Sunday, October 30, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: Lack of Veneration and Early Jewish Polemic

Here are two more arguments in favor of the empty tomb. The first one states that, because the tomb was not venerated, Jesus' remains were not in it; therefore, it was found empty. I have always been confused by this line of reasoning, since it is ultimately an argument from silence. As Allison rightly points out in his book, the early church may have very well venerated Jesus' remains at some point in time. Also, according to other scholars like Maurice Casey, veneration wasn't only about honoring the corpse- it was also about honoring the site of the burial. With that said, this argument can be flipped on its head and used against the empty tombs historicity! For even James Dunn admits that the lack of veneration is simply "striking". It seems to me that, even if there was no body to venerate, the early Church would at least want to preserve the location of the tomb to use as evidence. After all, this is what William Lane Craig seems to believe when he uses the early Jewish Polemic argument.

Which brings us to our other argument, the argument from early Jewish Polemic. This argument relies on Matt 28:11-15:

11 While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. 12 When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, 13 telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ 14 If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” 15 So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.

This passage is supposed to recall a controversy in which the ancient Jews claimed that Jesus body was stolen. In response to this claim, the early Christian movement decided to add this rather absurd story to their Gospel. However, the point is that the Jews aknowledged that his tomb was empty when formulating their naturalistic alternative, rather than stating that his body was still in the tomb. Now obviously this argument can be countered by stating the obvious fact that we have no idea when this controversy took place. It could have been a very recent one, originating just after Mark's Gospel and before Matthew's. This would make sense, considering that it doesn't appear in Mark and only appears in Matthew. Also, because the story doesn't appear anywhere else, it seems probable that the controversy was small and perhaps not representative of what most Jews thought. Perhaps there were skeptics of the empty tomb who never had a chance to get their opinion written down.

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