I am in the midst of re-reading John over and over. Which is good fun. I get distracted when I have to move back to college notes and prepare for the exam. But in the course of my work I came across the claim by John Dominic Crossan, one of the most respected Biblical scholars active today (and the most famous graduate of my college) that the apocryphal text attributed to “Peter” is the earliest existing account of the Resurrection.
Here’s the relevant bit, from 9:34 in the existing fragments:
Early in the morning, when the Sabbath dawned, there came a crowd from Jerusalem and the county round about to see the sepulchre that had been sealed. Now in the night in which the Lord’s day dawned, when the soldiers, two by two in every watch, were keeping guard, there rang out a loud voice in heaven, and they saw the heavens opened and two men come down from there in a great brightness and draw nigh to the sepulchre. That stone which had been laid against the entrance to the sepulchre started to roll and give way to the side, and the sepulchre was opened, and both the young men entered in. When now those soldiers saw this, they awakened the centurion and the elders — for they also were there to assist at the watch. And whilst they were relating what they had seen, they saw three men come out from the sepulchre, and two of them sustaining the other, and a cross following them, and the heads of the two reaching to heaven, but that of him who was led of them by the hand overpassing the heavens. And they heard a voice out of the heavens crying, ‘Thou hast preached to them that sleep,’ and from the cross there was heard the answer, ‘Yea.’”
Leaving aside the talking Cross and the men taller than the sky, surely the slumbering Roman soldiers, who have been explicitly directed by the Procurator to guard the tomb of a potential revolutionary leader, is a troublesome issue of style for the historian to chew on?
I like the brief comment of my lecturer, Brendan McConvery, when he writes, “even a brief examination of this text will show that it is a conflation of the guards at the tomb tradition in Matthew and the tradition in 1 Peter 3:18 of Christ preaching the Gospel to those in the underworld”. Hence, not earlier than Matthew or 1 Peter.
Me? I much prefer John’s (differently) strange tale. Recounted by a woman who was intent on visiting the grave of a beloved friend, she was not considered a viable witness by the courts of her day and yet was stubbornly held up by the Gospel writers as the first to encounter that most peculiar detail, the empty tomb:
John 20:1 Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance. 2 So she came running to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved, and said, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we don’t know where they have put him!”
Your Correspondent, On a horse made of crystal he patrols the land