Category Archives: Chapter 28

Summary Matthew Chapter 28

The very long gospel of Matthew concludes with a very short Resurrection Story.  At least, the story is short by comparison with the rest of the gospel, and compared to the stories that will follow in Luke and John. Immediately this should alert us that the idea of a Resurrection story was not well-developed when Matthew wrote. The need for it was understood, but the creative wheels had not been turning very long, so the elaborations that will come with Luke and John had not evolved. It had been recognized that Mark’s story was not enough, but there had not been sufficient time for a “grass roots” oral tradition with a number of takes and characters to spring up and become incorporated into the main body of the literary tradition created by Mark and extended by Matthew.

This, I believe, is significant. It tells us that the Resurrection story came along late, despite Paul’s insistence on the risen Jesus. This, in turn, implies that Paul’s message of the risen Jesus had not truly disseminated, or permeated, or dispersed throughout the all of the various communities of Jesus’ followers. This means that, for nearly two generations, there were “Christians” (proto-Christians, anyway) who did not necessarily believe that Jesus had been raised from the dead. Here, I think, is where we connect with the wonder-worker tradition that was so strong in Mark. This tradition carried on, but had come under increasing pressure, especially after Mark wrote his gospel. There the wonder-worker tradition was acknowledged, and even honored, but it was starting to become submerged under the Christ tradition. But note that, in Mark, the Christ tradition did not yet include a Resurrection Story. It ended with the crucifixion, and, perhaps, the empty tomb. It is difficult to know how much of the section after Jesus’ burial was original to Mark, and how much was added later, in light of these later developments. Yes, real Christian biblical scholars, or even biblical scholars who have come out of the Christian tradition of textual analysis based on the assumption that the four gospels are telling a single story will find this contention of additions to Mark to be difficult, if not impossible, to accept.

One reason for this reluctance is easy to identify: Paul. He wrote before all of them, and his message was based on, and had as its primary focus the risen Jesus. He had temporal precedence. Given that, how could something written later still be uncertain about, or completely fail to mention that Jesus had been raised? How indeed? That question is good, but it’s not hard to answer, not even requiring much in the way of contortions or mental gymnastics. Paul and his message formed a separate tradition, one distinct from the wonder worker tradition. The latter had become aware of the Christ tradition, but the Christ tradition did not necessarily include a risen Jesus. After all, the anointed in Jewish thought was not a divine individual, but a “son of man”. It’s very tempting to see this as the “other” gospel that gets Paul so incensed when he finds that the “foolish”, or even “stupid” Galatians have fallen away from Paul’s message and been seduced by this other teaching. Paul tells us that he and James, brother of the lord, disagreed on dietary restrictions; were there other, more fundamental disagreements as well? Such as the risen Jesus? Paul would have had a very strong motive for “forgetting” about this part of the disagreement. Why would he tell his audience that he disagreed with the brother of the lord about whether the lord had been raised from the dead? To admit that such a disagreement existed, and that the brother of the lord and the nominal head of the Jerusalem assembly did not believe in the risen lord would have caused Paul some serious PR problems.

Of course, in 1 Corinthians Paul tells us how Jesus had appeared to James and Peter and the 500. But was this factual? Or was this another of Paul’s revelations? Bear in mind that Paul did not spend a lot of time hanging out in Jerusalem, no doubt in part because he and James did not agree on certain matters. Yes, Paul could have been told about how Jesus had appeared to the others, but then again, maybe not. Because let’s note that Jesus does not necessarily appear to anyone in Mark’s version. So fifteen or twenty years after Paul wrote 1 Corinthians, the Resurrection story, with its details about how Jesus appeared to his disciples was not really and completely woven into the fabric of the teachings of Jesus’ followers.

Matthew, we have seen, or at least I have suggested, set out to “correct” the record. He intended to fill in the gaps in Mark’s account, with the latter’s paucity of teachings. In Mark, Jesus worked a lot of wonders and told a few parables, but not a lot more than that. Matthew adds verse after verse of Jesus speaking; most of Chapters 5-8 is taken up with Jesus speaking. If you have a red-letter edition, you can see that page after page is almost entirely red, perhaps with a few sentences in black to provide some sort of context. And yet, even Matthew is not fully on-board with the Resurrection story. This chapter is very short compared to most; a scant twenty verses. It has the feel of a sort of hurried summary, a quick round-up. Yes, Matthew includes it, but it sorely lacks in detail. Think about what is to come in Luke and John, and then the scantiness of Matthew’s Resurrection story  becomes very noticeable. The conclusion is that this most central piece of Christian theology was largely missing for about two generations.

The other piece to take from this chapter, I believe, is the story of the women. Mary the Magdalene is the primary character, in some ways, of the burial and Resurrection narratives. Why does Jesus appear to her before almost anyone else in the story? She essentially comes out of nowhere, showing up at the foot of the cross, and then jumps directly into a leading role. This is odd. I also suspect it has to do with what she did after the death of Jesus. The most plausible explanation is that she became, if she wasn’t before, a financial supporter of the group. As such, she was rewarded with the publicity of becoming a central figure in the drama of the burial and resurrection.

Sort of corollary to the story of the Magdalene, and her role in the Resurrection narrative is the lack of emphasis on the disciples. Aside from Peter, they sort of vanish with after the Last Supper and the arrest in Gethsemane. What happened to them? They don’t reappear until Luke, really, and then a bit more emphatically in John, with the locked room and Thomas and all of that. Even the sons of Zebedee are nowhere to be found, even though their mother is at the cross with the Magdalene. Why is that? Largely, I suspect, because they were never really all that central to the story. Aside from Peter, James, and John, who among the disciples has any role in anything that Jesus did? None of them. Or, at least, none of them until Judas surfaces in the Passion narrative to serve as the foil and the villain. The implication of all of this is that there was no large group of disciples, and there certainly was no Twelve, at least during Jesus’ lifetime. Otherwise, the disciples were not really all that important to the whole mission, which is why they can simply disappear from the story, at least until they are “resurrected” by Luke, and even more so, by John.

This summary is going to be short, in part because the chapter is short. There are further lessons to be drawn, but they relate more to the gospel as a whole rather than to just the chapter. So, we’ll sign off and start ruminating on what we lessons we need to derive from the gospel as a whole.


Matthew Chapter 28:11-20

This section concludes the chapter and the entire Gospel of Matthew. It’s been a very long, but not too strange, trip.

11 Πορευομένων δὲ αὐτῶν ἰδού τινες τῆς κουστωδίας ἐλθόντες εἰς τὴν πόλιν ἀπήγγειλαν τοῖς ἀρχιερεῦσιν ἅπαντα τὰ γενόμενα.

12 καὶ συναχθέντες μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων συμβούλιόν τε λαβόντες ἀργύρια ἱκανὰ ἔδωκαν τοῖς στρατιώταις

13 λέγοντες, Εἴπατε ὅτι Οἱ μαθηταὶ αὐτοῦ νυκτὸς ἐλθόντες ἔκλεψαν αὐτὸν ἡμῶν κοιμωμένων.

14 καὶ ἐὰν ἀκουσθῇ τοῦτο ἐπὶ τοῦ ἡγεμόνος, ἡμεῖς πείσομεν [αὐτὸν] καὶ ὑμᾶς ἀμερίμνους ποιήσομεν.

15 οἱ δὲ λαβόντες τὰ ἀργύρια ἐποίησαν ὡς ἐδιδάχθησαν. Καὶ διεφημίσθη ὁ λόγος οὗτος παρὰ Ἰουδαίοις μέχρι τῆς σήμερον [ἡμέρας].

Going toward away, look! some of the guards coming to the city they announced to the high priests all the occurrences. (12) And gathering with the high priests they took counsel taking money because they gave to the soldiers, (13) saying, “Say that his disciples coming in the night stole him we being sleeping. (14) And if this was heard by the leader, we persuade him and we make you careful.”  (15) They taking the money they did as they were taught. And this story was blazed out throughout Judea until this very day.

The translation is way too literal. The upshot is that the high priests paid the guards to tell a false story. The interesting part is that, supposedly, the story was being told even to the time that Matthew wrote. Really? I’m not sure whether to pooh-pooh the idea that they were still talking about it, or to take it as “hmmm…” moment. Having just said what I said about Matthew not being likely to have new, actual historical information, I would have nerve saying that this was true. And, indeed, my initial reaction is that this is something that Matthew sort of made up. But then, why? Why would he make this up? Seems a tad improbable, but, seriously, why make this up? Why suggest that there is an alternative story out there? Doesn’t the probability lean to the side of Matthew saying this as a way of explaining, and hopefully refuting something that was out there? To refute something that people were actually saying?

Thinking about this further now that it’s had time to settle in, this little throw-away line may have huge ramifications for a lot of things. Let’s unpack this a bit. Mark gave no indication of a story like this, but then Mark didn’t really have a resurrection story. What this suggests is that the whole idea of the resurrection, and the story explaining it, only fully came into existence Mark, and before Matthew. This set of circumstances would make sense when taken in conjunction with my previous point about the writing of Mark being something of a watershed in the development of the Jesus movement. Having a written gospel spread the word more effectively, but perhaps it also caused people to ask questions, like, why was the tomb empty? What did happen to Jesus’ body? Which would lead others, less sympathetic to the cause, to suggest that the body had been stolen by his disciples. Refuting this, in turn, could have been one of the spurs that prompted Matthew to write his gospel in the first place.

Of course, so far we’ve ignored an obvious point: that Paul was talking about the resurrection long before Mark wrote his gospel. Not only is that a valid point, but it’s salient as well (a salient point is redundant). If I’m going to suggest that the resurrection story didn’t come about until after Mark, what about Paul’s preaching on this subject? I’d best have one damn good explanation for that.

This make take us back to the question of whether Mark was aware of Paul. To be honest, I am not aware of the scholarship on this, but it is entirely possible that Mark was not. If not, he could have written his gospel without knowing that Paul claimed Jesus had been raised from the dead. But then, to whom did Paul preach? To pagans. Matthew, as I see it, was a pagan and not a Jew. So did he become aware of Paul’s teaching about the resurrection from contact with a pagan church that had been influenced, if not founded, by Paul’s mission work? What I am proposing is that there were two separate traditions; indeed, there were likely, but I’m thinking of two main branches here, with however many tributaries and however fragmented the delta was. I’m suggesting that there was a Jewish tradition and a pagan tradition. Indeed, this may be a commonplace; Paul tells us that exactly this situation existed in Galatians, so it’s hardly like this is a radical suggestion. He and James were at loggerheads about the Jewish question, but what if there were other, more fundamental differences of opinion between the two? What if the Jewish tradition wasn’t big on the idea of the raising from the dead? Or, Paul was a Pharisee, who believed in this before encountering the teachings about Jesus; was James a Pharisee? Is that part of the reason the Pharisees get such special treatment in the gospels? Because the Jewish tradition didn’t agree with the Pharisees? But then Matthew, not being a Jew, really didn’t get the whole reason for the division, so he just kept up the disparagement of the Pharisees without realizing the implications?

There are a lot of pieces that seem to fit. The problem is, each piece makes the overall whole less likely, not more so. The more complicated the story, the less likely it is to be true. This would seem to be counterintuitive, but if you think in terms of contingent probabilities–C is only true if B is true, and B is only true if A is true–you may see the problem. Each piece depends on another, and each connexion represents a potential fracture point, a place where the joint is weak and the glue holding it all together can come unstuck.

11 Quae cum abiissent, ecce quidam de custodia venerunt in civitatem et nuntiaverunt principibus sacerdotum omnia, quae facta fuerant.

12 Et congregati cum senioribus, consilio accepto, pecuniam copiosam dederunt militibus

13 dicentes: “Dicite: “Discipuli eius nocte venerunt et furati sunt eum, nobis dormientibus”.

14 Et si hoc auditum fuerit a praeside, nos suadebimus ei et securos vos faciemus”.

15 At illi, accepta pecunia, fecerunt, sicut erant docti. Et divulgatum est verbum istud apud Iudaeos usque in hodiernum diem.

16 Οἱ δὲ ἕνδεκα μαθηταὶ ἐπορεύθησαν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν εἰς τὸ ὄρος οὗ ἐτάξατο αὐτοῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς,

17 καὶ ἰδόντες αὐτὸν προσεκύνησαν, οἱ δὲ ἐδίστασαν.

18 καὶ προσελθὼν ὁ Ἰησοῦς ἐλάλησεν αὐτοῖς λέγων, Ἐδόθη μοι πᾶσα ἐξουσία ἐν οὐρανῷ καὶ ἐπὶ [τῆς] γῆς.

