By Jeremiah J. Johnston
The Easter event overwhelmed the followers of Jesus to such an extent that it dominated their thought and became the very center of their preaching.1 Indeed, the message that Jesus himself had proclaimed was subordinated to the proclamation of his resurrection.2
However, positing that Jesus was not resurrected, one must account for the origin and emergence of resurrection traditions with a “mythmaking ” model. Yet, this cannot explain the complaints voiced by early objectors of these accounts. Jews and pagans alike scoffed at this proclamation, especially so in the second century. Among the better-known objectors were Celsus and Porphyry, who ridiculed the Christian proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus on the basis that it rested upon little more than the confused and contradictory testimony of frightened women.3 Curiously enough, these criticisms potentially lend an important measure of support to the truthfulness of the Easter witness.
A number of years ago Russ Dudrey observed that in all probability authors of fictional accounts of the resurrection of Jesus would have told the story differently from the way it is told in the canonical Gospels. He rightly noted that the accounts of the canonical Gospels are vulnerable to several objections and criticisms, criticisms that are in fact raised in Jewish and pagan circles.4 In response to pagan objectors, second-century Christian writers revised and embellished the Gospel accounts. In other words, they wrote the narratives the way they “should have been written” in the first place, had the production of convincing accounts, rather than the awkward, sometimes embarrassing truth, been the objective of the Gospel writers. The failure to write the accounts this way, reasons Dudrey, is evidence of the antiquity and probable truth of the accounts. “If one presumes that the Gospel writers were ‘Christ conspirators’ fabricating Christian fiction by inventing the story of the resurrection, then surely they should have done a better job of it.”5
In recent work I have been able to elaborate upon the principal point of Dudrey’s argument and to extend it further. I shall argue my case by appealing to the criticisms of Celsus and Porphyry and how second-century writings, such as the Gospel of Peter and the Acts of Pilate, respond to these criticisms. These writings serve as exemplars of how some Christians embellished the canonical resurrection accounts for apologetic purposes, so that—to build on Dudrey ’s point—the story is told the way the objectors thought it should be if it is to be convincing .
Sometime in 175–181 CE the pagan philosopher Celsus wrote a hard-hitting critique of Christian faith entitled The True Doctrine, a work that is extant only in Origen’s third-century response entitled Contra Celsum.6 Robert Wilken sums up the essence of Celsus’ polemic: The “early Christians cannot produce reliable witnesses to the events they claim took place.”7
Celsus sees Jesus as a coward, whose prayer in Gethsemane portrays him fearfully begging for his life. “Why does he cry: ‘Father, if only this cup could pass by me !’ A fine God indeed who fears what he is supposed to conquer.”8 This cowardice of Jesus is the primary reason that Jesus’s own disciples fled from him at the arrest and crucifixion, did not believe him, and betrayed him: “Your case is made the harder because not even his disciples believed him at the time of his humiliation.”9 Jesus’s lack of fortitude and heroism when facing the cross is the main reason for the disciples’ disbelief: “Would a god—a saviour, as you say, and son of the Most High God—be betrayed by the very men who had been taught by him and shared everything with him? What an absurdity…”10 Even Jesus’s own followers did not believe in him until they manufactured the story of his abandonment from the grave:
Have you forgotten that while he lived this Jesus convinced nobody—not even his own disciples—of his divinity, and was punished shamefully for his blasphemies? Were he a god he should not have died, if only to convince other for good and all that he was no liar ; but die he did—not only that, but died a death that can hardly be accounted an example to men.11
The Gospel of Peter, c. 150 CE, responds to this criticism by providing an explanation for the disciples’ fear and desertion of Jesus:
“But I with my companions was grieved, and being wounded in mind we hid. For we were being sought by them as evildoers and as those wishing to burn the temple. But through all of these things we were fasting and were sitting , mourning and weeping night and day until the Sabbath” (Akhmîm fragment 7:26–27). The pious disciples were forced into hiding because of a false allegation, in which they were accused of desiring to “burn the temple.” Moreover, the disciples are portrayed as piously fasting with deep emotions awaiting the Sabbath morn. Therefore, according to the Gospel of Peter the disciples were forced in hiding because of the pursuit of the Jews, not because of unbelief or doubts toward their master.12They did not, says Léon Vaganay, “flee as cowards.”13
