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The Women and the Empty Tomb

QUESTION:

So, on Ludemann’s account, how do the stories of the women at the tomb found in the canonical gospels come to be told? As many scholars I’ve read have pointed out, having women, who were considered untrustworthy witnesses, as the first to see the risen Christ, was not exactly a way to get people to believe the stories. So why would the gospel writers tell the stories with the women in such a prominent place?

RESPONSE:

I’m not sure how Lüdemann would answer your question (I.e., I don’t recall off hand how he deals with it). But I thought that maybe I should give it a shot. I am not responding here with a long-held position that I have carefully thought through and worked out. I’m really just “thinking out loud” (well, thinking silently, at my keyboard, in any event).

I have indeed heard this argument for many years. In fact, I used to make it myself. The argument is that since women were not considered reliable witnesses (since their testimony was not acceptable even in a court of law), then no one would have invented the idea that it was precisely women who discovered that Jesus’ tomb was empty and that he was, therefore, raised from the dead.

I have lots of comments about that view – the one I used to hold – but will give them only in short order now.

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Paul and the Resurrection of the “Flesh”?
Paul’s View of Resurrection

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    john76  July 3, 2016

    I’d be willing to bet $5.00 that the whole empty tomb thing got started because some drunk, bored teenagers decided to play a prank and steal Jesus’ body from the grave, and then start the rumor that it was the end of the world (that the general resurrection had begun), and that Jesus had been seen raised from the dead. You could imagine Jesus’ followers hearing this rumor and out of Joy that Jesus had been raised, and terror that the end of the world had begun, hallucinating that the raised Jesus had appeared to them.

    • Avatar
      john76  July 3, 2016

      Dr. James McGrath offers an interesting naturalistic analysis of how belief in the resurrection might have begun among Jesus’ first followers.

      The Pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed says:

      “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve,” (1 Cor. 15:3-5)

      If Mark read Paul, and John read at least one of the Synoptics, then the account of the crucifixion/burial/resurrection of Jesus may go back to only one source, the author of The Pre-Pauline Corinthian Creed, who cites only visions (hallucinations?) and scriptures as sources.

      But McGrath says that, rather than speculating on the genealogical pre-history of these traditions in an attempt to attribute them to a single point of origin, it might be more persuasive to note what Paul explicitly says: that the first person to have the kind of religious experience was Cephas, whose failure in relation to Jesus would naturally create precisely the kind of psychological state that leads to some sort of experience that would help him alleviate his guilt and find catharsis. Once one person has a powerful experience, they may in turn facilitate others doing likewise. One can offer a naturalistic account of how things unfolded without any need to deviate from the depiction in our earliest sources.

    • Avatar
      john76  July 4, 2016

      For instance, the humorous scenario I proposed isn’t contradicted by what we know about the origins of Christianity, and may even be hinted at in the text:

      (1) My scenario was: The whole empty tomb event could have gotten started because some drunk, bored teenagers who were tired of listening to Christians prattling on about the end of the world decided to play a prank and stole Jesus’ body from the grave, and then started the rumor that Jesus had been seen raised from the dead, and it actually was the end of the world (that the general resurrection had begun). You could imagine Jesus’ followers hearing this rumor and out of joy that Jesus had been raised, and terror that the end of the world had begun, hallucinating that the raised Jesus had appeared to them. lol

      (2) And the idea of bored teenagers stealing Jesus’ corpse and starting rumors as a prank that (a) Jesus was raised and (b) that the general resurrection had begun, may even be suggested by the text. After all, the rumor was started by the teenager in Jesus’ empty tomb in Mark:

      “…But when they looked up, they saw that the stone had been rolled away, even though it was extremely large. When they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here! See the place where they laid Him.… (Mark 16:5).”

      (3) The point is, this scenario is a “possible” scenario used to construct a naturalistic account of how faith in the resurrected Jesus began. There are many other models. But as Dr. Carrier says, we don’t want to overstep the bounds of reason by saying we have a “possible” explanatory framework, therefore we have a “probable” explanatory framework. These reconstructions of the possible reasons behind the arising of faith in the resurrection are “only possible,” and therefore merely speculative.

      • Avatar
        john76  July 6, 2016

        The point is, if you MISPLACE YOUR KEYS, you don’t (unless you’re insane) draw the conclusion “There may be a naturalistic explanation, but I think the most probable explanation is that the invisible leprechauns took my keys.” Similarly, if you MISPLACE A CORPSE (in this case Jesus), the reasonable direction to go is not to conclude that a miracle happened, but rather that there was some naturalistic explanation (eg. someone stole the corpse as a prank, etc.)

        Paul mentions nothing of the empty tomb, which you think he would have given his fascination with the crucifixion. In any case, maybe Jesus was buried in a unmarked tomb along with other prisoners that got the death penalty, and so no one knew where he was buried, or maybe someone stole the body as a prank. In any case, all we really have as evidence of the resurrection is the post mortem hallucinations of the disciples of Jesus recorded in the pre Pauline Corinthian creed. As I said Dr. McGrath pointed out elsewhere in this thread, we can have recourse to a perfectly natural explanation for the hallucinations/appearances. Dr. McGrath wrote:

        “The first person to have the kind of religious experience was Cephas, whose failure in relation to Jesus would naturally create precisely the kind of psychological state that leads to some sort of experience that would help him alleviate his guilt and find catharsis. Once one person has a powerful experience, they may in turn facilitate others doing likewise. One can offer a naturalistic account of how things unfolded without any need to deviate from the depiction in our earliest sources.”

        And so, since we have a situation that is easily understandable as natural, not miracle, we should choose to accept the naturalistic explanation. Choosing to believe in a miracle here would be analogous with blaming invisible leprechauns because you can’ find you car keys.

        As I said above, it is silly to try to argue from a set of accepted historical facts to the inference that a miracle has happened, because, as Carrier points out, the standard of evidence to support the “miracle inference” would have to be ridiculously high. For instance, if I told you I have a job, you would not require a great deal of evidence because lots of people have jobs. On the other hand, if I told you I have an interstellar vehicle, you would need extensive and convincing evidence of my claim (you would probably have to see the vehicle and watch it work). On the other hand, wildly extraordinary claims like The New Testament claim that Jesus rose from the dead would require massive amounts of convincing evidence (which we don’t have).

        A natural explanation is always more reasonable than a miraculous one.

  2. Avatar
    Zboilen  September 19, 2016

    I’ve always found a little bit of difficulty with the women finding the tomb empty. The reason is because in Luke and John the empty tomb is confirmed by men. Even if the women were the first to find the tomb empty, its confirmed by Jesus male disciples.

  3. Avatar
    ellispm35  December 6, 2019

    Dr Ehrman , you say “I should stress that finding an empty tomb would not convince anyone that Jesus had been raised.” No doubt. But finding the body in the tomb (or on the cross or somewhere else), would quickly DISCONFIRM that belief. That’s why it’s important and essential to this story, right? If I see a resurrected body, or hear that someone purportedly saw one, the first thing (ok maybe second after I get a stiff drink) I‘m going to do is run to the tomb to see if the person’s body is there. If so, it’s a mere vision. If not, well, time for another drink.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 8, 2019

      Yes, I’d do that too. If there was a tomb. Most of the time there weren’t tombs. Those were for the rich folk.

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