What about The Empty Tomb
By Ronald Lloyd Ryan, DA., PhD., REV (Unitarian Christian)
I have, long ago, rejected the whole notion of a physical, corporeal resurrection of Jesus into his old body. I rejected it on moral grounds, ethical grounds, scientific grounds, biological grounds, theological grounds, rational grounds, spiritual grounds, and Biblical grounds, even on the grounds of the reliability and trustworthiness of God. The story violated – and continues to violate – every possible category of reasoning and faith that one could possibly conceive, with the exception of one believing in magic, and if one does not even attempt to examine or analyze the story. If one is willing to believe in magic, then anything goes.
Besides, we know that the story was “redacted” by the “church fathers.” That is not an accusation; it is a simple fact, one which the “church fathers” not only “admitted” to (if admission was/is the right word) but applauded their own work, believing that if they “massaged” the story, added bits and pieces of supernatural, that the uneducated, illiterate, trusting, magic-and-supernatural-believing people of the time would embrace the story – which they did! (And, obviously, still are – the people in the pew and, apparently, the clergy in the pulpit) (Just a few days ago, I was called the Antichrist because I am daring to be honest, here!). The church fathers even said words to the effect, “I know that what I have written is not true, But, if it leads people into a belief of Jesus and the Christian dogma, then we will have saved them for Heaven,” never mind that the real reason was to gain control over the people. It was, and remains, hegemony. Even the church fathers, even the popes, did not believe the story, but recognized it as mere unsubstantiated and unsubstantiatable myth, but useful for their political aims. Pope Leo X is quoted as saying: “Since God has given us the papacy, let us enjoy it.” And “how profitable that fable of Christe hath ben to us.” Some apologists claim that these statements are not true, and neither is it true that this pope lived a life that would be scandalous in any Christian society. There are worse stories! (Note that this is not an attempt to denigrate contemporary Catholicism but is an effort to explain that our common religious history, of our common mother church, contained elements that appear to be less than savoury, and that the church of the time was utilizing hegemonic religion to further its political aims, and that that hegemony included concocting fanciful stories which were designed to serve its political and power purpose. These fanciful stories we now call our Christian gospel truths! All of this has been admitted to and acknowledged by even Roman catholic theologians such as Hans Kung.
Last night, frustrated with my own inability to make sense of it all, not able to accept the simplistic stories, not happy with the efforts of Hans Kung and other theologians to provide satisfactory explanations, and maybe feeling a little guilty at rejecting some of the historical and foundational tenants of my beloved Christianity, I decided to provide my own rationalization, explanation, and interpretations. These observations are not from a child, not from childish thinking, and will not be satisfactory to those who are still in the childhood of the Christian faith, and certainly will not be satisfactory to those who refuse to become mature and begin eating meat, preferring and determined to stay on the theologically fundamentalist teat, however comfortable it might be, regardless how old you happen to be.
The tomb was supposed to be the repository of Truth, the same arrogant “truth” as the misbegotten “Holy Trinity,” the whole unfounded arrogance as the “laying on of hands” (coming from a deliberate misunderstanding of the statement that Jesus is supposed to have said to Peter). which is utilized to prevent other ministers, ordained by God, ordained of God, from stepping into the pulpit, regardless of his/her other attributes, gifts, knowledge or education; which prevents a person from participating fully in a congregation, left forever on the sidelines, unless he or she will avow a lie (e.g., The Trinity, inherency of the Bible, and so on) despite contemporary theologians showing that the hegemonic ego-salving and ego-massaging dogma and doctrine as having no substance.
Just think of all of the potential contributions that are being denied because the would-be church member is (1) mindful and thoughtful, and (2) honest! There is still no room for either independent thought or honesty in the church, Orthodox, Catholic, or Protestant.
Contemporary theologians are showing that all of these rituals, unfounded articles of faith, have been deposited in the tomb, but there is nothing there!
There is no way that the body of Jesus could have been laid in such a tomb, to begin with, there simply not being sufficient time between the crucifixion and sunset which, according to Jewish protocol, was the time in which a burial had to take place so that the Sabbath would not be violated and defiled… unless the sun stood still – and, the sun did Not stand still!
It is clear, the imagery, the symbolism, that there was nothing in the tomb and that any events surrounding that were not to be taken as literal, as normal, as historical. The story was/is an allegory that was being played out, an effort to mimic the ritual in the ancient Egyptian Mystery Religions, except that those who attempted to describe such a ritual were incompetent, unable to the task, because they did not understand the mysteries that they had hoped to reproduce or force into a new role.
Clearly, from an historical perspective, if Jesus were a real, historical, man and if Jesus were actually crucified, something had to have happened to the corpse. (It is all a very badly written story, in any case, with the various versions contradicting each other). The point is that there was no corpse! The body, like the cloths/clothes left in the sepulchre, was no longer needed. That much was understood by those who wanted to reproduced the drama of the mysteries.
The church redactors (and there is no disputing that there were redactors) did not know how to handle the corpse in the story, so they had to have the corpse come alive, somehow, an impossibility but a story element that was accepted at the time. But those who were elaborating the story knew that they simply couldn’t have Jesus come alive in an identical pre-crucifixion body because they would still have the problem of what to do with him/it as they tried to propagate the dogma that Jesus was God. So, they had the corpse become transformed into a magical body, one that could pass through walls at will. So, if Jesus ended up with a new kind of body, a magical one, then it was not a true resurrection in the sense of resuscitation. There is no resuscitated body in the story. So, we are left with the old question: Where is the corpse?
