Sunday, November 13, 2011

Resurrection Sundays: Night of the living saints

There is one argument against the historicity of the empty tomb that I have always found extremely persuasive. I call it the argument from Matthew 27:52-53. That's right, the passage that got Licona sacked; The passage in which many zombies raise from their graves and terrorize Jerusalem. Now, the idea behind this argument is simple: since stories like this made it into the Gospels, we should be skeptical of other stories in the Gospels too- particularly the stories of the empty tomb being discovered, especially since stories of empty tombs being discovered weren't uncommon in the ancient world.

Now, most reasonable Christians will admit that Matthew 27: 52-53 was an invention of the early church. Even the most conservative Christians will commonly admit that this passage is "tricky". NT Wright, for instance, admits it in his tome on the subject:
"Some stories are so odd that they may just have happened. This may be one of them, but in historical terms there is no way of finding out"
So, as a heads up to people who think that this event actually happened, keep in mind NT Wright can't even affirm it with any confidence. Now, although most learned Christians will agree with me on the historicity of this passage, some have always been impervious to new ideas. One of these people is Jason Engwer from the infamous Triablogue. He has written several posts such as this one arguing not only in favor of the historicity of Matthew 27: 2-53, but against skeptics using it as evidence against the empty tomb.

After reading it, I was amazed. It seemed to me that most of his "arguments" were geared towards how the event in question was merely possible- not probable. The only positive argument he used was that, apparently, a few other hostorical sources may be alluding to this event (Ignatius, Letter To The Magnesians, 9; Quadratus, in Eusebius, Church History, 4:3). I am not familiar with any of these sources, so I will have to look into them in the future. Anyways, other than that, the rest are just mere possibility arguments.

For example, he argues that the resurrected saints may have not been recognised when they entered Jerusalem. Perhaps they looked just like regular people, as opposed to decaying zombies. Perhaps they had clothes on, as opposed to being naked. Perhaps they entered Jerusalem in small numbers, in order to remain inconspicuous. If we grant the inerranist this much, it seems very possible that, if this event occurred, only one known Gospel would record it. But a possibility is not the same as a probablity.

Jason's strategy, as well as the strategy of every conservative inneranist, is to prove that their position is just possible. Creationists will argue that the age of the earth might be wrong, since the age of the earth has "changed" as technology as progressed. Yet they give us little, if any evidence that we should favor their hypothesis over a better, simpler one.

So Jason, I concede that it's possible that the saints entered Jerusalem undetected. Hell, they could've been invisible and microscopic for all I know. But that doesn't mean they probably were. For one thing, the story only appears in one Gospel. Also, it is accompanied by claims of a great earthquake and eclipse, both of which there is even less evidence for. Arguing that the early Christians understood the Gospels as literal history is just pulling the buggy before the horse, for these passages should, if anything, challenge that assertion.

So, my readers shouldn't be surprised that I think this event never happened. How could I? Now, I acknowledge that it could've happened. After all, the zombie saints could have been microscopic or even disguised as regular Jewish peasants. They even could have disappeared milliseconds after they entered Jerusalem to avoid being seen. I can't prove that they didn't- but it's not my job to, either. This event never happened- and only the most fringe level conservative apologists would say otherwise.


  1. I think the value of Matthew 27:52-53 is that it shows the early Christians were not afraid to make outrageous public claims about stuff that never happened. Apologists say no one would make up the empty tomb story because it would be too easy to falsify - just look for a corpse in Joseph of Arimathea's tomb and it's game, set, match. But Matthew was so bold as to make up this easliy falsifiable story, one that should of had many more witnesses than the empty tomb, one that should of turned up in all four gospels and many epistles, one that would have been the ultimate Christian apologetic, if it really happened. If Matthew could promote a tale tall like that, couldn't Mark have done the same with the empty tomb, a significantly less bold claim?

  2. That's what I was saying! Why some Christians fail to grasp this is beyond me...