An Examination of the Alleged Contradictions in the Resurrection Narratives-Part 2

By: Dr. John Ankerberg, Dr. John Weldon; ©2005
Alleged Contradiction #2 – The angels at the tomb: How many angels were at the tomb – one or two – where and in what position were they located – and were they angels or men?


The angels at the tomb: How many angels were at the tomb—one or two—where and in what position were they located—and were they angels or men?

Matthew 28:2-4—

There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightning, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

11. Is Matthew wrong in saying there was only ONE angel OUTSIDE the tomb?

The critics claim that Matthew refers to only one angel who was outside the tomb and that this contradicts the other Gospel narratives.

Mark 16:4-5—

But when they [the women] looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

12. Does Mark contradict Matthew in recording there was not ONE ANGEL OUTSIDE the tomb but a young MAN INSIDE the tomb?

The critics claim the account of Mark contradicts that of Matthew. Matthew mentions one angel outside the tomb, but Mark mentions not one angel but a young man who, further, was not outside but inside the tomb.

Luke 24:2-5—

They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when theyentered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground,…

13. Does Luke contradict both Matthew and Mark by saying there were TWO men, not OUTSIDE, but INSIDE the tomb?

The critics claim that Luke contradicts both Matthew and Mark. Matthew says that there is one angel outside the tomb, while Mark mentions not an angel but a young man inside the tomb. But Luke mentions not one angel or one man but two men. Further, Luke has the men inside the tomb, not outside it.

John 20:11-12—

… but Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.

14. Does John contradict Matthew, Mark and Luke in saying there were TWO angels INSIDE the tomb who appear ONLY to Mary?

The critics claim that John’s account only confuses matters further because John refers to two angels who appear only to Mary Magdalene. Further, in John there are two angels inside the tomb. Thus, the critics declare unequivocally that the number of beings (one or two), their exact nature (men or angels), and their location are hopelessly confused and simply cannot be reconciled.

15. Do all four of the Gospel writers contradict each other in describing the LOCATION and POSITION of the angels?

The critics assert that not only the location but also the position of the beings is contradictory. Matthew has a single angel sitting outside the tomb; Mark has a young man sitting at the right side of the tomb; Luke has two men inside the tomb standing beside the women; John has two angels in the tomb, both seated, one where Jesus’ head had been and the other where Jesus’ feet had been.

Answering the Objections of the Critics Concerning the Number of Angels

In harmonizing the Gospel accounts, we should keep in mind, if two or more angels are present at various times, they can be in a variety of locations and positions both inside and outside the tomb.

If two angels are present, there is nothing contradictory or false about mentioning the existence of one angel. If two angels are present, obviously one angel is present. It is a contradiction if one writer specifically states that only one angel was present, and another writer flatly contradicts this statement by asserting that two angels were present at the same moment. But if anyone examines the ac­counts, he will see that this is not the case. In fact, in honor of Christ’s Resurrec­tion, many different angels could have been present at the tomb.

Answering the Objections of the Critics Concerning Whether the Persons Were Men or Angels

Were the persons men or angels?

The Gospel writers seem to report different “beings” at the tomb. Matthew reports “an angel.” Mark reports “a young man.” Luke reports “two men.” John reports “two angels.” Do these accounts conflict concerning the nature of the beings reported—i.e., were they earthly men or heavenly angels? How do we respond to the critics who claim these accounts conflict?

When the Gospel writers refer to angels as men, they are describing how the angels appeared to them. Whenever angels appear to men in the Scriptures, they are almost always said to take the form of men. Nor is this surprising; it seems to be a deliberate attempt to reduce the anxiety level of those they contact. But they may reveal that they are angels in some unique way as they did in Matthew 28:2-3 or they may keep their angelic nature entirely hidden, as is plain from Hebrews 13:2. Therefore, it is not contradictory for the four Gospel writers to refer to the angels as men or as angels. Both are correct.

Regardless, Matthew specifically states it was an angel of the Lord. When angels are described as men, there is really little doubt as to the angelic nature of the men.

Luke, although describing their appearance as “men,” also clearly identifies them as angels for he notes they were “in clothes that gleamed like lightning.” Throughout the Bible angels are many times described as “men.” In fact, sometimes in the very same passage angels are first described as “men” and later as “angels.”

The Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, refer to angels in this way. It is not unique to these passages. Any critic who says this is a contradiction has not read the rest of the Bible (Genesis 18:1-3,22; 19:1,5,11-13,15; Judges 13:3,8,9- 11,13; Luke 2:9-10; Hebrews 13:2).

