Wednesday, May 28, 2008

"But how can we disobey the command of our Lord?"

Arun Shourie

It isn't just that it is our right, it is our duty. For our Lord, Jesus Christ, has commanded us to go to all the nations of the world, and spread his message and baptize", the missionaries say, and even lay Christians. "How can we disobey his command and still claim to be Christians?"

The point apart that the claim cannot stand in law, how much weight can one attach to the claim itself? What exactly is Jesus supposed to have said? How do we know he said that?

Answers to these questions are vital in themselves - they are central to believing the claim or setting it aside. They are doubly important because they lead us to a fundamental point, indeed to what is the fundamental fraud in missionary activity. But first the answers themselves.

The bare sequence is as follows. Jesus has been nailed to the Cross. He dies. His body is interred. A large stone is placed to close the tomb. Devotees visit the tomb. The body is missing. Jesus appears to disciples. He speaks to them.

Now, let us take the sequence step by step. As everyone knows, there are four Gospels - by Mathew, Mark, Luke and John. In the eyes of the Church each is a saint. Every word of each Gospel is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Who goes to the tomb ? For what purpose ? "Mary Magdalene and the other Mary to see the sepulchre", says St. Luke [288.1]. "Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome," says St. Mark, as they "had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him" [16.1]. "Mary Magdalene, and Joanna, and Mary the mother of James, and other women that were with them", says St. Luke, "bringing the spices which they had prepared" [24.1, 11]. St. John reports Mary Magdalene alone as having gone to the tomb [20.1]. Thus : from Mary Magdalene alone to her and the other Mary, to the two of them and Salome, to the two of them and Joanna plus the other women who were with them. Similarly, whoever went, the purpose was either to "see the sepulchre" or to anoint the body. For the latter they were carrying sweet spices which they had either bought or prepared themselves.

What happened when, whoever went, arrived at the tomb? "And, behold, there was a great earthquake," says St. Mathew, "for the angel of the Lord descended from heaven, and came and rolled back the stone from the door, and sat upon it" [28.2]. St. Mark mentions no earthquake, no angel descending; instead he says that, while on their way the women had been asking each other "who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?," when they arrived they saw that the stone had already been rolled away [16.3-4]. St. Luke too does not report any earthquake, he too says that when the women arrived they found the stone to have been rolled away [24.2]. According to St. John, Mary Magdalene alone had gone. He too mentions neither an earthquake, nor any angel descending. But he too reports that she found the stone to have been rolled away already [20.1].

Upon reaching the tomb, upon seeing the stone rolled away, whom do they encounter ? An angel, says St. Mathew, sitting on the stone he has rolled away, "his countenance was like lightening, and his raiment white as snow", and so awesome was his presence that "and for fear of him the keepers [that is, the guards] did shake, and became as dead men" [28.2-4]. Not an angel, but "a young man", sitting, not on the stone outside the entrance to the tomb, but "on the right side" inside the sepulchre [the women see him after entering the sepulchre]. The young man is "clothed in a long white garment" -- not dazzling like lightening, just ordinary white. And upon encountering a young man unexpectedly inside the tomb, the ones who are "affrighted" are the women -- there is no mention of guards. St. Luke reports no angel, nor does he report one young man. According to him the women encountered "two men.... in shining garments" [24.4]. St. John has Mary Magdalene going alone, she encounters no one [20.1-2]. Thus, from "an angel" to "one young man" to "two men" to no one.

One woman, two sets of three women, or more than three women have reached the tomb. They have encountered an angel, one young man, or two, or none. The women see that the body of Jesus is missing. What happens next?

Do not be afraid, the angel told them. St. Mathew says. You are looking for the Jesus who was crucified. He is not here, for he is risen. "Go quickly and tell his disciples that he is risen from the dead; and behold, he goeth before you into Galilee; there shall ye see him." The women depart quickly "with fear and great joy", and run to the disciples. But on the way, Jesus meets them. "All hail", he says. They fall at his feet, they hold his feet, they worship him. "Be not afraid", Jesus says, "Go tell my brethern that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see me" [28.7-10].

