|Oklahoma Jesus Seminar 2009
REPORT ON JESUS SEMINAR ON THE ROAD
OKLAHOMA CITY, OKLAHOMA
By Peter Longley, MA (Cantab) with additional commentary
The Seminar took place at the Mayflower Congregational (UCC) Church, and Pastor Robin Meyers introduced the facilitators on Friday Evening, September 15.
The Friday evening session was led by Kathleen E. Corley, (Ph.D. Claremont Graduate School) who is the Oshkosh Northwestern Distinguished Professor: A member of the Steering Committee of the Historical Jesus Section in the Society of Biblical Literature. Her books include Private Women, Public Meals (1993) and Women and the Historical Jesus (2002)
Her topic was: Mary Magdalene, the Woman Who Knew Too Much
Kathleen E. Corley, like any serious student of the New Testament, approached the subject of Mary Magdalene and the other women of the New Testament from a strictly chronological viewpoint. She started with the earliest sources, and worked through to the Fifth Century, showing how the interpretation of these women and their role as possible followers of Jesus and members of the first Judaic Christian communities changes with the authors' purposes along the time track.
Mary Magdalene's importance has arisen primarily from the truth that all the canonical gospels, although they say little about her, have her present either at the crucifixion or at the empty tomb, or at both sites. However, the first record of the resurrection of Jesus is found in I Corinthians 15:3-8 and is the only reference known to be before the 70 AD fall of Jerusalem and the loss of an independent Jewish state. St. Paul, in the oral tradition that he must have received, makes no mention of the presence of women at the empty tomb. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas (Peter), then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
The earliest gospel reference to Mary Magdalene and women followers of Jesus, would be from St. Mark 15:40 and current scholarship dates this about 75 AD, although the author of Mark was using some earlier sources in the gospel, possibly from 'Q' and possibly from a Petrine tradition in Rome. St. Mark 15:40 reads of the crucifixion: There were also women looking on from afar, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome, who, when he was in Galilee, followed him; and also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem.
At this point, we might assume, therefore, that references to Mary Magdalene and the women, although not present in the Pauline oral tradition, might come to the author of St. Mark's gospel from an oral tradition possibly linked to St. Peter, especially if elements of Mark date from a Petrine tradition in Rome in the decade immediately before the fall of Jerusalem. The other interesting aspect of St. Mark's version of events is the almost certain knowledge from studies of the Greek that the section St. Mark 16: 9-19 (not recorded in many versions) is a later addition to the original gospel, probably late second century AD. In the original St. Mark, there is no reference to resurrection appearances after the discovery of the empty tomb.
Chronologically, the next reference is St. Matthew 27:55-56, probably dated about 90 AD, describing the scene at the crucifixion: There were also many women there, looking on from afar, who had followed Jesus from Galilee, ministering to him; among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the sons of Zebedee. This is almost certainly lifted from St. Mark's gospel that appears to have been known to both the authors of St. Matthew and St. Luke, but in St. Matthew 28, after incorporating the Marcan version of the empty tomb and the presence of Mary Magdalene, the author adds a version of resurrection appearances first to the women, and then in both Jerusalem and Galilee, that are not found in St. Mark.
The author of St. Luke, writing later, probably around 120 AD, also copies St. Mark in the first eight verses of St. Luke 24, describing the empty tomb and mentioning Mary Magdalene by name, but he then adds his own version of the aftermath, whereby it is St. Peter to whom the risen Lord first revealed himself and not the women. St Luke 24:33-34: And they rose that same hour and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven gathered together and those who were with them, who said, "The Lord has risen indeed, and has appeared to Simon." It is assumed this is Simon Peter, but it could be Simon the Zealot. However, in view of the earlier Pauline tradition from I Corinthians 15:3-8 the chances are that this was Cephas (Peter). On the road to Emmaus, Cleopas in St. Luke 24:18-26 describing the events at the empty tomb mentions the women, but not by name, and specifically denies that they saw the risen Christ—only angels.
