Author Topic: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account  (Read 1664 times)

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Online rakovsky

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Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« on: May 25, 2015, 02:01:06 PM »
Previously we discussed several issues in Mark's gospel:
http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,64829.msg1293816.html#msg1293816

Here I raise 5 issues in Matthew's gospel:

(1) Whether (A) Matthew embellished Mark's portrayal of the youth with Jesus at Gethsemane and later inside the tomb as a white robed human who delivered the message, turning the human into an angel in "shining" white who paralyzed the soldiers and sat on the tomb and gave that message, (Matthew 28:2-7) or
(B) Mark downplayed the angel's divine properties by depicting him as a youth.

That the youth at the tomb in Mark appears to be the human youth who followed Jesus on Thursday evening is proposed by some Christian scholars"
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Fascinatingly, the word neaniskos ("youth"), which is rare in the Christian Testament, crops up a second time in Mark, to describe the young man in the long white robe who tells the women disciples that Jesus has been raised... If the previous dress [of the youth in the garden] was the linen cloth, this one [he wears] in the tomb, however, is white. Though he is dressed in both cases, the difference in dress expresses the development within the narrative. The portrayal is therefore characterized by closure: the shameful condition of the young man as he flees the scene of Jesus arrest in the nude is replaced by his restoration.

The effect of Mark's location of the young man's character is to create an inclusio. The last one who has been with and who then abandons Jesus is also the first one to announce his resurrection.
http://hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/4826/what-is-the-significance-of-the-young-man-who-runs-away-naked-in-marks-gospel

It's understandable that Matthew might have concluded the youth in Mark was angel. How else would the youth have known that Jesus rose and went to Galilee like he told the women? Had he been staying at the tomb and saw what happened? Did he find the tomb empty before they did and assumed that, as He told the women, Jesus rose and "went to Galilee like He (Jesus) had said" previously (ie. Jesus' prediction in Mark 14:28)?

(2) How did Matthew know that the angel rolled the stone away, sat on the stone, and paralyzed the guards with fear like he wrote? In Matthew 28:1-5 it sounds like the women were present when that happened because of the sequence:

28:1 Magdalene comes to the sepulchre.
28:2 And, behold, there was a great earthquake....  for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and... rolled back the stone
28:5 And the angel answered and said unto the women, Fear not ye

However, in Mark 16:4 it sounds like the women showed up after the stone was rolled away and the youth was already inside the tomb: "And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away".
And Luke 24 says "And they found the stone rolled away from the sepulchre."

So which version is correct and how did Matthew know?

(3) Why in Matthew 28 did the alleged guards, paralyzed by an angel, spread rumors that the disciples took the body instead of believing? If they were so scared of the angel that they were paralyzed and ran away, it would show them the role of the supernatural or divine in Christianity. Why would they risk spreading rumors about something they were so scared of and why not become believers?

(4) The rumor among the people that Matthew mentions suggests an alternative explanation for the disappearance of Jesus' body at the tomb. Is this realistic?

Of all the groups who could have taken the body, Jesus' followers and grave robbers had the most to gain. But would grave robbers have left the linen behind to make it look like resurrection? Jesus had instructed his followers to arm themselves and Peter had already cut a soldier's ear when they had come for Jesus, so perhaps he or others would be able in enough numbers to overwhelm a guard. Perhaps the guard was not a Roman one but a Temple one, or perhaps the guards didn't exist since they aren't mentioned in the other gospels? And perhaps the body was taken on Friday before the guards were posted on Saturday?

(5) What could have been the specific basis for the apostles' doubt in Matthew's account?
Matthew's gospel ends with mentioning only one appearance of Jesus to the disciples, on a Galilean mountain:
28:17 And when they saw him,they worshipped him: but some doubted.

