Thursday, March 21, 2019

The women at the tomb

I discussed this recently in combination with some other things, but I'd like to discuss it separately so that it doesn't get lost in the shuffle. A common objection to the Resurrection accounts is alleged discrepancies in the women at the tomb. Oftentimes, objections to the accuracy of Scripture depend on hidden assumptions. In this case there's the unspoken assumption that a single group of women went to the tomb. But is that a reasonable assumption?

i) I don't think the Gospel writers would be in a position to know if one group or more than one group of women went to the tomb. They didn't accompany the women. They got information from some of the women after the fact, but if Salome shares her experience with Matthew or Mark while Mary Magdalene shares her experience with John, the Gospel writers wouldn't know from that whether one or more than one group of women went to the tomb. They'd simply know that a group of women went to the tomb, but they wouldn't know which was which in case more than one group went there.

ii) And this is more than just hypothetical. Surely the women who went to the tomb lived in different neighborhoods. So that complicates the logistics. They had to walk from different locations, more or less distant to a common rendezvous. It's not as if they all agreed to reconnoiter at Salome's house at 6AM sharp. They didn't have Rolex watches. 

So if we try to visualize the process, you'd have women leaving their house at somewhat different times, walking for longer or shorter distances to arrive at a common rendezvous, then traveling together to the tomb. 

Would women normally travel alone at twilight, or would we expect at least two women from each home to make the trek together for safety? So there might be additional unnamed women. 

It also seems like they were in a hurry to get to the tomb as early as light conditions permitted. So did they wait for everyone to arrive? Did they even know who all would show up? That might be difficult to synchronize. When they went to the tomb would depend on the sky brightening and how deserted the streets were. 

Did some go ahead? It's easy to imagine groups of two or more women going to the tomb. There's no presumption that it had to be coordinated. Or have a single rendezvous. If two or more women nearby, it would be natural for them to reconnoiter at one of their homes, then travel to the cemetery from that rendezvous. That would be more convenient than having one rendezvous for everyone. The rendezvous would vary according to the neighborhood where they resided. 


  1. The multiple-groups theory is very plausible and fits the available facts. However, I think that the Gospel writers would very probably be in a position to know if one group or more than one group of women went to the tomb. This is because they spent at least 50 days together after the Resurrection (and in some cases, years) and it stretches credulity to think that they didn't compare their experiences and what they'd heard from the women.

    A more plausible explanation (to me) is simply that the different writers found different parts of the story more compelling and chose(under the guidance of the Spirit) to write about the parts that struck each man as most important.

    This seems to fit with the reports we know from the Gospels, the assessments you make above, and Inspiration and Inerrancy.

    1. Who spend 50 days together (or years)? The Eleven? Or the Eleven and the women who went to the tomb?

      In any event, I don't see what occasion a Gospel writer would have to ask this or that woman if they all went in one group. I think they'd just question the female witnesses on what they saw, and not whether they all went there at the same time.