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What the Women Saw

Up to the time Seneca produced his play, Christians had probably never heard that besides Peter and the apostles there had been other witnes­ses, particularly female wit­nesses, to the resurrection.[1] The evange­lists seem to have been quite surprised at the appearance of these women as witnesses to the resurrection: Christian tradi­tions knew only of appearances of Jesus to his disciples and other men. The notion that there were other and even earlier witnesses to the resur­rection must have been wel­come, but puzzling. The evangelists had nothing to go by except what could be gleaned from Seneca’s dialogue.

Mark

            Even though the resurrection accounts have caused more controversy and dis­agreement among interpreters than any other part of the passion story, there is one im­portant point on which there is universal agreement (insofar as there can be uni­versal agreement in matters of gospel interpretation) namely, that the gospel of Mark originally ended with verse 16:8 and that all the following verses are later addi­tions.[2] But whereas practically everyone agrees that the authentic text of Mark ends with 16:8, many interpreters argue that the gospel cannot have ended with this verse. They feel that 16:8 constitutes an abrupt ending and that a gospel could not have failed to mention the appearance of Jesus to Peter and other follo­wers. Commentators have wondered how Mark could have dedicated only a few lines to the resurrection, an issue of central importance to Christians, and said no­thing about the appearances of the resurrected Jesus. The supposition is some­times ad­vanced that Mark’s gospel continued with verses that were lost.[3] But the assumed original ending of Mark would have been lost right after its composition, since it is evident that it was not known to Matthew or Luke.

                        Out of desperation there has been advanced the gratuitous hypothesis that Mark left his manuscript incomplete because of death. Mark’s gospel does end abruptly accor­ding to the way in which we are used to conceive the passion narrative. But if one reads carefully the brief authentic chapter of Mark dealing with the resur­rectionin which the women come to the empty tomb and are told by a young man that Jesus had resurrected and would meet them in Galileeone can see that it ends with a forceful statement that is not found in the other gospels:

And going out they fled from the tomb, since they were gripped by trembling and terror; and they did not say anything to anybody, for they were afraid.

            Mark bears down heavily on the element of fright by piling up the concepts: fleeing, trembling, being terrified, and being afraid. According to the way the gospel is usually interpreted, the fear of the women is totally irrational; there is no plausible reason why the women should fall into an overwhelming panic at the announcement that Jesus would be seen by his followers in Galilee. Mark would put extreme emphasis on a fear that has no justification.[4] This indicates that the text of Mark has not been properly understood and should be examined more carefully.

            According to Mark the women went inside the tomb, and saw a young man sitting on the right and were astounded (16:5). The young man told them:

Do not be afraid... he has been roused, he is not here;

see where they have placed him.

            The main preoccupation of Mark was to reinforce the basic Christian beliefs that were embodied in credal formulas. This is why the young man tells the women:

You seek for Jesus the Nazarene, the crucified one: he has been roused.

            Except for the last phrase, the entire statement is redundant. What the women were looking for was evident, and there was no need to spell it out; but Mark seized the opportunity to reinforce the Christian declaration of belief.[5]

            Mark closes his gospel by emphasizing two points: Jesus was crucified and was roused, and will be seen by Peter and others. Hence, the ending of Mark’s gospel, far from being weak and incomplete, puts stress on the very essence of the Christian faith. To restate Christian tenets was most important, since Seneca had introduced dangerous innovations.

            In order to explain how Mark coped with Seneca’s account, let us anti­cipate here the main points of the reconstruction of it. According to a ternary pattern that occurs in other parts of the passion story, the recognition of the resurrected Jesus by Mary and the chorus of women went through three stages. First Mary approached the open tomb, situated in a mound of rocks on the left side of the stage and, looking inside, saw a resplendent figure, who actually was the resurrected Jesus. The audience learned about what Mary had seen from her exchange with the chorus. Often in Greek tragedy the chorus sing as if they were seeing what is taking place at the moment inside a buil­ding; it was a stage convention that made the construction of plays easier. Mark may have misunder­stood this stage convention and inferred that the chorus had been inside the tomb (16:5).[6] Mark may have been further confused by the cir­cum­stance that when Mary and the chorus approached the tomb a second time, they were told by the mysterious figure to look inside the tomb to verify that it was empty.

