Mark: 16,6 and he saith unto them, be not affrighted: ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him .
The resurrection of Jesus is the focal episode of the narrative of the gospels, Matthew 28, (1-7), Mark 16, (1-8), Luke 14, (1-12) and John 21, (1-10), as well as all other new testament texts. According to these texts, the third day after his death on the cross Jesus rose, leaving the tomb empty and initially appearing to a few disciples and then to the other apostles and disciples. This episode is central to the foundation of Christian faith and is remembered every Sunday and annually at Easter. The Christian tradition considers the resurrection of Jesus a historical event. According to the unanimous testimony of the gospels, the third day after he was laid in the tomb Jesus rose (the first day: Friday, death and deposition; the third day: Sunday, the resurrection). The gospels do not describe the event, which had no direct witnesses, but only the testimony of the empty tomb and the visions that appeared to the disciples. The discovery was made at the dawn of the day after the Sabbath, Sunday morning, when Mary Magdalene and other women disciples went to the tomb to complete the embalming of the corpse, left open on Friday evening at the onset of dusk, the beginning of Sabbath.
The gospels typically agree on the fundamental facts concerning the episodes of the life of Jesus but largely disagree on the minor details. according to the gospels, the location of the resurrection of Jesus is the tomb in which he was laid to rest, which at that time was just outside the walls of Jerusalem near the Golgotha-Calvary, the small rocky promontory where Jesus was crucified. Christian tradition has preserved the memory of the event and its geographical location, where the basilica of the holy sepulchre stands today. The gospels do not explicitly indicate the date of the resurrection. They narrate that the tomb was discovered empty at dawn of the day after the Sabbath, that is, three days after Jesus died and was laid in the tomb. Chronologically speaking, the “three days” are little more than a day and a half, from sunset on Friday to dawn on Sunday. Even the exact date of the death of Jesus’ death is not mentioned explicitly in the gospels. the most widely held hypothesis among scholars is that the date was Friday, 7 April AD 30 (or, less likely on 27 April AD 31 or 3 April AD 33); therefore, the date of the resurrection would have been sunday, 9 April AD 30. The gospels are all mostly in agreement concerning the episode of the resurrection: the empty tomb and the appearances first to the disciples and subsequently to others. The geography and history of various cultural traditions explain the different versions. the historical authenticity of the event is based on the principle that if the early Christians had wanted to invent the resurrection, they would have been extremely careful to make it credible. There are still some discrepancies in the minor details (such as one or two angels appearing to the disciples) while others are reconcilable, like the places of the appearances to the apostles (it is possible that the first occurred in Jerusalem and later appearances were in galilee when the apostles moved there). Furthermore, the disciples could not have invented the episode primarily due to their faith in Jesus the messiah. It is not written in the Old Testament that the messiah was doomed to die and rise again. The “fulfilment” in the Old Testament represented by Jesus, is on a different level and not in the same categories the scriptures provided. It is also true that some passages in the Old Testament (such as, psalm 15) subsequently referred to the resurrection of Jesus; however, the greatest scholars concur that the scriptures did not inspire the story of the episode of the resurrection, while instead it was the episode of the resurrection that led to a new interpretation of the scriptures. Some scholars have argued that if the tomb had remained intact, the Jews would have used this fact against the first disciples to contest the claims about the resurrection. Other scholars admit that the empty tomb is not in itself evidence of the resurrection, as there are several explanations for it, but it becomes proof due to the testimonies of the subsequent appearances. On the other hand, the appearances alone, without the empty tomb, would not have been an element in favour of the resurrection, since they would not have been anything different from normal appearances of deaths reported in various places and times. Both events together, however, complement and reinforce each other in reference to the resurrection.
It has been further demonstrated that there are significant differences between the resurrections of divinities or gods narrated in pagan myths and the resurrection of Jesus. The former are in a legendary context, the latter is placed in a definite historical context. Jesus was a man who lived in a specific place (Palestine) and in a specific historical period (the era of Augustus and Tiberius). His existence is set within a distinct historical reality and therefore his resurrection (linked to the historical fact of his death) cannot be reduced to merely symbolizing the reality of nature (such as the renewal of Spring).