St. Luke's gospel does refer to Mary Magdalene and the women in other areas, however. St. Luke 8:1-3 first mentions Mary Magdalene as a camp follower: Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, preaching and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna (possibly Peter's wife), and many others, who provided for them out of their means.
In St Luke 23:49 we also again find the women present at the crucifixion: And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance and saw these things.
St. John's gospel, written as late as 120 AD, although there may have been an earlier proto-John inspired possibly by the eyewitness of the Virgin Mary (and maybe Mary Magdalene, too), places the Virgin Mary, her sister Mary married to Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, at the foot of the cross. St. John 19:25-27: So the soldiers did this; but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother, and the disciple whom he loved standing near, he said to his mother, "Woman, behold your son!" Then he said to the disciple, "Behold your mother!" And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. Who was the beloved disciple? Tradition has always maintained this to be John, the son of Zebedee, referring to himself who in old age might have written a version of St. John's gospel on Patmos, an island off the coast of Asia Minor not too far from Ephesus, the church home of St. John's gospel. However, by 120 AD, John would have been well over 110 years old. John himself is not mentioned in this passage, and we do not know for certain that Jesus' statement to his mother actually refers to him or if Jesus was alluding to his crucified self. If the latter, then some credence can be given to those who consider Mary Magdalene to have been an apostle, even this beloved disciple. It is flimsy evidence, but the importance of Mary Magdalene does grow in second century literature, particularly in the Gnostic gospels of the Nag Hammadi library.
These include The Gospel of Mary Magdalene where male disciples appear to be jealous of Mary, a theme explored by Karen King in her Gospel of Mary, and where Mary Magdalene is seen as the 'beloved disciple'. The Gospel of Philip within the Nag Hammadi texts is the one most quoted by those who seek Mary Magdalene's elevation from 'beloved disciple' to plausible lover. Here is found the often-quoted passage: And Mary kissed Jesus often on the (mouth). Scholars acknowledge that the exact place of this kiss is unknown, the Greek word destroyed in the actual manuscript, adding even further mystery. However, the real theological content of most of this Gnostic gospel is about the nature of man's Divine spirit, maintaining the Gnostic idea that in the original creation, mankind was both male and female (in the image of God) until placed in the Garden of Eden and separated by shame and sin. Jesus, therefore, as the Son of God, is seen to be both male and female in spirit—mankind's original Divinity. Some interpretations of science today follow similar ideas about the molecular and cellular nature of our bodies—a mesh of male and female. Those who wish to elevate Mary Magdalene, see the Gnostic second century gospels' interest in her to be part of the philosophy to reunite the sacred male and female in the Divine Godhead. So, some scholars, and rather more New Age thinkers, grasp onto the idea that Mary Magdalene was the soul mate of Jesus, the Son of God. The scholars might interpret this special relationship more as Mary Magdalene's Gnostic style grasp of Jesus' Divinity, and the New Age skeptics as a proof of some actual sexual relationship between Jesus and Mary. Either way, there is cause here for the jealousy of the male twelve—Mary Magdalene as the 'beloved disciple' was the one who knew and understood Jesus best.
The Gospel of Thomas, although in this Nag Hammadi group of writings is less Gnostic in nature, and has really won its place with scholars for serious canonical inclusion. It is probably the earliest of these gospels, and from study of the Greek parallels, may date after St. Mark but before St. Luke and St. Matthew at around 80 AD. The one thing, however, that ties it to the Nag Hammadi texts is its foil to the pre-eminence of Peter, and its assumption, therefore, that Mary Magdalene may have been the premier apostle. This trend continues in other writings between the second and fifth centuries.
