4991Two burial stories
- Sep 4, 2004Dear Tobias,
Thank you for taking the time to clarify certain points.
I do not think that photocopying, scanning or quoting a page from a
library book violates the copyright laws. But this point, as important
as it may be for a discussion group like ours, is off topic. I will not
discuss it here.
Besides, I no longer need a copy of Brown's text. You have made it clear
that he thinks exactly like you, namely that he would consider my theory
as "phantasy". But since my theory is based on John 19:31-34, I would
have expected you to dismiss this johannine passage as being without any
historical merit as well. The fact that you cannot bring yourself to
take such a drastic step deserves an explanation.
Please understand that I am not interested in criticizing you. I respect
your reluctance to be critical of this johannine passage. My purpose is
to initiate a deeper reflection on the problem with which we are faced.
You mentioned that "Some of us have been taught from our childhood that
the soldier pierced the side of (the historical?) Jesus but have no
problem questioning the historicity of that passage." Does this mean as
well that you would not have any problem questioning the historicity of
Here lies precisely the problem of modern exegesis. It is easy to have a
free discussion of trivial questions that are of no vital importance in
relation to our religious convictions or cultural views. Do you know
many theological school professors who would readily admit that the
resurrection is nothing but a myth, in the sense that it did not affect
in any way the dead body of Jesus?
The fulfillment of the scripture: "They will look on the one whom they
have pierced" seems to have had an importance in the eyes of the author
of GJohn. The same question does not have much importance today. So we
have no difficulty with a theory claiming it to be a non historical
event. But, when I step in, and see in John 19:31-34 an historical
incident which implies that Jesus was not buried by Joseph of Arimathea
and that nobody among his disciples ever knew his final resting place, I
am viewed as a dangerous terrorist. I cannot find fault with a reaction
of this nature, because it is perfectly natural. Our self-defense
mechanism forces us to protect ourselves from any dangerous intrusion
that can affect our physical life or our spiritual wholeness. The
self-defense mechanism is pre-rational. It controls us. We do not
control it. It takes a radical revolution to reverse our convictions and
open us to a new perception of the truth.
The classical example of such a revolution is the case of Galileo. He
claimed, contrarily to the universal belief, that it is not the sun that
turns around the earth, but the earth around the sun. As long as he
contradicted a deeply-rooted cultural truth, he was viewed as a
dangerous terrorist. But with the passing of time our cultural views
changed and we have rehabilitated Galileo.
A similar revolution took place in relation to creation versus
evolution. Today we have no problem considering the creation stories of
the book of Genesis as creation Myths similar to what we find in other
ancient cultures. Along the same line, the day will come when my theory
concerning the burial of Jesus will become acceptable. But a change of
this nature requires an important change in our theological views and in
our understanding of the Christian event.
As far as I can judge from my third-world planet, and on the basis of my
very limited knowledge of what is being published today in the field of
gospel scholarship, it seems to me that we are in a very shaky
transitional situation. I have not read D.F. Strauss's massive _Das
Leben Jesu_. I can only speak of it on the basis of what I have been
told, namely that it shows "how history and theology ('myth') are
closely interwoven in the Gospels and cannot always be easily
separated". I recognize here a classical situation in which the mythical
dimension of the Christian discourse is recognized, but without being
taken seriously. We are willing to admit that historical facts are
interwoven with non-historical facts in the gospels. But since we do not
know how to tell which is which, we act as if everything was historical.
We go back to our old traditional views. As a result, we consider as
historical what is traditionally accepted and we dismiss as "phantasy"
what is theologically unacceptable.
It was mentioned in our exchanges that the story of Joseph of Arimathea
is very well attested and that, with the exception of Crossan, all
scholars consider it as highly historical. This is true. But this does
not prove that this widely spread view is correct. Everybody believed
that the sun turns around the earth until Galileo came and proved them
all wrong. The same thing can happen in relation to the story of Joseph
of Arimathea. But a revolution of this nature cannot take place just
because a Joseph Codsi decided to change the course of history on the
basis of a personal phantasy. My theory must be based on hard facts. The
hard fact is John 19:31-34. I have not invented the story that is
reported there. As far as I can tell from Tobias' report, Brown finds
the story quite believable, but raises doubts about its historicity,
because of "the problem that no one before GJohn mentioned these
supposedly historical incidents."
This form of speech implies that GJohn is the last gospel in date.
Because its predecessors ignore the incident of the Jews' request to
have the bodies removed out of sight, Brown justifies his dismissal of
the incident. On the basis of such a logic, we should dismiss as
unacceptable very large sections of GJohn which are unique to it. I do
not think that I would be speculating if I said that Brown's refusal to
admit the historicity of what is reported in John 19:31-34 is because he
is afraid of the logical consequences of this admission, namely that the
body of Jesus would have been taken off by the Roman soldiers, which is
incompatible with the firmly established tradition of the burial at the
hand of Joseph of Arimathea.
I think all of us are faced with the same difficulty. Brown and Tobias
are not alone. I also recognize that I have the obligation of dealing
with the difficulty in a satisfactory manner. But I feel, at the same
time, that, if we want to be honest with the evidence, we must take John
19:31-34 seriously and give it the benefit of the doubt, that is to say,
consider it as historical unless proven, later on, to be a fallacy.
GJohn has very late and very early material. Jack Kilmon speaks of a
proto-John that pre-dated GMark. He goes on to say: "I see John 19:34 as
a seam from the protogospel after which verse 35 is a "cap" and verses
36 and 37 were interpolations by the Greek author and 19:38 (the
beginning of the empty tomb story) a separate tradition. This would
tend to support the possibility that two traditions may be colliding at
So far, Jack is the only one to have been open to the possibility that
two traditions may be colliding at this point. This is why I was hoping
he would take the time to identify other items that go back to
proto-John. I would not be surprised if some of those items collided
with later traditions that have replaced older ones in the Christian
discourse. The fact that the Christian memory of many historical facts
has been altered and replaced with invented stories must be and can be
documented. I suspect that the collective memory of the early church was
altered, in its formative days, so as to eliminate many things that had
become unacceptable to the Christian mind. In other words, history was
changed in order to make it compatible with the new twists of the
An example of this phenomenon is what happened to the story of Jesus'
burial. His body was disposed of by the Roman soldiers, and his
disciples never new where it was put. Later on the faith in the
resurrection was challenged and the need to confirm it became important.
Whence the need to have a tomb that was found empty. The story of Joseph
of Arimathea was then invented.
If we can identify other stories that have been altered in a similar
fashion and for theological reasons, the case for my theory will be
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