            The resurrected Jesus was a Jesus in his glory, as the theologians would say. For this reason Seneca could not present him on the stage, because any character presented on the stage, no matter how splendidly attired, would be less impressive than the image that could be contrived in the mind of the audience by the words of Mary and the chorus. Hence, the first time the resurrected Jesus was understood to be inside the tomb, and the second and third time to be behind the tomb. In all three cases one could create the impression that Jesus was on the stage, but just beyond the angle of vision of the audience.

            Mary and the chorus did not recognize Jesus up to the very end; they were led to the recognition by a crescendo of hints. The first time the resurrected Jesus did not speak; Mary, failing to recognize him, was terrified by the apparition and ran away all across the stage in the direction of the right, followed by the chorus. Mary was expressing to the chorus her despair that the body of Jesus had been taken away. At this point Jesus revealed himself more openly by standing outside the tomb and by speaking. Mary heard a voice telling her not to be afraid and not to cry, because Jesus had resurrected. In the course of this exchange Mary and the chorus moved to the left side where the tomb was in order to verify that the tomb was indeed empty. Although the voice told Mary that Jesus was not in the tomb, she did not yet understand, and still failed to recog­nize the figure that was talking to her as the resurrected Jesus; hence she began to leave, again in the direction of the right. The third time Jesus revealed him­self completely by calling her by name; at this point she finally understood that the miracle of the resurrection had taken place, but when she turned around to grasp Jesus, he ascended to heaven. Seneca’s dramatic subtlety, however, was beyond the comprehension of the Christian audience. Because in Seneca’s play Mary did not recognize her son until the very end, some in the audience failed to grasp that the person seen by her was Jesus.

            In tragedies the chorus could leave reciting a final song, or leave in silence. In Seneca’s tragedies the chorus usually leaves in silence; from the gospels we can infer that in the case of Seneca’s tragedy of Jesus the chorus left in silence after the last words of Mary. This silence was even more impressive because the chorus left by crossing the stage from the tomb, which was on the left, to exit on the right. This silence of the chorus influenced Mark into stating that the women did not say anything to anybody. Mark emphasized this element of silence to the extreme, and put great stress on the element of fright in order to explain why the women would not say anything to anybody about their extra­ordi­nary and most significant experience. In ending his gospel as he did Mark could explain why before Seneca’s play Christians had never heard of Mary and other women as witnesses to the resurrection. Mark’s gospel ends where Seneca’s tragedy ended: Mary and her companions leave the area of the tomb and walk away in silence.

            The apparently brusque ending of Mark’s gospel is to be explained not only by the circumstance that this gospel ends where Seneca’s play ended, but also by the fact that in Seneca’s finale there were items that to Mark appeared unacceptable from a Christian point of view. Mark played safe by eliminating these elements and cutting his report to a minimum. In Seneca’s play the women recognized the figure before them as Jesus only in the third scene. Mark all but omitted the third scene and merged the first and second scenes into one. In the first scene of Seneca’s presentation the women, at the first manifestation of Jesus, ran in panic all across the stage and were about to leave. By cutting out the third scene, Mark made them leave for good in a state of terror.

            Mark provided only a very compressed summary of Seneca’s presentation, in which he tried to achieve the following aims:

     He did not want to reject completely Seneca’s version because Christians were most interested in increasing the number of witnesses to the resur­rection. Seneca’s addition to the list of witnesses was welcome, provided it was explained why Christians had not heard of it earlier and had not entered the women in their lists of witnesses; but Mark intended to take all steps needed to preserve what by that time had become Christian orthodox creed.

