Friday, October 26, 2012

Are tattoos immoral?

Dear Rev Know-it-all,

Are tattoos immoral?  Does the Bible forbid them?  

Barbara “Barb” Eryen

Dear Barb,

The Bible does say in Leviticus 19:28 “'Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.” On the other hand the Bible also forbids pork, shrimp and uncircumcised males. In its context, the prohibition against tattoos in Leviticus probably refers to religious markings, not modern tattooing. I am not sure that tattooing is immoral. It is, however, sad.

If you go to a gym these days or anywhere that people are wearing short sleeved shirts, you see tattoos on a huge number of people. And not just tattoos. One is reminded of the old Marx Brothers’ tune “Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.”  Allow me to quote Groucho Marx, “My life was wrapped around the circus. Her name was Lydia..... Oh, Lydia the Tattooed Lady....When her muscles start relaxin',Up the hill comes Andrew Jackson.”  But I digress....

If it is true that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, why have so many decided to smear graffiti on the walls? There are, I think, a number of reasons.

The first is perennial: shock value. It has been true since Ham laughed at his drunken father Noah that children want to get the better of their elders. The younger generation has always wanted to shock the older generation. It is a way of asking “Do you really love me?” If I can make your life miserable, you must really love me. I remember my mother (a saint) taking all the wind out of my sails once. I was a fashionably attired young pseudo-hippy, with my orange bell bottom pants, my purple tie-dyed T-shirt, and sandals, as well as a scraggly ZZ Top beard and longish hair. Thus attired, I asked her if my generation was hard for her generation to endure. She said, “Oh, no! We were much worse to our parents than you are to us.” She pointed out that she was a teenager in the roaring twenties: speakeasies, short skirts, boot-leg gin, twenty three skidoo and all that. It was the first time in history that young people could get farther away from their parents than a horse was willing to take them. And if they had too much to drink the horse usually knew the way back home. My parents’ friends would get in the old model T, and drive down to Toledo where they would get hammered. No cell phones, no safety helmets, no GPS no clue. Grandma would sit up all night worried until the wayward children rolled back home with the sunrise. 

Imagine that. I couldn’t make my parents lives more miserable than they had made their parents’ lives. I think it was at that point that I stopped trying. Dissipation is very hard on the constitution, after all. How then do young people  shock a bunch of aging environmentalist hippies, that is, their parents? Easy, they mutilate their bodies. We jogged and ate hamster food. They smoke and scrawl Chinese sayings  on themselves. I love it when some non-Chinese person has a tattoo in Chinese calligraphy. They believe with all their heart that it means something inspiring like “I’d like to give the world a Coke...” They are barely literate in the western alphabet, yet they trust some equally illiterate tattoo artist to get the complex Chinese writing system correct. For all they know their tattoo means, “Get a load of this goofball...” 

Where was I? Oh yes. Tattoos make me sad. When I decided that I wasn’t nearly as different from my parents as I hoped to be, I could look at myself in the mirror and realize I looked like an idiot and go change my clothes. Tattoos allow no such freedom. And therein lies the second and sadder dimension of the current fashion: tattoos are permanent. They are about all that is permanent.

I suspect that the tattooed neo-barbarian generation is desperate for permanence. Marriages end with remarkable ease nowadays. A child may go through three or four new daddies in a few short years. With each new daddy there may come a new address, a new religion or no religion at all. A few new daddies, a few new pairs of grandparents, a new address or two and the very thought that something might be permanent is eagerly to be hoped for, even if the permanence is only that of ink under skin. 

A person who gets a tattoo says, “This is what I believe; this is who I am. It won’t change. It can’t change.” Then they want to change it. Too late, they are committed. The tattooed youth has made a more permanent commitment than his or her parents did when they swore before God and the State, “‘til death do us part.” That’s the meaning of tattoos. They are ‘til death do them part, until the skin falls from the bones, or until you can come up with the couple thousand dollars to have them burned off with a laser. A great irony of tattoos is that they aren’t really permanent. Over time, the ink bleeds into surrounding skin and the sharp picture carved into young skin eventually looks like a soggy napkin on an old arm or other sagging body part.

