Soul. Figure of man in shining cloak in the sky

By James F. McGrath,

“I’m recording this so that you can be certain, as I am…”

Kelly Wallace pushed the button on the console again and stopped the recording. Before she finalized it, and recorded the concluding phrase, before she made it final and sent it off, she wanted to listen to the entire thing one more time. She wanted to be sure she got it right. Not that she actually wanted anyone to hear the recording. And not that anyone would believe her if they listened to it. Why should they?

Even though her crew saw the same things she did, and even though none of them could ever waver in their certainty, having seen what transpired with their own eyes and heard with their own ears, why should anyone else listen to them or trust them? She would rather that everyone simply keep quiet. And maybe the others would. But these were hard things to keep to oneself. And if others talked about it, she wanted her perspective to be heard as well. After all, the destination had been her suggestion, and the research that got them there was in large part her own, however much it was a collaborative effort.

So she pressed play, and listened to the message again…

“This is Kelly Wallace. I’m recording this so that you can be certain – about what happened, about what I’ve seen, about why I’ve left, about everything.

I’m assuming that I don’t need to do introductions. I am quite sure that there is no one anywhere in the world – at least, no one who would be interested in listening to this recording – who won’t already know the background to it. The work I did first at Cornell, and then subsequently funded by an independent donor, on time travel. The successful tests, the ones you’ve read about in the news. The development of a working prototype time machine. The discussions about where to go. The decision, and the dematerialization of the machine with myself and a crew of others on board.

Presumably that’s the last you heard?

For the record, the decision to go to first century Jerusalem was as much my idea as anyone else’s. I always wondered as a child what it would be like to witness it all – the life of Jesus, the crucifixion, the resurrection. As I moved from lukewarm faith into agnosticism in my teens and twenties, I still wondered – what would I have seen if I had been there?

I didn’t get involved in time travel research to answer those questions. But once the initial phases of the research proved to be successful, and we started discussing where to go for our first major test, I knew where I wanted to go. It didn’t take much effort to persuade the others, although I am sure you can imagine the debates that ensued about the details. Would it be appropriate to record what we saw?

Could we do so without revealing that we were from the future and potentially changing history? Would it be unthinkable to go there and not record what we saw? Would anyone believe us if we said we saw the resurrection? Would anyone believe us if we said it was all a myth?

Already having had some exposure to the relevant languages in my undergrad years, I took intensive advanced courses in Biblical Hebrew, New Testament Greek, and most importantly, I sought to add Aramaic to the mix. The ancient Roman world was a place of many intersecting cultures, and so I was confident that a funny accent and imperfect grammar wouldn’t give me away. But would I have enough vocabulary to find the right place? I studied hard, as quickly as I could, to make the most of our journey. What was the point of going if we managed to hear something important, but had no hope of understanding it?

Our first attempt to get there overshot the mark by more than a thousand years. We were close to the right place, off by merely a few hundred meters, but it was the wrong time by far. Yet I wasn’t going to miss the chance to learn something where we had ended up, even if it had been by accident – after all, we were the first people from the future to visit that particular moment in history, and for all we knew we would be the only ones to ever do so.

Our machine blended in as easily then as it would have if we had arrived in the right time, but I found some people to talk to much too quickly, and worried that our arrival might have been witnessed. The individuals I spoke with seemed to understand my Biblical Hebrew, although their accents and pronunciation were like nothing I had ever heard before, and there were plenty of unfamiliar words.

It was a good thing that what I wanted to find out kept me firmly within the vocabulary I had learned. I wanted to know if they had heard the stories that I had learned in Sunday school, and studied in my Hebrew classes – stories of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, of Moses and the Exodus. They had not. I thanked them, apologized for having retained them, and was certain I offended them by refusing their offers of hospitality.

What had I learned from talking to them? What did it mean? Was ancient Israel a myth altogether? Or had I just happened across people who were among the many non-Israelite peoples in the land? Or was there another possibility that I was overlooking? It would have taken a much longer stay to find answers, and this time and place was less crucial to my curiosity than our originally-intended destination. I wanted certainty, one way or another, and this place didn’t offer it.

We waited until there was no one in the vicinity as far as we could see, and then we departed, aiming once again for the first century, for the year 33 (which historians consider to most likely be the year of the crucifixion), for the site where the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would later stand. While it was possible that the location was not in fact where Jesus had been crucified and buried, historians I spoke with said the chances were very good. And presumably we could tell if that was the place or not once we got there. Soon I would know.

The place we arrived was pitch black. We were there merely to observe, and so we did not completely reenter the normal space-time continuum. We remained at the edges of normal existence, able to observe as though we were physically present, and yet we were not in any tangible way. The darkness suggested to me that we had the right place, the right time. We must be inside the tomb! Heat scans showed no signs of life. And so how would we see? How would I know what was happening? Would we be able to see a change on the heat sensors, if life returned to a corpse that was in the tomb just outside? Part of me began wondering whether this was a foolish undertaking. Part of me began wondering whether we should in fact simply materialize completely and turn on an exterior light.

But then something began to happen. I could see some kind of light inside the tomb – visible light, not a reading on a heat sensor. My heart began to pound with excitement. Was it an angel, or light from outside as grave robbers opened the tomb and prepared to steal the body? I honestly didn’t care which it turned out to be, as long as I found out.

