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Response #1 to the Reply
And thanks to you for your indepth replies to my indepth replies. ;->
Let me begin by addressing something you mention several times in your latest posts -- namely that your preceding posts were only to be taken in reference to the Gospel of Thomas (or "GTh") and nothing further. In my explanation for why GTh was never "removed from the Bible", I commented on the fact that GTh included Gnostic ideas/teachings. I thought that comments on Gnostic teachings in general and their incompatability with orthodox Christian doctrine flowed naturally from this. Also, your comments that the Church and/or Church Fathers do(es) this or that and bringing up the books by Gardiner and Baigent et al. and reading works about other religions seemed to broaden the discussion, as well.
That was my thinking, anyway. If I inferred too much or expanded the subject(s) under discussion too far, my apologies. I thought they were relevant. Regardless, my thanks for continuing on with the discussion.
Regarding dating of the Gospels...
> This is an interesting point because
> according to the gnostic library website,
> Thomas' Gospel is considered the older.
> Which adds another element to it. Instead of
> disagreement about content. There is
> disagreement about age.
Yes, conservative theologians generally date the Synoptic Gospels to the AD 60's thru about AD 70. I understand that liberal theologians (e.g., H. Koester, J. Robinson, the Fellows of the Jesus Seminar) typically date the Synoptics at AD late-60's to late-90's, whereas they put GTh & some other Gnostic texts at AD 30-60. (I think most liberals & conservatives agree that the Gospel of John was written in the 90's.) To use your own words, "according to the opinions of those who have a vested interest." It works both ways.
Btw, I came across more info on the relative dating of GTh, which I may post on later.
> Hang on. When judged according to: standard
> of ancient historiography IN TERMS OF date
> & reliability on ISSUES THAT CAN BE
> COMPARED to other known data. Say what?
> This is saying... based on the tiny bit
> written over there... and when compared to
> other tiny bits in the same compiled work,
> we see similarities.
> This means nothing. It's almost circular
> logic. All of it must be true because that
> tiny bit there matches some other tiny bit
> from the same place and time.
> Of course there is not going to be other
> works. Third party works. Commenting on what
> happened in someone else's
> "locale." They write about things
> that happen to them in their areas.
Now, hang on with your hangin' on and accusations of circular logic. You seem to be under the mistaken impression that there are no third-party works that comment on the historicity of Jesus Christ & His teachings. Aside from non-NT Christian sources (which you, no doubt, would discount), there are extra-biblical, non-Christian sources for information that supports biblical statements about a) Jesus' living at a certain time in history, b) circumstances around his trial/crucifixion/burial & the empty tomb, c) culture & customs of the time, and d) early Christian beliefs & practices, which reflect Jesus' teaching.
Ancient historians like Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus, and Thallus give us several historical facts. There are statements by government officials like Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan, and Emperor Hadrian. Information can be gleaned from other Jewish sources (The Talmud, Toledoth Jesu) and Gentile sources (Lucian, Mara Bar-Serapion). Some support can even be found in Gnostic texts like GTh, Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, and Treatise on Resurrection. Finally, there are references to lost works like the Acts of Pontius Pilate and writings of Phlegon, both of which were said to have recorded data that corroborated Christian claims.
Oh, yes, there are also archeological finds such as the burial grounds of Caiaphas the Jewish high priest, Yohanan the crucifixion victim, the Nazareth Decree by Caesar, and evidence for the census mentioned in Luke.
> Give me a break. This is no proof of
> anything. All four Gospels could easily have
> been written based on one singluar other
Hmm, I may address this in a separate post, too.
> Details in narrative? The whole Bible is a
> narrative. It relies on details. Without
> details there is no narrative.
Since when is the Bible all narrative? Take a look at Psalms & Proverbs, for example. Or instructions for building the Temple. Or genealogical passages.
In regards to narrative, some details are essential while others are considered minor or incidental, and yet others may have bearing on the story (or on the case, to give it a legal spin) but not be considered crucial.
> No. A resonable person would find it strange
> that four people told the same story
> But that's is just it. The stories are
> different. BUT only selective stories are
> presented as "common knowledge" of
> the events.
