Jesus-followers bring a distinctive message to the world: Jesus of Nazareth was approved by God, and the signature of this approval was Jesus being raised from the dead. Thus, the resurrection of Jesus has stood at the center of the Christian testimony as the ultimate event testifying to the reality of God’s involvement in the world — it changes everything.
One proof utilized by the early believers to evidence such a wild claim was the reality of the empty tomb of Jesus. That is, the early church claimed that after his crucifixion Jesus was laid in a new tomb by Joseph of Arimathea, and that on the third day a group of women disciples discovered the tomb empty: the body of Jesus was gone. For the next couple of posts I will be looking at the significance of just this claim — that it was specifically women who found the tomb empty — and what historical facts we may be able to draw from such a claim. Along the way I will consider objections and hope to answer them. So, let’s begin.
In the Gospel of Luke, the writer candidly remarks that Peter “went away [from the empty tomb], wondering to himself what had happened” (NIV, Luke 24:12). Historians and biblical scholars well understand Peter’s confusion at the scene of the empty tomb, for today there is much debate over whether the stories of the empty tomb are a plausible historical reality or simply a late apologetic myth of the early church. Rudolf Bultmann famously argued that the “The Story of the empty tomb is completely secondary…[it] is an apologetic legend.” Although Bultmann’s criticism has had far-reaching effects within both academic and popular circles, it has not gone unchallenged in recent times by an array of arguments.
These coming posts will explain the idea that one such piece of evidence for considering the empty tomb narrative as historical is the testimony of the women who witnessed the empty tomb. In fact, the best explanation for the inclusion of the testimony of the women to the empty tomb is its historicity. Given the low credibility of women in the culture of first-century Mediterranean society, together with the criterion of embarrassment, one may make the claim that such a tradition would not have persisted unless it was too well-attested to omit, suppress or change. These posts will first examine the challenges (and variances) among the various Gospel narratives involving the women, then, sources from the Bible, the Greco-Roman world, Jewish law, and the first-century Pseudo-Philo will be examined to corroborate the argument for the low credibility of women in Jesus’ time. Finally, I will consider and evaluate two well-known objections. The question is: “Should these women be trusted?” That is, will the womens’ testimony stand up to these challenges? Let’s find out.
1.) Rudolf Bultmann, The History of the Synoptic Tradition, (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1963), 290.