Answering the Objections of the Critics Concerning the Location of the Angels

Are we or are we not going to accept the existence of “beings” called angels? If we do accept their existence, then isn’t it also logical to assume that they may come and go as they please and appear and disappear as they please?

If the critics are going to argue the number of angels reported and the positions they were seen to be in, then why should they be surprised if the eyewit­nesses report that they are in different positions at different times? If one as­sumes that “beings” called angels do exist, then isn’t it also reasonable to as­sume that even angels move at some time during the day? And if angels exist and can seemingly appear and disappear at will, the Gospel writers may all be honestly reporting these phenomena. We will speak more about this as we answer other questions. Now let’s examine the location of the angels.

16. Does Matthew conflict with Mark’s description concerning the LOCATION of the angels?

In Matthew’s account, by the time the women arrived, the guards had already been frightened away by the angel. Then the angel proceeded inside the tomb so as not to frighten the women away:

Matthew intends us to understand that the angel rolled back the stone, not to let the body out, but to let the witnesses in, in proof of the resurrection. He sat in awesome splendor on the great gravestone, making it clear that no one could replace it. He sat there to frighten the guard away, and then presumably went inside not to frighten the women unnecessarily. He told them that they were not to be afraid.[1]

Why did the angels go inside the tomb? Again, probably so as to not frighten the women and also because this is where the women would naturally go, ob­serving that the rock had been rolled back. It seems the angels wanted the women to enter the tomb to observe the absence of Jesus’ body. Now, does Matthew conflict with Mark’s description concerning the locations of the angels?

Mark is clear that the women “entered the tomb” and there saw an angel “on the right side” (Mark 16:5). Luke is also very clear that the women entered the tomb: “They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus” (Luke 24:2, 3). Further, Mark states the women went inside the tomb (“as they entered the tomb”), and tells us the angel helped the women by giving them the same message recorded by Mat­thew, “see the place where they laid him.”

From this it can be seen that the angel’s “request” in Matthew to “come and see the place where he lay” is not a request for the women outside the tomb to come inside the tomb, but to take more specific notice of the exact location of Jesus’ body and to note that it was no longer there. Tombs in those days were not small body-sized graves, but were often large sepulchers the size of a small modern room. The angels’ request is appropriate if it is made from inside the tomb.

There is no reason to assume that the angel’s message in Matthew was given outside the tomb since: 1) Mark and Luke both record the message as being given inside the tomb and 2) Matthew has compressed his narrative, leaving out some of the details Mark and Luke include.

The only difference between Matthew and Mark is that Matthew does not include the details of the women entering the tomb. But this omission is the kind of omission that all of us make every day.

How many of us have said to a friend, “Hey, let’s go to lunch. We’ll get some burgers at McDonald’s.” The fact that the incident of driving to McDonald’s is omitted does not suggest that lunch was not eaten at McDonald’s.

That Matthew does not specify the location at which the angel delivered hismessage to the women hardly proves it did not occur inside the tomb, particularly when all the other writers say it did. That’s why no contradiction exists between Matthew and Mark.

Here, the critics wrongly assume that Matthew has stated the angel always remained outside the tomb. Clearly, the angel was outside the tomb at one point. But Matthew never states anywhere that the angel was confined to existing outside the tomb and could not change locations in order to speak to the women.

It is very important to understand how Matthew has recorded specific events in his book. His account of what took place at the tomb concerning the angels appearing, the guards being frightened away, the women coming to the tomb, and what happened next are all compressed. How do we know? By comparing what the other Gospel writers say.

Thus, sometimes, even though Matthew relates his story of events with no visible break in time, from other sources we can determine that one event must be separated from another by a period of time. Modern writers do this every day.

When the President of the United States delivers a message to the nation, followed by a press conference the next day in an adjoining room, reporters who failed to mention that between the President’s two appearances he had dinner, met with advisors, and slept, would hardly be considered negligent in doing their jobs. They simply compressed the events to report what they believed important. Sure, they left out some details. But everyone who writes does the same.[2]

Matthew’s narrative of the events which took place at the tomb is one such example. When the guards were frightened away by the appearance of the angel (Matthew 28:2-4), this is actually separate from the next event Matthew records of the angel appearing and speaking to the women who came to the tomb (Mat­thew 28:5-8). As we shall see, there is good reason to believe “gaps” exist be­tween the events recorded in this passage.

