The Rejection of Pascal's Wager
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The Empty Tomb

So what is this "overwhelming historical evidence" the fundamentalists speak of? One would think, based on such overconfident assertions of the fundamentalists, that the accounts in the gospels support each other to such an extent that it would be impossible to deny the actual historical occurrence of the empty tomb. However a close examination of the accounts in the gosples shows us an "overwhelming" reason to reject the historicity of the whole account of the empty tomb. Contradictions exist in almost every detail between the four gospels' accounts of the events surrounding the discovery of the empty tomb:

DetailsMarkMatthewLukeJohn
Who discovered the empty tomb?1. Mary Magdalene
2. The Mother of James
3. Salome
1. Mary Magdalene
2. The Other Mary
1. Mary Magdalene
2. Joanna
3. Mary the Mother of James
4. "other" women
1. Mary Magdalene
What time did the women visit tomb?After sunrise"at dawn""very early in the morning""while it was still dark" (i.e. before sunrise)
What was their purpose?Brought spices to annoint the bodyTo look at the tombBrought spices (to annoint the body)No reason given but body already annointed earlier
Was the Tomb Open When They Arrived?YesNoYesYes
Who Was at the Tomb When They Arrived?One young manOne angelTwo menTwo angels
Where were the messengers situated?Sitting inside on the right in the tombOn the stone outside the tombTwo men standing insideTwo angels sitting on each side of the bed
What did the messengers say?See linkSee linkSee linkSee link
Did the women tell what happened?NoYesYesYes
Was Peter At the Empty Tomb?NoNoYesYes with "the beloved disciple"
Contradictions in the Account of the Empty Tomb[1]

In fact, the only statement the gospels have in common is this: the tomb in which Jesus was laid on the night of his death was found empty on Sunday morning. [2] All the other details contradict each other so blatantly that we have no reason whatsoever to believe any of them to be historically true. Guignebert's observations form an apt summary of the situation:

In fact everything leads us to believe that the first evangelist [Mark] who related the discovery of the empty tomb said all he knew or thought he knew, and that the others took their point of departure from his account with no new sources at their disposal. They followed him, not faithfully, nor with the idea of elucidating his account by a commentary which respected its integrity, but with that of arranging -or disarranging-it in order to render it more convincing, of embellishing it or merely of altering it, in order to produce an appearance of independent information, for after all none of the discrepancies have any apparent meaning. [3]

Who Discovered the Empty Tomb?

Mark 16:1
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen.
Matthew 28:1
After the Sabbath, at dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdelene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
Luke 24:1, 9-10
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb...When they came back from the tomb, they told all these to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdelene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostle.
John 20:1
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

Mark said that there were three women, namely Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome who saw the tomb empty. Matthew however said that only the two Marys were . Luke simply said "the women" he later identified their number as more than three, but the only three names he gave does not coincide with Mark's. According to Luke they were the two Marys and Joanna. John contradicts all these when he mentioned that only one woman witnessed the empty tomb, Mary Magdalene. Thus we have different names and no agreement as to the number of women who witnessed the empty tomb.

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What Time Did the Women Visit the Tomb?

Mark 16:1
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Salomebought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen .
Matthew 28:1
After the Sabbath, at dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdelene and the other Marywent to look at the tomb.
Luke 24:1, 9-10
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning , the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb...When they came back from the tomb, they told all these to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdelene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostle.
John 20:1
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark , and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

There is no agreement among the evangelists as to the exact time the tomb was visited. John obviously stated it was "still dark", i.e. before sunrise. Yet Mark said it was after the sun had risen. Matthew and Luke said "very early" but not whether it was before or after sunrise.

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Why Did the Women Visit the Tomb?

Mark 16:1
When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdelene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. And very early on the first day of the week they went to the tomb when the sun had risen .
Matthew 28:1
After the Sabbath, at dawnof the first day of the week, Mary Magdelene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb.
Luke 24:1, 9-10
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb...When they came back from the tomb, they told all these to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdelene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with themwho told this to the apostle.
John 20:1
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. [Note:In John (19:39-40) the body had already been spiced by Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus!]

