|Feast of the Ascension
I think the Ascension story is the product of the ongoing embellishments of the Jesus story in the first century. After all, this fantastical event is only mentioned by one NT author, and he admits that he was not an eyewitness. So let’s review the evidence we have for the Jesus story:
In Paul’s day, there was no “empty tomb” story.
Everyone in the 50’s AD knew that the bodies of persons crucified by the Romans were tossed into an unmarked, common grave and that that is exactly what had happened to Jesus’ body. The early Christian belief in a resurrection, to that point, had never been based on an empty tomb story but solely on a few reports of sightings of the dead Jesus (in visions, dreams, and trances) to a few of the disciples (and allegedly to Paul) shortly after Jesus’ death.
By the time that “Mark” got around to writing his book in the early or mid 70’s, most if not all of the eyewitnesses to Jesus’ crucifixion were dead. Those few who might have still been alive had been scattered to the far ends of the earth after the destruction of Jerusalem. Paul was also dead. So “Mark” felt free to write a completely new story about Jesus. Paul, in his epistles, mentions very little of the “Jesus” who he had “interacted with” on the Damascus Road and in Arabia. So for all we know, many of the stories in the Gospel of Mark are “Mark’s” inventions, in particular, the Passion Story.
Christians in the 70’s were having to defend their Resurrection belief from Jews who said it was complete nonsense as there is not one word in the Old Testament about a Resurrection of one man, the messiah. How could Christians shut the Jews up??? Answer: Invent an empty tomb! So “Mark” invents an empty tomb as physical evidence for the Resurrection Story. But how would poor Galilean peasants have afforded a hand hewn tomb for Jesus?? Answer: Invent a man named Joseph of Arimethea and make him a rich member of the Sanhedrin!
But wait! Why hadn’t anyone, including Paul, ever heard about this empty tomb? Answer: “Because the women left the tomb in great fear…and told no one!”
Then a decade or so later, Christians are still under pressure to provide proof of a bodily resurrection of Jesus. So more (embellished) details are added to the story by Matthew and Luke. Matthew adds guards at the tomb to prove that a resurrection is the only plausible explanation for it being found empty. Now the women DON’T keep quiet, they blab the news to everyone! Now there are earthquakes and eclipses and dead people roaming the street! (Remember, we are now 50-70 years after the death of Jesus. All witnesses are now dead so no one can say, “Hey! That didn’t happen!”)
Then Jews and other skeptics asked, “If there really was a resurrection of a literal body…what happened to the body of Jesus after his post-death appearances??? Did he live on into his later years and die as Papias would later claim? Is his body buried somewhere? If so, where is it?” Hmm. Not good. Now people are going to demand to see the final resting place of the “resurrected Jesus”. So “Luke” comes up with a solution: Jesus ascended into the clouds and was never seen again. ( Whew! No longer any need to provide a resurrected body. Another discrepancy resolved!)