Celsus asserts, “No wise man believes the gospel.”14 If Jesus were God, he would have appeared to the illustrious and educated men of the empire. Jesus should have appeared to his Jewish and Roman enemies. The Christian notion of resurrection is anti-philosophical and anti-intellectual, not to mention irrational. The default Christian response to public discourse is, according to Celsus, “Do not ask questions; just believe.”15 Dudrey puts the criticism of Celsus into context: “This is not mere intellectual snobbery on Celsus’ part: the social dynamics of the Greco-Roman world were dominated by questions of status and public dignity. Jesus had none, and neither did his followers.”16
Indeed, the Gospel of Peter confirms the resurrection tradition with a Roman governor and centurion, Petronius, who refers to Jesus as the “Son of God” (Akhmîm fragment 11:45–46). The author asserts that the first witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection are Romans— officials no less! While Pilate is exonerated from the death of Jesus, saying, “I am clean from the blood of the son of God,” the Jewish leaders, having only moments earlier witnessed a vindicated Jesus, possessing a supernatural body whose height surpassed the clouds (Akhmîm fragment 10:40), asked Pilate to charge his Roman security detachment to lie about witnessing the resurrection of Jesus. “Therefore, Pilate ordered the centurion and the soldiers to say nothing ” (Akhmîm fragment 11:49). It is important to note that Matthew’s earlier story, in which the soldiers were ordered to spread the story that the disciples stole the body of Jesus while the guards slept (Matt 28:11–15), has been dropped. The guards could hardly serve as credible witnesses if they had been asleep. In the Acts of Pilate, c. 160 CE, the guards remain fully conscious and attentive when the angel of the Lord descends. They witness—and therefore confirm—what the canonical evangelists relate. The guards tell the ruling priests:
We saw an angel descend from heaven, and he rolled away the stone from the mouth of the cave, and sat upon it, and he shone like snow and like lightning . And we were in great fear, and lay like dead men. And we heard the voice of the angel speaking to the women who waited at the tomb: “Do not be afraid. I know that you seek Jesus who was crucified. He is not here. He has risen, as he said. Come and see the place where the Lord lay. And go quickly and tell his disciples that he has risen from the dead and is in Galilee.” (Acts of Pilate 13:1)
Celsus taunts the early Christian movement for it puerile attempt to convince the world of Jesus’s resurrection, yet without providing credible eyewitnesses. No belief is more devious, full of contradictions and open to criticism, says Celsus, than the report of Jesus’s resurrection. For Celsus differences in the canonical accounts meant contradictions. The only witnesses to the alleged resurrection are hysterical and deluded:
But who really saw [the resurrection]? A hysterical woman, as you admit and perhaps one other person—both deluded by his sorcery, or else so wrenched with grief at his failure that they hallucinated him risen from the dead by a sort of wishful thinking . . . If this Jesus were trying to convince anyone of his powers, then surely he ought to have appeared first to the Jews who treated him so badly—and to his accusers—indeed to everyone, everywhere. Or better, he might have saved himself the trouble of getting buried and simply have disappeared from the cross. Has there ever been such an incompetent planner: When he was in the body, he was disbelieved but preached to everyone; after his resurrection, apparently wanting to establish a strong faith, he chooses to show himself to one woman and a few comrades only. When he was punished, everyone saw; yet risen from the tomb, almost no one . . . This is not my own guessing: I base what I say on your own writings, which are self-refuting. What god has ever lived among men who offers disbelief as the proof of his divinity? What god appears in turn only to those who already look for his appearances, and is not even recognized by them?17
The Gospel of Peter seems to respond to this very complaint. According to the fragment, the resurrection was observed by Roman guards and by the very Jewish leaders who had condemned Jesus to death (9:35–11:45). Accordingly, the report of the empty tomb and resurrection no longer rests upon a “hysterical woman . . . and perhaps one other person,” as Celsus puts it. On the contrary, Jesus did appear “first to the Jews who treated him so badly—and to his accusers”! This is not to say that the Gospel of Peter was specifically composed as an answer to Celsus, but it does seem to reflect an apologetic retelling of the burial and resurrection of Jesus with the kind of criticism seen in Celsus in mind, and which was circulating in the second century.18
