Yet More on The "Many Resurrected Saints"

The "many raised saints" tale found only in Matthew is an interesting one. I have a few pieces on the web concerning it and the questions it raises [See below]:

What happened to the resurrected saints?

More about the resurrected saints


One interesting tidbit about the tale of the "many raised saints" found only in Matthew is the probable insertion of the phrase "after his resurrection" which appears to have been inserted so awkwardly into the Greek that it makes the sentences read as though the tombs were opened and the saints raised at Jesus's death, but then they lingered about until "after his resurrection" a day and a half later when they finally "entered the holy city."

Some of course don't think that those two little verses about the anonymous "many raised saints" are historical at all but merely midrash added by Matthew, just as Matthew appears to have added incidents in Jesus's birth and childhood filling in gaps in knowledge with tales composed to add understanding in a similarly midrashic fashion. (One prominent inerrantist scholar was voted out of the Evangelical Theological Society in the 1980s for acknowledging that there was indeed a case to be made for Matthew's use of midrash in his telling of the Jesus story.)

As for inerrantist Christian apologists on the web who acknowledge the ancient use of midrash and even pesher to help try and explain the way some Gospel authors stretched the meanings of Old Testament verses to suit their prior view of "who Jesus was," please read "The Fabulous Prophecies of the Messiah" which includes comments from Christian apologists at the end.

On this topic of the Gospel author's use of midrash and pesher, even J. P. Holding has listed it among "leading Christian myths" that "OT prophecy fulfillment is a good apologetic. It actually isn't useful in the way it was at first. We need to understand (as do Skeptics) Jewish exegesis of the first century. It is not so much that the OT predicted the NT events as that the NT writers looked at history and sought OT passages that echoed what they had seen. This does not mean that there is not actual predictive prophecy at all (for even then God may have orchestrated the pattern) but rather that we cannot present an apologetic on this basis as we normally have; or else we are forced into a corner of explaining ie, why the NT allegedly uses OT passages "out of context."

Personally, I suspect that the ancient world was generally more mysterious and wondrous than today's and average people were more capable of believing stories or weird strange tales, and capable of repeating them and embellishing them as well. The story of many raised saints, the story of a bodily ascension, the story of a resurrection. I don't doubt that Christians were motivated in their beliefs, nor that Christians were motivated to compose not one, but three additional variant endings to Mark's Gospel, none of them apparently original to that Gospel, and continued to compose additional Gospels and Acts. Truth telling does not seem to have been as important as convincing themselves and others of their beliefs. But certainties are more difficult to come by once Christianity began being examined by more rigorous standards. Historians are not easily cowed by partisan stories of miracles, or by miraculous partisan tales of how various religions allegedly began. Jerusalem itself was turned into rubble in 70 A.D. but the Romans, rubble such that Josephus pointed out if they hadn't left the towers of the city standing, one might even doubt that such an immense proud city such as Jerusalem ever had stood on that same spot. So there's no evidence, and no non-partisan writings aside from Josephus's mention of Jesus, and even he would have gotten his brief paragraph of info from partisan believers not from actually having seen Jesus himself. The Gospels themselves are written without the author's identifying themselves, and one could read all of the inerrantist and non-inerrantist historians one wants to try and guess who wrote them, and remain uncertain. (And I say that having read Holding's collection of arguments for traditional authorship.)

Nuff said for now, I doubt any single argument can change another person's mind that has built up connections with other arguments in a web-like fashion over time, or relieve them of the doubts they may have.



SkipChurch said...

One explanation which I have heard, that the raising of the "many" saints is a case of corpses merely being thrown out of the tombs by an earthquake, is pretty strained. First of all, I can't see that only the saints' corpses would be thrown out of their tombs. Surely there were lots more non-saints than saints. But more significantly, the text clearly means that the many saints were raised from the dead. A straightforward reading of the text would be "many bodies of sleeping saints came back to life." My faithful fundie Bible gives Matt.27:52 as "The tombs were opened and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised." This passage is glossed as follows: "These people may have been restored to earthly bodies to die again or resurrected with glorified bodies." (NAS Ryrie Study Bible, p.1571). ." Matt. 27:53 reads "and coming out of the tombs after His resurrection they entered the holy city and appeared to many."

They entered the city. They appeared to many. Many were raised. So it does not seem that the idea of a gross natural disaster wherein corpses were dislodged from tombs can be sustained. A resurrection is described. Legendary, of course. But that is what is described.

Various commentaries on these verses reflect both puzzlement and a little embarrassment.

Willoughby C. Allen (International Critical Commentary: St. Matthew, Edinburgh: T&C Clark, c. 1910, pages 296-297):
"These dead saints, whose rest was so rudely shattered, appeared to many in the city. Mt. adds this account to the Marcan record, but interpolates a clause which is inconsistent with the obvious meaning of the tradition. If Christ was the first-fruits of them that slept, how could His resurrection have been preceded by that of these saints ? Under the influence of some such idea the editor adds the caution, 'after His resurrection.' Or had his authority, 'After their resurrection'; and did he by mistake or purposely alter 'their' to 'His'?"

Floyd V. Filson (Black's New Testament Commentaries: The Gospel According to St. Matthew, London: Adam & Charles Black, 1971, page 297) notes:
"This puzzling story may originally have been a figurative teaching, but 'Matthew' takes it as a real event."

Eduard Schweizer (translated by David E. Green, Jesus, Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1971, pages 53-54) writes:
"Matthew 27.51-53 gives a remarkable account concerning the dead who arose from their graves immediately after Jesus' death and wandered about Jerusalem; this story must go back to a community or faction that looked upon the death and resurrection of Jesus as the beginning of the eschaton and obviously expected that the general resurrection was about to take place. (Matthew himself, of course, no longer interpreted the story in this way, seeing in it only a sign of the power of Jesus' crucifixion, which overcomes death.)"