Foreword (And Long Post warning….)
Looking at any subject from one point of view is a natural way. After all we have our views, our driving forces, our beliefs and those are the starting points for most of our reactions. However it should always be borne in mind this is a multi-dimensional world (at least 11 if you want to go down the quantum road). Taking just one of those as your basis does not truly carry the day with the opposition in a general and genuine debate (as opposed to the screaming, shouting and sweeping generalisation style)
Easter: Like every other well-known festival in the Christian Calendar when it arrives. (1) Somebody will tell you-like they are the first to discover it- that whatever it is didn’t happen on that date & anyway it’s the same date as an older pagan festival- like most Christians didn’t know that already- ‘Symbolism’ people (2) There’s no point because ‘no one’ believes anymore- which is a very Caucasian euro-centric and in a world perspective minority view (3) And there are the more intelligent and thoughtful arguments on the details, which are the ones worth responding to. So here we go.
Why Easter Is An Event It Is Plausible To Accept That People Believe Took Place (and that’s about as inclusive a statement as you can possible get as opposed to say…. ‘Why Some Folk Accept it. And Just Deal With It People’… That just is not dignified.
Historical Overview Palestina/Judea
Irrespective as to whether you accept or deny the events celebrated as Easter it is wise to have some historical perspective
As far as Rome was concerned this piece of the Syrian Province was important as it was part of the buffer which kept the main regional rivals The Parthians from getting hold of Egypt from where Rome was getting most of its grain a vital import. Back in 6AD unhappy with local rule they had changed it from client state to direct rule with Herod Antipas as client king and a roman official to keep an eye on him. It was a bothersome place for a roman official for these folk insisted their god was The God and to make things even more difficult they had divided themselves up into four mutually suspicious groups. Being: (A) The Sadducees most common in the upper classes and wanted society to bit a bit more greekish, (B) The Pharisees, more amongst the common folk and the what we might see as a conservative outlook and could raise a mob, no problem. (C) The Esseenes being the aesthetics and these days linked with The Dead Sea Scrolls (D) The Zealots who were revolutionaries and were quite capable of attacking not just Romans but anyone else; this is before you get around to the Samaritans who no one wanted to associate with.
Then you add the layers of government. Rome at the top, Herod as the local ruler and The Sanhedrin, the Council of the Elders and as far as the other two were concerned those most likely to start really big scale trouble if their put their minds to it, which they were to during the later era of the Jewish-Roman wars. What none of them wanted were ragged road preachers turning up from some backwater like Galilee saying the Romans were not permanent and the other two sets were corrupt and hypocrites. They’d done away with John and now there was another called Jesus, getting bigger crowds, alleged to be performing miracles and what was worse when they tried to pin him down on points of law showed he knew more about the spirit of it than anyone. AND what was worse he was heading for Jerusalem during of all times The Passover. He was going to have to go.
At this stage, if you look from the perspective of Christ being set upon Earth to fulfil God’s plan by dying as The Sacrifice for Humanity’s Sins then this turbulent political time and place in Jewish History was the correct one to choose.
Accuracy of the Gospels and What Some Call Discrepancies
There is this argument about the discrepancies in the Gospels which means the whole account is invalid. This has always puzzled me because in vast swathes of history you are likely to find a statement along the lines of ‘Historians disagree on whether ‘A did B at C during D’ or was it ‘At E during F’ . Even if they can agree on A-B-C-D, there are likely to be differences on B / B.1 / B.2 and so forth. If you have a favourite era of history you read, do all the accounts agree on every detail or if they do, do they agree on the interpretations of the participants? If they manage that do they have exactly the same methodology with exactly the same emphasis on each event and participant? The fact that the four gospels tell things differently leaves out the rather obvious observation that they are FOUR different accounts. As Wellington (Duke of- Waterloo etc) said “The history of a battle, is not unlike the history of a ball. Some individuals may recollect all the little events of which the great result is the battle won or lost, but no individual can recollect the order in which, or the exact moment at which, they occurred, which makes all the difference as to their value or importance.” . Against the backdrop of that turbulent time, no, there would not be one definite accurate account written down with all the precision of a court record. In short differences are not discrepancies, and then we have to consider that the gospels were not accounts written then, but at a later stage and written for different readerships. Thus to suggest the differences invalidates the events is not a strong argument, if this reasoning is used to its fullest extent we can doubt whether anything ever happened, which actually is a pretty prominent Human tendency when it suits a certain mindset.