Now, the absence of a corpse seems to suggest to some people that there was no Jesus to begin with. But that is not a logical conclusion. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that there was no Jesus, to begin with, but, if so, that is a separate dialogue and gains little or no weight from an absent corpse, in the context of the present discourse.
The fact remains that despite their best efforts, those church fathers who were re-writing the stories, massaging the information, adding as they saw fit, subtracting bits that wouldn’t support the narrative, they did not really deal with the issue of the corpse.
The “risen” Jesus was of a different order of being or existence completely, a new type of body, one not needing any clothes of the earthly kind simply because immortality, which the redactors tried to establish, could not be clothed with mortality. That much they got right, the idea, the reality yet needing to be established conclusively. It was a tall order that they had set for themselves, one that, as eventually became obvious, was beyond them. They were just not as smart nor as subtle as they thought they were. But, they seem to have understood that Jesus had cast off his earthly body, just as he had cast off the no-longer-needed clothes and left it in the tomb, where it belonged! Jesus had cast off his corporeality, his earthly, physical being, and left it behind, but not in the supposed depository of the childish imagery.
The point is that it does not really matter what happened to the body, the corpse of Jesus. People are looking for the wrong thing in the wrong place.
The corpse no longer existed as a valuable commodity, Jesus no longer needing it. So, why do we think that we need it? It no longer existed! Why look for it? Why seek ye the corpse here? He is risen. Risen! RISEN! But Jesus did not rise to a renewed old body. He was not resuscitated! Jesus now wore a body, the clothing, of immortality. If we believe anything about the mystery, then that is what it has to be. We deny everything about the story if we insist that, somehow, the corpse has to stay in the picture! It is a denial of faith to begin with. It was not the corpse that had risen to its pre-resurrection state; it was Jesus who had “risen!” There was no longer any corpse, and no longer any pre-crucifixion body. Get over it! If it still existed, somewhere, it was nowhere to be found; it was not meant to be found; it no longer had significance, physically nor spiritually.
Although the redactors wanted to be a little subtle about it, wanting to stay within the spirituality ethos of the ancient Mystery religions which they thought they understood, they declared as well and as loudly as they were able, and still stay within the bounds of a spiritual, a mystery, story, that there was no point in looking for the corpse because it had been cast off, and there was no point in looking in the tomb, physically or metaphorically, because everything that had been deposited there, the old theology and beliefs and certainties, like the corpse no longer existed as having substance of value.
It did not and does not really matter what happened to the corpse. Maybe it was dumped into a common grave with the other malefactors whom the Romans had crucified. (Evidently, they had crucified multiple thousands.) The story of Joseph of Arimathea is just that, a story. There was no such Joseph of Arimathea; there was no Arimathea! There was no such need to begin with. The story was concocted and affixed as much as two hundred years later because there was some such sentiment that the body of Jesus should have been treated with more dignity. But why? Maybe the corpse was thrown to the dogs, which, on reflection, might have been, and still might be, fitting! – if we truly believe that we are born again, if we believe that we have cast off the filth of the earth and have assumed a new mantle of Christ-hood (in Paul’s sense), if we are new creatures, if we have become one with the father, if we, indeed, believe that Jesus has risen. If we truly believe that Jesus is “risen” then there should be no further association with mere clay; apparently, we believe that Jesus was truly and completely transformed, clothed with a new body. So, why are we concerned about the old body? Of what value the corpse? If we outlive the old garment and cast it off and buy a new one, why be concerned with the old one if it no longer has any use, any utility, any purpose, any value? To want to cling to the old garment when we are being clothed by the Father with one that is completely new, and if we have become transformed, then we are hypocrites! Cast the body to the dogs! What of it? Jesus is risen! Do we not understand the significance of being “risen”? We claim to be part of the resurrection, but we still long for the old body. That is hypocrisy, a denial of faith!
It is not the corpse that we should be seeking! We should be seeking to understand the “he is risen” part! That is the part that we do not really believe and do not understand. Otherwise, there would be no question of the corpse as no longer having any significance: to Jesus or to us. But, we insist on seeking the corpse because we really do not believe the “he is risen“ part.
Pity Thomas, the Apostil! Thomas knew that he could not have it both ways. Thomas had right to doubt! Thomas knew that he was facing a paradox. Thomas might not have had the language to articulate his discomfort, his doubt, his honesty (just as I might be having the same difficulty in this discourse!). But, the redactors took the opportunity to pounce on Thomas and make him the butt of ridicule for the succeeding 2000 years. But, Thomas was on to something, something significant, and those who were re-writing the story knew that Thomas’ insight would destroy their literalism; Thomas was just too intelligent, too astute, too questing, for the redactors to leave it alone and let him tell his story. So, they, the redactors, destroyed his reputation and destroyed all of his writings.
We are fortunate that, after 2000 years, some of the writings of Thomas have come to light, the now-called “Gospel of Thomas.” But, we know that Thomas said and wrote more than that! Thomas was not as cryptic in everything he thought and wrote. The redactors did not have the intestinal fortitude to write Thomas completely out of the story, but, afraid of God, they did as much as they dared, they undermined Thomas just in case any of his writings ever came to light. Curiously, just as predicted in the so-called “Gospel of Thomas”, itself, that which was buried came to light. It is a most curious happenstance.