Reply to Comments on Harmonization
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Answers to objections concerning our harmony of the Resurrection narratives:

If this was inspired work, the Holy Spirit was careless in guiding these "inspired" ones in what to write about an extraordinary event that begged for evidence to confirm it. After all, these narratives were going to become the primary documents in establishing that a man died, was stone-cold dead for two days, and then returned to life. I would think that "the more the merrier" would apply here and that the omniscient, omnipotent one should have realized that if at least five women, as required by Luke's narrative, went to the tomb, the credibility of their claim that a dead man had returned to life--if it is at all possible for such a claim to have credibility--would have been better served if all of the narratives had named all of these "witnesses."

  • This is no more than a matter of the objector setting a standard based on his own reading of the texts in a Western, literaist fashion. "Careless" here is what the Easterners call ma besay-il -- it doesn't matter.
  • These narratives that the objector thinks "were going to become the primary documents in establishing that a man died," etc. were no such thing. The Gospels were written as biographies of Jesus and were not (despite their [mis]use today as such) evangelistic documents, other than to some extent the Gospel of John. (See more about the practice of ancient bioi he can rip on over here.)

    But even if they WERE such documents, as we explained in some detail here, documents simply were not the be-all and end-all of the ancient world -- oral transmission served that purpose. The obejction offers the same misgudied view that Tony Lentz commented upon in his book Orality and Literacy in Hellenic Greece [2]:

    Western academic measurement of success by literary and printed research colored the expectation of classical scholars as they considered writing in ancient culture. Writing was so important to their world that they assumed it was the key to the growth of ancient culture.

    So likewise when it is assumed that the written Gospels were the key to the growth of ancient Christianity. They were not. How could they be? 90-95% of the population was illiterate. The credibility of the Resurrection for those reading the Gospels had already been established -- not on the strength of any one or more written narratives, but the collective and unwritten apostolic witness -- not just to the empty tomb, but to the resurrected Jesus -- which offers the only worthwhile explanation for the existence and growth of the Christian movement. (See this.)

    You say that John has Mary Magdalene say "we" and use this as evidence that she was not alone, But Nicodemus in John 3 used a "we" in spite of being alone.

    It may be replied, properly, that Nicodemus was simply saying that he and others he knew understood that Jesus was a teacher come from God, and this would not in any way prove that Nicodemus had others with him at the time. I agree with respect to Mary as well. I don't think Mary's companions needed to follow her in to where Peter and John were. It would have been hard enough to run around by herself and commit the questionable social act of being alone with these men who were not her husband; how much worse for 2-3 or however many of them to do the same? Think how well that would be received in Islamic society -- rather stricter, yes, but the moral principles were much the same.

    The point was that Mary did not go to the tomb alone, or return alone, as Skeptics are wont to claim John says.

    Who was the "we" in John 3:11 then? It couldn't be the disciples, because the selection of the disciples had just begun in chapter 1 (35ff), so not much 'testifying' could have occurred by this time.

    Just how much "testifying" needed to be done before this could be said then, and how many disciples or persons needed to be testifying? John names several disciples in Ch. 1 -- if we stop there, was there a 10-person rule before you were allowed to use a "we" to testify? By the same token how could Nicodemus know Jesus was such a great teacher if there was not a significant enough time between Chs. 2 and 3? There is more time between Chs. 1 and 3 than it takes to merely read the chapters. John writes of many believing on Jesus over the Passover (2:23), so there is some decent teaching time indicated, which would also suggest gathering of disciples.

    Your appeal to Rihbany ruins the concept of inspiration.

    Only false models of mechanical dictation -- see here.

    Yes, as long as Matthew didn't say that Salome was never there, no error exists, but that is not to say that a lot of stupidity didn't exist on the part of the writer and the omniscient one who inspired him to leave out the names of some who were on the scene. This would be as idiotic as a man accused of murder knowing that he was miles away from the scene of the crime at the time in the presence of several people, but he gave the police only one or two names of those who were with him.

    The analogy is false: The man accused of murder, to parallel, would also have on his side the testimony of numerous other witnesses (500 to the resurrected Jesus, under the present paradigm) and would also have to live in a culture where orality was valued over literacy.