Then the time ship began to shake.

The scanners indicated a major distortion in the spacetime continuum. I checked the controls and there was nothing that our ship was doing that should have caused anything like that. Of course, we were new at this, and so there might have been any number of things that we failed to account for or expect. But that did not seem likely. The readings on our instruments were off the chart, of a magnitude that would have required thousands of spacetime ships all converging on the same location, the same precise spot in space and time.

And then it hit me. I wasn’t the only one who wanted to know. Having found a way to travel through time, my work would enable others to travel as well. And so presumably there were thousands of others, converging on this space, eager to see, determined to know, and as a result, threatening to tear apart the very fabric of spacetime itself.

I would have to act fast – I barely had time to think consciously about what I was doing. I tried to pull our ship quickly into and then back out of ordinary spacetime, hoping to create a ripple that would jostle the other ships out of phase, and either bump them out to keep them from materializing simultaneously in this one point in space and time, or at least get them to realize that they were in danger of doing damage not just to a historical moment, but to the very fabric of the universe.

The shaking did not stop. So I tried something else.

I sent a message, broadcasting across all standard frequencies as well as on external speakers. “You are too late. He is not here. He has already risen. You can see the place where they laid him. But if you all converge on this spot, you will risk destroying not only yourselves and your ships but this place and this moment that is so important to you. There are too many ships trying to converge on this same tiny spot. Go to Galilee – there you should be able to see him.”

The shaking seemed to grow less intense but did not stop entirely. Was anything I was doing having any effect? Perhaps the spacetime distortions prevented some or all of the message from being received. Maybe the other ships had heard the message, but their determination to see and know was clouding their judgment.

The light in the tomb grew brighter, and I realized that it was most likely neither an angel, nor someone opening the tomb, but a breach in the fabric of space and time itself.

There was nothing more that I could do to try to prevent what was happening. We had to save ourselves. I moved the controls and withdrew our ship from the spacetime continuum.

And suddenly there he was in in our midst. A man was standing there, naked, inside the ship. A man with scars on his wrists and in his ankles.

I was shocked when he spoke to me in English.

“Kelly,” he said, “your presence here today made history. You came merely to see, but your work created a way for others to come too, and together you made a tunnel leading outside of space and time, a bridge to a reality beyond this one, beyond even the one in which your ship now exists outside of normal space and time. I was pulled into it, and now exist there, even though I can be here as well, and everywhere else. Thank you, for the role you have played, and for what you have made possible.”

I was stunned. What did this mean? I asked him, “Are you saying that I caused the resurrection?”

“You were involved in the process, if that is what you are asking,” Jesus replied.

“So what does this mean?” I asked him. But he just smiled at me, raised his hand in what could have been construed as a blessing or merely a wave goodbye, and then he vanished.

I had so many questions in that moment. I still have them, and many more besides. Did God send me to that moment, to participate in the resurrection? Was it foreordained that I would do that? Could I have done otherwise? Was it inevitable that someone would do it? Or was there no God who was a part of this, and it was just me, traveling through time, asking about stories and planting the seed of them in the minds of people, visiting a tomb and causing a resurrection, and bringing about the faith that would then be taught to me, in a bizarre causal loop that made no logical sense?

Perhaps I should be satisfied. I had seen what I came looking for with my own eyes. Jesus rose from the dead, not merely in the sense of a corpse returning to life, but an entering into a new kind of existence unlike anything any human being had experienced. It was what the theologians had said all along.

Yet I hadn’t just seen it. I had caused it. And I didn’t know what that implied. Did that indicate that there is a God, who orchestrated these things to raise his chosen one from the dead? Or did it indicate that there isn’t a God, and that humans are the cause even of things that seem miraculous to us? Is the technology I invented going to be the reason that people believe in gods and miracles, inspiring future humans to travel back, looking for gods and angels that are in fact us, time travelers from the future?

I told you at the beginning that I am certain. I know exactly what happened on that day, in that tomb, to that person who was once dead, and who now lives forever more. I am certain, and yet I have more questions as a result of this new certainty.

I won’t return to my own time for good. I cannot stay here, having seen and experienced these things. I will probably go to the future, to find out what stories people are telling a long time from now about these things that happened. What stories they are telling about me. What happens to Christian faith in the future as a result of the things that I did, and the stories people tell about it. Maybe I will find that the stories bear no resemblance to the truth. If I try to put things right, will anyone believe me? Can any person’s testimony overcome the beliefs that people find themselves with?

I may one day know the answers to those questions. But before I go, I need to leave this message, so that others can hear my story, and believe what they will about it.

My name is Kelly Wallace. I witnessed the resurrection with my own eyes, and now I am certain about things that no one before me was ever this certain about. And I want to make sure you know what I now know. I’m recording this so that you can be certain, as I am, if you want to be.

But you should know this: Certainty is not all it is cracked up to be. Certainty sucks.”



Dr. James F. McGrath is a professor at Butler University where he is the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature. He has published a number of science fiction and historical fiction short stories, as well as a wide array of nonfiction books, book chapters, and articles related to subjects such as the historical figure of Jesus and the intersection of religion and science fiction. He can be found on social media as @ReligionProf.
This story was first published in Theology and Science Fiction
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