After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2 And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he[a] lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead,[b] and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
8 So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
–the Gospel of Matthew
I don’t know about you but I find it odd that the resurrection of Jesus was accompanied by a great earthquake, yet…the only Gospel author to mention this dramatic phenomenon is the author of Matthew.
Why is that?
Conservative Christians will tell us that the earthquake must not have fit into the “themes” of Mark, Luke, and John. It just wasn’t important to them. Ok…let’s go with that. So why then did an earthquake fit in with the theme of Matthew?
Here is my guess: Matthew read Mark’s original Gospel (which the overwhelming majority of scholars believe was the first gospel written) and found it…boring! Nothing about Jesus’ birth. Really? Is the reader supposed to just accept that the “Son of God” popped out of nowhere? And what is up with the resurrection story??? Seriously, a young man sitting in the empty tomb tells the women that Jesus has risen…and the women run away and tell no one? No one??? And, there is not one appearance story!!!
This book is just not going to sell!
So Matthew checked out a few books from the local Greco-Roman library and got some great ideas for how to bring Mark’s story to life in a new and improved version (with Matthew’s name on it!):
…A god impregnates a human female who will give birth to a man/god. Good. Good.
…On the day of the Resurrection, I’ll have an angel who looks like lightning who will descend from heaven and scare the bejeebers out of some Roman guards standing in front of the tomb. Then I’ll have the angel roll back the great, sealed stone from the Tomb.
But what else…? What else…? What other dramatic effects can I add to Mark’s boring resurrection scene?
Wait! What’s this?? A story about a great earthquake at the moment of Caesar’s death and stories of other earthquakes upon the deaths of other great men???
“Virgil reported that the Alps quaked at the murder of Caesar. Indeed, when Lucian wants to burlesque the death of a famous man, he combines an earthquake with a talking vulture flying off to heaven as signs that greeted his departure.” –NT scholar, Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah, p. 1122
That’s it! I’ll add a great earthquake to the resurrection scene! And if Caesar had the entire Alps quaking at his death, I’ll top that! At Jesus’ death, I’ll have the earth shake so hard that dead people will be shaken alive in their graves…but…they will remain in their graves for three days and two nights until Jesus walks out of his tomb…and then…they will all walk out of their graves and will all walk the streets of Jerusalem, scaring the holy bejeebers out of their former friends and family!
What a great story!
I’ll bet that my version of the story will be so good…that they’ll put my gospel first, even before Mark’s!
2 thoughts on “Where did the Author of Matthew Get His Earthquake?”
Gospel of Matthew mentions guards being terrified two times, once at the sight of the opening of tombs and mass resurrection when Jesus died, and once more then other guards were terrified a day and a half later at the sight of an angel descending from heaven and moving the stone in front of Jesus’ tomb and sitting on top of it. None of the other Gospels mention a single earthquake, nor that the tomb was sealed and guarded, nor do they mention an angel coming down from heaven and sitting on the rock outside the tomb. And both of those Matthean resurrection tales, viz., the opening of many tombs, and the opening of Jesus’ tomb, are preceded by an earthquake. But none of the other Gospels mention a single earthquake, let alone two of them as in Matthew.
note that the Greek (Septuagint) translation of the book of Ezekiel mentions an “earthquake” accompanying the valley of dry bones resurrection scene. But the Hebrew (Masoretic) text of Ezekiel does not mention an “earthquake” in those passages. Only in the Greek translation of the Hebrew can you find mention of an “earthquake” in that scene, and since the author of Matthew relied on the Greek OT translation (rather than the Hebrew Masoretic text) he may have combined the idea of a mass resurrection with an earthquake in order to add a further “fulfillment” to Jesus’ death from the book of Ezekiel (well, a “fulfillment” of the Greek translation of the book of Ezekiel, not from the Hebrew text!).
Jesus’ death and the prodigies with which it was accompanied, tearing of the curtain, darkness, earthquakes, are also mentioned in early Jewish works concerning miracles that accompanied the deaths of famous rabbis. There are many such miracles mentioned in ancient Jewish lore that accompanied the deaths of famous rabbis. Dale Allison mentions them toward the end of Constructing Jesus.
Even the Evangelical Michael Licona admits the tale in Matthew of the earthquake and many raised saints is problematical and puzzling for him to accept as authentic history,
One of the Roman writers (Virgil?) stated that upon the death of Julius Caesar, the entire Alps quaked. But no one mentions that dead people were shaken out of their graves when Caesar died. I think that Matthew wanted Jesus’ death to top the magnificence and marvels of even Caesar’s death.
Matthew was a “whopper teller”!