Sexism may be a bad thing, but there is actually an example where the existence of sexism contributes to the case for the resurrection of Jesus.
Early on the morning of the first Easter Sunday, according to the New Testament, a small number of women came to the tomb where Jesus had been laid, only to find that it was empty. The empty tomb is one of the widely accepted facts that speak in favour of belief in the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead.
One of the numerous considerations that favour the historical reliability of the account of the empty tomb is the fact that the initial testimony of the empty tomb is said to have come from a small group of women. However chauvinistic it might be, the fact is that in first century Palestine as in the wider Middle East, the testimony of a woman was regarded as inferior to that of a man. If an author had simply invented the discovery of the empty tomb and been trying to make it seem as persuasive as possible, women would certainly not have been his first choice of initial witness. Even in a court of law, women were regarded as being – compared to men – unqualified as witnesses. Presenting the testimony of women as the basis of the belief of others would perhaps have even served as an embarrassment to the early church. Hence, the authors of the Gospel would not have been motivated to paint fictional accounts with women as first witnesses. That they portrayed the events this way therefore counts in favour of the reliability of the account of the empty tomb.
Jeff Lowder of infidels.org is unmoved by this. He writes, “Having women discover the empty tomb may have been somewhat embarrassing to the church, but, if so, that would have been for reasons that had nothing to do with their qualification to serve as legal witnesses, since the women are not portrayed as legal witnesses in the story.”
But this really misses the point. Nobody ever claimed that the women who discovered the the tomb served as witnesses in a court of law when they informed others of their discovery. That suggestion is so obviously incorrect that it seems ludicrous to raise the response at all. The fact that women were deemed less qualified than men to serve as legal witnesses is relevant simply to illustrate the fact that the eyewitness testimony of women was in general taken less seriously than that of men, and that is the point.
While Lowder is correct that in some circumstances the testimony of women would be accepted as a second best solution in court, he does not appear to appreciate the implications of this fact for the empty tomb story. He accepts Moreland’s claim that a woman’s testimony could be accepted “on rare occasions.” He also – approvingly, it seems – quotes Wenham who in turn quotes R. T. Beckwith in noting that “women were allowed to give evidence on matters within their knowledge if there was no male witness available.” In short then, while the testimony of men was clearly preferred and treated as more dependable (unfairly, of course), the testimony of women could be used as something of a last resort if no male witnesses were available.
But none of this sets aside the main point here: If the empty tomb story is legendary, one would not expect the author to depict women as those who made the discovery. Let’s consider the fact that a woman’s testimony could be drawn on if the testimony of a man was not available. Now imagine that the first author of the empty tomb story was writing a legendary account. Suppose he was making it up. He has at his disposal all of the better-known followers of Jesus as characters to write into the “discovery account” of the events on Sunday morning. He had available to him John the beloved disciple, James the brother of the Lord, Matthew, Peter, and others. It was clearly not the case that no male witness was available to the author of a legendary account of the empty tomb. A number of not only male witnesses, but highly respected male witnesses who went on to become great figures in the early church, were available to insert into the narrative if the events themselves were fictional. And yet in spite of this, the Gospels depict the initial testimony of the empty tomb as coming from women.
While Lowder was not defending the claim that the empty tomb was purely legendary, he has certainly misstated the weight that the discovery of the empty tomb by women in the Gospels carries against the “legend hypothesis.”