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Presented April 20, 2014, by Paul Miller
Listen to a recording of "Thoughts on Resurrection by a Doubting
38:26 minutes - 35.2 MB - Thoughts on Resurrection by a Doubting Thomas .mp3 file.
Gospel of Saint John 20:24-28
But Thomas, one of the twelve, Called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said unto him, We have seen the Lord. But he said unto them, except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into His side, I will not believe.
And after eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came Jesus, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, "Peace be unto you". Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless but believing. And Thomas answered and said My Lord and my God.
from Jesus Christ Superstar
(Voice of JESUS)
Why should you want to know?
Don't you mind about the future?
Don't you try to think ahead?
Save tomorrow for tomorrow;
Think about today instead.
I could give you facts and figures.
I could give you plans and forecasts.
Even tell you where I'm going.
Why are you obsessed with fighting
Times and fates you can't defy?
If you knew the path we're riding,
You'd understand it less than I.
Gospel of Saint John 21:25
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written.
from the Gospel of Nicodemus, from the Christian Apocrypha (one of those books just mentioned by Saint John; one that would have been included in the Bible if I had been the editor, but, of course, I wasn't, and thus it wasn't) Christ's Descent into Hell (abridged, in which Jesus crashes the gate, kicks ass and takes names):
"Satan the heir of darkness came and said to Hades: "O insatiable devourer of all, listen to my words. There is one of the race of the Jews, Jesus by name, who calls himself the son of God. He did me much mischief in the world above while he lived among mortal men. For wherever he found my servants, he cast them out, and all those whom I had made to be maimed or blind, or lame , or leprous or the like, he healed with only a word, and many whom I had made ready to be buried he also with only a word made alive again.
"Hades answered: "O heir of darkness, son of perdition, devil, if he freed others from the grave, how and with what power will he be overcome by us? Go out if you can, and withstand him."
"Then Hades said to his demons : "Make fast well and strongly the gates of brass and the bars of iron, and hold my locks, and stand upright and watch every point. For if he comes in, woe will seize us."
"A loud voice like thunder sounded "Lift up the gates".
"When Hades heard the voice he answered "Who is this King of Glory?" The Angels of the Lord said "The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle." And immediately at this answer the gates of brass were broken in pieces, and the bars of iron were crushed, and all the dead who were bound were loosed from their chains. And the King of Glory entered in like a man, and all the dark places of Hades were illuminated.
"Then the King of Glory seized the chief ruler Satan by the head and handed him over to the angels, saying: "Bind with iron fetters his hands and his feet and his neck and his mouth." Then he gave him to Hades and said: "Take him and hold him fast until my second coming."
--I bet you didn't know Jesus took a detour through hell on his way to heaven, did you?--
Happy Easter and blessed Ostara!
I am flattered to be invited to talk at any church on Easter. Wow, the big E, when everybody comes! This is the only church in town that would invite a Pagan Priest to lead the Easter service. How cool is that?
On Easter, Christians celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The Romans killed him, but they couldn't make him stay dead. This is a logical time to celebrate resurrection, as nature is reborn, in a sense, after seeming dead all winter. Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after Ostara, the Pagan celebration of spring. The similarity of names is no coincidence. I find it flattering that Christians named their big holy day, Easter , after the Pagan Ostara, and they even adopted Pagan fertility symbols, like painted eggs and the Easter Bunny.
This being Easter, I shall talk about Jesus, who fits nicely into the Pagan Pantheon, I think, as the God of Brotherly Love. If you want to read more about that, you can read my sermon "Jesus for Pagans" on our church website.
No doubt, you are familiar with the Easter story, but let me recap briefly.
Jesus was a rebel and a threat to the corrupt Jewish Pharisees, and possibly to the Roman colonizers. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor, reluctantly sentenced Jesus to death by crucifixion, the standard penalty for rebellion against Rome. After He died, His followers pulled His body down from the cross, and put Him in a tomb, which had been purchased by Joseph of Arimathea, a wealthy follower. That was Friday, now called "Good Friday", a name that never made sense to me. We tend to think most Fridays are good, but if there ever was a bad Friday, this was it. On Sunday, Mary Magdalene goes to the tomb to anoint the body, in keeping with Jewish custom. The body has mysteriously disappeared. During the next few days, Jesus makes a series of appearances to his disciples and followers, before being teleported up into heaven.
