by  David Hart


The books of the Hebrew Bible (the Christian Old Testament) come from many periods, are written in diverse styles and are the work of many authors. They do not, therefore, constitute a simple, continuous narrative. Yet, taken as a whole, they can be said to tell a single, great story - the epic of the Glory of God come to dwell on earth.

This Glory, which later Jewish tradition called the Shekhinah (meaning 'that which rests' or 'that which abides'), was conceived of as being nothing less than the real, mysterious and overwhelming presence of God himself. At times, the Glory would descend (often in a cloud of impenetrable darkness) upon the Ark of the Covenant, the sacred gold-plated chest in which the tablets of the law of Moses were kept.The Ark itself, as the throne of God, was initially housed within the Tabernacle (or 'tent of meeting') prepared for it by Moses, but was later transferred to the inner sanctuary of the Temple built for it in Jerusalem by King Solomon.

The Calling of Israel and the Age of the Patriarchs

The Bible also recounts God's election of a chosen people and describes how this choice inevitably becomes ever narrower. In other words, God initially creates all mankind for communion with him, but eventually, as a result of human sin, decides instead to fashion a particular people for himself, with whom he forges an unbreakable bond so as to establish his home on Earth among them. Israel thus becomes the object of special divine attention, which is likened in scripture to the love of a father for his child or of a husband for his wife. The story is marked by episodes of faithfulness and betrayal by Israel, and mercy and anger on God's part. The relationship is ruptured and restored; Israel is sometimes seduced by strange gods, only to return to God for forgiveness. God punishes and pardons, his Glory departs and returns — but he never abandons his people.

This is the sacred story of the Jews, (NO it is the sacred story of "Israel" - 13 tribes, the Jews are only made up of 3 tribes - Judah, Benjamin, and Levi - Keith Hunt) in the light of which Hebrew scripture interprets all the concrete events of Israel's history. By the time of Jesus' birth, that story already spanned nearly two millennia, beginning in the age of the Patriarchs, when the ancestors of the Jews  ("Israel" - Keith Hunt) were merely a tribe of semi-nomads. The first tribal patriarch was Abraham (originally named Abram), whom God summoned from the Mesopotamian city of Ur, to journey to an unknown land where his descendants would become a great nation.This was God's special covenant with Abraham: one that was, so to speak, written in the very flesh of the community, through the circumcision of all the males of the tribe. Abraham was succeeded as patriarch by his son Isaac, whom Abraham's wife Sarah miraculously conceived and bore when she was well beyond child-bearing age. Isaac in turn was succeeded by his son Jacob. The patriarchal narratives end with the migration of Israel into Egypt, under the protection of Isaac's son Joseph, who had been sold into slavery as a youth by his jealous elder brothers, but who had risen to a position of immense authority in Pharaoh's court.

Prophets and Kings

The protection under which Israel sheltered, however, was withdrawn after the time of Joseph, and the people languished in slavery for many centuries, until around the 14th or 13th century BC, when the prophet and legislator Moses arose to lead them to freedom. It was to Moses that God for the first time revealed his "proper' name, the mysterious 'tetragrammaton' YHWH, which the Book of Exodus claims derives from the even more mysterious phrase 'Eyeh asher Eyeh': 'l will be as I will be'. It was under Moses that the Jewish ("Israel" - Keith Hunt)  priesthood and the rites of the Tabernacle were established, and through Moses that God gave Israel the law: the body of religious, moral and civil ordinances that was to guide the Israelites.

Subsequent narratives tell of Israel's settlement and conquest of Canaan, the "Promised Land', after a delay of 40 years and the death of Moses. For nearly two centuries thereafter, Israel remained a loose federation of 12 distinct tribes, governed by judges, but before the beginning of the 10th century BC it became a monarchy, ruled first by King Saul (d. c. 1007 bc), and then by King David (d. c.965 bc); the latter was a brilliant warrior and leader, who forged Israel into a united military and cultural power. It was he who brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem from the Tabernacle in Shiloh.Yet it fell to David's son, the legendarily wise and wealthy King Solomon (d. c.928 bc), to build the great Temple, in whose inner chamber — the Holy of Holies - the Ark was finally placed. Thereafter, no one but the High Priest was permitted to enter into the 'Presence' and he only once each year, on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

(The author got it right - 12 tribes - Keith Hunt)

For all its grandeur, Solomon's reign was largely a failure. His tolerance of foreign cults - in order to indulge his many foreign wives — not only hastened his own demise, but also caused the schism of the Jews into two kingdoms: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. Israel endured for two centuries, but fell to the Assyrians in 722 bc and ultimately faded from history; and so it is from the latter that later Judaism descends.