This contradiction is probably the most glaring example of how each evangelists twist the story to suit their respective plots. In Mark and in Luke, the women brought spices to anoint Jesus body. Note that this option was not possible for Matthew has had added his little interlude about the soldiers sealing and guarding the tomb, thus he mentioned that the women simply went to look at the tomb. John already had the body anointed two days ago by Joseph of Arimathea and Nocidemus (John 19:40), thus there was no mention of what Mary Magdalene was doing by visiting the tomb.

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Was the Tomb Open When They Arrived?

Mark 16:3-4
and they asked each other, "Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?" But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.
Matthew 28:1-2
After the Sabbath, at dawn of the first day of the week, Mary Magdelene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it.
Luke 24:1-2
On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb
John 20:1
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb.

Mark says that the stone at the tomb was already rolled away when the women arrived (Mark 16:4). Luke is in agreement with Mark (Luke 24:2). John, too, said that the stone was already removed when Mary Magdalene arrived (John 20:1). Matthew who, if you remember, had the tomb guarded by sentries narrated the accounts in such a way that would lead an impartial reader to conclude that the women witnessed the stoned being rolled away by an earthquake and an angel from heaven (Matthew 28:1-5).

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Who was at the Tomb When They Arrived?

Mark 16:5-6
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here, see the place where they laid him.”
Matthew 28: 2,5-6
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it...The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen; just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Luke 24:2-6
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them...the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
John 20:11-17
Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away, “she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

Here the evangelists couldn't agree on what the women saw. Mark said it was one young man dressed in white. Matthew said it was an angel. Luke said there were two young man. John said there were two angels.

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Where were the Messengers Situated?

Mark 16:5-6
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side , and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here, see the place where they laid him.”
Matthew 28: 2,5-6
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it...The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen; just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
Luke 24:2-6
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them ...the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen!”
John 20:11-17
Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away, “she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”

It looks like the evangelists couldn't even agree on where the messenger(s was (were). Mark said the young man was in the tomb sitting on the right side. Matthew made the angel sat on the stone that was rolled away, which is outside the tomb. Luke said the two men were standing in the tomb. John said the two angels were sitting on both ends of the bed.

For a biblical inerranist, the only way to reconcile this is to assume there was one man dressed in white sitting in the tomb, two angels sitting on both ends of the bed, two men standing inside and an angel sitting on the rolled stone outside the tomb. Sounds like the tomb on that Sunday morning was a pretty crowded place!

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What did the Messengers Say?

Mark 16:5-6
As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here, see the place where they laid him. But go and tell his disciples Peter, 'He is going ahead of you in Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'"
Matthew 28: 2,5-6
There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it...The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen; just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: 'He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.”
Luke 24:2-6
They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them ...the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 'The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.”
John 20:11-17
Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away, “she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” At this she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize it was Jesus. “Woman,” he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means teacher). Jesus said, “...Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ ”

Note that the gospels cannot agree as to what command was given to the women. Mark and Matthew made the angel tell the women to inform Jesus' disciples to meet him in Galilee (Mark 16:7;Matthew 28:10). Luke did not concur with them on this but retained the word Galilee in a different context (Luke 24:6). In John, the two beings did not more than ask Mary Magdelene why she is crying. The actual announcement of the resurrection was made by Jesus himself (highlighted in blue above).

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Did the Women Tell What Happened?

Mark 16:8
Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Matthew 28:8
So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
Luke 24:9
When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to the others.
John 20:18
Mary Magdelene went to the disciples with the news: "I have seen the Lord!"

The message of the angel was not forwarded, according to Mark, for the women did not tell anyone of their experience (Mark 16:8). In Matthew the opposite is the case, for the women were reported to have told the disciples who duly went to Galilee to meet their risen Lord (Matthew 28:8,16).

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Peter and the Tomb

There is an episode in Luke about Peter running to the tomb when he heard the news from the women (Luke 24:12) that is not found in the other synoptics. To a certain extant Luke's story is corroborated by John. But this evangelist had Peter race to the tomb with the beloved disciple (John 20:3-9), whereas in Luke, Peter went to the tomb alone.

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Notes

a.Given his (Matthew's) interlude about soldiers guarding the tomb he had no choice but to twist the story this way.

References

1.Barker, Losing Faith in Faith: p182-183
2.Guignebert, Jesus: p496
3.Ibid: p497

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