Of the 35 miracles supposedly performed by
Jesus three were nothing less than restoring life to the recently
dead. The lucky three were, implicitly, returned to normal life
and would die another day, though we are told nothing of their
post death adventures. Perhaps like Tom Hanks in The Green
Mile they lived to
a quite extraordinary age? Yet we can be reasonably certain the
three were not "resurrected" to life eternal in a supernatural
body in the manner of JC himself. That cachet was for JC alone.
But were the three ever raised at all?
Outwitting the Grim Reaper – Luke's tale
The son of the Widow of Nain
The Hill of Moreh lies at the eastern end
of the Jezreel plain. On its
southwestern slope once stood the town of Shunem. It was
here that the Old Testament prophet Elisha restored to life
a woman's dead son. On the northern slopes of
the same hill, about
a mile away, stood the town of Nain. And it was here, according
to the writer of Luke (though no one else), that Jesus
Christ performed exactly the same trick.* To
the rational mind, the Christian fable merely copies the Old Testament
tale, ensuring that the new hero JC meets and exceeds the power
of the earlier prophet. To the pious mind, the rehashed yarn achieves
"fulfilment" in Christ.
Elisha's miracle is itself a reprise of a stunt performed
by his mentor Elijah. In the "original" story, Elijah is hiding
from King Ahab somewhere near Sidon. He is fed by a poor widow
who is under "God's command" and miraculously her barrel of meal
never runs out. But her son dies, and this affords Elijah an
opportunity to restore him to life.
"And when he came to
the gate of the city, behold, the widow woman was there gathering
of sticks ... And it came to pass after these things, that
the son of the woman, the mistress of the house, fell sick
... there was no breath left in him ... And he stretched
himself upon the child three times, and cried unto the LORD ... and
the soul of the child came into him again, and he revived.
And Elijah took the child ... and delivered him unto his mother."
– 1 Kings 17.10,23.
In the updated Elisha version, the scene is transferred
from Phoenicia to Galilee and the story is broken into two
parts. In the first part a poor widow is rewarded with
the multiplication of food miracle (this time it's oil).
In the second part a childless woman is granted a child who,
as a boy, inexplicably dies. Again, this presents an opportunity
for a restoration of life miracle and Elisha, like Elijah, lays
upon the child and breathes new life into him.
"And when Elisha was come into the
house, behold, the child was dead, and laid upon his bed ...
And he went up, and lay upon the child, and put his mouth upon
his mouth, and his eyes upon his eyes, and his hands upon his
hands: and stretched himself upon the
child; and the flesh
of the child waxed warm. Then he returned, and walked
in the house to and fro; and went up, and stretched
himself upon him: and the child sneezed seven times, and the child
opened his eyes. ... And when she was come in unto
him, he said, Take up thy son."
In Luke's version
of the same story there are, it seems, "original" elements,
as well as the repeated motifs of "location", "widow" and "only
JC meets the funeral procession on its way to the grave.
Crying is mentioned and Jesus does not lie on the corpse but rather
touches the burial casket and speaks to the body.
"Now when he came nigh
to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried
out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much
people of the city was with her. And
when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto
her, Weep not. And he came and touched the bier: and they that
bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee,
Arise. And he that was dead sat up, and began
to speak. And
he delivered him to his mother."
– Luke 7.12,15.
Historically authentic? Hardly. Consider the
evidence from another funeral and another
wonder-worker, Apollonius of Tyana.
"A girl had died just in the hour of
her marriage, and the bridegroom was following her bier lamenting
as was natural his marriage left unfulfilled, and the whole
of Rome was mourning for him, for the maiden belonged to a
consular family. Apollonius then, witnessing their grief,
said: "Put down the bier, for I
will stay the tears that you are shedding for this maiden".
And withal he asked what was her name ...
touching her and whispering in secret some spell over
her, he at once woke up the maiden from her seeming death ,
and the girl spoke
out loud and
returned to her father's house, just as Alcestis did when she
was brought back to life by Hercules."
– Flavius Philostratus, Vita Apollonii, 4.45.
Note that Philostratus' report of the 1st century
Apollonius "raising the dead" refers back to an even
earlier Greek myth
(Euripides Alcestis) told of another demigod, Hercules!
In other words, in the Lucan tale we have not
"history" but a classical "raising the dead" yarn
which adapts elements of Greek myth to Jewish prototypes, filtered
through a story told about a Pythagorean sage! We might also
note that not only is "Luke" the sole gospel
writer to mention the Widow of Nain tale but that "Luke"
was the supposedly part-time travelling companion of Paul and certainly
no "eye-witness" of Jesus.