By providing credible witnesses the Gospel of Peter fragment eliminates grounds for the kind of doubt put forward by sceptics like Celsus.19 The author of the Gospel of Peter emphasizes that many eyes “kept watch” on Jesus’s tomb after “they spread out seven seals” (Akhmîm fragment 8:33). Tobias Nicklas has noted how striking it is that the Gospel of Peter underscores “sensual perception,” in that the soldiers, centurion, and Jewish elders “see” and “hear” what takes place during the resurrection of Jesus (9:36;10:38, 39a , 39, 41, 42): 20
|V. 36:||καὶ εἶδ ο(ν)||“and they saw”|
|V. 38:||ἰδ όντες οὖν οἱ
σ τρατιῶται ἐκεῖνοι
|“and so those soldiers having seen”|
|V. 39a:||ἃ εἶδ ον||“what they had seen”|
|V. 41:||ἤκουον||“And they were hearing”|
|V. 42:||ἠκούετο||“was heard”|
The Gospel of Peter takes care to show that it was not possible for the disciples to remove the body of Jesus from the tomb (as was rumoured in Matt 28:11–15). The Jewish leaders were not in a hurry to leave the place of burial; instead, they were “pitching a tent there” (Akhmîm fragment 8:33). The Gospel of Peter further accentuates the Matthean apologetic by showing that there is no way the disciples could have stolen the body. The disciples, having fled were fasting; meanwhile the tomb of Jesus was constantly under observation, making it impossible for the disciples (or for any other grave robbers) to remove the body of Jesus (as was rumoured in Matt 28:11–15).
The polemics of Celsus seem to represent the sceptical climate circulating in the second century, which was likely known to the author of the Gospel of Peter.21 The Gospel of Peter is in part an apologetic reaction to pagan criticism, such as we see in Celsus, specifically in reference to credibility of the resurrection story. The Gospel of Peter and the Acts of Pilate exemplify an apologetic that addresses second- century Jewish and pagan criticisms of the resurrection narratives of the older New Testament Gospels. The resurrection narrative of the Gospel of Peter is also unique, for the New Testament gospels say nothing about humans—followers or non-followers—observing the resurrection of Jesus.
Porphyry (c. 232–303 C E) was a native of Tyre, and in his youth heard Orig en preach, studied Hebrew scripture, especially the Gospels, and found them lacking in literary quality and philosophical sophistication.22 Porphyry was eighteen when the persecution broke out under emperor Decius. Although at one time sympathetic toward Jesus and the Christian movement, he later developed an intense hatred for religion— or superstitio. Akin to modern- day “New Atheists,” Porphyry came to regard Christianity as the most pernicious form of disease infecting the empire. His fifteen-book Κατὰ Χρι σ τιαν ῶ ν (Against the Christians) is preserved in part in the writings of Eusebius and Apollinarius, and especially in the Apocriticus composed by Marcarius Magnes in the fourth or fifth century.23 Porphyry echoes several of Celsus’ criticisms of Christian beliefs.
Like Celsus, Porphyry claims that the Gospels’ portraits of the death of Jesus are absurd and are not based on credible eyewitnesses, as seen by their apparent contradictions and the lack of first-hand reports:
The evangelists were fiction writers—not observers or eyewitnesses to the life of Jesus. Each of the four contradicts the other in writing his account24 of the e vents and of his suffering and crucifixion . . . Based on these contradictory and second-hand reports, one might think this describes not the suffering of a single individual but of several! Where one says, “Into your hands I will deliver my spirit,” another says “It is finished” and another “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” and another “My God, my God why do you punish me.” (Apocrit. 2.12)25
The Gospel of Peter counters this sort of criticism by claiming that the first witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection were a Roman centurion and his soldiers, along with hostile Jewish elders and scribes, whose testimony can hardly be doubted. Porphyry sees the account of the passion and resurrection of Jesus as a “legend lifted from accounts of several crucifixions” and asks why Jesus did not stare down his enemies after his resurrection. Again, the Gospel of Peter rebuts the criticism, claiming that Jesus is tall enough to be seen by all and is more than enough to stare down anyone. The impression one receives from the canonical Gospels is that Jesus only appears to the lowly of his day, persons with little social standing and little credibility.
