Freethought Archives > Walter R. Cassels > Supernatural Religion 




We now enter upon the narrative of the Resurrection itself. The first Synoptist relates that Mary Magdalene and the other Mary came to behold the sepulchre "at the close of the Sabbath, as it began to dawn into the first day of the week" (Opse de sabbatôn, tê epiphôskousê eis mian sabbatôn) (Matt. 28:1), that is to say, shortly after six o'clock on the evening of Saturday, the end of the Sabbath, the dawn of the next day being marked by the glimmer of more than one star in the heavens. The second Synoptic represents that, "when the Sabbath was past," Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, and that they came to the sepulchre "very early on the first day of the week after the rising of the sun" (kai lian prôi tês mias sabbatônanateilantos tou hêliou) (Mk. 16:2). The third Synoptist states that the women who came with Jesus from Galilee came to the sepulchre, but he subsequently more definitely names them: "Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them" (Lk. 23:55; 24:1, 10) -- a larger number of women -- and they came "upon the first day of the week at early dawn" (Tê de mia tôn sabbatôn orthrou batheôs). The fourth Evangelist represents that Mary Magdalene only [829:5] came to the sepulchre, on the first day of the week, "early, while it was yet dark" (prôi skotias eti sysês) (Jn. 20:1).

The first Evangelist indubitably makes the hour at which the women come to the sepulchre different and much earlier than the others, and at the same time he represents them as witnessing the actual removal of the stone, which, in the other three Gospels, the women already find rolled away from the mouth of the sepulchre. [829:7] It will, therefore, be interesting to follow the first Synoptic. It is here stated: 2. "And behold there was a great earthquake (seismos): for an angel of the Lord descended from heaven and came and rolled away the stone and sat upon it. 3. His appearance was like lightning, and his raiment white as snow. 4. And for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men. 5. And the angel answered and said unto the women: Fear ye not, for I know that ye seek Jesus, who hath been crucified. 6. He is not here: for he was raised (êgerthê gar), as he said: Come, see the place where he lay. 7. And go quickly, and tell his disciples that he was raised (êgerthê) from the dead, and behold he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him: behold, I have told you. 8. And they departed quickly from the sepulchre with fear and great joy; and ran to tell his disciples" (Matt. 28:2). We have here in the first place another earthquake, and apparently, on the theory of the course of cosmical phenomena held during the "Age of Miracles," produced by the angel who descended to roll away the stone from the sepulchre. This earthquake, like the others recorded in the first Synoptic, appears to be quite unknown to the other Evangelists, and no trace of it has been pointed out in other writings. With the appearance of the angel we obviously arrive upon thoroughly unhistorical ground. Can we believe, because this unknown writer tells us so, that "an angel," [830:2] causing an earthquake, actually descended and took such a part in this transaction? Upon the very commonest principles of evidence, the reply must be an emphatic negative. Every fact of science, every lesson of experience, excludes such an assumption; and we may add that the character of the author, with which we are now better acquainted, as well as the course of the narrative itself, confirms the justice of such a conclusion. If the introduction of the angel be legendary, must not also his words be so?

Proceeding to examine the narrative as it stands, we must point out a circumstance which may appropriately be mentioned here, and which is well worthy of attention. The women and the guard are present when the stone is rolled away from the sepulchre, but they do not witness the actual Resurrection. It is natural to suppose that, when the stone was removed, Jesus, who, it is asserted, rises with his body from the dead, would have come forth from the sepulchre: but not so; the angel only says (verse 6): "He is not here, for he was raised (êgerthê gar)", and he merely invites the women to see the place where he lay. The actual resurrection is spoken of as a thing which had taken place before, and, in any case, it was not witnessed by anyone. In the other Gospels the resurrection has already occurred before anyone arrives at the sepulchre; and the remarkable fact is, therefore, absolutely undeniable that there was not, and that it is not even pretended that there was, a single eye-witness of the actual Resurrection. The empty grave, coupled with the supposed subsequent appearances of Jesus, is the only evidence of the Resurrection. We shall not, however, pursue this further at present. The removal of the stone is not followed by any visible result. The inmate of the sepulchre is not observed to issue from it, and yet he is not there. May we not ask what was the use, in this narrative, of the removal of the stone at all? As no one apparently came forth, the only purpose seems to have been to permit those from without to enter and see that the sepulchre was empty.

Order to go into Galilee
Another remarkable point is that the angel desires the women to go quickly and inform the disciples, "he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him." One is tempted to inquire why, as he rose from the dead in Jerusalem, and, in spite of previous statements, the disciples are represented as being there also (Lk. 24:33; Jn. 20:18 f.), Jesus did not appear to them in the Holy City, instead of sending them some three days' journey off to Galilee. At the same time, Jesus is represented by the first two Synoptics as saying at the Last Supper, when warning the disciples that they will all be offended at him that night and be scattered: "But after I shall have been raised I will go before you into Galilee" (Matt. 26:32; Mk. 14:28). At present we have only to call attention to the fact that the angel gives the order. With much surprise, therefore, we immediately after read that, as the women departed quickly to tell the disciples in obedience to the angel's message (verse 9): "Behold Jesus met them, saying, Hail. And they came up to him and laid hold of his feet, and worshipped him. 10. Then saith Jesus unto them: Be not afraid; go, tell my brethren that they depart into Galilee, and there they shall see me" (Matt. 29:9-10). What was the use of the angel's message, since Jesus himself immediately after appears and delivers the very same instructions in person? This sudden and apparently unnecessary appearance has all the character of an afterthought. One point is very clear: that the order to go into Galilee and the statement that there first Jesus is to appear to the disciples are unmistakable, repeated and peremptory.