(Wow got it right again - Israel in the north - Judah in the south - divided  into  TWO  kingdoms.....Israel deported by the Assyrians to move into Europe and become most of the north-western nations of Europe, the British Commonwealth and the United States of America  -  Keith Hunt)

This was also the age of the prophets, men called by God to proclaim justice for the poor and oppressed, to denounce idolatry, to warn of divine retribution, and to announce the approach of a day when the God of Israel would draw all the world under his merciful governance.

A Subject People

The kingdom of Judah was overrun by the Babylonians in 587—586 bc; (the captivity started in 604 b.c. - Keith Hunt) the Temple was destroyed and stripped of its treasures (though, apparently, the Ark was no longer among them) and much of the population was led away into exile as captives. In 539 bc, however, Babylon fell to Persia, and the Persian king Cyrus permitted those Jews who wished to do so to return to Israel and rebuild the Temple — a task completed in 516—515 bc. In 332 bc, with Alexander the Great's conquest of Persia, the age of Hellenistic - or Late Greek - Judaism began.

Under the rule of the Greek-Egyptian dynasty of the Ptolemies, the Jews were granted freedom of worship, and for more than 150 years, Jewish culture, in Palestine and abroad, peacefully assimilated Hellenistic culture. In 198 bc, however, the Greek-Syrian Seleucid dynasty conquered Israel, and in 168 bc King Antiochus IV Epiphanes set about eradicating Judaism. He desecrated the Temple, instituted pagan sacrifices in Jerusalem, and mercilessly persecuted any Jews who resisted.

A Jewish revolt, initially led by Judas Maccabeus of the Hasmonean dynasty forced the Seleucid regime to recognize Judaism and permit reconsecration of the Temple in 164 bc. Thirty years later, the Hasmoneans even succeeded in winning independence for Judaea - a condition that lasted for a century, until the Roman conquest of 63 bc.


In the New Testament, the theme of the descent of the divine Glory to earth continues, but in a radically different key; for, in Christian thought, God comes to dwell among human beings not merely in the awesome but intangible form of the Shekhinah, but as a concrete presence, a living man.

The fullest accounts of the mother of Christ are found in the gospels of Luke and Matthew.

Thus, in the Gospel of Luke, when the angel of the annunciation tells Mary of the conception of Jesus in her womb, his language clearly recalls the cloud of darkness that used to attend the Lord's entry into his house: 'The Holy Ghost shall come upon thee, and the power of the Highest shall overshadow thee.' (Luke 1:35). The Gospel of John proclaims that, in becoming flesh, the divine Son literally 'tabernacled' among us — 'and we beheld his Glory, the Glory of the only begotten of the Father' (John 1:14). Jesus likens himself to the Temple. And all three of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke) tell of Christ's Transfiguration, when the Glory of his divinity briefly became visible through the veil of his humanity.

The Centre of History

For the early Church, the entire history of God's indwelling had culminated in the coming of Christ, who was nothing less than the 'express image' of God's essence, the very 'brightness of his Glory' (Hebrews 1:3). Already in Hebrew scripture, God's Glory had at times been portrayed as a kind of heavenly person, resembling a man (most notably in the Book of Ezekiel); but, according to Christian belief, that Glory had now actually become a man, through whom the radiance of the divine had been brought into intimate contact with human nature. As a result, all human beings were now able to become vessels of the divine presence, and Christians looked forward to a day when God's Glory would be revealed in those who had been joined to Christ, and would transfigure the whole of creation (Romans 8:18-21). For Christians Jesus of Nazareth was, then, the centre of all human and cosmic history, and the consummation of all God's purposes in creation.

To those outside the circle of faith, of course, the sheer extravagance of the claims made for Christ's significance by Christians could scarcely have seemed more absurd. Certainly, during the early centuries of the Church, pagan critics of the gospel never failed to point out how peculiar it was for God to have chosen so obscure and humble a form for his final revelation to humanity — an itinerant preacher born among a subject people, neither noble of birth nor great amid the councils of the mighty, who lived his brief life far from the centre of the empire, and who numbered no philosophers among his friends and associates. But Christians positively rejoiced in God's desire to confound the expectations of the powerful, and to reveal himself among the poor, the nameless, the despised and the forgotten.

(AND God the Father has chosen a relatively small  planet way off in an arm of a galaxy among millions of galaxies to eventually make His home and headquarters of the universe - Keith Hunt)

The Synoptic Gospels recount the story of Christ's Transfiguration by the light of divine glory. 