Additional proof of evidence that supports the historic authenticity is the Nazareth inscription (or Nazareth decree), which is the conventional name given to a marble slab measuring 24 cm x 15 cm bearing a Greek inscription 22 lines long, prescribing the death penalty for anyone who removed bodies from tombs. The anglican theologian Michael Green believes this inscription is the demonstration that immediately after the death of Christ, the empty tomb created a reaction on the part of established authority: “it is indicated with the name of Nazareth, the town where it was found. it reports an imperial edict, drawn up under Tiberius (14-37 ad) and Claudius (41-54). It’s a diatribe, supported by sanctions, which condemned thieves of tombs and sepulchres. It seems likely that it was a reaction to the empty tomb and which Pontius Pilate must have reported to the emperor as the act of a theft perpetrated by his disciples. The edict is the authority’s answer to this episode”.
Yet another case in point validating the historic authenticity of the resurrection can be found in the work, Judean antiquities by Flavius Josephus that has come to us in the version of the Testimonium Flavianium, and reads: “now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day”.
There were further explanations of historical and anthropological nature regarding a historical analysis of the myth, which in particular highlighted the similarities between the story of the resurrection of Jesus and events attributed to other gods, such as Mithras, Dionysus, Attis, Osiris and Tammuz. The resurrection of Jesus would therefore be considered part of recurring myths about gods who died and rose again in middle-eastern mythologies as well as contemporary myths, like Mithras. There are many scholars, nevertheless, that do not concur with the mythology hypothesis, including Bart Ehrman, who argued that in Jesus’ time some movements of judaism (like the Pharisees) already believed in the resurrection, though they placed it at the end of all time. according to Ehrman, the belief in the resurrection of Jesus would be developed as part of Judaic dogmas. Judaism, however, does not recognize the resurrection of Jesus. The high priests, who tried Jesus and delivered him unto the hands of the Romans, did not believe in his resurrection. They had bribed the soldiers that witnessed, together with Mary Magdalene and the other women, the appearance of the angel from the empty tomb, in order to say that the body of Jesus had been stolen by the apostles (see Matthew 28). According to Islam, Jesus ascended directly to heaven and did not die on the cross nor was he resurrected.
Christian tradition considers the resurrection of Jesus to be the historical foundation of Christian faith. Joseph Ratzinger said that the resurrection of Jesus is a mystery that goes beyond science. Jesus does not return to his normal biological life (like Lazarus and others raise spoken of in the gospels), but his body is transformed, and is no longer subject to the laws of space and time. Ratzinger further stated that the resurrection of Jesus inaugurates a new dimension, defined as eschatological: the event takes place in history and leaves an imprint, but it goes beyond history. According to the theologian Hans Kessler, the resurrection is “acceptable and comprehensible only through faith”, rather than an episode to be investigated and verified by an historian.
In Middle Ages as well as in thirteenth century art the episode of the resurrection was rarely represented. the resurrection of Christ in early Christian art was expressed through symbolism: for instance, the cross with the monogram of Christ and a laurel wreath (sarcophagi of the iv-v sec.). Byzantine art portrays only Christ’s descent into hell. Gothic paintings depict Christ standing victoriously above the open tomb while the guards are fearful or asleep. However, this culminating episode in Christ’s life was not as widely represented, as were episodes of his suffering. It is too great a mystery to be portrayed through paintings. The appearance of the risen Christ clearly offers more themes such as appearing to the women, to Mary Magdalene, to the apostles, to Peter at the sea of Galilee and to Mary. The appearance to the women at the tomb is an early Christian theme: in the Byzantine version there are two women and in the western version there are three. Depictions of the appearance to Mary Magdalene are also ancient. Christ appears draped in white, holding the banner of victory. In Gothic art there were numerous depictions of the “Noli me tangere” (touch me not) scene in which Christ appears to Mary Magdalene who did not recognize him and thought he was the gardener.
Giotto, for instance, depicted the empty tomb, the sleeping guards, the angel and Magdalene together in a single scene. The iconography illustrates the simultaneity of the events, which Andrea Di Bonaiuto also used at a later date.
The resurrection by Maestro Di Trebon portrays Jesus standing on the stone slab of the tomb, tranquilly blessing the people surrounding him. He is communicating his spirituality through his human transformation demonstrating that human bonds were not able to suppress him.
The panel of the resurrection of Christ that Ghiberti created for the North Door of the Baptistery in Florence was sculpted in a later stage of the work on the door, probably between 1415 and 1416. This panel was created in the same period as the resurrection of Lazarus, Christ chasing the money changers from the temple, entrance into Jerusalem, Christ before Pilate, and Christ in the storm. We do not know the exact date it was produced; however we can deduce the date from the composition of the work. Ghiberti has abandoned the constraints of the Gothic style frame and the scenes are much more complex, including a multitude of characters portrayed in elaborate architectural and landscape settings.