No eye-witness of the Resurrection
We must now turn to the second Gospel. The women going to the sepulchre with spices that they might anoint the body of Jesus -- which, according to the fourth Gospel, had already been fully embalmed, and, in any case, had lain in the sepulchre since the Friday evening -- are represented as saying amongst themselves: "Who will roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" (Mk. 16:3) This is a curious dramatic speculation, but very suspicious. These women are apparently not sufficiently acquainted with Joseph of Arimathaea to be aware that, as the fourth Gospel asserts, the body had already been embalmed, and yet they actually contemplate rolling the stone away from the mouth of the sepulchre which was his property. [832:2] Keim has pointed out that it was a general rule [832:3] that, after a sepulchre had been closed in the way described, it should not again be opened. Generally, the stone was not placed against the opening of the sepulchre till the third day, when corruption had already commenced; but here the sepulchre is stated by all the Gospels to have been closed on the first day, and the unhesitating intention of the women to remove the stone is not a happy touch on the part of the second Synoptist. They find the stone already rolled away. [832:4] Verse 5: "And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6. And he saith unto them: Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified: he was raised (êgerthê); he is not here; behold the place where they laid him. 7. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you unto Galilee; there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. 8. And they went out and fled from the sepulchre: for trembling and astonishment seized them, and they said nothing to anyone; for they were afraid" (Mk. 16:5). In Matthew the angel rolls away the stone from the sepulchre and sits upon it, and the women only enter to see where Jesus lay, upon his invitation. Here, they go in at once, and see the angel ("a young man") sitting at the right side, and are affrighted. He reassures them, and, as in the other narrative, says, "he was raised." He gives them the same message to his disciples and to Peter, who is specially named; and the second Synoptic thus fully confirms the first in representing Galilee as the place where Jesus is to be seen by them. It is curious that the women should say nothing to anyone about this wonderful event, and in this the statements of the other Gospels are certainly not borne out. There is one remarkable point to be noticed, that, according to the second Synoptist also, not only is there no eye-witness of the Resurrection, but the only evidence of that marvellous occurrence which it contains is the information of the "young man." There is no appearance of Jesus to anyone narrated, and it would seem as though the appearance described in Matt. 28:9 f. is excluded. It is well known that Mark 16:9-20 did not form part of the original Gospel, and is inauthentic. It is unnecessary to argue a point so generally admitted. The verses now appended to the Gospel are by a different author, and are of no value as evidence. We, therefore, exclude them from consideration.

In Luke, as in the second Synoptic, the women find the stone removed, and here it is distinctly stated that "on entering in they found not the body of the Lord Jesus. 4. And it came to pass as they were perplexed thereabout, behold two men stood by them in shining garments; 5. And as they were afraid, and bowed their faces to the earth, they said unto them: Why seek ye the living among the dead? 6. He is not here, but was raised (êgerthê); remember how he spake unto you when he was yet in Galilee; 7. saying, that the Son of Man must be delivered up into the hands of sinful men, and be crucified and the third day rise again. 8. And they remembered his words, 9. and returned from the sepulchre, and told all these things unto the eleven and to all the rest … 11. And these words appeared to them as an idle tale, and they believed them not." [833:1] The author of the third Gospel is not content with one angel, like the first two Synoptists, but introduces "two men in shining garments," who seem suddenly to stand beside the women, and, instead of reassuring them, as in the former narratives, rather adopt a tone of reproof (verse 5). They inform the women that "Jesus was raised"; and here again not only has no one been an eye-witness of the resurrection, but the women only hear of it from the angels. There is one striking peculiarity in the above account. There is no mention of Jesus going before his disciples into Galilee to be seen of them, nor indeed of his being seen at all; but "Galilee" is introduced by way of a reminiscence. Instead of the future, the third Synoptist substitutes the past, and, as might be expected, he gives no hint of any appearances of Jesus to the disciples beyond the neighbourhood of Jerusalem. When the women tell the disciples what they have seen and heard, they do not believe them. The thief on the cross, according to the writer, was more advanced in his faith and knowledge than the Apostles. Setting aside Matt. 28:9-10, we have hitherto no other affirmation of the Resurrection than the statement that the sepulchre was found empty, and the angels announced that Jesus was raised from the dead.

