Thursday, December 18, 2014

They were afraid

The death of a particular man shook the world to the extent that, centuries later, a new calendar was devised, for "the Year of Our Lord," based on the estimated year of his birth, and a civilization was named after his title, the blasphemous title of "Anointed," and all over the world the image of his corpse nailed to a cross hangs on walls and around necks. Why is that? Countless Jews, and countless others, were crucified by the Roman Empire, why does our common era begin with this man?

There was darkness at noon, the synoptic gospels agree. All four gospels say he was offered sour wine on some cloth at the end of a stick, and that he cried out loud and was dead. The synoptic gospels say that the veil in the Temple was torn in two, symbolizing direct access to the divine presence. Matthew tells of a zombie apocalypse -- the bodies of some saints were raised and walked around and were seen by many. He died sooner than normal for a crucified man. The Romans liked to torture the crucified for a long time, to prolong the work of Justice on the criminal, so Pilate was surprised to hear of his death already. All four gospels mention a wealthy man named Joseph of Arimithea taking the corpse and placing it in a tomb he had.

There are significant differences in the four versions of the story. John's gospel gives Peter and John more central roles in the discovery of the empty tomb. I prefer Mark's account, and I prefer the shorter version of Mark, which ends at 16:8.

The crucifixion was watched by many women who had followed Jesus since Galilee, and who had taken care of him. The men had run away and were apparently still hiding, but these women stayed and watched and came forward to prepare his body. It would be worthwhile to collect the various times this gospel mentions women serving Jesus and the various times Jesus says that those who are greatest  will serve the others. The arrival of the women ready to anoint the absent body recalls the earlier incident in Bethany where an unnamed woman anointed Jesus "before burial."

Mark 16: 1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

This is where some of the oldest versions of Mark's gospel end, and I like this ending for poetic reasons, I guess. Matthew cut Peter's name from the ending. I suggest you read the footnotes at the bottom of this Mark 16, about the shorter and longer endings appended to verse 8. 

Matthew 28 embellishes Mark's story. The young man in white is there described as "like lightning." He is described in terms similar to those used to describe the transfiguration in Matthew 17:
And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 

and the angelic figures in Daniel 10:
I looked up and saw a man clothed in linen, with a belt of gold from Uphaz around his waist. His body was like beryl, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and the sound of his words like the roar of a multitude.

Rumors that Jesus was still alive, or returned to life, spread.

Back in Galilee, the risen Messiah appeared to the eleven remaining disciples -- in a vision? hallucination? dreams? tall tale? --  and commissioned them to continue his teaching, and promised his continuing presence within the messianic community, until "the end of the age."
Matthew 28: 
18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”


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