Women—the key witnesses at the empty tomb

It is a puzzling case indeed. A corpse is missing. But every last clue has long since crumbled to dust. There are the witness statements, of course. But even some of these are pretty confused. What does it all mean?

This much is clear: the corpse had been interred in practically princely fashion, and placed in a tomb carved out of rock, which had then been shut with a high-security stone seal. This was a first-time occupancy with a freshly prepared place of rest. It had all been made available by a certain Yosef of Ramathaim, an important man—and a wealthy man, at that—with a seat in the Sanhedrin, the high council of the Jews.

The burial had been witnessed. But by whom? This is where the statements of the four witnesses already begin to diverge. There is mention of women, sometimes two, sometimes three, and one account even mentions an unspecified number. But there is one name that keeps cropping up: Miryam, called the Magdalit. Is she perhaps the key witness closest to all of these events?

Late to the tomb

Somehow the quick pace of the funeral did not seem to have gone entirely to the satisfaction of the women. Two days later, the women—however many of them there actually were—came back to the tomb. Why? The witnesses are once again divided on the response. One account says it was simply to mourn, another states that it was to make sure everything was in order, while yet another account specifies that they wanted to embalm the corpse with fragrant oils—albeit a day and a half late, because Shabbat had gotten in the way.

And now for the big shock: when they arrived, the cave was open. The heavy stone in front of the entrance was gone. How? Only one of the witnesses has an answer to that, namely the one who goes by the name of Matityahu. He mentions an earthquake—and an angel who comes down from heaven to roll the gigantic chunk of rock out of the way. But the other three witnesses are silent on this matter.

Inspectors race to the scene

Meanwhile, angels are mentioned in all four statements: sometimes one, sometimes two, and sometimes there is merely talk of a young man in a long, white robe. Their function appears to be that of a messenger rather than any sort of labourer: “He is gone,” they say in reference to the corpse the women are seeking.

How peculiar! The women seem to be content with this explanation and do not bother to inquire any further. Only the witness known as Loukas relates that, while they did look around, they simply could not find the corpse. His account sends Shimon, the one with the nickname Cephas, to check out the scene.

The statement given by Yochanan, on the other hand, expands this into a two-man team of inspectors who race one another to the scene of the crime and subject it to a thorough inspection. Not only are the empty shrouds that covered the body lying there, but the sweat cloth from the forehead has also been neatly folded up and placed to the side. But what on earth has happened to the body?

One message, many reactions

“He is risen,” the angels tell the women—at least in three of the four witness statements. But the reactions to this message are also clearly divergent. In one case, the hearers accept the message with joy and hurry to pass it along. In another account they hold it to be nothing but idle talk. In yet another statement, they flee in dread.

After that everything goes completely haywire. The One we are looking for seems to appear just about everywhere—and He is alive and well! According to Matityahu he appears to the women at the grave, while Yochanan states that He appears first to Miryam of Magdala and later to Teom. Loukas states that He appears to two nameless individuals on their way to Ammaus. Marcus makes his own summary of the events. And in the end, all four witnesses agree that the entire group of the disciples were able to testify to this.

“Jesus lives!”—this message is sweeping enough to endure the millennia. It is profound enough to move billions of hearts. And this event is so momentous that it could never fit into a single story.


Photo: Anderson - stock.adobe.com

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Andreas Rother
3.04.2021
Christian holidays, Easter