The tradition that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute largely grew up with the ascendancy of a male dominated imperial Roman church rather than in this Gnostic tradition of the Egyptian Coptic church. Again, it is interesting to follow the chronology. St. Mark records the story of a woman pouring from an alabaster jar precious nard ointment over Jesus' head at a meal at the house of Simon the leper—St. Mark 14:3-9. The story is copied from St. Mark almost identically in St. Matthew—St. Matthew 26:6-13. In St. Luke's version, we get the first hint that the woman was a prostitute. Although Luke is obviously following Mark's story, he elevates Simon the leper to a Pharisee and he adds the line—St. Luke 7:37-38: And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned he was sitting at table in the Pharisee's house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping she began to wet his feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment. A 'woman of the city' is a polite translation of the Greek for a 'Porno' or prostitute, and among the female lower classes, the term 'sinner' often in the Greek also refers to prostitutes. However, Luke does not state that this woman is Mary Magdalene, although many like to think that she is. One reason for this is that St. Luke's first mention of Mary Magdalene immediately follows this story—the passage referred to earlier from St. Luke 8:1-3 revealing the names of Jesus' female camp followers. By 120 AD in St. John's gospel the story is split. The suspected Mary Magdalene, although again, not specifically named, is seen as an adulteress about to be stoned, whom Jesus rescues from her assailants—St. John 7:53-8:11. In St. John's gospel the story of the alabaster jar is applied to Mary, the sister of Lazarus, and not Mary Magdalene—St. John 12:1-8. However, there is room for confusion as Mary, (Miriam or Mariamme in Aramaic, and Maria in Greek) was a very common first century female name. By the sixth century with the total ascendancy of a Roman imperial church, Pope Gregory declares all these stories to be in reference to Mary Magdalene, thus marking her forever as a prostitute and adulteress.
The chronology, however, just as with the presence of Mary Magdalene at the crucifixion and the empty tomb, tells the story not of factual history, but of ecclesiastical changing thought in the early Christian communities.
It is interesting that there are very few references to Mary Magdalene in the Early Church Fathers, the Patristic literature, until the Fifth Century, when the role of prostitute and sinner seems fairly established outside the Gnostic tradition.
It seems likely, therefore, that the early role of Mary Magdalene as the devoted follower, perhaps a female fisherwoman from Magdala, a woman from whom seven devils were cast out, became the prostitute and adulteress because in the Petrine and Pauline male dominated churches of the late first century and early second century, she was the woman who knew too much—Jesus' closest apostle who understood him best. Any romantic liaison between them, must remain, outside the Gospel of Philip (written at least one hundred years after the life of Jesus) pure speculation, despite the growth of legend over succeeding centuries.
On Saturday morning, September 26, the chronological time line was again discussed, but from an historical viewpoint rather than a biblical textual viewpoint. To lead us in this we had Bernard Brandon Scott (Ph.D., Vanderbilt University, where he is the Darbeth Distinguished Professor of New Testament at the Phillips Theological Seminary, Tulsa, Oklahoma. He is the author of several books, including, Hear then the Parable (1989) and Re-imagine the World (2002), and editor of Jesus Reconsidered (2007).
The topic was: Peter and Paul: Face-off in Antioch.
Bernard Scott opened the topic by reaffirming the method of Kathleen Corley, although more from the angle of social history than biblical texts—the time line. He started with Alexander the Great, the man who taught the whole world to read Greek!
It is impossible to come to grips with the various stages of the early development of Christianity and the Judaism from which it arose without understanding the Greek culture in which the whole known world was then enveloped. From Alexander the Great to the rise of Imperial Rome, Hellenic Greek culture dominated the entire Eastern Mediterranean and Middle East including Ptolomaic Egypt. Philosophy was Greek; science was Greek; official language was Greek; currency was Greek. Hellenic culture was Greek city culture. And it was into this Greek city culture that Christianity was born. The New Testament is a Greek book. Christianity became a Greek religion. The Roman Empire inherited and absorbed this Greek culture.