According to St. Mark, neither the angel at the bomb nor Jesus on the way asked them to give that message to the disciples. That one young man did so -- at the tomb itself [16.7].

According to St. Luke the conversation takes place with the two men at the tomb. Not only are the words that are exchanged different. No one - not the angel, not one man, not Jesus, not either of the two men - asks the women to tell the disciples that Jesus is going to Galilee ahead of them and that they will see him there [24.5-7].

According to St. John, what transpired was altogether different. Mary Magdalene goes alone. She sees that the stone has been removed, and the body is missing. She runs "to Simon Peter and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved", and informs them that the body is missing. Simon Peter and the other disciple run to the sepulchre. They see for themselves, and return home. Mary, on the other hand continues to stand outside, weeping. She looks into the sepulchre and sees two angels "in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain". And then Jesus himself appears to her. Jesus appears to her - as in Mathew. But there are three differences. In Mathew Jesus appears to the two Marys, in John he appears to Mary Magdalene alone. In Mathew he appears as the two Marys are rushing to the disciples, in John he appears when Mary Magdalene, having informed two of the disciples, returns with them to the sepulchre. And, third, in Mathew, Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of James, at once recognise him, they fall at his feet, they hold his feet, and worship him [28.9]. But in John, even when she sees Jesus standing in front of her, she does not recognise him. Instead, she takes him to be the gardener [20.14-15].

Jesus speaks to her in John, as Jesus does in Mathew -- though in the latter to two Marys, not one; though on their way to the disciples, and not at the tomb when one of them has returned with the disciples. But what he says is altogether different. In Mathew he says, "Be not afraid : go tell my brethren that they go into Galilee, and there they shall see me." In John, Jesus tells Mary Magdalene, "Touch me not [in Mathew, the two Marys hold him by the feet]; for I am not yet ascended to my Father : but go to my brethern, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God" [20.17]. Not a word about going to Galilee !

To proceed. The women have seen that the body is missing. They have or have not been told by an angel, by one man, by two men or by Jesus to tell the disciples one thing or something altogether different. Whom do they go and tell ?

In Mathew, they run to get the message to the disciples -- that they get to the disciples can only be inferred. For the account is overtaken by other happenings. First, as we have seen, Jesus himself appears to them. Second,the Gospel diverts to narrate a conspiracy of the Jews -- one which none of the other three Gospels mentions : noticing that the body is missing, the guards go to the chief priests who are at that time in assembly with the elders; there a conspiracy is hatched : to deny that Jesus has risen, the guards are to say that they had fallen asleep and, as they slept, the followers of Jesus whisked away his body. The guards are paid, and guaranteed protection. And on this basis the Jews get a concoction to deny the Resurrection unto this day [28.11-15].

In Mark, the women tell no one : after the conversation with the youngman, Mark informs us, "they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed : neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid" [16.8]. It is in what is acknowledged even in the printed Bibles to be one of three different endings to the Gospel of St. Mark that we are told that the women went to "Peter and his friends" and conveyed what they had been told [third alternate, 16.9-10 in The Good News Bible].

In Luke, the women convey the message to "the eleven disciples and all the rest" [24.8].

In John, Mary Magdalene, who alone has gone to the tomb, goes and tells not, for instance, "the eleven disciples and all the rest", she tells "Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved" [20.2].

But, of course, as she has not encountered anyone at the tomb at this state, she has no message to convey -- neither about going to Galilee nor about Jesus ascending to the Father. All she conveys is that the body is missing.

Informed or not, having received only the news of the missing body or having received that as well as a message, having received one message or an entirely different one, which of the disciples goes to the tomb?

In Mathew no one goes to the sepulchre. The eleven disciples proceed to Galilee [28.16].

In Mark, no one goes to tell the disciples that the body is missing -- the women having been struck dumb by fear. So, no occasion arises for the disciples to go to the sepulchre. Subsequently, Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. She tells them. But "they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not" [16.11]. In any event, no one goes to the sepulchre.