The account of the fourth Evangelist differs completely from the narratives of all the Synoptists. According to him, Mary Magdalene alone comes to the sepulchre and sees the stone taken away. She, therefore, runs and comes to Simon Peter and to "the other disciple whom Jesus loved," saying: "They took (êran) the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not (ouk oidamen[834:1] where they laid (ethêkan) him. 3. Peter, therefore, went forth and the other disciple, and came to the sepulchre. 4. And the two ran together; and the other disciple outran Peter and came first to the sepulchre; 5. and stooping down, looking in, he seeth the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in. 6. Then cometh Simon Peter following him and went into the sepulchre and beholdeth the linen clothes lying, 7. and the napkin that was on his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped in one place by itself. 8. Then went in, therefore, the other disciple also, who came first to the sepulchre, and he saw and believed. 9. For as yet they knew not the Scriptures, that he must rise again from the dead. 10. So the disciples went away to their own homes" (John 20:2-10). Critics have long ago pointed out the careful way in which the actions of "the beloved disciple" and Peter are balanced in this narrative. If the "other disciple" outstrips Peter, and first looks into the sepulchre, Peter first actually enters; and if Peter first sees the careful arrangement of the linen clothes, the other sees and believes. The evident care with which the writer metes out a share to each disciple in this visit to the sepulchre, of which the Synoptics seem totally ignorant, is very suggestive of artistic arrangement, and the careful details regarding the folding and position of the linen clothes, which has furnished so much matter for apologetic reasoning, seems to us to savour more of studied composition than natural observation. So very much is passed over in complete silence which is of the very highest importance, that minute details like these, which might well be composed in the study, do not produce so much effect as some critics think they should do. There is some ambiguity as to what the disciple "believed," according to verse 8, when he went into the sepulchre; and some understand that he simply believed what Mary Magdalene had told them (verse 2), whilst others hold that he believed in the resurrection, which, taken in connection with the following verse, seems undoubtedly to be the author's meaning. If the former were the reading, it would be too trifling a point to be so prominently mentioned, and it would not accord with the contented return home of the disciples. Accepting the latter sense, it is instructive to observe the very small amount of evidence with which "the beloved disciple" is content. He simply finds the sepulchre empty and the linen clothes lying, and although no one even speaks of the resurrection, no one professes to have been an eye-witness of it, and "as yet they know not the Scriptures, that he must rise again from the dead," he is nevertheless said to see and believe.

The appearance to Mary Magdalene
It will have been observed that hitherto, although the two disciples have both entered the sepulchre, there has been no mention of angels: they certainly did not see any. In immediate continuation of the narrative, however, we learn that when they have gone home Mary Magdalene, who was standing without at the tomb weeping, stooped down, and, looking into the sepulchre where just before the disciples had seen no one -- she beheld "two angels in white sitting, one at the head and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus lay. 13. They say unto her: Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them: Because they took away (êran) my Lord, and I know not where they laid him" (John 20:12-13). This, again, is a very different representation and conversation from that reported in the other Gospels. Do we acquire any additional assurance as to the reality of the angels and the historical truth of their intervention from this narrative? We think not. Mary Magdalene repeats to the angels almost the very words she had said to the disciples, verse 2. Are we to suppose that "the beloved disciple," who saw and believed, did not communicate his conviction to the others, and that, Mary was left precisely in the same doubt and perplexity as before, without an idea that anything had happened except that the body had been taken away, and she knew not where it had been laid? She appears to have seen and spoken to the angels with singular composure. Their sudden appearance does not even seem to have surprised her.

We must, however, continue the narrative, and it is well to remark the maintenance, at first, of the tone of affected ignorance, as well as the dramatic construction of the whole scene: Verse 14. "Having said this, she turned herself back and beholdeth Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus. 15. Jesus saith unto her: Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing that it was the gardener, saith unto him: Sir, if thou didst bear him hence, tell me where thou didst lay him, and I will take him away. 16. Jesus saith unto her: Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him in Hebrew: [835:2] Rabboni, which is to say, Master. 17. Jesus saith unto her: Touch me not (Mê mou aptou); for I have not yet ascended to the Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them: I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God. 18. Mary Magdalene cometh announcing to the disciples that she has seen the Lord, and he spake these things unto her" (Jn. 20:14-18).

To those who attach weight to these narratives and consider them historical it must appear astonishing that Mary, who up to the very last had been closely associated with Jesus, does not recognise him when he thus appears to her, but supposes him at first to be the gardener. As part of the evidence of the Gospel such a trait is of much importance, and must hereafter be alluded to. After a couple of days, not know Jesus whom she had daily seen for so long! The interpretation of the reply of Jesus, verse 17, "Touch me not," etc., has long been a bone of contention among critics, but it does not sufficiently affect the inquiry upon which we are engaged to require discussion here. Only one point may be mentioned in passing, that if, as has been supposed in connection with Matt. 28:9, Jesus be understood to repel, as premature, the worship of Mary, that very passage of the first Gospel, in which there is certainly no discouragement of worship, refutes the theory. We shall not say more about the construction of this dialogue, but we may point out that, as so many unimportant details are given throughout the narrative, it is somewhat remarkable that the scene terminates so abruptly, and leaves so much untold that it would have been of the utmost consequence for us to know. What became of Jesus, for instance? Did he vanish suddenly? Or did he bid Mary farewell, and leave her like one in the flesh? Did she not inquire why he did not join the brethren? Whither he was going? It is scarcely possible to tell us less than the writer has done; and as it cannot be denied that such minor points as where the linen clothes lay, or where Mary "turned herself back" (verse 14), or "turned herself" (verse 16) merely, cannot be compared in interest and importance to the supposed movements and conduct of Jesus under such circumstances, the omission to relate the end of the interview, or more particular details of it, whilst those graphic touches are inserted, is singularly instructive. It is much more important to notice that here again there is no mention of Galilee, nor, indeed, of any intention to show himself to the disciples anywhere, but simply the intimation sent to them: "I ascend unto my Father and your Father," etc. -- a declaration which seems emphatically to exclude further "appearances," and to limit the vision of the risen Jesus to Mary Magdalene. Certainly this message implies in the clearest way that the Ascension was then to take place, and the only explanation of the abrupt termination of the scene immediately after this is said is, that, as he spoke, Jesus then ascended. The subsequent appearances related in this Gospel must, consequently, either be regarded as an afterthought or as visions of Jesus after he had ascended. This demands serious attention. We shall see that, after sending this message to his disciples, he is represented as appearing to them on the evening of the very same day.

