In a previous blog post entitled “Mother Teresa and Doubting Thomas,” my editor included a painting by Caravaggio of Doubting Thomas sticking his fingers deep into the chest wound of the “resurrected” Jesus (also shown here). When my editor first showed me the picture, I thought that it seemed a little morbid, but when I looked again, I saw an opportunity for a blog post.
The New Testament has five stories of Jesus’s resurrection in the books of Mark, Matthew, Luke, Acts, and John. Each resurrection account is a bit different from the others, but the one found in John is very different, as is the rest of the Gospel of John. The writers of that book were part of a school with a definite bias—they primarily viewed Jesus as the purveyor of agape. None of the gospels were written to tell authentic facts about the life of Jesus. But John uses metaphors, allegories, and fictional characters to tell the story inside the story.
Proposed dates for when the Gospel of John was written range from ninety to 120 CE. I tend to favor a later date because I think the gospel contains secret Gnostic material, and the existence of the Johannine school implies that different schools of Christian theology were already established and vying for ultimate authority. Until eighty-eight CE, the Followers of the Way were still part of Judaism. I find it difficult to believe the grab for power implied by the Johannine school happened only a few years after Christianity became a new religion.
The character Thomas, listed as an apostle, was also known as Thomas Didymus, meaning “the twin,” which implies that he was the twin brother of Jesus. But that rumor doesn’t carry much weight. His best-known role is that of Doubting Thomas.
The wound that Thomas sticks his fingers into in the Caravaggio painting is supposedly the wound inflicted by a Roman soldier as Jesus hung dead on his cross (John 19:33–34). The Gospel of John says that once Jesus’s side was pierced, blood and water came out—supposedly to fulfill prophecies in Exodus 12:46 and Zechariah 12:10, but I think John stretched the wording in those verses.
The Gospel of John tells us a little about what soldiers did to those who were crucified. Whether those actions were performed out of kindness or cruelty is uncertain. Crucifixion was a method of suffocating people to death. Hanging by one’s outstretched arms on a cross in the hot desert sun, with little to no foot support, made it impossible to draw a full breath. The body couldn’t get enough oxygen, so eventually the victim suffocated over the course of a few hours or even a few days. To speed up the process, soldiers could do one of two things. They could smash the victim’s lower legs with a spear handle, resulting in excruciating pain and depriving the victim of leg support so death came quickly. The soldiers could also jab a spear into the victim’s lungs, which again resulted in a combination of horrific pain and a quicker death. Were these methods cruel or kind? Perhaps they were a little of both.
The other three gospels don’t talk about any side wounds, so my bet is that the true story had no hole in Jesus’s side and no Doubting Thomas. The story of Doubting Thomas is really a morality lesson that suggests that strong faith does not allow doubt.
I would adamantly disagree with that message. Doubt has been the strongest foundation stone of my faith.
What think ye—hole or no hole?