Did women—with Mary Magdalene—witness Jesus's tomb empty?

  • Question

    Sources say that, after Jesus’s crucifixion and entombment, a group of Jesus’s women followers—including Mary Magdalene—revisited Jesus’s tomb Sunday morning and discovered it empty.1 Are the reports accurate in this regard? Was Jesus’s tomb actually discovered empty by women, among whom was Mary Magdalene?

    1. E.g. The Gospels, in Mk 16, Mt 28, Lk 28, Jn 28.
  • NOTE: Under construction

    A quick note here: this entire section is being reworked, so there will be several broken links as it gets transformed into a much larger evidence-hub.

  • Most scholars say “yes”

    Three scholars sit behind a desk. A diploma is on the wall behind them along with a bookshelf.
    • Raymund Schwager: “…it has recently become usual to assess positively the women's role at the death of Jesus and on Easter morning,” [Zeitschrift für Theologie und Kirche (1993), 436, as cited/translated by William Lane Craig]

“Yes, after all…
  • In AD 30, the Jerusalem church said Mary saw it

    Soon after Jesus was crucified in AD 30, the Jerusalem church (headed by the apostles) came to publicly maintain that, “Mary et. al. discovered that Jesus’s tomb was empty”[?] [Full page.]

    After all

    • …the proposition's parts date to AD 30[?]
    • …Mk’s “they saw it!” material dates to AD 30[?]
    • …Mk’s “they saw it!” just relays the Jerusalem church’s report[?]
    • …Across AD 30-70, the Jerusalem church’s stance on this didn’t change
    • …Sundays became sacred to Christians[?]

    The relevance being called attention to here is this: the AD 30 church’s belief was grounded in and reflective of eyewitness testimony[?] The event was directly perceived.

    No, they weren’t saying that in AD 30…

    • …They didn’t even know of an empty tomb[?] (e.g. Paul didn’t[?])
    • …The 1 Cor 15 creeds’ originators would have mentioned it[?]
    • …Mk invented it[?]
    • …Mk 16:8 “[Mary] said nothing to anyone” is an excuse[?]

    So? If the AD 30 church was saying that, plausibly...
      …Their belief is not grounded in eyewitness testimony[?]
    They inferred it from Mary’s wrong-tomb blunder[?]
        They just perpetuated a lie by…[?]
    …the Jerusalem church itself[]
            …Mary and the women[?]
    …someone else[?])

  • The Jerusalem church at least knew if it was false

    The AD 30-70 Jerusalem church—led by Jesus’s apostles—was well-disposed to know immediately (or learn briefly after hearing it) whether these women as reported actually discovered Jesus’s tomb empty.

    A full page on this will discusses these evidences:

    • They were super-adept and poised to know if it was false.
    • They’d aim to know the truth of the matter.

         In general, they’d willed to know true Gospel history.
      They’d find the lie inherently worth investigating, since…
           …it'd be inherently suspicious.
      …it'd be costly to agree with.
           * …it'd be easy to check on.

    This is relevant the Jerusalem church came to publicly maintain that, “Mary et. al. were the discoverers of Jesus’s tomb being empty.” (E.g. even as early as AD 30)

  • The Gospel of Mark's author said she did

    By c. A.D. 70, the official position of the Markan community, or source behind the Gospel of Mark, was that “yes, Mary did discover Jesus's tomb empty.”1 This is relevant because Mark's church's beliefs on this issue were most likely formed in normal ways that inspire confidence.

    But, so what? Couldn't it simply be that…

    • …Mark was intentionally lying?2
    • …Mark was accidentally perpetuating a lie that he had fallen for?[Forthcoming]
    1. That Mark was publicly affirming Mary's discovery of the empty tomb should be granted because Mark reports it explicitly in Mk 16:5-6. On the other hand, occasional skeptics object by saying that Mark's report was not meant to be taken as a truth-claim about what historically happened, insisting that it is of a “non-historical genre”.
      By way of response, however, this is unlikely for three reasons:
      i) The report was not patterned after myth, neither OT/Jewish[Forthcoming], nor Greco-Roman[Forthcoming],
      ii) Most/all Markan reports are decidedly historical genre[Forthcoming],
      iii) The report in question appeals to the Mary Magdalene et al. as his living eyewitness sources[Forthcoming], which is a distinguishing feature of historical genre.
    2. Could Mark have intentionally be lying? Perhaps Mark lied to establish that Jesus's tomb was empty, as evidence for Jesus's resurrection. In response, however, see: Mark's general account of Mary's empty tomb discovery (Mk 16:1-8) was not a lie.[Forthcoming]
  • A liar would dislike spinning such a lie

    A Christian liar would recoil at the thought of spinning a lie like this.

    See full article to assess 6 arguments, namely:

    • Christians disliked lying in general.
    • It’d be a stupidly falsifiable lie.
    • It’d clearly corrupt Gospel history.
    • It’d clearly choke fake apologetics.
    • The liar would dislike others believing it.
    • It’d clearly be disfavored by his audience.

    This is relevant the report came to exist in c. AD 30-35, when few Christians existed [e.g. 500-5,000].1 So if no Christian in the community is disposed to want to spin a lie like this, then its appearance as a lie would have been unlikely indeed. (By contrast, if the women simply did witness Jesus’s tomb empty, they’d likely say so; it would naturally appear on honest lips.)2

    But so what?

    1. The report first appeared near at the origin of Christianity in c. AD 30, when there was a small band of Christians largely stationed in Jerusalem. This grew to perhaps around 3,000 by AD 33. The number kept increasing by some exponential factor, but the population would still be very manageable in AD 40-50, and to a degree in AD 70 when the Gospel of Mark was written. Lies become exponentially more likely to appear on Christian lips over time, and so exponentially less likely to appear the earlier you go back.
    2. Craig Evans: “It's hard to see why relatively unknown women would feature so prominently in such an important story if what we have here is fiction… [moreover it] stands in tension with resurrection expectations and supporting apologetics… [Jewish Burial Traditions and the Resurrection of Jesus: [Online at craigaevans.com/Burial_Traditions.pdf]

      So for example, in focusing in on how Christians would dislike others believing it (given the stigma of depending on women):

      Claudia Setzer: “Women's presence and testimony as witnesses to the empty tomb… after death seems an early and firmly entrenched piece of the tradition. Equally early and entrenched is the embarrassment around that fact. … Their discomfort hints at how firmly entrenched the tradition of women's involvement must have been, since the authors do not feel free to eliminate it.” [“Excellent Women: Female Witness to the Resurrection” Journal of Biblical Literature 116/2 (1997): 259, 268.]

“No, after all…
  • Mary would not re-visit Jesus's tomb

    A woman stands with a thought bubble.

    Mary would not choose to re-visit the tomb of Jesus. [Full page.] This is relevant because in the absence of choosing to do this, she would not have been a witness discovering Jesus's tomb to be empty.