The journey to Emmaus
According to the third Synoptic, the first appearance of Jesus to anyone after the Resurrection was not to the women, and not to Mary Magdalene, but to two brethren (Lk. 24:13-34), who were not Apostles at all, the name of one of whom, we are told, was Cleopas (Lk. 24:18). The story of the walk to Emmaus is very dramatic and interesting, but it is clearly legendary. None of the other Evangelists seem to know anything of it. It is difficult to suppose that Jesus should, after his resurrection, appear first of all to two unknown Christians in this mariner, and accompany them in such a journey. The particulars of the story are to the last degree improbable, and in its main features incredible, and it is impossible to consider them carefully without perceiving the transparent inauthenticity of the narrative. The two disciples were going to a village called Emmaus threescore furlongs distant from Jerusalem, and while they are conversing Jesus joins them, "but their eyes were holden that they should not know him." He asks the subject of their discourse, and pretends ignorance, which surprises them. Hearing the expression of their perplexity and depression, he says to them: 25. "O foolish and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spake. 26. Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things, and enter into his glory? 27. And beginning at Moses and at all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself." When they reach the village, he pretends to be going further (verse 28), but they constrain him to stay. 30. "And it came to pass, as he sat at meat with them, he took the bread and blessed and brake, and gave to them; 31. and their eyes were opened, and they knew him, and he vanished out of their sight." Now, why all this mystery? Why were their eyes holden that they should not know him? Why pretend ignorance? Why make "as though he would go further"? Considering the nature and number of the alleged appearances of Jesus, this episode seems most disproportionate and inexplicable. The final incident completes our conviction of the unreality of the whole episode: after the sacramental blessing and breaking of bread, Jesus vanishes in a manner which removes the story from the domain of history. On their return to Jerusalem, the Synoptist adds that they find the Eleven, and are informed that "the Lord was raised and was seen by Simon." Of this appearance we are not told anything more.

Appearance to the Eleven in Luke and John
Whilst the two disciples from Emmaus were relating these things to the Eleven, the third Synoptist states that Jesus himself stood in the midst of them: verse 37. "But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they saw a spirit." The apparent intention is to represent a miraculous sudden entry of Jesus into the midst of them, just as he had vanished at Emmaus; but, in order to reassure them, Jesus is represented as saying: verse 39. "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself; handle me and behold, for a spirit hath not flesh and bones as ye see me having. 41. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them: Have ye here any food? 42. And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish. [838:1] 43. And he took it and did eat before them." The care with which the writer demonstrates that Jesus rose again with his own body is remarkable, for not only does he show his hands and feet, we may suppose for the purpose of exhibiting the wounds made by the nails by which he was affixed to the cross, but he eats, and thereby proves himself to be still possessed of his human organism. It is apparent that there is direct contradiction between this and the representation of his vanishing at Emmaus, and standing in the midst of them now. The Synoptist, who is so lavish in his use of miraculous agency, naturally sees no incongruity here. One or other alternative must be adopted: If Jesus possessed his own body after his resurrection and could eat and be handled, he could not vanish; if he vanished, he could not have been thus corporeal. The aid of a miracle has to be invoked in order to reconcile the representations. We need not here criticise the address which he is supposed to make to the disciples, [838:2] but we must call attention to the one point that Jesus (verse 49) commands the disciples to tarry in Jerusalem until they be "clothed with power from on high." This completes the exclusion of all appearances in Galilee, for the narrative proceeds to say that Jesus led them out towards Bethany and lifted up his hands and blessed them: verse 51. "And it came to pass, while blessing them, he parted from them, and was carried up into heaven"; whilst they returned to Jerusalem, where they "were continually in the temple" praising God. We shall return to the Ascension presently; but, in the meantime, it is well that we should refer to the accounts of the other two Gospels.

According to the fourth Gospel, on the first day of the week, after sending to his disciples the message regarding his Ascension, which we have discussed, when it was evening: 20:19. "And the doors having been shut where the disciples were, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and saith unto them: Peace be unto you. 20. And having said this, he showed unto them both his hands and his side. The disciples, therefore, rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21. So then he said to them again: Peace be unto you: as the Father hath sent me, I also send you. 22. And when he said this, he breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit: 23. Whosesoever sins ye forgive they are forgiven unto them; whosesoever ye retain they are retained." This appearance of Jesus to the Eleven bears so far analogy to that in the third Gospel, which we have just examined, that it occurs upon the same day and to the same persons. Is it probable that Jesus appeared twice upon the same evening to the eleven disciples? The account in the fourth Gospel itself confirms the only reasonable reply, that he did not do so; but the narrative in the third Synoptic renders the matter certain. That appearance was the first to the Eleven (24:36 f.), and he then conducted them towards Bethany, and ascended into heaven (verse 50 f.). How, then, we may inquire, could two accounts of the same event differ so fundamentally? It is absolutely certain that both cannot be true. Is it possible to suppose that the third Synoptist could forget to record the extraordinary powers supposed to have been, on this occasion, bestowed upon the ten Apostles to forgive sins and to retain them? Is it conceivable that he would not relate the circumstance that Jesus breathed upon them, and endowed them with the Holy Ghost? Indeed, as regards the latter point, he seems to exclude it; verse 49 and Acts (2) certainly represent the descent of the Holy Spirit as taking place at Pentecost. On the other hand, can we suppose that the fourth Evangelist would have ignored the walk to Bethany and the solemn parting there? Or the injunction to remain in Jerusalem? Not to mention other topics. The two episodes cannot be reconciled.

