Saturday, March 10, 2018

More Evidence Of Non-Christian Corroboration Of The Empty Tomb

Section 108 of Justin Martyr's Dialogue With Trypho is one of the most significant passages in the patristic literature in the context of apologetics, but it doesn't get much attention. I've discussed the passage in other posts over the years, and you can read the post I just linked to get the background to this one. What I'll be doing here is expanding upon what I said earlier. The focus of this post will be on reading section 108 of Justin's Dialogue in light of what he says in section 17.

I've consulted several English translations of the Dialogue, including:
Michael Slusser, ed., Dialogue With Trypho (Washington, D.C.: The Catholic University Of America Press, 2003)

What I'll be discussing below is consistent with all three of those translations. I'm not just getting these conclusions from one translation of the text.

In the relevant portion of section 108, Justin prefaces some of his remarks with "as I said before". What is he referring to? Probably his comments in section 17. Here are the two sections, with some quotation marks added to section 108 for a reason I'll explain later:

For other nations have not inflicted on us and on Christ this wrong to such an extent as you [non-Christian Jews] have, who in very deed are the authors of the wicked prejudice against the Just One, and us who hold by Him. For after that you had crucified Him, the only blameless and righteous Man,— through whose stripes those who approach the Father by Him are healed, —when you knew that He had risen from the dead and ascended to heaven, as the prophets foretold He would, you not only did not repent of the wickedness which you had committed, but at that time you selected and sent out from Jerusalem chosen men through all the land to tell that the godless heresy of the Christians had sprung up, and to publish those things which all they who knew us not speak against us. So that you are the cause not only of your own unrighteousness, but in fact of that of all other men. And Isaiah cries justly: "By reason of you, My name is blasphemed among the Gentiles." (17)

And though all the men of your nation knew the incidents in the life of Jonah, and though Christ said amongst you that He would give the sign of Jonah, exhorting you to repent of your wicked deeds at least after He rose again from the dead, and to mourn before God as did the Ninevites, in order that your nation and city might not be taken and destroyed, as they have been destroyed; yet you not only have not repented, after you learned that He rose from the dead, but, as I said before you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that "a godless and lawless heresy had sprung from one Jesus, a Galilæan deceiver, whom we crucified, but his disciples stole him by night from the tomb, where he was laid when unfastened from the cross, and now deceive men by asserting that he has risen from the dead and ascended to heaven." Moreover, you accuse Him of having taught those godless, lawless, and unholy doctrines which you mention to the condemnation of those who confess Him to be Christ, and a Teacher from and Son of God. Besides this, even when your city is captured, and your land ravaged, you do not repent, but dare to utter imprecations on Him and all who believe in Him. Yet we do not hate you or those who, by your means, have conceived such prejudices against us; but we pray that even now all of you may repent and obtain mercy from God, the compassionate and long-suffering Father of all. (108)

There are a lot of parallels between the two passages, but also a significant difference. Section 17 refers to how "you" crucified Jesus, whereas section 108 refers to how "we" did so. (I don't know of any other place where Justin refers to a "we" who crucified Jesus. For Justin referring to non-Christian Jews crucifying Jesus, see not only section 17, but also sections 72, 85, 93, and 111.) That's part of the reason why I've added quotation marks to the surrounding text ("a godless…to heaven."). The large majority of the translations I've seen don't include those quotation marks. I wrote to Oskar Skarsaune, a scholar who has specialized in the study of Justin, about this subject. He informed me that Arthur Lukyn Williams places quotation marks in his translation of the Dialogue, and he places the quotation marks where I've placed them. (I didn't find that out until after I'd made my judgment about where to place the quotation marks, so Williams and I arrived at the same conclusion independently.) You can find the relevant part of Williams' translation on page 224 here. (Since the version just linked can only be viewed in snippet form, search for "deceiver", "tomb", or some other relevant term, and look for the results on page 224.) It seems that Justin is quoting a Jewish source.

The reference to "one Jesus" suggests that he's somebody who needs to be introduced (e.g., Acts 19:14), which makes more sense earlier in the history of Christianity than during the later time when Justin lived. As far as I know, Justin doesn't use that phrase or an equivalent to refer to Jesus anywhere else in the Dialogue, nor does he use an equivalent to refer to anybody else. Furthermore, there's reference to how Jesus' disciples (identified by the context as those who stole his body from the tomb) "now deceive". It seems that whoever is speaking is doing so from the perspective of a time when the disciples were still alive.

Contrast those aspects of the text with what we see in the text nearby. Before the portion of the text in question, Justin keeps referring to non-Christian Jews with the terms "your" and "you". Just after the portion of the text I'm identifying as a quotation, Justin once again refers to non-Christian Jews with "your" and "you". That contrasts with the "we" I'm highlighting. And the nearby references to Jesus don't refer to him as "one Jesus" or any equivalent, in contrast to the reference to Jesus in the portion of the text that I'm identifying as a quotation.

