The Empty Tomb Tradition

We have already noted the likelihood that Jesus' body was given a proper, if hasty, burial.10 The tradition that this tomb was found empty 'on the first day of the week' is very similar to the traditions already examined: the Synoptics have parallel versions, while the Fourth Gospel has its own distinctive account.

Matt. 28.1-8

Mark 16.1-8

Luke 24.1-12

1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Marv Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the grave. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled away the stone and sat on

1 When the sabbath was over, Mary and Mary the mother of and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.

3 They had been saying to one another, 'Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?' 4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed.

6 But he said to them, 'Do not be alarmed;

you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he

1 But on the first day k, at early dawn, they went to the taking the spices that they had prepared.

2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3

it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.

5 But the angel said to the women, 'Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for

but when they they did not find the body. 4 While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. 5 The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, 'Why do you look for the living among the dead?

He is not but has

he has been as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and his disciples, "He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him". This is my message for you'.

is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you'.


6 Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee. 7 that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day

8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to his disciples.

8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.

rise again'. 8 Then they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest.

10 Now it was Mary Magdalene. Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them.


John 20.1-10

Mk 16.2 And very early on the first day of the week.

Early on the first day of the while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2 So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, 'They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him'.

3 Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus'

when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. Luke 24.12 But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen

wrappings by themselves; then he returned home, amazed at what had happened.

head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise fromthedead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes.

Here we have quite a good example of the traditioning processes. A stable core is clear, as also in Gos. Pet. 12.50-57: Mary Magdalene and Others(?)u went to the tomb early on the first day of the week; they found the stone rolled away; according to the Synoptic versions, they saw (an) angel(s),12 who informed them, 'He is not here; he has been raised';13 at some point they (in John's Gospel, ini

11. Does John use the device of 'silent companions' (cf. John with Peter and Silas with Paul in Acts 3-4, 16-18)? This may well be indicated by the 'we' of 20.2.

12. Mark almost certainly intended the 'young man' to be understood as an angel (Mark 16.5). The appearance of an angel is quite typically described as a neaniskos, neanias (Tob.5.5,7 [LXXS]; 2 Mace. 3.26, 33; Josephus, Ant. 5.213, 277; Hennas, Vis. 2.4.1; 3.1.6; 3.2.5; 3.4.1; 3.10.1, 7; Lucian, Philops. 25). It was equally typical to describe heavenly beings as clothed in white (Dan. 7.9 — God as well; 2 Macc. 11.8; 71 Levi 8.2; Acts 1.10; Rev. 4.4; 7.9, 13-14; 19.14; cf. 1 En. 87.2; 90.21; Mark 9.3). The other Evangelists were in no doubt that the tradition referred to angels (Matt. 28.3-5; Luke 24.4, 23; John 20.12). Cf., e.g., Taylor,

Mark 606-607.

13. Should we include 16.7 in the core? The omission of such a note by both Luke and John is understandable since they go on to of appearances in Jerusalem. But even if the tially Peter and the other disciple) entered the tomb and saw for themselves. Round this relatively stable core the story is retold with marked diversity. Some of that variation is the result. no doubt. of the Evangelists' own interests: Mark has left his auditors in suspense. with the women saying nothing to anyone (Mark Matthew worked in (somewhat awkwardly) the story of the guard15 and assumed it appropriate to include another earthquake (28.2);16 Luke has changed the promise of an appearance in Galilee (16.7) to the reminiscence of something said in Galilee (Luke John focuses on Mary of Magdala.

verse is to be regarded as a Markan insertion (e.g.. Bultmann. History 285; C. F. Evans. Resurrection and the New Testament [London: SCM. 1970] 78-79; R. H. Fuller. The Formation ofthe Resurrection Narratives [London: SPCK. 1972] 53. 60-61) it clearly draws on very early tradition attested by 1 Cor. 15.5-7 and the appearances in Galilee (§18.3[8] below; Pesch. Markusevangelium2.538-39).

14. The silence of the women is of a piece with the secrecy motif in Mark (1.44; 5.43; 7.36; 8.30) and even to the last reinforces the instruction of 9.9: only after the appearances themselves (signalled in 16.7) can the story properly be told (cf. Raisanen. Messianic Secret

The effect is also to relativize the role of the women and to reinforce the role of the disciples as the primary witnesses of and for the resurrection (Pesch. Markusevangelium 2.536; D. R. Catchpole. Resurrection People: Studies in the Resurrection Narratives ofthe Gospels [London: Darton. Longman and Todd. 2000] 20-8); see further below. n. 26. The motif is modified by Luke 24.11 (it is the disciples who respond negatively to the reports of the women; similarly Mark 16.11), but with the similar effect of making Peter the primary witness (24.12. 34). J. D. Hester. 'Dramatic Inconclusion: Irony and the Narrative Rhetoric of the Ending of Mark'. JSNT 57 (1995) 61-86. argues that Mark's 'rhetorical irony' forces readers to find an interpretation which rescues the story from failure.

15. Matt. 27.62-66; 28.4. The story of the guard is generally regarded as an apologetic addition: the silence of the other Evangelists is hard to explain otherwise; the difficulty of integrating their presence with the earlier account of the women coming to the tomb is obvious in the sequence 28.2-5 (what were the guard doing during 28.5-10?); and the reason given for setting the guard (knowledge of Jesus' resurrection prediction and anticipation of the disciples' resurrection proclamation: 27.63-64) speaks more of later apologetic concern — perhaps to counter the alternative explanation (the disciples stole the body) already in circulation and still in play at the time of Matthew (28.15). See. e.g.. Davies and Allison. Matthew 3.652-53.