The incredulity of Thomas
In the fourth Gospel, instead of showing his hands and feet, Jesus is represented as exhibiting "his hands and his side"; and that this is not accidental is most clearly demonstrated by the fact that Thomas, who is not present, refuses to believe (verse 25) unless he see and put his finger into the print of the nails in his hands and put his hand into his side; and Jesus, when he appears again, allows him (verse 27) to put his finger into his hands and his hand into his side. In the Synoptic the wound made by that mythical lance is ignored, and, in the fourth Gospel, the wounds in the feet. The omission of the whole episode of the leg-breaking and lance-thrust by the three Synoptics thus gains fresh significance. On the other hand, it may be a question whether, in the opinion of the fourth Evangelist, the feet of Jesus were nailed to the cross at all. It was at least as common, not to say more, that the hands alone of those who were crucified were nailed to the cross, the legs being simply bound to it by cords. Opinion is divided as to whether Jesus was so bound, or whether the feet were likewise nailed; but the point is not important to our examination and need not be discussed, although it has considerable interest in connection with the theory that death did not actually ensue on the cross, but that, having fainted through weakness, Jesus, being taken down after so unusually short a time on the cross, subsequently recovered. There is no final evidence upon the point.

None of the explanations offered by Apologists remove the contradiction between the statement that Jesus bestowed the Holy Spirit upon this occasion, and that of the third Synoptic and Acts. There is, however, a curious point to notice in connection with this: Thomas is said to have been absent upon this occasion, and the representation, therefore, is that the Holy Spirit was only bestowed upon ten of the Apostles. Was Thomas excluded? Was he thus punished for his unbelief? Are we to suppose that an opportunity to bestow the Holy Spirit was selected when one of the Apostles was not present? We have somewhat anticipated the narrative (20:24 f.), which relates that upon the occasion above discussed, Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not present, and, hearing from the rest that they have seen the Lord, he declares that he will not believe without palpable proof by touching his wounds. The Evangelist continues: verse 26. "And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas was with them. Jesus cometh, the doors having been shut (tôn thurôn kekleismenôn), and stood in the midst and said: Peace be unto you. 27. Then saith he to Thomas: Reach hither thy finger and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand and put it into my side, and be not unbelieving, but believing. 28. Thomas answered and said unto him: My Lord and my God. 28. Jesus saith unto him: Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed; blessed are they who have not seen, and yet have believed."

The third Synoptic gives evidence that the risen Jesus is not incorporeal by stating that he not only permitted himself to be handled, but actually ate food in their presence. The fourth Evangelist attains the same result in a more artistic manner through the doubts of Thomas, but in allowing him actually to put his finger into the prints of the nails in his hands, and his hand into the wound in his side, he asserts that Jesus rose with the same body as that which had hung on the cross. He, too, whilst doing this, actually endows him with the attribute of incorporeality; for, upon both of the occasions which we are discussing, the statement is markedly made that, when Jesus came and stood in the midst, the doors were shut where the disciples were. It can scarcely be doubted that the intention of the writer is to represent a miraculous entry.

We are asked to believe that, when Thomas had convinced himself that it was indeed Jesus in the flesh who stood before him, he went to the opposite extreme of belief and said to Jesus: (kai eipen autô) "My Lord and my God"! In representing that Jesus, even before the Ascension, was addressed as "God" by one of the Twelve, the Evangelist commits one of those anachronisms with which we are familiar, in another shape, in the works of great painters, who depict pious bishops of their own time as actors in the scenes of the Passion. These touches betray the hand of the artist, and remove the account from the domain of sober history. In the message sent by Jesus to his disciples he spoke of ascending "to your God and my God," but the Evangelist at the close of his Gospel strikes the same note as that upon which he commenced his philosophical prelude.

We shall only add one further remark regarding this episode, and it is the repetition of one already made. It is much to be regretted that the writer does not inform us how these interviews of Jesus with his disciples terminated. We are told of his entry, but not of his mode of departure. Did he vanish suddenly? Did he depart like other men? Then, it would be important to know where Jesus abode during the interval of eight days. Did he ascend to heaven after each appearance? Or did he remain on earth? Why did he not consort as before with his disciples? These are not jeering questions, but serious indications of the scantiness of the information given by the Evangelists, which is not compensated by some trifling detail of no value occasionally inserted to heighten the reality of a narrative. This is the last appearance of Jesus related in the fourth Gospel; for the character of chapter 21 is too doubtful [841:1] to permit it to rank with the Gospel. The appearance of Jesus therein related is, in fact, more palpably legendary than the others. It will be observed that in this Gospel, as in the third Synoptic, the appearances of Jesus are confined to Jerusalem and exclude Galilee. These two Gospels are, therefore, clearly in contradiction with the statement of the first two Synoptics (Matt. 28:7; Mk. 16:7).

