The Resurrection - world's greatest fraud?
Now charnels rattle; scattered limbs and all
The various bones, obsequious to the call
Self-moved, advance; the neck perhaps to meet
The distant feet; the distant head the feet.
Dreadful to view, see through the dusky sky
Fragments of bodies, in confusion, fly
To distant regions journeying, there to claim
Deserted member, and complete the frame
(Night Thoughts - Edward Young, 1744)
EASTER & LUNAR WORSHIP
The solemn Easter celebration, occurring from year to year, is a very curious event indeed. Not only does the celebration of the death and resurrection of Jesus occur at a varying date but the Easter festival has strong links with primitive religion. The Passover itself, the Jewish feast during which Jesus met his end, is no doubt derived from the worship of lunar deities. More, the very name of Easter derives from that that now-familiar home of the God-name, northern Europe. The word means, approximately 'goddess with festival in spring' (Concise Oxford Dictionary).
The large crowds of Christians attending their churches for the Easter event (some of whom, let it be said, rarely attend at any other time of the year) might be a little surprised to know that their Jesus is but one of innumerable dying and rising gods. The dying-rising god motif has a firm place in mythology.
There is nothing unique in the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus the Nazarene. And story it surely is, for there is precious little fact to be gleaned from the Gospel accounts of this dramatic saga.
In the traditional view, Jesus Christ is the Son of God who suffered, died and rose again from the dead. A wholly crazy concept, I know, but that is what is preached. The madness of the Son's sacrifice to the Father receives ample testimony from Tertullian, the black servant of Irenaeus, and one of the venerated Fathers of the Church. Irenaeus quotes with approval the words of Tertullian: 'I maintain the Son of God died. Well, that is wholly credible, because it is monstrously absurd. I maintain that, after he was buried, he rose again; and that I take to be absolutely true, because it is manifestly impossible.' There you have it from one the the Fathers.
Indeed, while the heart of the Christian message is the redemptive death upon the cross of this Jesus, the truth of the message is sealed forever in this 'manifestly impossible' Resurrection. It was St Paul himself, chief architect of Christianity, who proclaimed (or so we are told): 'But if there is no resurrection from the dead, neither hath Christ been raised: and if Christ hath not been raised, then is our preaching vain, your faith also is vain ' (1 Corinthians 15: 13-14 and see also the rest of chapter 15). Paul never uttered truer words than these, for the Christian faith is indeed a vain delusion from start to finish.
Being a Pharisee, Paul believed in an afterlife and a physical resurrection; thus, the concept of the resurrection of the dead leader of the sect became a powerful element in Paul's preaching. It is entirely possible, although not at all certain, that Christianity would have sunk into well-deserved oblivion had it not been for the resurrection tale.
MIDDLE EASTERN DOCTRINE
In passing, it is noteworthy that the doctrine of Resurrection is almost unique to the religions of the Middle East. It is derived ultimately from the Babylonian-Persian group of religions and surfaced not only in Christianity but was adopted into the Islamic faith by Muhammad. Indeed, Muhammad had something interesting to say about the death of Jesus itself. He believed that Jesus did not die upon the cross at all but that a substitute died in his stead, thus neatly avoiding the problem raised by the resurrection story. Having been taken directly into heaven, according to Muhammad, Jesus would return in the future to earth to help establish everywhere the Islamic faith! Christians please note. Incidentally, the substitute sacrifice notion was nothing new; it arose from Gnostic teachings, especially those of Basilides of Alexandria.
At first glance, the New Testament documents appear to offer compelling evidence, of a quite detailed and exhaustive nature, persuading us that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. But, as we have already seen in matters religious, things are not always as they seem, so we must approach this amazing event with caution.
All four Gospels record the story of the Resurrection. It is also referred to in the book of Acts and elsewhere, chiefly in 1 Corinthians. The early Christians, at least, appeared to believe the story, even if today quite a few who call themselves by that name do not! But I need not resort to technical textual criticism to demolish the Resurrection claims.
