Sunday, April 12, 2009

Easter Sunday observations -- or: Am I the first person in 2000 years to notice this coincidence?

Yeah, this is a non-political post. If I can't talk about this stuff on this day, then when would be an appropriate time?

Here's the Easter story as related in the Gospel of John.
But Mary was standing outside at the tomb weeping. So, as she wept, she stooped and looked into the tomb, and she saw two angels in white sitting, one at the head, and one at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain. They told her, "Woman, why are you weeping?"

She said to them, "Because they have taken away my Lord, and I don't know where they have laid him."
First question: Don't you think that her first reaction would probably be more like "Yikes!" or "Who are you and how did you get into the tomb?"

Why isn't she scared? How does she know that these are angels, and not ghosts? (It is a tomb.) I'd love to get a physical description of these angels: Wings? No wings? Young? Old? Male? Female? Androgynous? Do they radiate light? Why don't the writers of these ancient texts ever anticipate the obvious questions which readers will have?
When she had said this, she turned around...
Two supernatural beings in a tomb aren't enough to hold her interest?
...and saw Jesus standing, and didn't know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?"

She, supposing him to be the gardener, said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."
Okay, the big question here is: Why does she suppose him to be the gardener? I presume that he, at this point, looks like the gardener, much as the old dude on the way to Emmaus looked like an old dude until the Big Reveal. In other words, what's going on isn't really Resurrection -- more like possession. The spirit of Jesus has taken over this guy's body, sort of like a scene out of those old Deadman comics.

And just how is one chick, by herself, proposing to move the body? Where would she move it?

Why not ask: "Hey, why did you move the body? And do you know anything about those two spooky guys in the tomb? Did you see them walk in?"
Jesus said to her, "Mary."

She turned and said to him, "Rhabbouni!" which is to say, "Teacher!"
She has turned to him twice now. Apparently, she turned away from the gardener while grilling him. Someone should cure her A.D.D.

All kidding aside, I have always considered this recognition scene moving. But we still don't have a visual. Does he look like Jesus at this point, or is he (physically) the gardener speaking with the voice of Jesus?
Jesus said to her, "Don't touch me, for I haven't yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brothers, and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
The good old nolo me tangerine scene. The big problem here, of course, is this: Mary cannot touch him, yet others can, later in the Gospel. I presume that a hug is disallowed because this is really the gardener talking to her. In purely physical terms, this is not Jesus.
Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had said these things to her.
Okay, this part bugs me. How does the scene with Jesus/the gardener end? Why doesn't she ask the obvious questions: "Were you really dead? What's it like to be dead? Who were those guys in the tomb?"

In the Nicholas Ray version of King of Kings, Mary simply walks away at this point. Why? I mean, here she is standing face-to-face with a guy she saw get killed. You would think she would keep the interview going for as long as possible. But no. Jesus says his lines and she trots off without even muttering goodbye. That is serious A.D.D.

Back to our text: Does Jesus suddenly disposses the gardener's body, a la Deadman? This is my personal theory. Does the gardener regain control? That's the way I see it: A blink, a shiver, a confused expression. "Where am I? What just happened? Who's the chick? Why is she acting so meshugga?"
When therefore it was evening, on that day, the first day of the week, and when the doors were locked where the disciples were assembled, for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood in the midst, and said to them, "Peace be to you."
If it's dark out, aren't we already into the second day of the week, as Jews reckon these things?

The locked door is a nice touch. It indicates that no-one saw him enter the room. Just as obviously, no-one saw him blink in, a la Bewitched.
When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples therefore were glad when they saw the Lord.
"Glad" seems rather too small a word.
Jesus therefore said to them again, "Peace be to you. As the Father has sent me, even so I send you."

When he had said this, he breathed on them, and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit! Whoever's sins you forgive, they are forgiven them. Whoever's sins you retain, they have been retained."
This "breathing on the disciples" business has been dramatized in only one Jesus movie -- the recent film version of The Gospel of John, which is very good. (Much better than Pasolini's overrated effort. Trust me on this.) The movie pretty much had to show actual "halo"-tosis, because the intent was to film the entire text, with nothing left out.

You know what? It looks kind of stupid. That's why we don't see this bit in other Jesus movies.

I think that the original writer of the Gospel did not mean for this breathing business to be taken literally.

Frustratingly, the scene does not have an ending. Did Jesus vanish into thin air? Did he slip out the door? ("Stay here, guys -- I'm just going pop on over to the corner market and get us some falafel.")

And now we get to the most intriguing part of my sermon...
But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, wasn't with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, "We have seen the Lord!"