          Seneca’s account of Jesus’ ascension to heaven, which was modeled on Heracles’ ascension, had to be completely eliminated. Mark does not say a word about it. Mark wanted to emphasize the Jewish concept of quickening of the dead and thus had to eliminate the pagan concept of apotheosis. The essence of Christian belief in the resurrection was that Jesus had remained close to his followers, just as he had been before the crucifixion.

            The few sentences that Mark lets the young man say to the women do not imply any specific theory of resurrection, except that the cruci­fied Jesus was quickened and went away. The emphasis of Mark is not on the fate of Jesus’ body, but on the star­ting point of the Christian faith, namely that Peter and other followers saw Jesus after the cruci­fixion. Because the appearances were so important, Mark did not have to list them. From his point of view the accounts of the appearan­ces to the disciples were already an established part of the Christian tradi­tion, and his problem was how to link Seneca’s presentation with these traditions which he did not need to restate.

            From First Corinthians we gather that it was an established point that the first to see the resurrected Jesus was Peter. Christians could believe in other appearances and they could understand that Peter was not alone, but the primacy of Peter in the matter of the resurrection was a cardinal tenet. Some scholars have argued that the prominence of Peter in the early Christian movement was related to his primacy as witness to the resurrection.

            The Christian belief in the primacy of Peter as witness to the resur­rec­tion was to some extent preserved by Mark in two ways: First, the figure seen by the women at the tomb was made into somebody other than Jesus; the women would have found the tomb empty and heard the announcement that Jesus was resurrected but would not have actual­ly seen Jesus. Second, the women were instructed by this appari­tion to go to tell the disciples and Peter too. Yet, in spite of the instruc­tion of the young man to inform the disciples and Peter, the women were so afraid that they did not tell anybody, not even Peter and the disciples.

            By eliminating the third scene there was created a situation in which the identity of the young man who talks to the women remains indefinite.[7] Mark does not say that he is Jesus, but he does not say that he is not. Perhaps Mark intended to indi­cate that the figure was Jesus, although the women did not recognize it as such.

            The text of Mark that circulated in the western part of the Roman Empire differs on an important point: The young man does not tell the women to go and tell the apostles and Peter: He is going to Galilee ahead of you: there you will see him as he told you but I am going to Galilee ahead of you; there you will see me as I had told you.[8] This means that at this point the young man, by speaking in the first person, revealed himself as being Jesus.[9] The reading of the Western version of Mark must be considered as the correct one, because it explains why at this point the women should fall into a state of panic.[10]

Matthew

            Mark’s adaptation the last scenes of Seneca’s play left undisturbed Christian beliefs about the appearances of the resurrected Jesus to Peter and other followers. Mark had not directly mentioned these appea­rances, but also had not reported anything that would contradict them. But his solution remained open to objections:

  Why should the women have been seized by panic at the announce­ment that Jesus had been roused?

  How could anybody know what the women had witnessed, if they had not communicated it to anybody?

  A third but relatively minor objection would be that the women disobeyed the instructions they had received.

            Matthew became aware of these possible objections and tried to obviate them by editing the text of Mark in the following way (28:8):

And going away quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, they ran to tell his disciples.

            Matthew did not feel free to eliminate completely the element of fear on which Mark had put such great stress, but explained the departure of the women from the stage by their desire to rush to tell the disciples.

            In Seneca’s version Mary, followed by the chorus, ran across the stage because of fear; this was after the first self-manifestation of Jesus. Mark used this event, but made it into his concluding one. Matthew modified Mark only half-way: the element of fear remains, but the reason for the running is the desire to tell the disciples. The running is toned down to a moving away quickly.

            The modifications introduced by Matthew into the text of Mark must be explained by the tense polemic atmosphere in which Christians lived. The ver­sion presented by Mark could be used as a polemic argument by those who did not believe in the resurrection. According to Mark’s version the women had not seen the resurrected Jesus, but they had been told by a young man that Jesus had been raised. What the women had actually seen was the empty tomb. In a climate of an ongoing controversy, an account of this sort could be easily turned against the case of the Christians. The poor women had been victims of trickery: they found the tomb of Jesus empty because the body had been snatched away during the night.