It only remains for us to refer to one more appearance of Jesus: that related in the first Synoptic, 28:16 f. In obedience to the command of Jesus, the disciples are represented as having gone away into Galilee, "unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them." We have not previously heard anything of this specific appointment. The Synoptist continues: verse 17. "And when they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted. 18. And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying: All authority was given to me (edothê moi) in heaven and on earth. 19. Go ye and make disciples of all the nations, baptising them into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit; 20. teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo, I am with you all the days, unto the end of the world." This appearance not only is not mentioned in the other Gospels, but it excludes the appearances in Judaea, of which the writer seems to be altogether ignorant. If he knew of them, he practically denies them.

There has been some discussion as to what the doubt mentioned in verse 17 refers, some critics maintaining that "some doubted" as to the propriety of worshipping Jesus; whilst others more correctly consider that they doubted as to his identity; but we need not mention the curious apologetic explanations offered. [842:1] Are we to regard the mention of these doubts as an "inestimable proof of the candour of the Evangelists"? If so, then we may find fault with the omission to tell us whether, and how, those doubts were set at rest. As the narrative stands the doubts were not resolved. Was it possible to doubt without good reason of the identity of one with whom, until a few days previously, the disciples had been in daily and hourly contact at least for a year, if not longer? Doubt in such a case is infinitely more decisive than belief. We can regard the expression, however, in no other light than as a mere rhetorical device in a legendary narrative. The rest of the account need have little further discussion here. The extraordinary statement in verse 18 [842:2] seems as clearly the expression of later theology as the baptismal formula in verse 19, where the doctrine of the Trinity is so definitely expressed. Some critics suppose that the eleven were not alone upon this occasion, but that either all the disciples of Jesus were present, or at least the 500 brethren [843:1] to whom Paul refers, 1 Cor. 15:6. This mainly rests on the statement that "some doubted," for it is argued that, after the two previous appearances to the disciples in Jerusalem mentioned by the other Evangelists, it is impossible that the Eleven could have felt doubt, and consequently that others must have been present who had not previously been convinced. It is scarcely necessary to point out the utter weakness of such an argument. It is not permissible to patch on to this Gospel scraps cut out of the others.

Appearances cannot be harmonised
It must be clear to every unprejudiced student that the appearances of Jesus narrated by the four Gospels in Galilee and Judaea cannot be harmonised, and we have shown that they actually exclude each other. [843:2] The first Synoptist records (verse 10) the order for the disciples to go into Galilee, and, with no further interruption than the mention of the return of the discomfited guard from the sepulchre to the chief priest, he (verse 16) states that they went into Galilee, where they saw Jesus in the manner just described. No amount of ingenuity can insert the appearances in Jerusalem here without the grossest violation of all common sense. This is the only appearance to the Eleven recorded in Matthew.

We must again point out the singular omission to relate the manner in which this interview was ended. The episode and the Gospel, indeed, are brought to a very artistic close by the expression, "Lo, I am with you all the days unto the end of the world"; but we must insist that it is a very suggestive fact that it does not occur to these writers to state what became of Jesus. No point could have been more full of interest than the manner in which Jesus here finally leaves the disciples, and is dismissed from the history. That such an important part of the narrative is omitted is in the highest degree remarkable and significant. Had a formal termination to the interview been recounted, it would have been subject to criticism, and by no means necessarily evidence of truth; but it seems to us that the circumstance that it never occurred to these writers to relate the departure of Jesus is a very strong indication of the unreality and shadowy nature of the whole tradition.

We are thus brought to consider the account of the Ascension, which is, at least, given by one Evangelist. In the appendix to the second Gospel, as if the later writer felt the omission and desired to complete the narrative, it is vaguely stated, 16:19: "So then after the Lord spake unto them he was taken up into heaven and sat on the right hand of God" (cf. Psalm 110:1). The writer, however, omits to state how he was taken up into heaven; and sitting "at the right hand of God" is an act and position which those who assert the "Personality of God" may possibly understand, but which we venture to think betrays that the account is a mere theological figment. The third Synoptist, as we have incidentally shown, gives an account of the Ascension. Jesus having, according to the narrative in 24:50 f., led the disciples out to Bethany, lifted up his hands and blessed them (verse 51): "And it came to pass while blessing them he parted from them, and was carried up nto heaven." [844:2] The whole of the appearances narrated in the third Synoptic, therefore, and the Ascension are thus said to occur on the same day as the Resurrection. In Matthew there is a different representation made, for the time consumed in the journey of the disciples to Galilee obviously throws back the Ascension to a later date. In Mark there is no appearance at all recorded, but the command to the disciples to go into Galilee confirms the first Synoptic. In the fourth Gospel, Jesus revisits the Eleven a second time after eight days; and, therefore, the Ascension is here necessarily later still. In neither of these Gospels is there any account of an Ascension at all.