Outwitting the Grim Reaper – John's
The Raising of Lazarus
"The name Lazarus, in the same abbreviated
form La'zar (for El'azar, Eleazar)
which we find in the Gospels, is quite common on the ossuaries."
– W. F. Albright, The Archaeology of
The most famous of JC's "raisings" is the
one reported by John. It is the most detailed and dramatic – which
makes it all the more curious that it goes unrecorded in any of
the synoptic gospels. But then, in a sense, it does appear, not
as a miracle but as parable. A complex web is woven in
which the threads are a place (Bethany), two sisters (Mary and
Martha), a Simon, a jar of expensive ointment, Jesus' feet, a corpse
and a return to life.
Early in Luke, after the incident at Nain
and an exchange of messages with John the Baptist, Simon
the Pharisee invites Jesus to dinner. As he eats,
an unnamed prostitute "stood at his feet behind
him" (!) and in some curious contortion manages
to wash his feet with her tears, wipe them with her hair, and anoint
them with ointment from an alabaster box. JC uses the occasion
to pontificate on degrees of sin and love. (Luke 7.36,40).
A little later in Luke, JC finds himself
in "a certain village" with "a certain woman" named
Martha and a sister called Mary. To Martha's chagrin, Mary, rather
than help with the dishes, "sat at Jesus' feet" to
hear his words. The great man tells Martha to chill out, or words
to that effect, declaring that Mary's action is "the
good part". (Luke 10.38,42).
Luke's final contribution comes in chapter
16. JC has wended his way "through the
cities and villages towards Jerusalem", telling a multitude of parables. One of
the last he relates is the story of "a
certain rich man" and
a sick beggar called Lazarus, who has fed on crumbs from the rich
man's table. Both die, the beggar taken up to heaven, the rich
man down to hell. The pleas from the rich man for Lazarus to
cool his thirst are in vain. It's payback time. The crunch
line is delivered by JC:
"If they hear not Moses and the prophets,
neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
– Luke 16.19,31.
In these words Jesus mouths a rebuttal to any suggestion
that a reanimated corpse might be a good way to convince unbelievers
of his mighty power. Belief must come from scripture,
not physical evidence. This rather nicely gets the priests
out of a hole. Luke's parable is the only reference to a Lazarus
in any of the synoptic gospels and there is no suggestion that
the two sisters might have a brother of that name.
Matthew (and Mark) conflate Luke's first two
stories into one. The village is now named as Bethany and
the house is that of Simon the Leper.
As Jesus eats, an unnamed woman anoints his head by pouring "very
precious ointment" from an alabaster box. The disciples
protest at the waste (not to mention the mess) but JC declares
that the woman has "wrought a good work".
(Matthew 26.3,13; Mark 14.1,9).
John's gospel now completes the wondrous
yarn by weaving all three of Luke's tales into
one. Lazarus is no longer the hero of a parable but is
the flesh-and-blood brother of Martha and Mary. The opening verses
of chapter 11 make clear that the unnamed prostitute with such
versatile hair that featured in Luke 7 in fact is Mary
"Now a certain man was sick, named
Lazarus, of Bethany, the town of Mary and her sister Martha.
It was that Mary which anointed the Lord with
ointment, and wiped his feet with her hair,
whose brother Lazarus was sick."
The sisters have not hitherto been mentioned in John so
clearly the writer is working from the other gospels. Apparently,
Jesus loves the whole family (note the emphasis – but
doesn't he love everybody?) – Lazarus "he whom
Martha and her sister "Jesus loved". The sisters "sent
unto him" (does everybody have a servant?) but Jesus
dallies. It seems he already knows Lazarus is sick but is unconcerned,
events will all reflect "to his glory":
"When Jesus heard that, he said,
This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory
of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby."
Where exactly is Jesus at this point? He has "escaped" out
of Jerusalem and is beyond the Jordan "where John first
baptized." John says in 1.28 that this is "Bethabara" but
no such place is known to history. Many Bibles "correct" this
(confusingly) to read Bethany to flow with the following
verses (well, it is all a fiction, after all!). After
an affected delay Jesus deigns to visit his now dead friend, in
his grave four days and "stinking". The motif of "four
chosen in deference to the Jewish notion that the soul hovers at
the grave for three days. Lazarus is really dead.
