12/30/2013 12:51 pm ET Updated Feb 28, 2014

Hiding in Plain Sight: The Only Two Verses on the Discovery of Jesus' Empty Tomb that Ring True

Here it is, hiding in plain sight: The only two verses in the New Testament gospels that relate the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb that ring true historically.

Given the complexity and hopeless contradictions (see "Sorting out the Traditions") of all our New Testament gospel accounts of the discovery of Jesus' empty tomb and the subsequent "sightings" (Mark 16; Matthew 28; Luke 24; John 20-21) it is all the more striking that two solitary verses ring true historically:

Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came to the tomb early, while it was still dark, and saw that the stone had been taken away from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, "They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him."(John 20:1-2)

That is it. Short and simple. What it does not say is as important as what it does say. No band of woman coming just after sunrise, no earthquake, no angels, no Roman guards knocked out cold, no men in white, no resurrections of the "saints" recently died, and no appearances to anyone. Just the bare facts:

Mary Magdelene came alone before dawn and discovered the tomb open and drew the obvious conclusion -- namely that "they" had moved the body and placed it elsewhere. The "they" in this context is clearly those in charge of Jesus' permanent burial -- namely the Joseph of Arimathea burial party -- Jesus' corpse had been temporarily stashed in this unfinished and as yet unused tomb nearby the site of crucifixion just an hour or so before Passover (John 19:41-42). Mary Magdalene, with her unique and special connection to Jesus comes alone early that morning, most likely to mourn at the tomb and await the others to finish the rites of burial. This primitive "bare bones" account rings true and all else sounds to me like myth-making, literary expansion, and embellishment -- 40-50 years after Jesus' death.

How, when, and why the disciples began to have experiences of "sighting" Jesus is another question, see the link at the beginning of this post which sorts through the traditions.