If they saw Jesus right in front of them and he spoke to them at length in the appearance like it says, what basis for doubt could there have been? The account does not say whether that appearance of Jesus was physical, but if it was it would be extremely hard to doubt. Perhaps instead the appearance was more like His appearance to Paul (ie. a vision) or like the sightings of Mary to hundreds or thousands of people at once. In some of those, some people see Mary, others see the sun "dance", and others don't notice anything. Perhaps the apostles were like the witnesses to the Marian apparition who saw nothing? If so, it puts in greater doubt whether the appearance was real.
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Offline wgw

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #1 on: May 25, 2015, 03:42:08 PM »
Rakovsky,

I'm a bit perplexed by this.  Are you having trouble accepting Church tradition on the Resurrection of our Lord?

Are you familiar with the distinction between the Antiochene literalist approach and the Alexandrian a approach of allegory and typology, which we generally prefer?

For that matter, as Antiochene literalists go, have you studied the homilies of St. John Chrysostom on this subject?

The points you raise are valid textual problems and you have done a careful job documenting them, but for my part I'm not sure they matter.  I don't want to appear to just be dismissing your concerns, but I think it's neccessary to take a step back and view the four gospels in a holistic sense; collectively, they contain and transmit the Gospel, but there are minor inconsistencies between them and other details one can get hung up on.  When I read them however, I prefer to read past the outer textual layer and focus on the semantics, ignoring the minor inconsistencies and rough spots and focusing instead on the specific moral teaching that our Lord through the medium of the Gospels and the rest of sacred Scripture is trying to impart to me.  So I read it less as a historical narrative and more of as spoken guidance, given by the incarnate Word, for my benefit and the benefit of my fellow Christians, although it certainly is also a record of profound spiritual truths and historical events, and events that transcend history altogether, like the Last Supper or the Passion. 

I should also note that some of your specific concerns are, if memory serves, addressed in the footnotes of the Orthodox Study Bible.

I just hope we're not going to do this for each of the four Gospels.  Because even John has a textual anomaly in the form of the Adultery Pericope, which, although probably an interpolation, is nonetheless a vitally important demonstration of the mercy of our Lord and the meaning of forgiveness and humility.
Axios and many years to you, Fr. Trenham!

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #2 on: May 25, 2015, 03:50:48 PM »
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Online rakovsky

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2015, 10:15:05 PM »
WGW,

Thanks for writing back!
Are you having trouble accepting Church tradition on the Resurrection of our Lord?
Yes, it's something inspiring that I want to be true, but at the rational level I am unsure whether it really happened.

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Are you familiar with the distinction between the Antiochene literalist approach and the Alexandrian approach of allegory and typology, which we generally prefer?
No, but I can imagine that there is an important and useful difference.

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When I read them however, I prefer to read past the outer textual layer and focus on the semantics, ignoring the minor inconsistencies and rough spots and focusing instead on the specific moral teaching that our Lord through the medium of the Gospels and the rest of sacred Scripture is trying to impart to me.
Yes, this is very helpful to do.

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Because even John has a textual anomaly in the form of the Adultery Pericope, which, although probably an interpolation, is nonetheless a vitally important demonstration of the mercy of our Lord and the meaning of forgiveness and humility.
I don't have a serious problem with that pericope. The passage certainly reflected the morality of Christ's circle of followers and thus of Christ Himself. Since it isn't necessarily miraculous and it isn't a key part of the faith, there is no scientific reason why it wouldn't occur, nor is there a doctrinal reason for consternation over its factual reality.

You concluded:
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I should also note that some of your specific concerns are, if memory serves, addressed in the footnotes of the Orthodox Study Bible.
I like the Orthodox Study Bible and find it useful. Turning to its commentary on Matthew 28, it rejects the idea that the disciples took the body because they "were afraid and had gone into hiding. Furthermore, most of them went on to suffer terrible persecution and martyrdom. it is unthinkgable that they would willingly endure such suffering over a known fallacy."
It's important to note first that we might only be talking about a small number of followers who claimed to have seen physical appearances of Jesus, like the eleven in Jerusalem. The larger numbers of witnesses like the 70 may have instead seen an apparition like Paul did or like the Marian apparitions, where some people don't notice anything unusual. So only a few people would need to know whether it was a fallacy, and in any case the gospel doesn't directly state how Jesus' body exited the tomb.