Alright, I'm confused. Would you be more skeptical of the truthfulness or reliability of a story told *exactly* the same, to every detail, by 4 different people? (I would, though perhaps less so if by, say, investigative journalists or police detectives.) Or, of 4 accounts that were essentially the same, obviously of the same event, but differed in some of the details? Would that make you more reasonable, or less so?
> Sure. I'll pick two. You explain them.
I'll follow up with these tomorrow.
To be continued...
Response #2 to the Reply
Continuing on from before...
> What cynical tone? All I do is ask
Well, perhaps "cynical" isn't precisely the correct term. I'm referring to the generally negative tone and the many references to early Church fathers and "the Church" being controlling, manipulative, and dishonest.
Now, I don't deny that there were some pretty unsavory, corrupt, & even downright evil characters in or attached to "the Church" over the centuries. No excuses; I don't defend them. But, as you said in your post to Phil, "... you should not blame a religion for things done in its name" -- assuming the "things" are contrary to the teachings of the religion, particularly those of its founder. That includes extra rules & obligations that are forced upon the followers.
Your presumptions imply that the Church leaders had no moral integrity whatsoever and were just trying to control and take advantage of the "sheep" they'd ensnared with this new religion. You have attributed such motives & actions but given no evidence. I have yet to read any indication that there was much, if any, of this type of behavior by leaders of the early Christian Church, especially in the first couple of centuries, which is basically the period we've been talking about.
> Of course you can't. Being a Gnostic means
> you constantly seek knowledge and truth.
> Being a Christian means to not doubt the
> teachings put forth by the Church as True.
> They have intrinsic differences.
OK, it sounds like we agree that Gnosticism and Christianity are incompatible, but we disagree on the reasons & motivations for the early Church fathers leaving GTh (& others) out of the list of approved texts and the eventual, official Christian canon. I would have to differ with you on your meanings for Gnostic & Christian, though.
Perhaps there is a much looser definition of modern-day Gnosticism that you are referring to. But, if we go back to its origins (as you have advocated elsewhere), Gnosticism meant something quite different. Rather than try to summarize it myself, I'll include a quote from the book Jesus Under Fire:
"Gnosticism was an ancient Middle-Eastern religious philosophy with many variations, but unified at least in its commitment to a dualism between the material and immaterial worlds. The creation of the universe, in Gnostic mythologies, more often than not was the product of the rebellion of some "emanation" from the godhead. Matter, therefore, was inherently evil; only the world of the spirit was redeemable. Consequently, Gnostics looked forward to immortality of a disembodied soul, not the resurrection of the body. Salvation for them was accomplished by understanding secret or esoteric knowledge (in Greek, gnosis), which most of the world did not and could not know. Hence, the Gnostic libraries contained numerous documents that purported to be secret revelations of the risen Lord to this or that disciple, usually after Jesus' resurrection."
As I understand it, the Roman Catholic Church ties spiritual salvation closely to the Church itself and gives equal, if not greater, authority to the R.C. Church (ultimately, the Pope) than to the Bible. Perhaps this is what you are referring to?
Coming from a Protestant background, I do not believe in those things. At the dawn of the Protestant Reformation, two of Martin Luther's main concerns were the need to restore the doctrines of Sola Scriptura (i.e., Bible as only spiritual/moral authority) and justification sola fide (i.e., by faith alone). This greatly diminished the importance and authority of "the Church" and the Pope, which is why they screamed so loud.
Luther's contribution can be summed up in his "new" answers to four central issues in the Church:
1) How is a person saved? -- "Not by works but by faith alone."
2) Where does religious authority lie? -- "Not in the visible institution called the Roman church, but in the Word of God found in the Bible."
3) What is the church? -- "The whole community of Christian believers, since all are priests before God."
4) What is the essence of Christian living? -- "Serving God in any useful calling, whether ordained or lay."
In the end, a true Christian is one who recognizes his sinful nature that separates him from the Holy and Living God, recognizes the reconciliation provided thru Jesus Christ alone, surrenders his life to Christ, and commits to serving Him. From there, one can begin learning the finer points of the credal doctrines as they grow and mature as Christians.