We may here point out that there is no mention of the Ascension in any of the genuine writings of Paul, and it would appear that the theory of a bodily Ascension, in any shape, did not form part of the oldest Christian tradition. The growth of the legend of the Ascension is apparent in the circumstance that the author of the third Gospel follows a second tradition regarding that event, when composing Acts. Whether he thought a fuller and more detailed account desirable, or it seemed necessary to prolong the period during which Jesus remained on earth after his Resurrection and to multiply his appearances, it is impossible to say; but the fact is that he does so. He states in his second work that to the Apostles Jesus "presented himself alive, after he suffered, by many proofs, being seen (optanomenos) by them during forty days, and speaking of the things concerning the Kingdom of God." It is scarcely possible to doubt that the period of forty days is suggested by the Old Testament and the Hebrew use of that number, of which, indeed, we already find examples in the New Testament in the forty days' temptation of Jesus in the wilderness (Mk. 1:13; Lk. 4:2), and his fasting forty days and forty nights (Matt. 4:2). Why Jesus remained on earth this typical period we are not told, [845:3] but the representation evidently is of much more prolonged and continuous intercourse with his disciples than any statements in the Gospels have led us to suppose, or than the declaration of Paul renders in the least degree probable. If, indeed, the account in Acts were true, the numbered appearances recited by Paul show singular ignorance of the phenomena of the Resurrection.

The Ascension according to Acts
We need not discuss the particulars of the last interview with the Apostles (Acts 1:4 f.), although they are singular enough, and are indeed elsewhere referred to, but at once proceed to the final occurrences. Verse 9. "And when he had spoken these things, while they are looking he was lifted up; and a cloud received him out of their sight. 10. And as they were gazing steadfastly into the heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel; 11. which also said: Men of Galilee (andres Galilaioi), why stand ye looking into the heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into the heaven, shall come in like manner as ye saw him going into the heaven. 12. Then returned they into Jerusalem," etc. A definite statement is here made of the mode in which Jesus finally ascended into heaven, and it presents some of the incongruities which might have been expected. The bodily Ascension up the sky in a cloud, apart from the miraculous nature of such an occurrence, seems singularly to localise "Heaven," and to present views of cosmical and celestial phenomena suitable certainly to the age of the writer, but which are not endorsed by modern science. The sudden appearance of the "two men in white apparel," the usual description of angels, is altogether in the style of the author of Acts, but does it increase the credibility of the story? It is curious that the angels open their address to the Apostles in the same form as almost every other speaker in this book. One might ask, indeed, why such an angelic interposition should have taken place? For its utility is not apparent, and in the short sentence recorded nothing which is new is embodied. No surprise is expressed at the appearance of the angels, and nothing is said of their disappearance. They are introduced, like the chorus of a Greek play, and are left unceremoniously, with an indifference which betrays complete familiarity with supernatural agency. Can there be any doubt that the whole episode is legendary?

It may not seem inappropriate to mention here that the idea of a bodily Ascension does not originate with the author of the third Synoptic and Acts, nor is it peculiar to Christianity. The translation of Enoch [846:1] had long been chronicled in the sacred books; and the ascent of Elijah [846:2] in his whirlwind and chariot of fire before the eyes of Elisha was another well-known instance. The vision of Daniel (7:13), Of one like the "Son of man" coming with the clouds of heaven, might well have suggested the manner of his departure, but another mode has been suggested. [846:3] The author of Acts was, we maintain, well acquainted with the works of Josephus. [846:4] We know that the prophet like unto Moses was a favourite representation in Acts of the Christ. Now, in the account which Josephus gives of the end of Moses, he states that, although he wrote in the holy books that he died lest they should say that he went to God, this was not really his end. After reaching the mountain Abarim he dismissed the senate; and as he was about to embrace Eleazar, the high priest, and Joshua, "a cloud suddenly having stood over him he disappeared in a certain valley." [846:5] This we merely mention in passing.

Evidence for Miracles inadequate
Our earlier examination of the evidence for the origin and authorship of the historical books of the New Testament very clearly demonstrated that the testimony of these works for miracles and the reality of Divine Revelation, whatever that testimony might seem to be, could not be considered of any real value. We have now examined the accounts which the four Evangelists actually give of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension, and there can be no hesitation in stating as the result that, as might have been expected from works of such uncertain character, these narratives must be pronounced mere legends, embodying vague and wholly unattested tradition. As evidence for such stupendous miracles they are absolutely of no value. No reliance can be placed on a single detail of their story. The aim of the writers has obviously been to make their narrative of the various appearances of Jesus as convincing as possible, and they have freely inserted any details which seemed to them calculated to give them impressiveness, force, and verisimilitude.

An apologetic writer has said: "Anyone who will attentively read side by side the narratives of these appearances on the first day of the Resurrection will see that they have only been preserved for us in general, interblended and scattered notices (see Matt. 28:16; Luke 24:34; Acts 1:3), which, in strict exactness, render it impossible, without many arbitrary suppositions, to produce from them a certain narrative of the order of events. The lacunae, the compressions, the variations, the actual differences, the subjectivity of the narrators as affected by spiritual revelations, render all harmonies at the best uncertain." [847:1] Passing over without comment the strange phrase in this passage which we have italicised, and which seems to claim divine inspiration for the writers, it must be obvious to anyone who has carefully read the preceding pages that this is an exceedingly moderate description of the wild statements and irreconcilable contradictions of the different narratives we have examined. But, such as it is, with all the glaring inconsistencies and impossibilities of the accounts even thus subdued, is it possible for anyone who has formed even a faint idea of the extraordinary nature of the allegations which have to be attested to consider such documents really evidence for the Resurrection and bodily Ascension?

