Why is Mary Crying? The Inaccuracy of the Easter Account
Today in the Christian tradition is celebrated as the anniversary of the resurrection of Jesus, and is called "Easter" in English-speaking countries after the spring goddess "Eostre." Embarrassingly close pagan origins aside, the Christian narrative which recounts the events of this day is recorded in all four Gospels- one of the only narrative elements which the Synoptics and John share in common.
Ex-Evangelical Christian and co-President of the Freedom From Religion Foundation Dan Barker has issued a perennial challenge to Christians, requesting that they "tell [him] what happened on Easter. [He's] am not asking for proof. [His] straightforward request is merely that Christians tell [him] exactly what happened on the day that their most important doctrine was born." The terms of this challenge are to harmonize the gospel accounts from Easter morning until the end of each gospel, without omitting a single detail.
I've decided to take up this challenge, simply to familiarize myself with the issues involved with this challenge, so that I may be better informed when discussing the gospel accounts with others. I intend to take as liberal a position as possible, including all non-redundant events under the assumption that differing details are omissions between the accounts. For convenience, when an event is recorded in two or more gospels, I will include the text from the older source (assuming that Mark is the oldest account, followed by Matthew, Luke and John).
I will not be including text from Mark 9-20, since it is not found in the original manuscripts, and most of its narrative content is a paraphrase of other gospels. I also will not be including Acts 1:3-12, since the account in Luke ends with an ascension, and I will not be including Paul's formula in 1 Corinthians 15:3-8, since it does not contribute any narrative details in a context which promotes harmonization.
My source text translation is the New American Standard Version.
You can read the separate accounts over each Gospel here: Mark, Matthew, Luke, John.
You can read my harmonization here. The harmonization is color-coded to show from which Gospel account the text originated.
My full conclusions are found here. Briefly, though I tried to be as liberal as possible, there are two irreconcilable contradictions within the harmonization. The first is the emotional state of the women as they left the tomb- in Mark, they are afraid and speak to no one; in Matthew, they are joyful and report immediately to the disciples. The second is the emotional state of Mary after seeing the risen Jesus. Because the order of the narrative is different in the Synoptics and John, a harmonization of the four shows Mary crying and upset because she thinks the body of Jesus has been stolen- just hours after seeing him resurrected.
Clearly, the accurate historicity of this event is contradicted by the only documents which record it. If an historical Jesus existed, the Gospel writers are the least trustworthy sources of information.