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Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 5: Historical Evidence about Mary Magdalene

Defending the Hallucination Theory – Part 5: Historical Evidence about Mary Magdalene August 20, 2021

WHERE WE ARE

In Part 4 of this series, I argued that Peter Kreeft’s Objection #2 against the Hallucination Theory was a MISERABLE FAILURE.  This is because the first premise of his argument constituting this objection implies 102 specific historical claims about people who lived two thousand years ago, and yet Kreeft FAILED to provide ANY historical evidence whatsoever in support of  ANY of those 102 historical claims.  Kreeft’s Objection #2 is a clear example of EVIDENCE-FREE Christian Apologetics (a type of IDIOCY that, unfortunately, is not confined solely to the writings of Peter Kreeft).

Kreeft’s Objection #2 is a BAD JOKE.  It is a steaming pile of dog crap.  And we have only just begun to evaluate this objection.

 

WHAT DOES THE NEW TESTAMENT SAY ABOUT MARY MAGDALENE?

Here is the first premise of Kreeft’s argument constituting Objection #2:

1a. The witnesses who testified about alleged appearances of the risen Jesus were simple, honest, moral people.

Premise (1a) implies at least six claims about Mary Magdalene:

  • Mary Magdalene EXPERIENCED an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.
  • Mary Magdalene TESTIFIED about her experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.
  • We currently possess the TESTIMONY of Mary Magdalene about her experience of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.
  • Mary Magdalene was a SIMPLE person.
  • Mary Magdalene was an HONEST person.
  • Mary Magdalene was a MORALLY GOOD person.

Kreeft provides NO HISTORICAL EVIDENCE in support of ANY of these six historical claims.

However, it is obvious that if pressed to provide HISTORICAL EVIDENCE for these claims, Kreeft would point us to various passages in the New Testament, specifically to some passages from the Gospels.

I am familiar with the Gospels, so I am aware of the passages in the Gospels that talk about Mary Magdalene, so we can consider those passages and determine whether or not they provide strong HISTORICAL EVIDENCE in support of Kreeft’s historical claims.

Appearance of Jesus Christ to Maria Magdalena (1835) by Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov.

DID MARY EXPERIENCE AN ALLEGED APPEARANCE OF THE RISEN JESUS?

Let’s start with the first historical claim listed above:

  • Mary Magdalene EXPERIENCED an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.

Did Mary Magdalene EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus?  The occurrence of such an EXPERIENCE would not by itself settle the larger issues here because such an experience could be explained as being a hallucination or dream or as an ordinary sensory experience of someone who looked like Jesus (a case of mistaken identity).

According to the Gospel of Matthew, Mary did have such an experience on the first Easter Sunday:

1 After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.
2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.
3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow.
4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men.
5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified.
6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay.
7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.
9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”  (Matthew 28:1-10, New Revised Standard Version)

This passage does not explicitly state that Mary Magdalene experienced an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, but Mary Magdalene is named as one of the women who visited Jesus’ tomb around dawn on Sunday morning less than 48 hours after Jesus’ dead body was allegedly placed in the tomb.  This passage talks about an angel speaking to “the women”, which would have included Mary Magdalene, and then the passage states that “Jesus met them” referring again to “the women”. The passage also states that “they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him”, which clearly implies that “the women” believed themselves to be in the presence of a living (risen) Jesus, and since “the women” included Mary Magdalene, this passage implies that Mary Magdalene had an EXPERIENCE of an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus on the first Easter Sunday.

The Gospel of John also implies that Mary Magdalene EXPERIENCED an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus on the first Easter Sunday (see John 20:1-18).  So, it might initially seem that Kreeft was right about this first historical claim about Mary Magdalene.  But upon further investigation, it turns out (as we shall soon see) that the historical evidence indicates that Mary Magdalene DID NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, and that Kreeft’s first–and most important–claim about Mary Magdalene is probably FALSE.

Although Matthew and John agree that Mary Magdalene EXPERIENCED an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, their stories about this contradict each other on several key points, and this seriously undermines the credibility of both of these accounts about what happened on the morning of the first Easter Sunday.

In Matthew’s account two or more women go to the tomb on Sunday morning. In John’s account, there is no mention of anyone going along with Mary Magdalene to the tomb.  In Matthew’s account, there is “a great earthquake” and an angel descends dramatically from heaven.  In John’s account, no earthquake is mentioned, and there is no dramatic descent of an angel from heaven.  In Matthew’s account, there are soldiers present who were guarding the tomb.  In John’s account, there is no mention of any soldiers being present at the tomb.

