Yesterday, Associated Press, in reporting on the historic $4-million renovation of the Edicule, described it as ‘the cave where Jesus was buried and rose to heaven’.
This got right up the nose of Steven D Greydanus, a deacon in the Archdiocese of Newark. Writing for The National Catholic Register, he accused AP of conflating Jesus’s “Resurrection” with his “Ascension”.
Why was this such a a big deal?
After all, both are just silly myths.
To conflate the Resurrection and the Ascension of Jesus into a single event is thus to radically distort and falsify the foundational Christian claim.
When the press reports on religion, subtract 15 IQ points. When the press reports on Jesus, subtract 50 IQ points.
In other words, the [AP] journalist doesn’t know or care that the Resurrection and the Ascension – Jesus rising from the dead and Jesus ascending into Heaven – are two quite different events that took place in two different places (the traditional site of the Ascension is not the Holy Sepulchre, but the Mount of Olives or Mount Olivet), separated by 40 days during which Jesus walked, talked, and ate with his disciples.
In fact, it would not be an exaggeration to say those 40 days are responsible for the Christian faith being what it is and not something completely different.
The foundational Christian claim is that Jesus returned bodily to life after his dead by crucifixion. He wasn’t simply translated into Heaven or glorified at the right hand of the Father.
The aftermath of the crucifixion involves three distinct phases:
On Friday evening and Saturday he was dead, buried, in the tomb, like anyone else who ever died.
Then, on Sunday morning, the tomb was empty – and Jesus’ followers (first the women, then Peter, then the rest of the twelve and others also) encountered him repeatedly in various situations: near the tomb, in the upper room, on the road to Emmaus, and so forth.
These were bodily encounters, different from the rather common phenomenon of reported sightings, apparitions or visions of the recently departed. Such phenomena (whether ascribed to paranormal or psychological mechanisms) were as well known in the ancient world as they are today, and would not have led to the foundational Christian conviction that the resurrection – an eschatological belief for the Jews – had suddenly been anticipated in a single case.
These experiences were different. For one thing, when people appeared as ghosts or in visions, their corpses remained in their tombs. Jesus’ corpse had been buried (1 Corinthians 15:4, the very earliest testimony on this topic, is clear on that point), but now it was gone. For another, he ate and drank with them; he showed them his flesh and bones; he even offered to let Thomas probe his wounds …
During these 40 days, Jesus’ disciples came to understand that their master had returned to bodily life, but a mode of bodily life unlike anything anyone had experienced, and even unlike anything the Jews were hoping for or anticipating.
Finally, after 40 days this period of Jesus meeting and walking with his disciples came to some sort of definitive ending, and a third phase began: the post-ascension phase. Jesus was gone, but only after having clearly “presented himself alive after his passion by many proofs, appearing to them during forty days” (Acts 1:3).
Nine days after that, something else happened that enables us to speak of Jesus being and remaining with his disciples in a spiritual sense – but this happened only after his physical resurrection from the dead had been clearly established.
He also said the AP report:
Distorts the whole Christian picture of the world …
A chastened AP was quick to acknowledged its error.