Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History

By Maurice Goguel (1926)



One of the chief objections which M. Couchoud raises against the historical character of Jesus is the difficulty he finds in understanding how, within the space of a single generation, the deification of a man could have taken place, and this upon the territory of Judaism. How did this deification take place, and how did men who had lived close to Jesus come to identify Him with a divine Being, if not (as M. Couchoud says in a phrase which somewhat exceeds the data of the texts) with Jehovah Himself, at least with His Son and Messiah?[1]

Primitive Christianity was not a school of philosophers, but a group of believers practising a common worship of the Lord Jesus. He did not unite a body of men who admired the teaching of a Master and desired to take Him as a rule for their lives[2]; He brought together worshippers. In the Christian field the word "disciples" possesses a sense quite different from that which it has in the expressions "disciples of Plato or Aristotle." It is the equivalent of the word "saints"—that is, of consecrated ones—which is the most usual name for the faithful.

The Christians—and not only thinkers like Paul or the author of the fourth Gospel, but also the humblest and least philosophical among them—only considered the Gospel history as

[1] The subordination of Christ to God is, in fact, very clearly affirmed by Paul (1 Cor. xv. 27, 28).

[2] Even considering this teaching to have been directly revealed to him by God.


an episode in a cosmic drama of much vaster dimensions. How did they reach this point of view? That which convinced them that Jesus was more than a man was the conviction that He had risen from the dead. Paul expresses the feeling of all believers when he said: "If Christ be not risen from the dead, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is also vain" (1 Cor. xv. 14). The belief in the resurrection is indeed the foundation upon which the whole structure of primitive Christianity is built. The story of its birth is nothing more than the formation of the faith in the resurrection.

In order that we may form an idea of the conditions in which this belief appeared, it is necessary, without neglecting the criticism of the narratives and traditions concerning the apparitions, first of all to examine this problem. In what manner did the early Christians picture to themselves the life of the risen Christ?

The principal problems which are presented by the resurrection narratives may be reduced to three:

1. What is the relation between the discovery of the empty tomb and the apparitions? Upon which of these two facts—or rather upon which of these two beliefs—does the faith in the resurrection rest? Were there really at its origin two facts, real or supposed—the empty tomb and the apparitions—or has one been deduced from the other? And upon this hypothesis, was it believed that Jesus, having shown Himself to His disciples, His tomb must have been found empty? Or, on the contrary, was it the belief in the empty tomb which predisposed men's minds to believe in the resurrection and fulfilled the psychological conditions which prepared and caused the visions?

2. How was the tradition born which fixed the time of the resurrection on the morning of the third day?[1]

3. How can the extreme diversity of the accounts of the apparitions be explained? The anxiety to make them concordant has cost the harmonizers many efforts, but the results obtained are not proportionate to the wealth of ingenuity expended.

[1] Behind the present tradition there is perceptible one of older form which attributed to the body of Jesus a period in the tomb lasting three days and three nights (Matt. xii. 40).


This diversity is much greater than is to be observed in any other part of the Gospel history. This fact is all the more striking seeing the very great importance which the resurrection story had for the early Christian faith. The diversity is particularly noticeable on one point: the place of the apparitions. Two forms of the tradition may be distinguished, one which localizes the apparitions in Galilee, the other in Judea.

Criticism has particularly emphasized the considerable influence of apologetic interests on the narratives of the apparitions. The episode of the guard placed over the sepulchre (see Matt. xxvii and xxviii) is a characteristic example of a narrative imagined—in good faith certainly—to reply to a Jewish objection. The Jews explained the discovery of the empty tomb by a nocturnal visit of the disciples, who, according to them, had carried off the body of their Master. The reply was that all necessary measures to prevent such a manoeuvre had been taken.[1]

But the apologetic factor does not explain the extreme diversity of the apparition narratives. One realizes this in observing the complexity, improbability and arbitrary character of the criticisms by which M. Voelter, of Amsterdam, has attempted to reduce them to one common source, alleged to be a vision of Peter in his home in Galilee, followed by a collective vision of the apostles on the shores of the lake of Galilee. The theories elaborated to explain the empty tomb are scarcely more satisfactory. All of them employ a conjectural factor, apparent death, or abduction of the corpse of Jesus, either by Jews, Romans, or even by disciples. Even if there were not so much of the purely arbitrary in these hypotheses, if all the objections advanced were refuted, if the tomb had, indeed, been found empty, it would still be true that the fact would not have failed to play an important part in the genesis of faith in the resurrection, whereas we are expressly told by Mark that the women kept silence concerning the discovery they had made and the message they had received (Mark xvi. 8). The later accounts have attempted to diminish the strangeness of the simple juxtaposition of the discovery of the empty tomb and the apparitions without establishing organic relationship between them, but they have done so only in a

[1] The accounts of Luke and John have an obviously apologetic character.


timid and imperfect way which in no degree succeeds in welding the two things together.[1]

Literary criticism alone does not permit us the choice of one out of two hypotheses which are equally possible, and to decide if the accounts of the apparitions have been subsequently introduced to establish the reality of the resurrection and set aside the divergent explanations of the empty tomb, or if the discovery of the empty tomb has been deduced from visions and incorporated into the tradition to establish the reality of the apparitions. Various theories have been proposed to explain the genesis of the formula "the third day." Even if they were less hypothetical than they are, in the conditions of our documentation, they would only have a bearing on a subordinate point, and would leave the true problem existing in its entirety.