> As I said in my post to Phil. Debating... to
> the point of presenting evidence and
> whatnot, is a fruitless exercise. Those who
> firmly believe will still believe. Those who
> don't, won't suddenly "find
> religion." And those who sit on the
> fence not knowing one way or the other, will
> still sit on the fence.
> And each camp will view things like a
> one-eyed fan. Seeing no wrong from their
> team but all little indiscretions from the
> other side.
While that may be true in some, perhaps many, cases, it isn't always. At the very least, a debate gets people thinking about the issues. Hopefully, it helps the debaters themselves to strengthen their arguments, possibly modify their tactics in the future. If there are others witnessing the debate, hopefully they are encouraged to become more familiar with the issues. They may even be persuaded more towards one side or the other, especially if they were a fence-sitter.
> Now. A firm believer will have reasons to
> come up with what Word of The Lord actually
> means. While a non-believer will look it as
> proof JC didn't go up to heaven. The firm
> believe cannot entertain the notion because
> it would undermine the foundation of their
> faith. If Jesus was just a normal man and
> did not die as believed, the religion loses
> its reason for existing. - Regardless of the
> beauty of the message.
> And no-one changes their mind.
Interesting point, though I think that is where careful word-studies, reading commentaries, and proper hermeneutics come in. Being careful not to be too "dogmatic" on issues & doctrines that aren't essential to orthodoxy is also important. One also needs to be intellectually honest with themselves and open to going where the evidence leads, even if it makes them uncomfortable.
> ...For your reading pleasure. I present
> Hank... :o)
Did you make this up? I read it, and I even chuckled a bit at the ending scene. I think I understood all the supposed parallels (e.g., Hank = God and/or "the Church"; the Million $ Gift = God's blessings (some on earth, but most as our "reward" in Heaven); Hank's Letter = probably Mosaic Law, possibly the Bible as a whole and/or further Church teaching, etc.). Perhaps there is meant to be a broader application to certain other religions. All I will say is that it represents a sad and warped view of what it means to know & serve the Lord.
> We won't know all the writings
> which never made it into the compilation we
> know as The Holy Bible.
Isn't that a little like saying, "We'll never know all the rules & regulations that were never included in the NFL Official Handbook."? (Is there such a thing?) An imperfect analogy, but I hope you see my point. :-]
Actually, we do know several other works that were disputed over the years or to be used in private, but not public, worship. They include The Shepherd of Hermas (popular among supporters of asceticism), Revelation of Peter, Wisdom of Solomon, Letter of Barnabus, Teaching of Twelve Apostles, Gospel of the Hebrews, Acts of Peter, Didache. Others were disputed but eventually included, e.g., Hebrews and Revelation of John.
More later in response to your "Reply by the 'Heathen Gnostic', Part 2"...
(This is fun & educational, too!)
Will still going? Ok.
Thank you for the effort you have taken to create your posts.
Good lesson in that.
> You seem to
> be under the mistaken impression that there
> are no third-party works that comment on the
> historicity of Jesus Christ & His
> teachings. Aside from non-NT Christian
> sources (which you, no doubt, would
> discount), there are extra-biblical,
> non-Christian sources for information that
> supports biblical statements about a) Jesus'
> living at a certain time in history, b)
> circumstances around his
> trial/crucifixion/burial & the empty
> tomb, c) culture & customs of the time,
> and d) early Christian beliefs &
> practices, which reflect Jesus' teaching.
Let me make it clearer...
I do not believe Jesus was a figment. I believe he was very real. He existed.
My point is: The "proof" put forth as to the Bible's accuracy is based on bits of it being also recorded elsewhere.
Read what you write above once again.
*He lived at a certain time in history.
*Circumstances surrounding his trial/apparent death and apparent resurrection.
*Customs and cultures of the time.
*Christian beliefs which REFLECT Jesus' teachings.
I do not doubt these things. But just because those items match is no reason to thus assume all of the rest of the texts are accurate.