The usual pleas which are advanced in mitigation of judgment against the Gospels for these characteristics are of no avail. It may be easy to excuse the writers for their mutual contradictions, but the pleas themselves are an admission of the shortcomings which render their evidence valueless. "The differences of purpose in the narrative of the four Evangelists" [847:2] may be fancifully set forth, or ingeniously imagined, but no "purpose" can transform discordant and untrustworthy narratives into evidence for miracles. Unless the prologue to the third Gospel be considered a condemnation of any of the other Synoptics which may have existed before it, none of the Evangelists makes the smallest reference to any of his brethren or their works. Each Gospel tacitly professes to be a perfectly independent work, giving the history of Jesus, or at least of the active part of his life, and of his death and Resurrection. The apologetic theory, derived from the Fathers, that the Evangelists designed to complete and supplement each other, is totally untenable. Each work was evidently intended to be complete in itself; but when we consider that much the greater part of the contents of each of the Synoptics is common to the three, frequently with almost literal agreement, and generally without sufficient alteration to conceal community of source or use of each other, the poverty of Christian tradition becomes painfully evident. We have already pointed out the fundamental difference between the fourth Gospel and the Synoptics. In no part of the history does greater contradiction and disagreement between the three Synoptics themselves, and likewise between them and the fourth Gospel, exist than in the account of the Passion, Resurrection, and Ascension. It is impossible to examine the four narratives carefully without feeling that here tradition, for natural reasons, has been more than usually wavering and insecure. Each writer differs essentially from the rest, and the various narratives not only disagree, but exclude each other. The third Synoptist, in the course of some years, even contradicts himself. The phenomena which are related, in fact, were too subjective and unsubstantial for sober and consistent narrative, and free play was allowed for pious imagination to frame details by the aid of supposed Messianic utterances of the Prophets and Psalmists of Israel.

Familiarity with raising the dead
Such a miracle as the Resurrection, startling as it is in our estimation, was commonplace enough in the view of these writers. We need not go back to discuss the story of the widow's son restored to life by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17 f.), nor that of the dead man who revived on touching the bones of Elisha (2 Kings 13:21). The raising from the dead of the son of the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11 f.) did not apparently produce much effect at the time, and only one of the Evangelists seems to have thought it worthwhile to preserve the narrative. The case of Jairus' daughter (Mark 5:35 f.; Luke 8:46 f.), whatever it was, is regarded as a resurrection of the dead, and is related by two of the Synoptists; but the raising of Lazarus is only recorded by the fourth Evangelist. The familiarity of the age with the idea of the resurrection of the dead, according to the Synoptists, is illustrated by the representation which they give of the effect produced by the fame of Jesus upon Herod and others. We are told by the first Synoptist that Herod said unto his servants: "This is John the Baptist; he was raised from the dead; and therefore the powers work in him" (Matt. 14:2; cf. Mark 6:14). The second Synoptist repeats the same statement, but adds: "But others said that it is Elijah; and others said that it is a prophet like one of the prophets" (Mark 6:15). The statement of the third Synoptist is somewhat different. He says: "Now Herod the tetrarch heard all that was occurring: and he was perplexed because it was said by some that John was raised from the dead, and by some that Elijah appeared, and by others that one of the old prophets rose up. And Herod said: John I beheaded, but who is this of whom I hear such things, and he sought to see him" (Luke 9:7-9). The three Synoptists substantially report the same thing; the close verbal agreement of the first two being an example of the community of matter of which we have just spoken. The variations are instructive as showing the process by which each writer made the original form his own. Are we to assume that these things were really said? Or must we conclude that the sayings are simply the creation of later tradition? In the latter case, we see how unreal and legendary are the Gospels. In the former, we learn how common was the belief in a bodily resurrection. How could it seem so strange to the Apostles that Jesus should rise again, when the idea that John the Baptist or one of the old prophets had risen from the dead was so readily accepted by Herod and others? How could they so totally misunderstand all that the chief priests, according to the first Synoptic, so well understood of the teaching of Jesus on the subject of his Resurrection, since the world had already become so familiar with the idea and the fact?

Then, the episode of the Transfiguration must have occurred to everyone, when Jesus took with him Peter and James and John into a high mountain apart, "and he was transfigured before them; and his face did shine as the sun, and his raiment became white as the light. And behold, there was seen (ôphthe) by them Moses and Elijah talking with him"; and then "a bright cloud overshadowed them" and "a voice came out of the cloud: This is my beloved son," etc. "And when the disciples heard they fell on their face and were sore afraid." [850:1] The third Synoptist even knows the subject of their conversation: "They were speaking of his decease which he was about to fulfil in Jerusalem" (Luke 9:31). This is related by all as an objective occurrence. [850:3] Are we to accept it as such? Then how is it possible that the disciples should be so obtuse and incredulous as they subsequently showed themselves to be regarding the person of Jesus and his Resurrection? How could the announcement of that event by the angels to the women seem to them as an idle tale, which they did not believe? (Luke 24:11) Here were Moses and Elijah before them, and in Jesus, we are told, they recognised one greater than Moses and Elijah. The miracle of the Resurrection was here again anticipated and made palpable to them. Are we to regard the Transfiguration as a subjective vision? Then why not equally so the appearances of Jesus after his Passion? We can regard the Transfiguration, however, as nothing more than an allegory without either objective or subjective reality. Into this at present we cannot further go. It is sufficient to repeat that our examination has shown the Gospels to possess no value as evidence for the Resurrection and Ascension.

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