The Gospels are full of contradictions. There, I said it. Take, for example, the differing accounts of the resurrection. In Matthew, the two Marys – Magdelene and Jesus’ mom – are at the empty tomb, greeted by an earthquake and an angel. In Luke, Joanna and other unnamed females are added to the mix, and they see two angels, rather than one. According to John, it is Mary Magdelene only, and after running to fetch Peter and John (the author), she sees Jesus, although she mistakes him at first for a gardener. Mark ends most strangely, with the two Marys and someone named Salome speaking to an angel and then fleeing the tomb – trembling, astonished, and afraid.

r12These contradictions, among others, have been used by some in an attempt to undermine the veracity of the Jesus story, but is that fair? Over the past few weeks I have been addicted to Serial, a new podcast from the producers of This American Life. As opposed to TAL, in which each episode tells several stories around a weekly theme, all the episodes of Serial relate a single story, specifically, the alleged 1999 murder of a high school girl by her ex-boyfriend. Each week, reporter Sarah Koenig leads us through an inquiry of the relevant moments and characters, trying to piece together what actually happened on one fateful Wednesday afternoon in Baltimore.

As I’ve listened to Serial, I have been struck by how much variety exists in the stories that different people tell about what occurred that day. I have heard it said that no two eyewitnesses will ever tell the same story (and if they do, they have probably been tampered with), but that truth has never before been made so clear. As Koenig looks back 15 years, she will probably never arrive at “exactly what happened,” but rather at a close approximation based on the overlapping testimony of many witnesses.

In this light, the Gospels suddenly seem astoundingly consistent, though never so much as to suggest collusion. The empty tomb was first discovered by women (itself a stunning detail in 1st century Palestine), angels were seen, but Jesus was not. The very fact that the Gospels have not harmonized their contradictions, but have left them bare, seems to me an act of courage – “here are our stories and we’re sticking to them!” – both on the part of the authors and the compilers of what we now call the New Testament. Perhaps the Jesus stories may hold some truth after all.