The Judea and Galilee of Jesus' day were already well-established in Greek culture. Cities like Caesarea in Judea, Sebaste in Samaria, and Sepphoris in Galilee were Greek cities. Even Jerusalem was fast becoming a Greek city. Herod the Great, although Semitic in some externals, was Roman educated and educated his family likewise, always proud to point out that he was on close social terms with Augustus Caesar—he had even been a president of the Olympic Games in Olympia. The fantastic embellishments he made to the Temple were of Greek design. Under the Maccabees, Judea had attempted to revive Semitic Judaism and lip service was paid to this in the Temple hierarchy, but for the most part city life in the time of Jesus was decidedly Greek, and much in traditional Judaism was already merged with Hellenic culture.
Now, this is not to say there were not nationalistic movements against Hellenism and Herodian, Greek-style rule. They were mostly rural, especially Galilean, and it has been popular to attribute the Jesus movement among these Zionist rebellions. Jesus, however, rarely criticizes the Hellenic world, freely speaking of a social order based on slavery and embracing private ownership and commercial greed. He does not speak out against the obvious homosexuality and Lesbian culture of his times. He appears tolerant to women of the city and sinners who almost certainly plied the well-accepted prostitute's trade. He exhorts his followers to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. He primarily speaks of the kingdom of God within. It should be noted that presuming Jesus to have lived in Nazareth a good part of his early life, he lived within easy walking distance of the great Hellenic city of Galilee—Sepphoris. If he was a carpenter, almost all his business would have been with the city of Sepphoris.
Likewise, Saul of Tarsus, the apostle to the apostles, St. Paul, was a Roman citizen from a Greek city. It was in the Greek cities of the Diaspora that Christianity, as a Jewish sect, grew.
Bernard Scott continued the cultural time line in showing how eventually the Emperor Constantine, in 325 AD, sees Christianity, this Greek city religion, to be the perfect glue for Imperial Rome. The great 'Imperialist' embraces the great imperial religion for the unity of Empire. Thus at the Council of Nicea, he clearly embraces the faith, taking it permanently from Judaism to Rome. The establishment of the first known 'Credo' for Christianity was at Nicea—the Nicene Creed. The Imperial religion hereby established its imperial beliefs. It is interesting, too, that it was Constantine's secretary Eusebius, who compiled the source records from early Patristic writings on which to build the imperial faith. This imperial trend can then be seen in the continuing make up of Roman Christianity through the dark ages and middle ages until the reformation rebellion.
Bernard Scott then gave us a repeat of Kathleen Corley's timeline of scriptures, agreeing that St. Mark's gospel was probably written about 75 AD after the fall of Jerusalem. He placed the Gospel of Thomas next at about 80 AD; St. Matthew at about 90 AD; and much of St. John about 100 AD along with the Book of Revelation, although our known version of St. John may be as late as 125 AD. St. Luke he dated late, maybe as late as 125 AD. Although St. Luke relies heavily on the earlier gospels, particularly St. Mark, he edits the material to upgrade most the characters into Graeco-Roman respectability. He wanted to appeal to the freeman rather than the serving and peasant classes. The Gospel of Mary from Nag Hammadi he also dated about 125 AD. The Pastoral Epistles could be a little later in the second century, and the full canon of the New Testament as we know it he believes to have been formed by about 300 AD. Athanasius does list our present canon of New Testament scripture in a list of the late 320's AD. The earliest actual evidence we have of our scriptures is a fragment of St. John's Gospel known as P45 that we date between 125 AD and 150 AD. We have no full record of our canonical scriptures, The Bible, until the Ninth Century AD. At each time period of writing, we need to place the wording within the time line of Greek city and imperial development.
We then came to the personalities of Peter and Paul.
The first pictorial image we have of these two first century giants of burgeoning Christianity is found in Ravenna, Italy, and dated about 500 AD. This then becomes a repeated pattern. Paul is always bald headed and dressed Roman style in a toga representing the Greek cosmo city tradition. Peter is nearly always featured with a full head of hair and a beard. Peter is in Semitic dress, never in a toga. By 1460 the height of Renaissance art usually depicts St. Paul with a sword and book. The sword continues to depict imperial power—the colonial power of papal Rome. St. Peter holds the keys, the symbol of the imperial papacy. With the reformation, Protestant images tend to move away from Peter and the keys to Paul. As late as the time of Rembrandt, the artist depicts Paul as a scholar in a bald headed self-portrait of himself, but in counter-reformation art, the Roman Catholic church continues to depict Paul with the sword, now the sword of imperial Rome against Protestantism.