Anyone who reads the accounts as they stand in the New Testament with a fair-minded attitude and comparing scripture with scripture will soon discover a quite amazing fact - the stories are in complete conflict with one another on just about every point. Here we have displayed before us in great detail not one of the best-attested miracles in history, as is so frequently claimed, but instead an almost perfect example, a case-history if you will, of a legend-in-the-making as one could ever hope to discover.
Some things are quite clear. No doubt the records are accurate in respect of these. For example, Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple but also a rich and respected member of the Jewish council, went to Pilate after Jesus' death, asking if he could take the body away. Pilate was, we are assured, quite certain that the malefactor was dead, so Joseph was granted his wish. It also seems clear that Joseph himself, alone, or with no more than his servants to help him, wrapped the body in a linen burial shroud and put it in his own personal tomb 'where never man had yet lain' (Luke 23:53) and 'rolled a great stone against the door of the tomb' (Mark 15:46).
But was Joseph truly alone? The stories to this point are in agreement, more or less, but the fourth Gospel (John's) confuses the issue. According to John, Nicodemus, a person who has appeared but once before in the story of Jesus' life, reappears suddenly. There is no mention of him at the crucifixion, however John now tells us (but not the other three writers) he is assisting Joseph ministering to the dead preacher.
So be it. Perhaps the other writers forgot poor Nicodemus. A strange omission for the Word but I'll let it pass. But in no way can I dismiss what occurs in the next part of the story. Nicodemus may have been overlooked by three writers but every one of our story-weavers had something to say about the women. And what they now set out to recount is in fact the beginning of the end for the Resurrection claims.
You see, these historians and biographers of the Master displayed the most amazing confusion as to how many women went to the tomb of Jesus and, for that matter, how many angels appeared, and who came where, when and every which-way!
It is, in fact, as we move into the dark, shadowy world of the garden in the early hours of that first day of the week (our Sunday) that we move from the realms of what might have at least passed for truth into the realms of pure fantasy. There are FIVE women (and maybe more, but at the very least, five) clearly present in the garden according to St Luke. He is very specific about this and isn't he the one the Church calls 'the historian'? Luke 24:10 reads: 'Now there were Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and the other women [plural] with them.'
But Mark, too, is equally specific, and he knows of only THREE women, for in Mark 16:1 we read: 'Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome.' The numbers continue to diminish, for Matthew reports but TWO, 'Mary Magdalene and the other Mary' (Matthew 28:1). And finally, neatly rounding off this story of the ever-diminishing ladies, we come to John 20:1, which tells us that but ONE woman, Mary Magdalene, went to visit the tomb.
If we try now to find a crumb of truth in these four conflicting accounts, it seems to come down to the fact that Mary Magdalene, at least, did visit the garden on that amazing morning. She, in any event, must have been a significant figure in the whole account as she is mentioned by all four writers. And that fact itself raises another very interesting point. Where is Mary, the mother of Jesus, through all this? It would seem reasonable to me that she would have been the very first to have seen him. Passing curious, to say the least, when one contemplates her exalted status in the history of Jesus and his Church.
But the confusion of the 'inerrant' Scriptures doesn't end with the women, by no means. Luke's five (or was it six or seven?) women find the stone already rolled away and they meet with TWO angels. Mark doesn't bother with the problem of the stone; he simply ignores it. But his three women meet ONE angel. And what about Mary Magdalene, in John's Gospel? She sees that the stone has been moved but doesn't seem to meet an angel at all. Instead, she races off to tell the other disciples the startling news.
Ah, but what about Matthew? His two women meet only ONE angel but at this point in the story there occurs one of the most amazing divergences in all the Gospel records. For when Mary Magdalene and 'the other Mary' come to the tomb, 'behold,' writes Matthew, 'there was a great earthquake; for an angel of Yahweh [trans. 'the Lord'] descended from heaven, and came and rolled away the stone, and sat upon it. His appearance was as lightning, and his raiment white as snow: for fear of him the watchers did quake and become as dead men....' (Matthew 28:2-4).