The gospel says that they were hiding in fear, and they had good reason to, since Jesus was killed. So it is a good argument that a miracle changed them so they weren't afraid anymore. But if they planned to steal the body they would be in hiding so that they didn't get captured before doing so. And was hiding really necessary? John and the women were openly at the Crucifixion. After the Resurrection, the apostles openly preached in the Temple, and although the Sanhedrin flogged them for preaching, I don't know that it was merely for being Christians. It mentions the disciples being daily in the Temple.
And I wonder how afraid they were, since Peter was daring enough to cut a soldier's ear.

That most of the disciples suffered martyrdom we learn from Church tradition, although the New Testament mentions the deaths of James and Peter, who were two of the Christians' leaders. But how do we know that the deaths of lesser disciples occurred?

It's certainly irrational for the disciples to have undergone persecution for beliefs that they knew were incorrect. So this is a good argument that they didn't. However, other persecuted sects have claimed or fabricated extreme miracles, like the Sabbatians in Turkey, the Sikhs, the Mormons, Asian gurus, and the early Christian gnostics with apocryphal miracle stories. Granted, I would be curious how many sects have claimed that several of their leaders (like the apostles) experienced those miracles. Perhaps that is unique to Christianity?
I am hardly a specialist on sects. However, there have been so many over the centuries that I tend to think that the leaders of some persecuted sects would knowingly fabricate claims.
There is a psychological phenomenon called "Confessing Sam" where people voluntarily confess to crimes that they could not have committed even though they would suffer severe penalties for it. 50 people confessed to the Black Dahlia murder, for example. http://www.theregister.co.uk/2006/09/01/the_odd_body_confessing_sam
Here the disciples were certainly not confessing to crimes, but nonetheless the claim that people don't make up claims that they know would hurt them is not necessarily true.

Thank you for helping me think about this, WGW. At the level of my heart, it is inspiring and true in a moral sense. But at the rational level I am trying to see whether it is factually true, since unfortunately I know that many things I want to be true are not.
The ocean, infinite to men, and the worlds beyond it, are directed by the same ordinances of the Lord. ~ I Clement 20

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #4 on: May 27, 2015, 03:32:46 AM »
Rakovsky, you should talk to your priest if you are having these kinds of doubts.  And if he isn't being helpful, Imurge you to make a retreat to a monastery.  Are you by any chance in or near California?  We have a brilliant OCA convent, and a collection of fantastic Orthodox monasteries.

I myself have been blessed with experiences in my life that have convinced me of the reality of the resurrection as the defining moment of the human race.

The reason why I encourage you to go to a monastery is threefold: the monks are best equipped to answer your questions of theology, the sight of a transfigured monk in my experience conveys visually the Gospel by reflecting as it were the image of God, in that through Theosis, the monk himself becomes an iconographic representation of the risen Christ, and lastly, the monks can instruct you in Hesychasm, which if practiced with a contrite heart and sincere devotion, can lead to direct experiential knowledge of God.
Axios and many years to you, Fr. Trenham!

Online rakovsky

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #5 on: May 28, 2015, 06:11:15 AM »
Rakovsky, you should talk to your priest if you are having these kinds of doubts.  And if he isn't being helpful, Imurge you to make a retreat to a monastery.  Are you by any chance in or near California?  We have a brilliant OCA convent, and a collection of fantastic Orthodox monasteries.
Wgw,

This is good advice. Unfortunately I am not in California, but there are monasteries within a few hours' drive. I talked with different priests. They say things like it's important to keep an open mind, pray, read the Bible, read literature like the Church fathers, go to Church. I think that this is very advice.

