Sunday, April 04, 2010

What Really Happened on the First Easter?

As with almost every other allegory in the bible, the stories of the Crucifixion and Resurrection also contain many incongruous and even contradictory details among the four Gospels. The Gospels were not written in the same order as they appear in the bible, and they were not written by the apostles whose names appear on them. Mark was written first, and therefore, closest to the actual events (if the events actually happened at all). Matthew and Luke were next and both authors used Mark as a reference. The Gospel of John came last and may reflect an evolution of dogma in the church as time had gone by and the expected return of Jesus had not happened. Let’s take a look at the conflicting accounts of the Easter story in chronological order.

Did Jesus carry the cross himself or did he get help with it? According to Matthew (27:32), Mark (15:21), and Luke (22:26), Jesus got help with the cross from Simon of Cyrene. But in John 19:17 it says that Jesus bore the cross by himself.

When was Jesus crucified? Mark 15:25 says he was crucified on the third hour. John 19:14-15 says he was crucified on the sixth hour. Luke and Matthew don’t say when the crucifixion began but the sixth hour happened sometime during the event. The Gospels are also not in agreement about which day of the week he was crucified. None of them actually state a day by name, but the varying accounts describe the events as taking “three days and three nights,” as per Matthew 12:40 or Mark 8:31, or that he arose “on the third day,” as suggested in Matthew 16:21 and Luke 9:22. So there is even confusion within the same Gospel times.

What about the two “thieves” who were crucified with Jesus? Mark mentions the thieves but does not say they spoke. Matthew 27:44 says that the two thieves taunted Jesus. Luke 23:39-42 says that only one thief taunted Jesus and was rebuked by the other thief. Jesus then promises the 2nd thief that they would be in Paradise that day. But John and Acts say he did not ascend to heaven for 40 days after the Resurrection. The two men are not described as being thieves in John’s gospel. The Romans did not, as a rule, crucify thieves.

What, if anything, did Jesus drink while on the cross? Mark 15:23 says he was given wine mixed with myrrh but he didn’t drink it. Matthew and Luke say Jesus was given vinegar and didn’t drink it. John says he was given vinegar and did drink it.

There was a Roman centurion present at the Crucifixion. What did he say? According to Mark 15:39, he said, “Truly this man was the son of God!” Matthew’s gospel also reports that the centurion proclaimed that Jesus was the son of God. But Luke 22:47 quotes the centurion as saying, “Truly this man was innocent.”

When was the curtain in the temple split? Luke 23:44-47 says the curtain was torn before Jesus died. Mark 15:37-39 says the curtain was torn after his death. Whether it was torn before or after Jesus’ death is symbolically important. Besides, how does anyone know the exact moment the curtain was torn compared to the exact moment Jesus died? They didn’t have chronometers back then. The only reason for including this in the story is for symbolic purposes, which means the gospel writers were writing with different agendas.

There are several other discrepancies in the story. For example, who found the empty tomb and what time of day was it? How many others were there besides the women who discovered the empty tomb? Were they angels or men, or was it only one man? The four gospels tell completely different accounts of the empty tomb.

One could try to combine all four of the gospels and come up with a reasonable scenario, but that would be equivalent to writing a fifth gospel, wouldn’t it? In my opinion, the most probable scenario is that none of it happened; it is a made up story. In other words, it’s an allegory, plain and simple.

The gospels were written down by educated men living in a different region of the world from where the events took place. And they were written decades after they supposedly happened. Before they were written down, they were passed down by oral tradition. It’s a wonder there is any agreement at all among the gospels. And there probably would be even less agreement had the authors of Matthew and Luke not used Mark as a source.

1 comment:

Beth said...

I found your blog via our mutual friend Darren. You are an excellent writer.

I was appalled on Easter when I saw that a friend wrote that the earthquake in Baja California made her think that God was reminding us of how much he loves us, and the quake was like the rolling of the stone away from the tomb.

Any religion that thinks that their God would harm others in order to show his love for the rest of us is one I want nothing to do with. That's a god I run the other way from.

All my best,