Are we seriously to believe that this staggering event, this encounter with the Other World, including even a 'great earthquake,' and involving that very same Mary Magdalene who appears in every one of the four Gospel accounts, fails to gain the tiniest hint of a mention in the other three Gospels? How could an earthquake pass unnoticed by the three writers? How could the stone be already rolled away in some accounts but seen to be rolled away by the angel in another?
Matthew's colourful account (and he has another of similar ilk concerning the crucifixion - see Matthew 27:51-54) is reminiscent of other Biblical scenes - the pyrotechnics around the mountain in Moses' time and the visitation experienced by those shepherds at Jesus' birth. Matthew's incredible story has as much validity as had these others. But there is yet more of the same to come!
The action now moves for a time from this garden of fantasy to the place where the 'assembled disciples' were gathered. If we may believe John, Mary Magdalene breaks the news. This lady is fast becoming the one and only rock-like certainty of the whole story!
Now please note the contents of Mary's message, not that Jesus had risen from the dead, no, that his body was missing ! This, surely, is the most significant statement concerning the Resurrection in the whole of the New Testament.
The Gospel editors, working after the event, may have tried hard to make it appear, by writing things back into the accounts, that Jesus' resurrection was foretold by the Master, but their editing was not of a very high order. Clearly, and emphatically, the disciples did not expect his resurrection.
The women in Mark's account had with them spices to anoint the body! What body? There would be none if it had been raised! Why, we are well entitled to ask, were they even on their way to the tomb if they expected a resurrection? When Peter and 'the other disciple' (a curious usage indicating uncertainty on the writer's part, as was the case with Matthew's phrase 'the other Mary') returned to their homes, they left Mary weeping at the tomb, and all the disciples, initially at least, were dejected, puzzled, defeated.
But in the Gospels Jesus is said to have predicted both his demise and his return from the grave. Let us look at but one of these 'predictions'. It will, I am sure, be highly instructive to do so. Matthew 12:40 has Jesus saying: 'As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale; so shall the son of man [i.e., Jesus] be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.'
It is commonly assumed that Jesus fulfilled this prophecy but not so! Jesus was buried late on Friday and the tomb was found empty very early on Sunday morning. He was thus 'in the heart of the earth' for but two nights and one full day. Yet Matthew is specific in his 'three days and three nights.' Even if we counted the tiny bit of Friday as a part-day and the tiny bit of Sunday likewise it in no way adds up to three days and three nights! This doesn't say much for Scriptural accuracy. Not that we should be surprised by now!
To return to our strange tale. Yet another encounter occurs between Mary Magdalene and angels, this time with two of them. Or is it really the same story recorded by Luke and thus part of the general confusion?
And then Jesus himself puts in an appearance. With great dramatic effect he says to Mary: 'Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to the Father....' (John 20:17). However, by now things are so confused that even the ghostly Jesus doesn't know what he is saying. On that very same day Jesus meets up with some of the disciples and, we are told, 'they came and took hold of his feet, and worshipped him' (Matthew 28:9).
Further, according to Luke (24:39) Jesus actually invites the disciples, and especially 'doubting' Thomas, to handle him physically (John 20:27)! So Jesus is not to be touched until he goes to heaven, yet may be touched before the event. Make your choice and only hope he doesn't get too angry if your choice is the wrong one!
But Jesus has business yet to attend to before launching forth into the Great Beyond. Matthew says that Mary One and Mary Two are specifically sent to advise the disciples he has risen from the dead and that 'he goeth before you into Galilee....there shall ye see him' (Matthew 28:7). The clear implication of this is that the disciples won't see him until they journey to Galilee, yet on 'that very day' two of them have an encounter with the Master on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24: 13-32).
The Emmaus Road story is one of those pretty tales that inspire Christians to wax lyrical in poetry, song and even in book-length works of prose. The writers of these works should take note of the confusion that abounds here. There is little hope for ordinary folk like you and me to understand these goings-on when the Jesus-spirit himself proves to be so confused as to where he is actually heading that he turns up on that same evening not in Galilee at all, as he promised, but in Jerusalem!
We seek him here, we seek him there,
The disciples seek him everywhere!