Sadder still is the lack of belonging that tattooing indicates. The tattooed wear badges of membership in a society that believes itself to be different. The non-conformists all seem to be non-conforming in the exact same way as they always have. Back in lower, upper Hessia, whence come my forbears, everybody wore the same ridiculous outfit. White knee socks, black clothing, with touches of color for youth. Frock coat for men, knee length skirts with thirteen petticoats for women and a little pill box hat to hide a woman’s long braided hair. It was an outfit that said I belong. I suspect that a tattoo is a badge that says I need to belong too, but the organizations that used to provide belonging, the family, the church, the town, have all failed. I want to be committed, but I know no one who is committed to me, so I will commit myself to that fellowship of cookie cutter tattooed rebels who are struggling to be different in just the same way. I will commit myself irrevocably. I will disfigure my body. This is what circumcision did in the ancient world. Now it’s done with needles as well as knives.

Another possibility is that tattoos are painful. They are a red (and blue and green etc.) badge of courage. We, the litigious generation, the safe generation, the generation of health warnings and bizarre medical procedures, have on our hands a bunch of children who want to be dangerous. Or, at least, to appear dangerous. We tried to spare them any pain at all. We invented sports that had no winners, education that had no grades, playgrounds where you couldn’t skin you knees, relationships that had no consequences. We would not spank them, we would not send them to bed without their supper and this is how they repay us, by having some perfect stranger engrave their tuchuses with an electric needle that may be infected with the plague. All the strange piercings and pointy objects, all the vivid colors that make a rutting baboon look subdued, say, in effect, hug me if you dare! I am not concerned. I am not afraid. I am dangerous! If I have done this to myself, just imagine the pain I can cause you! I am dangerous!!!  

We, the aging hippies, told them, “Put on your shin guards and your safety helmet, give your new daddy a kiss and go to bed.” We wanted to make them safe with whole grain, preservative free, low fat, free range tofu. We didn’t give them the safety of a family that loved them and a faith that sustained them and so they want to be dangerous. They fail at dangerous. They are just sad. They attempt to be different, to rebel just like everybody else rebels. I wonder what their children will do to shock them?

Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, October 19, 2012

Three questions from the Rabbi -- part 5

(Letter to Yehudah ben Yiddishkeit, continued.)

If one can believe that a man can rise from the dead, then the next questions are much easier to answer. Now, on to your second question:

2) We find the genealogy of Jesus provided by the Gospels confusing. Who was Jesus’ paternal grandfather? (We notice that Matthew says that his grandfather was Jacob, but Luke says it was Heli). Also, we notice that Matthew declares that Jesus was separated from King David by only twenty-eight generations, but Luke’s list shows a forty-three generation separation. What does this contradiction mean?

Here is Dr. Brown’s answer:

Brown takes the surprising position that “because the early Christians confessed Jesus as Messiah, for which 'Son of David' was an alternative title, they historicized their faith by creating for him Davidic genealogies (neither of which are plausible) and by claiming that Joseph was a descendant of David.” Brown explains that Matthew probably created fictional genealogical links back to Abraham and David also “ appeal to the mixed constituency of Matthew's community of Jewish and Gentile Christians.”