The decisive fact in the genesis of Christianity was neither the discovery of the empty tomb nor the appearances of Jesus to His disciples, but faith in the resurrection. From the religious point of view, it is not facts which have importance, but ideas and sentiments. It is to the study of the conception of the early Christians of the risen Christ that it is necessary to address ourselves. We possess one precise and accurately dated document

[1] Matthew (xxviii. 9, 10) mentions an apparition of Jesus to the women, immediately after the discovery of the empty tomb. Jesus renews the message already given by the angel. The disciples go to Galilee to the meeting-place Jesus had given them, and there He appears to them (verses 16-20). According to Luke (xxiv. 9-11) the women bring also the message of the angel to the disciples, but these latter do not believe them. However, Luke states that the disciples have been to the tomb and found it empty. This action is directly attributed to Peter (in Luke xxiv. 8), but this verse, which is absent from manuscript D and in several forms of the old Latin version, is much suspected. It betrays the influence of Luke xxiv. 24, and must originate from John's narrative. In the fourth Gospel (xx. 1-18) Mary Magdalene, on her own initiative, goes to inform the disciples that she has found the tomb empty. Peter and the unnamed disciple run there at once, but it is only of the latter that it is said that he believed. Jesus appears afterwards to Mary Magdalene, who is charged to carry to the disciples the news of His resurrection. She carries out this task, but it is not said how she is received.


(it was written about 55 or 56), which shows us how the apostle Paul conceived the person and import of the risen Christ. This is the fifteenth chapter of the first Epistle to the Corinthians. The affirmation of the resurrection (verse 4) is confirmed by an account of the apparitions (verses 5-8). The thought in the text would be exactly rendered by the statement: "Christ is risen; the proof is that He appeared unto Cephas, then unto the Twelve," etc. The discovery of the empty tomb is not mentioned; at the most it might be considered as understood between the interment and the resurrection, each formally attested both as facts and the fulfilment of prophecies. To conclude from the silence of the apostle that he was ignorant of the tradition about the empty tomb would be going too far. It is still none the less true that, for Paul, faith in the resurrection is linked with the apparitions and not with an empty tomb, and this conclusion is not only true as regards Paul, but also for the whole Christian preaching of his time, for all that was transmitted in unanimity and taught equally by Judaic or Gentile Christians.

In the course of the chapter Paul establishes a very close relation, intimate and organic, between the resurrection of Christ and that of believers. He sees in the resurrection of Jesus the guarantee of that of the faithful. Christ inaugurates a series of resurrections; He is the first-born among the dead, the chief of the risen. We are, therefore, able to apply to Christ what is said concerning the resurrection in general. Christ is thus a spiritual being, which does not mean (given the Hebraic anthropology to which Paul remains faithful) that He is "pure spirit," but only that He is endowed with a special organism, whose attributes are different, and in a certain degree opposed to those belonging to terrestrial organisms. Paul characterises the terrestrial or psychic body of which the earthly man consists by a series of terms such as corruptible, mortal, feeble, dishonour. This being is a living "psyche," constituted by flesh and blood. The body of the heavenly man, on the contrary, possesses immortality; he is the "pneuma zôopoioun," and he is characterized by the terms "incorruptible," "glorious," "powerful." The prototypes of these two species of beings are the first man Adam and the second Adam, who is the Christ.


The risen Christ, therefore, in Paul's view, possesses a body essentially different from that which He possessed during His earthly life. It is formed of a superior substance, the spirit, and is no longer subjected to the contingencies and the necessities which affect humanity; it is no longer subjected (as we should say in modern terminology) to the laws of physics or physiology. This is perhaps confirmed by the fact that when Paul speaks of apparitions he uses the word wfqh, with a dative, as though he would indicate that in these experiences the initiative belongs to the Christ: He shows Himself to the disciples rather than these see Him. However, the expression which Paul uses must not be pushed to the point of reducing the apparitions in his thought to simple visions with no reality outside the consciousness of those who were favoured with them.

Thus in Paul's view—and his ideas on this point do not appear to diverge from those of the rest of the Church of his time—the risen Christ lives no longer an earthly life. He is not a human being who, after an interruption comparable to a more or less prolonged slumber, resumes his former life, as might be conceived to be the case for the daughter of Jairus, the young man of Nain, or Lazarus. The earthly life of Jesus was really ended on Calvary; something new began at the resurrection—a celestial life, but in which Christ has still the power of intervening in the life of those who are His own and of influencing them.

It does not appear that Paul assigns to the period during which the apparitions occurred a definite duration. Those mentioned by him—the last of which is that which he himself experienced upon the Damascus road—cannot in any case be restricted to the short period of forty days spoken of in the Acts (i. 3). Furthermore, although concerning the apparition which he had seen, Paul says, "and last of all, He was seen by me also" (1 Cor. xv. 8), there is no theoretical reason why the series of apparitions should be at an end. The Pauline conception of Christ glorified leaves no place for the Ascension. The vision of Peter or that of Paul on the Damascus road are not differentiated from the visions and revelations of the Lord referred to in 2 Cor. xii, or, rather, since the terms employed by Paul in 1 Cor. xv. 8 imply that the vision upon the road to Damascus closes


the series of the first apparitions, the difference between them and those which occurred later can only consist in this, that the later ones are not, like the first, the creative source of belief in the resurrection and of the apostolic vocation.

Thus, in Paul's view, He who showed Himself to the apostles was the Christ glorified, as He existed in heaven. There was a personal identity between this Being and the Jesus whose body was laid in the tomb, but this body had undergone the transformation through which all the bodies of the elect would pass at the second coming of the Lord (1 Cor. xv. 51). In Paul's view the Lord's body did not remain in the tomb, but the fact that he does not consider it necessary to say so expressly is important and significative. An analogous conception, although of a more emphatically spiritualist nature, is met with in certain elements of the Johannine tradition. The activity of the Risen One upon the faithful is therein replaced to a certain extent by that of the Spirit.[1]

The substitution of the Spirit for the Christ is not, however, carried to its extreme consequence—that is, the suppression of apparitions. The influence exerted by the current Gospel tradition was too strong to permit John's full obedience to the inner logic of his thought.[2] Several Gospel narratives contain details which directly recall the Pauline conception of Christ glorified. For example, there is in Matthew the declaration of Jesus: "Lo! I am with you always, even until the end of the world." He who thus speaks is not subject to the ordinary conditions of existence. In the episode of Emmaus (Luke xxiv. 13-32) there are three features, not marked, it is true, with equal distinctness. First of all—and this is only slightly indicated—Jesus seems to appear in a somewhat mysterious way at the side of the two

[1] La notion Joihannique de l'Esprit et ses antecedents historiques, Goguel.

