The Tomb – Fact or Fiction?

March 6, 2007

I watched this YouTube video today encouraging people to deny the existence of the Holy Spirit, and this Episcopal priest’s response with a clever puppet show rendition of Hooker’s classic three legged stool.

The original video reminded me of all the controversy that the Discovery Channel’s documentary on the Lost Tomb of Jesus.

Now I suspect it is not the lost tomb of Jesus, but not for the reasons you might think.  I’ll get back to that in a minute.

In various Bible classes we’ve been studying the historical facts behind the Bible and how they relate to the texts.  What is amazing to me is the large discrepencies, and how they are very well known in the clerical world, but rarely make it to the pulpit, or to the adult education hour.

In fact, there is an assumption even while teaching us in seminary that most of what we learn “behind the text” will be for our own formation in the teaching of others, and not for direct transmission to congregants.

I think that is a mistake.

As someone said in my class the other day, “there are different kinds of truth.”  To assume that the only kind of truth that the Bible is capable of revealing to us is historical truth is problematic.  We already see this playing out in the continuing debate over creationism versus evolution.

I believe in both.  I believe in creationism and evolution.  They are different forms of truth for the same event.  There is no need to see things in such exclusionary ways.  If we get more specific, of course I don’t believe the earth was created in seven of our days, but I do believe it was divinely created and that we are created in the image of God.

Why, then, do we get so caught up in the historicity of Biblical events?  I could write for pages on the Old Testament and the discrepencies between archaelogical “truth” and Biblical historical “truth”.  I could also write for pages about the truth revealed to us as Israel seeks in the narrative of the text to find its relationship with God, always striving to do better; sometimes succeeding, sometimes not.

What, then, about the tomb of Jesus?  If we were to find the tomb of Jesus tomorrow would the resurrection be any less meaningful?  I love the Verna Dozier line, “tell me not what you believe, but what difference it makes that you believe.”

If your belief is in that a historical event 2000 years ago somehow affects your actions today I can see how you might be worried.  For me, it is rather the ongoing resurrection of Christ, the participation each week at our Lord’s Table moving further and further into the Kingdom of God as we, the Body of Christ, die and rise again, just many before us did, and just as so many after us will again that is important.  Like Israel, we continue to to seek our God, looking to find our relationship with him in our spirituality and in our neighbors.

Does that mean that the historicity of the resurrection is important?

No.  It can’t.  If it were, all we would be doing each week in Eucharist would be remembering an historical event.  But that’s not what we believe.  We make ourselves, the Body of Christ, and offering, a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in the Eucharist.  We participate in it.

That means that the historicity isn’t really the focus.  It is the here and now that is important.

Of course, the Discovery Channel special isn’t necessarily the answer– while I intend to watch the program and have only read about it yet, my understanding is that it is riddled with scientific improbabilities, unknown scholars making bold assumptions, and loosely held assumptions strung together in far-flung scenarios hoping to play off of the not-to-distant fictional drama of Dan Brown’s DaVinci Code.  But that doesn’t mean that the resurrection was a historical fact just because this particular example may not be accurate.  And that is the point.

It also doesn’t mean that, at this point on my journey, I don’t believe in the historicity of the resurrection.  I did not, for a long time, and right now I do believe in the historicity of the resurrection; trusting that mystery in this world has been downplayed for far too long in the light of science and the empirical.  But the historicity of resurrection is not the foundation of my faith.  The resurrection of Jesus which is foundational for me is that which I participate in every Sunday in the Eucharist; the full body of Christ coming to table together to move forward into the Kingdom, doing what we can to be the arms and feet and mouths and ears and fingers of God in achieving God’s will as we go out into the world.

I also don’t believe in historicity of many of the other very critical Old Testament traditions.  Laying a foundation of faith where truth is not dependent on historicity is important for us as we struggle to make sense of how science and faith relate to each other; and in turn how we relate to each other.