Not that Judaea was a backwater. At the time of Christ's birth, the Jews had endured centuries of foreign subjugation - by Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome - but had also, as a result, been profoundly influenced by foreign cultures, and had established communities throughout the wider Hellenistic and Roman world. Many aspects of the Judaism of the synagogues evolved during the Babylonian exile, when there was no Temple and there were no sacrifices, and public prayer and study of the law and the prophets became Judaism's chief religious activities. Moreover, various beliefs typical of Persian Zoroastrianism - life after death, resurrection, the Day of Judgment, the great cosmic struggle

[THE SON OF MAN In the Gospels, Jesus frequently speaks - somewhat enigmatically - of the 'Son of Man'. Occasionally, he uses this phrase to refer to a heavenly emissary of God who will be sent to earth on Judgement Day to judge the nations and gather the righteous into the Kingdom of God. At other times, however, he clearly applies it to himself in his earthly mission. In Hebrew scripture, 'son of man' (ben Adam) is generally quite a mundane phrase. It often denotes little more than 'human being'. In the book of Job and in the Psalms, it is simply a poetic circumlocution for 'man': ' ... man, who is a maggot, and the son of man, who is a worm' (Job 25:6). It is also the name by which God (or God's messenger) addresses the prophet Ezekiel, in order constantly to remind the prophet that he is only mortal clay. In the Book of Daniel, however, in a vision of the final judgment, Daniel describes the Ancient of Days upon his throne, and tells of 'one like a Son of Man' arriving amid the clouds of heaven and approaching the throne and being given everlasting dominion over all the nations of the earth. In the New Testament, both meanings are present, in some cases simultaneously.There is something exquisitely appropriate in this. In the Christian understanding of Jesus, after all, exaltation and abasement - the heavenly and the earthly - are inseparable. Inasmuch as the phrase 'Son of Man' can serve to indicate both the humility of Christ in assuming mortal flesh and also the glory of Christ as the divine Lord of history, it elegantly comprises within itself what for Christians is the central mystery of the incarnation.]

 between good and evil — had been absorbed into the faith of most Jews, and that of the influential sect of the Pharisees (though other Jews, such as the Saducees, rejected such beliefs). For three centuries, moreover Judaism - in Judaea and throughout the Jewish Diaspora (the dispersed Jewish community abroad) - had been shaped by Greek culture and thought. Jesus' older contemporary, Philo of Alexandria (c.15 50), for example, was a typical product of the Diaspora: he employed Greek methods of exegesis to interpret Hebrew scripture, borrowed freely from Greek metaphysics, and even elaborated a theory of the divine Logos - a secondary expression of God, or eternal 'Son', through whom God creates and communicates with the world. All of these 'foreign' influences were reflected either in the ministry of Christ or in the Church's understanding of his identity.

(NONESENSE.....what  was  known  about  and  explained  about  Jesus  in  the  New  Testament  was  divinely  inspired,  the  apostles  borrowed  from  no  past  or  present  culture - Keith Hunt)

The Ministry of Christ

Little can be said of the early life of Jesus. The Gospels of Matthew and Luke tell of his miraculous conception and birth of the Virgin Mary; Matthew tells of the visit of the Magi, the flight of the holy family to Egypt, and their later return to Nazareth; Luke tells of Christ's birth in a stable, his adoration in the manger by shepherds, his presentation in the Temple and his dialogue - at the age of 12 -with the scholars of the Temple courtyard. Nothing else is known of his early years.


The Gospel accounts of Jesus himself all begin in earnest with his baptism in the Jordan by his cousin John, which inaugurated his ministry; this, in fact, is where the Gospels of Mark and John begin their narratives (though in the latter case, only after a prologue 'in eternity'). According to the Synoptic Gospels, Christ first went into the wilderness for 40 days, to pray and fast, and to resist Satan's attempts to sway him from his mission; he then began gathering disciples - including the inner 12, the Apostles - and travelling through the Judaean countryside.

In the context of their time, Christ's teachings combined elements at once familar and strange. He was, in many ways, like any other rabbi: he expounded upon the scriptures, recalled men and women to the central precepts of the law, and proclaimed God's love for the poor, the oppressed and the forsaken. And he was, apparently, a master of 'dialectical' instruction, being especially adept at answering queries — whether sincere or hostile — by posing complementary questions that induced his questioners to answer the questions for themselves. Yet the main thrust of his mission was to proclaim the imminent approach of the Day of the Lord and the establishment of God's Kingdom on earth. As such, his message was one of drastic urgency.

Christ among the Doctors; early evidence of Christ's skill in disputation was provided by his learned discourse with the doctors of the Temple at the age of 12: 'And all who heard him were astonished at his understanding and answers'.

These aspects of Christ's teachings are less remarkable than the manner in which he indicated the Kingdom's nature and scope — not only, that is, his frequent use of elliptical metaphors and evocative parables, but his absolutely uncompromising emphasis upon the renunciation of violence, the supremacy of charity over all other moral virtues and the limitless inclusiveness of divine love. Above all, Christ gave imaginative shape and dimensions to the Kingdom he proclaimed by requiring that his followers forego vengeance, bear the burdens of others, forgive debts, share their goods with the poor, and love their enemies, and by forbidding them from passing judgment on others for their sins. He also insisted that his disciples keep company with the most despised members of society, including even tax collectors, Samaritans and harlots.