The disciples seem slow to catch on to what happened. Thomas, the notorious skeptic, was the last disciple to see Jesus, and he suspected his buddies were putting him on, or else they had been duped. He said I will believe when you show me the nail holes in his hands. Perhaps Thomas was from Missouri. I was taught in Sunday School not to be a doubting Thomas. We should believe without question. But Thomas didn't get in trouble for saying "Show me the holes". Jesus was happy to let Thomas poke his finger into the open wounds. Maybe we should be doubting Thomases. Maybe Thomas was a Unitarian. Did Jesus literally rise from the dead, flesh and bones, nail holes and all? Is there any evidence?
We have the gospels, popularly attributed to the disciples Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Scholars have long recognized that the four gospels are theological portrayals of Jesus rather than historical accounts. That is not to say they contain no history. It is rather recognition that each gospel portrays a theological interpretation of Jesus with specific agendas and points of view, written 50 to 100 years after Jesus death. The names associated with the gospels are attributions that were added later. The original texts do not name their authors. We should have no doubt that Jesus was crucified. One of the few references to Jesus outside biblical sources is from the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote "Christ, the originator of their name, had been condemned to death by Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberias."
The first witness to the resurrection was Mary Magdalen. Mark 16:9.
Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalen, out of whom he had cast seven devils.
She is popularly remembered as a reformed prostitute, though being possessed of devils more likely refers to mental illness than to moral failings. Thus, having been possessed by seven devils, she may have been a madwoman, or at least seriously disturbed, and her behavior might have remained erratic enough to give her the reputation of being "touched". Even if she had shown marked improvement under Jesus' influence, the shock of the arrest, trial, and crucifixion might well have unhinged her once more and made her an easy target for hallucination. No wonder the disciples were slow to believe her story.
While the gospels tell us Jesus was resurrected in his physical body, apocryphal texts suggest otherwise. The Apocrypha are a collection of writings that might have been included in the Bible, but weren't, often because they didn't fit the church's agenda. In the fifth century, Leo the Great declared "The apocryphal writings, however, under which the names of the Apostles contain a hotbed of manifold perversity, should not only be forbidden, but altogether removed and burnt with fire." That's enough of an endorsement for me. This "hotbed of manifold perversity" includes the Acts of John, which describes the resurrected Jesus as more of a ghost than a physical being: "I tell you another glory, brethren: sometimes when I meant to touch him I encountered a material, solid body; but at other times again when I felt him, his substance was immaterial and incorporeal, as if it did not exist at all."
For those of us who believe in ghosts, (yes, me too. You may laugh if you wish) it is easier to believe Jesus reappeared as a ghost than arose bodily from the grave. The prevailing theory of ghosts is that they are spirits of people who have died recently, but are not yet ready to move on to the next plane of existence. This idea is not new to Jewish theology.
Now let's look at the Kabbalah. Jews love to talk about the Torah, but they don't often mention the Kabbalah. Maybe it's too mystical and weird for most Jews or Christians, but Pagans love it. One legend states that the Kabbalah was brought down from heaven by Angels to teach Adam, after his fall, how to recover his primal nobility and bliss. More likely, it was written by Jewish mystics around the time of the first Christians. (other bible) Here is what the Zohar, the Book of Radiance says about the soul:
"The names and grades of the soul are three: nefesh (vital soul), ruah (spirit), neshamah (innermost soul, super-soul).
"While the body in the grave is decomposing and moldering to dust, nefesh (vital soul) tarries within it, and hovers about in this world, going here and there among the living, wanting to know their sorrows, and interceding for them at their need."
It goes on to describe how the innermost soul ascends to heaven, and is eventually rejoined with the vital soul and spirit.
The Witches Bible describes a similar system, but with no less than seven levels of soul. The Wiccan authors believe in reincarnation. The lower levels of a human being, the personality, last for one incarnation. The upper levels, the individuality, are immortal throughout all incarnations. According to Wiccan reincarnation theory, we get reincarnated as many times as it takes for us to correct all our screw-ups in previous incarnations before we can move on to witchy heaven or wherever it is that good witches eventually go. Many believers in reincarnation believe that Jesus was a bodhisattva. That is a perfected individuality which no longer needs to reincarnate but chooses to do so in order to help and guide less-developed mortals. No doubt we less-developed mortals could use some guidance.