            Under these circumstances Matthew found it expedient to forget about the primacy of Peter and follow more closely Seneca’s account. According to Seneca, in the third scene Jesus openly manifested himself and the chorus threw themselves at his feet in adoration. Hence, Matthew followed Mark’s narrative and added one incident more, drawing on Seneca (28:9-10):

Suddenly Jesus met them and said;

     Peace be with you.

 They came up to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.

     Do not be afraid, Jesus said to them. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.

According to Matthew it was Jesus himself who instructed the women to tell the followers that they would see him there. It is to be noticed that, since the primacy of Peter has been passed over, Matthew speaks in vague terms of brothers and does not mention Peter by name, as Mark does. This conclusion of the events at the tomb, quite naturally, leads to the final verses of Matthew (28:16-20): the narrative of Jesus’ appearance to the disciples in Galilee.

            Matthew had sacrificed the tenet of the primacy of Peter in the matter of the resurrection, but had added enough to Mark’s report to make sure that one could not charge that the women had been victims of deception. The resurrected Jesus had been seen by the women and then by the disciples in Galilee.

            The contention that the modifications introduced by Matthew into Mark’s version resulted from the need to rebut doubts about the resurrection is not the product of a subjective interpretation of mine, but is based on the observations of quite conservative interpreters about the background of the resurrection reports. For instance Merril C. Tenney in his book The Reality of the Resurrection, which sums up the views of the Protestant eschatological school, observes:

The acuteness of this problem was recognized by the early preachers of the Christian Church. From the outset they had to contend with the false rumor spread by the Jewish rulers that Jesus’ disciples stole his body...

            The finding of the empty tomb was not a sufficient piece of evidence for the resurrection in a situation of adversary debate.

The failure to establish personal contact with the risen Lord left them in doubt concerning the interpretation of the material evidence. Some further confirmation was needed to make the message convincing.

Hence, Matthew added to Mark’s account in the manner I have related.

            The nature of the anti-resurrection arguments to which Matthew was trying to answer is made clear by Luke in his story of the Walk to Emmaus. The two men explain their problem in the following terms (24:22-24):

Some of the women of our group surprised us; they went at dawn to the grave, but could not find his body. They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels who told them that he is still alive. Some of our group went to the grave and found it exactly as the women had said, but they did not see him.

            If one reads the episode of the Walk to Emmaus with a minimum of objectivity, one can recognize in it a very revealing piece of naive narrative. The two wayfarers tell the stranger they had met what actually were problems of the Christian community in their polemics with scoffing Jewsand the stranger obliges them by revealing himself as Jesus. Luke implies that short of an actual appearance of the resurrected Jesus, there was no way to silence doubters. Matthew saw the problem in the same terms and solved it by adding to Mark’s account an appearance of Jesus to Mary and the women. Unwittingly Mark with the story of the empty tomb (a story unknown to Paul and the Acts, as commentators observe) opened an ideal breach for the doubters.

            Matthew and Luke, each in a different way, tried to fill the breach. But the breach opened by Mark was never perfectly sealed. In 1800 Venturini used it to argue that the death of Jesus on the cross, and hence the resurrection, was a fake.[11] Ever since, the same type of contention has been put forth by several authors and more recently, with a great deal of publishing success, by Hugh J. Schonfield in The Passover Plot.

            The polemic about the empty tomb continued even after Matthew tried to put an end to it by mentioning specifically an appearance of the resurrected Jesus to the women and then to the eleven disciples. Hence, Matthew or somebody else added the episode of the guards at the tomb (28:11-15), a cumbersome and rather tawdry story that interrupts the sequence of the narrative and corrupts the crescendo of tone with which this gospel comes to an end. The anecdote of the guards at the tomb is a piece of comedy that is in sharp contrast with the sublime expressions of the following verses. It is an anecdote that can be explained only in terms of petty polemics between Christians and Jews.[12]

            If Matthew, whose gospel was addressed to Jews, added the episode of the guards in order to refute Jewish arguments, he showed a great spirit of abnegation for the sake of the Christian cause, because the insertion ruined what had been a conscious effort to conclude the gospel in a proper and brilliant literary form.