19 πορευθέντες οὖν μαθητεύσατε πάντα τὰ ἔθνη, βαπτίζοντες αὐτοὺς εἰς τὸ ὄνομα τοῦ πατρὸς καὶ τοῦ υἱοῦ καὶ τοῦ ἁγίου πνεύματος,

20 διδάσκοντες αὐτοὺς τηρεῖν πάντα ὅσα ἐνετειλάμην ὑμῖν: καὶ ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ μεθ’ ὑμῶν εἰμι πάσας τὰς ἡμέρας ἕως τῆς συντελείας τοῦ αἰῶνος.

But the eleven disciples went out to Galilee to the mountain where Jesus arranged for them, (17) and seeing they worshipped him but they doubted. (18) And coming forward Jesus spoke to them saying, “It was given to me all power in the sky and upon the earth. (19) So going going out all the peoples were learned, baptizing them in the name of the father and the son and the sacred breath. (20) Teaching them to watch all so much I command you. And, look! I with you I am all days until the end of the aeons”.  

So that’s it. It occurs to me that until now I’m not terribly familiar with this gospel, or at least this version of the resurrection story. To whit, they actually do go to Galilee, something of which I had not been aware, largely because this version of the Resurrection is not read all that often. One salient feature is that this whole going to Galilee was rather an ephemeral phenomenon. After Matthew, it vanishes from sight. Of the four stories, I believe that this one gets the least attention. Mark is the first, Luke is the most well-known for the same reasons we think of his nativity story in preference to Matthew’s story, which is the only alternative version.

So what happened? Not only did the idea of going to Galilee sort of fade, it faded to the point that a lot of people are not really aware of it; or is it just me? One obvious answer to that questions is that the focus of the growing movement shifted away from Galilee and towards Jerusalem. Mark had the  bit about Galilee, and Matthew followed him on that. But note that it’s like Matthew wasn’t really sure what happened in Galilee. We get Jesus sending out his disciples, so this passage has been called the Great Commission, but if it’s so great, why did Luke forget about it? Luke probably didn’t. Rather more likely is that the tradition of the church had turned towards Jerusalem, so Luke corrected Matthew to reflect this. Remember that Luke is the first evangelist who was undeniably aware of Paul; before Luke, we can’t be sure. And Paul tells us that the focus of the Jesus community after Jesus’ death was in Jerusalem, and not in Galilee; is that why Luke moved the action there? Remember, too, that Luke is the first–and only–writer to tell the stories of both the Ascension and Pentecost, the latter of which took place in Jerusalem. Then John splits the difference, and has part of Jesus’ post-resurrection career occur in Jerusalem, but then it moves back to Galilee. So there was, apparently, a pretty strong tradition tying the post-resurrection Jesus back to Galilee.

Why? Because it makes sense that people from Galilee would return there after the trauma of the loss of Jesus. But even more convincing, I think, are all the boring, mundane reasons: that’s where there homes and family and source of livelihood were. Jerusalem was a big city, and cities then, as now, are expensive. So sure, they returned to Galilee. Now here’s a thought: we’ve noted that the Magdalene appears during the Passion Story, and plays a prominent part in the Resurrection story. Perhaps this is because she provided sponsorship of the disciples–in Galilee. She would not be the first patron(ess) to get herself written into the story due to reasons of financial support. Perhaps her role did not come into prominence until after Jesus’ death. That would very nicely explain why she shows up in the narrative in the events surrounding Jesus’ death. It would also be a strong prima facie case to suggest that the Passion Narrative may have originated in the Galilean community. That is a thought that needs further consideration.

So that’s a bit of an eye-opener, I must say. And shame on me for not realizing this sooner than now. But then, this was intended as a voyage of discovery.

As for the Great Commission, the very last words of the gospel, there are a couple of points to be made. The first, of course, is that the event is a post-facto fiction, meant to explain from a point forty years after what happened in the immediate aftermath of Jesus’ death. It’s a foundation myth. The interesting inference that we, perhaps, can draw from this is that it suggests leadership of the community became situated in Galilee, when we know differently from Paul. What this implies, I believe, is that there was a period stretching most likely from the Destruction to the time of Luke, a period that includes Matthew, when the leadership of James, centered in Jerusalem, was either being suppressed or had largely been forgotten. Now, given Matthew’s desire to play up Jesus’ divinity, and the way he inversely downplayed the brothers of Jesus related in Mark, it’s not difficult to imagine that he may have known about the Jerusalem Community, at least to the point of being vaguely aware that it had existed; such minimal awareness, however, would have led to Matthew’s lack of value for James and his group almost as effectively as not knowing about it altogether, So I suspect Matthew did have some minimal knowledge about James, but not nearly enough for Matthew to value the role of James.