16. Again the silence of the other Evangelists probably indicates a Matthean storytelling flourish — as in 27.51-54. It is a way of indicating the eschatological significance of the event (cf. Matt. 24.7 pars.; Zech. 14.4-5). Readers of the time would be familiar with the device (used also in Scripture) of signalling epochal events by referring to such perturbations in heaven or on earth (see. e.g.. Brown. Death 1113-16. 1121-23).

17. It is hardly possible to evade the conclusion that Luke 24.6 ('Remember how he told you. while he was still in Galilee') has modified Mark 16.7 ('he is going ahead of you to Galilee'). especially when it is recalled that Luke omitted Mark 14.28 ('But after I have been raised I will go before you into Galilee'). to which 16.7 obviously refers back. The reason is clear too: Luke has chosen to omit any reference to or account of resurrection appearances in Galilee (note particularly Luke 24.49; Acts 1.4); see further vol. 2.

in preparation for the appearance to Mary (John and makes a point of including the eyewitness testimony of Peter and the other disciple to the emptiness of the tomb (20.3-10);18 the Gospel of Peter enhances an anti-Jewish motif and decorates the retelling with a fuller conversation among the women (Gos. Pet.. 12.52-54).

As in other examples of the Jesus tradition it makes far too little sense to explain the differences by the hypothesis that Matthew and Luke knew only the version provided by Mark.19 They could, of course, have adapted Mark's account, but to conceptualize the traditioning process in terms of literary editing hardly explains, for example, the diverse descriptions of the time of day (Mark 16.2 pars.). And overall it makes far greater sense to assume that there were various versions of the story of the empty tomb in circulation, retellings of the core tradition with variation of detail and embellishments of emphasis such as we would expect in an oral traditioning process. Matthew and Luke had access to Mark's version, but in their churches the story of the empty tomb had no doubt been part of their common tradition, probably for as long as their churches had been in existence.20 We might well ask whether there were ever churches in the circles from which the Evangelists came which did not know and retell with appropriate dramatic intensity the story of the empty tomb?21 The further alternative, that the story of the empty tomb first emerged as part of the liturgical celebration of the early Jerusalem community at the site of the tomb,22 is still less

18. Is it so clear that 'he believed' in 20.8 denotes the 'transference of the rise of Easter faith from the Christophanies to the empty tomb', as Fuller maintains (Formation 136)? The note certainly emphasizes the priority of the beloved disciple's believing, but John at once adds 'for they did not yet know the Scripture that he must rise from the dead' (20.9) and goes on to describe two transitions to Easter faith with Mary (20.15-16) and Thomas (20.25-28), where the motif of seeing (Jesus) is emphasized (20.29).

19. Crossan assumes that all versions of the story of the empty tomb (including John 20) derived from Mark's account (Birth 556); similarly Bultmann, History287; L. Geering, Resurrection — a Symbol ofHope (London: Hodder, 1971) 51; Funk, Honest 221; Acts ofJesus 2324, 465-66. Contrast Koester's conclusion that all three writings (Mark, John, Gos. Pet.), 'independently of each other, used an older passion narrative . . .' (Ancient Christian Gospels 240).

20. The likelihood is that the pre-Markan Passion narrative included/ended with 16.1-8; see particularly Pesch, Markusevangelium 2.519-20; U. Wilckens, Resurrection (Edinburgh: St. Andrew, 1977) 29, 39-44; P. Perkins, Resurrection: New Testament Witness and Contemporary Reflection (London: Chapman, 1984) 115-24; Becker, Jesus 344.

21. H. von Campenhausen, 'The Events of Easter and the Empty Tomb', Tradition and Life in the Church (London: Collins, 1968) 42-89, gives particular weight to the reliability of the tradition regarding the burial by Joseph of Arimathea (76; see above, §17.1g).

22. Notably L. Schenke, Auferstehungsverkundigung und leeres Grab. Eine traditionsgeschichtliche Untersuchung vonMk 16,1-8 (SBS 33; Stuttgart: KBW, 21969), and Schillebeeckx, Jesus 331-37. Pesch observes that the central motif, 'He is not here', tells against an interest in the empty tomb as postulated (by Schenke, Markusevangelium 2.537).

credible. Such a liturgical tradition, exhypothesi, would have been stable in form and content; it is hardly likely that an established liturgy would have given rise to such diverse retellings.

From where then did the tradition emerge? What gave it the degree of stability evident within the diverse retellings?23 As with the other traditions reviewed earlier, the most obvious answer is: Those who were involved in the episode, those who experienced the impact of the event, those who in speaking of what they had thus seen and heard gave the tradition its definitive and lasting shape.24 In terms of the story as told, that must mean either the women who visited the tomb, or those who also saw the empty tomb, or those to whom the story was first told, or the initial group among whom the story was first celebrated. Of course it would not be told on its own. It was part of the celebration of Jesus' resurrection. But can we indeed conclude that it was part of that celebration from the first? There are various indications which point firmly to a positive answer.25

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