To judge from scripture, for many of Christ's contemporaries the principal questions raised by his ministry concerned the power with which he acted and the authority with which he spoke: not, that is, whether in fact his power and authority were real, but what their source was.

In Roman times, crucifixion was an ignominious death (as witness the fact that Christ was placed between two common thieves at Golgotha). Yet the cross became Christianity's abiding symbol.

(If  he  had  been  killed  by  the  sword,  would  the  sword  have  become  Christianity's  abiding  symbol;  would  people  wear  a  little  sword  on  a  chain  around  their  neck?  -  Keith Hunt)

In the Gospels, Christ's enemies seldom doubt that he is able to work wonders, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, make the lame walk, perform exorcisms and so forth; what they doubt is that his works are of divine origin. Some even

go so far as to suggest that he is actually using the power of the devil to cast demons out. By the same token, the Pharisees and scribes with whom Christ debates do not deny his charisma or the force of his teachings; but they still wish to know by what authority he presumes to teach, to proclaim God's will for men, to give moral instruction, or — most crucially — to declare sins forgiven (which, after all, only God can do).

The Mystery of Christ's Power

In truth, Christ's reputed ability to perform miracles would have been less astonishing - or, at any rate, less provocative - than the liberty with which he interpreted the law of Israel. In the 1st century ad, it was taken for granted that some men were capable of exercising some degree of control over nature, or at least give the impression of doing so; but it was also assumed that such abilities might have an evil or merely magical provenance. In the Gospel of John, Christ's miracles are described not simply as thaumata, or 'wonders', as they are in the Synoptic Gospels, but as semeia, 'signs': clear demonstrations, that is, of the presence of the Kingdom in Christ's ministry. But, as John's Gospel also suggests, not everyone would have seen them as such: the last and greatest of these 'signs' is the raising of Lazarus from the dead, to which Christ's most adamant enemies respond not by putting aside their reservations and acknowledging him as the true harbinger of God's Kingdom, but by intriguing to put him to death.

Again, however, the chief scandal of Christ's ministry - and the cause, no doubt, of the enmity of certain scribes and Pharisees - was the rather lordly licence with which he approached the prescriptions of the Mosaic code. According to his own testimony, he had no desire to abolish the law; yet, by his actions, he clearly showed that he believed that the spirit of the law was too often violated by an excessively rigid adherence to its letter. He inveighed ceaselessly against legalism unattached to any concern for justice. When rebuked for healing a man on the Sabbath, he replied that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. He consorted freely with sinners. He regarded ritual hygienes as unimportant compared to purity of heart. Perhaps no episode in the Gospels more vividly illustrates his approach to the law than that of the woman taken in adultery: he does not deny the legality of her death sentence, but instead places the law on a far more radical moral basis — requiring that no man execute the sentence who is not himself free of all sin — and thereby, in essence, nullifies its verdict (or perhaps one should say, transforms justice into mercy).


The Messiah

Needless to say, those who followed Jesus firmly believed that the authority upon which he acted was no less than God's own: it was the authority, that is, of God's 'anointed' — God's 'Messiah' or 'Christ'. There is no evidence in the Gospels that Jesus ever used this title in reference to himself; but it is recorded that when, in Caesarea Philippi, Peter opined that his master was the Messiah Jesus did not contradict him. More to the point, the crowds that gathered to acclaim Jesus on his final entry into Jerusalem were obviously animated by Messianic expectations. Admittedly, the Messiah for whom many Jews longed was not merely a religious leader, but a kind of national liberator, an inspired man of war in the mould of Judas Maccabeus, but even greater. Given his absolute rejection of violence Jesus was wholly unsuited to such a role. No sooner, in fact, had Peter made his confession than Jesus began to predict not his imminent victory over the Romans, but his death at their hands.

Leonardo da Vinci's renowned portrayal of the Last Supper (c. 1497) — Judas Iscariot is seated to the left of Jesus, clutching a small hag containing the 30 pieces of silver for which he betrayed Christ. The period between this meal, at which Christ instituted the Communion by sharing bread and wine, and his death on the cross is known as the Passion.


Since Jesus excited hopes that Israel's promised deliverer had come, he must have appeared to the ruling powers as a serious threat to the political stability of Judaea.The peace of Jerusalem was principally the responsibility of the High Priest of Israel and the Temple guard, but ultimate power belonged to the Roman governor, and any hint of a popular uprising — or merely of popular unrest -could have had catastrophic consequences. When Jesus went so far as to drive the money-changers out of the Temple, he gave every appearance of being both dangerously uncompromising in his principles and utterly assured of his own authority to act upon them.