The tradition of Peter and the keys goes back to St. Matthew 16:15-19: Jesus said to them, "But who do you say that I am?" Simon Peter replied, "You are the Christ, the son of the living God." And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the power of death shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." This is Peter's great commission, but it is unique to Matthew's gospel and written after the fall of Jerusalem about 90 AD, probably for the church in Rome. The author of St. John was obviously aware of the claim, but leaves out the reference to the keys in his account, St John 1:40-42: He first found his brother Simon, and said to him, "We have found the Messiah"(which means Christ). He brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said, "So, you are Simon the son of John? You shall be called Cephas" (which means Peter or the rock). St. Luke ignores the claim and St. Mark never made the claim, although he refers to Simon as Peter (the rock). In general, however, Mark's references to Peter as the rock are not flattering. Mark's portrait is of Peter as a somewhat clumsy, hardheaded, and stubborn man—a rather different interpretation of rock. This may indicate that St. Mark's gospel comes from a Pauline source, rather than a Petrine source.
The rivalry of Peter and Paul for leadership is found very early in the letter of St. Paul to the Galatians, long before the gospels were written. Paul makes it very plain that he was an apostle. His message was revealed from Jesus and not as in Acts, where the Lukan author by 120 AD claims the message was delivered to St. Paul by Ananias after Saul's conversion on the Damascus road, Acts 9:17: So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, "Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." This Lukan account in Acts is probably written half a century after Paul's death in Rome, whereas Paul's personal claims in Galatians were written in all probability in his own hand. Did Paul, as Saul the Pharisee, know Jesus before the crucifixion? Could this be a reason for his personal claim?
The principal record of the rivalry of St. Peter and St. Paul seems to have been over circumcision. The Jerusalem church of Peter and James did not claim to be outside Judaism. The churches Paul founded on his missionary journeys, although primarily made up of Diaspora Jews, were firmly bedded in the Greek city ethos. The quarrel that developed between Peter and Paul seems to have been about the acceptance of gentiles into the faith. The act of circumcision itself was not the main issue. It is highly probable that in his cosmo Greek city background, Paul, although a Jew, never considered this hygienic mark of his race to be essential to accepting the Holy Spirit. What we see here is, therefore, the early clash between the rustic rural followers of Jesus forming a Galilean church in Jerusalem and the Greek city apostle, Paul, with his Hellenic leanings. Paul was well aware as an evangelist in the Greek speaking world that he did not need to be held back by constraints of the Jewish cleanliness codes. Remember, Peter in the Acts account is shown to cling not just to circumcision, but to all the cleanliness codes of the Jewish table before his conversion. Bearing in mind that this account is probably as late as 120 AD, does it represent the real division between Peter and Paul, or the second century division of early Christian communities, some of which by that date were almost wholly gentile?
It is interesting in this debate that ultimately in the New Testament scriptures, Paul gets far more press than Peter. St. Paul appears on 243 pages of the New Testament whereas St. Peter only occupies 14 pages. Apart from the actual letters that we can attribute to Paul, all these scriptures were written well after both Peter and Paul's deaths. Does this not, therefore, indicate that they were written at a time when the gentile churches were becoming more numerous than the Jewish churches? Indeed, St. Matthew's gospel is in many ways an apology for the Jewish churches created in a post fall of Jerusalem world twenty years after 70 AD. Likewise, in the Lukan book of Acts around 120 AD, we see the quarrel between Peter and Paul reconciled, as if by that date it was necessary to make this reconciliation.
