Wednesday, 14 December 2016

The Death of Christ

As Christians, we are very excited about the resurrection of our Lord. Sometimes we are in a bit of a hurry to imagine the empty tomb of the first Easter Sunday - perhaps not unlike the resistance of many to talk of Jesus as fully man without quickly rushing on to reassure themselves and their listeners that Jesus is also "fully God".

We need to stop sometimes, and not rush.

It is important to take note of what some scholars have been saying about the death of Jesus in their attempts to reconstruct what really happened that day. It is good not to be in the dark about this because if well known, liberal or simply atheist scholars are allowed to expand credibility of alternative theories, then the faith is undermined. Before I continue, I want to make it plain: I take Jesus' insistance on truth very seriously. Any faith founded on sand not only will be shaken, but should be shaken - the sooner the better. But here - after hearing again Bart Ehrman (atheist scholar) citing John Dominic Crossan (liberal scholar, whose book I am currently reading on the birth of Christianity), I feel a responsibility to respond.

Ehrman cites research - including that of Crossan - which indicates that enemies of the state were not granted decent burials. One of the whole points of crucifixion was that it was as painful and as public as possible - sending the strongest message possible to anyone else thinking they might have it in them to rebel against Roman rule. One argument that is particularly striking (although these two don't seem to make too much of it), is our near-total lack of skeletal evidence for crucifixion in the ancient world: the following image depicts the only known example, whose name is given as Yehohanon ben Hagkol:

It remains, however, something of a mystery as to why we do not have more, given the thousands of people that were crucified for centuries, even if we account for most bodies being left for scavenging animals and dumping in shared graves. Returning to Jesus, however, it is important to account for this evidence. In the Biblical accounts, a certain Joseph of Arimathea requested the dead body of Jesus in order to give it a decent burial. The evidence provided above does not discount this story - it simply provides interesting context for this story repeated in all four of the gospel narratives...

*** part 2 tomorrow! ***

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