Let me give you an example. Once I read Mark's gospel about 12 times, and after that I began to doubt Christianity, because it seemed strange to me that John the Baptist didn't become a disciple. I read some American literature about this, but it was only when I read a scholarly book from a Russian Church publisher about John that I became persuaded why he easily might not have (eg. they retained separate missions).

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I myself have been blessed with experiences in my life that have convinced me of the reality of the resurrection as the defining moment of the human race.

The reason why I encourage you to go to a monastery is threefold: the monks are best equipped to answer your questions of theology, the sight of a transfigured monk in my experience conveys visually the Gospel by reflecting as it were the image of God, in that through Theosis, the monk himself becomes an iconographic representation of the risen Christ, and lastly, the monks can instruct you in Hesychasm, which if practiced with a contrite heart and sincere devotion, can lead to direct experiential knowledge of God.
I understand how Jesus' story is morally true and it changes people. It's a story of a divine person whose morality was perfect and died because He loved the world. I think meditating about it, as in hesychasm, focusing intensely on the story, and being with others who do may convince me and others that it is factually true as well. I suppose my problem though is that I know at the rational level that even if something is morally true and life-changing that doesn't make it a factual event in history.

It may be that I am a somewhat skeptical person about society and about people's claims. It doesn't appeal to me when people say that they have trouble accepting claims at face value because they are educated, or that "Extraordinary Claims require Extraordinary Evidence", but these seem to explain my rational doubts.

I am sure that Jesus existed because there are multiple early historians who mention Him. When many skeptics claim that he didn't, they are just making that up themselves. And the gospels are true at the moral level- it was wrong for the rabbis to kill Jesus and despite being killed His religion spread around most of the world. I think Muslims should be counted among His followers even if their perception of Him is incorrect. Most of the world's people came to know about God because of Him, and wasn't that supposed to be a major feature of the Messiah's mission according to Judaism?
The ocean, infinite to men, and the worlds beyond it, are directed by the same ordinances of the Lord. ~ I Clement 20

Online rakovsky

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #6 on: May 28, 2015, 06:16:18 AM »
As for Question (2) in my opening post, there are different people who could have told the women about how the angel rolled away the stone, causing an earthquake. It could have been the soldiers, the angels themselves, or Jesus. Or there could have been some third party eye witness like the human youth, if he was not an angel.
The ocean, infinite to men, and the worlds beyond it, are directed by the same ordinances of the Lord. ~ I Clement 20

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #7 on: May 28, 2015, 06:21:38 AM »
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It may be that I am a somewhat skeptical person about society and about people's claims.

Nope. You are a skeptical person. The number of threads you've started here over the years where you openly doubt fundamental Christian (not to mention Orthodox) teachings are testament to that.

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Once I read Mark's gospel about 12 times, and after that I began to doubt Christianity, because it seemed strange to me that John the Baptist didn't become a disciple. I read some American literature about this, but it was only when I read a scholarly book from a Russian Church publisher about John that I became persuaded why he easily might not have (eg. they retained separate missions).

If you had taken the time to attend church services related to St John the Baptist (there are no fewer than six feasts dedicated to him), and kept your eyes and ears open during them, you would have your answer. Even if this wasn't possible for you to do, John 1:1-8 explains where the Baptist fits into salvation history. He was not the Messiah, but the herald of the Messiah.

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #8 on: May 28, 2015, 09:14:28 AM »
In this respect LBK is correct regarding St. John the Baptist.

However, if it's any consolation, the Mandaeans were also unconvinced.  But look what it got them.

When I read the Mandaean Book of John, which contains an alleged dialogue between St. John and our Lord, our Lord comes across in a bright light, and they blasphemously make St. John look bad.  The whole thing smells of sour grapes of a legalistic people who could not accept the radical message of love, hope and forgiveness taught by our Lord and so decided to erect a cult around his Forerunner and falsify an animosity between them.  Some of these were probably followers of St. John who never embraced Christianity, but who did embrace Gnosticism, and later migrated east, forming a syncretic religion with followers of the ancient Babylonian faith (there is a lot of stuff in Mandaeism).