This point is made in "Hank." Just because many of those ten points are true and make sense, doesn't mean the other points are true... or literal.
Just because other Works show a man call Jesus walked the Earth at that point in time, and that certain customs and cultures were around, is no reason to also assume everything else in the Bible is literal.
> Since when is the Bible all narrative? Take
> a look at Psalms & Proverbs, for
> example. Or instructions for building the
> Temple. Or genealogical passages.
> In regards to narrative, some details are
> essential while others are considered minor
> or incidental, and yet others may have
> bearing on the story (or on the case, to
> give it a legal spin) but not be considered
Ok. I've got to throw in a Hang On here.
My point was in your use of the term "Details in a narrative" as if a difference on details was a minor thing. With the main thrust of that being the word DETAILS. As in... all we have is details.
The devil is in the details, yes.
Without details we really have nothing much. It is the details which makes an event important. Don't you agree? It is the details which makes some people conclude Jesus was God incarnate. Those same details interpreted in other ways enable other people to draw different conclusions.
The point is NOT whether the Bible is a narrative or not. It is in your dismissal of something because it is only details. Yet details are the most important part.
All details must be considered important otherwise they would not have been included when the scrolls were written. To dismiss some as not amounting to much while others are considered crucial, is deliberately selecting bits and pieces to serve whatever purpose you want served at the time.
> Alright, I'm confused. Would you be more
> skeptical of the truthfulness or reliability
> of a story told *exactly* the same, to every
> detail, by 4 different people? (I would,
> though perhaps less so if by, say,
> investigative journalists or police
> detectives.) Or, of 4 accounts that were
> essentially the same, obviously of the same
> event, but differed in some of the details?
> Would that make you more reasonable, or less
Umm. Ok. Time to make this clearer...
Each of the Gospels has different DETAILS regarding Jesus' birth, for instance. Yet the details of ONE of those Gospels has become the accepted "truth" of the event. Even though the other three Gospels are not in agreement.
For instance... the accepted "truth" of the birth is that Joseph and Mary stayed in a barn with the animals and Jesus was born and slept in a animal food troff. BUT, not all four Gospels say this.
Thus, the Church has chosen what must be the most lowly description possible to put forth.
MY opinion is to the draw attention away from the true status of Mary, Joseph and Jesus, lest the "flock" begin to question the Church's authority.
That is... if the Gospels showed that family to be anything other than peasants of no importance, readers of the Gospels would question why the Church was the authority on the religion and not its founder or those more closely related to the founder.
Hope that makes it clearer.
Continued on in your other post...
Continuing on... more on "Hank"
> Well, perhaps "cynical" isn't
> precisely the correct term. I'm referring to
> the generally negative tone and the many
> references to early Church fathers and
> "the Church" being controlling,
> manipulative, and dishonest.
> Now, I don't deny that there were some
> pretty unsavory, corrupt, & even
> downright evil characters in or attached to
> "the Church" over the centuries.
> No excuses; I don't defend them. But, as you
> said in your post to Phil, "... you
> should not blame a religion for things done
> in its name"
That's right. And I have not blamed the religion. Not once have a pointed a boney finger of accusation at Christianity per se.
> Your presumptions imply that the Church
> leaders had no moral integrity whatsoever
> and were just trying to control and take
> advantage of the "sheep" they'd
> ensnared with this new religion.
Well. They did.
The HolyWater sprinkler is a direct adaption of a pagan phalic symbol. Easter is the Church corruption of the Pagan festive event. Christmas is also - in my opinion - a rip off of pagan celebrations.
What better way to "get people on side" than have your religion mimic certain important events and days.
Point is... if we were really going to "follow in Jesus' footsteps" we would not celebrate those days (Xmas and Easter) nor "go to mass". These "things" I cannot find Jesus encouraging people to do.
Basically, the early Church thus twisted the Christian teachings to suit its purpose.
> attributed such motives & actions but
> given no evidence.
Paul is, I am sure you will agree, the real instigator behind getting Christianity spread - so to speak. Thus HE will have placed his influence on a lot of what came to be the early church. He hates women... women are all given bad roles in the gospels. NOT the equaility of Jesus' teachings.