In Matthew’s account, the women are first spoken to by ONE ANGEL present at the tomb, who gives them a message to take to Jesus’ male disciples, and then they leave the tomb to take the message to those male disciples.  In John’s account, Mary finds the tomb empty and there is no mention of an angel or of an angel giving Mary a message to take to Jesus’ male disciples.  Mary leaves the tomb to get Peter and another disciple and brings them back to the tomb, and there is still no mention of any angel being present.  Later Mary is standing near the tomb and sees TWO ANGELS inside the tomb, and they speak to her.  But they do NOT give her any message to take to the male disciples.

In Matthew, both the angel and Jesus ask the women to take a specific message to the male disciples:  Jesus is heading to Galilee and the disciples are to do the same in order to meet Jesus in Galilee.  But in John, the angels do NOT request that Mary take any message to the disciples, and Jesus says NOTHING to Mary about heading to Galilee nor about Mary giving a message to his male disciples to meet him in Galilee. In fact, John has Jesus stay in Jerusalem and go visit his male disciples that evening, contradicting his own message (in Matthew) that he was heading to Galilee.

Clearly, if Matthew’s account is true and accurate, then John’s account is false and inaccurate, and if John’s account is true and accurate, then Matthew’s account is false and inaccurate.  It is also quite possible that both accounts are false and/or inaccurate.   The two primary pieces of historical evidence supporting Kreeft’s first claim about Mary contradict each other and cast serious doubt on the credibility of each other.

There are further contradictions between the various Gospel accounts of Mary’s visit to the tomb, and those contradictions point us to the conclusion that Mary did NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus on the first Easter Sunday.

According to the Gospel of Mark, the women who visited the tomb on Easter Sunday find a “young man” in the tomb who tells them to give a message to Jesus’ male disciples.  The women do NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of Jesus in Mark’s account of this event:

1 When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him.
2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 
3 They had been saying to one another, “Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?” 
4 When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. 
5 As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. 
6 But he said to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. 
7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.” 
8 So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.  (Mark 16:1-8, New Revised Standard Version)

Clearly, the “young man” in the tomb was NOT Jesus, because he specifically tells the women that “Jesus of Nazareth…is not here.”  If the “young man” was Jesus, then the first words of the risen Son of God were a LIE!  But Jesus is supposed to be “God incarnate” and thus a perfectly morally good person, so Jesus LYING to these women would be powerful evidence that Jesus was NOT the Son of God, NOT “God incarnate”.  It is not an option for Christian Apologists to claim that the “young man” inside the tomb was actually the risen Jesus.  They would be shooting themselves in both feet with such a move.

In the verses immediately following the above passage, it is stated that Mary DID EXPERIENCE the risen Jesus and DID TELL his disciples about this:

9 Now after he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons.
10 She went out and told those who had been with him, while they were mourning and weeping.
11 But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it.  (Mark 16:9-11, New Revised Standard Version)

This is rather CONFUSING!  Mark just finished telling us that the women visiting the tomb only met a “young man” in the tomb, and then “fled from the tomb” and “they said nothing to anyone”.  Now he says that the risen Jesus appeared to Mary and that she “went out and told those who had been with him” (his disciples) that she had seen the risen Jesus.  Why does Mark CONTRADICT HIMSELF in the verses immediately following his initial account of Mary’s visit to the tomb given in the first eight verses of Chapter 16?

The solution to this puzzle is very simple.  According to most NT scholars, verses 1 through 8 were part of the original Gospel of Mark, and the remaining verses in Chapter 16 were added sometime after the Gospel was initially published (circulated).  The earliest and best manuscripts of the Gospel of Mark end at verse 8.  Furthermore, it appears that the added verses were derived from other Gospels in a clumsy attempt to reconcile the ending of Mark’s Gospel with the endings of the other Gospels.

Mark is the earliest of the four canonical Gospels.  It was composed between 60 and 70 CE.  Matthew and Luke were composed later, between 75 and 85 CE, and John was the last of the Gospels, composed between 90 and 100 CE.  So, Mark, as the earliest of the Gospels, is the best historical source we have on the life and ministry of Jesus.  When Mark’s account of an event conflicts with the accounts found in some other Gospel or Gospels, Mark’s account should be preferred other things being equal.

Mark’s account of the visit of the women to the tomb given in verses 1-8 of Chapter 16 conflicts with the accounts given in Matthew and John, in that Mark’s account implies that Mary Magdalene DID NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, but the accounts in Matthew and John imply that Mary did experience an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  Because Mark’s Gospel was composed earlier than Matthew and John, we should prefer Mark’s version of this event to the accounts in Matthew and John other things being equal.