Perhaps the final point about the Great Commission is its emphasis on teaching the peoples, the non-Jews. I won’t use the term “gentile” because it does appear in either the Greek or the Latin; I’m not sure of the etymology–but I suspect it derives from the Latin gens, gentis, “peoples”, which is used in the Latin translation below. This is yet another indicator that this part of the story was created very much later than the life of Jesus, and probably even later than Mark. The first evangelist does have a few references to Jesus’ preaching to non-Jews; there is the Syro-Phoenician woman outside Tyre, for example, but the message has become much more prominent in Matthew. Think of the story of the centurion who does not believe himself worthy for Jesus to enter his home. References to non-Jews and their role in the kingdom (The Wedding Banquet; the invited guests won’t come) come early and often in Matthew. This Great Commission is the finishing touch, the pìece de résistance for this transfer of the center of gravity from Jews to pagans. Jesus himself ordained it so.

That’s it. It feels like there should be some grand words of conclusion here, but those will be saved for the summary. Thank you for your patience.

16 Undecim autem discipuli abierunt in Galilaeam, in montem ubi constituerat illis Iesus,

17 et videntes eum adoraverunt; quidam autem dubitaverunt.

18 Et accedens Iesus locutus est eis dicens: “Data est mihi omnis potestas in caelo et in terra.

19 Euntes ergo docete omnes gentes, baptizantes eos in nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti,

20 docentes eos servare omnia, quaecumque mandavi vobis. Et ecce ego vobiscum sum omnibus diebus usque ad consummationem saeculi”.

Matthew Chapter 28:1-10

We have come to the final chapter of Matthew. It’s short, it deals with the Resurrection. Coming into it, I suspect that the main points of discussion will be the changes from Mark.

1Ὀψὲ δὲ σαββάτων, τῇ ἐπιφωσκούσῃ εἰς μίαν σαββάτων, ἦλθεν Μαριὰμ ἡ Μαγδαληνὴ καὶ ἡ ἄλλη Μαρία θεωρῆσαι τὸν τάφον.

After the Sabbath, at daybreak of the first of the week, came Mary the Magdalene and the other Mary to see the tomb. 

We need to stop at this moment to consider what I believe is a very significant aspect of the text. The fifth word of the sentence, <<ἐπιφωσκούσῃ>>, is a very, very rare word. In fact, in all of NT Greek, and, in fact, in ALL of Greek literature, this word occurs exactly twice. The first time is here. The second time is in Luke 23, which also deals with the death and burial of Jesus. Twice. That’s it. And people are trying to argue that Luke was not aware of Matthew? Where else did he come up with this very, extremely rare word? In fact, had Luke not used it, the usage here would have been unique in the totality of ancient Greek literature. (Can I coin the term “duoesque? No, it doesn’t really work, does it?) That Luke also used the word in approximately the same context cannot be a coincidence, can it? And this is why I’m so incredulous about people not accepting that Luke knew and used Matthew. Not only do stories overlap, but they very frequently repeat the same vocabulary. The best example is the temptation of Jesus. Yes, yes, they both use the vocabulary they both found in Q. But that means that the temptation story was present in a work that only included sayings of Jesus; and there is no way, no how, to stretch Q to include the Passion Narrative. Adding these two stories to Q is basically to stretch the concept of what Q is supposed to be, and turn it into a full-fledged gospel, which is absolutely not the point of Q at all. So it’s like I said, the point of Q, the reason it was created by scholars and is held so tenaciously is that, without it, we have absolutely nothing written about Jesus’ earthly ministry before Mark, a full thirty years later. And we lose the Good Shepherd (more on that in Luke) and the Sermon on the Mount. I can’t help that.

