Monday, October 30, 2006

When did Christians begin to believe in an empty tomb?

It is interesting to compare first century Christians and later Christians to see what spin developed over time.

The first century Christian , Clement of Rome, and the 4th century St. Ambrose both wrote about the Phoenix. (Christians sometimes believed mythological stories)

Both Christians saw parallels between pagan myths and Christian stories and used the Phoenix as one example.

Clement of Rome writes about the Phoenix like this

Let us consider that wonderful sign of the resurrection which takes place in Eastern lands, that is, in Arabia and the countries round about.

There is a certain bird which is called a phoenix. This is the only one of its kind, and lives five hundred years. And when the time of its dissolution draws near that it must die, it builds itself a nest of frankincense, and myrrh, and other spices, into which, when the time is fulfilled, it enters and dies. But as the flesh decays a certain kind of worm is produced, which, being nourished by the juices of the dead bird, brings forth feathers.

Then, when it has acquired strength, it takes up that nest in which are the bones of its parent, and bearing these it passes from the land of Arabia into Egypt, to the city called Heliopolis.

And, in open day, flying in the sight of all men, it places them on the altar of the sun, and having done this, hastens back to its former abode. The priests then inspect the registers of the dates, and find that it has returned exactly as the five hundredth year was completed.

Notice how Clement has no problems with the idea that the old bones were still to found in the place where the resurrection had occured. Indeed he says that inspecting the bones helps priests know when a resurrection had taken place.

Now see how Saint Ambrose handles the same story. He writes very similarly, except that he knows there is supposed to be an empty tomb.

So he drops all mention of any bones being visible or present, and concentrates on the empty tomb being available for inspection.

That bird in the country of Arabia, which is called the Phoenix, restored by the renovating juices of its flesh, after being dead comes to life again: shall we believe that men alone are not raised up again?

Yet we know this by common report and the authority of writings, namely, that the bird referred to has a fixed period of life of five hundred years, and when by some warning of nature it knows that the end of its life is at hand, it furnishes for itself a casket of frankincense and myrrh and other perfumes, and its work and the time being together ended, it enters the casket and dies.

Then from its juices a worm comes forth, and grows by degrees into the fashion of the same bird, and its former habits are restored, and borne up by the oarage of its wings it commences once more the course of its renewed life, and discharges a debt of gratitude.

For it conveys that casket, whether the tomb of its body or the cradle of its resurrection, in which quitting life it died, and dying it rose again, from Ethiopia to Lycaonia; and so by the resurrection of this bird the people of those regions understand that a period of five hundred years is accomplished.

So to that bird the five hundredth is the year of resurrection, but to us the thousandth: it has its resurrection in this world, we have ours at the end of the world. Many think also that this bird kindles its own funeral pile, and comes to life again from its own ashes.

Clearly Ambrose has deliberately retold the story to have an empty tomb rather than old bones as the proof of resurrection. The first-century Christian had no such restraints about old bones still being present after a resurrection had occurred.

So sometime from 70 AD onward, Christians began to believe that they were supposed to believe in an empty tomb, and wrote accordingly.


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