But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe."
Both "Thomas" and "Didymus" mean twin. "Thomas" is Aramaic and "Didymus" is Greek. "Twin" is a nickname, just as "Rock" was Simon's nickname. Jesus, anticipating the internet, thought everyone should have a nickname. Thomas' real name (we know from other sources) was Jude, although he was not Jude the brother of James and (obviously) not Judas Iscariot.

The question is, whose twin? And are we talking about a genetic twin, or are we speaking in more informal terms -- "twin" as in "coincidentally bearing a strong resemblance to"?

One theory holds that he was the twin of Matthew. Nothing supports this idea.

To the best of my knowledge, the only ancient text which addresses the "Whose twin?" question is the Book of Thomas the Contender, one of the works found at Nag Hamadi. Yeah, I know that this book is not canon. But it is ancient, and (on this matter) it is all we have.

Supposedly, Matthew wrote this book in order to relate the "secret words" which Jesus gave to Thomas. Here's how Jesus starts his briefing:
"Now, since it has been said that you are my twin and true companion, examine yourself, and learn who you are, in what way you exist, and how you will come to be."

The important point here is that Thomas/Didymus is the twin of Jesus. Presumably, he is not a birth twin -- that would mean a major re-write of the Nativity narratives.

So he's a lookalike.

And thus, this question: Does it not strike you as awfully coincidental that the one person not present when "Jesus" walked into that room was the disciple who looked so much like Jesus that he was given the nickname "the Twin"?


Anonymous said...

You expect reasonable assumptions and religion to go together? Religious leaders have taken care of people like you that dare question by simply calling you blasphemers.

The number of nonsensical passages in the bible are astromonical. But they will not now, nor have they ever mattered to a true believer.

Me, as a recovering Catholic, I settle for just embracing being the best person I can be without someone threatening to burn my ass in everylasting hellfire with demons ripping at my flesh. It works better for me.

Perry Logan said...

My theory is that John was a pathological liar.

Anonymous said...

Mary's story sounds like she is recounting a dream or vision. Perhaps she was or perhaps it was written that way to evoke that feeling in the reader.

As far as your twin theory... too comic booky.

Anonymous said...

The Disciples didn't recognize Jeebus at first either, so the Bible says he showed them the wounds in his hands and side to prove who he was.

If the Bible was accurate then Jeebus would have shown them his wrists, not his hands.

The Romans knew that if you put the nails through the hands of the condemned their body weight would tear the nails through the flesh of the hands and the guy would fall off the cross.

So the Romans nailed them through the forearm bones instead.

catsden said...

Great sermon, Joseph (the father Joseph?) 2000 years of rewrite, translation, heresy, and inquisition - how could any of this make sense or be reasonably explained? Let's throw it out and start over as soon as the second coming reveals himself/herself/itself. or Not.

Anonymous said...

My teacher from India had the best explanation I've heard. Though very much weak, Jesus did not die but was helped and he used a disguise to evade his enemies. The "angels" are the garden variety angels, people who help us. There are several instances in which Jesus is not recognized by people who should have.

gary said...

Thomas, in order to accept the Resurection, required only seeing Jesus himself and examining his wounds. I am prepared to accept the Resurection myself, I ask only the same standard of evidence.

Anonymous said...

First, it should be noted that the characterization and number of persons seen at the tomb on Easter morning varies in each of the four gospels.

It is variously 1 young man, 2 young men, 1 angel, and 2 angels. (Guessing, angels look like young men, evidently.)

As for Thomas (Jude) not being in the upstairs room for the first appearance of Jesus, I'm inferring a suggestion that he in fact was the guy who showed up and convinced the others that Jesus had arisen.

However, when the doubting Thomas is given the proof he has demanded, to be able to touch the wounds, etc., in person, this occurs in the presence of the other disciples. So Thomas is not hiding a secret identity, that of the risen Jesus.

I imagine that the rest of the little questions have answers of some kind in the millenia of exegetical and apologetic literature in the meantime.

Why 'glad,' for instance? I do not know my Biblical languages well enough to comment, but that known error-prone translators in the King James project said a Greek or Latin word was best translated anything does not make it so (although it determines the traditional later English translations, certainly).


Joseph Cannon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Joseph Cannon said...

Well, XI, I did not want to get into the vexed question of reconciliation of the four Resurrection narratives. That is a matter for another Easter, perhaps. Right now, I was just sticking to the one account. More or less.

myiq2xu: The question of "where did the nails go in?" is rather more involved than you might think.

Not long ago, I saw a lengthy (and positively stomach-churning) History Channel documentary on crucifixion. Some say that if you hit the right spot, the palms will hold up a body. Others say that you will need ropes no matter what. At any rate, everyone agreed that the Greek word meaning "hands" also includes the wrists.