In Luke, the women narrate everything to the apostles. But, "their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not" [24.11]. Peter alone gets up and rushes to the sepulchre [24.12]. Though later on, when they are talking to the resurrected Jesus, whom they take to be a stranger, two disciples speak of "certain of them which were with us" having gone to the sepulchre" [24.24].

In John, the information is conveyed not to all the apostles, Mary Magdalene informs only two - "Simon Peter and the other disciple, whom Jesus loved". And the two of them rush to the sepulchre [20.2-4].

The body, having disappeared, Jesus appears. To whom ?

In Mathew he first appears to the two Marys when they are rushing to the disciples [28.9]. Subsequently, as he had promised, he appears to the eleven disciples at Galilee [28.16].

In Mark he appears first to Mary Magdalene alone -- the occasion is neither at the tomb, nor on the way to the disciples, but an altogether different, sui generis one [16.9]. After that he appears "in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country" [16.12]. And finally he appears "unto the eleven as they sat at meat" [16.14] - where the conversation, to which we shall just return, takes place.

In Luke he appears first to two of the disciples as they are on their way to a village called Emmaus "which was from Jerusalem about three-score furlongs." Jesus walks with them, he talks with them. But they do not recognise him for the longest time - it is only later after he vanishes that, seeing how their hearts burned as the stranger talked with them, that they realise who he was [24.13-32].

They go to tell the eleven. Who says that he has appeared to Simon [24.34]. And as they are talking "Jesus himself stood in the midst of them." Jesus talks to them at length [24.36-50].

In John, Jesus first appears to Mary Magdalene -- outside the sepulchre when she has returned with two of the disciples. She takes him to be the gardener, as we have seen, till he addresses her by her name [20.14 - 17].

He next appears to the disciples as they have assembled behind shut doors "for fear of the Jews" [20.19 - 23].

He appears again to the disciples eight days later - this time doubting Thomas too is present [20.26 - 29].

He appears a third time to his disciples at "the sea of Tiberias" [21.1 - 22]. Extensive exchanges take place between Jesus and the disciples on this - the last -- occasion.

By this uncertain route we reach the exhortation to carry the message to all nations. But what precisely does Jesus say on the subject ?

In Mathew, after telling his disciples that all power has been given to him in heaven and in earth, Jesus says, "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost : teaching them to observe all thing whatsoever I have commanded you : and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen" [28.18 - 20].

In Mark, he upbraids them for "their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he had risen." And then come the words relevant to our concern : "And he said unto them Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature." "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned" [16.15 - 16]. Notice that here Jesus is asking the disciples to go "and preach the gospel to every creature" -- he is not asking them to baptize and convert the people they encounter. What he does is to forecast a future for those who believe and have been baptized, and for those who do not believe.

Incidentally, after this Jesus tells them : "And these signs shall follow them that believe; in my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues, they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hand on the sick, and they shall recover" [16.17 - 18]. Are the missionaries able to take up serpents? Are they immune to poison ? Do the sick recover as they touch them ? Are there devils which missionaries drive away ?

Thus, in a word, while in Mathew what Jesus says about baptism is an exhortation, in Mark it is an adjective. The even more consequential fact in this context is that the earlier manuscripts of the Gospel of St. Mark end at the 8th para of this chapter. Paras 9 to 20 - of which paras 15 to 18 which contain the exhortation form a part -- are acknowledged, even in the printed versions of the Bible today, to be later add-ons.

In Luke, Jesus is at pains to convince the disciples that what has been visited upon him is in accord with what had been written in the scriptures. Luke adds, "And he said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day," "And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem" [24.44-47]. Notice that here also Jesus is not asking them to convert and baptize, he is merely asking them to preach in his name -- indeed, what he asks them to preach is also limited to "repentance and remission of sins".

John also reports at length the exchanges which Jesus has with his disciples when he reappears to them. There is not a word in these passages about going out, converting and baptising, or even preaching to the others.

Would a claim based on so tenuous a foundation survive in any court assessing evidence?

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