Perhaps if we had more boldness to say such things, there wouldn’t be a need to respond to as many people who cannot find a way to believe in the Holy Spirit.  They would not have to try and reconcile the vast divide between science and religion, because of course there is no difference.  Truth only looks different depending on the angle from which it is viewed.  That doesn’t mean its substance is different at its core, or that the viewer is “wrong” because of his vantage point.



7 Responses to “The Tomb – Fact or Fiction?”

  1. John 2007 Says:

    Hooker never spoke of a three legged stool.

    Hooker never came close to giving tradition and reason the same weight as Scripture.

    Maybe a good topic to study while you’re in seminary

  2. Jeff Says:


    Thanks for posting.

    Whatever Hooker said or didn’t say– which in my experience is interpreted depending on your leanings as a conservative or progressive– your point is off topic for this post, John.

    More relevant is that the scripture Hooker does indisputably talk about is not based in “historicity of fact” but in another kind of truth.

    That is the real truth of Scripture, and the one which we are called to seek as the people of God.


  3. John 2007 Says:

    “Whatever Hooker said or didn’t say– which in my experience is interpreted depending on your leanings as a conservative or progressive.” Duh? Nowhere in his writings does he mention the three-legged stool. Period. That is true. It has zippo to do–Jeff–with your ideological typing of someone. Yeesh. Even the basic researchers into Hooker know this.

    Second, previously you have shown your eagerness to deny historicity of the events to which the Scripture testifies, or some of them. A cluster of issues are, admittedly, involved in relationg historical truth to theological truth, and temporal truth to eternal truth. But, let me get this straight, are you now saying that Richard Hooker, based on what he wrote, whose works I can see across the room here, did not believe in the historical reliability of the Scriptures–and also saying that even if he did he thought that Scripture should be sublated or supplanted by some other kind of truth? I understand where you’re coming from . . . I just can’t help thinking you may be casting your cloak on Hooker’s peg. So, please, let us know what ideas or passages you have in mind. Thank you.

  4. Jeff Says:


    I don’t believe I framed my response at all on Hooker. I believe what I said was that the priest in the linked video framed his response on Hooker.

    We can argue about using Hooker as the source of the three-legged stool, but of course Hooker is the one who asserted that Reason and Tradition were necessary to supplement Scripture. You don’t want them to be equal parts– whatever floats your boat. That’s not the point of the post.

    Honestly I don’t care whether Hooker believed in the historicity of Scripture any more than I care whether Irenaeus believed in the validity that the Earth is round and circles the Sun. Galileo paid the price for that one, didn’t he?

    Frankly, Hooker’s position on historicity isn’t relevant. Hooker had his place in history, contributed to the tradition, and now it is up to us in the here and now to decide where God is with us at this point and how to move forward.

    The Orthodox perspective of trying to idolize the patristics and any other significant theologians in order to prevent revelation is just that– idolatry.


  5. FrMichael Says:

    “The Orthodox perspective of trying to idolize the patristics and any other significant theologians in order to prevent revelation is just that– idolatry.”

    I’m assuming that “Orthodox” here wasn’t a gratuitous slam against those in communion with the Patriarch of Constantinople but against a specific faction in Anglicanism.

    Preventing revelation? What the heck is that? I thought TEC was moving toward Unitarianism but now Mormonist continuing revelation seeps in as well?

  6. Jeff Says:

    You are correct in that it is not a “slam” on anyone; it is a perspective that anyone who uses the excuse of “we’ve always done it that way” as a reason and means to ignore how God is instructing us to move forward and understand more of God’s permanent truth is idolizing the past.


  7. Jeff Says:

    In rereading this over a month later I wanted to clarify that I don’t know of anyone in TEC who is moving towards Unitarianism. We may be moving towards what I call “Trinitarian Universalism” but everyone I know is still very Trinitarian. Continuing revelation is not a reference to Mormons but to the fact that we can never know God’s complete truth because God is infinite. We can only continue to know more of God, so as we grow in the Body of Christ we learn more about God. Some in Anglianism believe revelation is frozen with the death of the last apostle, and that is the “complete truth as revealed to man,” which leaves no room for the Holy Spirit in my book.


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