By Steven J. Grisafi, PhD.
This blog post began as a letter to a friend. I decided to make it public as a post on my blog because I see this issue as a central difficulty facing western civilization. Let the reader understand that I cherish western civilization and pray for its ascendancy over all challenges to it.
For the second time in two weeks a pair of women have come to my doorstep to tell me about the wonders of their particular variety of Christianity. I asked if they would be willing to spend some time to listen to me as to why I cannot believe the basic tenet of all Christian faiths, which is that Jesus rose from the dead. I spoke for at least twenty minutes both times, perhaps a little longer the first time since the first pair of women seemed more receptive to my harangue. The second pair were from the Jehovah Witnesses faith, and I am not sure, but I think the first pair were from the church of the Latter Day Saints. One can see what a lonely guy I am that I take the time to speak with these lovely ladies. I am not being sarcastic, they are lovely people, but they clearly were not pleased with what I had to say.
I explained to them that when my father died I found amongst his books a book written by a priest concerning the Shroud of Turin. I explained that chemical analyses of the cloth indicated that it was at most 1000 years old, not 2000 years. I tell them this because I know they would apriori reject any such Catholic folklore as valid. I want to give them something that they cam rebut so that they engage with me in conversation. Then I tell them the primary reason why I do not believe Jesus rose from the dead. I tell them that because Jesus was convicted of a crime, according to Jewish Law, he was prohibited from burial amongst the righteous. He could not be buried in a Jewish cemetery. This very significant fact is almost never mentioned. As an aside: I remember reading a story describing a conversation a professor at Harvard University had, in which he made the joking remark, that although as a tenured professor at Harvard he was entitled to be buried in a Harvard cemetery, he would choose not to do so because he didn”t want to be buried with all those Goyum. Clearly, 2000 years ago such an attitude would have been pervasive.
Jesus was buried in a cave donated by a compassionate Roman citizen, a pagan. It seems highly probable that Jesus”s friends, who were all devout Jews with the exception of Luke, who was Greek, would want Jesus buried in a Jewish cemetery. To do so would be a crime, which would subject them to death through an application of strict Roman justice. So, the only alternative they had was stealth. My guess is that late Saturday night they entered the tomb of Jesus, removed the body, and before the sun rose on their escapade, buried him in an unmarked grave in a desolate corner of the Jewish cemetery. Three centuries later, superstitious Romans, who knew nothing of, and cared nothing for, Jewish Law converted the empire because of a silly dream.
I tried to explain to the lovely ladies today that this matter of the assertion of Jesus as the Son of God, and not merely as the Son of Man, was not settled in Western Europe until Charlemagne founded the Holy Roman Empire. Actually, the Christological Controversies, which devolved upon the nature of the Christ (Messiah), caused the schism of the Eastern and Western churches. But to do so thoroughly would have taken another twenty minutes and the women were clearly impatient. Yet, at that point, the pretty older woman remarked that her belief was founded upon the prophecies in the Hebrew testament predicting the coming of a Messiah. She made my point. That, if one can believe anything, one would assert that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah, despite his having been rejected as such by his own people. However, accepting Jesus as the Jewish Messiah lends no support to Christianity. The Resurrection is fundamental to all Christian faiths and to reject it is to dissolve Christianity as a faith. I think that would be best.
It took me eight long years at two different graduate schools to earn my PhD. I had time to spare to take courses outside of my engineering curriculum. So, I chose to study Latin. In a Medieval Latin course I had taken we read the Vulgate, written by Saint Jerome, his translation of the original Greek texts of the New Testament into the Latin of the common people. While doing so I was struck by the fact that no where does Saint Jerome refer to Jesus as anything other than the Son of Man. This phrase means the Messiah, the Jewish Messiah, and nothing else. Seven years of unemployment, after finally graduating with my PhD, gave me plenty of time to read all seven volumes of J. B. Bury”s edition of Edward Gibbon”s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Dr. Bury”s footnotes are invaluable for a thorough reading of Gibbon”s masterpiece. Gibbon”s exhaustive discussion of the development of Christianity led me to understand several things of which most modern Christians are completely unaware. I make no attempt to list all of them. Yet the reader should know that up until the Conversion of Constantine, and even many years afterward, the Primitive Christians were a tiny minority in the Roman world. Silver coins and linen togas were offered to induce the populace to submit to baptism. Still the religion grew only slowly. Gibbon addresses all of the Christological Controversies and remarks upon the progress of the transformation of primitive Christianity into what we recognize as it in modern times. Let the reader discover for himself the healthy skepticism of our scientifically illiterate ancestors and the incongruent ignis fatuus of scientifically educated modern man.