Betrayal in the Night

The Gospels do not entirely explain the motives that prompted Judas Iscariot to betray Christ; they merely recount that he approached the chief priests soon after Christ's triumphal arrival in Jerusalem and agreed to surrender his master to the Temple guard.

According to the Synoptic Gospels (though not the Gospel of John), Christ's final meal with his disciples was a Passover seder, during which he predicted his own imminent arrest and death (despite their protests), and then granted them a prophetic foretaste of his sacrifice by sharing bread and wine with them and identifying these as his body and blood.


That same night, Jesus went with all his disciples except Judas to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives. There his agony began, as he set himself apart from his disciples and prayed to God to spare him the suffering and death that awaited him. It was there that the Temple guards found him, guided there by Judas, who marked him out by giving him a kiss. One of the disciples (John's Gospel says it was Peter) drew a sword and cut off the ear of one of the High Priest's slaves, but Christ rebuked him for using violence (and, according to Luke, healed the wounded man).Then the disciples fled and Christ allowed himself to be led away.

Before dawn,Jesus was examined by the High Priest Caiaphas and the Sanhcdrin,the governing council of priests and elders. Various accusers were called in against him, but their testimonies were at variance with one another. When, though, Caiaphas asked Jesus directly if he was the Messiah, and even the Son of the Most High, the latter replied that he was, and prophesied that his judges would see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Mighty One. This, argued Caiaphas, was sufficient grounds for condemnation.

Death on the Cross

In the morning, a delegation from the Sanhedrin took Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and accused Christ of having seditiously styled himself 'King of the Jews'. According to Luke's Gospel, Pilate tried to sidestep the matter by referring it to King Herod, the 'native' ruler of Galilee, but Herod soon sent Jesus back. The Gospels also state that Pilate was unconvinced of the threat Jesus posed, and even offered to set him free in recognition of Passover. Ultimately, however, he bowed to the wishes of the assembled mob that the rebel Barabbas be released instead, and turned Jesus over to his soldiers, who whipped him, crowned him with thorns, mocked and beat him, and forced him to bear his own cross to a hill outside Jerusalem called Golgotha (meaning'place of the skull'), where he was crucified.

[THE TEARS OF PETER --- When Peter did indeed thrice deny Christ - having turned back from his flight and approached the High Priest's courtyard, only to arouse the suspicion of other persons there that he was one of Christ's followers - and when he did hear the cock crow, he went apart and (according to the synoptic accounts) wept bitterly at the knowledge of what he had done. This may perhaps seem a rather unextraordinary episode, albeit a moving one, but therein lies its peculiar grandeur. To us today, it seems only natural that a narrator should pause to record such an incident, and treat it with a certain gravity; but, in the days when the Gospels were written, the tears of a common man were not deemed worthy of serious attention.They would have been treated by most writers as, at most, an occasion for mirth. Only the grief of the noble could be tragic, or sublime or even fully human. The tears of Peter were therefore indicative of a profound shift in moral imagination and sensibility. Something had become visible that had formerly been hidden from sight. For  Christian thought, God had chosen to reveal  himself among the least of men and women, and to exalt them to the dignity of his own sons and daughters.And, as a consequence, a new vision of the dignity of every soul had entered the consciousness of the Gentile world.

All four Gospels report that on the, night he was betrayed, Christ prophesied that his disciples would abandon him in his hour of crisis; Peter protested, assuring Christ that, even if the courage of all the others failed, he, Peter, would remain loyal. To this, however, Christ responded by predicting that that very night, before the cock crowed, Peter would deny him three times.]

The Roman world knew of no more humiliating or agonizing form of execution than crucifixion. It was reserved for the lowliest of criminals and killed its victim slowly, through unbearable pain, physical exhaustion and slow asphyxiation. All the Gospels concur that Christ spoke from the cross: Luke tells of his promise to one of the thieves crucified with him that 'this day you will be with me in paradise', and of his prayer 'Father forgive them, for they know not what they do'; Matthew and Mark record his cry of'My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?'; Luke records him as saying 'Father, into your hands I commend my spirit'; while John notes, among other 'last words', the most tersely eloquent of them all: 'It is finished'.


When, after only a few hours, Christ died, those who had sought his death no doubt earnestly hoped and believed that the story of Jesus of Nazareth was indeed finished. But, of course, it was really only just beginning.


The Gospels describe the portents that accompanied the death of Christ on the cross: the sky was darkened, the earth shook, blood and water flowed from a spear wound in his side, and so on. The Synoptic Gospels, in fact, state that the veil in the Temple, which covered the entrance to the Holy of Holies, was rent from top to bottom, as if somehow the abiding Glory of God had now been poured forth into the entire world.