Luke

            The version of the visit to the tomb according to Luke is to be explained by the same considerations that explain that of Matthew. Luke wanted to repair the unfavorable effect of Mark’s version, which had opened the flank of the Christian position to easy attacks.

            But, in dealing with Luke’s narrative, I must try to clarify the issue of the so-called Western Noninterpolations. In the last chapter of Luke, chapter 24, there are passages the authenticity of which must be questioned.[13] I hope to be able to make a contribution to the problem of these verses by explaining why and how they came to be included in the text of Luke.

            Let us examine Luke’s account of the visit of the women to the tomb, leaving out of consideration for the time being the disputed vss. 24:3, 6a, and 12. Luke based his narrative on the text of Mark and the play of Seneca. He had the same concerns as Mark: to exclude that the women had actually seen Jesus, so as to preserve the primacy of Peter, and not to mention the ascension to heaven. Further, like Matthew, he was trying to repair the damage done to Christian apologists by Mark’s account of the empty tomb. Therefore Luke avoided any reference to the empty tomb.

            Like Mark, Luke tried to prevent conflicts with established Christian beliefs by produ­cing a highly compressed adaptation of Seneca’s presentation. In Seneca’s play there were three manifestations of Jesus and three movements of the women away from the tomb; in Luke there is only one manifestation and one movement away from the tomb.

            The detail of Mary looking into the tomb and seeing a resplendent figure is eliminated; equally eliminated is the detail of the same figure calling the women from outside the tomb. It simply happened that while the women were standing next to the tomb, perplexed at finding the stone rolled away, lo and behold two men stood next to them (24:4). The next verse runs as follows:

While they [the women] had become frightened and were bowing their faces to the ground they [the two men] told them:

     Why do you search for a living one among the dead?

            The detail of the fear was taken from the first scene of Seneca, whereas the detail of the bowing down was taken from the third scene. The question was taken from the second scene. Luke achieved the feat of merging three scenes of Seneca’s play into one verse.

            The women are not told directly that Jesus has been raised or that the tomb is empty, but are reminded of the prophecy that He shall rise on the third day (24:7). Luke was so indirect because he wanted to steer away as much as possible from the topic of the empty tomb. Instead, he stressed the detail of the rolled stone which he understood as proof that Jesus had come out and was somewhere else at that moment. This could be understood as a much more positive position than that of letting the women find an empty tomb and wonder what had happened. Christian tradition has always taken the rolled stone as a positive proof of the res­ur­rection.

            After the women had been reminded by the two men of what Jesus had said, they were not confused or bewildered, as is the case in Mark and Matthew; they under­stood immediately what had happenedthe wo­men merely needed to have their memory refreshed. After this they sim­ply left to go to tell the apostles what had happened. There is no run­ning as in Mark and John (20:2) or quick moving as in Matthew. There is no emotional outburst, either of fear or of rejoicing; with a matter-of-fact react­ion they simply leave (24:9):

Making a turn about away from the tomb, they announced all these things to the eleven and to everybody else.

            The words making a turn about away from the tomb are based on what happened on the stage: Mary and the chorus made an about face (the verb is the technical theater term hypostrepho), crossed the stage, moving away from the tomb which was at the left, and exited on the right (direction of the city). This exit of the chorus marked the end of the play.

            Luke could have ended his account at this point, but there remained to be explained why Christian tradition had not been acquainted with the experience of the women, if, upon leaving the tomb (and the stage) they had related it to the apostles and further to everybody else. Hence, Luke had a second thought and added (24:11): and in front of them [the apostles] these words sounded like nonsense and they did not believe them [the women]. In the mind of Luke the ideal solu­tion for the problem had been found: Up to the time of Seneca’s play Chris­tians had never heard of what the women had seen, because the apostles had not be­lieved them. But the women had spoken also to everybody else, so that their ac­count had finally reached Seneca. By the addition of the phrase and to every­body else, Luke permitted the Christians to appeal to the testimony of the wo­men, as quoted by Seneca, in support of their cause. The proof of this is that im­mediately after this phrase Luke lists the names of the three leaders of the women (24:10): Since it is an issue of witnesses, exact identification is to the point.

