“And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.” (Matthew 27:51-53)
We tend to view this as an odd passage–and skeptics like to point to it to discredit the biblical record. After all, they say, it’s only mentioned in Matthew–not in any of the other Gospels, not in any other early Christian writing, and especially not in any non-Christian writing. Why don’t any Roman historians talk about this spectacular event? I’ve wondered about this, myself.
Jason Engwer over at Triablogue has a recent entry called, A Bad Argument Against The Resurrection That’s Often Repeated, in which he addresses the issue. He brought some interesting insights to bear. An excerpt:
Sometimes critics suggest that the raised individuals would have been naked, would have been wearing deteriorated clothing, would have been similar to zombies, etc. But as I wrote in response to one such critic in my article linked above, “The concept that God would raise people from the dead, but leave them with no clothing or deteriorated clothing, is ridiculous. It’s consistent with the imagery somebody might get from a horror movie, but it’s absurd in a first-century Jewish context. People wouldn’t have been walking around nude, and assuming that bodies would be restored without restored clothing is dubious. Did Jesus have to travel nude for a while, looking for clothing, after His resurrection? Does God raise a person, but then leave him on his own to find some clothing to wear?
What leads you to view it as something more like a horror movie is your desire to criticize the passage….You don’t ignore the implications of a context just because the text doesn’t spell out every implication. What does a term like ‘raised’ mean in a first-century Jewish context? Does it imply a zombie who walks around in the nude with a partially decomposed body?
Given that so many other Jewish and Christian documents imply that God provides such things [clothing] (angels in human form are clothed, the risen Jesus is clothed, etc.), and given other factors such as ancient views of public nudity, the idea that risen people would be left naked is less likely.
That makes me wonder. If you were in Jerusalem at the time, and you didn’t happen to know any of these resurrected people, and you didn’t see them come out of the tomb, how would you know that you were looking at a resurrected person? How many people in Jerusalem would even be aware that something spectacular had happened? And of those who did see, how many became believers because of it?
Wouldn’t this event become another rumor about the strange things claimed by Christians?
Something I still wonder about: What happened to them afterward? Were they taken up by God, like Elijah?