Just one more word on “the other Mary”. We are told she was the mother of James and Joseph. In Mark 6, we are told Jesus has brothers named James and Joses, among others. Who are these two men? Are they Matthew’s equivalent of Alexander and Rufus, members, or forebears of members of Matthew’s community? Is this James the Lesser? Because, at the crucifixion we were told that these two Marys were accompanied by the mother of the sons of Zebedee; as such, James the brother of Joses does not refer to James, the brother of John, the sons of thunder as well as Zebedee. So at the cross we had the mothers of both of the guys named James, but not the mother of Jesus. So who is this “other” Mary? And who are her sons? And why are they mentioned here? My inclination is to take them as members, or forebears of members of Matthew’s community.

1 Sero autem post sabbatum, cum illucesceret in primam sabbati, venit Maria Magdalene et altera Maria videre sepulcrum.

καὶ ἰδοὺ σεισμὸς ἐγένετο μέγας: ἄγγελος γὰρ κυρίου καταβὰς ἐξ οὐρανοῦ καὶ προσελθὼν ἀπεκύλισεν τὸν λίθον καὶ ἐκάθητο ἐπάνω αὐτοῦ.

ἦνδὲ ἡ εἰδέα αὐτοῦ ὡς ἀστραπὴ καὶ τὸ ἔνδυμα αὐτοῦ λευκὸν ὡς χιών.

ἀπὸ δὲ τοῦ φόβου αὐτοῦ ἐσείσθησαν οἱ τηροῦντες καὶ ἐγενήθησανὡς νεκροί.

And behold! There was a great earthquake! For an angel of the lord came down from the sky and coming towards rolled back the stone and sat himself upon it. (3) Indeed, the face of him (was) as lightening, and his garment white as snow. (4) From the fear of him, they shook those guarding and they became as the dead.

This is really interesting. Notice how we jump from the perspective of the women, to that of something like an omniscient narrator who can see all that is happening. This narrator saw the angel come down and roll away the stone, and the narrator saw the reaction of the guards. Remember, in Mark, what we really get is just the women finding the stone rolled away and an empty tomb; or a tomb empty of Jesus, where sits–on the right-hand side, we are told–a young–it is specified–man dressed in white. He was not called an angel. That, apparently, was not sufficient for Matthew, who needed more drama and supernatural occurrences. Recall the holy ones coming out of their tombs when Jesus died. As for the earthquake, the eastern Mediterranean area is prone to earthquakes, although the trouble spot is usually a bit further north, in Turkey. And we had one, again, when Jesus died. This one on Sunday morning could be an aftershock. Or it could be fictitious, the more likely explanation.

I’m trying to remember my HS stories. I know God stopped the sun in the sky so the Israelites could slaughter more of their enemies, and God rained down fire & brimstone on Sodom and Gomorrah and did the whole Ten Plagues thing. I bring this up to compare divine manifestations in the HS with this episode, and then ask if this sort of thing seems more Jewish or pagan. Then the follow-up question is whether there’s a difference. My background, default setting is pagan, because that’s what I’ve studied, so this feels pagan, but I’m not sure there is a real difference. If pushed, I’d say this sounded more Greek than Hebrew myth, but there were Syrian myths, and Lydian and Carian myths, and…& c. So in the final analysis, this is about Matthew inserting the divine into the situation. We are reminded of Jesus’ divinity, just in case we’d forgotten.

This just in. One very familiar part of pagan thought were the divine portents that accompanied the death of Julius and then Augustus Caesar. One that I recall off the top of my head is the eagle seen flying out of the funeral pyre of Julius Caesar. I had thought this was in Suetonius, but it appears I’m mistaken. So while some of the events may have Hebrew origins, perhaps the portents that occurred in conjunction with Jesus death, and his raising do have a pagan feel about them.

2 Et ecce terrae motus factus est magnus: angelus enim Domini descendit de caelo et accedens revolvit lapidem et sedebat super eum.

3 Erat autem aspectus eius sicut fulgur, et vestimentum eius candidum sicut nix.

4 Prae timore autem eius exterriti sunt custodes et facti sunt velut mortui.

ἀποκριθεὶς δὲ ὁ ἄγγελος εἶπεν ταῖς γυναιξίν, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε ὑμεῖς, οἶδα γὰρ ὅτι Ἰησοῦν τὸν ἐσταυρωμένον ζητεῖτε:

οὐκ ἔστιν ὧδε, ἠγέρθη γὰρ καθὼς εἶπεν: δεῦτε ἴδετε τὸν τόπον ὅπου ἔκειτο.