[2] The original Johannine conception was perhaps more distinctly marked in an early form of the Gospel, where the narrative appears to end with the sentence of Jesus to Mary Magdalene: "Go to my brothers and tell them that I ascend to My Father and your Father, to My God and your God" (xx. 27). It is difficult, indeed, to conceive that such a message could have been originally followed by other apparitions of the risen Jesus. The narrative of the apparition to Mary Magdalene might thus be the remains of a tradition in which the Gospel history ended by the return of Christ in celestial glory.


disciples walking along the road. These—and this is the second feature—do not recognize Him at first.[1] The very appearance, therefore, of Jesus had changed. Finally, at the moment when Jesus had just made Himself recognized, He vanishes—literally, He becomes invisible—which seems to imply that the Risen One possessed the faculty of rendering Himself at will either visible or invisible—in any case to appear and to disappear suddenly.

In the account of the apparition at Jerusalem which Luke gives it is expressly stated the disciples thought they beheld a phantom (xxiv. 27). In the Johannine account Jesus said to Mary Magdalene, "Touch Me not" (xx. 17). In the present form of the narrative this seems to suppose that Jesus, having left the tomb, was obliged to undergo in heaven a kind of purification before being able to resume contact with His disciples. But it is possible that this detail signified originally that human hands must not touch the glorified body of the Risen One. In the Johannine account of the first appearance to the apostles, Jesus is found suddenly in the midst of His followers, who had met together, with the doors shut, owing to the fear they had of the Jews (xx. 19).


The Gospel narratives also contain an entirely different concept, which may be designated by the term "revivification." The idea seems to be that the life of Jesus is resumed after having been interrupted by the drama on Calvary. Thomas was invited to put his fingers upon the nail marks and his hand into the wound in Jesus' side (John xx. 27). Luke insists that the apostles are dealing, not with a phantom, but with a Being who can be felt and who eats[2] (Luke xxiv. 39-42). In the account of the

[1] The same feature is found in the fourth Gospel, in the account of the apparition to Mary Magdalene (xx. 15) and in the scene on the shore of the lake (xxi. 4).

[2] The idea that a phantom cannot eat, and that an apparition which is taken for a spirit offers a decisive proof of his corporeal reality by sitting down to a repast, appears to be widely disseminated in folk-lore. It serves as the theme of a popular song, composed at the prisoners' camp at Holzminden by a soldier, native of Mayenne (France). It refers to a prisoner whose death certificate had reached his family and who, having returned from captivity in Germany, is taken for a spirit up to the moment he sits down to his meal at table before them. Having announced his continued existence, the refrain runs:

"In order to reassure you
I'm going to eat and drink."

NOTE.—The author states that since his book was published in France it has been proved that the song referred to in the note was composed before the late war.—Translator.


walk to Emmaus, and less distinctly in John xxi. 13, the disciples recognize their Master when He performs the familiar gesture of the breaking of bread. Finally, in Acts i. 3 it is stated that Jesus, during the forty days which preceded His ascension, gave many proofs to His disciples of His resurrection. These proofs concerning whose nature the text gives us no information, ought probably to be conceived as confirmations of the reality of the life He had resumed.

That which has been said suffices, without it being necessary to have recourse to more recent and extra-canonical narratives, to distinguish in the tradition two concepts of the resurrection. According to one, which is comparable to that of Paul, the Risen One is no longer subject to the ordinary conditions of human existence. He is a celestial being who sometimes shows Himself on earth. According to the other, the risen Christ resumes His terrestrial existence at the very point where death had interrupted it. He possesses a body which may be felt; He eats; He still bears the marks of the nails in His hands and the spear-thrust in His side; His wounds are not even cicatrized.


The Gospel traditions combine these two concepts. The theory of apparitions during forty days is an attempt to harmonize them. They are, however, entirely different, and in reality irreconcilable. They correspond to two different phases of the development of Christian thought. Which is the most primitive? Which had the first Christians in mind when they affirmed "Jesus is risen"? What were the causes which brought about the progress from one concept to the other?

There is already a presumption favourable to the priority


of the concept of the resurrection as glorification in the fact that it appears in the first Epistle to the Corinthians, whilst the other concept of revivification is only found in writings which, in the form known to us, are distinctly younger.

Another consideration has more weight still. The spiritual concept is found in Paul's writings in all its purity, without admixture with any other heterogeneous element. On the other hand, there is no narrative, whether canonical or extra-canonical, in which the concept of revivification is not alloyed with some detail borrowed from the idea of glorification. It would, doubtless, be hazardous to affirm that there has never existed a narrative conceived uniquely from the point of view of revivification. The existence of such a record appears, nevertheless, very doubtful. It would have suited later controversies and apologetic needs so admirably that it is not easy to understand how it could have disappeared. The combination of the features which belong respectively to the two different concepts is explicable in two ways. Either the two concepts existed at first as independent and parallel, and it was only afterwards that an attempt was made to combine them; or, on the contrary, primarily there was one simple homogeneous concept to which there were added subsequently certain divergent details which, however, did not possess sufficient plausibility to eliminate others, which logically should not have been capable of association with them. In the case before us the first explanation has little probability. The concept of revivification in itself never appears to have inspired any narrative. The reasons which have caused more and more importance to be attached to the bodily manifestations of the Risen One also enable us to understand the evolution of the resurrection tradition without being obliged to ascribe to it a double point of departure.[1]

Again, it is possible to urge, in support of the priority of the spiritualist conception, the fact that all the features which imply the concept of revivification appear to be inspired by apologetic

[1] In the narratives containing details implying the concept of revivification it is easy to convince oneself that these details are not in harmony with other elements in it. Thus in John xx. 26-9 the exhibition of wounds, implying "corporality" of the Risen One, does not harmonize easily with the fact that Jesus passes easily into the room when the doors were shut.


necessities. They are so many direct replies to objections urged against the belief in the resurrection. It would be, on the contrary, very difficult to suppose, in face of the need to refute the criticisms of opponents, that apologists should have made their task more difficult by sublimating and spiritualizing the belief in the resurrection.