A 19th-century stained-glass window showing the Resurrection. This portrayal follows the accounts of all the gospels that Christ first reappeared to the women among his followers.

Nevertheless, in purely historical terms, Christ's death appeared to signal the end of his mission and the defeat of the movement that had sprung up around him. All the hopes that had surrounded him had been shatteringly frustrated. The Messiah of God had died the death of a slave; his disciples were leaderless, scattered and in hiding; one of their own number had betrayed them and then (according to Matthew) committed suicide. Finally, only a handful of Christ's female followers remained to take away his body and give it a proper burial. Other Messianic sects had similarly perished, and there was no reason to expect that the cult of Jesus would not soon vanish as well.

And yet it was not long after Christ's death that his disciples were triumphantly proclaiming that he had risen from the tomb and was living once more. It was an incredible claim, obviously; but almost as incredible was the speed with which Jesus' followers recovered from the devastating loss of their leader, regrouped, and began to preach a common message - and that a message of victory.

The Empty Tomb

Each of the Gospels relates how certain women who had been followers of Christ (all mention Mary Magdalene by name, and John mentions her alone) went early in the morning on the Sunday after the crucifixion to visit the tomb where he had been laid. According to the earliest account, that of Mark, they found that the stone had been rolled away from the entrance to the tomb and, on entering, discovered a 'young man robed in white' who told them that Jesus had risen and who instructed them to tell the disciples that they would meet Christ in Galilee.

Matthew s Gospel — which relates that guards had been posted at the tomb to prevent Christ's disciples from stealing his corpse — speaks of the earth shaking and an angel with a shining face rolling back the stone to reveal the empty tomb, and then delivering the same message to the women. Luke says that the women found the stone already rolled aside and so they entered the tomb, where two men in shining garments appeared to them and asked why they sought the living among the dead, and told them that Christ was risen; the women then returned to the disciples, who did not believe the tale (though Peter went to confirm that the tomb was indeed empty).

John's story is simpler: Mary Magdalene found the tomb empty and ran to tell Peter and John, who then went to see for themselves; only when the men left again, and Mary was alone, did she see two angels seated within the tomb. Allowing for literary embellishment, and for the tendency of tales to grow in the telling, there is clearly a single tradition here: the women discovered the empty tomb first and then went to tell the men.

The Risen Lord

By itself, however, an empty tomb would not have warranted the claims the early Christians made about the risen Christ. For they did not merely believe that he had been restored to life in the manner of, say, Lazarus (who would one day die again); they believed, rather, that he had passed entirely beyond death, triumphed over it and entered into a new and eternal life.

Noli me tangere (1425-30) by the Renaissance painter Fra Angelico. According to John's Gospel, Christ spoke these words (meaning 'Don't touch me') to Mary Magdalene. Later in the same gospel, however, Christ invites the Apostle Thomas to touch his wounds, as proof of his real resurrection in the flesh.

When the risen Christ appears to his followers, he both is and is not as they knew him in his earthly ministry. His body has been not simply resuscitated, but transformed into a 'spiritual body' (to use the language of St Paul), at once concrete and yet transcendent of the normal limitations of time and space. He can appear and disappear at will; in Matthew, as the women are returning from the tomb, he 'suddenly' shows himself to them; in Luke, he is suddenly in the midst of his disciples; in John, he enters among them and departs again through locked doors. At the same time, he is not a ghost; as both Luke and John emphasize, he can be touched, he bears palpable wounds, he can even share food with his disciples. And, when at last he takes leave of his disciples, he is taken up bodily into heaven. In short, his body has somehow already entered into the transfigured reality of the Kingdom of God; and thus, by his resurrection, the Kingdom has already 'invaded' historical time.

Victory over Death

This was the earliest form of the Church's 'evangel' (its 'gospel' or 'good tidings'): namely, that Jesus is Lord. In his resurrection, God's Kingdom has triumphed, and Christ has been established as ruler over all of time. More importantly, he has decisively conquered all of those powers that formerly held humanity enslaved to sin, death and the devil. For the early Church, Easter was an event of total divine victory in every sphere of reality. According to Ephesians 4:8-10, Christ descended into the depths of the earth and ascended on high ('carrying captivity captive') 'in order that he might fill all things'. And this great act of conquest began even in Christ's death.The first Epistle of Peter twice speaks of Jesus in Hades evangelizing the dead, 'that they might, in spirit, live according to God' (4:6); it even says that he went to preach to those 'disobedient' spirits 'in prison' in Hades (3:19-20) - a reference to those souls who, like the rich man in one of Christ's parables, were excluded by their sins from the 'bosom of Abraham'.


