My last post was prompted by an article from the Associates for Biblical Research. While poking around their website, I learned an astonishing fact.
In the late 1800’s, a French collector acquired an ancient stone from Nazareth. The stone, now in the Louvre in Paris, is a marble tablet about 24 inches by 15 inches. It contains an edict by Emperor Claudius (AD 41-54) ordering the death penalty for stealing bodies from Jewish tombs. Bodies?. Grave robbers steal valuables, not bodies. Why would stealing bodies from Jewish tombs, a pathetically trivial subject for the Empire, merit an imperial decree?
Below I quote the Book of Matthew. This comes immediately after the death of Jesus on the cross:
The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.”
“Take a guard,” Pilate answered. “Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.”
So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
The scene is set. Jesus is dead. Powerful Jewish leaders, the chief Priests and Pharisees, post their top guards and make the “tomb as secure as [they] know how.”
Now back to Matthew.
After the Sabbath, at dawn on the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to look at the tomb. There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men. The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay.”
This is the key event of the Christian faith. Jesus is risen. Matthew tells us the cover-up began immediately.
While the women were on their way, some of the guards went into the city and reported to the chief priests everything that had happened. When the chief priests had met with the elders and devised a plan, they gave the soldiers a large sum of money, telling them, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came during the night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this report gets to the governor, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” So the soldiers took the money and did as they were instructed. And this story has been widely circulated among the Jews to this very day.
That’s the cover-up. Tell everyone a totally disorganized group of backwoods, uneducated disciples came in while the elite guards were sleeping, and not only were able to unseal a large stone but, even more amazing, were able to do it without waking the guards. Not a believable cover-up story, but that is the best they could come up with. The empty tomb was on public display; they couldn’t deny that.
As the Book of Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Government propaganda lies are not new. Almost two thousand years ago, the Emperor of Rome, then the most powerful person in the world, tried to prop up this absurd story that uneducated peasants snuck by an elite guard and opened a sealed tomb while the guards were sleeping! Emperor Claudius probably issued the edict when he took control in 41 AD, at the request of his childhood friend, Jewish King Herod Agrippa I. That’s just eight years after the Resurrection. The authorities wanted to control the situation. Tensions between the Romans and the Jews were high, partly because just before his death Caligula (whose assassination brought Claudius to power) had ordered that his statute be placed in the Temple in Jerusalem. Also, the news of Jesus’s Resurrection had spread, Jesus had appeared to hundreds of people (500 at one time, according to St. Paul), and the Romans and Jewish leaders were trying to control what they perceived as a serious political threat. No doubt as news of the Resurrection spread travelers came to Nazareth to learn more about Jesus.
The cover-up continues to this day. Notoriously anti-God Wikipedia writes. “As the original location of the stone is unknown, no clear argument can be made for the stone to be a Roman response to the empty tomb story.” Seriously? They can’t figure out the argument? What else could the Roman edict be about? And exactly what difference does it make what spot in or near Nazareth the stone originally occupied? Nazareth was an absolute no place in the Roman Empire, a small backward town on the wrong side of the tracks. To find an edict from a Roman Emperor anywhere in the vicinity, with a message so clearly aimed at denying the Resurrection, is astonishing.
The Resurrection is the most documented event in the ancient world. It changed the world more than any other event. As Billy Graham said: “There is more evidence that Jesus rose from the dead than there is that Julius Caesar ever lived.” Without the Resurrection, there is no reason why all (but one) of his disciples chose to suffer a brutal death rather than deny Jesus. No one dies for a lie. There is no other explanation for the growth of the Christian church.
Even Caesar proclaimed the Resurrection! He affirmed the most important event in history. He just didn’t mean to do it.
Thanks for reading.