The Four Gospels of The New Testament arose as written records between 70AD & 110AD with revisions in later decades. Whether they were the first attempts to make a clerical record of previous oral accounts or based on pieces of now lost accounts I leave to the historians of that era. Mark, Matthew & Luke have similarities to the extent that scholars can set them side by side in parallel columns. And there is debate or hypotheses concerning their relationships which comes under the Synoptic Problem. The generally accepted opinion being that Mark came first then Matthew and Luke used this as source material. It is at this stage it is important to remember we are looking at a translation in English, from a translation into Latin AND we are always instinctively seeing these through the perspectives of modern day perceptions. Wrong approach. So let’s look at a summary of the context of each, assuming Mark comes first.
Most scholars date Mark to around AD 70. It is sparse on the details you’ll find in Matthew or Luke, this it can be argued is because it was a bare account of facts for the early Christian Communities. Who when you consider the climate in Palestina/Judea and other parts of the roman empire were being viewed with at best suspicion AND that as with all organisations they were already fragmenting this gospel would have been that basic set of important facts and guidelines.
Matthew Somewhere around AD 80 and 90, but could go back to 70AD and forward to 110 AD. This account was essentially for the basic Jewish-Christian community with roots in the original converts thus has a stronger emphasis on Jewish elements.
Luke Could be later around AD 80–110 and is the more cosmopolitan account. It would seem produced to be read to a wider spectrum of new followers in communities around the eastern Mediterranean; hence it’s stronger Greek style and a bit more ‘colour’. An example being the one thief on the cross next to Jesus asking to be remembered by Him.
John is the different one, which might be evolving for some time and finally ‘surfacing around 100AD. There is more of the mystic in this gospel. Although for another Jewish community their devotion to Jesus as a revelation from God takes on a resonance of the mystical rather than the basic ‘I believe’ and arguably is where the concept of ‘The Holy Spirit’ originates.
So basically it does not matter who was standing where. how many there were at a given time. As any lawyer will tell you, getting witnesses to agree on the details is a nightmare. However these events are agreed on. 1. Jesus Christ was born at God’s Instigation. 2. Jesus Christ preached through a tenure and gathered a following. 3 Jesus Christ was crucified, died, buried and rose again. Since there is an historical consensus as to the Historicity of Jesus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus and a great deal of energy devoted to varying concepts of the Historical Jesus https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jesus there is sufficient evidence for me to believe what was recorded took place, as for the smaller details. Well? And I leave it at that.
The Important Point
There are varying critical appraisals of the role of ‘the women’ at the tomb of Christ. (A) That these women mistook a gardener for an angel, (B) that someone took the body and they were hysterical, (C) that they were hysterical anyway, that it never happened. The interesting thing is, the critics are men from later ages…seeming to suggest women as hysterics who believe anything…that sounds familiar. So let’s look at this from the perspective of those times. Judaism at that time was a patriarchal society. Women were considered the property of men they had no rights or education and certainly their witness was not valid in any court. Thus for any person placing women as major characters in part of a narrative had to have a strong belief in their relevance there. The documents were being written as cornerstones to a Belief, you do not take risks with such works, just on the basis of ‘well, maybe, perhaps’ . The message would have been quite clear Christ was for All and this important news of the Resurrection was delivered by the most obvious persons, for in that era no one in authority would have paid attention to ‘weeping women’ as opposed to being on the look out for those disciples . And the Women were the ones who went to shake loose the disciples out of their collective despair. No writer of those times would have dared use that imagery without having some measure of belief it had happened.
Rising From The Dead After Public Execution….Seriously?
I’m going to start off with Shakespeare here: ‘There are more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio than are dreamt of in your philosophy’ (bear in mind in that era ‘philosophy’ also had a scientific connotation).
