by miriam berg
Chapter XX

(John 20:1-18)
The greatest disparities among the four Gospels occur in their versions of the reported resurrection of Jesus, where no two of them mention the same appearances to the same persons or the same time or the same place. This alone should cause us to regard the entire story of the resurrection as mythology. Mark alone cites appearances found also in both Luke and John, but without specifying where or when; but these last eight verses of Mark are not found in the oldest manuscripts of that Gospel and read like a brief summary of the appearances reported in Luke and are considered by many scholars to have been a later addition, possibly not until the mid-second century, especially since some ancient manuscripts contain a different ending to the Gospel. Paul gives a list of the appearances (I Cor. 15:5-8), including his own vision, but astonishingly not a single one of these is reported in the Gospels!

Be that as it may, John reports that Mary Magdalene was the first to visit the tomb on Sunday morning, finding it empty. Each of the other three Gospels reports a different group of women who came and found the empty tomb. John reports next that she went and told Peter and "the other disciple" and that they had a little race which Peter lost so that Mr. Mysterious reached the tomb first and peeked in, but that Peter was the first to go inside. Luke's is the only other report which says that Peter came to look in the tomb, with no mention of the other disciple. John then reports that Mary saw two angels, and when she turned around she saw Jesus himself, who told her not to touch him. Matthew and Mark report that a single angel appeared to all the women, Luke reports the two. But only Matthew reports that Jesus appeared unto these women; Mark and Luke do not; nor does Paul in his catalogue of appearances, doubtful though it be. The spurious nature of the appendix to Mark's gospel is proved by the reference to casting seven devils out of Mary Magdalene (Mark 16:9), as if that event had been mentioned previously, but no such event is reported in Mark; and also by the reference to Jesus as "Lord Jesus" and "the Lord" which form of reference to Jesus is not found anywhere else in Mark's gospel.

(John 20:19-29)
Next, John reports that Jesus appeared to the disciples in Jerusalem, at which time he supposedly gave them power to forgive sins and to "retain" sins. Luke, parroted by Mark but with no reference to time and place, reports that the second (not the first) appearance was in Jerusalem. Matthew does not mention an appearance in Jerusalem at all. Paul does not mention it clearly, but does mention an appearance to the Twelve (was he including Judas or was this appearance after Stephen had been voted an apostle?) and another vague appearance to "all the apostles". John claims that this appearance was to all the disciples except Thomas who was absent and did not believe it when they told him. The Synoptics say only that "some doubted". Then John reports that "eight days later" Jesus appeared in the midst of them without coming through the doors, also in Jerusalem, and this time he invited Thomas to touch his wounds, implying that Jesus' body was still mutilated as it had been on the cross; and John adds a homily intended to ward off any future doubting Thomases; "Blessed are they who have not seen, yet believed." But not only is this appearance not reported in any of the other gospels, nor in Paul's list, but Luke tells us that he was carried up to heaven the same day (Luke 24:13,33,51), although in Acts we are told that Jesus was seen continually of them for forty days. With all these conflicting reports, eight days later, that very day, forty days, just what are we supposed to believe?

However, we find also that Luke reports that the first appearance was to two of the disciples on the road to Emmaus outside of Jerusalem, but he does not say which two they were. Neither Matthew nor John nor Paul mention this appearance; Mark mentions only that Jesus appeared to two of them outside Jerusalem, obviously copied from Luke. In all, Matthew reports only one appearance, in Galilee, on the mountain where Jesus named them as his disciples. It is impossible to make any sense out of all these conflicting reports, this Jesus who "appears" to them at different times and places, through solid walls, and "vanishes from their sight" (Luke 24:31); how can it be other than hallucinations, no different from hundreds and thousands of other reported appearances of ghosts? If he had risen, why did he not go to the temple and teach, saying, Here is the evidence that I am the Son of God? Was he afraid that he would be killed again? If he appeared to any, in the physical flesh after stripping the linen cloths from his body, how come no two of the reports are alike? His other acts have all been public; why was this last most unbelievable act presented to only ten or eleven persons, and why should we believe all kinds of fantastic things, just because they said so, or that others reported that they said so?

(John 20:30-31)
The final verses in this chapter look like the conclusion of the Gospel, and many scholars believe that the twenty-first chapter was added much later. Whether so or not, our final observation on this chapter is that, like the rest of John's Gospel, Jesus makes no moral appeal to the conduct of his followers. He says, Believe that I am the Son of God, because Thomas could stick his hand into my side (was it not bleeding?). He does not say, Do good unto those who harm you, forgive those who crucify you, even as I have forgiven those who crucified me; although that would seem to give the crucifixion some meaning as a sign or a lesson to us. No indeed, this Jesus of John is unacceptable; he is arrogant, conceited, narrow-minded, petulant, and bigoted, he is a fictional character at best, but an unworthy standard for any person today or in the past or the future who believes in the love of all humanity, or even in the love of God. No God worthy of being called a universal God and creator of all people could do less than love all persons equally, not just those who believe that an obscure teacher in the Middle East centuries ago was the unique Son of God.

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