I would refer you to the work of the late Fr. Bargil Pixner, a Benedictine Catholic Scholar who takes into account what no one else seems to: the geography of the Holy Land. It seems that the family of David did not come back to the Holy Land from exile in Babylon in large numbers until about a century before the birth of Jesus. The reason was simple. Messianic expectations were stirring, and the Davidic family, though threadbare and out of power, returned to the homeland hoping for the best. According to Pixner they seemed to have settled in three areas:
  1. Kochaba (“Star’) east of the Jordan, a name which reminds one of the Messianic prophecy in Genesis (B’roshith) “A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel” (Num24:17), 
  2. Nazareth (“Little Shoot”) west of the Jordan referring to the prophecy of Isaiah “a shoot from the root of Jesse.” (Isaiah 11:1) and 
  3. to the Essene quarters of Jerusalem.
They seem to have been loosely associated with Essenes among other messianic movements. They were disenfranchised, not wealthy. They had to work for a living as did Jesus and his foster father Joseph. The problem of the genealogies of Jesus is handily answered by Eusebius of Caesarea (263-339) quoting Sextus Julius Africanus. (160-240) Both were resident in the Holy Land and Africanus wrote only a century after the lives of the people he was discussing and whose descendants he had interviewed, in a culture that preserved oral knowledge this is hardly a long time. He explains in his letter to Aristides, that the discrepancy between Matthew and Luke in the genealogy of Christ is due to law of Levirate marriage, by which a man had to marry the widow of his deceased brother, to produce offspring so that no family should die out in Israel. 

In the Gospels there are both a legal and a physical genealogy of Jesus according to Africanus. In my own genealogy there are double and triple lines of descent from my forbears in a small German town in Hesse. I suspect that I am my own cousin. If you’re going to keep the gene pool small as the Davidic family probably kept theirs, the multiple lines of descent are going to be many. There was quite probably extensive intermarriage in the Davidic family and these customs are still practiced by the peoples of the Near East. The Davidic descent of Jesus is not an invention despite Dr. Brown’s infallibility. 

Jesus’ relatives, who lived in the century after immediately following His life insisted that they were of the Davidic lineage. It is curious to think that Dr. Brown, from the distance of 2000 years, has such insight that he is able to refute the claims of people who were on the scene. The genealogies may be poetic and  symbolic, but they are not necessarily inaccurate by the standards of the time. For example, the 14-14-14 configuration of Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew is clearly poetic. The final 14 generations only include 13 generations. Do you think the author  didn’t know how to count? He meant 14, perhaps as a gematria, a symbolic number. Fourteen in Hebrew is YD, which of course means hand, but it is also DY (4 and 10) “DAI” which implies fulfillment. Jesus is the fulfillment of History, of the Law, the Prophets and the Writings. This sets the tone for the whole Gospel in which Matthew says repeatedly “This is to fulfill what was written...” Poetry may be poetic, but it need not be untrue. Jesus, according to those alive at the time was clearly from the Davidic family, but as you point out, he was not the literal son, not “from the loins” of Joseph even if Joseph was a son of David.

On to the third question:

    (3) The genealogical line linking Jesus and King David seems to pass through Jesus’ father. But since Jesus was the product of a virgin conception, then He does not share in his father’s Davidic ancestry. How is Jesus a descendent of David?

Here is Dr. Brown’s response:

III. The Virginal Conception
Brown cautions that “we should not underestimate the adverse pedagogical impact on the understanding of divine sonship if the virginal conception is denied.” On the other hand, admits Brown, “The virginal conception under its creedal title of 'virgin birth' is not primarily a biological statement.”... Because record of the virginal conception appears only in two Gospels, and there only in the infancy narratives which Brown suspects are largely fictional, the Catholic theologian tactfully concludes that “biblical evidence leaves the question of the historicity of the virginal conception unresolved.”

In his implication, Dr. Brown timidly dances on the edge of  Catholic orthodoxy. You will notice that he does not say that Jesus is NOT virginally conceived. Just that the Scriptures don’t prove it. That is how he can say these things and still get an imprimatur.

My response is quite simple. First, if the Resurrection is a possibility, then virgin birth is certainly possible. If one cannot believe in the Resurrection, why would one bother to believe something as preposterous as virgin birth or for that matter transubstantiation or miracles of healing or, for that matter, eternal life? I believe in them all because Jesus of Nazareth assures me through the Scriptures and the Church that these things are so, Dr. Brown’s ideological juggling notwithstanding.