The pagan’s demand for a worthy witness is a protest against witnesses that have no credibility. Instead of appearing to credible persons, says Porphyry, Jesus “appeared to Mary Magdalene, a prostitute who came from some horrible little village and had been possessed by seven demons, and another Mary, equally known, probably a peasant woman, and others who were of no account” (Apocrit. 2.14).26 Accordingly, Porphyry asks, “[ W ]hy did this Jesus not appear to Pilate . . . or to the king of the Jews, Herod, or to the high priest of the Jewish people, or to many men at the same time”? (Apocrit. 2.14). According to the Gospel of Peter, that is exactly what the risen Jesus did: He appeared to Jewish people of the highest rank and to the Roman guards who reported all to Pilate.
The chronology of the appearance tradition is cast in a new way in the Gospel of Peter. Only after the Jewish and Roman leaders have seen the resurrected “son of God,” do the women fearfully venture to the tomb (Akhmîm fragment 12:50–52). The narrator again reminds his audience that the stone was “great” (Akhmîm fragment 12:54) and the women were concerned about moving the stone, fearful the Jews would see them visiting , and decided to mourn when they returned home (Akhmîm fragment 12:52–54).
The resurrection is mocked and attacked by other thinkers from late antiquity, whose views can be found in the writings of several Fathers of the Church (see Gregory of Nyssa , Catechetical Oration 5; Lactantius, Institutes 4.16, 5.2; and Libanius, Oration 18.178; see also the pagan perspective in Lucian, Peregrinus 11). Romans viewed the Christian message of resurrection as strange, even disgusting. The New Testament itself attests this Greco-Roman aversion to resurrection belief. We see this among Christians in Corinth, perhaps influenced by the Platonic notion of the soul, who persisted in their belief that there was no resurrection (1 Cor 15:12); perhaps also in the reference to Hymanaeus and Philetus, men who evidently spiritualized the resurrection by declaring the resurrection had already occurred (2 Tim 2:18). Paganism is clearly in evidence when Paul was “mocked” on Mars Hill for proclaiming the resurrection (Acts 17:32).
The New Testament Gospel narratives have apparent gaps and difficulties in the resurrection tradition leaving them exposed to attacks from objectors. Only Matthew’s tradition mentions the guard at the tomb and the seal on the burial stone; only Lukan tradition narrates Jesus’s appearance to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13–25). The later Johannine tradition exclusively mentions Nicodemus’s involvement in the burial of Jesus, Jesus’s appearance to Mary Magdalene (John 20:1, 11–18), Peter and John’s run to the empty tomb (John 20:3–10), Thomas’s challenge that unless he met the risen Christ he would not believe (John 20:24–29), the disciples going back to their previous vocation as fishermen (John 21:4–6), and Peter ’s restoration over Jesus’s breakfast (John 21:7–19).
Of course there are differences in the canonical resurrection accounts and some are not so easily reconciled. For critics like Celsus and Porphyry differences meant contradictions that were irreconcilable. The tradition contains a number of discrepancies in incidental details, which left the canonical narratives vulnerable to attack : (1) Which women visited the tomb on Easter morning? The Markan tradition reports three women : Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome (Mark 16:1). The Matthean tradition speaks of two women, Mary Magdalene, and the “other ” Mary (Matt 28:1). The Lukan tradition portrays at least five women—two Marys and Joana—and adds “the other women” without any more specificity (Luke 24:1, 10). (2) The canonical tradition does not agree with regard to the angels announcing the resurrection : Mark tells of a “young man” (Mark 16:5), while Luke mentions two dazzling angels (Luke 24:4); Matthew, like Mark, has one “angel of the Lord” at the resurrection tomb without mentioning a youthfulness (Matt 28:2–3); and the Johannine narrative omits the angel(s) altogether. (3) There is some geographical confusion regarding the location of the resurrection appearances : Were they in Galilee or in Jerusalem? The Markan tradition (rightly omitting 16:9–20) has no appearances; the text in its current form does not fulfill Jesus’s most important Markan prediction of resurrection. In Mark 16:5 the disciples are told that Jesus will meet them in Galilee (Mark 16:5). The Luke– Acts narrative appearances occur exclusively around Jerusalem (Luke 24:36–41; Acts 1:6–11). The Matthean and Johannine tradition present Jesus’s post-mortem appearances in Jerusalem and Galilee (Matt 28:1–10, 16; John 20–21).