Martha goes out to meet the approaching holy man
and affirms her faith in both resurrection "at the last day" and
Jesus as the Son of God. Inexplicitly Jesus again dallies, this
time allowing Martha to "secretly" tell her sister Mary
that "the Master" has called for her. Mary rushes out
to fall at JC's feet (love those feet!) and Jesus, who
knows everything, asks where Lazarus is buried. The crowd of Jews
who have gathered in sympathy question whether Jesus could have
saved the life of his "loved friend" (the one that
we have never heard of before). Jesus groans and weeps.
At the cave where Lazarus is buried Jesus orders
the removal of the stone door and very publicly prays, explaining
his motive for this to God himself (who surely knows everything?).
"Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard
me. And I knew that thou hearest me always: but because
of the people which stand by I said it, that they
may believe that thou hast sent me."
Finally, Jesus shouts "Lazarus, come out!" and
the dead man emerges, grave clothes and all.
At this point, "Lazarus", loved friend
and restored dead man, is all but entirely dropped from the story
no tales from the grave?). Instead, John's focus
is back on JC and a repeat of the "costly ointment/hair wiping
feet" scene from the synoptic gospels referred to briefly
at verse 11.2. History is about to repeat itself.
But there is no possibility this could be a a second,
similar instance. John picks up the precise value of
the ointment ("spikenard") used at Mark 14.4
("three hundred pence"). John reiterates identical
Jesus dialogue to justify his indulgence of costly ointment "because
the poor are always with you". And John has
Jesus issue the same instruction to his disciples to "Let
her alone!" The only difference is that John has
shifted the indignation of the disciples (Matthew 26.8, Mark 14.4)
to one disciple alone. Judas
Iscariot, son of Simon (the
Pharisee or is that the Leper?!) has been fingered
as the bad guy.
"Then took Mary a pound of ointment
of spikenard, very costly, and anointed the feet of Jesus,
and wiped his feet with her hair: and the house was filled
with the odour of the ointment. Then saith one of his disciples,
Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, which should betray him, Why was
not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to
the poor? This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but
because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was
put therein. Then said Jesus, Let her alone: against the day
of my burying hath she kept this."
What are we to make of a "historical" event
that both begins and ends at the same moment in "history",
a pastiche of borrowed elements and recycled names? The answer
is NO HISTORY AT ALL. The "raising of Lazarus" is as
bogus as the flying pigs of Gadara and the birthing of a god from
a Jewish virgin. The rehashed story does not even have its origins
with fiction from the synoptic gospels but rather with a rabbinic
tale of Bar Majan the tax collector, itself copied from
Egyptian funeral texts of El-Azar, an ancient prototype
for the Lazarus parable of judgement in the afterlife.
But then, why waste a good yarn?
All three synoptic gospels tell the story of a 12-year-old
girl who had died in her bed and was visited
by Jesus. The child it seems was the daughter of "a ruler of
the synagogue" called Jairus. Jesus took hold of the girl's hand
and told her to get up. That's all it took to return the girl
to life. One presumes that the dire malady which had caused her
premature death had been cured at the same time and the girl
didn't just die the next day!
Outwitting the Grim Reaper – Jairus' daughter
A simple tale, which, significantly, in each gospel
is interrupted by a second story, of a woman having a 12-year
issue of blood, who is cured by touching JC's garment, "cured
by faith". Note the contrast: JC's healing hands perform miracles
but so does faith in the Lord. The message is clear: don't expect
miracles, your faith will cure you.
Who were the witnesses to this little drama of outwitting
the grim reaper? Mark tells us it was three disciples
and the parents:
"And he suffered no man to follow him, save Peter,
and James, and John the
brother of James ... And they laughed him to scorn. But when
he had put them all out, he taketh the father and the mother of
the damsel, and them that were with him, and entereth in where
the damsel was lying."
– Mark 5.37,40.
"And when he came into the house, he suffered
no man to go in, save Peter, and James, and John,
and the father and the mother of the maiden."
– Luke 8.51.
What pulls the carpet from under this shaggy-dog
story is that only one of the witnesses wrote
a testimony – John – and he says
not a word about it! Perhaps that is why
both Mark and Luke add that
JC's performance was kept secret: "He
charged them straitly that no man should know it" – Mark 5.43;
"He charged them that they should tell
no man" – Luke 8.56. Unfortunately this
instruction does not seem to have reached the ears of Matthew.
This evangelist reports the exact opposite:
"The fame here of went
abroad into all that land."