Bearing in mind the post fall of Jerusalem date of the gospels, some of the titles for Jesus become interesting. The most defining title, Son of God, is the very same title that the Roman world is applying to its Flavian Emperors at the principal time of the gospel writings. The title Savior of the World is also found on statues of Appolo. The title Christ translates as 'the anointed one' and has roots both in Judaic kingship, messiahship, and Imperial Rome. The earliest scratched and carved images of the presence of the Lord are found in second century catacombs. These early Christians actually used a female image as their sign of His presence—a praying woman. In the post Constantine world, however, there is nothing feminine about Christian imagery. The Christian Christ of the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, is shown with a crown and sword—Imperial kingship. At first, he is dressed as a Roman soldier and later in the Imperial robes of the Emperor. So we see the perception of Jesus going from peasant to praying woman, and from soldier to Emperor! There is no record of Jesus as the crucified Lord—a crucifix image—until as late as the sixth century, when the Western Roman Empire has fallen and the dark ages have taken over Europe. At that same time, however, in the Byzantine Eastern Roman Empire, Jesus is still depicted in Imperial robes looking down from the gilded mosaics of Santa Sophia's Constantinople basilica's domes. The traditional image we have of Jesus today still reflects renaissance art and starts to appear from the late tenth century on.
So, what of the crucifixion and the resurrection that have become the crux of Christianity? Why do we see no early images depicting our core beliefs about Jesus' sacrifice for us?
Here, we go on to our Saturday afternoon session, led by Kathleen Corley. The title for this session was: Christian Origins: Historical and Ethical Issues for the Church.
Kathleen supported Bernard Brandon by reaffirming his account of the widespread nature of Hellenic culture even in the Judea and Galilee of Jesus' time. She then applied this to the role of women in burial procedures. In the gospels, as she had outlined the day before on discussion of Mary Magdalene, most mention of the women followers of Jesus comes with the story of the crucifixion and the empty tomb. Throughout Greek, Roman, and Judaic culture, the prevailing Hellenic approach to burial was well established by the time of Jesus. It was women who took care of the dead. First, there was embalming and burial, often accompanied by anointing with oils etc. Secondly, there was wailing, a task generally given to women professional mourners. Finally, and most important for this study, was funereal feasting in which both men and women took part. In all three cultures, the same time scale was followed. Tomb rituals were performed in the form of a ritual feast with the deceased on the third day, the thirtieth day, and the ninetieth day, and after that, annually. Food was put out for the dead person as well as enjoyed by those present. The Marantha, or mourning rituals of wailing and beating of breasts was performed by women, along with the initial embalming of the dead body. Then, on the third day the first funereal feast was held. The third day, therefore, was just as important in all burials—the first funereal feast for the dead. The residue of this might still be seen in present day funereal habits such as the Irish wake and the Funeral reception, although not strictly on the third day. All the gospels agree that the principal action at the tomb took place on the third day. Why, however, is little said about the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances until the gospels were written? Although Paul speaks extensively of resurrection in I Corinthians 15, he speaks of spiritual resurrection rather than physical resurrection: There are celestial bodies and there are terrestrial bodies. So it is with the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a physical body; it is raised a spiritual body. Even when directly referring to Jesus' resurrection, I Corinthians 15:4, he does not for certain, as do the gospels, speak of an empty tomb—a physical resurrection—but only of a spiritual resurrection. We must discount at this point what is attributed to him in Acts, as it is a second century document written after the canonical gospels and long after his death. We should note, too, that there is no known site of Jesus' burial place until Constantine's mother, Helena, appoints a tomb site, the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, in the fourth century.
In Paul's letter to the Philippians we find another plausible reference to resurrection in the famous Christological passage Philippians 2:5-11: Have this mind among yourselves, which you have in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Often cited as The Philippian Hymn, this passage shows the exalted Jesus, the one lifted up, but again it does not show this as a literal physical resurrection, but rather as a spiritual resurrection. There is no mention of an empty tomb, or for that matter, of post resurrection appearances.
