts in the Asclepium with the saints’ membership in the whole body of Christ. — Andrew E. Hill, “The Temple of Asclepius: An Alternative Source for Paul’s Body Theology?” Journal of Biblical Literature, 99, 437-439 (1980).

[3] Mark 16:9-20 were tacked onto the gospel roughly a century later.

[4] By disposing of the corruptible “mortal flesh of Jesus”, Mark enables him to “exchange qualities” and become a god like “Asclepius, or Dionysus, or Hercules”. — Origen, Contra Celsus, 3.42. It was also necessary to empty Jesus’ tomb because some Christians were ridiculing worshipers of Jupiter by pointing to his tomb in the island of Crete. — Contra Celsus, 3.43.

[5] The earliest date for the First Epistle of Peter is partly established by the sequence of provincial boundaries (1 Peter 1:1) set up by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72.

[7] Marcus Tullius Cicero reports, “…if we turn to Greece, they have there a number of gods who were once men, the Alabandi Alabandus, the people of Tenedos Tennes, and the whole nation Leucothea, whose mortal name was Ino, and her son Palæmon; while our own countrymen have Hercules, Asclepius, the Tyndaridæ, Romulus, and several others, who they think were received into heaven like new citizens added to the roll.” — De Natura Deorum, 3.15 (45 BC).

[8] Aristides (530-468 BC) describes Asclepius as “the one who guides and rules the universe, the savior of the whole and the guardian of the immortals.” Julianus (AD 133-193) says “shall I now go on to tell you how Helius took thought for the health and safety of all by begetting Asclepius to be the savior of the whole world?” — Quoted in Emma J. and Ludwig Edelstein, Asclepius: Collection and Interpretation of the Testimonies, 150-152 (1945, 1998).

[9] A second-century tablet from the Roman city of Asturica-Augusta bears the Greek inscription, “Zeus, Serapis and Yahweh are one.” — Maureen W. Yeung, Faith in Jesus and Paul, 82 (2002). Archaeological evidence for Asclepius worship in first-century  Syro-Palestine includes: Ascalon, Jerusalem, Samaria, Caesarea,  Ptolemais, Gerasa, Gadara, Tiberias, Sidon and Berytus. — A. Duprez, Jesus et les Dieux Guerisseurs: A Propos de Jean, V 64-79 (1970).

[10] In Hebrew, Jesus’ name is spelled “Yeshua“. The “Ye” in Yeshua is the  abbreviated form of YHWH. “Shua” is from the Hebrew word for salvation, yasha. Jesus’ name in Hebrew and Aramaic literally means “YHWH is salvation.” While YHWH describes who God is, when it is combined with a verb it describes what God does. The name “Jesus” describes the fact that YHWH has become salvation.

[11] Edelstein, Asclepius, § 66-93, 232-56, 382-91, 443-54. Also, Derek Murphy, Jesus Potter, Harry Christ, Ch. 4, (2011).

[12] Like Justin Martyr, C.S. Lewis accepted pagan Christs, but he didn’t blame them on the devil. Rather, he argued that the pagans derived them long ago from an ancient revelation from God. According to C. S. Lewis-biographer Roger Lancelyn Green, Lewis believed that “Christianity fulfilled paganism” and “paganism prefigured Christianity”. — C. S. Lewis: A Biography, pp. 274, 30; Harcourt Inc., (1974).

[13] In having the women witness the stone being rolled away, Matthew responds to the allegation that the disciples had come by night and stolen the body (Matthew 28:11-15).

[14] Matthew and Luke may have deleted Salome because they identified her with the voluptuous girl who danced for her step-father, Herod Antipas, and requested the head of John the Baptist on a platter (Mark 6:21-25, Matthew 14:6-11). Josephus says that this Salome later married her grand-uncle, Philip the tetrarch, and after his death, Aristobulus of Lesser Armenia (Antiquities, XVIII, 5, 4). The Coptic Book of the Resurrection of Christ names the following women who went to the tomb: Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Mary who ministered to him, Martha her sister, Joanna (Susanna) who renounced the marriage bed, and “Salome who tempted him”. In the Gospel of the Egyptians a certain Salome appears as a disciple of Jesus. According to the Gospel of Thomas, Salome and Mary Magdalene became the disciples of Jesus when they transcended their human nature and “became male”. Jesus shares Salome’s couch and during their discussion she declares “I am your disciple.” It would seem that Salome may have tried to seduce Jesus but instead became his disciple.

[15] The development of the New Testament canon was a very gradual process, beginning with Irenaeus in the second century.

[16] Although Celsus wrote in the second century (after Mark, Matthew, Luke and John), the pagan beliefs to which he refers go back several centuries prior. Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that the controversies he mentions pre-date the canonical gospels, just as it is reasonable to assume that the creed in 1 Cor. 15:3-5 pre-dates the actual writing of the epistle. A. Duprez compares Jesus and the healing gods in first-century Palestine (Jesus, 79-85), and K. Rengstorf traces the origin of the controversy between the early Church and the Asclepius cult to the time of the writing of the Gospel of John — Die Anfange der Auseinandersetzung zwischen Christusglaube und Asklepiosfrommigkeit (1953).

[17] In several instances, John uses language peculiar to the Asclepius cult. For example, in describing the foot washing at the Last Supper, John uses the Greek term goyein (13:10), which is a special term for washing in an Asclepium (Yeung, Faith, 79), rather than the Greek word used elsewhere in the Johannine text to describe washing – niptein. — James H. Charlesworth, Jesus and archaeology, 560-566 (2006).

[18] Ben Irwin, “Grumpy Jesus and a pagan swimming pool” (2007). John uses the Greek phrase hygies genesthai (5:6), which is not used anywhere in the Synoptic Gospels but appears frequently in ancient testimonies to the healing powers of Asclepius. — Yeung, Faith, 79.

[19] Pliny the Elder reports, “In more recent times again, the same art has augmented its celebrity, at the cost perhaps of being charged with criminality, by devising the fable that Asclepius was struck by lightning for presuming to raise Tyndareus to life. And this example notwithstanding, it has not hesitated to relate how that others, through its agency, have since been restored to life.” — Natural History, 29.1.3 (AD 77-79). The resurrections of Lazarus (John 11:1-44), the daughter of Jairus (Mark 5:21-43) and the young man from Nain (Luke 7:11-17), in the post-Pauline accounts, rob Jesus of his title “firstfruits of them that slept” (1 Corinthians 15:20-23).

[20] Here and elsewhere John places himself at the center of the action. This, of course, raises the question as to how an eyewitness writing around AD 100 could have lived so long. John (or, more likely, a later scribe, on account of the third-person reference) solves this problem by having Jesus grant him quasi-immortality (John 21:20-24).

[21] It could be argued that there are many Asclepeion temples in the world today but we call them “hospitals”.