Anon 8:48 -- you are the only one who has divined my message. He that hath an ear, let him hear.

My thinking is that the first post-death Jesus spottings (Mary at the tomb, the road to Emmaus) were visionary in nature and thus unlikely to persuade a skeptic.

These were followed by a couple of occasions where the Twin played the role.

The later scene in John -- the one with Thomas poking his finger into Jesus' wound -- was concocted precisely to counter a then-current suspicion that Thomas had played the role of Jesus.

It's just a theory. I'm not convinced of it. I simply wanted to open up the matter for discussion.

Is this theory too comic booky? Yeah. Maybe. But let's be honest -- in more modern times, tent-show evangelists have resorted to even more outlandish tricks.

Now you are probably asking the obvious question: "By what standard can you say that one passage in the Gospel is a pious concoction while another passage refers to something like real events?"

Well, scholars have given that question a lot of thought. And they've come up with three criteria for judging a pericope. ("Pericope" is a fancy term meaning "bit" or "sub-story" or "anecdote" or "passage.")

1. The criterion of numbers. How many Jesus texts mention the pericope? The baptism of John appears in all four canonical gospels and in some of the non-canonical stuff. The nativity story, by contrast, appears in only two gospels -- and most of the events dramatized in Christmas plays can actually be found in only a single gospel.

2. The criterion of age. The accounts in older texts are thought to be better than what we read in later texts. Obviously, there's more likelihood of reality in Mark (written somewhere between AD 40-70) than in the Talmud (written circa AD 200).

3. The criterion of embarrassment. This one is the most interesting. If a pericope is likely to need explaining and rationalization -- if it needs lots of 'splainin', especially in light of later orthodox theology -- it's probably true.

Example: "Jesus was crucified." Well, why would anyone starting a new religion make up a detail like that? Crucifixion was reserved for criminals and thieves and scum.

Example: "John baptized Jesus." This one is a little subtler. The guy doing the baptizing is thought to be the one with spiritual authority. This story puts John ahead of Jesus on the holy man totem pole. The earliest account (Mark) conveys the info straightforwardly. The later accounts add sayings designed to quell the embarrassment factor.

See how it works? The Crucifixion is probably real because 1. It is mentioned in all accounts, 2. It is mentioned in the oldest accounts, and 3. It is really embarrassing. No-one wants to say "The founder of my religion died as a criminal."

On the other hand, you have the raising of Lazarus. This pericope is mentioned in but one Gospel. That Gospel may be the latest of the four canonical writings (although I question this presumption). And I can't see any embarrassment factor at play here. The event (or something like it) MAY have happened, but it seems far less secure than the crucifixion.

I'd add a fourth criterion. The criterion of common sense, or likelihood.

If someone digs up an old text that says "Jesus drank water" -- well, who would question it? That statement does not assail our common sense.

But if a new text were to assert that Jesus turned a man into a squash -- well, that's a whole different matter, innit?

Bubba Grizzly said...

So could this be the origin of WTF....

Otto said...

I've heard it suggested before that the "Jesus" who appeared after the crucifiction was an impostor, since several people who had known Jesus didn't recognize him at first when he appeared. This is the first time I've heard the Thomas/twin angle, though.

Since I think the whole story of Jesus is fiction, I'm not inclined to worry about interpreting the details. It's probably just that the writers sucked.

Anonymous said...

You can only guess so much.

There are so many ways to interpret the same events-who knows what happened or what message Jesus (Not Jeebus) intended to convey.

If you look at the outcome of what he did though, the number of people his life affected, the history he changed- there is something supernatural about it all.

okasha skatsi said...

"Didymos" also means "testicle." Methinks whoever bestowed his nickname on Tom was having a bit of fun at his expense.

gary said...

I'm not so sure about the whole being crucified throught the wrists thing. From what I've read sometimes it was the wrists and sometimes the palms with the hands also tied to the cross for support.

Anonymous said...

at the level of "religion", the stories of the bible are at best allegories taken literally. I saw through them at about age 9 when I realized after sunday school one day that a big hand was not gonna come out of the sky and smack me silly for x, y or z.
I thought of myself as an atheist for most of my life until I found my way into the metaphysical level (unity and church of religious science) and then mysticism.
unfortunately, the mystical teachings of all religions are locked away in the monasteries and sects - Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu, Islamic, Jewish, etc, etc, etc, and it's that way for a very good reason! If you think our good intentions were fucked over in the last election, try explaining esotericism (or anything nuanced) to people who are basically animalistic in their development and then watch out!
the point is the world's inhabitants seem to be being kicked out of the narrow little boxed viewpoints of religion and nationalism whether we like it or not and into something broader because life is sooooo much bigger than religion and nationalism would have us believe!

glennmcgahee said...

