Clearly, the resurrection of Yehoshua is a key event in the story of redemption. For a Believer, it is a central tenet of our Faith. The four Gospel accounts tell us about a tomb without a body and a risen Yehoshua in recognizable bodily form. They testify about seeing Him, touching Him and their mourning turning into joy. There are countless witnesses to these events and one would expect no controversy over this historical event.
It is surprising then that one of the key criticisms of the Faith is the historicity of the bodily resurrection of Yehoshua. Skeptics have a field day with alleged contradictions in the events surrounding the resurrection as recorded by the four Gospels. The four witnesses can’t seem to agree on many aspects of the story! How many women arrived at the tomb? When did they get there? What did they find and how many angels visited the tomb? Did Yehoshua appear to them and what did he say?
Contradictions raise serious concerns to many Believers and many attempts have been made to reconcile these issues. One of the most common attempts is to try and combine the four narratives into one concurrent account. This creates some interesting scenarios. For example, one has Mary Magdalene going to the tomb three times in the morning, while another has five angels appearing at the tomb at different times.
Most Believers are unaware of these issues because when they read the Gospel accounts one at a time they appear to be telling the same story in general and many have not taken the time to compare the events side by side. When this is brought to their attention by critics and skeptics they either dismiss the arguments all together or worse creates doubt in their confidence of the Scriptures.
Paul admonishes Timothy to “ Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that need not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”( 2 Timothy 2:15 KJV). I believe therefore that it is incumbent upon us to understand the events surrounding the resurrection of Yehoshua in order to rightly divide the Word of Truth.
If we only had one Gospel account of the resurrection there would not be any contradictions because the witness would give their side of the story without objection. Would this give us a better understanding of the events? Take the sinking of the Titanic for example, there were hundreds of witnesses and different accounts of what they witnessed have survived giving us a 360 degree view of this incident. If we only had one witness we would only have one view point. This is in no way better than the hundreds of accounts even though they may have minor and major differences in their narrative.
Imagine a scenario where one or more Israelites had taken the task of giving us another Exodus account. If that account was exactly identical to the one we have today, most scholars would dismiss it as a copycat and useless. Any eye witness account of the journeys from Egypt to Canaan would differ with Moshe’s account in little ways and in some places in major ways. It would give us a better understanding of these events from a different perspective and add details that Moshe may not have considered important.
The Oral Torah
The Rabbis have tried to fulfill this need for more details with their Oral Torah. Regardless of your views of the Oral Torah you have to admit that in some instances it is very creative. Take the story of the Red Sea crossing for example, Moshe’s account have the people stuck between the sea and the Egyptian army with nowhere to go. “15 The Lord said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. 16 Lift up your staff, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it, that the people of Israel may go through the sea on dry ground.” (Exodus 14:15-16 ESV). This event is clearly one of the most dramatic miracles made for an action movie and many have been done. But in the Talmud, the Rabbis are trying to make the story more relatable and current. Rabbi Judah bar Ilai expounded“When Israel stood by the Red Sea the tribes stood contending with each other, one saying, “I will go in first,” and the other saying, “I will go in first.” At that moment Nahshon [of the tribe of Judah] leapt into the waves of the sea and waded in the waters. In allusion to this act of his ancestor Nahshon, David the King said, “Save me, O God; for the waters are come in even unto the soul (Psalm 69: 2).” Rabbi Judah Ben Il’ai reminds all Israel that at this time when Nahshon of Judah jumped into the waters, the God of Israel REBUKES Moses: “My beloved is drowning in the sea and you stand praying??? So now…Speak to the children of Israel, that they go forward” (Exodus 14:15). This explains Psalm 76:2: “By Judah is God known…” For this reason the Lord made great the name of Nahshon in Israel (Numbers Rabbah 13:4)”
Clearly, having more than one account of a historic event is more beneficial to us today than one narrative from a singular perspective and gives more details even though there may be apparent contradictions.