Furthermore, we have already seen that Matthew’s account contradicts John’s account on several key points, so those two Gospel’s undermine the credibility of each other’s accounts of the visit to the tomb.  So, things are NOT equal in this case–things (relevant considerations) FAVOR Mark’s version of this event over Matthew’s and John’s accounts.

John is the least historically reliable of the four canonical Gospels, so we can reasonably ignore the contradiction between Mark and John on this matter, and cast John’s account aside.  But what about Matthew’s account?  Could it be that Matthew’s account is accurate and Mark’s account is not?  That is possible but unlikely.  Not only was Matthew’s Gospel composed later than the Gospel of Mark, but Matthew’s Gospel, especially the ending of it, is filled with DUBIOUS events and details not found in other Gospels.

Furthermore, the Gospel of Matthew relies heavily on the Gospel of Mark as a primary source of information about the life and ministry of Jesus, so Matthew’s reliance on Mark is a vote in favor of the reliability of Mark, but the reverse is NOT the case.  Mark does not use Matthew as a primary source, nor does Luke, nor does John.  No canonical Gospel relies on Matthew as a primary source of information, so no Gospel provides a vote of confidence for the reliability of Matthew.  Also, if Mark provides an historically UNRELIABLE account of the life and ministry of Jesus, then so does Matthew because Mathew uses Mark as a primary source of information about the life and ministry of Jesus.

In Matthew’s Gospel the women go to the tomb on Easter Sunday “to see the tomb” (Matthew 28:1).  Mark and Luke provide a much more plausible reason for the visit to the tomb: to anoint the body of Jesus with spices.  Thus the very first sentence in Matthew’s account raises doubt about the accuracy and reliability of this account of the visit to the tomb.  The second verse in Matthew’s account also raises doubt about the accuracy and reliability of this account of the visit to the tomb:

2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.  (Matthew 28:2, NRSV)

There is no “great earthquake” mentioned in Mark’s account of the visit to the tomb, nor in Luke’s account.  There is no earthquake of any sort mentioned.  There is no dramatic “descending from heaven” by an “angel of the Lord” in Mark’s account of the visit to the tomb, nor in Luke’s account.

In verse 4, Matthew provides us with another reason to doubt the accuracy and reliability of his version of the visit to the tomb:

4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. (Matthew 28:4, NRSV)

Matthew’s Gospel includes stories about soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus to prevent his disciples from stealing the body of Jesus (and then falsely claiming that Jesus had risen from the dead).  These stories about there being guards at the tomb of Jesus are found ONLY in the Gospel of Matthew.   No soldiers or guards at the tomb are mentioned in Mark, or Luke, or John.  Many NT scholars view these stories about soldiers guarding the tomb of Jesus as an apologetic legend.  These stories were probably invented by early Christian believers as a response to Jewish objections that the body of Jesus had been stolen by his disciples so that they could fool people into believing that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Verses 9 and 10 provide further reason to doubt the accuracy and reliability of Matthew’s version of the visit to the tomb:

9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him.
10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:9-10, NRSV)

This is not plausible, from a Christian point of view.  If Jesus is the divine Son of God or “God incarnate”, then Jesus had previously commanded the angels at the tomb to give this message to the women.  If Jesus is “God incarnate”, then he is all-knowing and knew that the angels had already delivered his message to the women, so there is NO POINT in him meeting the women to give them the same message a second time a few minutes later.  Also, it looks suspiciously like the author of Matthew simply borrowed the words of the angels to the women (taken from Mark’s account of this event) and stuck them into the mouth of Jesus.  It looks like the author of Matthew is just making this shit up, using his primary source Mark and plumping the story up by adding in this appearance of Jesus.

The ending of the Gospel of Matthew is filled with DUBIOUS events and details that are NOT FOUND in other Gospels, and that have the function of making the end of this Gospel DRAMATIC.  The Gospel of Matthew is the Steven-Spielberg version of the end of the life of Jesus.  There is one final bit of evidence for this that occurs near the end of Chapter 27, the previous chapter of Matthew (just before the chapter about the resurrection and the visit of the women to the tomb on Easter Sunday):

50 Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. 
51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. 
52 The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. 
53 After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.   (Matthew 27:50-53, NRSV)

Mark’s account of Jesus’ death makes no mention of tombs opening up and dead Jews walking around in Jerusalem.  Luke’s account of Jesus’ death makes no mention of tombs opening up and dead Jews walking around in Jerusalem.  John’s account of Jesus’ death makes no mention of tombs opening up and dead Jews walking around in Jerusalem.  That would have been a pretty AMAZING and DRAMATIC event, but somehow NONE of the authors of the other Gospels ever heard about this.  It seems much more likely that this is simply a legend invented by early Christian believers that the author of Matthew gullibly believed (or made use of without any concern about the veracity of this story) and included in his version of events surrounding the death of Jesus.

