I find the Gospel According to Mark more-interesting than the others. It’s short and raw, unadorned with as many signs and wonders, and with Jesus sometimes saying things so coarse, or so subtly-disturbing, that belief in Jesus the man could come easy for an atheist. The Jesus of Mark is a moodier, less-predictable sort of person than the one from the other Gospels. He is best-known as an exorcist, and sometimes he doesn’t do what those who came to him for help asked of him–not right away, at least. When his family entreats with him to return home with them, he insists that those who travel with him are his family. That’s a bit dark (Mark 3:31-34). Indeed, Jesus never seems to attain credibility in his hometown, where he is known as an ordinary human being; people incredulously refer to him as a carpenter, and in apparent exasperation he says “Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honor” (Mark 6:1-6).
The coming of Easter inspired this post; consider the complete failure of the Gospels to agree on even the most-general facts of the touchstone miracle of Christianity: the Resurrection. Below I have included the New International Version’s translation of Mark 16:1-8:
“1 When the Sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome brought spices so that they might go to anoint Jesus’ body. 2 Very early on the first day of the week, just after sunrise, they were on their way to the tomb 3 and they asked each other, ‘Who will roll the stone away from the entrance of the tomb?’
“4 But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. 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 ‘Don’t be alarmed,’ he said. ‘You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter, “He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.”‘
“8 Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
“[The most early and reliable manuscripts and other ancient witnesses do not have Mark 16:9-20]”
That last parenthetical…is part of the quote. That’s right, that note is a frank admission that “the most reliable early manuscripts” of the Gospel According to Mark have nothing after this. What traditionally follows the viewing of the empty tomb in the Gospels? Well, what remains is Jesus’ appearance as a living man after his crucifixion, death, and burial. That wasn’t originally in Mark. Mark-plus-additional content, Matthew, Luke and John have very different accounts of what supposedly happened after Jesus rose from the dead:
As the women witnessed the empty tomb…
Mark: They met a man clad in white. They tell no one what they saw.
Matthew: They met an angel of God. They tell the disciples immediately.
Luke: They met “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning.” They tell the disciples immediately; Peter runs back to the tomb and finds Jesus’ discarded burial cloth but meets no one, and goes home in confusion.
John: Mary Magdalene–by herself–finds the tomb empty and runs to Simon Peter “and the other disciple, the one Jesus loved,” and they ran back to the tomb. They both inspect Jesus’ discarded burial cloth but meet no one there, and both go home in confusion.
After leaving the tomb, Jesus first appeared to…
Mark: Mary Magdalene, who tells the disciples but is not believed.
Matthew: The women, apparently overtaking them on their way to tell his disciples as fast as they can. He simply tells them to do what the man in white–er, the angel of God–told them to do. (All the apostles go to the appointed place to meet him, but some apparently doubt he rose from the dead even upon supposedly seeing him.)
Luke: 2 of the Disciples in Emmaus, a village outside of Jerusalem. This one is really weird. Jesus literally overhears these 2 talking about what had happened to him, and proceeds to pull a “Gandalf the White,” appearing before them and even speaking to them without being recognized. He asks them “What are you discussing…?” and then gets the whole account of his own crucifixion, death and burial from them. When they say Jesus’ tomb was empty, he admonishes them both for not having more faith. Then he walks with them to their home village, where they invite him to spend the night. He breaks bread with them, and they recognize him as if all they needed was a little communion. (Actually, that’s kinda cool…) Then he disappears from their sight. Pouf. They then ran back to Jerusalem as quickly as they could to tell the others. Once they have finished recounting this, Jesus appears before them all again. Pouf.
Apparently the Jesus of Luke is the master of the jump-scare.
John: Mary Magdalene, after pulling another “Gandalf the White.” He does this in the company of “two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning.”
After his posthumous appearance, Jesus says to the Disciples…
Mark: Whoever believes in him “will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues, they will pick up snakes with their hands; and when they drink deadly poison, it will not hurt them at all; they will place their hands on sick people, and they will get well.” (Mark 16:17-18) It would be fair to say the Jesus of Mark is Pentecostal.
Matthew: They should take the Christian message to all the nations. Unlike the Mark addendum, there no mention of condemnation for unbelief. Jesus assures the Disciples he is always with them
Luke: “Do you have anything here to eat?” He enjoys a nice broiled fish. The Gospel According to Luke is bizarre…
Oh, he also shows them the correct interpretation of the Bible. That’s helpful! He doesn’t do this in any of the others…
John: They have the power to forgive (or withhold the forgiveness of) sins.
He also shows the holes in his hands to “Doubting” Thomas, and invites his erstwhile-ardent Disciple to put his hand into the deep wound in his side. In implicit admonition of Thomas’ need for evidence that Jesus truly died and was resurrected, Jesus says “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’
Ironically, this is the epitome of a statement that must be taken on faith.
Jesus appears to most of the Disciples on another day by the shore of the Sea of Galilee, while they are about 300 offshore fishing. Pulling another “Gandalf the White,” he coyly asks them if they have any fish. When they say they haven’t, he miraculously…instructs them to throw their net over in such a way that they catch 153 fish.
After they have eaten a lot of fish–no, that is literally what they do next–Jesus tells Simon Peter (incidentally my family’s namesake) to lead the faithful in his absence, and tells the Disciples to leave Judas alone.
That believing any of these accounts of Jesus’ resurrection requires faith goes without saying; viewed in light of each other’s discrepancies the Liberal Ironist thinks that skepticism or even cynicism about these discrepancies is positively virtuous. But if it’s redemption you want, I offer both Christian and atheistic defenses of Mark’s spartan and at times challenging account of Jesus’ life and actions in an immediately-succeeding entry.