The following I have lifted from my post on “Biblical Literalism: The Shaping of God“. Here you will find some awkward puzzles if you believe the gospels to give a totally accurate account of the events of Easter. Maybe there is someone out there who can help the reader make sense of the contradictions and awkward bits. For myself I prefer to think that the gospel accounts give a dimly remembered reconstruction of how the gospel writers saw the events years afterwards. I am happy for someone to come along with a more convincing explanation because it does seem at first glance that the contradictions are genuine.
We start with an observation from Justice Haim Cohn, a prominent contemporary Jewish scholar who draws our attention to some obvious problems in accepting the veracity of the account of Jesus’ evening trial in the house of the High Priest. First according to Jewish law and custom, the Sanhedrin were not allowed to exercise jurisdiction in the High Priest’s house or for that matter anywhere outside the Courthouse and Temple precinct. No session of the criminal court was permissible after nightfall. Passover or Pesach would not have provided the setting since no criminal trial was permissible on a feast day or the eve of a feast day. In view of the formalistic and rigorous attitude to the law for which the Pharisees were well known a conviction must be proceeded by two truthful and reliable witnesses and in fact the charge of blasphemy was inapplicable since it was closely defined as pronouncing the ineffable name of God, the tetragrammaton which under Jewish law might only be pronounced once a year on the Day of Atonenment – and then only by the High Priest in the Kodesh Kodashim, the innermost sanctuary of the Temple.
Now to the detail of the gospel accounts. Jesus’ last words were?
Matt.27:46,50: “And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?” that is to say, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” …Jesus, when he cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.”
Or was it: Luke23:46: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, “Father, unto thy hands I commend my spirit:” and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”
Then in John’s version John19:30: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, “It is finished:” and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost.”
And for that matter who did his followers actually see at the sepulchre?
Mark 16:5 And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted.
Luke 24:4 And it came to pass, as they were much perplexed thereabout, behold, two men stood by them in shining garments:
John 20:12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
Next we move to the events of the resurrection.
According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, Mary Magdalene was among the group of women who were told by angels at the empty tomb that Jesus had risen “even as he said,” and Luke went as far as to say that when the women heard this, “they remembered his words” (24:9). Such statements as these can be put together with Matthew’s claim that the women encountered Jesus, even held him, and worshipped him as they were running from the tomb to tell the disciples what they had seen, Matt 28:9 This presumably indicates the women left the tomb convinced that Jesus has risen from the dead. Despite the unambiguous nature of these statements, John’s account of the resurrection had Mary saying, after she had found the disciples, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we know not where they have laid him” (20:1).
Matthew records Jesus saying: “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the Earth.”(Matthew 12: 40) The creed accepts this unquestioningly with the phrase ‘on the third day’ but hold on… This does not tie with the details in Matthew. Surely he was buried after his death which occurred on the 9th hour (about 3pm on Friday).(Matt 27:45-46.) He had escaped the tomb before dawn on the first day of the week (Matt 28:1). By any reckoning this is closer to one day and two nights (36 hours) and not 72 hours or the predicted 3 days and three nights).
Judas died how?
“And he cast down the pieces of silver into the temple and departed, and went out and hanged himself.” (Matt. 27:5)
or was it:..
“And falling headlong, he burst asunder in the midst, and all of his bowels gushed out.” (Acts 1:18)
OK, over now to the experts. Are the accounts meant to be taken literally – and how else might we interpret the accounts if they so obviously seem substantively different?