The Gift of Constantine has now been acknowleded by the Church as being a forgery. Thus they (The Church) give back the lands they have had and used and used to become wealthy for over a thousand years. How about giving back the wealth that gift enabled them to acquire?
I have yet to read any
> indication that there was much, if any, of
> this type of behavior by leaders of the
> early Christian Church, especially in the
> first couple of centuries, which is
> basically the period we've been talking
As the Church is pretty well the sole source of such information - and no one dare go against the Chruch - it is not surprising there is not much "evidence" of corruption. Jeeze... even in this day and age the Church covers up their wrong doings.
> Perhaps there is a much looser definition of
> modern-day Gnosticism that you are referring
Yes. I think this is where we are encountering problems... in what we both attribute "gnostic" to mean.
> While that may be true in some, perhaps
> many, cases, it isn't always. At the very
> least, a debate gets people thinking about
> the issues. Hopefully, it helps the debaters
> themselves to strengthen their arguments,
> possibly modify their tactics in the future.
> If there are others witnessing the debate,
> hopefully they are encouraged to become more
> familiar with the issues. They may even be
> persuaded more towards one side or the
> other, especially if they were a
Good point. And on this I think we somewhat agree. That is... either side just "digs in" more to strengthen their position.
> One also needs to be
> intellectually honest with themselves and
> open to going where the evidence leads, even
> if it makes them uncomfortable.
Yes. This is important. Alas... the opposite actually happens. Even under the guise of "being open."
Such as: Being open to look (read, hear) an alternative BUT dismissing it because it goes against currently held belief.
Example: Shroud. Fake or real? MY opinion is that it is a masterful fake. Made by Michael Angelo. Using a unique form of photography which he knew of at the time. (Remember, he was a "man of science".)
Part of this is evidenced by. He was the Official Portrait Painter to the family who owned the shroud at the time. The same shroud which had previously been condemned by the church as an obvious painting some years earlier - before Angelo came to their employ. The head sits wrong. The back image is different size to the front image. He was known for being a "details" man. The cloth used was available of the correct age and from the correct region. The "face" is almost identical to other faces on his other works.
Scientifically, when his photography technique is used to create similar images, they too look like nothing much under normal light but show great details under "negative" light.
Science indicates... masterful fake.
True believers dismiss the evidence and believe what they want. Even after being "open" to reading the evidence.
> Did you make this up? I read it, and I even
> chuckled a bit at the ending scene.
I did not make it up. It was originally from a Maralyn Manson discussion group some four or five years ago.
Yes. I think the end is a crack up.
> I understood all the supposed parallels
> (e.g., Hank = God and/or "the
> Church"; the Million $ Gift = God's
> blessings (some on earth, but most as our
> "reward" in Heaven); Hank's Letter
> = probably Mosaic Law, possibly the Bible as
> a whole and/or further Church teaching,
I actually take Hank's Letter to be more representative of Is-lam and the verses - which were dictated to Muhummed and which he then repeated to scribes to write down because he couldn't write. Thus it being considered the real word of the lord because Muhummed was illiterate and could not have "thought up" such beautiful verses - which others are challenged to also create (if they can) if they doubt the authenticity of the verses.
Perhaps there is meant to be a
> broader application to certain other
> religions. All I will say is that it
> represents a sad and warped view of what it
> means to know & serve the Lord.
It is not meant as a view of anything. It is a parody of many religions in one. And should be read as such. Much like "The Life of Brian" should be viewed as the comedy it is, not an assult on any one particular religion. (BTW, I first saw The Life of Brian in the company of some extremely religious people. They were laughing their guts out.)
> Isn't that a little like saying, "We'll
> never know all the rules & regulations
> that were never included in the NFL Official
> Handbook."? (Is there such a thing?) An
> imperfect analogy, but I hope you see my
> point. :-]
I see your point. And disagree with it.
My point is... there were many many writings of the time. Dealing with life and the teachings of Jesus. The compilers of what has become known as the Bible, selected (and most likely edited to suit) the texts they wanted/needed to serve their intended purpose.