The resurrection was, therefore, first of all conceived as the accession of Christ to a higher life. The concept of the resurrection as a mere suppression of death and a restoration to the former life of Christ is a secondary one, born out of the necessities of apologetics.

This conclusion throws light on the primitive character of the belief in the resurrection. The progress in the history of the tradition has been, if one may so express it, from inside to outside. It has had a tendency, if not to materialize, at least to render faith in the resurrection more concrete. The evolution has been quite spontaneous, without there having existed any plan concerted by anyone whatsoever. It is a case in which we may call to mind Pascal's saying: "I only believe the narratives whose witnesses would suffer death."

One is forced to believe at least in the good faith of these witnesses, for a belief founded on dishonest machinations would not have resisted persecution.

In the resurrection faith there are two elements. The first is a conviction of a religious nature: Jesus lives; He cannot be (like other men) vanquished, a prisoner of death. He has escaped the power of death; it is He, in a word, who is the victor. Alongside of this there is a conviction of a material historical fact: Jesus has quitted the tomb; He has been seen by so-and-so. What relation is there between these two convictions? Did the apostles believe that Jesus was living because they found His tomb empty and He appeared to them? Or, on the contrary, did they see Him, and were they persuaded that His tomb must have been found empty because they had the conviction that He was living?

The Gospel narratives, as we read them, express the first of these conceptions. They show us men profoundly discouraged—so little prepared to believe in the resurrection of their Master (which, nevertheless, had been announced to them) that they


treated the first news of it brought to them as "idle tales" (Luke xxiv. 11); and when Jesus showed Himself to them they had need to feel Him and to watch Him eat in order to convince themselves they were not in presence of a phantom. In spite of this, Matthew relates that some of them doubted. In the Pauline faith, on the contrary, the fundamental element is the affirmation of the resurrection; no allusion is made to the empty tomb, and the apparitions are only mentioned as confirmatory evidence. If this is not the most ancient concept, the evolution of the resurrection faith must have proceeded in a very strange way. Material at the beginning, in the sense that it was founded upon material facts or on facts held to be such (empty tomb and apparitions), it would have become spiritualized in order later to become material in nature once more. The faith in the resurrection was in its origin an affirmation and a conviction of a religious nature, and it was not an experimental observation. This explains the fertility it has shown in the development of Christianity. The fourth evangelist had an exact appreciation of its true nature when he put into the mouth of Jesus the declaration made to Thomas: "Blessed are they who have not seen and yet have believed."[1]


M. Couchoud considers that belief in the resurrection arose in a quite spontaneous way, without antecedents directly recognizable, and that the apparitions were only the manifestation of an ideal Messiah whose mythical history included a crucifixion episode. This theory seems to be liable to several decisive objections. The Gospel history is not, as we have seen, the simple transformation of a myth. On the other hand, the belief in the resurrection was in the whole of primitive Christianity intimately associated with the thought of the Lord's death. Under these conditions, how could the resurrection have been for Peter and his first companions, at the primitive period, the object of a direct religious experience, while the belief in the death and sufferings of the Messiah was borrowed from an

[1] Compare with Luke xvi. 31: "Neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead."


ancient myth? It is inconceivable that a myth could have included the idea of the sufferings and death of the Messiah without also including the idea of His triumph. The myths of Attis or of Osiris, which the mythologists readily cite as parallels to the history of the Christian Messiah, are on this point characteristic. Death and resurrection of the divine hero in them are on the same plane. Could it be otherwise in Christianity? The belief in the resurrection in the latter stands in organic relationship with an experience of primitive believers, which imposes the following dilemma: either the Gospel drama—that is, the idea of the sufferings and death of the Messiah and that of the resurrection—is only the transformation of an old myth or it was the object of direct knowledge. It is not, however, impossible that a reminiscence of the myth concerning the death and resurrection of the god may have prepared the minds of men to conceive the idea of the resurrection of the Messiah, Jesus, but the affirmation of this resurrection, far from having been deduced from the single fact of the death, represents in relation to it something original and new.

This is confirmed by a study of the conditions in which the belief in the resurrection arose, which did not happen within a group of enthusiastic disciples, but amongst men profoundly discouraged.

The personality, activity and teaching of Jesus had produced a deep impression on the little circle of disciples formed around Him. Without having translated their sentiments into precise theological propositions, they had closely associated the personality of their Master with the ideal of the Kingdom of God which they had conceived under His influence. Jesus was in their eyes He who was intended to fulfil the divine work, the Son of man destined by God to realize His plan, to destroy the power of the devil and to establish the divine dominion over the world. The Messianic consciousness of Jesus[1] imposed

[1] We cannot discuss the problem of the Messianic affirmations of Jesus in the Gospels, nor the various hypotheses proposed to explain them. We think that Jesus really considered Himself as the Son of God, and that if the Messianic conceptions of the primitive Christians may have influenced the manner in which the declarations of Jesus are related in the Gospels, and given them more precision, they do not explain them. In support of our opinion we shall only cite one decisive fact—that is, the reply of Jesus to the high priest. When asked if He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed, Jesus replies: " I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power and coming on the clouds of heaven" (Mark xiv. 62). If this declaration is a product of Christian faith, the fundamental idea of primitive Christianity is found therein—that of resurrection on the third day. Matthew (xxvi. 64), in introducing the sentence "Henceforward shall ye see . . ." tends to substitute the idea of glorification for that of return, but he does so only in an imperfect way, since he preserves the idea of return upon the clouds of heaven. Luke goes farther still, and suppresses the idea of return in giving to the declaration of Jesus this form: "Henceforward shall the Son of man be seated at the right hand of the power of God" (Luke xxii. 69).


itself on them; if it had been otherwise it would be incomprehensible that belief in Jesus could have survived the drama of the Passion.