In brief, there are “unidentified breaks” or “unspoken breaks” in Matthew’s narrative. What proof is there that Matthew compressed events here and is not describing every occurrence that took place at and around the empty tomb? The answer is that if it can be shown that Matthew compresses events in other portions of his Gospel, then we must hold open the possibility that he did the same in this portion of the Gospel, especially when the other Gospel writers supply the missing information.

To cite one illustration of Matthew compressing his story elsewhere, let’s compare Matthew’s account of the events identified as Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem and the cleansing of the temple with Mark’s account of the same events.

Here is the order of events as given by Matthew and Mark:

Here is the order of events as given by Matthew and Mark:
Day One Day One
1) Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Matt. 21:8-10). 1) Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem (Mk. 11:8-11).
2) Jesus enters the temple and cleanses it (Matt. 21:12-16). 2) Jesus looks around Jerusalem, leaves the temple and the city, goes and rests in Bethany.
3) End of day one, at night Jesus leaves Jerusalem and goes back and rests in Bethany (Matt. 21:17).
Day Two Day Two
1) Matthew says, “early the next morning” (Matt. 21:18) Jesus leaves Bethany to go back to Jerusalem. On the way to Jerusalem He sees a fig tree, curses it, and “Immediately the fig tree withered” (Matt. 21:19). 1) Jesus leaves Bethany, on the way sees the fig tree and curses it (Mk. 11:12-14).
2) The same day, Jesus enters the temple in Jerusalem and argues with the chief priests (Matt. 21:23). 2) That same day enters Jerusalem and cleanses the temple (Mk. 11:19).
3) After cleansing the temple, He argues with the chief priests (Mk. 11:17-18).
Day Three Day Three
1) The third day, during the morning on His walk toward Jerusalem, the disciples discover the withered fig tree (Mk. 11:20-25).
2)# Jesus again returns to Jerusalem and argues with the chief priests (Mk. 11:27-33).

In summary, even though these occurred over three days, Matthew’s narrative reads as if they took place on only two days.

Matthew’s narrative, at first glance, leads us to think that on day one Jesus enters triumphantly into Jerusalem and on the same day, cleanses the temple. It is only when we read Mark’s account, that we see Matthew has compressed the details.

What did he leave out? On day one Matthew skips the night’s rest Jesus had in Bethany after His Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem. Matthew does not report, “The next day Jesus again went into Jerusalem from Bethany and at that time cleansed the temple.” He simply goes on in his account and describes Jesus cleansing the temple immediately after His Triumphal Entry. There is no pause or break in his narrative, but the unidentified breaks must be recognized. Otherwise, someone reading Matthew’s account might conclude there is a contradiction between Matthew and Mark. But Matthew did not say, “All of these events happened on two specific chronological days”; rather, he is reporting events he chooses to without mentioning what specific time, or what specific day, they occurred. Only when we compare Matthew’s account with Mark do we see that these events are spread out over a three-day period of time.

Matthew’s compressing of the events helps us understand that there may be periods of time in between the events described of which Matthew is giving us no details. If we understand how Matthew compresses events in his narrative throughout his Gospel, it will help us answer the questions, “How many angels were at the tomb?” and “Were the angels inside or outside the tomb?” The only way we will know what happened in the periods of time Matthew does not record is to read the account of the other Gospel writers.

Obviously, Matthew did not record the angel going into the tomb. But it is clear from the other Gospel accounts that after the angel appeared and frightened the guards away, he proceeded into the tomb. It is also clear that another angel appeared in the tomb with him.

We are now prepared to examine what the other Gospel writers said hap­pened at the tomb.

17. Does Luke contradict Matthew and Mark concerning the LOCATION of the angels?

What does Luke tell us about the location of the angels? Luke records that there are two angels who are inside the tomb. He further records that the two men suddenly appeared beside the women. Critics say this conflicts with the account in Mark which says that when the women entered the tomb they saw an angel “sitting on the right side.”

We need to recognize:

We know too little about the manner of Angel appearances to be sure that Luke and John mention the same two Angels, or that Matthew and Mark mention the same one…. Where, out of two or more, only one is spokesman, he is necessarily remembered. The other or others may be easily ignored or forgotten. It is an exaggeration to call such differences discrepancies.
This suggests the very plausible idea that instead of one or two angels there was probably a whole legion of them present to honor their Lord in his greatest moment of triumph on earth. First one, then another appears in visible form.
Neither do they have to appear always in the same place and in the same position. At one moment they may be seated outside the sepulcher and the next be inside the sepulcher in a standing position. If they remained in statuesque immobility, the holy women might well have doubted that they were real, living beings.[3]

We should also keep in mind since we are dealing with angels, unlike men, angels can make themselves visible or invisible at will.

