Why do Major Characters and Events Suddenly Disappear from the Gospel Narratives?

Imagine reading in the newspaper this morning that yesterday your city experienced a three hour eclipse of the sun, a major earthquake, and in the local cemetery, dozens of corpses were shaken alive out of their graves to roam the streets of the city.  Tomorrow, however, you open your newspaper…and life is suddenly back to normal; no mention of the previous day’s events or their consequences.  Wouldn’t that seem suspicious?

Either the local newspaper is asleep at the switch and did not follow up on the major events which happened in your city yesterday, or, the events which were reported yesterday never happened and the newspaper is simply trying to sweep their mistake under the rug by ignoring the issue.

So what should we think if this same situation occurs in the Gospels of the Bible?  Below is an excerpt on this topic from an excellent article by Matthew Ferguson, a Ph.D. graduate student in Classics:

From Adversus Apologetica

Prior to entry in my Classics M.A. program, I wrote as a writing sample a paper about the Roman prefect Sejanus and his alleged conspiracy against the emperor Tiberius in 31 CE. Both Tacitus and Dio invest extensive portions of their narratives introducing Sejanus and explaining the steps he took in gaining power under Tiberius. Whatever Sejanus was planning, it did not come to fruition, as he was executed by Tiberius in 31 CE. Part of the accusations levied against Sejanus was that he had many allies in the Roman Senate who were helping him in the conspiracy.

Now, imagine if, after Sejanus’ death, there was no aftermath or follow-up and the narrative merely moved on to another subject. This sequence of events would not at all be logical and would leave many questions unanswered. Instead, both Tacitus (book 6) and Dio (book 58) spend a considerable amount of narrative space discussing the senators who were accused and condemned for being co-conspirators with Sejanus. This makes logical sense, as the event and its instigator were were both of a very important nature and we would not expect that they would suddenly disappear from a narrative in which they played crucial roles.

And yet in the Gospels, earth-shaking events take place that then receive no follow-up and strangely disappear once they have played their symbolic role in the narrative. Take the Gospel of Matthew, for example. While Jesus is being crucified, the sky grows dark for three hours at midday (27:45). Next, Jesus’ death (27:51-53) causes an earthquake that rips the curtain in the Jewish Temple in twain. The earthquake likewise opens the tombs of the saints, from which dead people resurrect and then appear throughout Jerusalem. This is an extraordinary event, indeed, and yet there is no follow-up in the Gospels or Acts of how the city was affected by this. Then, the Jewish authorities are so worried that Jesus’ tomb will be found empty, lest people believe that a miracle has occurred (as if the midday darkness and the ripping of the Temple curtain weren’t already convincing enough), that they convince Pilate to station guards at the tomb. When the guards are foiled, however, and Jesus’ body is found missing, the Jewish authorities claim (28:11-15) that the disciples stole the body. Grave robbery was a capital offense in ancient Judea, and yet there is no follow-up prosecution of the disciples for this charge, even when they are brought to court on other issues. Furthermore, what happened to Joseph of Arimathea? His tomb was the one that was supposed to remain occupied, and yet, when it is found empty, he is not even questioned on the matter. The Jewish authorities had gone to great lengths to ensure that Jesus’ body did not go missing, and yet, when Jesus is claimed to have risen, they do not even undergo an investigation into the circumstances.

This sequence of events does not logically make sense, if the Gospels were narrating actual historical events. Instead, the Gospels are reporting fantastical legends, where people act in bizarrely symbolic ways and do not rationally respond to what has taken place. For this reason, as I explain in my essay “Let’s Presuppose That Miracles Happen: The Gospel Resurrection Stories Are Still Unworthy Of Belief,” the Gospels are not believable accounts, even in a universe where miracles actually happen. Actual historical writing is not so abrupt, and reasonable consequences occur after events that are important to the sequence of the narrative [16].

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