I commented recently that the three pillars of Christianity are the scriptures, the prophecies, and the miracles. Without all three, you have a two-legged stool at best, but still one that falls over. There is no miracle greater than the resurrection of Jesus and many think that without it alone, there is no Christianity. Well a recent comment started me thinking. The comment was about the last line in the Gospel of Mark.
Most scholars consider Mark to be the first gospel written, sometime around 70 CE. This means that it was written almost forty years after the events it purports to describe. Prior to this, it is claimed that Christianity was supported by various oral accounts and the letters of Paul, etc.
The Creationists are going to apoplexy but these gospels serve somewhat the same purpose as scientific theories do for science. They provide a coherent narrative, binding together many “facts” that separately might not appear to be conjoined. (It’s just a theory, Creationists. Were you there?)
So, “Mark” was written to provide an overarching narrative that binds together many oral and supposedly written tidbits into a message. So, every gospel has a point (or more), and everything in a gospel has a point, a reason for being there.
The original Mark had no virgin birth story or any childhood stories and had the shortest resurrection narrative. Here that latter story is, full length (thanks to the NET Bible):
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought aromatic spices so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, at sunrise, they went to the tomb. They had been asking each other, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled back. Then as they went into the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed. You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has been raised! He is not here. Look, there is the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples, even Peter, that he is going ahead of you into Galilee. You will see him there, just as he told you.” Then they went out and ran from the tomb, for terror and bewilderment had seized them. And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Obviously this is a translation. But the last sentence is clear: “And they said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.”
Why would Mark make this statement? This is clearly fiction because if the women “said nothing to anyone” how did Mark hear the story to relay it? Mark made this story up, so why did he make this last statement up? The only reason that makes sense is: it was there to explain why there was no resurrection in the oral tradition!
Now before you start quoting other writings, please realize that they were written later than Mark. And Mark was “quoted” (aka lifted) heavily in Matthew and Luke. The resurrection stories in those gospels are even more detailed, more involved. These were “new, improved” gospels. I suggest that once the impact of the resurrection story was seen, people piled on that bandwagon.
If there were no Jesus resurrection stories prior to Mark, there had to be an explanation, and Mark supplies one “because they were afraid.” But, think about it. “A young man dressed in a white robe” how rare was white in a land with no laundries, detergents, etc. Clearly an ignorant woman of the time would consider this person to be a holy messenger. Consider the message! This is “Good News.” (The word gospel means “good news.”) Did not Jesus just raise Lazarus from the dead, proving he could do such a thing? (Oh, that didn’t happen until John wrote about it.) Shouldn’t they not run to tell all of the Jesus people the good news. Should this not spread like wild fire? Doesn’t Jesus hang around for 40 days to see and be seen? Oh, that doesn’t happen until Acts of the Apostles is written 50+ years after Mark. The other gospels have him around for less than a handful of days.
Can you imagine the uproar? What would the Romans do? Crucify him again? People would flock by the thousands to see the resurrected Jesus, but no. None of that happened (until Acts “filled in the blanks”).
Mark is clearly trying to explain why there was no oral tradition of Jesus being resurrected. Can you imagine a secret that well kept? In a society in which gossip is a major source of social control?
So, if the resurrection happened, it didn’t happen out in the open for anyone to see. And if no one saw it, and it is the critical pillar supporting a new religion, one has to ask why?
And can you imagine the early Christians preaching to Jews, telling them Jesus was resurrected. Would not their response be “So produce this man. Where is he?” Oh, well, he isn’t here now, he left to join his father in Heaven. Right. Having Jesus make guest appearances would have been very, very good for his mission. Consider the meeting with Thomas, magnified a thousandfold. But, that didn’t happen.
One has to ask why?