The Evolution of the Easter Story
in Mid-to Late-First Century Documents
Sundays, April 15 and 22, 2012 in the Guild Hall with Harry T. Cook at 9:00 AM
The mid-first century Palestinian communities that organized around the persona of “Jesus” appear to have done so around the ethical wisdom sayings attributed to that persona which may have been more than one individual. Pay close attention to the different Jesuses depicted in the gospels of Mark, in Matthew and Luke, in John and in the Gospel of Thomas.
Particularly in the texts of Thomas, Matthew and Luke, the Jesuses depicted are what J. Dominic Crossan calls “itinerant sages” or street speakers – akin to today’s pundits, commentators, social critics and political analysts. Thomas’ collection of sayings may have constituted the earliest gospel material, though such eminent scholars as the late Raymond E. Brown have made a case that the resurrection narratives were the earliest such material.
Around the early 50s of the first century sayings attributed to a “Jesus” were being circulated among those who would form the beginnings of Jesus Judaism that would evolve into the early church. – Meanwhile, a Syrian Jew named Saul/Paul from Tarsus had embraced the new Jesus movement, all but ignoring the body of sayings attributed to Jesus or Jesuses. Paul produced several epistolary documents addressed to communities in Corinth, Galatia, Colossae, Philippi, Thessalonika and Rome in which the resurrection of a crucified Jesus was implied or accepted outright and without a doubt. What Paul meant by “resurrection” is a debatable subject – whether the reanimation of dead tissue (probably not) or a kind of
non-corporeal, one might say, “spiritual” existence. Except for an allusion to words included in Mark 14:22-25 (ca. 72 CE), Matthew 26:26-29 (ca. 85 CE) and Luke 22:14-20 (ca. 90-120 CE), Paul quotes no Jesus saying.
Participants in this two-week course will be led in the examination of the following texts in an effort to discover what basis the Easter that is celebrated in the second decade of the twenty-first century has in literary documents that are two millennia old: I Corinthians 15: 1-20; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24: 13-35 and John 20:19-29. Also an excerpt from the apocryphal Gospel of Peter. Not readily available, the latter text will be handed out at the first forum meeting for consideration during the second.