Would Christians hate to invent (as a lie), “Mary & women are the empty tomb’s witness-heralds!”

  • Clarifying the question

    Several sources say that after Jesus’s crucifixion and entombment, a group of Jesus’s women followers—including Mary Magdalene—discovered Jesus’s tomb empty.1

    Would Christians in AD 30-70 lack the will to invent the women’s role as empty-tomb witness-heralds? More precisely, what percentage of Christians would be open and inclined to try inventing a lie along these lines? For example, among the Christians, would there be less than .0000001% who’d want to try? Is it a really improbable lie?

    1. E.g., each of the Gospels report this: Mk 16, Mt 28, Lk 28, Jn 28
“Yes, after all…
  • Christians disliked lying in general

    A guy with a speech bubble and a halo over his head.

    Christians saw strong reason to avoid suppressing the truth and telling or promoting lies instead. 1 This is relevant because there’s not even a basic honesty-trumping reason to spin a lie involving women and Mary being witness-heralds of Jesus’s empty tomb.

    But against the relevance of that first claim, plausibly…

    1. An article on this is forthcoming. It's worth noting for now that we ought to believe people in general are disinclined to lie. One reason to think this is the principle of credulity. This principle says that if you want to be rational, you'll need to assume there is a particular basic aversion to lying that humans have, and that aversion must generally be overcome before a lie hypothesis would be sensible in normal circumstances.
  • It’d clearly be falsified soon after

    From a would-be liar's perspective, if the report were a lie, it was clearly a lie that was doomed—set to be falsified soon after by Christians considering it.

    This page will analyze 5 arguments:

    • Parts of the report would be doomed to falsification.
    • False Gospel history would be doomed to falsification.
    • Its circulation depended on Mary’s approval.
    • The Jerusalem church was clearly disposed to know.
    • It’d clearly be disliked by its audience (inviting extra scrutiny).

    This is relevant because few or no Christians would like spinning a Gospel history report with a high risk of being publicly falsified. [Forthcoming]

    But against the relevance of that first claim, plausibly…

  • It’d clearly corrupt Gospel history

    A man with a long nose pours a barrel of radioactive material on the ground.

    From a would-be liar's perspective, spinning a lie like this—or grafting it into the Gospel story—and introducing it into circulation would clearly corrupt true Gospel history. This is relevant because Christians would have liked to promote true Gospel history, not subvert it by circulating gratuitously corruptive lies. [Forthcoming] So a lie along these lines is inherently unlikely to originate from Christian lips.

    But against the relevance of that first claim, plausibly…

  • It’d clearly choke fake apologetics

    An exhausted man with a long nose, looking at the incline ahead of him.

    From a would-be liar's perspective, it would be clear that circulation of a false account along these lines would block off natural alternative lies, ones which would have furnished their empty tomb belief with at least some basic evidence. [Forthcoming]

    This is relevant because early Christians liked the credibility of their faith to be bolstered. [Forthcoming] So rather than fabricating and circulating content that would obviously cripple the evidential case for the truth of the Gospel they proclaimed, would-be liars would either remain silent on the credibility-choking content or create content that bolstered the credibility of their faith.[Forthcoming]1

    But against the relevance of that first claim, plausibly…

    • All that mattered is that men eventually confirmed it.2

    And against its relevance, plausibly…

    1. For related quotes, see below under “Liars spin lies they want others to believe”. While not being explicit about how the women as witnesses blocks off better apologetics, the various scholars quoted seem to implicitly feel it: the liar missed too overt of an opportunity and snuffed out even an average level of evidence.
    2. The idea here is that, even if women were the purported discoverers, as long as it was implied that men confirmed the report women would not be unappealing. In response, however,
      • The earliest Gospel (Mark) does not mention any male witnesses afterwards, suggesting that even if it was known that males affirmed it, the women as first witnesses was unavoidable; the damage was done and subsequent male witnesses didn't help much.
      • The narrative of the empty tomb discovery is what will provide the primary witnesses. (Early Christians knew the first witnesses would be what empty tomb discovery and resurrection appearances would be largely be associated with and remembered for. There's clearly a choking, then, of an opportunity to circulate a prime story with better credentials.
  • A liar would prefer the women not be witness-heralds

    An upset Christian has a thought bubble. In the bubble is a depiction of a woman with a megaphone, standing in front of Christ's empty tomb.

    In general, Christians—including the allegedly Christian liar—would be inclined to disfavor Mary & women being first witness-heralds of the resurrection.

    This page analyzes 4 arguments:

    • It’d clearly scandalize their Gospel.1
    • It’d clearly be subpar as an evidence-source (in their origin story).
    • They’d feel story-tension if using the women.2
    • Later Christians downplayed their role.

    This is relevant because liars generally dislike promulgating lies with content that they would personally prefer others not to believe.

    But against the relevance of that first claim, plausibly some found the report's content desirable overall (enough to want lyingly invent it).