As for the reckoning of the Davidic lineage through a woman, there are many among the Jews of our own era who have pegged their messianic hopes on descent from Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1520 –1609) the Maharal of Prague. This descent however is marked through his daughters! This is a minority opinion, and rejected by most who practice orthodoxy. There is a far more significant argument, that even the most orthodox might find interesting. Genesis 3:15 
“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.” 
How is it that a woman can have seed?  Orthodox Christians and Orthodox Jews hold this in common, that every word of the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, is rich in meaning, almost infinitely rich. The word seed is not therefore, arbitrary. And who is the “she” of the prophecy. It would seem that the seed of the woman did not triumph if Eve is that woman. And if Eve can be said to have seed, cannot another woman, whom we call the “New Eve?” The first Eve’s children did not conquer the serpent. We believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the seed of the second Eve, Mary, the princess of the house of David. We “Nozrim” (Christians) hold that the first prophecy of the Messiah is found in the Torah, in Genesis 3:15 and that the Messiah must be counted as the seed of a woman.

A dear friend who is not a Christian, but a Jew, denies saying it, but he once said to me that, “This nonsense about a divine and human Messiah is simply not Jewish. But then,” he continued looking away into the distance, “...if he rose from the dead, that changes everything.” 

We Christians believe that the Messiah was more than we were expecting, infinitely more.

Your dear, most grateful and respectful friend,
the Rev. Know-it-all

Friday, October 12, 2012

Three questions from the Rabbi -- part 4

Continued from last week….

Dr. Brown and his friends also assume the post-Enlightenment Protestant position, that the Gospels were written down at or after the end of the first generation of Christians, when people were beginning to forget what Jesus had said and done. Thus Dr. Brown asserts that there were no eye witness accounts of the facts, though it is true that the only people present at the resurrection would have been the guards posted by the Caiaphas, the Cohen Gadol (high priest), still there were people who told what they had seen immediately following the resurrection. These eye witness testimonies are recorded in the Scriptures. 

The post-Enlightenment German scholars who dominated 19th and 20th century New Testament Studies assumed that the Gospels were a second or even third generation project for one simple reason: Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem, and since there are no miracles, there can be no prophecy. Classical Protestantism denies the theological necessity of post-biblical miracle. Classical post-Enlightenment Protestantism denies their possibility. Hence Catholic scholars who ape their Protestant betters in the world of scholarship seem very uncomfortable with things miraculous. 

The devotees of this school of thought see the miracles of the New Testament as another reason to give a late date for the writing of the Gospels. The second and third generations of the Church mythologized Jesus by adding the miracle stories to which they themselves had not been witnesses.
Dr. F. E. Peters, Professor Emeritus of Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies and History at New York University has an interesting perspective on the dates of the writing of the New Testament. He has a fascinating lecture series in which he points out that the only reason for a late dating of the Gospels is precisely the denial that Jesus could possibly have predicted the destruction of Jerusalem. He makes the point that the internal evidence of the Gospels gives them an early date, some of which actually may have been set to paper before the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

For instance, it is easy to date the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts which seem to have been written as a sort of two volume legal defense of Paul. They do not tell what happens to Paul. Is he acquitted or condemned? Certainly if the book had been written after the destruction of the temple this would have been mentioned, but we don’t even have an account of Paul’s trial. According to other Christian sources he was acquitted, then re-arrested in 64 AD, (or if you prefer, CE) and executed during the persecutions under Nero after the great fire of Rome. Thus Luke/Acts must have been written around 60 AD, well within the lifetime of the hearers of Jesus. 

It is popular to imagine the first Christians as a tiny beleaguered band and you, Rabbi Yehuda yourself have told me that Jesus was noticed barely, if at all, by his Jewish contemporaries. I don’t think this is the case. Perhaps the Babylonian Aramaic community didn’t notice Jesus, but the Greek speaking western Jewish world was much disturbed by the claim that Jesus was the Messiah. In Suetonius, we read about the expulsion of Jews from Rome in (perhaps) 49AD by the Emperor Claudius (Emperor 41 to 54 AD.) “Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit” (Claudius expelled Jews from Rome who created disturbances constantly, because of the instigator Chrestus. This is the simplest and best translation my 37 years of Latin study can render.) This expulsion of the Jews may have been limited to those Jews who were instigated by Chrestos, Chrestos may well refer to Christ considering the imprecision and the fluidity of the language. The expulsion is referred to in the Acts of the Apostles Acts (18:2-3): “Paul met Priscilla and Aquila a Jewish Christian couple who were come from Italy because Claudius had expelled them from Rome. Paul stayed with them and they went into the tent making business together.”