    For more on "harmonizing" principles see here and here.

    Mary Magdalene was presented in the synoptic gospels as having seen an angel or angels at the tomb, and heard him or them announce the resurrection of Jesus, after which she actually encountered Jesus and worshiped him as she was running from the tomb to tell the disciples what had happened. In John's gospel, however, Mary Magdalene is presented as having found the tomb empty, after which she ran to Peter and the disciple "whom Jesus loved" and told them that the body had been stolen. So the problem is why Mary would have told the disciples that the body had been stolen if she had seen and heard everything that the synoptic gospels claim that she saw and heard.

    The issue is twofold:

    1. The objection assumes that when Matthew names ONLY Mary Magdalene and the second Mary, he is giving a comprehensive list of who was present.
    2. By that token, Mary Magdalene must be someone who departed and ran into the resurrected Jesus (28:9-11) since the two Marys are the only known antecedent for "the women" in vss. 9-10.

    But again, the answer is ma besay-il. It doesn't matter. Each writer chose women representative of the party, based perhaps on their own knowledge or on that of their audience. Matthew had points to establish to make his story -- women went to the tomb; they saw the Risen Jesus; the message was given to go to Galilee (thus setting up his "Great Commission" picture -- and the fact that the same message is partially given twice, by the angel and by Jesus, should be a clue) -- and he had only a few lines to do it. The Ressurection appearance recorded in 28:9-10 is short, stereotyped, and contrived, and it is meant to be.

    The picture readers formed in their minds after reading Matthew's gospel could not have included anything that was written in gospels that came after Matthew's.

    That is merely an expression of graphocentrism: It neglects the dimension that oral tradition and community interaction would have had in filling in the gaps. But whether Matthew did know of other women, and did not name them; whether he really did write in such a way as to imply that Mary Magdalene was one of the women in 28:9-10 -- the answer is the same: ma besay-il. To the people who read and wrote this, it didn't matter. They could see as well as we can that 28:9-10 is a contrivance; just as it easy to see that Matthew's five blocks of Jesus' teachings are a structured contrivance..

    Since Christianity was always a "missionary" religion, (at least since Paul got involved), how could it possibly be said that the gospels, were NOT evangelistic documents!? The very word gospel means "good news." If the gospels were only a biography of Jesus, they did a poor job. We seem to only know what Jesus did when he was an infant, one thing he did as a child, and what he did during his three year ministry. In fact, we only know he was a carpenter because of some offhand reference in Mark! We're only told about events that have some doctrinal or religious importance.

    First, what's the logic of the first few lines?

    • Christianity was a missionary religion. (It was before Paul as well; the sending of the 70 was not out to get pizza!)
    • Christianity produced the Gospels.
    • Therefore the Gospels must have been evangelistic documents.

    Well, the hidden premise is that because Christianity was missionary, ANY document it produced must have been missionary. But that of course leads to the issue, What are the Gospels? and the objector thinks they can't be bios because they lack the details of modern biography.

    Here we noted how ancient biography (bioi) was different than modern biography, in that the details the objector asks for -- accounts of Jesus as a child -- weren't part of a normal ancient biographical composition. Ancient bioi conventions were not the same as modern ones. Childhood was not important, for there was little conception of personal development during childhood. The cameos of Matthew and Luke offer no more and no less than we would expect from a normal ancient bioi.

    You may be right that Ancient Near Easterners probably weren't as concerned with exact detail and exact chronology as we are today, but unless the meaning of 'contradiction' has changed over the last two millennia, it doesn't really matter.

    It didn't matter even before that, actually. Here's a phrase to remember: semantic contract. If you join that annual contest to tell the biggest lie, is it actually lying when you tell your story? No, because everyone knows by your participation that you're not telling the truth. By the same token the contextual delimitations of the ANE offer a "contract" in which such divergence is understood and accepted. No one would call it "contradiction" because no one would think it was meant to be the whole story to begin with -- not until modern literalists showed up, at any rate. It's beside the point to say, "Matthew could have easily written a stereotyped and contrived account that was in harmony with John's gospel. But he didn't. So what else is there to say?" There is to say: Why should Matthew have been tailored to the demands of a few modern people?

    -JPH