The figure of the risen Christ is set in the centre of the panel and he is portrayed in an elegant pose depicted in full Gothic style. Christ is majestic and calm at the same time. He is standing on the tomb with the palm of his right hand symbolically open. the five fingers form the four letters of the holy name of Jesus Christ. In expressing the holy name of Jesus Christ, the open hand of Jesus confesses and blesses simultaneously. The emphasis is on Christ himself blessing. Christ’s open hand is asserting his being and it also is blessing. His name signifies holiness while his hand is affirming his name.
The figure of Christ is surrounded on the sides by palm trees (left) and olive trees (right). The palm of martyrdom and, in general, the palm intended as a symbol of Christianity, connects to the east; that is, to the land where this tree is more slender and vigorous with mighty plumes of leaves arranged in rays like the sun. It was thought that when the plant bloomed and produced fruits (and seeds) it died. The link with martyrdom is then due to the symbolism of sacrifice. The same symbolism is found at the base in the decorative motif of the candelabra. It signifies victory, ascent, rebirth and immortality: it is also linked to the phoenix and functions also as the tree of life. The palm of the Goddess victory is an iconography created in Roman times. The Christian symbolism, present since early Christianity is linked to a passage of the psalms that reads, “the righteous will flourish like a palm tree”. Palm trees bloom again when they seem dead, as do martyrs when they receive their reward of eternal life in heaven. The book of genesis makes reference to the olive tree. The poets of the Old Testament wrote about the magnificence of the olive tree. In their metaphors, the olive tree symbolizes salvation and prosperity. The prophet Hosea sings the strength and beauty of the olive tree: (Hosea 13: 6-7).”It will be like the dew to Israel; it will blossom like the lily, and will take root like the cedars of Lebanon. Its shoots will sprout, and its beauty will be like the olive tree and its fragrance like the cedars of Lebanon”. There are about seventy quotes referring to the olive tree in the bible. the very name of Jesus, Christos, simply means anointed. In the Christian religion, the olive tree encompasses countless symbolisms. When the dove Noah released from the ark returned with an olive branch in its beak, the olive tree took on a double meaning. It became the symbol of regeneration, because after the destruction wrought by the flood, the land returned to flourish. It also became the symbol of peace because it represented the end of the punishment and the reconciliation of God with men. Both symbols are celebrated in the Christian celebration of the palms where the olive tree represents Christ himself who, through his sacrifice, becomes an instrument of reconciliation and peace for all mankind.
On the lower part of the panel, on the side of the tomb, there are the four figures of the soldiers, asleep, on two different planes, in order to give depth to the scene. Two of the soldiers are leaning on the tomb in the background while in the foreground the other two figures are placed on the outside of the frame almost like opening a curtain to the central figure, which is the risen Christ. The scene of the panel is set on a rocky base decorated with leaf and flower motifs that seem to spring from the living rock, which strengthen and emphasize the resurrection.
Ghiberti’s composition of the episode was repeated in the following years with some stylistic variations.
Later representations depict the episode of the triumph of Christ in the quietness of the countryside, full of light and joy, such as in the works of Giovanni Bellini and subsequently, Raffaello.
Further representations depict the risen Christ with a radiant body, especially his eyes, such as on the Isenheim Grunewald altar.
In the following century, artists followed the painting style of Caravaggio and representations were more theatrical, such as the painting by Cecco di Caravaggio.
In the eighteenth century there are a number of votive representations of the risen Christ that were often used for Easter procession ceremonies.
There are numerous representations of the resurrection in contemporary art, which almost all depict the devotional aspect. among these the works of sculptor Pericle Fazzini are noteworthy. Fazzini became well known as a result of his extraordinary work in the Aula Nervi in the Vatican, and author of several other religious representations.
Exempt of liturgical and religious themes on the contemporary scene, the dynamic video installation by the American artist Bill Viola transcends and pays tribute to the famous painting by Masolino Da Panicale.
An impressive example of devotional art is the prestigious mosaic by the artist father Marko Ivan Rupnik who paints, together with the artists of the Centro Aletti, entire walls in the Chapel of the saint Stanislaus Institute in Ljubiana.