So, is the significance of the third day, more conventional than the assumed celebration of the Easter resurrection? Does it refer to the reality of Jesus' funeral wake—the traditional third day funeral feast for the dead—the sharing of bread, wine, and fish with the dead one? Are the origins of the Eucharist actually in this Hellenic funeral meal, celebrated the third day, the thirtieth day, the ninetieth day, and annually thereafter, rather than in the Passover celebration of Jesus' last supper with his friends? The tombs of early first and second century Christians became our first churches—the meeting places for funeral meals until the Second Coming and the establishment of the kingdom of God. By the second century, in Roman catacombs, we find that perceived presence of Christ in these funeral celebrations in that symbol of the praying woman, just as today we find him in 'the real presence' of the Holy Eucharist.
It is not until St. Mark writes his gospel that any attempt is made to explain the Passion of our Lord and the scene of the empty tomb. Nor does the original version of the gospel of about 75 AD give any record of post-resurrection appearances. Those found in St. Mark 16:9-20 are considered later additions, probably of second century origin. The women, however, are seen to be at the tomb on the third day, and in St. Mark's post fall of Jerusalem world, looking for eternal hope, for the first time they also show witness to a physical resurrection, St. Mark 16:4-6: And looking up, they saw that the stone was rolled back; for it was very large. And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe; and they were amazed. And he said to them, "Do not be amazed; you seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen, he is not here; see the place where they laid him." St. Matthew copies Mark, but adds a section embracing the first post-resurrection appearance, although in his apology he also throws out a reason for Jews to believe that the body had been physically stolen, St. Matthew 28:11-15: While they were going, behold, some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests all that had taken place. And when they had assembled with the elders and taken counsel, they gave a sum of money to the soldiers and said, "Tell people, 'His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.' And if this comes to the governor's ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble." So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.''This day' at the time of Matthew's composition was about 90 AD, some sixty years after the event. This is probably Matthew's apology, but if there really were such rumors about in 90 AD, there were already physical resurrection doubters, or following Mark, are these the first real beliefs in physical resurrection? St. John and St. Luke take the concept of physical resurrection further, elaborating on both the Mark and Matthew stories.
That the Passion narrative does not appear until after the fall of Jerusalem is fairly significant, as overall it attempts to put Rome in a good light, showing sympathetic leniency on the part of the Roman Prefect, Pontius Pilatus. It is almost with regret that Pilate pronounces crucifixion, and it is most unlikely, if Jesus truly was crucified as a trouble maker, that permission would have been granted for his burial in a rich man's tomb. Crucified criminals were buried in mass graves or shallow stone pits. The whole story becomes even more suspicious when set against what little we do know about Pontius Pilatus, who as Prefect of Judea and later Procurator, was ultimately relieved of his post for excessive cruelty—a rare action in the light of Rome's general toleration of cruelty. We do not know where Mark, whoever the evangelist may have been, found the Passion story, or whether it was his own fictitious invention. All we do know, from the earlier letters of Paul, is that Jesus was crucified.
We are here, as Bernard Scott acknowledged in support of Kathleen Corey, on the very cutting edge of new interpretation. If the third day truly is only referring to the traditional funeral feast of the Hellenic world, was there ever a physical resurrection? Certainly, the established churches of the gospel writers of the late first century and early second century wanted us so to believe, and it is on their tradition that Christian doctrine and dogma was formed. But what if...
At this point we opened to questions. It was in the questions that the ethical issues for the church were raised. There were many curious priests, pastors, and ministers, attending this seminar. They sympathized with the scholarship, but begged the question as to how true they could be to their congregations, especially among rural congregations of older people set in their beliefs of two thousand years! It is a hard ethical question, but it was generally considered in the consensus of the group that pursuit of such scholarship should not be hidden. As fast as the traditional church supporting a generic interpretation of scripture as the word of God is dying in the western world, although growing in the third world, so in the western world is spiritual curiosity increasing. The quest for higher criticism will go on.