Even if it be admitted, as it certainly seems necessary to do, that Jesus had foreseen the eventuality of defeat, and had attempted to prepare His disciples for it, it remains none the less true that the apostles were surprised and disconcerted by the arrest of their Master. Their confusion was complete; they dispersed. This point is beyond doubt; the Gospel tradition which tends, nevertheless, to glorify the apostles, has preserved a very distinct memory of their flight. It makes an attempt, if not to excuse, at least to explain it, by showing in it the realization of a prophecy (see Mark xiv. 27 and Matt. xxvi. 31, quoting Zech. xiii. 7).[1] This attempt at an excuse has the value of a very precise confirmation of the fact.

Even Peter, who seems to have had more assurance and boldness than his companions, and who had protested that, whatever might happen, he would never forsake his Master, according to the fourth Gospel[2] only made the beginning of an act of resistance, and this could not have been very serious, since it did not involve any grave consequences[3] for him. He only accompanied the guard who led away his Master, from a distance (Mark xiv. 54), and he did not even find the courage to admit in the presence of the servants the attachment he had had for Him.

The abandonment of Jesus by His disciples can be interpreted in two ways. The fact of Jesus falling into the hands of

[1] The fourth Gospel (xviii. 8, 9) puts into the mouth of Jesus a sentence which justifies the dispersion of the disciples.

[2] The Synoptics also relate the incident, but they do not name Peter.

[3] The behaviour of Peter was in any case more circumspect than that of the young man who wished to follow Jesus and whom the soldiers tried to arrest (Mark xiv. 51, 52).


the soldiers without any supernatural intervention taking place on His behalf may have killed the disciples' faith and persuaded them that they had deceived themselves in believing they found the Messiah in Him. The disciples of Jesus would thus have been in the same case as the partisans of innumerable Messianic pretenders of the type of Theudas, Judas the Galilean (Acts v. 36, 37), and, later on, Bar-Kochba. Their faith and their attachment to Him would not have resisted the defeat of their hero. Their Messianic faith would have suffered complete collapse, so far at least as this faith was centred in Jesus.

The alternative interpretation is that the crisis was less profound. The disciples' faith did not collapse; it was only shaken. It was primarily the courage to proclaim it which they lacked. There was in them weakness of character, discouragement, eclipse, if you wish, but there was no total bankruptcy of the Messianic faith in Jesus.

It is not easy to decide between these two hypotheses, partly, no doubt, because the memory of the apostles and tradition did not willingly dwell on this troubled and dark period when their faith had at least vacillated. Certain observations impel us, however, to incline toward the second of the two interpretations just mentioned. There is, in the first place, a reason which we shall call one of psychological economy. The later evolution of the apostles is easier to understand under the hypothesis of momentary or temporary weakness than under that of a total collapse of their Messianic faith. If this latter really took place, it would be necessary to admit that the disciples had remained completely impervious to what certainly seems to have been the dominating note in the thought of Jesus in the last days of His ministry, and particularly on the last evening—the thought of His death and return.

Certain significant facts favour the hypothesis of a temporary weakness. It is sufficient to mention them. The first is that Peter, in short, had only denied Jesus because he desired to follow Him—from a distance, it is true. He was not, therefore, completely indifferent to the fate of Jesus.[1] The denial itself

[1] According to the oldest tradition, it was not before the Sunday morning that the disciples quitted Jerusalem; they desired, therefore, to know the issue of events in the drama.


is a formal disavowal which still demands consideration to see how far it was sincere and how far it was dictated by fear. But Peter only refused to admit that he knew Jesus; he did not declare He was an impostor. His behaviour was not that of a man who had lost all belief in Jesus; it was that of a man who had not the courage to declare his faith. The ancient Church did not consider the behaviour of Peter as the equivalent of a renunciation of his apostleship; it has preserved no memory of a new re-instatement which in such a case would have been necessary, and whose record would have been indissolubly linked to that of the forfeiture. The incident in John xxi. 15-19, habitually spoken of as the "rehabilitation of Peter," has a quite different significance. Peter, notwithstanding his denial, plays a part of the first importance in the resurrection narratives, and in the incident which has been taken for his restoration there is found no allusion which implies a denial and its consequent disqualification. (See Introd. au N.T., ii, p. 302, M. Goguel.)

Where did the apostles go in their perplexity? Did they remain in Jerusalem hiding themselves more or less carefully, or did they quit Judea to take refuge in Galilee? The tradition represented by Luke and John (under its first form—that is, before the addition of Chap. xxi) supports the first hypothesis. According to the beginning of the book of Acts (i. 4) it was by explicit command of Jesus that His disciples waited at Jerusalem for the inspiration of the Spirit. It was therefore at Jerusalem where the decisive evolution to which the Church owed her existence took place. Events are not presented in the same way in the other accounts. According to Mark (xvi. 17) the disciples were still at Jerusalem, since the women received from the angel the commission to tell them that they had found the tomb empty and that they must repair to Galilee, where they will see Jesus. Owing to fear the women keep silence. The account stops at this point. It must originally have related the apparition of Jesus in Galilee, announced in xvi. 7. But was it in consequence of the women's message or on their own initiative that the disciples quitted Jerusalem? The first hypothesis must be put aside owing to the last phrase of the Gospel. If the narrator had intended to relate why, after the event, it came about that the women decided to speak, would he not have


linked up this new account by saying, for instance: "At first they said nothing to anyone"? The primitive Gospel of Mark could not have related that the disciples quitted Jerusalem to go to meet their risen Master at the place assigned by the angel. It was not with even a flickering hope in their hearts, it was in despair, that they returned to Galilee. They must have quitted Jerusalem as soon as the tragedy of Calvary had been consummated, leaving only the Sabbath to pass, during which they could not set out on their journey.