    1. The citation of these women’s role at the empty tomb is surprising as a lie/fiction:

      C. E. B. Cranfeld: “One feature of all four gospel accounts which goes a long way towards authenticating the story as a whole is the prominence of women; for this is a feature which the early Church would not be likely to invent…” [The Gospel According to Mark: Cambridge Greek Testament Commentary (Cambridge, 1959), 463.] The point is often made, with scholars most often emphasizing how blatantly suboptimal using women witnesses would be: • Adela Yarbro Collins: “[On the empty tomb] The status of women in the ancient world was such that a story fabricated as proof or apology would not be based on the testimony of women.” [The Beginning of the Gospel (Wipf and Stock, 2001), 127.]
      James Dunn: “Mary has the honour of reporting the empty tomb to the other disciples — apostola apostolorum. Yet, as is well known, in Middle Eastern society of the time women were not regarded as reliable witnesses… Why then attribute such testimony to women — unless that was what was remembered as being the case? In contrast, can it be seriously argued that such a story would be contrived in the cities and/or village communities of first-century Palestine, a story which would have to stand up before public incredulity and prejudice?” [Jesus Remembered (Eerdmans, 2003), 832-833.]
      Stephen Davis: “[If legendary] why is it that the story is made to hang so crucially on the testimony of women, whose evidence was not legally admissible in Jewish proceedings?” [Risen Indeed (Eerdmans, 1993), 73.]
      Robert Stein: “The later the creation of the story and the greater the apologetic motive for its creation, the more difficult it is to imagine creating in terms of almost exclusively female witnesses. Added to this difficulty is the fact that apart from the empty tomb tradition, women played almost no role in the resurrection traditions.” [Jesus the Messiah (IVP, 1996), 264-65.]
      C. F. D. Moule: “…it is difficult to explain how a story that grew up late and took shape merely in accord with the supposed demands of apologetic came to be framed in terms almost exclusively of women witnesses, who, as such, were notoriously invalid witnesses according to Jewish principles of evidence. The later and the more fictitious the story, the harder it is to explain why the apostles are not brought to the forefront as witnesses.” [The Significance of the Message of the Resurrection for Faith in Jesus Christ (SCM, 1968), 9.] They may be hinting at a nearby argument, namely that the account chokes apologetics. (see here). Either way, there’s no reason to use these women: • William Placher: “For a good many years, I thought the whole empty tomb tradition was just a story that had grown up later among Christians … If someone had invented the story, however, I can think of no reason why women would have been cited as the witnesses.” [Jesus the Savior (Westminster, 2001), 169.] Similar comments are often made concerning Mary’s primary role, given that she is a Demoniac. • Ben Witherington: “You don’t make up a first appearance of the risen Jesus to a Galilean peasant woman who was formerly demon possessed—not if you want to start an evangelistic religion.” [article]

    2. Dale Allison: [Simply noting it:] “Again and again scholars have observed that the discovery of the empty tomb is, in the canonical Gospels, made by women. This, they claim, is not ‘the kind of detail anyone would have thought or wished to invent…That it should be these devoted but humble and relatively insignificant followers who are given the credit for the discovery in every gospel is historically impressive.’” [Resurrecting Jesus (T & T Clark, 2005), 326.]Murray Harris: “If the story of the empty tomb were legendary or of late origin we should have expected the witnesses to be exclusively men and perhaps the first witness to be an apostle such as Peter.” [From Grave to Glory (Zondervan, 1990), 111-112.]
  • Liar’s audience would hate women witness-heralds

    Christians in general—like the would-be liar’s community and audience—would disfavor Mary & women being first witness-heralds of the resurrection.

    This page analyzes 4 arguments

    • It’d clearly scandalize their Gospel.
    • It’d clearly be subpar as an evidence-source (in their origin story).
    • They’d feel story-tension if using the women.
    • Later Christians downplayed their role.

    This is relevant because the liar would know this. Liars tend to have the basics of a rational sensitivity to the cultural values of their audience and craft accordingly so-as to increase the probability that their lie would be palatable to audiences and smoothly accepted without gratuitous skepticism and scrutinizing investigation.1, 2

    But against the relevance of that first claim, plausibly some found the report's content desirable overall (enough to want lyingly invent it).

    1. This is especially true of a Christian leader. [Forthcoming]
    2. Regarding smoother circulation, the point here is that liars would tend to tailor their lies so-as to exclude content that their audience will find gratuitously unpalatable or intolerable. A strong disfavor of the content means the report invites sharper skepticism, scrutinizing investigation, and a stronger tendency to avoid re-telling it even if the lie were accepted. That this lie overtly invites these things is particularly noteworthy, because the lie is also overtly falsifiable (see above). Together these points create a doubling effect. Even a minimal desire to investigate would plausibly discredit the liar, and the liar would know that there would be far more than a minimal desire.
“No, after all…
  • Christians’d desire an empty tomb discovery by these women

    Whether or not they'd find inventing it desirable, at least some Christians—with their biases and goals—would see more reason to wish it true that these women discovered Jesus’s tomb empty and/or that a report of it would circulate.

    This page analyzes 2 arguments:

    • They’d like missing-body evidence.
    • E.g. Mark would: it fits his “Least shall be first” motif

    This is relevant because, if the content of the lie was desirable enough, then some Christian could have a sufficiently high inclination to lyingly invent it.

    But against that first claim,…

    And against the relevance of that first claim,

    • …especially given the low population sizes of Christians in the ealier years, likely no Christian would think of such a report and find it desirable enough to invent [Sum up counter motives via consider Green’s claims above].