I’m glad to see RBL book reviews of Dale Allison’s Resurrecting Jesus. Michael Licona summarizes Dale’s assessment of the empty tomb:
Allison first takes a look at seven common arguments against its historicity and finds that only two carry weight. He then takes a look at seven common arguments for the historicity of the empty tomb. He concludes that there exists a “decent” case for the empty tomb and a “respectable” case against it (331). Notwithstanding, he judges the position that the tomb was empty to be “the slightly stronger possibility,” since the best two con arguments are “hypothetical and suggestive,” while the best two pro arguments are “concrete and evidential.” Nevertheless, the empty tomb remains a “tentative” historical fact, and its cause is even more so (332).
In weighing the seven arguments for and against, Dale finds only two in each case that carry weight. Let’s list them. We’ll start with the arguments against:
(1) The account is only singularly attested; it comes from Markan creativity. (pp 300-302)
(2) The account is inspired by Dan 6. (pp 302-303)
(3) The words about the women fleeing the tomb, “they said nothing to anyone” (Mk 16:8), is a literary explanation for why no one had heard of the empty tomb before. (pp 303-304)
(4) The account involves the miraculous. (pp 304-305)
(5) Paul knows nothing of an empty tomb, so the account must have originated after him. (pp 305-307)
(6) If people had visions of Jesus and had come to believe in his resurrection, it’s easy to see how an empty tomb legend would have arisen; human beings create religious fictions to justify beliefs all the time. (pp 307-308)
(7) There is remarkable precedent for — indeed, an overwhelming abundancy of — legendary stories about empty tombs and disappearing bodies. (pp 308-311)
After considering each argument individually, Allison concludes:
Of the seven arguments just introduced, the first five are, like Jesus’ tomb in the Gospels, empty. But the sixth cannot be dismissed without a guilty conscience: early Christians did have the imaginative ability to fabricate a fiction on the basis of theological convictions. Similarly, the final argument is formidable and should give its proponents some assurance: people have indeed constructed legends about missing bodies. (p 311)
I agree with most of Allison has to say about the individual arguments, but (2) needs more serious consideration. It’s not nearly as weak as (1), (3), (4), and (5). I’m not saying I think Mk 15-16 necessarily derives from Dan 6, but a good case has been made for it. As noted by Allison, Randel Helms listed the following parallels:
* The law demands the death of God’s chosen. (Dan 6:6-10; Mk 15:1-5)
* The ruler is reluctant to enforce the law but does so. (Dan 6:14-16; Mk 15:6-15)
* Late in the day a sympathetic leader puts the chosen one in a pit or cave and covers it with a stone. (Dan 6:17-18; Mk 15:42-46)
* Early in the morning those who care for God’s chosen one approach the pit or cave. (Dan 6:19; Mk 16:2)
* There is angelic intervention. (Dan 6:22; Mk 16:5-7)
* The hero is not dead but lives. (Dan 6:19-23; Mk 16:1-8)
Allison is unimpressed with these parallels (p 302) and says they are best viewed as “the upshot of happenstance” (p 303). On the other hand, he allows that Dan 6 may have influenced Matthew’s embellishments to the Markan story (see footnote 408 on p 303). I’m unclear as to why Matthew’s embellishments can be safely viewed as haggadic fiction, but Mark’s cannot. The above parallels, after all, are numerous, and hardly forced or contrived.
So despite my leanings to the empty tomb as history, I think argument (2) is much stronger than Allison allows and would accord it as one of three (along with (6) and (7)) which carry weight on the “against” side of the debate. In the next post we’ll look at the “for” side.