            Luke thought that he had improved on Mark’s version in terms of polemics with those who denied the resurrection. But it was difficult to construct an account that would be foolproof against the attacks of determined enemies. Somebody should have warned Luke: Anything you say may be used as evidence against you. Some opponents of Christianity must have burst out with cachinnations upon reading Luke. The resurrection is a nonsensical story told by foolish women; not even the apostles believed it. In terms of strategy of debate, if Mark’s formulation was a disaster, that of Luke was a catastrophe.

            An indication of the correctness of this observation is provided by Renan’s Life of Jesus. Today this book may appear rather innocuous (and personally I would add, rather dull) both to believers and to nonbelievers, but it was one of the most influen­tial books of the nineteenth century. Historians of culture usually put it on the same level with Darwin’s Origin of Species and Marx’ Das Kapital. Brown (p. 1002) sums up Renan’s conclusive thrust in these words:

Renan claimed that the hallucinatory vision that Magdalene had while she wept longingly for her beloved by the tomb was the real spark to the Christian faith in the resurrection.

            With a truly French slant, Renan concluded that if it had not been for the love of Mary, Christianity would never have come into existence. We cannot assume that the opponents of Christianity of the second century A.D. were less alert than Renan in recognizing that such a golden argument was available to them.

            Somebody tried to fend off hostile interpretations by adding verse 24:12:

And Peter, standing up, ran to the tomb, and by peeking in saw nothing but the linen wrappings; and he left wondering in his own mind at what had happened.

            Whoever added this verse was acquainted with the gospel of John in which Peter is the first to see the burial wrappings. The interpolator used the peculiar verb para­kupto, to peep in, which occurs in John (20:5). The addition of 24:12 to the text of Luke, which reintroduced the theme of the empty tomb, required the addi­tions of 24:3 and 24:6a. This was the starting point of the Western Non­inter­polations.

            The edited text of Luke’s gospel tells us that in spite of the fact that the Apostles did not believe the women, Peter ran to verify their report and saw the factual evi­dence, even though he, too, at the moment did not understand its meaning. But in the original story it was the women who left perplexed about the meaning of what they had seen.[14]

John

            Seneca’s presentation of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus is summarized rather faithfully by the gospel of John. But before examining John’s account it is necessary to face some problems regarding the text of this gospel. We may start by assuming that the gospel of John ended with chapter 20. There is substantial agreement among interpreters that chapter 21 was added later; it is not relevant to our problem whether this addition was the work of the same author who wrote the preceding chapters or by some later interpolator. The general consensus among critical interpreters is that chapter 20 consists of three disjointed elements:

                  The empty tomb (20:1-10)

                  The appearance to Mary (20:11-18)

                  The appearance to the disciples (20:19-24)

Only the first two elements concern what happened at the tomb. It is the opinion of a great many interpreters, including rather conservative ones, that the first element, the story of Peter as a witness at the empty tomb, are a later addition, since they interrupt the flow of the narrative and do not agree with the following versesthose that describe the appearance to Mary.[15] Other scholars infer that the author of the gospel of John or an editor of it combined two different narratives.[16] Raymond Brown contends that the original text of John is preserved by 20:1 and 20:11-17. Somebody, he supposes, found this version objectionable because it was an established Christian tenet that Peter was the first witness to the resur­rec­tion. Hence, the verses 20:2-10 were inserted. For a similar reason of respect to what was in Christian credal formulas, there was appended to the text of John an account of appearances to the disciples (20:18-29).