Lets face it. If there was a text which specifically said anything about Jesus being married to Mary M and that they had offspring, those texts would not be included. Doing so would undermine the authority they were trying to establish. (Why listen to some Pope when the heirs of the founder existed and would thus rightly be the ones to listen to.)
Thus. We miss out on a lot of "good stuff". That's all I was getting at.
> (This is fun & educational, too!)
Yes. Because we are keeping it civil.
Two Gospel Inconsistencies Examined
A little later than planned, but here 'tis.
First, some general but helpful comments about the N.T. Gospels:
As Phil mentioned, each of the Gospels stresses some elements of Christ's life and ignores others, according to each author's purpose for writing. Matthew's audience was the Palestinian Jews, so he emphasizes Jesus's being the Messiah and King who fulfills the promises & predictions of the Hebrew Scriptures. He includes many quotations from the O.T. and devotes attention to details about contemporary Jewish life and religious customs. Matthew also pays particular attention to Jesus' teaching ministry and tends to group together into blocks sections that have similar intructional themes.
Mark, on the other hand, concentrates on Jesus as the Conqueror over Satan, sin, sickness & death. He emphasizes Jesus the Man, the Servant who suffered, focussing on His actions & redemptive deeds over philosophy & theology. He stresses Christ as the "Son of God" and Redeemer. Mark travelled with Peter quite a bit, and it is quite possible that much of his Gospel is a summarization of Peter's presentation of Christ's life & works. It is usually considered the first written, though some prefer Matthew.
Luke's purpose was to present a (relatively) complete, historically accurate biography of Jesus as the perfect "Son of Man", showcasing His virtues and incredible tenderness in dealing with people. This is particularly evident in his telling of Jesus' dealings with women & children, as well as social outcasts like lepers & Samaritans. As an educated Greek physician, Luke took special interest in medical matters and in Christ's healing miracles. His Gospel also pays the most attention to presenting events in chronological order.
John's purpose was to show his readers that "Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing [they might] have life in His name." (20:31) Unlike the Synoptists, John used a highly selective, stylized presentation, organized around seven miracles that Jesus performed, "signs" that revealed His Divine nature. (Note: The number 7 signifies perfection or completion in Jewish culture.) Each of these is rooted in O.T. understanding of the Messiah, thus helping to point to Jesus as the fulfillment of O.T. promises, and that He alone offers everlasting life.
> Jesus Birth - what we all know as the
> nativity scene. Not all four Gospels have
> Jesus in a barn in a food trof.
Let's step thru the events and the data given & not given:
Mark & John don't speak of the time around this event at all. In Luke 2, we have Joseph & the expectant Mary trekking from Nazareth down to Bethlehem for the census. The town is overcrowded, so they have to stay in the stable at an inn. Mary went into labor at some point while they were there and gave birth. She wrapped the baby in cloths & laid Him in a manger (aka a food trough). That night some local shepherds stopped in, after having been told where to find them by an angel.
On the eighth day, they circumcised the baby & named Him Jesus. According to Levitical law, Mary had to wait 33 "days of purification" (not sure if the first 8 days were included) before she could enter the sanctuary and perform the customary sacrifice. (They were poor, so it was probably a couple pigeons.) They may have still been "camping" in the stable, or not -- it doesn't say. Verse 22 says that after this time was up, they went up to Jerusalem (roughly 3 or 4 miles) to consecrate the baby and offer another sacrifice (i.e., a couple more pigeons). When they were done there (probably not more than a couple days), they returned to Nazareth.
Okay, Matthew 2 starts out saying, "After Jesus was born in Bethlehem... Magi from the east came to Jerusalem..." It doesn't say how long after Jesus was born that they arrived in Jerusalem. Also, they knew the prophecy said He would come from Bethlehem, so either the stop in Jerusalem was a "courtesy call" to King Herod, or they thought the baby was part of Herod's family and would have been taken to Jerusalem by then. Verses 9-11 say they followed the star to a house, where they found the child & mother; they worshipped Him and presented their gifts. It isn't explicit in the text, so the house could have been in Bethlehem, Jerusalem, or even Nazareth.