My point is that many religions say that a soul may hang around after death tending to unfinished business, sometimes appearing to the living as a ghost or some sort of vision. Unbelievers would call it a hallucination. If any spirit could do this, surely Jesus could.
But still, we look for evidence. We know that the Romans used crucifixion as the standard penalty for rebellion. The use of timbers for crosses was so great at times it may have caused shortages of wood for construction. When Spartacus led a slave revolt, six thousand rebel slaves were crucified, and left on the crosses for vultures to pick apart. The penalty was not only the excruciating death on the cross, but also the indignity of being left for scavengers, rather than a dignified burial. There is no record, as far as I know, of exactly how they did crucifixion, but a skeleton was found with a spike inextricably embedded in the ankle bones, and nicks on the bones of the forearms. It would be more secure to drive spikes between the forearm bones, rather than the hands, which might tear loose, leaving the condemned rebel flopping on his head rather than properly displayed on the cross. We have no doubt Jesus was one of the many people crucified by the Romans. Is there evidence for the rest of the story?
During the crusades, it is said, they brought back enough pieces of the cross to build a barn. Perhaps any weathered piece of timber could pass for a piece of the cross. And just because you have a cross and a crucifixion does not prove you have a resurrection.
Then there was the Holy Lance, the lance used by a Roman soldier to pierce Jesus' side as he hung on the cross. The lance was lost until it was dug up by the crusaders at the city of Antioch in 1098. It is a colorful story, so here is the condensed version: The Christians had taken the city, but they were under siege by the Muslims, and the situation was desperate for the Christians. Then a Provencal peasant named Peter Bartholomew came with news that Saint Andrew had appeared to him and told him where to find the lance. The crusaders dug all day and much of the night, and they found the holy lance, or actually just a broken spear head. Although some of the Christian leaders were skeptical, the story of the discovery of the Holy Lance spread like wildfire throughout the army and did much to boost the sinking morale of the entrapped crusaders. They made a mass attack upon the Turks and scored an unexpected victory. This demoralized the Moslem army, whole contingents began to flee, and soon the Turkish army had dissolved into a milling, fleeing rabble. The Crusaders had won a complete victory.
After the recovery of the lance, Peter claimed that St. Andrew reappeared to him at various times, giving him instructions for the prosecution of the crusade. With the proliferation of Peter's visions people began to doubt the visions and challenged the authenticity of the Holy Lance. When Peter submitted himself to an ordeal by fire to test the validity of his claims, he was fatally burned, and the Holy Lance was discredited.
There is no reason to disbelieve the accounts of the battle, but was this really the Holy Lance, and did it have divine power to bring victory, or does this just demonstrate the importance or morale to a fighting force? If the legend could be verified as truth, it would enhance the credibility of the whole resurrection story. Alas, all we have is a good story. The Holy Lance, or the head thereof, can be found in Rome today. Various other holy lances can be seen in other places. Holy lances may not be as numerous as Elvis sightings, but there are a bunch of them, and there is no way to know if any of them is real. The Holy Lance gets us no closer to verifying the resurrection than does the Holy Grail.
Ah, yes, the Holy Grail, which Jesus and the apostles drank from at the Last supper, and which was used to catch the blood spilling from Jesus side after being pierced by the Holy Lance. The quest for the Holy Grail has been well documented by the likes of Monty Python and Indiana Jones. Maybe King Arthur really did find it and loose it, but we have no evidence to convince a doubting Thomas. I could not find any reference even to a fake Holy Grail.There is one artifact that is much more convincing than the lance or the grail. That is the Shroud of Turin. It is believed by some to be the shroud used to cover Jesus' body. It bears the image of a man with the wounds described in the crucifixion story. The earliest undisputed date for the shroud is 1349. Radiocarbon dating has shown it to be from about that time, 1300 years too new. However, the test may have dated bacterial residue on the cloth, not the cloth itself, so it could be as old as is believed.
