When I lecture about the historical Jesus, I am always asked. “What about Easter?”
The question implies two other questions. The first is “What happened?” How bodily or physical was Easter? Did something happen to the corpse of Jesus? Was the tomb empty? The second question is “How are we to understand the Easter stories?” Should we regard them as reports of events that could, in principle, have been recorded with a video-camera? If not, what then are they? Are they fabrications made up to legitimate early Christianity? Or is there another way of understanding them, neither as videocam accounts nor as fabrications?
To turn to the stories, the four canonical Gospels agree that, following Jesus’ crucifixion and burial, his tomb was found empty, and the Gospels of Matthew, Luke and John report that the risen Jesus appeared to some of his followers.1 The Gospels differ on details (who went to the tomb and what they saw), and Matthew, Luke and John each have their own distinctive appearance stories. How literally and “physically” are these texts to be understood?