Historicity and the Empty Tomb

08 Jun

From this link:

“The criterion of ‘embarrassment’… or ‘contradiction’… focuses on actions or sayings of Jesus that would have embarrassed or created difficulty for the early Church. The point of the criterion is that the early Church would hardly have gone out of its way to create material that only embarrassed its creator or weakened its position in arguments with opponents.”

The criterion of embarrassment, at least in the New Testament, does not necessitate historicity. It can also imply ahistoricity. Take the baptism by John for instance. The fact that Matthew (and possibly John) were embarrassed by this means that Mark’s account is the first time Christians heard about it. Why did it take for whenever Matthew or John were written to address this particular embarrassment? Why wait two or three generations to “correct” this?

Either Mark was written immediately after the events, or Mark (written sometime after 70) is the first time these evangelists heard about any sort of baptism by John and their gospels are where this embarrassment is addressed. If Mark was written after 70 and Christians in 33 (or 50 or 65) were embarrassed by John’s baptism, then embarrassment about John’s baptism should have been present in Mark.

Criterion of Multiple Attestation

There are two ways of formulating this criterion:

(1) “A passage [i.e., a saying or story] is more likely to go back to Jesus if it has been preserved in two or more sources which are independent of each other.”[6]

(2) Motifs or phrases that appear in more than one form of discourse (e.g., parable, chria, aphorism).[7]

(1) Sayings, Stories: E.g., ‘Children and the kingdom’ appears multiples sources: in Mark (10:13-16), special Matthaean material (18:3), the GThom 22 and in John 3:3, 5.


But a saying that appears in Mark and Matthew does not represent two independent attestations, since Matthew normally depends on Mark. An exception would be if the Matthaean (or Lukan) occurrence does not obviously depend on Mark, as is the case with Matt 18:3, which is not directly dependent on Mark 10:15 (Matt has a parallel to Mark 10:13-16 at Matt 19:13-15).

Multiple attestation only works if your sources are established as being independent. If Matt used Mark as a source, then Matt used Mark as a source. Period. Do NT historians really think that Matt was only aware of sections of Mark? Once a documentary relationship between the gospel narratives has been established, then asserting “independence” is nonsense.

A professor who is checking two or three (or ten) papers for plagiarism won’t think that, if three papers have an entire paragraph or page copied word for word that these students still worked independently of each other. If one student shows knowledge of another’s work, then it’s evidence of the copying student being possibly aware of the entirety of the other student’s work. While it’s certainly possible that one author (Matt) was only aware of certain sections of another author’s work, because they share similar wording in multiple parts, share similar stories, and — most importantly — share a similar narrative, then there’s no justification for stating that one particular part of Matt is “independent” of Mark.

The name “Barabba” is a literary invention of the author of Mark. This is the entire point of the so-called Aramaisms and his subsequent translations (into Greek) in Mark. When Jesus is praying in Gethsemane, he says “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will”. For one, if this is an authentic prayer, why would Jesus (supposedly speaking in Aramaic) say “father” twice? Two, who was around to hear this prayer? The entire point of this pericope is that the disciples are asleep and fail to keep watch.

Here, the author is telling the reader what the word “abba” means for when he introduces the character “BarAbba” a couple of paragraphs later. Markan Irony – contrast between Jesus Son of the Father who is the insurrectionist and rightly deserves execution, and Jesus [the real] Son of the Father who did nothing wrong but gets executed.

This is entertainment, not history.

Of course, subsequent gospel authors leave out the redundancy to make it more “authentic”. Since two other gospels copy word-for-word from Mark in large swaths and that all four canonical gospels utilize the Markan invented “Barabba” character means that there’s strong evidence for all three later evangelists being aware of Mark, or aware of a source that was aware of Mark. Of course, this also explains why John includes the hitherto unknown Greek word ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΣ (19:19) in his gospel; this word was invented by Matthew at 2:23 based on a misremembering of Judges 13:5 (Samson the ΝΑΖΙΡΑΙΟΣ). A word that is unused in Mark.

Oddly the ΝΑΖΙΡΑΙΟΣ in the LXX is a good example of what actual independence looks like. At least, documentary independence. Judges 13:5 has ΝΑΖΙΡΑΙΟΣ in some manuscripts, ΝΑΖΕΙΡΑΙΟΣ in others, ΝΑΖΙΡ in others, and ΑΓΝΕΙΑ (Greek for “consecrated”) in others. ΝΑΖ(Ε)ΙΡΑΙΟΣ is the proper Greek nominative form of ΝΑΖΙΡ, which itself is the spelling of the Hebrew word נזיר (NZYR) with Greek letters. The Hebrew word NZYR means (you guessed it) “consecrated”. This is evidence that there were different translators that took a jab at translating Judges 13:5 independently of each other. If one author is copying from another, then they wouldn’t spell a word differently, such as the difference between ΝΑΖΙΡΑΙΟΣ and ΝΑΖΕΙΡΑΙΟΣ. On the other hand, ΝΑΖΩΡΑΙΟΣ is spelled consistently in the various (at least, the ones I’ve looked at!) NT manuscripts.

Multiple attestation only works if you know that your data is independent. Compare Thomas 3 with Lk 17:21-22, The phrase “the kingdom of god is within you” appears nowhere else. One of those writers knows the other’s saying.

This brings us to the main argument used for the resurrection by modern Christians. The “empty tomb” argument. Since there’s a documentary relationship between these gospels and the fact that Matthew was “embarrassed” by Mark’s illogical empty tomb scenario by adding guards, bribes, and other stuff means that Matthew read and was aware of Mark and Mark was the first time that Matthew (and later evangelists) heard about any sort of empty tomb. Which explains why all of the resurrection appearances vary wildly after the sabbath – where Mark ends.

1 Comment

Posted by on June 8, 2010 in historical jesus, historicity


One response to “Historicity and the Empty Tomb

  1. Rich Griese

    June 8, 2010 at 9:17 pm

    A great deal of Christian “scholarship” is a facade. Often it is nothing more than perpetuating church dogma. I tend to look if a writer is from a “history department” or a “religion department” Folks from religion department generally do bad work. I advise you look to read only folks with history degrees not religion degrees.


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