Analysis of blood stains on the shroud verified that it is human blood. The image of the man is the result of dehydrating the linen fibers. Any chemist can dehydrate linen fibers, but no one has been able to re-produce the effect as it appears on the shroud. No one knows how the image was created. If it is a fake, it is a really good one, and it was done with medieval technology. Very impressive, and some would argue, miraculous. If it is real, it confirms the crucifixion story, it may show a paranormal or miraculous phenomenon, but it does not confirm the resurrection.
If you go to Jerusalem, you can see the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the tomb purchased by Joseph of Arimathea, in which Jesus was briefly interred. I have never been there, but the photos give the impression of a grand shopping mall selling salvation by many churches clustered around and on top of the holy site. Sure enough, the tomb is empty, as one would expect. The Jewish custom was to put a body in a tomb until the flesh decomposed. Then the bones would be lovingly placed in an ossuary that is a stone box just big enough to hold a disassembled skeleton. Eventually, the ossuary would be permanently put in a family tomb and sealed forever. So, we now have an empty tomb, maybe because Jesus got up and walked out or maybe because his remains were eventually relocated by the family, packed in an ossuary and sealed in a tomb.
You may have heard of the "James Ossuary". This famous bone box turned up in the bathroom of an Israeli antique collector. Of course, there are no bones left in it. The side is inscribed in Aramaic script "James son of Joseph", and after that, a more crude script reads "brother of Jesus". This caused a stir among Christians; though we can't be sure it contained the bones of Jesus' brother. James and Joseph were common names in ancient Palestine. It looks like the inscription "brother of Jesus" may have been added later to make the relic more valuable. But maybe not . . .
These ossuaries are not intended as museum pieces or family heirlooms. They are boxes to hold family members' bones in a tomb forever, never again to be seen. A family may collect boxes of bones for many years before sealing them in a tomb. Inscriptions on the boxes are for identification, so grandpa's bones get buried next to grandma's bones. It would be reasonable for a family member to add a later inscription to an ossuary to clarify whose bones these are, and prevent a mix-up.
Occasionally, a tomb is discovered in Israel, as happened in 1980. During a condominium construction project in Jerusalem, a dynamite blast opened an ancient tomb containing 10 ossuaries. Archaeologists promptly arrived to investigate. Excavating tombs in Jerusalem gets complicated. Orthodox Jews try to stop all excavation, believing that the tombs are sacred and should be left alone. Archaeologists want to dig up and examine everything. Everyone has to deal with the bureaucracy of the Israeli Antiquities Authority. Everything stops on the Sabbath. The partially excavated tomb was left unguarded on the Sabbath, and the neighbors caught a group of kids who had entered the tomb, and were playing soccer with the skulls they found. The adults ran off the juvenile soccer hooligans, and gathered up the bones, safely returning them to the archaeologists.
Excavation continued. Six of the 10 ossuaries were found to have inscriptions, one in Greek, and the rest in Aramaic. In English they say:
Jesus son of Joseph
Miriam called Mara
Judah son of Jesus
One might expect such a find to put the Christian world in a tizzy, but this is Israel, not Oklahoma. Christians get excited about any discovery from the time of Jesus, while the Jews say "Oy! Jesus Schmesus!" I sense some skepticism among my Unitarian brethren as well, but please to bear with me for a moment.
The names on the ossuaries were common names is Jesus' time, so one might pass them off as coincidence, but after analyzing the statistical probability of this combination of names, researchers say it would be a very improbable coincidence. The gospels list four brothers of Jesus; James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas. Joses is a nickname for Joseph, so this could be Jesus' father, or more likely, his brother. Were the other 3 brothers in the unmarked ossuaries? We have no way to tell.
Remember the James ossuary? Of the 10 ossuaries found in the tomb, only 9 are accounted for. If kids could sneak into the unguarded tomb and make off with skulls to use for soccer balls, a thief could easily steal an ossuary. One might think it's a bit of a stretch to conclude the James ossuary is the one stolen from the Jesus tomb. Let's go to the lab.
After a couple millennia in a tomb, the stone ossuaries acquire a patina, that is, a natural outer layer that is characteristic of the environment. A chemical analysis of the patina is like a fingerprint for the tomb. Sure enough, the patina on the James ossuary matches the patina on the other ossuaries from the Jesus tomb. If this is correct, we have Jesus and two of the four brothers accounted for.