            In fact, vss. 20:1, 11-17 present a rather faithful sum­mary of the ending of Seneca’s play. Originally these verses constituted the end of John’s gospel, which closed with the last scene of the tragedy. These verses have parallels in the synoptic gospels, because these too drew on Seneca’s play. The verses 20:2-10 are not a later inser­tion by an editor, but belong to the original text of John; they constitute John’s way of reconciling Seneca’s portrayal of the resurrection and ascen­sion with established Christian doctrine. John limited himself to altering Seneca’s account to the minimum necessary to preserve the primacy of Peter as a wit­ness to the resur­rection. To this purpose John inserted an appearance of Peter at the beginning of the scene presented by Seneca, but preserved the substance of Seneca’s account.

            According to John, Mary goes to the tomb and sees the stone rolled away. At this point she runs to tell Peter that the tomb is empty without having even looked in­side; Peter in turn runs to the tomb, enters it, and finds the empty burial wrap­pings. Thus Peter is the first to find the empty tomb and to learn about the resur­rection.[17] After this, we are told that Peter went away to be again in his abodea vague and weak statement. Next, the narrative of John confronts us sudden­ly with the picture of Mary weeping in front of the open tomb. It is evident that the episode of Peter’s visit was inserted into the account of Mary’s visit to the tomb.

            Having introduced a quick presence of Peter at the tomb, John felt free to follow rather closely Seneca’s version. The result was that, according to John, Mary was the first to actually see the resurrected Jesus. But the running of Mary and the running of Peter preserved the priority of Peter in the sense that he was the first to witness that Jesus was no longer a corpse: Mary told Peter that the tomb was empty, but she had not actually seen it at this point.

            John seems to be speaking only of Mary as a witness, ignoring the role of the other women; the reason is that John based himself on the script of Seneca’s tragedy and not on its performance. A person reading the script would pay less attention to the chorus than a person observing a performance. The other gospels put emphasis on the women as a group because they drew on the actual per­formance of the play in which the chorus is more prominent. But John, too, was aware of the presence of the chorus, since Mary speaks in the plural we. (20:2)



[1]           Paul’s list of the appearances in I Corithians 15: 5-8, which pre-dates the gospel accounts by several years, contains no reference to any appearances to women. See H. von Campenhausen, The Events of Easter and the Empty Tomb, Tradition and Life in the Church (Philadelphia, 1968), pp. 42-89.

[2]           Peake’s Commentary to the Bible states: It is now generally agreed that 9-20 are not an original part of Mark. Informed opinion is united in considering Mk 16:9-20 as not stemming from the hand of the author of the gospel. Such an agreement is most unusual, particularly since it creates serious difficulties for orthodox believers. But the evidence is overwhelming. Some of the major elements of it are that vss. 9-20 are missing in authoritative manuscripts such as B and S; that these verses do not agree with the preceding one; that the style of these verses is different from Mark’s.

[3]           But see F. W. Beare, The Earliest Records of Jesus (Oxford, 1962), p. 240: It must be emphasized that there is no basis for postulating a ‘lost ending’ except in the feeling of some scholars that this is no way to end a Gospel; it is far from certain that Mark shared this feeling.

[4]           John A. Bailey claims that the motif of fear is used by Mark to break off his gospel. This is es­sen­tially correct. The Traditions Common to the Gospels of Luke and John (Leiden, 1963), p. 96.

[5]           It is to be noticed that the young man does not say: You are seeking the body of Jesus the Nazarene... Apparently Mark implied that Jesus was never truly a corpse.

[6]           It was actually physically impossible for the group of women to go inside the tomb. This must have been realized by some early readers of Mark, since the authoritative Vaticanus B reads that the women simply went to the tomb. Although there are a few modern editors of the gospels who adopt this as the original text of Mark, this rendering is probably the product of an early effort to remove a patent absurdity from the text of Mark.