Mark says that as the women entered the tomb they saw an angel sitting on the right side. However, Luke says the women were inside the tomb when “sud­denly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them” (Luke 24:4).

18. Did the women see ONE angel to the right in a SITTING position or did the TWO angels suddenly appear to them STANDING?

The Greek word for “standing” may clear up the problem of the two descrip­tions given about the angels’ positions. According to Arndt and Gingrich, in their authoritative A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, the standard lexi­con concerning the Greek words in the New Testament, the word Luke uses in Luke 24:4 that is translated “stood by” (epestesan), can also be translated “came upon” or “appeared.” In Luke 2:9 we read, “An angel of the Lord appeared [This is the same word used in Luke 24:4 about the angels] to them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them.” Therefore, Luke is probably stressing the suddenness of the angels’ appearing, and Mark only tells us that when they appeared they were seated, a position that would be calculated to put the women at ease.

Cambridge graduate John Wenham agrees with this:

The translation “stood by”, which would bring Luke into contradiction with Mark’s “sitting”, cannot be insisted on. The word [stood] is frequently used, meaning “to appear to”, often implying suddenness.
When the angels appeared in the little cave room, they may well have appeared in a sitting position, very much as Mary Magdalene saw them on her later visit—a position calculated to minimize the alarm that their sudden presence was bound to cause.
Matthew and Mark do not make it clear that the angels appeared after the women had entered, but both stress the awesomeness of the figures they encountered. One might have inferred even from then accounts that had the women seen such dazzling figures from the doorway they would have been too frightened to have ventured in.
But only Luke says explicitly that the women had gone into the tomb before the appearance of the angels [Mark refers to “as they entered”]. The mention of two men is one of the many differences between Mark and Luke which makes them look like two independent narratives….
We have argued that he [the angel] had withdrawn into the cave before the women arrived, so that his “Come, see the place where he lay” is not an invitation to enter the tomb, but to put away their fears and take a close look at the grave space (now empty save for burial linen).[4]
Piecing together the data to obtain the whole story, it would seem that there were two angels, one more prominent than the other.
They (or he) first lifted the great stone and rolled it from the entrance and then sat upon it until the guards had left. They then retired inside and were invisible when the first women arrived. They made themselves visible to them and delivered their message. When Peter and John arrived they were again invisible [or gone], but they had reappeared when Mary Magdalene looked into the tomb [at her second visit].[5]

19. Does John’s account of the angels’ LOCATION in the tomb conflict with Matthew, Mark, and Luke?

The critics claim that John’s account of the angels conflicts with Matthew, Mark and Luke in that the two angels are seated, one at the head and the other at the foot of where Jesus had lain (John 20:12).

The critics are right. Two angels speak to Mary from inside the tomb at the locations stated. However, the critics are wrong in claiming this is the same event described by Matthew, Mark or Luke. Why? Because a careful reading of the text clearly proves this.

John and Mark apparently both agree that Mary Magdalene was the first person Jesus appeared to (Mark 16:9; John 20:14). Yet, according to Mark’s account, Jesus must have appeared to Mary sometime other than when her companions, Mary the mother of James and Salome, came to the tomb early Easter Sunday morning (Mark 16:2). Reading Mark 16:2, it sounds as if Mary was with her companions, but it brings up the question, “How could Mark say Mary Magdalene was the first to see Jesus if her companions were with her?” The answer is that Jesus appeared to Mary at her second visit to the tomb, not her first.

Mark states they all came to the tomb early Sunday morning. If we assume Mary arrived earlier than her companions, there is no contradiction in what Mark and John are saying. Mary probably arrived early and intended to wait for her friends. But after she arrived, she noticed the stone was rolled away and the tomb was empty; she immediately set off to tell Peter and John (John 20:1, 2).

Meanwhile, her companions, the other Mary and Salome, arrived at the tomb and the angels appeared to them (Mark 16:1). The lead angel tells them to report the good news to the disciples that Jesus has risen from the dead. The women leave. A short time later Peter and John arrive after hearing the news from Mary that the tomb was empty.

Mary follows Peter and John back to the tomb, although she trails behind them. (Notice, because she had run from the tomb to tell the apostles, she was already tired; also, the apostles themselves ran to the tomb after she told them it was empty. John even outran Peter (John 20:2,4).

