If I could have one event proven beyond doubt historically, it would be the physical resurrection of Jesus.
So it struck me as funny that, as I read the end of John chapter 19 in the last couple of days, the writer (for me, as I understand it, John the apostle) seemed to want to prove at this point in the story, not simply that Jesus really lived again, though he does spend time in chapter 20 establishing that too, but also, maybe especially, that he in fact really died!
John 19:34-35 in the Greek looks like this (thanks to BibleWorks):
ἀλλ᾽ εἷς τῶν στρατιωτῶν λόγχῃ αὐτοῦ τὴν πλευρὰν ἔνυξεν, καὶ ἐξῆλθεν εὐθὺς αἷμα καὶ ὕδωρ. καὶ ὁ ἑωρακὼς μεμαρτύρηκεν, καὶ ἀληθινὴ αὐτοῦ ἐστιν ἡ μαρτυρία, καὶ ἐκεῖνος οἶδεν ὅτι ἀληθῆ λέγει, ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς πιστεύ[σ]ητε.
And in the NET Bible it looks like this:
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and blood and water flowed out immediately. And the person who saw it has testified (and his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth), so that you also may believe.
So the author gives his best assurance at this point that Jesus really died (hence the blood has begun to separate). The temptation for his audience was apparently not to disbelieve the resurrection so much as to disbelieve the death of Jesus. Was John the evangelist to the Gnostics, attracted to the transcendent, pre-existent Christ but reluctant to believe that he was really physical, fleshly and mortal. (I’m reminded of the scene in The Matrix where Agent Smith has captured Morpheus and expresses his revulsion for his, and his real world’s, smell and sweat, its tangible, ‘sensible’ physicality.)
I know this is a world of debate and discussion, including when we can say Gnostics really got going, and when the Gospel of John was written. I’m not a New Testament specialist and showing my ignorance.
But it’s interesting, is it not?