Going back to something said earlier about ‘quantum’ A brief examination of any of the scientific disciplines will reveal that amongst the responsible and intelligent part, ie the overwhelming majority of the scientific community there is a basic theme of ‘We don’t know that bit yet’ which is not an admission of failure but an excitement which signifies there is more to learn. Here’s an example: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/56643677 .
Now if you take this one step further, and embrace the idea of a Supreme Being and a theistic viewpoint, then it is plausible to accept that events could take place which are in seeming defiance of our perceived understanding IF these were of a particularly spiritual significance. You can ditch the argument that I am masking superstition under the veil of pseudo-science because that argument assumes that Humanity knows everything about anything and that is Superstition. In this Cosmos and its Physics we have only just begun to begin. Thus the whole of the Passion of Christ and the Resurrection can have happened because of an unknown element. And no one can deny an unknown element when it comes to matters outside of our current perception of Physics, Chemistry and any branch of Science. To summarise, no one can take me to a place in The Universe and say to me ‘There, this proves there is no Supreme Being’. 14, billion years old possibly 93 billion light years in span?…Yeah good luck with that notion. I’ll stick with my Faith thank you.
We all have our beliefs. We all have our motivations. We all have our perceptions. I have stated the case for mine. You can adhere to yours if you wish, state why you believe what you believe. Just don’t try and tell me, I am wrong in mine. You just do not have the evidence. You only have your beliefs. As do I.
Roger, well done. There is an excellent documentary with religious scholars, religious historians and other historians that covers these topics. There were several issues that stood out to me, although I won’t remember the name of the Roman emperor as he was expunged from their history. Gospels means “good news” so they are not meant to be totally accurate – they are summaries written well after Jesus died and written in different languages.
One take away is how could Jesus be so revered coming into town and then turned on so quickly? They also noted there is no way possible for Jesus to have met with the leaders in such a short time. The conclusion they came to is palms are gathered in the fall, so palms honoring Jesus’s arrival could not have occurred in the spring. They also concluded Jesus was arrested at the request of the Jewish leaders for disrupting the trade in the temple which was commonplace and he was kept in prison. This is why people turned on him.
Plus, this emperor who maneuvered and took over after his predecessor retired, told Pilate not to make waves. It was not until the old emperor came out of retirement because of the devious successor, did Pilate acquiesce to the Jewish leaders and crucify Jesus. The scholars also concluded that Herod was as political as they come and actually approached Jesus about a power sharing role, where Jesus handled the religion and Herod the governance. Jesus did not trust Herod, rightfully so. We should not forget Herod had John the Baptist killed to marry John’s wife.
This documentary is very well done and fascinating. These scholars make their conclusions on known records and biblical renderings. One thing it did make clear is Christians were very scared after Jesus was killed and worshiped in homes. The Romans were not too kind. This is a key reason the gospels were written later.
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Thank you Keith
As regards the issues raised:
he turning of the people I have often seen as mob mentality which as we have seen of late is easily whipped up. And there is one aspect overlooked. We know groups of folk honoured Jesus’ entrance; but were they the same folk as those the Temple Elders called up, or their own supporters? We can’t tell. We can though look to another era for a comment by Oliver Cromwell, when an associate noted the cheering crowds. Cromwell said:
‘Do not trust to that, for these very people would shout as much if you and I were going to be hanged.’.
As for Palms, there again we have the translation issue, were these actually ‘Palms’ or something translated into ‘Palms’?
Regarding the Time Factor as you point out these were accounts written after the events and time in such matters is variable. One thing I am certain of, like all ruling bodies which are ruthless, when they want to move quickly, they will.
The Herods were indeed an unpleasant crew, just as likely to put down one of their own as anyone else. Like Trumps only more intelligent and artful in the grimmer end of statecraft.
If you take out the Spiritual element and view this as one man with a vision of how we could all live together having the courage to speak his mind, in that political ferment, when the finality of his fate is read the phrase ‘Political Stitch-Up’ comes to mind.
Stalin for one would have recognised the process, and on a lesser scale so would have Joe McCarthy.
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Roger, “political stitch-up” is evocative. All good points. Keith
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Thank you Keith.