It is thus that the Gospel of Peter presents the events:

The women who discovered the empty tomb and received the testimony of the angel fled terrified, and although it is not explicitly stated, they said nothing. It was with tears and distress that on the morning of the third day the disciples set out on the road for Galilee. That which the Gospel of Peter contains more than this—namely the story of the resurrection properly so-called—is from another origin, and has not been intercalated in a satisfactory manner in the narrative of the discovery of the empty tomb and the return to Galilee. Neither the women nor the disciples could have ignored such a sensational event as the exit of Jesus from the tomb, as it is related in the Gospel of Peter.

The account of Matthew reproduces that of Mark with some variations. In the first place Jesus appears to the women (xxviii. 9, 10). These latter deliver the message confided to them (verse 8), and it is after having received it that the disciples go to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had given them as the meeting-place (xxviii. 16). The return of the disciples to Galilee has, therefore, a character other than in Mark. It was, if not with a sense of certainty, at least in the hope of the resurrection, that they left Jerusalem.

The priority of Mark's narrative compared with that of Matthew is beyond question. The apparition of Jesus to the women is under suspicion; Mark would not have suppressed it if he had found it in the source of his work. It makes a useless repetition of the apparition of the angel. The mission confided by Jesus to the women adds nothing to those they had already received.

Moreover, in stating that the disciples went to Galilee to the meeting-place named by the angel, the narrative of Matthew


establishes a close relationship between the empty tomb and the apparition; it thus does away with one of the strangest features of Mark's account—the simple juxtaposition of these two facts. It is natural for the tradition to have linked them to each other. It would be more difficult to understand if it had dissociated them.

The tendency to connect organically the account of the discovery of the empty tomb with that of the first apparition is still more distinct in Luke, and particularly in John. In Luke's work the angel's message is so transposed that he no longer speaks of a rendezvous in Galilee, but of a rendezvous that Jesus had given while he was in Galilee (xxiv. 6). The message is delivered to the disciples, but they are not convinced (xxiv. 11). It is not even said that they went to the tomb.[1] In the narrative of the meeting upon the road to Emmaus matters are somewhat more definite. The disciples certainly had been to the sepulchre, but they had seen no angel (xxiv. 22-4). The message of the women had at least disconcerted them. They could not fully believe in what had been told them, but they took the trouble to make some inquiry. When the disciples returned to Jerusalem from Emmaus, they are greeted with the cry, "The Lord is risen indeed" (xxiv. 34), which implies that the question of the resurrection had been at any rate raised by the discovery of the empty tomb. The reasons why Matthew's version must be considered as of secondary value compared with Mark's maintain all their force for that of Luke. In xxiv. 11: "Their words seemed to them as idle tales, and they believed them not." Here a trace of the primitive conception, which established no relation between the empty tomb and the apparitions, very clearly persists.

In John's narrative (xx. 1-18) the relation between the empty tomb and the apparitions is closer still. Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene, and two disciples come to the tomb to investigate the women's assertion. One of them "sees and believes." The synthesis is thus perfectly realized. It is upon the empty tomb that the belief in the resurrection rests. Such is the case, at least, for the one whom the evangelist presents as a noble soul—

[1] At least, in the version which there is reason to consider the primitive one.


as the very ideal of a disciple. Mary Magdalene and Peter are not convinced in the same way; for them apparitions are necessary. They served as confirmation for those who were not directly convinced of the existence of Christ. Their function is thus essential; although subordinate to that of the empty tomb, it is perfectly co-ordinated with it.

The comparison of the accounts of the resurrection therefore prove that in the most ancient tradition which we can find the empty tomb and the apparitions were merely juxtaposed. This condition of things, to some degree inorganic, could not be long maintained. An obligation was necessarily felt to seek to express in the narratives the relation that could not fail to be perceived between the two facts. Thus two secondary forms of the tradition came to birth. In the older of the two the character of the return of the disciples into Galilee is transformed: it is to go to meet Jesus that they quitted Jerusalem. But, at length, this could not suffice; it was necessary to go farther and associate the empty tomb with the apparitions, not only in the thought of the disciples, but also in time and space. With this object the apparitions were transferred to Jerusalem, where the disciples still remained at the time of the discovery of the empty tomb.[1]

Various objections have been raised to the thesis of the priority of the Galilean tradition. They rest in general upon the a priori dogma—more or less unconscious—that there cannot be any contradiction between the various accounts of the resurrection, and that it is only necessary to find some means to reconcile them. Certain critics have imagined in the environs of Jerusalem, on the Mount of Olives, a place named "Galilee,"[2] but this place obviously has only been imagined for the needs of the case. Others, again, following the example already given by the author of the unauthentic ending of Mark and by the editor who added Chap. xxi to the fourth Gospel, have combined the two traditions by positing a series of Judaic apparitions followed

[1] Accessorily the evolution of the narratives in this sense has been facilitated, and perhaps partly determined, by the always increasing importance of the Jerusalem Church and also by the need to affirm that the apparitions did not take place in a far-off province, and thus escape more or less the possibility of verification.

[2] Rud. Hofmann, Galilaea auf dem Oelberg; A. Resch, Das Galilaea bet Jerusalem; Der Auferstandene Galilaea bei Jerusalem.


by a series of Galilean apparitions. They misunderstand the fact that in the primitive tradition the Galilean apparition was quite distinctly a first apparition of the risen Jesus.