Is he in heaven, is he in hell,
That demmed elusive Pimpernel?
(With apologies to Baroness Orczy)
Arriving, apparently, in Jerusalem, he now countermands his previous orders and directs the disciples to stay in the city (Luke 24:49). John also confirms this appearance in Jerusalem. Not so Matthew. The writer who gave us so many dramatic and colourful interpretations of the story of Jesus is not about to abandon the Galilean destination. So Matthew assures us Jesus did indeed go to Galilee and even to a specific mountain, where he meets with the disciples. But they were in Jerusalem; or were they? Who can possibly know?
It is in the context of this manifestly absurd, not to say wholly untrustworthy, account that we must examine one of the pivotal statements of the New Testament, one of the great 'proof texts' of Church authority. For it is in Galilee, according to Matthew, that Jesus pronounces the authoritative declaration that has been appropriated by the Christian priesthood to justify its claims over the hearts and minds of people through the ages: 'All authority hath been given unto me in heaven and on earth. Go ye therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost....' (Matthew 28:18,19).
Now remember, the Master is still taking his disciples all over the place on their Magical Mystery Tour. Is he in Galilee? Is he in Jerusalem? Is he on the Emmaus Road? Is he in heaven? Or is he not perhaps stone cold dead in the earth, as we all shall one day be?
Clearly we have here not an authentic utterance from the mouth of Jesus but a carefully worded justification for priestly pretensions, complete with a suitable Trinitarian ascription, written into the text, like so much else, at a later date. For even if we grant that Jesus might have uttered such words (which I do not), why the complete and utter silence of Luke and John on this supremely important statement? But, wait, of course, the reason is plain. The message was given out to the disciples at Galilee, on that mountain. Matthew specifically mentions the Eleven (i.e., the original Twelve, minus the traitor, Judas) as being recipients of the message. Luke and John must have been waiting in Jerusalem, as they had been told to do. That is, if these two men were among the disciples at all at that time, and who knows whether this is true or not?
But we still have Mark to account for. Was he in Jerusalem or was he in Galilee? We cannot say, but there is a passage that comes right at the end of his Gospel - chapter 16, from verse 9 to the end - that repeats some of Matthew's story BUT almost all scholars, including conservatives, reject this section as spurious. It does not appear in the two most ancient Greek manuscripts.
Mark's additional verses (tacked onto Matthew's version) are very interesting. There are 'signs' to follow the Gospel preachers - casting out devils, speaking in tongues, taking up serpents, surviving deadly poisons and healing the sick (presumably miraculously). This forms part of the spurious text. Mind you, when we talk about spurious, there are what we might term 'degrees of spuriousness'! After all, very little of anything we have in the Bible could be fairly described as being 'original', probably nothing at all!
There are Christians who do believe such promises, though. After all, it's in the Book! Some of these well-meaning folk take up deadly serpents. Now and then one of their number dies. No doubt faith was weak in such cases. Quite a number don't actually die but do suffer fearful bites for their trouble and often bear scars to prove it. At least that is something they have managed to prove! Not too many believers try drinking deadly poison. But the followers of one prophet, Jim Jones, did; they died, nearly every last one of them.
But finally, even if, and it is a very big if, we assume Mark's account to be correct, why then did none of the other three make not the faintest mention of such promises? Any sane and reasonable person must reject out of hand the notion that in these Gospel records we have the outpourings of inspired writers.
We have not, however, quite finished with our game of musical chairs. The book of Acts has something to say about the period immediately following Jesus' death. (We must remember, though, that I have already shown this particular work to be unreliable.) Acts records that Jesus showed himself alive to the disciples for forty days (Acts 1:3) - our mystically significant period appearing again - and that while with them he 'charged them not to depart from Jerusalem' (Acts 1:4). They were to wait there for the outpouring of the Ghost. So the disciples were, after all, in Jerusalem all the time. Poor Matthew! Found out again. He was so very definite, too, that they were in Galilee, where they received that vital message. So much for the 'certainties' of the story of the resurrection of Jesus.
