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Do You Really Believe That? (IV)

December 26, 2007, 12:41 PM

The Zombie Saints

According to all three of the New Testament's Synoptic gospels, miracles attended Jesus' death: a mysterious midday darkness over all the land and the veil of the Jewish temple torn in half. (The Gospel of John omits these miracles, differing with the Synoptics in this point as in others.) However, there's one miracle that only one gospel records.

"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many."

—Matthew 27:52-53

It's amazing that more attention isn't paid to this, considering it arguably qualifies as the most incredible miracle in the Bible. Miracles like Jesus' healings were small, local in scope, easily missed or overlooked by those who weren't actually present. Old Testament miracles like Noah's flood or the fall of the walls of Jericho, dramatic as they would have been, could theoretically have been attributed to some confluence of natural forces.

But this, if it had really happened, could not possibly be explained except as the result of a purposeful intelligence with the power to suspend natural law breaking into history. No natural event can raise the dead, much less explain why only Christian believers would be raised and not others. And the sheer scope of the miracle - a mass resurrection from the dead, witnessed by the entire population of Jerusalem! - would rule out trickery and ensure that no one could possibly have overlooked it.

Yet, as I said, nowhere else in the Bible is this event referenced. None of the other gospel authors know about it. None of the New Testament epistles mention it. Even the Gospel of Matthew itself seems curiously uninterested in this stupendous miracle - it writes it off with the few curt lines quoted above and then never refers to it again. And, of course, no historians of the time record it. I'm not even aware of any church fathers or early apologists claiming that this had actually happened. As with the twelve apostles, the resurrected saints get only this one brief, shadowy reference and then disappear from history.

Neither the gospels nor the Book of Acts have any follow-up information on the fate of the resurrected individuals. Did they die again naturally, did they ascend to heaven, did they disappear from the earth? Did they become evangelists? Did they found any churches? Did they write any books or letters? Did they have first-hand knowledge of the afterlife that they were willing to recount? How could they not have been followed everywhere they went by eager, desperate crowds wanting to know the answers to these and many other questions?

If this resurrection had really happened, it would be the most famous and best-known event in all of human history. As I wrote in "Choking on the Camel":

Events such as these create historians. To assume that not a single person who witnessed these monumental events would have felt compelled to write them down, or that no one bothered to preserve those records if they had, violates all standards of credulity.... if they really happened, [they] would have left a vivid imprint on humanity's collective memory and would have produced a flood of awed and astonished records. To suggest that the succeeding generation simply let all memory of them disappear crosses the line from unbelievable to absurd.

In light of the extreme implausibility of such an incredible event happening and then being immediately and completely forgotten, there's only one reasonable conclusion: the resurrection of the saints never happened. It's a complete fabrication, invented by the author of Matthew as a rhetorical flourish. But if the gospel authors were willing to make up details - especially details that could so easily have been checked, even in ancient times - then we must ask what else they might have made up. As much as believers may dispute this conclusion, the alternative is untenable. This biblical tall tale is too obviously a fiction, and so I ask: do you really believe that?

Other posts in this series:


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