After the Magi left, an angel told Joseph in a dream that Herod was looking to kill the child and they should flee to Egypt, which they did that night. (The family would move back to Nazareth after Herod died.) Meanwhile, Herod realized the Magi weren't going to bring him the child. "...[H]e was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi." (v.16)
So, I think there is enough info there to realize that, despite what the kids books and Christmas cartoons and Nativity scenes usually portray, the Magi did not visit the newborn Jesus at the manger, or possibly even in Bethlehem. The child was probably at least several days, if not weeks or months, old by the time they arrived, and the family had already moved out of the stable. Furthermore, based on the scope of Herod's order in verse 16, it is very likely that the natal star appeared as an announcement of a completed event rather than a forwarning, and that the Magi took at least a year to organize & take their "road trip" to Jerusalem. This would make Jesus between 1 & 2 years old (and probably in his hometown of Nazareth) when the Magi finally found him.
> Jesus' ressurection at the cave. Different
> people. Different numbers. Important people
> left out some times and other have them
This one is a bit more complicated, since there are indeed 4 separate accounts: Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18. Let me see if I can put it all together and then comment on the discrepancies.
Early Sunday morning, at least three women return to the tomb where Jesus had been laid, intending to rewrap His body with additional spices. Matthew (v.1) only names Mary Magdalene and "the other Mary"; Mark (v.1) names the two Marys, referring to the second as "the mother of James", and Salome; Luke (v.1,10) names the two Marys & Joanna & mentions "other women"; John (v.1) mentions only Mary Magdalene.
Sometime before the women reached the tomb, an angel of the Lord descended and caused an (apparently very localized) earthquake to role the large stone away from the entrance. The guards were so scared that they had fainted. The women entered the tomb and saw that Jesus' body was missing. Confused, they then noticed two young men (i.e., angels) in shining garments standing by them. The women were afraid, but the lead angel told them "Do not be afraid... He is risen... see the place where He lay... go quickly and tell His disciples... He is going before you into Galilee; there you will see Him...".
The women left the tomb and ran back to town, not stopping to talk to anyone. When they reached the place where the mourning disciples were staying, they told what they had seen and the message given them. No one believed them. (Women weren't usually considered reliable witnesses in that culture.) But Simon Peter and another disciple ("whom Jesus loved") ran to the tomb to see for themselves. They saw that the body was missing and the burial linens lying folded; they believed and returned to the city. (Apparently, the angels weren't required to appear to them.)
Meanwhile, Mary Magdalene (and possibly other women) had followed them back to the tomb at a slower pace -- perhaps tired, perhaps still afraid. It isn't clear if Simon Peter & the other ignored M.M., or if they took a different route back and didn't see her. Now she stood weeping outside the tomb, still thinking the corpse had been moved somewhere by someone. (She must have been so distraught, or perhaps a little airheaded, that the angel's words hadn't sunk in, yet.) When she stooped to look inside, she saw the two angels again, this time sitting. After a brief exchange with them, she turned around and saw another man standing there.
It was Jesus, but she didn't recognize Him -- perhaps due to her tears & state of mind, perhaps his appearance was somehow altered, maybe he was in shadow or wore a hood. Thinking He might be the gardener, she questioned Him about the missing body. When He addressed her by name, she cried "Master!" and began to "cling" to Him (perhaps grabbing His feet, as told in Matthew's account). But, He gave her a message for the disciples and sent her back to them.
There are other minor differences between the accounts, but the main questions you raised were regarding the dramatis personae. These can be summed up as follows:
1) The Women: Each Gospel writer names a different "set" or individual, MM being the only constant
2) The Guards at the Tomb: Only Matthew mentions their presence
3) First Angelic Encounter: Matthew & Mark mention only one angel; Luke mentions two angels; John doesn't describe the encounter at all
4) Jesus' appearance to the women: In Matthew, it sounds like Jesus greeted the women on their way back from the tomb the first time. But, John indicates that it was after visiting the tomb the second time (and it was only MM).