Michael Licona is an Evangelical Christian and an apologist who defends the resurrection of Jesus, but even Licona could not accept this story in Matthew as being an actual historical event.  He questioned the historicity of this event and got himself into hot water with other Evangelical Christians, particularly with the Evangelical Christian apologist Norman Geisler.  If an Evangelical Christian apologist who defends the resurrection of Jesus finds this story in Matthew 27 to be implausible and unhistorical, then it is certainly reasonable for a critical thinking non-Christian to doubt the historicity of this story.

So, we have very good reasons to doubt the accuracy and reliability of the stories found at the end of the Gospel of Matthew, and thus we have very good reasons to prefer Mark’s account of the visit to the tomb over Matthew’s account of that event.

Furthermore, Luke’s account of the visit to the tomb agrees with Mark’s account on the key point at issue:  Mary Magdalene does NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus.  Mary and the other women with her experience “two men in dazzling clothes” but not the risen Jesus when they find the tomb of Jesus empty (Luke 24:1-11, NRSV).

According to Mark, Mary Magdalene did NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus on Easter Sunday.  According to Matthew and John, Mary DID EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus on Easter Sunday, but Luke agrees with Mark that Mary did NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus on Easter Sunday.   Because the Gospels contradict each other on the main question at issue, we cannot determine with any certainty what actually happened on the first Easter Sunday.  However, since Mark is the earliest of the four Gospels, we should give preference to Mark’s version of the story of the women visiting the tomb other things being equal.  Furthermore, the Gospel of John is viewed by NT scholars as last of the Gospels to be written and as the least historically reliable of the four Gospels.  So, in the conflict between Mark and John about what Mary EXPERIENCED on the first Easter, we should toss John’s account aside, and prefer Mark’s account.

That still leaves us with a conflict between Mark and Matthew concerning what Mary EXPERIENCED on the first Easter.  Because Matthew used Mark as a primary source of information about the life and ministry of Jesus, and because Mark was composed before Matthew, we should give preference to Mark’s version of the story of the women visiting the tomb on Easter other things being equal.  Since the end of Matthew’s gospel contains a number of dubious events that are very dramatic and are found in no other Gospel, and since Luke agrees with Mark that Mary did NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus, we have very good reason to doubt the accuracy and reliability of Matthew’s version of these events and to prefer Mark’s account of these events over Matthew’s account.  Therefore, although we cannot be certain that any of these Gospel stories are true or accurate, it is MORE LIKELY that Mark’s account is correct on the point in question than that Matthew’s account is correct.  So, according to the HISTORICAL EVIDENCE found in the four canonical Gospels, it is PROBABLY the case that Mary Magdalene did NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus on the first Easter Sunday.

 

CONCLUSION ABOUT PREMISE (1a) OF KREEFT’S ARGUMENT CONSTITUTING HIS OBJECTION #2

So, Kreeft provided NO EVIDENCE WHATSOEVER in support of ANY of the 102 historical claims implied by the very first premise of his argument that constitutes his Objection #2, and after critically examining the relevant HISTORICAL EVIDENCE concerning Kreeft’s first and most important historical claim about Mary Magdalene, it turns out that the EVIDENCE from the New Testament goes AGAINST his claim!  Based on the EVIDENCE of the NT, it is PROBABLE that Mary Magdalene DID NOT EXPERIENCE an alleged appearance of the risen Jesus on the first Easter Sunday.  Furthermore, if Mary did NOT have such an experience, then any TESTIMONY that she might have given about having such an experience would be FALSE or INACCURATE.

So, it would be reasonable at this point to remove Mary Magdalene from Kreeft’s list of alleged WITNESSES.  It would obviously take a good deal of time and effort to critically examine each of the 102 historical claims implied by premise (1A) of Kreeft’s argument.  Since Kreeft did not bother to provide ANY evidence for ANY of those claims, and since the first and most important historical claim he made about Mary Magdalene is PROBABLY FALSE, I think it is unnecessary to continue to take premise (1A) seriously.

Kreeft just barfed up a whole lot of historical claims without any serious thought and without any concern about whether those numerous historical claims were true or supported by relevant evidence.  So, we have no obligation to take premise (1a) seriously, and we have good reason to view that premise as being DUBIOUS.  Given the large number of claims implied by (1a) about people who lived 2,000 years ago, it was LIKELY from the start that many of those claims would turn out to be FALSE or DUBIOUS, and we see that is indeed the case with the first and most important historical claim Kreeft makes about Mary Magdalene.

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