This blog contains material I wrote and posted on multiply.com between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).
Monday, 26 November 2012
Let’s assume something. Let’s assume, as I’ve often done before in this sort of reductio ad absurdum exercise, that Jesus Christ existed and that the account of his life as given in the Bible is literally true.
So, Jesus Christ was crucified on Friday, and rose from the dead three days later, on Sunday. Where does that get us?
First, of course, he would have to be literallydead. It’s, of course, beyond the dignity of the true Bible thumping Christian fundamentalist to even consider the alternative possibilities – that he may have been drugged, or in a coma, or that the episode never actually happened. So, all right, he’s dead. Absolutely, totally dead, all cellular processes stopped. Fine.
Then, he would have risen from the dead. His corpse can’t have been spirited away and buried; and his resurrection can’t have been hallucinations on the part of grieving disciples or simply invented tales or the deliberate act of an impersonator (Peter would be my number one suspect if that happened).
[As an aside – the arranging of an impersonator to fake the resurrection of a dead religious leader is hardly unknown. Just a few years ago, a Hindu nutjob fromCalcutta called Balak Brahmachari had declared that he would rise from the dead. His disciples – when he actually died – kept the body on ice while they found and trained a look-alike to act as the “resurrected” Brahmachari. The scam was exposed when – on court orders – the police raided the nuthouse, I mean his religious headquarters, and forcibly cremated the body. Despite the ice, it had begun stinking a bit. But even today, his followers still aver that if only the body hadn’t been forcibly cremated, he would certainly have risen from the dead.]
OK, anyway, so Jesus rose from the dead. Literally so.
Now, in what shape would he have arisen?
Palestine is a rather warm country, and this episode occurred in spring, around the end of March, it appears. Let’s take it that the temperature might have been about 20 degrees Celsius. Is that OK?
When Jesus died, he stopped breathing. Once he stopped breathing, oxygen from the atmosphere no longer penetrated into his blood through his lung alveoli. (If he had no lung alveoli, if he was anatomically divine and unique and not like other men, he could not have died from crucifixion.) Also his heart stopped, so his blood, which in any case was no longer receiving oxygen, no longer was pumped up to his cells – especially his brain cells. The brain requires a very large proportion of the body’s total oxygen supply. Once that supply is cut off, brain cells start dying within three minutes. Pretty soon there is no longer any measurable cerebral activity left. This is called “Brain Death” and is irreversible.
Also the blood stops passing on blood to other organs, so that cells – deprived of oxygen – begin to die. Their chemical processes slow down and then stop. Muscle fibres depend on linkages that keep forming and breaking between proteins called actin and myosin for their movement. When muscle cells die, the actin and myosin bond with each other tightly and do not break the links, so that the muscles tighten up and stiffen – a process called rigor mortis. The blood flow is interrupted, so the blood drains down to the lowest parts of the body and pools there. The white blood corpuscles – the actual agents of the body’s immune system – also stop working because the blood has stopped moving. From now on, bacteria have a free hand.
Now, when any living creature dies at a temperature high enough to allow microbial activity, said activity begins almost at once. It’s been estimated that the human body is 90% bacteria and just 10% human body cells. Bacteria are everywhere. Our gut is paved with them. We couldn’t function without them.
As soon as Christ died, his bacteria would begin proliferating without any counteraction by his immune system. He would begin to degenerate. The decomposition would begin from the inside, from his body cavity, more precisely from his intestines. The rate of decomposition is variable. It depends on temperature,humidity, the presence of insects, and so on, but it would occur. Palestine is, as I said already, warm; this tends to hasten decomposition. However, Palestine is also dry, and this tends to retard decomposition and promote mummification. Of mummification, more anon. The third major factor is insects. Crucifixion was always carried out with the victim completely naked; the process of dying took a long time and involved involuntary defecation on oneself as the weight of the intestines forced faeces out through the rectum. As anyone knows, faeces attracts flies; andPalestine is most certainly not fly-free. Flies would sit on the victim’s anal region, lay eggs there, and also on his wounds (while in crucifixion the victim was normally tied and not nailed to the cross, remember the marks of scourging and the crown of thorns? I did say we are taking the entire Biblical myth as literally true for the purpose of this discussion). He would, by the end, be far too weak to move to shake them off. Fly eggs would hatch fairly soon and the maggots would have begun to make inroads into the decomposing body by the time the “resurrection” happened.
(One little thing here – if Jesus died on the evening of the Friday and was resurrected on Sunday at dawn, he was dead for 36 hours, not 72 – a day and a half, not three days. But who ever said fundamentalists knew simple arithmetic?)
As bacteria began to proliferate in his gut, Jesus’ body would have begun to swell up from the gases he produced. His muscles, stiffened by rigor mortis, would have locked rigid until, little by little, the action of bacteria would have decomposed the muscle fibres enough to break the actin-myosin bond and the rigor mortis would have worn off. At 36 hours decomposition would not have advanced sufficiently for the other sequelae – the eyeballs would not have collapsed, the skin would not have sloughed off in gas blebs, the abdomen would not have swollen till the rectum prolapsed from gas pressure and the body wall ruptured, the tongue would not have protruded from the mouth and foam would not have come out of the mouth and nose. But decomposition would have well begun.
All right, suppose Jesus’ body did not decompose. Sometimes bodies don’t. What then are the alternatives?
Really, there are only two: mummification and saponification.
Mummification is fairly well known as a practice of the ancient Egyptians and Native South Americans. That was a deliberate practice involving much work, lengthy baths in preservatives like natrium, and the total removal of all body viscera, including heart, lungs, the brain and the entire digestive system. It took a long, long time – many weeks. Nobody even began to suggest that this may have happened to Jesus.
But mummification can also happen naturally. Sometimes bodies are found bricked up behind chimneys or buried in sand dunes, dried out and preserved like dehydrated meat. Could that have happened to Jesus?
No, because mummification needs a long time and extreme dryness and a large and constant amount of heat; it cannot occur in a few days and certainly not in a tomb in a garden, which is likely to have been fairly damp or at least not as dry as a desiccator. I think we can rule out mummification here.
The other alternative is saponification, which sometimes happens to bodies immersed in cold water for a long time. The body fats turn to soap, and the body remains more or less exactly as it looked at the time of death, though rather different in consistency. No one has ever claimed Jesus was immersed in cold – really cold – water for months, so we can rule that out too, in my not-too-humble opinion.
Therefore, Jesus decomposed. He had to have, if he really died. No way round it.
And, so, the Jesus that arose from the grave would have had a brain turned to jelly, an abdomen full of gases from bacterial action, with muscles that could no longer contract and expand, and little white maggots would have begun making craters round his anus and mouth, not to speak of the wounds he had sustained here and there. That he would also have begun to smell a bit is hardly worth mentioning.
I’m not surprised his disciples had trouble recognising the resurrected Jesus. I might have had trouble recognising a decomposing corpse, myself, even if it did walk and talk. I might, in fact, be too busy running away.