So I challenge you Rakovsky to do this: compare the central religious texts of Christianity with those of other faiths. http://www.sacred-texts.org has nearly of all of them.  I challenge you to find one that is either as consistent or has the same message of love.  The texts of the Baha'i faith are more consistent because Bahuallah wrote all of them, and the printing press precluded scribal transcription errors.  However there is nothing loving about the Kitab-Al-Aqdas, which is basically a list of laws, including the odious requirement for arsons to be burned alive.
Axios and many years to you, Fr. Trenham!

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #9 on: May 28, 2015, 09:21:17 AM »
In this respect LBK is correct regarding St. John the Baptist.

However, if it's any consolation, the Mandaeans were also unconvinced.  But look what it got them.

When I read the Mandaean Book of John, which contains an alleged dialogue between St. John and our Lord, our Lord comes across in a bright light, and they blasphemously make St. John look bad.  The whole thing smells of sour grapes of a legalistic people who could not accept the radical message of love, hope and forgiveness taught by our Lord and so decided to erect a cult around his Forerunner and falsify an animosity between them.  Some of these were probably followers of St. John who never embraced Christianity, but who did embrace Gnosticism, and later migrated east, forming a syncretic religion with followers of the ancient Babylonian faith (there is a lot of stuff in Mandaeism).

Speculation, nothing more.

So I challenge you Rakovsky to do this: compare the central religious texts of Christianity with those of other faiths.

Are you familiar with rakovsky's posting history here, wgw?

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http://www.sacred-texts.org has nearly of all of them.  I challenge you to find one that is either as consistent or has the same message of love.  The texts of the Baha'i faith are more consistent because Bahuallah wrote all of them, and the printing press precluded scribal transcription errors.  However there is nothing loving about the Kitab-Al-Aqdas, which is basically a list of laws, including the odious requirement for arsons to be burned alive.

Completely irrelevant to the OP. Please stop muddying the waters, wgw.
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Offline wgw

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #10 on: May 28, 2015, 09:24:13 AM »
It's in no sense irrelevant.  Rakovsky is troubled by a lack of consistency in the New Testament.  I'm showing him a faith with far more consistency than Christianity, and how utterly devoid of love or grace it is.
Axios and many years to you, Fr. Trenham!

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #11 on: May 28, 2015, 09:30:28 AM »
It's in no sense irrelevant.  Rakovsky is troubled by a lack of consistency in the New Testament.  I'm showing him a faith with far more consistency than Christianity, and how utterly devoid of love or grace it is.

Go back into Rakovsky's posting history. Then come back to us.
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Online rakovsky

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Re: Textual problems in Matthew's resurrection account
« Reply #12 on: May 28, 2015, 08:37:04 PM »
In this respect LBK is correct regarding St. John the Baptist.

However, if it's any consolation, the Mandaeans were also unconvinced.  But look what it got them.

When I read the Mandaean Book of John, which contains an alleged dialogue between St. John and our Lord, our Lord comes across in a bright light, and they blasphemously make St. John look bad.  The whole thing smells of sour grapes of a legalistic people who could not accept the radical message of love, hope and forgiveness taught by our Lord and so decided to erect a cult around his Forerunner and falsify an animosity between them.  Some of these were probably followers of St. John who never embraced Christianity, but who did embrace Gnosticism, and later migrated east, forming a syncretic religion with followers of the ancient Babylonian faith (there is a lot of stuff in Mandaeism).

You have an impressive set of knowledge of many religions and ideas in Christianity. Let's discuss these broad issues more on the thread on Proofs for the Resurrection:
http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,64444.0.html
« Last Edit: May 28, 2015, 08:38:00 PM by rakovsky »
The ocean, infinite to men, and the worlds beyond it, are directed by the same ordinances of the Lord. ~ I Clement 20