καὶ ταχὺ πορευθεῖσαι εἴπατε τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ ὅτι Ἠγέρθη ἀπὸ τῶν νεκρῶν, καὶ ἰδοὺ προάγει ὑμᾶς εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, ἐκεῖ αὐτὸν ὄψεσθε: ἰδοὺ εἶπον ὑμῖν.

Answering the herald said to the women, “Do not fear, know that Jesus the one crucified lives. (6) He is not here, he was raised as he said. Come here! you see the place where he lay. (7) And quickly going forth, tell his disciples that ‘I have been raised from the dead’, and look! you go forward to Galilee, where you will see him. Look! I said this to you”.

So we get a great example here of how the story has grown in the time between Mark and Matthew. In the former, yes, Jesus was raised from the dead, but there are no other supernatural events in conjunction with the event. And the man in the tomb was a man. Here, we get much more, complete and replete with earthquakes and an angel*.

I believe it was Ehrman (it might have been Mack?) who suggested that the young man in white presented by Mark was actually one of the junior members of the high priests. They wore garments whitened to an intense degree. He also suggests that the high priests removed his body, and planted the young man to tell the disciples to get out of Dodge and hie themselves back to Galilee. They had two purposes in doing this: the first, to prevent his tomb from becoming a rallying point; the second to get the disciples out of town and back to Galilee where they became Herod’s problem. This has actually struck me as a very good explanation for the events in Mark. Because, there is nothing in any of the other gospels about Jesus being in Galilee port-mortem. And yet, these are the instructions supposedly given to the women to convey to the disciples: get thee to Galilee. That really does seem a bit odd. I suspect the intent was to explain the lack of presence of Jesus’ followers in Judea and Jerusalem. Or something along those lines. Because, as we shall see (Spoiler Alert!) Jesus appears to the disciples in and around Jerusalem. There is no further mention of Galilee. [Update: appears I may be wrong about this…]

This creates a bit of a sticky wicket. Since nothing takes place in Galilee, why has this been left in here? Of course one can say that it’s here because it was in Mark, and there would be some truth to that, but it would not be terribly helpful. The most likely explanation would appear to be a vestige from an earlier, or an alternate, version of the story, perhaps one that originated in the Galilean community. In this vein, let’s notice that these women, who are on their way to the tomb, followed Jesus from Galilee. Does this injunction from the herald of the lord to return to Galilee represent their divine instructions for the founding of the community? That seems plausible, maybe even likely, and it effectively explains the presence of these two elements in the story, and provides a window into how the story was crafted over time. This may be one of the traditions that Mark found, that he incorporated into his mosaic, or tapestry, or whatever unifying metaphor works best.

While this hypothesis may explain some of the pieces, there is one truly serious problem with this whole chain of events and its explanation: there probably was no tomb. As someone crucified, Jesus was probably thrown into a mass grave. I’ve read that in a couple of places, one of them being one of the books of JD Crossan. If there was no tomb, then this story and any alternate versions would have been crafted with the particular perspective of the community that created them, which is why we get the Galilean element. Perhaps we can go deeper into the implications of all this in the chapter summary.

[* Note: I’m reading Xenophon, and there are angels by the score running back and forth between the Greeks and the king. Except they aren’t angels; they are heralds. Here we have another great example of a non-particularly-specific Greek word that has come into English with a very precise and divine meaning. Like dunking. Or baptizing. Remember “Baptizin’ Donuts”? The work in Greek means herald, or messenger, and it was often used of those who negotiated on behalf of another group. In English, the word has come to mean only a messenger from God, and the messenger part is not foremost; it’s a divine creature with a life of its own.] 

5 Respondens autem angelus dixit mulieribus: “ Nolite timere vos! Scio enim quod Iesum, qui crucifixus est, quaeritis.

6 Non est hic: surrexit enim, sicut dixit. Venite, videte locum, ubi positus erat.

7 Et cito euntes dicite discipulis eius: “Surrexit a mortuis et ecce praecedit vos in Galilaeam; ibi eum videbitis”. Ecce dixi vobis ”.

καὶ ἀπελθοῦσαι ταχὺ ἀπὸ τοῦ μνημείου μετὰ φόβου καὶ χαρᾶς μεγάλης ἔδραμον ἀπαγγεῖλαι τοῖς μαθηταῖς αὐτοῦ.

