Thursday, December 22, 2011

Why Have Women Find the Empty Tomb First?

Although I am an agnostic, I still put out the Nativity set at Christmas every year because I still love the idea of God manifesting himself in such humble circumstances.  I always thought that the way that Jesus reached out to the outcasts in society is what made him such an appealing character and I always figured that it was a large part of the reason why Christianity caught on the way that it did.

As a result, I am puzzled when I hear Christian apologists argue that nobody could have invented the story of the women finding the empty tomb because of their low social status.  Here's a typical example:
When you understand the role of women in first-century Jewish society, what's really extraordinary is that this empty tomb story should feature women as the discoverers of the empty tomb in the first place. Women were on a very low rung of the social ladder in first-century Palestine. . . . Women's testimony was regarded as so worthless that they weren't even allowed to serve as legal witnesses in a Jewish court of Law. In light of this, it's absolutely remarkable that the chief witnesses to the empty tomb are these women... Any later legendary account would have certainly portrayed male disciples as discovering the tomb - Peter or John, for example.
William Lane Craig in The Case for Christ.

What the hell is this guy talking about?    The gospels have Jesus healing lepers and blind beggars, eating with tax gatherers and sinners, and forgiving prostitutes.   When the end of the gospels is reached, does Craig really think that the men who wrote these stories or the first people who read them would be concerned about the rung on the social ladder occupied by the first people to find the empty tomb?  Would "My gosh!  Women aren't even allowed to testify in court." really enter into anyone's thinking?

It really kind of saddens me that in their desperation to defend the historical accuracy of the gospel stories so many Christians should miss the point that indifference to social status is one of the things that gives the stories their meaning in the first place.  It saddens me that it doesn't occur to them that the women's low social standing might be the very reason the evangelists place them first at the empty tomb.


  1. You missed the point. Apologists are responding to the "the resurrection accounts were fabricated" claim by pointing out that if one was making up this story then you'd use men as witnesses.

  2. No. I get the point exactly.

    The apologists are claiming men who wrote stories in which social status has been turned on its head multiple times would suddenly become concerned about the social status of the characters when it comes to the story of the empty tomb. It is nothing more than apologetic wishful thinking.

  3. There is also the possibility that the story arose in a community of gentile Christians where women played prominent roles like Rome where they also enjoyed a higher status under civil law than in Palestine. In such a community the fact that women couldn't testify in Jewish courts wouldn't have influenced anyone's thinking.

  4. LOL. Another possibility is that they told the truth and documented and communicated an accurate message that put their freedom, property, reputations and even lives at risk. Oh, just more wishful thinking! Because groups of people are quick to craft elaborate lies and stick to them under severe duress even when separated in different countries.

  5. "There is also the possibility . . ."

    Just-so stories do not qualify as rebuttals. If you want to put forth a theory it is helpful to have some evidence.

  6. Of course it's possible that they told the truth. I'm just pointing out that the fact that they had women finding the empty tomb is not a circumstance from which we can infer that they did.

    I do not think that groups are quick to craft elaborate lies, but individuals sometimes craft lies which groups of people believe without any evidence whatsoever and sometimes members of those groups put their freedom, property, reputations, and lives at risk for the sake of their belief in those lies. Sometimes such beliefs become more elaborate over time and sometimes they spread to diverse locales.

    Early church tradition holds that Mark wrote his gospel in Rome after Peter died where there was a community of gentile Christians. Romans 16 indicates that there were a number of prominent women among the Roman Christians. Most scholars believe that Mark's is the earliest gospel.

  7. Hi, I am from Australia. I think I have been here before.

    Of course every last bit of the "New" Testament was invented or fabricated - to consolidate the worldly power of the church "fathers" who won the culture wars of their time and place. Who thus had the power to define "official" Christianity, and of course the power to define and thus to deal with "heresies" and "heretics".

    Any one for toast!

    None of us can even account for or appearance here, because to do so one would have to take into account ALL of Cosmic history (with all of its space-time paradoxes) and how it somehow coalesced into "creating" the now time body-mind-complex that we identify as "me". And thus simultaneously ALL of the manifest Cosmos too - because it all spontaneously arises or appears as a simultaneous Indivisible Unity.

    And yet "true believers" presume to "know" so much about what may or may not have happened in Palestine nearly 2000 years ago.

    Precisely when and where was/is Palestine 2000 years ago?

  8. Australia you say? Somehow I think I might have remembered you. Your take on the issue is unique.

  9. 'Because groups of people are quick to craft elaborate lies and stick to them under severe duress even when separated in different countries.'

    You mean Mark stuck to his story of there being three women who went to visit the tomb?

    And Matthew stuck to his story of there being two women?

    And Luke stuck to his story of there being more than 4 women?

    And John stuck to his story of Mary Magdalene being the woman who went to the tomb?

    And Paul stuck to his story that Jesus 'became a life-giving spirit'?

  10. Paul claims in Galatians 6 that Christians were persecuted on the issue of circumcision and that Christian leaders (other than him) were quite prepared to compromise their beliefs to avoid persecution.

    Paul told his readers in Galatians 5 that they could tell he had not compromised on circumcision by the fact that he was still being persecuted.

    Which, of course, means that resurrection was not something Christians were persecuted on.

    People could scoff at the idea of god choosing to raise corpses. The Christian converts in Corinth must have been openly mocking the very idea of a corpse coming back to life. 'What sort of body could it have?, they scoffed.'

    But mocking a resurrection did not lead you to persecuting Christians. In fact, you could happily convert to Christianity and still mock the idea of god choosing to raise corpses.

    Paul explains in 2 Corinthians 5 that it does not matter if the earthly body is destroyed. You would get a new one.

    'For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.'

    No wonder he thought the Corinthians were fools for wondering what happened to the body.

    A bit like I would regard somebody as foolish if they wondered how their insurance company would fix their car if it was destroyed in a crash and written off.

    Duh, you get a new one, dude...

  11. 4Simpsons
    Apologists are responding to the "the resurrection accounts were fabricated" claim by pointing out that if one was making up this story then you'd use men as witnesses.

    And you would get one of those idiot women to claim that she thought the body had been moved!

    What idiots women are! Good job a man was there to check things out.