Real Bible Studies, Matthew 28, Mark 16

Matthew and Mark conclude their Gospels with the resurrection narrative, or, more accurately, the resurrection hearsay. Neither Gospel provides an eye witness account of Yeshua getting up and walking away from the tomb. Rather, Mark has the women who have been following Yeshua show up the day after the Sabbath to prepare him for burial only to be met by a stranger who tells them to let the disciples know Yeshua has risen and is waiting for them in Galilee. The women run away afraid without telling anyone, until some unnamed editor decided he didn’t care for that ending and expanded upon it. Even in translation, the additional ending of Mark sounds nothing like the rest of the Gospel or the pronouncements of Yeshua in it, and adds nothing substantial to the story, other than giving it a Christian slant that had not emerged before the second century CE.

In fact, none of the stories told in the Gospels about Yeshua’s resurrection agree with one another; Luke adds details not in Matthew or Mark and John is almost telling a completely different story. Throughout history, religious authorities have cobbled together a hybrid version that encompasses all that each of the Gospel writers say about the Resurrection, which is what most people use in their observances. In Mark’s account, as the women were on their way to the tomb, they wondered how they’d move the stone and arrive to find it already rolled away.

Matthew instills his narrative with many fantastical details. First, there’s another earthquake, then an angel descends from heaven, and the stone is rolled away right before the women’s eyes. The sight is enough to cause the guards at the tomb to pass out (“become like dead men”) The angel tells the women Yeshua has risen and to let the disciples know. They’re afraid, but do as they’re instructed. Then, for good measure, Yeshua appears to them as they’re leaving reinforcing what they’ve been told. Rather than accompanying them to see the apostles, he repeats the instruction to meet him in Galilee.

Matthew then introduces a contradictory rumor about the disappearance of Yeshua’s body by using the satirical ploy of refuting it. He states that when the guards inform the priests and scribes of what they’ve witnessed, the Temple officials advise them to say his followers stole the body while they were asleep, and pay them to spread this rumor. The priests and scribes also agree to smooth things over with Pilate, so the guards won’t get in trouble. It may be that the author of Matthew was aware of the rumors surrounding Yeshua and wanted to offer a plausible explanation, but in light of other elements of his Gospel, such as revealing that two men were identified as Yeshua Bar Abba, and always quoting prophecies that incorrectly predicted the return of Ephraim from exile, it seems the intent is to cast doubts on the belief that the failed messianic contender Yeshua Bar Abba was somehow magically transformed into Jesus, the Risen Christ of Paul’s followers.

Just as the final ten verses of Mark seem tacked on by a later editor, the final five verses of Matthew are equally suspect. They also include Christian dogma that Yeshua never spoke while he was making his way to Jerusalem. He told his followers that they would rule at his side in the Kingdom of Heaven, not that they would go around spreading the good news to anyone who would listen and creating more apostles. The ending of verse 15 (RSV) makes a more logical endpoint of the story Matthew is telling: “So they took the money and did as they were directed; and this story has been spread among the Jews to this day.” With these words, the author of Matthew gives a final wink to the audience, ending it in a similar fashion to the way many narratives in the Scriptures end.

In the additional lines from Mark, the first person Yeshua appears to is Mary Magdalene. Mark adds the detail that she’s the person from whom Yeshua cast out seven demons which may be why no one believes her when she says she’s seen him. They also don’t believe two unnamed members of their group (Mark is notoriously sparse in giving characters names) who also claim to have seen Yeshua after his crucifixion. Casting Mary Magdalene as the first witness to Yeshua’s resurrection places Mark’s Gospel more in line with the Gnostics, and the author of the Gospel of John, which is the most Gnostic of the canonical Gospels. In Paul’s epistles (1 Corinthians 15:5-8), he gives an extensive list of people to whom he claims the Risen Christ appeared, and there aren’t any women on the list, not even Mary Magdalene.

Finally, Yeshua reveals himself to “the eleven” while they’re gathered together and chastises them for not believing the earlier messengers. He then gives them their charge, setting in motion the basis for many Pentecostal congregations in the future, by instructing them they’ll be able to handle snakes without being harmed, and also telling them they’ll be able to drink poison, which I haven’t heard of many modern religions testing. Having finished all his earthly work, both Gospels have Yeshua ascend into heaven, promising to still be with his followers, even until the end of the world.

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