According to the surface impression of the gospels and Acts for the period after the crucifixion and "resurrection", Jesus appeared miraculously in meetings of his friends, even after the doors were shut. He gave the Holy Spirit, dealt with doubts about his resurrection from such men as Thomas, and then ascended to heaven. At the Pentecost following, in June, there was intense excitement because of belief in his resurrection, with an outbreak of "speaking in tongues". From that point a new institution began, the Christian church, and it spread from there.
That was one way of writing up the period. The surface narrative expressed in dramatic form a kind of truth. A group of people who had been fighting for their kind of social justice in a religious context eventually succeeded. A drama could be made out of it, like the drama of the straggling band of slave runaways from Egypt who had taken over a fertile strip of land and built a nation. Or like the dramas of the winning side in a war, leaving out the complexities and their own wrongful acts. The rehearsal of the drama brings confidence to the side that had won, while historians who make an objective study of the evidence see a different and more complex kind of truth.
In broad outline, the actual facts were that Jesus survived the crucifixion and resumed his activities immediately afterwards. His duties consisted of participating in the conduct of religious services in a style that had been practiced for centuries. He was not the principal officiant, only a subordinate. During the four days after Good Friday he attended services in buildings owned by the Jewish ascetics in the Wilderness of Judea and Jerusalem. Then he returned to the Qumran monastery, following the rules for dynasts after they had been outside for a brief period of marriage. He continued particpating in prayers offered to heaven on a raised platform in the monastery.
The ascetics called the Therapeuts had been a driving force in the organisation to which he belonged. Normally living like hermits, they held meetings which became occasions of intense social excitement, sometimes producing irrational speech. The whole organisation, established among Diaspora Jews in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, held regular councils of leaders from the world-wide membership. One such pre-arranged council took place at Pentecost in the summer after the crucifixion. Its agenda included a reform that had been in preparation for some time. Religious services for the large Gentile membership that had now developed were permitted to be held in their own languages, instead of Hebrew. This was the "speaking in tongues". The reform was driven by a party of Gentiles who had recently been given new confidence because of political changes.
The agenda had nothing to do with belief in resurrection. Jesus had, however, been a reformer in such a direction, giving equality to Gentiles, not insisting that they adopt Jewish identity. He endorsed some of the reforms, while others did not go far enough for him. The successful pro-Gentile party continued, and was eventually forced to break away from the Jewish matrix, adopting the name Christian. The Pentecost council had indeed been the legislative beginning for them, so is presented as a foundation event in their history recorded in Acts.
The dramatic form that was acceptable in the hellenistic world, enjoyed by the masses, could employ the appearance of miracle without objections. In Greek theatre, gods frequently appeared from above, let down in harnesses - giving rise to the expression "deus ex machina". The new drama that was now composed, in its surface form, had Jesus appearing after doors were closed, and ascending into the sky, in a way that was quite familiar to popular audiences. It made a religious point, which was all that was expected by average hearers.
The masses these days have different expectations, appreciating art, but without a pre-scientific content. All art, including theatre, is simply a language for that for which there is no adequate language. The human condition is a mystery which we struggle to understand , and we use language as a way of communicating the little that we do know. But when a good deal more has become known, giving ways of improving our condition at least in areas where technology applies, it is a kind of primitivism to resort to miracle.
The educated classes responsible for composition of the gospels knew well how far scientific understanding can go in giving us the needed control, but knew also that an educational process is needed. While their society was very far from universalising education, they taught as well as they could those who had found their way to their institutions. The New Testament books with a pesher are a superb teaching device, extending and rewarding careful research and reasoning.
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