The Origins of the Bible, Part VI The Third Document in the Torah

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 14 May 2008 0 Comments
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It's a small point, but in your January 30 essay you
refer to a "three-days-dead body." How do you and most others manage
to count three days from Friday afternoon to before sunrise on Sunday?
I know the usual explanation is that according to Jewish reckoning
what is meant are parts of three days (part of Friday, part of
Saturday and part of Sunday), but that is not how the average reader
would understand what you wrote. The obvious tie-in is to Matthew's
three days and three nights referring Jonah and Jesus, but do we need
to perpetuate the confusion just because Matthew could not count?


You are correct, but that is what biblical literalists
use to prove that the resurrection was in fact the resuscitation of a
"three-days-dead body." That is why I put that phrase in quotation
marks. The three day designation comes, as you suggest, from the
gospels themselves even though if one counts the time in the gospel
narratives there is actually only a period of thirty-six hours that
elapses between Friday at sundown to Sunday at sunrise. In my way of
counting that gives us not three days, but a day and a half.

I think the three-day symbol is just that, a symbol.
On three occasions, Mark has Jesus predict his resurrection "after
three days." Matthew and Luke, both of whom have Mark in front of
them as they write, change Mark's word "after" to "on." "After three
days" and "on the third day" do not give us the same day. So there is
a dancing, not firm, quality to the use of the phrase three days even
in the gospels themselves.

Mark tells us no story of the raised Christ appearing
to anyone, but he does suggest that they will see him in some manner
in Galilee. Galilee is, however, a 7-to-10-day journey from
Jerusalem, so that projected appearance in Galilee could not have
occurred within the three-day boundary.

Luke stretches out the appearances of the raised Christ
for forty days and John, if one treats Chapter 21 as an authentic part
of John's gospel, hints that appearances continued for perhaps months.

My study has led me to view the three days as a
liturgical symbol designed to allow the Christians to celebrate the
day of the resurrection on the Sabbath following the crucifixion and
not as a literal symbol at all.

When I wrote Resurrection: Myth or Reality? I
postulated that the Easter experience could have been separated from
the crucifixion by period of time from six months to a year. I see no
reason to change that assessment today, even though I cannot in the
space of this answer go into the reasons that lie behind that
conclusion. By literalizing all of the symbols of Easter, we have
created numerous interpretive problems. This is only one of them.

Thanks for raising the question.

John Shelby Spong




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