Julian pointed out several contradictions in the synoptic resurrection account.27According to Cyril, Julian
wrote that the holy evangelists contradict themselves when they say : Mary Magdalene and the other Mary (following Matt 28:11), late on the Sabbath when the first of the week began to dawn, came to the tomb; according to Mark, [16:2] however, after it began to be daylight and the sun had risen. And according to Matthew they saw an angel [28:2]; according to Mark a young man [16:5]; and according to Matthew they left and told the disciples about the resurrection of Christ [28:8] – according to Mark they were silent and told no one anything [16:8]. By means of these things he brings censure on the holy scriptures and says that they contradict each other.28
The canonical traditions give no eyewitnesses of the resurrection event itself, only of the discovery of the empty tomb, the presence of angel(s), and the appearances of Jesus. In the Matthean account, Roman soldiers observe an angel descending from heaven, who rolls away the stone and sits upon it. We have the tomb opening, soldiers observing, and an empty tomb; however, nobody sees Jesus rise from the dead. According to the Synoptic tradition, we are left wondering where Jesus is, “Why seek the living with the dead? He is not here, he is risen” (Mark 16:6; Matt 28:6; Luke 24:5). This is exactly the lacuna that the Gospel of Peter seems to fill.
Despite the fact that the enemies of Jesus knew of the resurrection, only Jesus’s allies are witnesses of the empty tomb. Initially we are told of at least five women; later we hear of Peter and John visiting the empty tomb. We are dependant on the later Johannine tradition for a male account of an empty tomb, that of Peter and John ( John 20:1–10). Mark and Matthew do not reflect this tradition, and Lukan tradition provides limited detail of Peter’s visit to the tomb (Luke 24:12). Other than Peter, as describe d in Luke 24:12, and Peter and John in the Johannine narrative (John 20:1–10), the earliest witnesses of Jesus’s resurrection are women, who in late antiquity were viewed as dubious witnesses. Why do all the followers of Jesus, except John “who saw and believed” (John 20:8–9), expect to find Jesus’s corpse in the tomb? The Johannine tradition presents the disciples wondering if grave robbers have stolen him away (John 20:2, 13–15). When the risen Jesus appears in the Upper Room, the apostles are chastised for unbelief and hardness of heart because they did not believe the women’s report that he had risen (Luke 24:11, 13–35).
The Gospel of Peter’s recasting of the resurrection story addresses the perceived problems in the earlier Canonical Gospels. This second- century writing attempts to rebut pagan criticism by providing eyewitnesses (hostile ones at that), who possess much more credibility than women, of the resurrection event itself. These witnesses are Roman guards and Jewish elders, who see angelic beings enter the tomb and lead a transformed, vindicated Jesus out of the tomb.29 The disciples’ fear and flight are explained. The chronology of post-mortem events is transposed in the second-century context to answer scepticism of Jesus’s resurrection. Only after the social elite, the power brokers of Jewish Palestine, have experienced the resurrected Jesus do the women and disciples witness the empty tomb. Thus, the resurrection testimony of the followers of Jesus is subordinated to that of Jesus’s enemies. Pontius Pilate, who had been unwilling to crucify Jesus, is exonerated and the blame is shifted to Herod and Jewish leaders. Our analysis has enabled us to see some significant points of cultural, political, and social coherence between apologetic elements in the Gospel of Peter and second century pagan scepticism.30
The Gospel of Peter and the Acts of Pilate provide us with a number of examples of how accounts of the resurrection could have and should have been written, had the goal been a compelling and convincing story but not necessarily a factual one. In contrast, the Canonical Gospels present restrained, sober narrative. The accounts of the resurrection of Jesus in the Canonical Gospels exhibit a commitment to veracity and not to apologetically driven embellishment and excess. They leave their stories open to criticism, even an apparent vulnerability, because of a commitment to the ancient sources and traditions. Of course, the Gospels were not written in a way that anticipated second-century sceptics. The Gospel of Peter and the Acts of Pilate, however, illustrate perfectly the kind of creative, expansive embellishment that the Evangelists “should have done,” if they had attempted to fabricate a more convincing account of the resurrection of Jesus. Careful comparison of the dissimilarities of the resurrection accounts from the first century and the second century with pagan criticism of the second century helps us appreciate more the candor and commitment to truth we see on the part of the first-century gospel writers.
