In sum, what we have, then, are two distinct sets of traditions (empty tomb and appearances) whose correlation in terms of resurrection rationale is evident, but whose tradition history correlation is less clear. In tradition-historical terms the probability is strong that the tradition of the empty tomb, including its discovery 'on the first day of the week', goes back to claims made by women. Despite some uncertainty as to whether and how this information should be used, it was in the event accepted, as signalled by the confirmatory report of some disciples (Luke 24.24), identified by John as Peter and the beloved disciple (John 20.310), though disregarded in the Pauline tradition (1 Cor. 15.3-5). This tradition-historical conclusion is strengthened by the historical probabilities regarding the emptiness of the tomb
In the case of the resurrection appearance tradition we have to rely almost exclusively on what can be gleaned from the traditions themselves. Here the personal testimony of Paul is crucial. He not only attests the tradition already established at the time of his conversion, within a year or two of the events themselves (1 Cor. But he also tells us what was regarded as the crucial iden tifying marks of a 'resurrection appearance' — a seeing of Jesus and a commissioning by Jesus. It was because his 'resurrection appearance' conformed to what was evidently already regarded as the 'norm' that his claim to a resurrection ap
173. Cf. C. H. Dodd, 'The Appearances of the Risen Christ: An Essay in Form-Criticism of the Gospels', in D. E. Nineham, ed., Studies in the Gospels: Essays in Memory ofR. H. Lightfoot (Oxford: Blackwell, 1955) 9-35. Dodd distinguishes 'concise' narratives (Matt. 28.810, 16-20; John 20.19-21) from the other 'circumstantial' narratives, with the implication that the former were 'drawn directly from the oral tradition handed down by the corporate memory of the Church' (10). But he also comments that John 20.11-17 'has something indefinably firsthand about it'; is nothing quite like it in the Gospels. Is there anything quite like it in all ancient literature?' (20).
174. Within 'two or three years at most' (Funk, Acts of Jesus 466, though see n. 129
pearance and to be an apostle was accepted by the leadership of the Jerusalem church. with whatever misgivings.175
Beyond that the origins of the tradition become much harder to discern. Particularly problematic is the question of locale. An appearance to women at or near the tomb has similar tradition-historical plausibility as the account of the discovery that the tomb was empty. But appearances to the eleven on Easter day run counter to the indication that they would see Jesus (first) in Galilee (Mark 16.7). The latter emphasis is confirmed by Matthew. a theological motivation is detectable in Luke's restriction of the appearances to Jerusalem. and the Fourth Gospel bears testimony to both traditions and suggests some attempt to rationalise the diversity (the appearance in John 21 as 'the third time' — On this point. unfortunately. Paul gives us no assistance.
It is possible to envisage some sort of historical sequencing and coherence. For example. a women's tradition (empty tomb. appearance) emerged in Jerusalem. finding some confirmation in appearances claimed by male disciples who had remained in the Jerusalem area. It was met in further confirmation by reports of appearances to other disciples (the main body of the eleven) who had returned (despondently) to Galilee.176 These traditions came together in the Jerusalem church and were given the more (but by no means completely) integrated and coherent shape which they have retained to this day.
If there is anything in this. then several important features should be highlighted. (1) Any merging of divergent traditions has been carried through only to a certain extent. The confusion regarding location and who was first is not removed in Matthew. in the Fourth Gospel or in the Markan longer ending. Only Luke has been bold enough to impose a pattern on his material by excluding all reference to Galilean appearances. (2) A core — empty tomb. third day. seeings. and commissionings — remains consistent. despite and through all the diversity. Here too. evidently. so long as the key point was being made through the various performances. the degree of divergence was not regarded as serious. (3) These key elements (core) probably go back to the (several) beginnings of the traditioning process. As consistently in the Jesus tradition. it was the impact made by discovery that the burial place of Jesus was empty. and by different experiences of seeing and hearing Jesus. which was embodied from the first telling
175. Gal. 1.18-2.10; 1 Cor. 9.1-2; 15.8-11. See further below. vol. 2.
The regular assumption that the disciples (all) fled to Galilee when Jesus was arrested (as in Gnilka. Jesus 293; Funk. Honest 223) lacks historical discrimination. As Wedder-burn notes. it is equally as difficult to dispense critically with either one of the two sets (Jerusalem. Galilee) of traditions (BeyondResurrection 55-57. 59-60). There are several reasons that those who saw Jesus in Galilee might then have returned to Jerusalem — e.g.. to await Jesus' expected soon return (Sanders. Historical Figure 276: 'They did not give up his idea that the kingdom would come'). But fuller discussion is best left till vol. 2.
in the tradition and gave the tradition its essential shape.177 (4) Several of the appearances were very personal in character and gave the tradition the character of personal testimony. Some of these (to Peter and James in particular) did not become church tradition until later or never. In these cases eyewitness testimony was not formulated in such a way as to become communal tradition.
Was this article helpful?