καὶ ἰδοὺ Ἰησοῦς ὑπήντησεν αὐταῖς λέγων, Χαίρετε. αἱ δὲπροσελθοῦσαι ἐκράτησαν αὐτοῦ τοὺς πόδας καὶ προσεκύνησαν αὐτῷ.

10 τότε λέγει αὐταῖς ὁ Ἰησοῦς, Μὴ φοβεῖσθε: ὑπάγετε ἀπαγγείλατε τοῖς ἀδελφοῖς μου ἵνα ἀπέλθωσιν εἰς τὴν Γαλιλαίαν, κἀκεῖ με ὄψονται.

And quickly going out from the tomb with great fear and great joy, they ran to announce to his disciples. And look! Jesus met them, saying, “Greetings. They approaching him, the took hold of his feet and prostrated (themselves before) him. (10) Then Jesus said to  them, “Do not fear. Get up and announce to my brothers in order to go away to Galilee, and there they will see me”.

We are back to the Galilee injunction, and this time it’s Jesus delivering it. The angel wasn’t enough; the word had to come directly from Jesus. This also represents an escalation of the divine element, and the expansion of Jesus’ post-mortem role. These are both excellent examples of the way legends accumulate material as the progress through time. People “remember” things, or think they do, or hear things and interpret–or misunderstand–them as they repeat the anecdotes. Plus, you get into “if it ain’t true, it ought to be”. This is called myth. Everyone loves a good story. No doubt cultural anthropologists, or mythographers, or experts in folklore and oral tradition have a term for this sort of augmentation. But this simple comparison here shows the process in action. It seems a bit absurd how so many biblical scholars will assert–presumably with a straight face; can’t tell from reading what they say–that Luke and John preserve independent traditions. There is some possibility, outside as it may be, that Matthew has some new material that could be traced back to Jesus, and so just might be historical. For Luke and John, however, and really for most of Matthew, anything “new” is a tradition that was created some time after the fact, most of it after Mark.

It occurs to me that the creation of Mark may have been a turning point in the history of what became Christianity. It is very possible that having a coherent account of Jesus’ life–or at least his ministry in Mark’s case; Matthew and Luke would add the biographical details–really helped the movement gain ground among the pagans. Conversion of Jews was probably more or less moribund even by the time of Paul; which would help explain why he devoted himself to the pagans. By the time of the death of James, brother of Jesus, I would expect that the ministry to convert Jews had pretty well ceased operation. The eventual outcome of this would be the ugly anti-Semitism that has marred so much of Christian history. We did not see it in Mark, at least not explicitly. It’s explicit in Matthew.

But back to Mark. Having a written account doubtless helped tell the story to new groups. This would create new members. One of the results of this would be a desire to fill in some of the many gaps in Mark; and there are very many gaps, the most glaring and gaping being the paucity of Jesus’ teachings. So people started to fill in these gaps: a nativity story, fleshing out the temptation story, adding the Sermon on the Mount and a bunch of parables. Luke will take this further. The result of this is that the focusing of the disparate traditions achieved by Mark was now impossible; the traditions splintered and then splintered again, to the point that we get Gospels of Pilate and Peter and Judas. Elaine Pagels treats this topic of continued revelation very nicely in The Gnostic Gospels, describing how what had become the Church had to suppress these new revelations, eventually setting the number of canonical works and shoving the rest into the dustbin of history. So this process started in earnest, I believe, with Matthew. Luke took it to new lengths, adding a whole appendage about Paul. John did much the same, inventing stories and things Jesus said in order to create a treatment more theological than biographical or historical. And after Luke and John there would be dozens of others; we’ve found a number of them in reasonably complete form, and others in small fragments. Most assuredly there were dozens–hundreds?–more that have been lost irretrievably. 

8 Et exeuntes cito de monumento cum timore et magno gaudio cucurrerunt nuntiare discipulis eius.

9 Et ecce Iesus occurrit illis dicens: “Avete”. Illae autem accesserunt et tenuerunt pedes eius et adoraverunt eum.

10 Tunc ait illis Iesus: “Nolite timere; ite, nuntiate fratribus meis, ut eant in Galilaeam et ibi me videbunt”.