About the Author
JEREMIAH J. JOHNSTON, PhD, is a New Testament scholar, teacher, apologist and regular speaker on university campuses, churches and other popular venues. His passion is equipping Christians to give intellectually informed accounts of what they believe. Dr. Johnston completed his doctoral residency in Oxford partnership with Oxford Centre for Christian Studies and received his Ph.D. from Middlesex University (United Kingdom) with commendation. Dr. Johnston currently serves as the founder and president of Christian Thinkers Society, a resident institute at Houston Baptist University where he also serves as Associate Professor of Early Christianity in the School of Christian Thought. For more information, visit ChristianThinkers.com.
1 Gerhard Koch, Die Auferstehung Jesu Christi ( Tübing en : Mohr Siebeck, 1959), 25. For scholarly discussion of resurrection theology and ideas in the New Testament and its environment, see C. F. D. Moule (ed.), The Significance of the Message of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ (London : SCM Press, 1968); C. F. Evans, Resurrection and the New Testament (SBT 2.12; London : SCM Press, 1970); R . H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (Philadelphia : Fortress, 1971); Murray J. Harris, Raised Immortal: Resurrection and Immortality in the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985); idem, From Grave to Glor y : Resurrection in the New Testament (Grand Rapids : Zondervan, 1990); Richard N. Long enecker (ed.), Life in the Face of Death: The Resurrection Message of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); N. T. Wrig ht, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Christian Orig ins and the Question of God 3; Minneapolis : Fortress Press, 2003); Dale C. Allison Jr., Resurrecting Jesus : The Earliest Christian Tradition and Its Inter preters (London and New York : T & T Clark International, 2005); Michael R . Licona , The Resurrection of Jesus : A New Historiographical Approach (Downers Grove IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010); Christopher Bryan, The Resurrection of the Messiah (Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2011). The literature treating the resurrection is enormous.
2 This shift in focus g ave rise to the theological debate centered on the problem of how to reckon with the early church’s proclamation of the proclaimer.
3 The resurrection is mocked and attacked by other thinkers from late antiquity, whose views can be found in the writing s of several Fathers of the Church (see Greg or y of Nyssa , Catechetical Oration 5; Lactantius, Institutes 4.16, 5.2; and Libanius, Oration 18.178 see also the pagan perspective in Lucian, Peregrinus 11).
4 R . Dudrey, “ What the Writers Should Have Done Better : A Case for the Resurrection of Jesus Based on Ancient Criticisms of the Resurrection Reports,” Stone-Campbell Journal 3 (2000): 55–78.
5 Ibid., 57.
6 Origen, Contra Celsum, preface 1–4. For the critical edition, see Henry Chadwick, Origen : Contra Celsum (Cambridge : Cambridge University, 1953). On the True Doctrine has been reconstructed from Contra Celsum by R . Joseph Hoffmann, Celsus on the True Doctrine (New York : Oxford University Press, 1987). On Celsus, see E. R . Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (Cambridge : Cambridge University, 1965), 116–21.
7 Robert L. Wilken, The Christians as the Romans Saw Them (2nd ed., New Haven : Yale University Press, 2003), 111.
8 Hoffmann, Celsus, 63–64.
9 Ibid., 66.
10 Ibid., 61–62.
11 Ibid., 65. Orig en, Contra Celsum 2.21, 39.
12 Rightly observed by Vaganay. See, further, Léon Vag anay, L’ Évangile de Pierre (2ndedn, Paris : Gabalda , 1930), 93: Dans les deux péricopes . . . Pierre est à l’ honneur. Il parle au nom des “ Douze” et son discours n’a d’autre but que de justifier la conduite du college apostolique. (“In the two pericopes . . . Peter is honoured. He speaks in the name of the ‘ Twelve’ and his discourse has no other goal than to justify the leadership of the apostolic assembly.”)