There are other clear, early reverences to the controversial presence of Christians in Rome. For example,  Tacitus the Roman senator and historian writes in his Annals, “Nero...inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.”

We have Pliny telling Trajan that Jesus was being worshiped as a god in Turkey around 100 AD. Not only did Jesus cause trouble at Rome, but he was known throughout the Mediterranean world. Mara bar Sarapion was a Stoic philosopher from Syria who lived anywhere from 73 AD and 200AD. In his letter to his son he tells for the execution of “the wise king” of the Jews whom he counts with “three wise men”: Socrates, and Pythagoras, pointing out that these great thinkers were unjustly treated and their murder had grave consequences for those that killed them. The claim that Jesus was a little known rabbi who had no effect on the world he lived is just not a sustainable hypothesis.

The most controversial references to Jesus and His followers come from a Jewish source, Flavius Josephus and are invariably refuted to be later on the impeccably scholarly grounds that they are too good to be true. The first is a reference to a relative of Jesus, James the Brother of the Lord, (not to be confused with James one of the Twelve. It is this James who is mentioned specifically by St. Paul in 1Corintians 15.) In the Antiquities of the Jews (Book 20, Chapter 9, 1) Josephus tells of the execution by stoning of James, the brother of Jesus by order of Ananus ben Ananus.  The second is very controversial and troubling.  It is called the Testimonium Flavianum.

 “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

 Clearly, this is the work of a Christian and Flavius Josephus was no Christian. It was considered a complete fabrication until....  In 1971 a different Arabic version of the Testimonium was found.

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”

The fact that there is another less clear Christian version of the text makes quite a few scholars think that Jospehus did mention Jesus’ ministry. If they mention John and James, especially calling him the brother of Jesus, why would he not bother to explain who Jesus was? It makes sense that he would have alluded to Jesus as someone important. And he does not say that Jesus rose from the dead, but that his followers claimed that he had risen from the dead, which they most certainly did. They believed it enough to leave their settled lives and court death. It is odd to do that sort of thing for something that you know to be a lie. What after all did they get out of it? Fame? Money? Not if you read the many works written to condemn them. It is reasonable to think that an historian of the time would have noticed Jesus and that he would have noticed the strange but dogged belief that drove followers, like James to go willingly, even stubbornly to their deaths. These things are not myths -- they are the stuff of history.

Dr. Brown, no matter how great a scholar he was, had difficulty, as do I who am not a scholar, seeing events outside the lens of our own upbringing. We see these things in our minds  the way we were brought up to see them, and it is almost a superhuman effort to see them as if for the first time. The Miracles of Jesus and especially his resurrection brought the disciples into a world that is quite beyond our comprehension and beyond our experience of time and space.

There is a most amazing cloth that seems to be the most significant witness to the resurrection. The modern world has dismissed it out of hand because of a botched carbon fourteen test that any serious researcher now believes was a failure. The evidence cloth’s antiquity and authenticity is overwhelming ( or  At this point any serious scholar will put this article down and go see what’s on television.   

But I dare you to look at those web sights. The first, by the way, is done by a Jew, Barrie Schwortz, who is not a convert to Christianity. He is just a serious investigator. To me the most telling point about the Shroud is that it is covered by a certain kind of limestone dust. Richard Levi-Setti of the Enrico Fermi Institute at the University of Chicago and Joseph Kohlbeck, Resident Scientist at the Hercules Aerospace Center in Utah, identified the dust as  travertine aragonite limestone, having the exact same  chemical signature as the limestone of the empty tomb of Christ in Jerusalem. That type of stone is unique in all the world. Anyone who has been to Jerusalem and seen that lovely pink-golden limestone glowing in the sunset knows it is unique. “Jerushalayim shel zahav... Jerusalem is golden....”   