Maybe the quotation marks should be placed differently than I've suggested. Maybe they should begin with "one Jesus" rather than "a godless", for example. Even if so, most of what I've placed in quotation marks seems to be something Justin is quoting.

What source is he quoting, then? Apparently, it's a source he expects Trypho to be familiar with, since he offers no identification of what he's quoting. And just before what I think is a quotation, he refers to how "you have sent chosen and ordained men throughout all the world to proclaim that". There's a good chance that Justin is quoting an oral report or document the Jewish leadership gave to the men they sent out to argue against Christianity, much like the letters we read about in various contexts in Acts, for example (9:2, 15:23, 23:25, 28:21). That oral report or document may be part of what Matthew refers to in Matthew 28:15.

And notice something else that helps explain why Justin doesn't further identify his source. He refers to how the Jewish men who were sent out went "throughout all the world". If they disseminated their message so widely, that helps explain why Justin would know about it and why he'd expect Trypho to be familiar with it.

Notice, too, how unlikely it is that Justin is mistaken about these issues to any significant extent. He's not referring to what one or two Jews allegedly said in a private context. Rather, he's referring to public argumentation disseminated across a wide area, whether orally, in writing, or both. And Justin had been to a lot of locations. He traveled widely, including spending much time near Jerusalem, since he apparently grew up not far from the city of Jesus' crucifixion and burial. As I explained in my earlier posts on the empty tomb, Justin seems to have had a lot of knowledge of the Judaism of his day, seems to have consulted extrabiblical Jewish sources, and mentions information that he didn't derive from the Bible, including extrabiblical information on the empty tomb. Even if Justin isn't quoting a first-century Jewish oral report or document (though he probably is), he'd still be giving us valuable information about early Jewish beliefs. The idea that Justin was mistaken about public Jewish argumentation that had been so widely disseminated is very unlikely.

Notice something else. Take another look at the opening of section 17 and the closing sentences I've cited from both sections of the Dialogue. Justin refers to how the Gentile nations have accepted the Jewish charges against Jesus and the early Christians on the basis of the testimony of the Jewish people. The implication is that Gentile non-Christians accepted the empty tomb, since the claim that Jesus' disciples stole the body from the tomb is one of the charges Justin mentions in section 108. Remember, it's just before the reference to the empty tomb that Justin refers to how the Jewish argumentation was spread "throughout all the world". So, the Jewish influence on the Gentile world is being emphasized in the empty tomb context, not just with regard to other Jewish claims.

There's probably a lot of truth to Justin's assertion that Gentile beliefs about Jesus and Christianity depended on Jewish testimony (e.g., Celsus' dependence on Jewish sources for his information on Christianity), but what Justin says surely isn't universally applicable. There were some non-Christian Gentiles who met Jesus and his disciples, interacted with them, were in Israel in the early years after Jesus' death, etc. Pontius Pilate is an example. Not all Gentiles would have been dependent solely or even primarily on Jewish testimony for their information on Jesus and early Christianity. Yet, Justin refers to how beliefs such as that Jesus' disciples stole his body from the tomb are widely accepted among both Jewish and Gentile opponents of the religion. Apparently, the non-Christian Gentiles who knew more about Christianity, such as those who were in Israel and interacted with Jesus and the early Christians, didn't do anything to prevent widespread belief in the empty tomb among their fellow non-Christian Gentiles.

So, Justin doesn't just tell us how the early Jewish opponents of Christianity viewed the empty tomb. He also provides us with some information about early non-Christian Gentile beliefs on the subject. It seems that both the earliest non-Christian Jews and the earliest non-Christian Gentiles accepted and even publicly affirmed the historicity of the empty tomb.


  1. Here (click) is the Internet Archive version of your Williams source that one can read fully.

  2. Fascinating stuff Justin. How late would push this hypothetical source?

    1. Blake,

      You seem to be referring to the source Justin is quoting in section 108 of the Dialogue, and you seem to have meant to ask how early the source was rather than how late. Assuming that's what you had in mind, the dating for the source that makes the most sense is sometime in the first century when the original disciples of Jesus were still alive, for reasons I discuss in the post.

    2. Justin,

      Sorry about the choice of words. You got my meaning. Do you know of any apologists or theologians who have recognized the value of this passage? It seems there were a variety of theories trying to explain away the tomb. Matthew notes that the soldiers were at the tomb to prevent theft, and Justin notes that on of the claims that the Jews circulated was that the disciples stole the body. An example of undersigned coincidence of the Bible and non-Christian sources.

    3. Blake,

      I don't know of anybody who's addressed the issues as I have. Some portions of what I've argued, such as the existence of some connections between sections 17 and 108 in the Dialogue and the appropriateness of using quotation marks in the relevant part of section 108, have been recognized by scholars on occasion. But I'm not aware of anybody who's put everything together as I have.