Johannes Weiss has offered an original theory which seeks to explain the origin of the Galilean tradition through a misunderstanding. It rests entirely on the words of Jesus related in Mark xiv. 28: "After that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee "—words to which reference was made in the message of the angel (Mark xvi. 7). According to Johannes Weiss, Jesus had announced to His disciples that after His resurrection He would lead them into Galilee, walking at their head. If this theory had any basis, the problem of the resurrection would be much simplified. The Church would be the direct continuation of the communion which during the lifetime of Jesus existed between Him and His disciples. The ingenuity of the system which suppresses rather than solves a whole series of problems demands a very serious examination. The Jerusalemite tradition of Luke arises from downright juggling with the phrase in Mark on which the Galilean tradition rests.[1] In the way it is understood by Johannes Weiss, the phrase concerning the return into Galilee is the sole surviving element of a tradition according to which Jesus had resumed, or considered it necessary to resume, after His resurrection the life which He had formerly led with His disciples. How could Jesus have entertained such a thought when (His declaration before the Sanhedrin proves it) He expected to return upon the clouds of heaven? On the contrary, is it to be supposed (admitting the otherwise weak and improbable hypothesis of an apparent death) that Jesus, after the drama of Calvary, may still have lived for a certain time with His disciples? How is it that this period of His life could pass and leave no other souvenir except one sentence, very soon misunderstood? How is it that tradition had never made use of it as the argument best adapted to refute those who denied the resurrection? And finally, how could a tradition arise which, in opposition to the most obvious interests of apologetics, reduced the manifestations

[1] Matthew (xxviii. 7) slightly transposes the last part of the phrase, which consequently becomes in his version superfluous, and can only be explained as a survival of the version in Mark, whose priority is thus confirmed.


of the risen Christ to a few brief apparitions? It is still possible to suppose that the sentence about Jesus leading His disciples into Galilee originally related to the period which must follow the success He hoped to obtain in Judea and at Jerusalem. It is easy to understand that, the hope of Jesus having been deceived, tradition may not have preserved the memory of it; but how does it happen that a fragment of it has survived, and why should one single phrase, misunderstood by Mark, suffice to give birth to the Galilean tradition and suppress in his version the souvenir of the primitive Judean tradition?

It is objected against the priority of the Galilean tradition that we know nothing about a Christian community in Galilee whose existence was the direct consequence of apparition in that region. Tradition has not preserved the souvenir of the disciples' return to Jerusalem either. The chances as to the preservation of documents may explain the first point. We should know nothing about the existence in the early years following the death of Jesus of a Christian community at Damascus were it not mentioned in the narrative of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The same explanation holds for the second point. Moreover, it is comprehensible that the souvenir of the Galilean tradition may have been obliterated when the Judean tradition had become so preponderant that it was possible to speak of an order given by Jesus to His disciples not to leave Jerusalem, but to await there the effusion of the Spirit (Acts i. 4).


The religious thought of the early Christians had two foci: the belief in the resurrection and the Messianic belief. Between these two there is an organic relationship. What was precisely the function of each, and what was their relationship? The Messianic belief of the first disciples was earlier than their belief in the resurrection. The first named was born of the impression which Jesus made on them, and was not entirely destroyed by the drama of the Passion. If the failure of Jesus had been also a complete negation of the confidence the disciples had placed in Him, it would not have caused a complete collapse of their


abstract faith in a Messiah, but it would have radically destroyed the faith they had placed in Him.

Certain passages, however, might at first sight induce one to consider the belief in the resurrection as the origin of belief in the Messiah. Such is particularly the case as regards a passage of Peter's address at the feast of Pentecost (Acts ii. 36), where a conception is found of such an Archaic and pre-Pauline character that there can be no hesitation in recognizing in it the echo of a fairly primitive notion. According to this passage, God "has made Lord and Christ" (that is, the Messiah) the self-same Jesus who had been crucified by the Jews.[1] But it is not asserted that Jesus was not the Messiah before His resurrection; it is, on the contrary, presumed that He was the one whom God destined to fulfil the Messianic mission, but who, during His earthly ministry, was not invested with the attributes of power and glory. The dignity of the Messiah has now been conferred on Him in all its fullness; Jesus is now the Lord—that is, the Messiah transcendent who will return at the end of time to complete the discomfiture of the enemies of God, assuring at the same time the salvation of the faithful and the establishment and triumph of the Kingdom of God. "It is from heaven," writes Paul, "that we await the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ" (Phil. iii. 20); and if the continuation of this declaration, with the idea of the similitude of the body of the believer to the glorious body of the Lord, expresses an idea essentially Pauline, the commencing phrase contains the faith common to all Christians. The resurrection was, in the first place, a sentimental satisfaction for the disciples, at once a consolation and a reparation of the indignity offered to Jesus by His ignominious condemnation. By its means Jesus was rehabilitated, and the faith of the disciples, shaken by the drama of the Passion, was restored. But this was not all. The resurrection placed the Messianic faith on a new plane. From the first manifestations of the life of the Church it assumed a character and outlook different from those she had nourished until then. It was no longer an inner conviction, having the character of a secret of which even among the initiated one could only speak with prudence, and which remained surrounded by

[1] This text ought to be compared with that in Rom. i. 4, but in Paul's work it is rather a question of the manifestation of Jesus as Messiah.


a certain mystery. It became a certainty openly proclaimed before the world, forming the very essence of Christian preaching. There was in this something more than a change of tactics or the abandonment of precautions henceforward superfluous. The Messianic creed had been exalted; it had passed from the imminent to the transcendental plane. However paradoxical it may appear at first sight, the Christ preached in the primitive Church was not rigorously identical with the Jesus in whom the disciples trusted when He accompanied them on the roads of Galilee or in the streets of Jerusalem. Doubtless He was indeed the same person, but He had now received from God the full Messiahship which formerly had been only promised Him.