The shroud is science, not speculation. It is there. It is the photo of the resurrection that some demand. And what a photo it is. It is unique among all the images of the world. It is a 1st century holograph. That’s right. It contains holographic information that when processed produces the image of a man in the process of rising from the dead. The holographic image stands about three feet off the cloth. The cloth is not the picture, it is simply a storage system. The marks on the cloth seem to be made of a slight oxidation of the topmost fibrils of the thread of the cloth. It is a kind of flash-radiation burn that could have lasted no more than nanoseconds.  But there it is: a hologram. It’s there. That’s science. That’s more than photography. Dame Isabel Piczek a Nobel prize winning particle physicist describes the shroud image as a kind of holographic event horizon. If I understand her, She believes the image was made when a new kind of thing passed through the cloth into another dimension of existence. (Mind you, I am like a Neanderthal trying to describe the Sistine chapel here) An event horizon. A new dimension of being. Resurrection.....

To enter into a world where refrigerators float and saints can fly is to lose one’s bearings. What happened when and who and how become conflated, not simply because we are confused, but because the strictures of time and space are changed. It is fascinating to me that the verities of the world of Newton and Galileo have been  turned on their head by Einstein and Stephen Hawking. We have to live in a world where planets travel in circles and suns seems to rise and set or we would go mad. We can live in no other world and keep our sanity, but modern physics posits a real world  that makes the miraculous seem almost ordinary.

To say that a man could rise from the dead again and pass through walls and to appear and disappear, but that He and those with whom He wanted to meet needed to check the bus schedules to see when the next ride to Galilee was available is absurd.  (Regarding flying saints, c.f. St Joseph Cupertino, or in our own times St. “Padre” Pio or St. Gemma Galgani) If the resurrection happened, trying to quibble about one angel or two and how long it might take to get to Galilee and back are ridiculous. In a world where things like this can happen anything is possible and trying to describe such events with ink quill and papyrus roll are like trying to write down what one sees when gazing at the sun. This may not satisfy you, but these things happen, and there is no explaining them with the language that we are accustomed to use. One can only enter into them.

Next week: I’m not done by any means.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Three questions from the Rabbi - part 3

Continued from last week…

Here is your first question in fuller detail:     (1) The Gospels teach that Jesus appeared to the disciples after his resurrection. We are unclear, however, whether those appearances took place in Jerusalem or in the Galilee (or at both locales). According to our reading, the Galilean accounts seem to rule out prior Jerusalem appearances. Where did Jesus actually appear? If he appeared in Jerusalem, how should we read the Galilean accounts?

Here is Dr. Brown’s response:

I. Post-Resurrection Appearances: Galilee or Jerusalem?

Brown admits that the apparent contradiction in records of the post-resurrection appearances is real. “It is quite obvious,” Brown writes, “that the Gospels do not agree as to where and to whom Jesus appeared after his resurrection.” Just as the Jerusalem tradition leaves little or no room for subsequent Galilean appearances, explains Brown, “the Galilean narratives seem to rule out any prior appearances of Jesus to the Twelve in Jerusalem.” Brown declares his disapproval of the simple solution to the contradiction: “We must reject the thesis that the Gospels can be harmonized through a rearrangement whereby Jesus appears several times to the Twelve, first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee.” Rather, concludes the Church spokesman, “Variations in place and time may stem in part from the evangelists themselves who are trying to fit the account of an appearance into a consecutive narrative.” Brown makes clear that the post-resurrection appearance accounts are creative, substantially non-historical attempts to reconstruct events never witnessed by their respective authors.