Let us consider, then, what might have happened. I must say, quite honestly, that there is no way I, nor anyone else, will ever know for certain what did happen! Thus it might appear to be a futile exercise to try to suggest the truth. With such a mass of confused and contradictory textual material to study, knowing also that beneath the surface of the received text is a substratum of earlier material, and beneath that still earlier, and so on, drastically altered and distorted by editorial intervention on the part of believers , there is not a lot to be hoped for from our speculations. All we can do is arrive at a possible explanation of the events and leave it there.
Our speculations are just as valid as those of the first believers, perhaps more so, because we are able, at this distance in time and space to look back and see so much of what once passed as miraculous is capable of explanation in other ways. That there are those who, in modern Western society, still believe in the miraculous, in the Biblical sense of that term, is every bit as great a source of amazement to me as that empty tomb was to the first disciples. No matter how often people are exposed as charlatans and frauds in our own day there is always a core of dedicated believers who continue to follow these gurus and soothsayers. The human capacity to believe is staggering. As it was in the first century, so it is in the twenty-first!
Broadly speaking the critics of the Resurrection story, and they are many, have attacked it on one or more of these bases: (1) That Jesus wasn't really dead when taken from the cross and recovered in the cool of the tomb; (2) That someone removed the body, perhaps the disciples themselves, the Jewish authorities, the Romans, or Joseph of Arimathea; (3) That the women mistook the grave in the early morning light, and, (4) That the grave was not visited at all and the story developed in later times. I omit the claim that Jesus never existed in the first place. This conclusion, if accepted, would certainly put paid to the alleged Resurrection miracle!
There are a few facts we may deduce from reading the Gospels. At least one stands out - the disciples were not expecting a resurrection! The women with their spices, the men dejected, all the details point to the fact that they were devastated by the death of their Leader; all their hopes had been shattered. They give no indication whatever that the empty tomb signalled a coming amazing event - a physical resurrection from the dead!
The Gospel of John comments with these interesting words: 'For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise from the dead' (John 20:9). Written somewhere around 90 CE, note, two generations after the death of Jesus. Obviously the one who penned this statement knew they 'knew not' for it had not been written before the event! But this very statement, designed to bolster the divine claims of the dead preacher, only confirms the fact that the disciples did not expect Jesus to rise from the dead. The women's words to the disciples when they burst upon them with the news of the empty grave 'appeared in their sight as idle talk' (Luke 24:11).
Let us then go to that garden in the early hours of the first day of the week as Mary Magdalene (well, at least she seems to be one certainty of the history!) or Mary and another, or Mary and two others, or Mary and five or six others, approach the tomb with their spices. They wonder how they will remove the heavy stone across the entrance. Amazement! It is already rolled away. More amazingly, the body has vanished!
Had the Christians themselves spirited the body away, as some have since claimed? Whatever delusions may have been harboured in the minds of the first Christians, surely they would not have stooped to such a cheap trick. Even I could not accuse them of this. They give every appearance of being simple honest folk. Their dismay following the discovery of the empty tomb rings true. I reject emphatically such an idea.
Did the Romans or the Jews remove the body? The writer of Matthew's Gospel quite correctly draws attention to the fact that it was not in the interests of the Jewish leaders to have the story of the empty tomb noised abroad (Matthew 27:62-66). One could well imagine the Sadducees, bitterly opposed to resurrection notions, acting decisively to put paid to such rumours in one way or another, probably by seeing to it that the body was produced.
Nowhere in the subsequent history of the Jewish people do we find the slightest hint that the body could be located anywhere. And it is hard to imagine any reason why the Pharisees, who were involved in his death, would take the body to hide it. What possible motive could there be for this? It would be absurd to suppose it was done to 'prove' their resurrection beliefs, which, if they truly believed them, would need no proof! And they were vehemently opposed to the upstart preacher from the provinces, so would hardly want to assist the idea that he was a god! There appear to be even fewer reasons for the Romans to have spirited the body away.