By the time Mary returns to the tomb, Peter and John have already left (John 20:10). All alone Mary stands in front of the tomb, begins to cry, and then looks into the tomb, whereupon she sees two angels, one seated where Jesus’ head had been, the other seated where Jesus’ feet had been. Then Jesus appears to her.

In conclusion, this appearance of the two angels to Mary is a different account entirely than the event described by Matthew, Mark and Luke. Again, Mary’s encounter with the angels is after Peter and John left to go and tell the others what had happened (John 20:10). Looking at these events this way, John’s account is clearly complementary and not contradictory to Matthew, Mark or Luke.

20. Does Luke’s recording of TWO angels contradict Matthew’s and Mark’s recording of ONE angel?

We must remember that both Matthew and Mark are dealing with the same event. But neither writer is obligated to include every detail.

Mark simply refers to the fact that there is an angel the women encounter sitting on the right side who proceeds to give them a message. Mark compresses the story here as Matthew has done in places in his account. Luke, on the other hand, supplies more details about this event. He states in addition to the angel that speaks, there is a second angel present. Apparently the second angel does not say anything.

Concerning the number of angels recorded by Luke (two) and Matthew and Mark (one) Wenham states:

It should be said once and for all that the mention by one evangelist of two angels and by another of one does not constitute a contradiction or discrepancy.
If there were two, there was one. When learned critics make heavy weather about the accuracy of such accounts, they lack common sense. Contradiction would only be created if the writer who mentioned the one should go on to say explicitly that there was only one.
In a scene where one person is the chief speaker or actor it would often be perfectly natural to omit reference to the irrelevant fact that he had a companion…. It needs to be remembered that we are dealing with two descriptions of an event, and not with two witnesses replying to cross examination.
If witnesses, who had been in the tomb at the same time, had been asked independently, “Precisely how many men did you see?” and had given different answers, that would have shown one or the other to be unreliable. But these witnesses are not answering the question “How many?”, they are giving (as all descriptions must be) incomplete descriptions of a complex event.[6]

In conclusion, even though Matthew, Mark and Luke have recorded differing details concerning the number of angels and their activities, the accounts do not contradict. Rather, they are complementary. Again, this does not show collusion but rather truthfulness in reporting. The writers have merely reported the events selectively, as all writers do.

Yet contemporary critics continue to discount what the Scriptures report concerning the story of the angels who were present at the Resurrection. Let’s ex­amine one theory of a well-known critic.

21. Is Hugh J. Schonfield correct in his theory called THE PASSOVER PLOT?

(See Q. 23)

22. Why does Schonfield believe the angels were simply invented by Christians and falsely put into the story of the empty tomb?

(See Q. 23)

23. Why does Schonfield think the empty tomb is not good evidence for Jesus’ Resurrection?

In his infamous book, The Passover Plot, Hugh J. Schonfield claims the Res­urrection accounts evolved and were later doctored by editors. According to Schonfield, Jesus never rose. Mary Magdalene and others falsely concluded Christ had resurrected on purely circumstantial grounds, not evidential ones.

Schonfield states that Mary Magdalene was an “unbalanced” person. When she visited the tomb, she was really in a “half-crazed condition.”[7] She did not really see angels there, but only an unknown person whom she thought was an angel. Later, the church came to accept her totally false story.

Schonfield speculates that the story of the angels may have evolved as a way of giving divine credence to the story of the empty tomb:

The Gospel accounts… had acquired in telling and retelling many legendary features….
According to Mark’s Gospel the man who was seen had been a young man in a white robe who had told the women [including Mary] that Jesus had risen….
All that registered at the time was that the body of Jesus was gone and that a strange man was there. Trembling and unnerved they fled, and said nothing to anyone because they were afraid….
The story progressed in the light of belief in the resurrection of Jesus. The young man became an angel, and then two angels.[8]

Further, Schonfield argues that in his view this man was the one who gave the potion to Jesus at the cross. The same man allegedly helped take Jesus’ body to the tomb and later moved the body.

Schonfield believes Mary did tell Peter and John about the empty tomb. When the three of them returned to the tomb, Mary stayed there where she encoun­tered the gardener. Because of her “unbalanced” mental condition, she incor­rectly concluded the man was the risen Jesus, and ran to tell the disciples that now she had actually seen Him alive.[9] Because the tomb was empty, everyone else falsely concluded that Jesus was risen from the dead.