Here is my answer to your question and my response to Dr. Brown:
Dr. Brown insists that  “We must reject the thesis that the Gospels can be harmonized through a rearrangement whereby Jesus appears several times to the Twelve, first in Jerusalem, then in Galilee” Why must we?  It is quite possible that the first and final appearances of Jesus were in Jerusalem, and that at some time all the disciples of Jesus met at a designated place in Galilee. If we look at the Resurrection account written by St. Paul about 20 or 30 years after the fact, we see that Jesus appears to 500 of his disciples at one time, and that at the time of Paul’s writing, most of them were still alive and available to refute Paul’s chronology of events. Certainly a gathering of 500 people would be a bit dangerous in Jerusalem. Jerusalem was all a-buzz with the strange events of the most recent Passover. Two followers of Jesus were getting out of town quickly on Sunday morning, quite possibly because they might have been relatives of Jesus. One was named Cleopas who seems to be the husband of one of the women who stood at the foot of the cross. He was quite possibly  a relative of Jesus.  His companion on the road was unnamed and there is some thought that it was his wife.  Jesus asked them what they had been discussing. “One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, "Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” (the Gospel of Luke 24:18 )

We see lovely Easter cards of “a hill far away,” beautiful country scenes and flowery fields and gardens. These popular representations are nonsense. Jesus was executed and buried as close to downtown Jerusalem as possible. He was executed in full view of the northwestern gates that led from the upper City and the Second quarter going west to Joppa and the coast. Romans and the Sadducees wanted to make sure that people saw what was going on. Thus, He was killed and buried near the main westerly gates. Suddenly there are rumors about the guards and an earthquake and visions. I imagine that anyone who could walk would have gone to see if the tomb really was empty. It was not “on a hill far away” as the old hymn suggests it was right downtown, at least as close to downtown as you could get and still be outside the walls. The regime had already decided to cover up one so called resurrection. Jesus had raised Lazarus his very close friend from the dead just a few weeks before. How convenient! Jesus friend dies and Jesus raises him from the dead. A good trick, but certainly a trick. The authorities had decided to do away with Lazarus as well as Jesus at that point. (John 12:9-11) After all, to put over a fraud like that was just asking for trouble from the Romans! And now this! Would it never end?  Jesus may have appeared to the twelve who were hiding in the Essene quarter for fear of the authorities and His uncle and aunt may have been hurrying out of town, but Jesus wanted to meet with all those He would send out. Where better than Galilee on the hill they had agreed on? Most of the disciples were probably in Galilee anyway. It was the twelve who were still hiding in Jerusalem. The empty tomb was no secret. Jesus didn’t appear to just a few. Take a look at Paul’s time line in 1st Corinthians the 15th chapter:

“Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.”

Paul uses the words eita, epeita and eskhaton, “then, after that and finally” these are words that are used to express succession in time. St. Paul was writing his letters to the Corinthian Church around 55 AD. That is only 20-25 years after the events he claims to be describing and earlier than most scholars put any of the Gospels. Paul’s is the first Resurrection account and chronology. St. Paul does not mention the appearances to the women or to a woman. The Gospels don’t mention a first appearance to Peter (Cephas). 

Does that mean they didn’t happen? How often have I said, “To make a long story short...”  Though I never quite manage. But as my wonderfully wise mother use to tell, “You must never lie, but you needn’t tell everyone everything at once!”  The authors wrote the elements of the account that suited their narrative and the audience to whom they were writing. Dr. Brown and most scholars are looking through the Reformation/Protestant lens of which I suspect they are unaware in the same way that unless we really pause to notice, we are unaware that it is air we are breathing and the fish is unaware that it is water in which it is swimming. 

The fundamental Protestant and thus modern way to look at the Gospels is that they are histories. They most certainly are not. Ancient people trusted verbal accounts more than they trusted written documents. The Gospel was clearly transmitted orally. In Paul’s writings he always speaks of the Gospel which he preaches, not which he writes. The Gospel was well know in the Greek speaking Jewish world, though perhaps not as well known in the Aramaic speaking world of Babylonian Jewry. There was no need to write the story down in the first century. The Gospels were written to make certain points from the commonly known story and sayings of Messiah Jesus, not as tools of evangelism nor certainly as history. When we try to analyze something that is not a history with historical criterion we are just asking for trouble.

More next week.