Monday, April 17, 2017


Women at the tomb of Jesus

This post is not some feminist griping about Christianity, rather this is one of the pieces of historical evidence that I have always found very convincing and am now going to share. I apologize for this being posted after Easter. But I think it is an interesting point about the resurrection and very compelling evidence that is hard to dismiss or forget.

The author is addressing one of the objections to the veracity of the bible, attributing the story of the resurrection to the desire of the Jesus community to create (i.e. make up) a legend about their leader.

The quote is from the the book Who Is Jesus? Linking the Historical Jesus With The Christ of Faith, by Darrell L. Bock. It's a daunting and scholarly book that was difficult to read, but definitely worth the effort. 


Another key element in the empty tomb tradition involves the criterion of embarrassment. In fact, this criterion is the one that most contradicts the idea that what we have is a fabricated account, a created story that is mere myth or legend. The key factor here is the unanimous testimony in the gospels that women were the first to discover the empty tomb.

What is important in this detail is the ancient culture's lack of appreciation of women. In this culture, a woman's testimony often counted for nothing. Josephus testifies to this view in Antiquities 4.219  when he says, "From women let no evidence be accepted, because of the levity and temerity of their sex." The Mishnah, Yebamot 16:7 shows some permitted women's testimony to attest a death but others do not. So their role was debated. In the Mishnah, Ketubot 2:5 and the Edduyot 3:6, a woman's testimony about her marital status is to be rejected if another witness speaks to the contrary. These texts show that women were not highly regarded as witnesses in the first century.

So if the Jesus community is trying to sell the unpopular idea of a resurrection to a skeptical audience, why would it do this by opening such a difficult story with witnesses who do not count as witnesses culturally? If you are creating the story, why would you create it this way? A created story would have had male witnesses at the start. The idea that this story was created lacks cultural credibility, as evidenced in the starting point for this account. The women's being in the story and remaining there in all the gospel versions speak to the authenticity of this detail and of the empty tomb. No one would have put them there had they not already been there.

Interestingly, some of the accounts reflect this nervousness about female testimony. Mark 16 ends before reporting any message to the disciples. Luke 24:11 says those who initially heard the women thought they spoke "nonsense." In fact, the second century skeptic Celsus mocks the report's credibility, speaking of Mary Magdalene as a "half-frantic woman" (Origen, Celsus 2.59). All of this reinforces that the criterion of embarrassment is applicable to this account. The combination of multiple attestation and embarrassment appears to attest to concrete events, not legend."

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