[7]           The young man tells the women further: But be off, tell to his disciples and to Peter: ‘He is preceding you to Galilee; there you will see him as he told you.’ In the text of the gospel there is no antecedent to the he who is going to Galilee and will be seen there. As the text reads, the he is the young man. The same problem occurs in 16:6. Grammatically the he of this verse refers to the young man, but the young man must be referring to somebody else, because he says He [Jesus] is not here. But the awkwardness of the expressions used by Mark indicates what was in his mind. Mark had in his mind the play of Seneca in which in the third scene the women recognize that the young man is Jesus.

[8]           This reading of Mark occurs in the Codex Bezae (Manuscript D) and in some of the oldest Latin translations. According to experts of gospel manuscript tradition, when the Codex Bezae agrees with the oldest Latin translations, it is an indication of the text of the gospel in the western part of the Empire.

[9]           In Latin a person may refer to himself in the third person. By having Jesus speak in the third person, Seneca was able to hint that the young man was Jesus, without making it explicit.

[10]         This interpretation was followed by the Coptic version of the Epistula Apostolorum, 10, where it is Jesus who addresses the women with the same sentences that the gospels ascribe to the young man. See Edgar Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha (Philadelphia, 1963), p. 195.

class=MsoFootnoteText style=' line-height:[11]     Karl Heinrich Venturini, Naturliche Geschichte des grossen Propheten von Nazareth (Copenhagen, 1800-1802).

[12]         That the episode of the guards at the tomb is something grafted on the narrative of Matthew is granted even by conservative interpreters. For instance, the Jesuit Xavier Leon-Dufour refers to it as a legend attached as a secondary element to the visit of the women to the tomb: It clearly has an apologetic function, that of showing that the body had not been removed; The guards distract the attention of the reader, which has hitherto been on the women; The passage was thus in all prob­ability interpolated by Matthew into the account of the visit of the women to the tomb. My only disagreement with Father Leon-Dufour is that he seems to be confident that the anecdote of the guards was interpolated by Matthew himself. I have some doubts on this point, but our dis­agreement is not an important matter. Resurrection and the Message of Easter, p. 118.

[13]         These verses do not occur in the Codex Bezae (Manuscript D) or the early Latin translations known as Itala. Experts in the gospel manuscript tradition have concluded that these verses were not included in the text of Luke that circulated in the western part of the Roman Empire. To find a manuscript that adds extra verses is to be expected; but to meet with manuscripts that omit verses systematically, and not by mere accident, is a rare occurrence. The passages in question could have been called Eastern Interpolations, but for the sake of non-com­mittalism in such a touchy matter as a text dealing with the resurrection, they became known by the awkward self-contradictory designation of Western Non­interpolations. It has always been presumed that the Western Noninterpolation originated among the Christians of Egypt; hence the discovery in Egypt of a papyrus (P 75) that contained these inter­polations could be taken as confirmation of what had been presumed. On palaeographic grounds it can be concluded that this papyrus was written before 200 A.D. All that this papyrus proves is that the verses were added to the text of Luke at an early date.

[14]         The authenticity of these verses can be excluded also on other grounds. For instance, 24:51 states that Jesus was carried up to heaven after appearing to his disciples on the day of the resurrection. Luke cannot be the author of this verse, since he relates in the very beginning of Acts that Jesus was present in the area of Jerusalem for forty days after his death, before being lifted up. The person who added 24:51 was not aware that originally the gospel of Luke and the Acts formed one work, and intended to provide this gospel with a significant and lofty closing statement.

[15]         E.g., A. Schweizer, The Quest for the Historical Jesus (1910).

[16]         Pierre Benoit in his Passion et Resurrection du Seigneur (Paris, 1966) and in several related articles argues that there is a basic difference between the first element and the second element in that the story of Peter’s presence at the empty tomb, recounted in vss. 20:1-10, has no parallel in the three synoptic gospels, whereas the story of the women in 20:11-18 does have parallels in the other gospels. Raymond E. Brown raises an objection to this analysis of the structure of John’s gospel by observing that verse 20:1 has verbal parallels in the synoptic gospels. On this point he is correct.

[17]         It is not necessary here to deal with the added detail of the presence of the beloved disciple, a witness whose testimony is of particular concern of John.


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