13 Ibid.: comme des lâches.
14 Hoffmann, Celsus, 75. Origen, Contra Celsum 3.73.
15 Hoffmann, Celsus, 54; Origen, Contra Celsum 1.9, 12. See also E . R . Dodds, Pagan and Christian in an Age of Anxiety (Cambridge : Cambridge University Press, 1965), 121.
16 Dudrey, “ What the Writers Should Have Done Better,” 61.
17 Hoffmann, Celsus, 61–62, 67–69; Orig en, Contra Celsum 2.54, 59–75. Sceptics like Celsus reasoned, in the words of Vag anay : Qui donc avait vu de ses yeux le Christ au moment de sa resurrection? Personne. (“ Who then saw Christ with their own e yes at the moment of his resurrection? No one.”)
18 Timothy P. Henderson, The Gospel of Peter and Early Christian Apologetics : Rewriting the Story of Jesus’ Death, Burial, and Resurrection ( WUNT 301; Tübing en: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), 213. The Gospel of Peter may well have been composed a decade or two before Celsus wrote. What the author of the Gospel of Peter attempted to answer were the kinds of objections and criticisms known in his time and then soon after were further developed by Celsus.
19 As Vag anay, L’ Évangile de Pierre, 91, puts it : Le pseudo-Pierre semble avoir eu conscience de ces objections possibles. (“Pseudo -Peter seems to have been conscious of these possible objections.”)
20 Tobias Nicklas, “Resurrection in the Gospels of Matthew and Peter : Some Developments,” in W. Weren, H. van de Sandt, and J. Verhe yden (eds.), Life Beyond Death in Matthew’s Gospel: Religious Metaphor or Bodily Reality? (BTS 13; Leuven : Peeters, 2011), 27–41.
21 Henderson, The Gospel of Peter and Early Christian Apologetics, 213.
22 Hoffmann, Celsus, 16.
23 Adolf von Harnack, Gegen die Christen (Berlin : Georg Reimer, 1916). Since the appearance of Harnack’s collection, a number of studies have appeared variously defending or attacking the German historian’s conclusions. The scholarly opinion is divided over whether the pagan of Macarius’ dialogue is Porphyry, a transcriber of Porphyry or another. This thesis presupposes the traditional conclusion of Harnack’s, i.e., that Marcarius was responding to Porphyry. I presuppose Harnack’s conclusion, i.e., that Marcarius was responding to Porphyry.
24 The charge of contradiction was commonplace. However, the apparent discrepancies and differences are in fact fewer and less severe in comparison to the writings of Greco – Roman historians during the period in question. See C. S. Keener, “Otho: A Targeted Comparison of Suetonius’s Biography and Tacitus’ History, with Implications for the Gospels’ Historical Reliability,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 21 (2011): 331–55.
25 R . Joseph Hoffmann, Porphyry’s Against the Christians : The Literary Remains (AmherstNY: Prometheus Books, 1994), 32.
26 Hoffmann, Porphyry’s Against the Christians, 34; John Granger Cook, The Inter pretation of the New Testament in Greco-Roman Paganism (Studies and Texts in Antiquity and Christianity 3; Tübing en : Mohr Siebeck, 2000), 198.
27 Cook, Greco–Roman Paganism, 300.
28 As preserved in one of the Syriac fragments of Cyril’s work against Julian. See Cook, Greco–Roman Paganism, 300.
29 See Vag anay, L’ Évangile de Pierre, 91–92. Vaganay notes that the author of the gospel fragment took care to place the Jewish leaders close to the tomb, along with the Roman soldiers. In this way it would be impossible to challenge their testimony, for they saw everything clearly and discussed the matter among themselves.
30 One may well ask why a second-century Christian writer would embellish the gospel story in an effort to rebut contemporary critics. I doubt very much the writer of the Gospel of Peter thought his embellishments were any thing less than the truth. Stories and leg ends about Jesus beg an to emerge after the passing of the apostles and those they taught. The lines bet ween “interpreted tradition” and unhistorical embellishment were not clearly drawn. Several apocryphal gospels and books of Acts appeared in the second and third centuries, characterized by the kind of embellishment we find in the Gospel of Peter and the Acts of Pilate. Some of the embellishment was motivated by apologetic, but a lot of it is educational and devotional.
[Editor’s Note: Resurrection image from Luca Giordano’s Resurrection, c. 1665, found at Wikipedia Commons.]