By his death, Christians believed, Christ had paid a ransom that redeemed all of humanity from bondage in the household of death. In later centuries, especially in some of the theology of the Western churches, this language of 'ransom' would sometimes be confused with the idea of a price paid to God as the due penalty for human guilt. But in the NewTestament, and in the doctrines of the early Church, the metaphor was more properly understood as referring to the fee necessary to buy the freedom of slaves from a slaveholder (in this case, death and the devil).

Christ, however, having paid the price, did not then leave the kingdom of death intact; he also overthrew the ancient empire of injustice, cruelty, falsehood and sin. Henceforth, the power of everything that separated humanity from God lay shattered. This was the gospel with which the Church entered into history, and with which it would, in time, claim the Roman world for itself.


According to the Gospel of John, the night in which Christ was examined in the house of the high priest was cold, and so the various servants and officials waiting outside in the courtyard lit a fire of coals and stood around it to warm themselves; and it was while he was standing among them, also to escape the chill, that Peter was asked three times if he was one of Christ's disciples, and on each occasion denied that he was.

Peter did not, obviously, have an opportunity thereafter to speak to Christ before the latter's death - to confess his failure, to seek forgiveness, to pledge himself anew to his master. Within the realm of normal human possibilities, there was no way for Peter to undo what he had done.

John's is the most literarily sophisticated of the Gospels, and nowhere is its narrative subtlety more apparent than in its closing episode, in which the risen Christ appears by the Sea of Galilee (Lake Tiberias) while his disciples are on the water, tending their fishing nets. After he miraculously fills their nets, they recognize him for who he is and join him on the shore, where he has prepared a fire of coals to cook their breakfast. There, once they have eaten over a fire just like the one that had burned in the high priest's courtyard during Christ's Passion - Christ asks Peter three times if Peter loves him, and each time Peter insists that he does; and each time Christ then charges Peter to care for his flock. And, all at once, Peter's seemingly irreversible sin against his master is undone.

This, then, appears to be the Gospel's final word upon the new life that is given at Easter: that with it comes the possibility of seemingly impossible reconciliation, the healing of wounds that normally could never be healed, and the hope of beginning anew precisely when all hope would seem to have been extinguished.

The Enigma of the Church

Considered purely as a historical phenomenon, the abrupt transition of Christ's followers from a posture of utter defeat and disillusionment to one of triumphant jubilation constitutes an altogether impenetrable enigma. After all, the Apostles were not just purveyors of a spiritual philosophy, who were merely continuing their master's ministry; the Easter proclamation was of an altogether different nature. And, given their persistence over many years in making that proclamation, and their willingness in many cases to give their lives rather than repudiate it, one may confidently say that it is an event that has no known parallel.

The most responsible historical judgment on this episode is that a profound shared experience transformed the disciples' understanding of the life and death of their master, and of his presence within time, and of the point and purpose of their own lives. Something quite extraordinary and unprecedented had clearly taken place.



According to the Gospel of John, Christ promised his disciples that, after he had departed from the world, he would send the Holy Spirit to lead them 'into all truth'; and, after the resurrection, he told the disciples that he was sending them forth, even as the Father had sent him, and then breathed the Holy Spirit out upon them, telling them that he was imparting to them his own power to forgive sins.

Pentecost, represented in a stained-glass window at St Vitus' Cathedral in Prague. The Christian feast of this name celebrates the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the Apostles on the fiftieth day from Easter Sunday.


According to the Book of Acts (written, it is generally believed, by Luke), the final gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples - and so, in a sense, the birth of the Church — came after Christ's ascension, at the beginning of the feast of Shavuot or 'Pentecost' (that is, the fiftieth day after Passover). The Apostles were once again 12 in number, since Matthias, another disciple of Christ, had been elevated to the place formerly occupied by Judas, and were lodging in Jerusalem, where the risen Christ had instructed them to wait for the Spirit's advent. On the day of Pentecost, they were gathered together when the house in which they were staying seemed suddenly to be filled with a great rushing of wind, 'as from heaven', and tongues of fire appeared above their heads, and all at once they were given the power of speaking in foreign languages. They went out into the street to preach, where many Jews of the Diaspora were present who were amazed to hear Galileans speaking the tongues of their native lands (though others mistook their words for the meaningless babble of drunkards). The Apostles — Peter chief among them — proclaimed Christ's resurrection and the outpouring of the Spirit, and that day convinced approximately 3000 Jews to receive baptism into Christ.

The Church, at first, was located entirely in Jerusalem, under the leadership principally of Peter. As a community, it was distinguished in part by its disdain of riches.The Christians held all possessions in common, and the wealthy among them were obliged to sell their property to assist the poor members of the community. The Church was also, at first, exclusively Jewish. In fact, it was only gradually that the apostolic Church came to conclude that the gospel could be received by Gentiles without the additional requirement that they also become Jews, bound by the Law of Moses. Peter did, however, approve of the Apostle Philip's mission to the Samaritans, whom traditional Jews shunned, and even himself preached in Samaritan villages along with John.