We have 2 ossuaries with 2 versions of the name Mary: Maria, and Mariamene Mara. If you're still with me, you should be thinking "Mary mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalen". The first is a common form of the name, and it could be any one of a million Marys. The second is the only inscription on these ossuaries written in Greek. This is also the most ornate of the 9 ossuaries. Somebody thought this Mary was someone special. Someone like the mother of Jesus, perhaps? Mariamene is a very unusual form of the name, and ancient writings tell us it was used by Jesus first followers when referring to Mary Magdalen.
The whole inscription is Mariamene Mara. What does Mara mean? It could be a nickname for Martha, but this is rare. It appears to be the feminine form of the Aramaic word "mar", meaning "master" or "lord". It is a title of honor, appropriate for either Jesus' mother or wife.Bone fragments in the Jesus and Mariamene Mara ossuaries were analyzed with DNA sequencing. Nuclear DNA was too degraded to use, but mitochondrial DNA, which is passed from mother to child, was good enough for meaningful testing. The results showed that Mariamene Mara, whoever she is, is neither the mother nor sister of Jesus, but she could be the wife of Jesus, or whosever bone fragments were in the box.
So where are the bones now? Alas, nobody seems to know. Were they spirited away by angels like Joseph Smith's Mormon gold tablets? Probably not. In Israel, it is illegal to excavate known burial sites. Remains could be moved to the lab for analysis only if it was not known if the bones were human. If they are found to be human, they must be turned over to the Orthodox authorities. The bones of Jesus and his family, or whoever they are,were probably re-interred by orthodox Jews, somewhere, presumably for eternity.
Is this tabloid sensationalism or the greatest archaeological discovery in the Christian world? In my humble opinion as a scientist and doubting Thomas, the evidence indicates a high probability that this tomb contained the bones of Jesus of Nazareth, with family members, including his wife, partner, or lover, Mary Magdalen and his son Judah.
This is not evidence of the miraculous resurrection as told in the gospels. There should be no bones left after a literal resurrection. And, the church says that Jesus was celibate, as is a Catholic priest. There can be no wife or son of Jesus. This is heresy, which of course, is what you get when you invite a Pagan to speak at Easter.
As a Pagan, I like Jesus, and I welcome Him into my pantheon. While it would be awesome to find credible evidence of the resurrection outside biblical sources, I am not disappointed. If Jesus was romantically involved with a woman who was, shall we say, of imperfect virtue, and had a child, makes him more believable. Jesus was born in a barn, perhaps to show us that he was of the common people. We don't need to achieve divine perfection to follow Jesus. He was a regular guy who liked wine, loved an imperfect woman, maybe even had a kid, forgave peoples' trespasses, rebelled against greed and hypocrisy, and got screwed by the establishment. He is a savior an ordinary guy can relate to. And whether the resurrection is metaphorical or literal, we can still believe he is risen if we choose to.
Every time I look at you
I don't understand
Why you let the things you did
Get so out of hand
You'd have managed better
If you'd had it planned
Now why'd you choose such a backward time
And such a strange land?
If you'd come today
You could have reached a whole nation
Israel in 4 BC
Had no mass communication.
Tell me what you think
About your friends at the top
Now who d'you think besides yourself
Was the pick of the crop?
Buddah was he where it's at?
Is he where you are?
Could Mahomet move a mountain
Or was that just PR?
Did you mean to die like that?
Was that a mistake or
Did you know your messy death
Would be a record breaker?
Don't you get me wrong
I only want to know
Who are you? What have you sacrificed?
Do you think you're what they say you are?
Readings from the Apocrypha and Kabbalah were found in The Other Bible, edited by Willis Barnstone
Don't Know Much About the Bible, by Kenneth C. Davis
Asimov's Guide to the Bible, by Isaac Asimov
The Crusades: A Documentary Survey, by James A. Brundage
A Witches Bible Compleat, by Janet and Stewart Farrar
Holy Bible, King James version
The Jesus Discovery, by James D. Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici
The Quincy Unitarian Church Home
The list of Selected Sermons.