5) Peter's trip to the tomb: Luke & John mention it, but only John mentions "the other disciple" that accompanied him
6) Second Angelic Encounter: Only John mentions that Mary Magdalene followed the men back to the tomb and had a second angelic encounter
7) Who first saw Jesus?: Mark mentions that "He appeared first to Mary Magdalene", but only John gives details on the meeting; was anyone else with M.M. at the time?
I think it is worth remembering that women were second-class citizens in that culture. While Jesus (and later the disciples) taught that women were to be respected and basically treated as equals, at this point His followers were still trying to "digest" much of what He taught. It would not be surprising if they fell back into old habits during this traumatic time. This is evidenced by the fact that no one believed the women's initial report and is one possible explanation for why Peter apparently said nothing to her on his return from the tomb.
It is also a good reason for why very few women were actually named as present during these events at & near the tomb. It is/was not unusual to leave out non-central characters when re-telling a story -- all the more reason if they were "just women". It is interesting that the angels and Jesus appeared first to women disciples rather than men. Perhaps as another reminder that "women are people, too"? I think it is significant that Mary Magdalene was the only woman named in all four accounts. She had a somewhat unique role in Jesus' ministry both before & after His death (as see here), and perhaps the Gospel writers couldn't ignore that. As for why one mentions Joanna and another Salome, your guess is as good as mine. (Maybe they were related to the respective writers? Maybe they were somewhat known for telling their own eyewitness accounts?)
Matthew seems to have opted for a much compacted version of the scene(s) at the tomb. (It wasn't the first time he did something like that.) He pretty much included the basics -- angel rolled stone away, women saw the tomb was empty, angel tells them what happened and gives instructions, Jesus makes first post-resurrection appearance -- and leaves it at that. Perhaps he relied on others to include further detail. Perhaps he included detail about the guards -- first fainting and later reporting to chief priests & receiving bribe (v.11-15) -- because no one else had.
Regarding the angel(s) involved in the first encounter, I notice that Matthew & Luke say these beings shone quite brightly (i.e., "like lightning"). It occurs to me that, if the second was very close to or perhaps behind the lead angel (i.e., presumably the one that caused the earthquake), he might have been obscured from at least some of the women's view, or perhaps the radiance was so blinding that they only noticed one before being half-blinded. If Matthew and/or Mark read an account by one of these women or interviewed one, that would have been what went in their Gospels. On the other hand, Luke states in the opening of his Gospel that he was aware of several eyewitness accounts that had been "handed down" and that he had "investigated everything", so it would not be surprising that he got the "full story" about there being two angels.
Again, I think Matthew telescoped the events in his account, so that Jesus' appearing to Mary Magdalene (and other women?) actually happened after she/they visited the tomb the second time. John indicates from Jesus' speech that M.M. clung or held onto Him. Matthew says that He greeted them and "They came to Him, clasped His feet and worshipped Him." Perhaps when M.M. had the second angelic encounter in the tomb, the other women remained a few paces off, until they saw her talking to Jesus, and then the women joined them. Or, perhaps they were a few minutes behind M.M. and only reached the tomb about the time Jesus revealed himself to M.M.
Finally, we come to the men's visit to the empty tomb. First, in case you aren't aware, the disciple "whom Jesus loved" is generally recognized as the Gospel-writer John himself. I think he was the youngest of the Twelve, maybe only a teenager, which may have something to do with why Luke neglected to mention him. The fact that it was John himself is probably why he was sure to include it in detail in his own account. (What an exciting thing to experience!) While Peter's (and perhaps John's) confirmation of the women's report was important, Matthew & Mark's not mentioning it might have been because neither Jesus nor the angels appeared to them (at that time). If Matthew relied heavily on Mark as some think, or vice versa, perhaps one just followed the other's lead on this one. But, if Mark was indeed relating Peter's recollections, it does seem odd that he left out Peter's part in this story.
Not being an expert in any of this, I'm sure there are other considerations that I'm not aware of. There may be another equally or more valid way to harmonize the accounts. But, that's my best shot -- for now.
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