As related in Acts, however, Peter's full acceptance of Gentile Christians as Gentiles came about only when a 'pious and God-fearing' Roman centurion named Cornelius - prompted by the vision of an angel - invited Peter to come and speak to him. Peter consented, despite the purity restrictions that would normally have prevented him from visiting a Gentile home. He did this because - just before the invitation arrived — he had a vision in which God commanded him to partake of foods of any kind, whether kosher or not. Then, as they were speaking, the Holy Spirit descended upon Cornelius and all the members of the centurion's household, and everyone present began speaking in tongues; whereupon Peter agreed to baptize them all.


Paul, the Apostle of the Risen Christ

Perhaps even more important for the Church's outreach to 'the uncircumcised' was the arrival among the Apostles of a man who had never known Jesus during his earthly mission, but who nonetheless understood himself to be an Apostle, directly commissioned by Christ to preach the gospel. He was a Jew of the Diaspora, from Tarsus in Asia Minor, named Saul: a zealous and observant Pharisee who, though from a 'Hellenized' background, and naturally fluent in Greek, was also a student of the famous Rabbi Gamaliel of Jerusalem and was a master of Hebrew scripture. He was also for a time probably the fiercest enemy of the Christians, entirely committed to eradicating the new movement. He was even an approving witness of the death of Stephen, the first Christian martyr, a Greek-speaking Jew who was stoned to death for alleged blasphemies against the Temple.

Saul, however, was transformed — more or less in an instant — from the Church's greatest persecutor to its most tireless missionary. According to Acts, it was as he was journeying towards the city of Damascus in Syria, in order to eliminate the Christian community there, that he encountered the risen Lord, in a blaze of light so brilliant that he was left blind for several days. His sight was finally restored by a Christian from Damascus named Ananias. Soon, he began to preach the resurrection of Jesus in the synagogues of the city, so persistently and blatantly that, according to Acts, he was forced to flee for his life. Thereafter, he never rested in his missionary efforts; he travelled from city to city within the empire, founding churches wherever he stayed. At some point, perhaps to signal his new life in Christ, he changed his name to Paul. Some time after his conversion - either immediately after leaving Damascus or after three years had elapsed — he went to Jerusalem to meet with Peter, James the brother of Jesus and the rest of the Church there, where he was recognized as an Apostle and given special responsibility for the mission to the uncircumcised.

One of the more remarkable features of Paul's ministry, considering his former zeal for defending the purity of Judaism, was his uncompromising insistence upon the absolute inclusiveness of the gospel. Naturally, as a Hellenized Jew, he was perfectly at ease in the greater intellectual and cultural environment of the empire, but his


According to tradition, the Apostles Peter and Paul both ended their days in the city of Rome, and both were put to death for their faith.The truth of this tradition is attested often enough in the documents of the early Church to place it beyond any reasonable doubt.

The Book of Acts tells how Paul visited Jerusalem during a famine (57) with relief sent principally by Gentile Christians. During his stay there, he was falsely accused of having brought some of his Greek companions into the Temple, denounced as a corrupter of the Law, attacked by a mob in the Temple precincts, and saved only by the arrival of Roman soldiers.The soldiers took him into custody, but first - unwisely as it turned out - allowed him to address the crowd, causing the unrest to continue. As Paul had been a Roman citizen since birth, the Roman commander could not have him flogged and interrogated, and so the next morning sent him to the Sanhedrin for questioning. There, however, Paul merely succeeded in dividing the council against itself, Pharisee against Saducee. At last, on learning of a plot to kill Paul, the Romans sent him to Caesarea, where he was imprisoned for two years.

Finally, Paul invoked his right as a citizen to trial before the emperor, and so was sent by ship to Rome. After an eventful journey, including a shipwreck near Malta, he reached the city and spent two years under house arrest, though all the while he continued to be an active member of the Church.The scriptural account ends there. Later tradition claims he was executed in the reign of Nero, during the latter's persecution of the Christians after the great fire that destroyed a large part of Rome in 64; as a citizen, however, Paul was spared the cross and died instead under the executioner's blade.

Peter too, according to tradition, was put to death during Nero's purge. Why he was in Rome we cannot say with certainty. Some late traditions claim that he lived there for 25 years.The only clear scriptural reference to his martyrdom appears in John's Gospel, where the risen Christ prophesies that, in his old age, Peter will stretch out his hands and be led where he will not wish to go.The apocryphal Acts of Peter report that he was crucified, but that he was - at his behest - nailed to the cross with his head pointing downward, as a sign that he was not worthy to die in the same manner as his Lord.



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