The resurrection in itself alone cannot have given this new character to the faith of the disciples. The first Christians believed that Jesus had restored several persons to life, but this did not imply in any way their exaltation. They were considered only as having resumed for a time their preceding life, not as having radically triumphed over death. The resurrection of all these persons has only importance for the evangelists as an activity of Jesus whose power they thus revealed as stronger than death. The belief in the resurrection of Jesus had in primitive Christianity other consequences. The Risen One, to those who had received the revelation of His return to life, was no ordinary man, but already the Messiah. The resurrection belief was the exaltation of their Messianic conviction; it afforded a striking confirmation.

The Socialist writer, Maurenbrecher, introduces here a racial consideration. He speaks of the faculty acquired by the Jewish race, in the course of the tragic vicissitudes of its history, to surmount all catastrophes and to extract from all disillusions sources of new hopes and new illusions. This interpretation demands reservations of some importance. That which in primitive Christianity survived the drama of Calvary was not alone the Messianic faith in general, but also the personal character which this faith had assumed. It did not attach itself to another Messiah, but continued to see the Messiah and Saviour in the crucified of Golgotha. This is not explained by a racial disposition, but presumes a profound attachment to the person of Jesus the Messiah. The first Christians did not make of Jesus the


Messiah transcendent because He rose from the dead, but it is because His departure from earth and return to heaven had made of Him the Messiah that they believed in His resurrection and, in a new sense, in His Messiahship. This is the conviction which explains the apparitions. The disciples saw Jesus because for them He was living. This proposition is truer than that suggested by the Gospel narratives—that is, that the disciples believed in Jesus as living because He had appeared to them.

The Messianic faith of the disciples is older than the belief in the resurrection. It is this faith which was the source of the belief. It is because they believed Jesus to be the Messiah and no ordinary man that they believed in His resurrection.[1] As M. Loisy judiciously observes, the disciples of John the Baptist, who never held a similar opinion about their Master, never believed in His resurrection.[2] It would be possible, it is true, to object, as does Maurenbrecher,[3] that this explanation of the origin of the resurrection belief does not hold for the case of those who (like James, possibly, and in any case Peter) did not see in Jesus the Messiah before acquiring the certainty of His resurrection. This is evident, but the causes of the first appearance of the resurrection faith are not necessarily identical with those explaining the conquests it made afterwards. It is very certain that the existence of a group of men who believed in the risen Jesus was, if not the unique factor, at least an essential one in the conversion to the Christian faith of those who, like Paul, had never felt the influence of Jesus during His ministry.


We are now able to imagine the conditions in which the apparitions occurred, on which is based the apologetic literature of the first century and by means of which the resurrection faith was vindicated.

They were in the first place independent of the discovery of the empty tomb, since, as we have seen, the most ancient tradition assumes that the disciples had no knowledge of this fact before

[1] Meyer, Urspr. und Anfäng, ii, p. 453, and iii, pp. 216-19.

[2] Loisy, Les mystères païens et le mystère Chrétien, p. 215.

[3] Maurenbrecher, Von Nazareth nach Golgotha, p. 262.


experience of the apparitions, and because the comparison of narratives proves that in the sequel the narrators must have been forced to subject the tradition to a complete process of retouching in the attempt to coordinate and fuse together the narratives of the empty tomb and the apparitions. Moreover, in this task they never completely succeeded.

It was in Galilee that the disciples had their first visions. They had not returned there expecting them, but they had returned in a period of discouragement.

The time of the first apparition cannot be fixed with precision. The existing accounts, which place the resurrection on the morning of the third day, represent a second phase of the tradition. The primitive formula was not "the third day," but "after three days"; this probably originally meant after a short interval, whose duration was not fixed with precision. It certainly seems from Paul's testimony that it was Peter who had the first vision, which must have been rapidly followed by others, several of which doubtless were collective visions.

It is possible that certain among them had repasts as their occasions, and may have happened at the moment of the breaking of bread. The evocation of the last repast of Jesus and the memory of the words He then spoke, affirming at one and the same time His sacrifice for His friends and the promise of a future reunion, must have played an important part in the genesis of apparitions, the intense feeling of a spiritual presence being easily transformed into the sense of a real presence.

At first there must have been some indifference as regards the details of the apparition narratives, so exclusively were minds dominated by the sentiment of the presence and the life of the Christ. It is this which explains that the narratives, at an early date, took forms of sufficiently varied character, and ended in the extreme diversity which we observe between the accounts known to us, both canonical and extra-canonical.

Lastly, it is certain that the resurrection must very soon have become a subject of bitter controversy between Jews and Christians, and the necessity of replying to the varied objections advanced against the Christian faith greatly influenced the narratives and led to the creation of entire groups of traditions such as that of the empty tomb.


The conclusions to which we are thus brought in studying the origins of the resurrection faith have for the problem before us an importance whose meaning it is superfluous to insist upon. The genesis of the resurrection faith not only presumes the historic tradition about the death of Jesus, but it appears to us as the continuation of the activity exercised by Him during His lifetime. The resurrection faith is thus the link which unites the story of Jesus with that of Christianity, making the second the consequence of the first.

We do not, therefore, find at the birth of Christianity this naive euhemerism which M. Couchoud reproaches historians, from Renan to Loisy, as having so easily accepted, but we find something quite different. The early Christians did not deify a man whose teaching and authority impressed them, and the worship of the Lord Jesus has no resemblance at all to that of the emperors. It is because they had found in Him during His ministry the one destined to accomplish the divine work. It is because, under the influence of the belief in His resurrection (a direct consequence of the impression He had made on them), the disciples of Jesus, in the exaltation of their faith, saw in Him no ordinary man, but directly identified Him with the celestial Messiah. Henceforth the story of the earthly life of Jesus was for them only an episode of a great redemptive drama, and it was in the light of their conception of this drama that they devoted themselves to present and interpret the facts of the life of Jesus and the circumstances of His death.

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