Jesus appeared as a gardener? I knew I should have read the whole thing. I always thought from my Sunday school teachings that he appeared as a large white bunny carrying a basket of colorful eggs laid in plastic green grass.

Tom K. said...

Check out the novel Three Marys by Paul Park. It offers a completely different set of circumstances for the whole story--mostly post-crucifixion--including this scene. It's really a brilliant book. In order, the three chapters are told from the POV of Mary Magdelene, Mary the sister of Lazarus, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Very highly recommended, but you'll have to find it on Amazon.

Caro said...

Oh, my goddess! There are conspiracies everywhere!

If Jude/Thomas/Didymus was posing as Jesus, why didn't they all say when they saw him, "Hey, Jude! Why the heck are you pretending to be Jesus?" They all knew Jude and they all knew Jesus.

Frankly, I think this resurrection thing is a made up story.

But I greatly enjoyed your attempt to put the story in the context of an investigative piece. Sadly, many of today's journamalists are very similar to the authors of the Bible in their approach to their work.

And not just the New Testament.

Carolyn Kay

Joseph Cannon said...

Carolyn: Oh, allow me to play with my little theory for just a bit longer.

It was dark. Nothing was said. The encounter did not last long.

If Jude were wearing Jesus' robe (which was apparently distinctive) and had bloodstains, he might have pulled it off.

On the other hand, the theory does have problems. It's the original locked room mystery. How does Jude make his escape? And -- calling Richard Burton! -- how could he get hold of the robe?

Anonymous said...

I can answer a few of these based on my own spiritual studies and experiences.

How does she know that these are angels? Old Testament appearances of angels tell us that they can alter their appearance to resemble normal humans, but at the same time they are able to project an indefinable something which makes it clear that they are angels (analogous to how a royal personage can project their status even when not clothed in their robes of office).

Why isn't she scared? Appearances of angels in the Old Testament indicate they can choose to have whatever emotional/psychological effect they choose on whomever views them: the shepherds were afraid, Shadrak et al calm, Lot glad, etc.
They have whatever effect they need to have for God's purposes (for it to be otherwise would be a waste of God's time).

When she had said this, she turned around...Two supernatural beings in a tomb aren't enough to hold her interest? She simply sensed the presence of something/someone more important (even if she didn't know what it was exactly).

Why does she suppose him to be the gardener? Jesus has just undergone a massively transformative spiritual experience, and so it affects his appearance. Sometimes when people get older, lose weight, have life-changing experiences (or even just shave/grow a beard/cut their hair)we don't recognize them at first, and what Jesus has just done is many many orders of magnitude greater. He speaks, then she recognizes him (as often happens between regular people).

And just how is one chick, by herself, proposing to move the body? This is just another way of saying, "I will arrange to have it moved; you don't have to do anything, just show me where it is, and I will take care of it."

Where would she move it? Presumably to someplace where it can be re-prepared for burial.

Why not ask: "Hey, why did you move the body? When the body of someone you love is missing, the first thing ask is "where did it go?" And remember: that is why she is here, that is what is uppermost in her mind, that is in fact the underyling question/mystery of the entire scene.

She has turned to him twice now.
She turned away out of emotion (think dramatic actresses, especially Bette Davis).

How does the scene with Jesus/the gardener end? Why doesn't she ask the obvious questions: "Were you really dead? What's it like to be dead? Who were those guys in the tomb?" It ends just the way it says it ends. Jesus is her Teacher and Master, The Son of God, risen from the dead - so when he says "go," she goes. If it's dark out, aren't we already into the second day of the week, as Jews reckon these things? Remember that these were European Christians translating the text some time later, so they viewed what constituted a "day" differently. The point John is trying to make - and one which is generally accepted by Biblical scholars - is that is these events take place within a 24 hour period.

Back to an earlier "question"

Jesus said to her, "Don't touch me, for I haven't yet ascended to my Father; but go to my brothers, and tell them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"
The good old nolo me tangerine scene. The big problem here, of course, is this: Mary cannot touch him, yet others can, later in the Gospel.

Jesus tells Thomas (only Thomas touches him, and only in the Gospel of John) to touch him because Thomas needs to do so in order to progress spiritually (i.e. to touch and then believe).
Jesus doesn't let Mary touch him because he knows that she is of a higher spiritual level than Thomas, but one still low enough that for her to touch his un-ascended form would actually be a step downward for her spiritually (i.e. to touch him would, in effect 'drag her back down', as it were, to a more base level).
There are analogs of this concept in other religions/spiritual philosophies, many of which are much more subtle.

Sergei Rostov