There remain two possible suspects - Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus. Now we can rule out the latter for several reasons. The tomb was not his to tamper with and he was not the one who approached the Romans seeking the body for burial. His only appearance in the whole story is as a helper to Joseph. We are thus left with the latter figure. It is indeed my own personal conviction that it was Joseph who removed the body of Jesus from the tomb. The reason, or reasons, may be deduced from the Gospel stories themselves.
Joseph's tomb, evidently intended for his own private use, was the FIRST resting-place for the body. Clearly it was very close to the place of execution - 'Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb....' (John 19:42).
It is vital at this point to note that Joseph was not one of the Eleven (i.e., the Twelve minus Judas). He was a secret disciple and his brief encounter with history lasted but a day or two. Was it not possible, then, that this rich Jew, council member and respected pillar of the community, remained a SECRET disciple after these events? Is there any other possible explanation for the complete and utter disappearance of this man from the New Testament story thereafter? Not one word is recorded expressing distress or amazement on the part of Joseph at the news of the empty tomb, HIS tomb, where he had personally laid the Master's body! Joseph disappears entirely from subsequent Church history.
I believe Joseph, true to his standing as a secret disciple, went to Pilate and the latter, having no good reason to inform the Jewish authorities, happily let Joseph take the body away for burial, glad to rid himself of the whole distasteful business. Joseph, a pious Jew, mindful of the onset of the Sabbath rest, when all labour ceased, chose to put the body in his own new tomb, close at hand, intending to remove it when convenient, i.e., soon after the Sabbath (Saturday) ended, to a more suitable location.
I see this man, then, fearful that his peers will discover him in the very act of ministering to the dead criminal - and thus revealing his true sympathies - going to the garden almost immediately the Sabbath had ended, that is, after midnight on Saturday night, and, working quickly, removing the body (probably with the help of his servants) to its new resting-place.
The grave-clothes were left behind, according to the Gospel accounts. This fact is cited by believers as a strong indication that the story is true, Jesus apparently being snatched naked from the grave by Yahweh! This in itself poses the interesting question: Was he still naked when he appeared here, there and everywhere? These grave-clothes were, as we well know, to emerge in later times in the notorious and absurd Shroud of Turin legend. This garment has since been proved to be just as fraudulent as the Resurrection story itself!
The grave-clothes were left behind for a good and sensible reason. Did Joseph carry Jesus' body without covering to its new home? Of course not! Anyone in his right mind, performing such a mission, would bring with him another set of burial shrouds, clean ones, knowing full well that the old ones would be soaked with blood. Joseph was, after all, showing great devotion to the Master. But what of the guards? They were, remember, temple guards, not Roman ones, and would have no reason to challenge Joseph, a council member, going about his business. They had been charged only with stopping the followers of Jesus from removing the body. They would have had no idea that Joseph was a secret follower and would have no reason to question his actions.
Thus Joseph moves forever out of our ken. (I feel quite certain he didn't later take a journey to Glastonbury, armed with a cupful of Jesus' blood, thus setting in train the long-lived Grail legend. Robert de Boron, who first related this tale, is as elusive a figure as is his story.)
It would be some time before the disciples began preaching the Resurrection in earnest. It may have been many weeks or months before the message reached Joseph's ears. Imagine the terrible dilemma the poor man now faced. If he stepped forth and told the world he had taken the body, it would brand him as one of the hated followers of Jesus, the one thing he dreaded. If he admitted this deed, it would also forever destroy the Christian message now being preached. He chose silence. And history forgot him.
Perhaps we could even speculate that Joseph never returned to the second tomb, preferring somehow to forget the whole disturbing episode, even perhaps in the end deceiving himself by half-believing the message being preached. The capacity of humans for self-deception is almost unlimited, as this whole episode shows.
CONTRARY TO NATURE
Once again, we have no way of really knowing what actually happened in that far-off place and time. But is the version of the story I have suggested any less likely to have been the truth than that a resurrection occurred, an event contrary to everything we know about nature? Surely the stories passed down to us by these biassed and believing writers were moulded more by pious hopes and aspirations nurtured within their troubled bosoms than by anything that actually happened in history.