What we have here, then, is not eye-witness
testimony to a reality but inconsistent "testimony"
from non-witnesses. Their tale is especially suspect because
it is not confirmed by the only purported "witness" to
the drama. As Robert Price suggests, "We ought to catch
the hint that it is fictional, as the name 'Jairus' means 'He
will awaken."! (The
Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, p152) It is also possible
that the evangelists were browsing through their well-thumbed copy
of Josephus for good ideas.
Outwitting the Grim Reaper – Matthew's Tale
When the Saints come marching
"Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud
voice, yielded up the ghost. And, behold, the veil of the temple
was rent in twain from the top to the bottom; and the earth
did quake, and the rocks rent;
And the graves were opened;
bodies of the saints which slept arose,
And came out of the graves after his resurrection,
and went into the holy city, and appeared
– Matthew 27.50,53.
piece of holy moonshine did not really make it into "mainstream" Christianity.
It's there in Matthew (and gains some support in the
so-called epistles of Ignatius) but the other gospellers
prudently avoid repeating such nonsense. If they had, we would
surely be entertained by apologists claiming that this mass rising
had really happened and that it represented "fulfilled
the verses in Matthew are a crib from the soothsayer Zechariah,
complete with "earthquake cleaving the Mount
of Olives" and the
dead saints rising and repopulating Jerusalem.
"Behold, the day of the LORD cometh
... And his feet shall stand in that day upon the Mount of
Olives, which is before Jerusalem on the east, and the Mount
of Olives shall cleave in the midst thereof toward the east
and toward the west, and there shall be a very great valley;
and half of the mountain shall remove toward the north,
and half of it toward the south ... ye shall flee,
like as ye fled from before the earthquake in
the days of Uzziah king of Judah: and the LORD my God shall
come, and all the saints with thee."
The three orphaned verses of Matthew are
the residue of this very early notion that cosmic upheaval would
accompany the coming of the Messiah. The chronology is uncertain
but implicitly judgement day has begun, and with it the
separation of the righteous from the godless.
But the melodrama has
an obvious basis in the mundane. Separating the old walled
city of Jerusalem from Mount
Olivet to the east is a depression which has been known
variously as the Valley of Jehoshaphat, Wadi en
Nar (Valley of Fire) and the Kidron Valley.
Its extension running immediately south west of the old city
was the Valley of Hinnom, which originally enjoyed the
It was here that ritualistic burning of human
(well, according to Jeremiah and 2 Chronicles,
that is). No doubt the real burning of enemies
led to the prophetic notion that on the Day of the Lord faithful
Jews would gloat on the godless in torment below from the sanctuary
of their holy mountain.
"Then Uriel, one of the holy angels
who were with me, replied, This valley
is the accursed of the accursed for ever. Here
shall be collected all who utter with
their mouths unbecoming language against
God, and speak harsh
things of His glory. Here shall they be collected. Here shall
be their territory."
Gehenna superceded the older
(and less terrifying) Sheol as the underworld of the Jews
and would in time become the Hell so
beloved by the Christians. In a "first draft" for the End
Time, their Messiah's
arrival would signal a general resurrection of the saints who would
emerge from the graves of Mount Olivet. The entire apocalyptic
landscape of Judgement, Heaven and Hell reflects nothing other
than the localized topography of the hills and valleys of Jerusalem!
The "loose end" of many walking
dead in Matthew led the other evangelists to adopt
an alternative scenario that JC was the "first fruit" of
resurrection and that the "general resurrection" would
have to wait.
Smart move, or everyone might have asked, What
happened to those raised saints strolling about Jerusalem?
End of Days
We will never know if there will ever be a Last
Day and a general
Resurrection of the Dead.
To those of simple minds and
naive faith it is as certain as their morning coffee and a walk
in the park. But for more sober minds, judging the promise of
to come" on the strength of the purported life-restoring miracles
of Jesus of Nazareth, the prospect does not look particularly bright.
If, as is certain, they are all literary frauds, designed to impress
the credulous and strengthen faith in "scripture", what
chance then that the purported Resurrection of the Lord is
any less bogus?
M. Price, Jeffery Jay Lowder,The Empty Tomb: Jesus
Beyond The Grave (Prometheus
M. Price, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man (Prometheus
Thomas L. Thompson, The Messiah Myth (Jonathan Cape, 2006)
M. Black, H. Rowley (Eds) Peake's Commentary on
the Bible (Nelson, 1964)
John Dominic Crossan, The
Historical Jesus (Clark, 1991)
Gary Habermas, The Verdict of History (Monarch, 1990)
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Copyright © 2007
by Kenneth Humphreys.
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