Schonfield states:

Mary rushed back to the disciples with her tale of having seen the Master. So another ingredient was added to the story.
There had been the empty tomb, the man seen by the woman who was converted into an angel, the conviction of the Beloved Disciple, and now the man who had spoken to Mary of Magdala had become an appearance of Jesus himself.[10]

24. What six false assumptions did Schonfield make in THE PASSOVER PLOT?

First, no evidence whatever exists that Mary was in a “half-crazed condition,” and that she was “unbalanced”.[11] This is Schonfield’s false assumption based upon the fact that Mary had seven demons driven from her (Luke 8:2). If this first assumption is wrong, the rest of his theory crumbles as well. All of the evidence tells us Mary was quite normal after her exorcism and certainly so on Easter morning. Her recovery is consistent with that which occurs through modern exorcisms.[12]

Second, Mary never expected to see Jesus. She would never have identified the gardener, an unknown stranger, as her beloved Lord and Master when she did not expect to see Jesus. Thus, the record shows that even when Mary saw Jesus, she had a hard time believing it was He (John 20:14-15). She knew Jesus was dead. And absolutely no one mistakes a complete stranger for a well-known friend, especially when they have just attended the funeral of that same friend.

Third, Schonfield’s assumptions that an unknown man or men could somehow remove Jesus’ body from a guarded tomb without being noticed would have been impossible (Matthew 27:65-66).

Fourth, we have already seen that the strange “young man” inside the tomb was really an angel. Luke himself tells us the men were, in fact, angels by describing them as having clothes “that gleamed like lightning.” Also, the women’s response of fear and bowing their heads would have been inappropriate if they thought that only some strange man was inside the tomb.

Fifth, it is impossible that the story could have evolved in the manner Schonfield suggests. Why? Schonfield contends that Jesus never really resurrected from the dead. At best, He survived the crucifixion and later died.[13] Thus, there would have been no Resurrection appearances. But this cannot explain subsequent events.

Would merely an empty tomb without the Resurrection appearances have been sufficient evidence to convert the skeptical and downtrodden disciples to a belief that Jesus had risen from the dead? The simple fact is that it not only took the empty tomb, but more importantly, the numerous Resurrection appearances to convince them. The church could never have started with only an unexplained empty tomb.

Sixth, why would an unknown man or men move or steal the body of Jesus in the first place? Schonfield admits, “It was a capital crime to tamper with tombs and interfere with the bodies of the dead. An imperial decree found at Nazareth in 1870, which may date from the reign of the Emperor Claudius (AD. 41-54), witnesses to this.”[14]

Finally, even Schonfield himself expresses doubts about the events he out­lines: “We are nowhere claiming for our reconstruction that it represents what actually happened, but that on the evidence we have it may be fairly close to the truth.”[15] But the problem is that Schonfield dismisses all the evidence first and then speculates as to what happened.

His theory demands that we believe all of the disciples were so anxious to accept the idea of the Resurrection (which the evidence itself denies; for ex­ample, the disciples were skeptics) that they never even bothered to carefully check out the facts.

The Passover Plot is simply not believable. This is one reason that schol­ars have almost universally rejected the book as little more than implausible speculation.


  1. John Wenham, Easter Enigma (Grand Rapids, MI: Academie Books/Zondervan, 1984), p. 77.
  2. Let us stress that it is almost impossible and not necessary for any writer to keep to a strict chronological order of events when discussing the activities of several persons: “Earlier chroniclers…sometimes…incorporated in a single story a number of actions and speeches which had a common theme, not indicating at all the time of the occurrence. Sometimes they jumped back and forward between two or more parallel sequences of events, leaving it to the reader to understand that each item is as it were a flash on a cinema screen.” (Wenham, p. 78).
  3. John Lilly, “Alleged Discrepancies in the Gospel Accounts of the Resurrection,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Vol. 2 (1940), pp. 107-108.
  4. Wenham, pp. 85-86.
  5. Ibid., pp. 87-88.
  6. Ibid., p. 87.
  7. Hugh J. Schonfield, The Passover Plot (New York: Bantam Books, 1969), p. 169.
  8. Ibid., p. 167, cf. pp. 166-174.
  9. Ibid., pp. 168-169.
  10. Ibid., p. 169.
  11. Ibid.
  12. John W. Montgomery, ed., Demon Possession (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany, 1976); Malachi Martin, Hostage to the Devil: The Possession and Exorcism of Five Living Americans (New York: Bantam, 1977); William Alexander, Demonic Possession in the New Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1980, rpt.).
  13. Schonfield, pp. 164-166.
  14. Ibid., p. 167.
  15. Ibid., p. 165.

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