Not only does the account of the life of Francis Xavier suggest the mechanisms whereby legends develop but in modern times we have ample confirmation of all this. In the study of 'urban legends' we find again, in our own time, legends-in-the-making. Those stories of razor blades in waterslides, of vanishing hitchhikers, of takeaway fried rats and crocodiles in the sewers testify to the amazingly inventive power of the human imagination. Now sometimes, just sometimes, there is a grain of truth at the base of such stories, upon which the whole edifice has been built, but usually such real facts are hard to locate. Just so with the legend of Jesus dying and rising again. A few meagre facts, Mary Magdalene being one of them, form the basis upon which all else is built. The result - an Urban Legend to outdo all others!
Before we take our leave of the miraculous world of the New Testament, two or three further interesting facts should be noted. St Paul, who told us about his marvellous revelations direct from Jesus, and who subsequently wrote a number of letters to the churches, knew little or nothing of the Gospels' account of Jesus' death and resurrection!
For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:3,4 he states briefly that he 'delivered unto you first of all that which I received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day, according to the scriptures....' This statement occurs in the very same chapter that Paul proclaims that without the Resurrection the Christian's faith is vain.
Yet Paul, on his own admission, is preaching secondhand knowledge; received from others. But it is plainly inaccurate knowledge, for he refers to Jesus appearing to 'Cephas [Peter]; then the twelve.' But at this stage there were only eleven, the replacement for Judas coming later. And he completely overlooked the women, those same women who figure with far greater prominence than the men in all the Gospel accounts! And that is not all.
He introduces a mysterious crowd of 'above five hundred brethren' who see the risen Jesus. Which five hundred are these? No such group appears in any Gospel. How reliable is this apostolic writer? Well we might ask! For this is that same writer who introduced the mythical Adam as a central figure in his doctrinal system! So much for Paul. His testimony is sadly wanting in credibility.
Further, in the account of these events in the book of Acts (13:29) the Gospels are contradicted by the statement that it was the Jews who crucified him and then took his body and buried it. Plainly this is not the Gospels' view, yet how much suffering was heaped upon the Jewish race through such an erroneous belief. The Jews lacked any power to inflict the death penalty; this was inflicted by the Romans, and the Jews generally would not have bothered to bury him. Only the secret disciple, Joseph, did this.
That this whole episode of pseudo-history is shrouded in uncertainty and mystery (as befits an emerging god) is demonstrated by the fact that as far as is known the whole of Christian antiquity was ignorant of Jesus' tomb until, that is, it was (surprise, surprise!) 'rediscovered' under Constantine in 326 CE, as a result, the records inform us, of a 'divine revelation' (Eusebius: Life of Constantine, 3,26). For almost three centuries nobody had paid any attention to this shrine. Obviously its rediscovery had become somewhat important as yet another way of bolstering the claims of the emerging Christian Church.
The divine drama played out in the stories of Dying and Rising Gods is of hoary ancestry and is a natural outgrowth of the worship of solar deities. Clement of Alexandria, a Christian bishop, admitted: 'Their function was the fictitious death and resurrection of the sun, the soul of the world, the principle of life and motion.' There are many such gods and their stories are somewhat irrelevant to our main thesis. I would mention, however, Osiris, as being of particular interest as he is a well-known solar deity. Having been murdered by Set, his dismembered body was put together again and his life restored by his son Horus. Other well-known cases were Baal of the Semites, Dionysus in Greece and Attis in Asia Minor. Attis was to play an important role in the writings of John in the Apocalypse.
But undoubtedly for our purposes the most interesting of the dying and rising deities is Mithra. Now Mithraism closely paralleled Christianity in some regards, in that it had a baptism in water to remove sins, and like the Zoroastrians, had a form of communion feast, of bread (baked with a cross emblem) and (probably) wine, and its initiates were sealed on the forehead as Christian initiates were.
When the Christians gained the upper hand in Rome they set to work to exterminate Mithraism; it was altogether too close to their own faith. Having the secular power on its side, the Church prevailed. Thus Christianity was as much a political movement as a religious one. It still is!
© Mark Owen, 1991 - http://www.piperpost.net