Friday, July 06, 2007

Much Ado About Resurrection

There's been plenty of blog-buzz about James Crossley's response to Tom Wright about the resurrection. Be sure to read it, as James gives a lengthy reply.

April DeConick chimes in with a four-point commentary, and I agree particularly with the third:
"What matters for the historical study of early Christianity is that the early Christians thought/ believed/ promoted/ remembered/ taught that Jesus had risen, not whether it 'really' happened. It is the belief that is foundational to understand the early Christian movement. It tells us that it was an apocalyptic movement with strong eschatological factors, including the belief that Jesus' resurrection had begun the events of the last days..."
That's right. What the disciples believed to have happened should be the crucial question for historians. What actually happened (or did not happen, as the case may be) may be of more burning interest to theologians and scientists.

But Wright is a theologian as much as a historian, as we all know. It's always amazed me how he thinks the lack of precedent for Jesus' resurrection historically validates it. I.e. That since Jewish tradition didn't provide for an individual's resurrection before the end -- especially for a messiah who had gone down in shame -- the Christians wouldn't have made such a far-fetched claim, unless it were actually true. Wright has a very poor understanding of human behavior. People from all cultures make wild and far-fetched claims all the time to cope with crushed spirits. Self-delusion is essential to the human condition.

On the other hand, I've made it plain in the past that I agree with Wright that the early Christians wouldn't have claimed Jesus was raised from the dead unless they really believed it to be true -- but not because they were incapable of being wildly inventive, rather because there was no reason for them to be so inventive at this point. Dale Allison (Resurrecting Jesus) points out that people resort to wild revisionism when expectations fail, and the disciples' expectations hadn't failed. Jesus' shameful execution squared with what they were told to look for in the tribulation period: suffering, persecution, and death. It would have demoralized them to be sure, but ultimately taken as part of the apocalyptic drama ("it would have put them down but not out", as Allison says). They would have continued to hope for the end of all things, at which point their messiah would be raised and vindicated along with the rest of the righteous. The empty tomb interrupted that hope.

So Wright is sometimes Right, but for Wrong reasons.


Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

It is not true to say that the disciples (prophets) expectations had not failed. Their prophet Judas had been executed by stoning. Following his mission to Gentiles, James, the son Judas, then the leader of the prophets, was executed by the high priest Ananus. Finally, Simon, James's brother and constant missionary companion, while defending the sanctuary, was captured by Titus and eventually led in Vespasian's misclaimed triumph to his death.

All in all a pretty bad end to what had been a good beginning. With Vespasian in charge everyone had to dance to his tune. The prophets were finished. The 'Christian' and Jewish reforms could begin.

Blogger Eddie said...

Hi Loren.

Many thanks for the post and the accompanying link. Very thoughtful for me. I have placed a post linking to 'The Forbidden Gospels and to yourself over on my 'Gates' blog.

I just have one thing to say at this time: I do believe that the disciples were at first knocked over by the Crucifixion, and that, for whatever reason came to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead and searched the Scriptures for passages that supported this understanding.

God Bless.


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