In Response to: Chuck Jones
Chuck: The earliest witness of the existence and nature of the resurrection
appearances is, of course, I Cor. 15.
Bruce: Like many "of course" sentences, this one seems to conceal a certain
complexity. It seems that there are at least three traditions about what
happened after Jesus' death.
(1) He ascended to Heaven directly from the Cross, and was never buried.
This is probably what is symbolized in the vision of Mk 9:2f. Those seen
with Jesus (Elijah and Moses), apart from their obvious relevance, were both
supposed to have ascended direct to Heaven, and never to have endured the
corruption of burial (for Moses, see the noncanonical Testament of Moses).
This also gets into Luke, perhaps almost inadvertently, in Jesus' remark to
the thief being crucified with him: "This day shalt thou be with me in
Paradise" (Lk 23:43). Textually, we would have to call this a buried
tradition, but there it is. Like so many buried things, it may be older than
what is on top of it. Here, as at other places, the direct line of descent
runs from Mark to Luke, with Matthew sort of off to one side. (This shows up
also in the textual affinities of John, from which list Matthew is all but
(2) His body was thrown into a common criminal's grave. His spirit rose to
Heaven, and appeared, as a vision, first to Peter. This is the import (as
Peter Kirby pointed out some years ago) of the Markan Parable of the
Vineyard; it is also compatible with the Markan Anointing at Bethany. It is
also compatible with the 1 Cor 15 report. It is probably the second oldest
of these traditions.
(2a) A detail which, curiously enough, seems to be especially associated
with texts which claim a Petrine connection, is the Harrowing of Hell. Jesus
spent three days underground (that is, he was buried, in contradiction to #1
above, but compatible with #2), and spent the time converting the lost souls
in Hell, who then ascended to Heaven. This presumes that only Jesus saves,
but also that time has been sufficiently violated that earlier generations
can have heard, and responded to, Jesus. If by some chance this SHOULD go
back to Peter, then the meeting of Paul and Peter in Jerusalem, no doubt
chiefly to discuss the appearances of Jesus and their prequel, makes sense,
or at any rate is not refuted. Does Paul anywhere deal with the problem of
those who had died before they had a chance to hear Jesus? Or is anyone out
there currently working on the problem of the forever enigmatic Peter? If
so, I think I can promise you a couple of journal pages in which to share
your findings with the world. Get in touch offlist.
(3). Jesus's body was put into an elegant high-class rock-cut tomb in
Jerusalem, thanks to an elegant and socially high-placed patron, and from
there it arose physically, and those who saw him (please note: all in
Jerusalem, not in Galilee) could in principle touch him, and he could touch
things (and in the case of fish, eat them). This seems to be the third, and
thus latest, of these traditions. It very likely arose in Jerusalem, and is
the Jerusalem Version; its appearance in the Gospels (where alone it exists;
Paul does not attest it, as far as I recall) seems to correspond with a
general shift from Galilee to Jerusalem as the sacred place of Christianity
(already visible in Matthew, further emphasized in Luke B, and driven still
higher by John, who transfers most of Jesus' preaching there).
So maybe it is after all a little less simple then we today are inclined to
make it. These things have been pointed out before; I mention them merely to
keep the subject from being reduced past the point of researchability.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst