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The Resurrection and early Christian faith

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: No, I meant protoplasm - the stuff we're made of. Did the resurrected body have protoplasm? If so how does he materialize and dematerialize? If not, how can he be touched.

Heh. I don't pretend to understand the physics (or metaphysics!) of all this, but I am reminded of that age-old question: If Jesus ate a fish in his glorified, resurrected body, will he need to go to the bathroom afterwards? How exactly does digestion work for him, now? :)

Ryan H. wrote:

: I was inquiring less about their traditions and more about their specific beliefs. Are they able to affirm the Apostle's and Nicene creeds? Given their association with the Jesus seminar, I would imagine not.

FWIW, I do believe that Crossan has said that he does not believe dead bodies ever become not-dead again. It has been a long time since I followed the "historical Jesus" field all that closely, though, so I can't remember which precise book or magazine article contained that statement.

Borg, in my experience, has tended to speak somewhat vaguely of the Resurrection, saying e.g. that it was not the sort of thing that one could have filmed with a video camera. But as for other parts of the Nicene Creed, such as the question of Jesus' divinity, I believe Borg writes in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (a dialogue between Borg and his fellow, but much more orthodox, Anglican N.T. Wright) that he regards Jesus as a sort of "spiritual genius", the same way we might describe Mozart as a "musical genius", i.e. as someone whose connection to the divine was rare and uncommon but not necessarily unique.

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: No, I meant protoplasm - the stuff we're made of. Did the resurrected body have protoplasm? If so how does he materialize and dematerialize? If not, how can he be touched.

Heh. I don't pretend to understand the physics (or metaphysics!) of all this, but I am reminded of that age-old question: If Jesus ate a fish in his glorified, resurrected body, will he need to go to the bathroom afterwards? How exactly does digestion work for him, now? :)

Luke tells us that Jesus' resurrected body had flesh and bones, and implies what is explicit in John, that he had wounds that could be probed. Luke also tells us, as Peter notes, that he could eat (and John adds that he could cook, too).

Beyond that, there is only a baffling picture of continuity and discontinuity. For discontinuity, in addition to appearing and vanishing (I'm not sure whether materializing and dematerializing is the most helpful language), there is the strange difficulty about recognizing Jesus. For continuity, in addition to the wounds, there is the empty tomb -- and the fact that Jesus was eventually recognized, and sometimes apparently recognized without issue.

The idea of a trans-mortal body defies everything we are able to observe and measure about the world. We may possibly have some sort of insight or speculation as to what it would entail, but there seems to be no hope of peering into how it would work. It is a mode of divine activity utterly disparate to the world of our experience. The risen Jesus may have blood, but I suppose it would be nonsense to think of taking and analyzing a blood sample.

FWIW, the Scholastics spoke of four properties of the resurrected body: clarity, subtlety, agility and impassibility. By clarity they meant splendor, radiance, beauty (as foreshadowed in the Transfiguration, but veiled in at least many of the resurrection appearances). Subtlety and agility referred to transcendence over physical obstacles and distances, e.g., passing through locked doors, moving instantly from one location to another, etc. (as foreshadowed in Jesus walking on water). Impassibility, of course, meant changelessness, immortality.

Underlying all of these properties was a single principle of glorified existence: the "spiritual body," by which the Scholastics understood a body completely subject to the spirit. The resurrected body is wholly an expression of the spirit; it is not partly bound to the spirit and partly bound to the intractability of the physical world as we know it.

FWIW, Peter, I would suppose from all this that digestion would not occur at all in a resurrected body; what happens to ordinary food consumed by Jesus, like Jesus' body itself in the tomb at the moment of resurrection, would not be subject to earthbound analysis. It would pass from what we can know and measure into what we cannot begin to fathom.

Edited by SDG

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: No, I meant protoplasm - the stuff we're made of. Did the resurrected body have protoplasm? If so how does he materialize and dematerialize? If not, how can he be touched.

Heh. I don't pretend to understand the physics (or metaphysics!) of all this, but I am reminded of that age-old question: If Jesus ate a fish in his glorified, resurrected body, will he need to go to the bathroom afterwards? How exactly does digestion work for him, now? :)

Luke tells us that Jesus' resurrected body had flesh and bones, and implies what is explicit in John, that he had wounds that could be probed. Luke also tells us, as Peter notes, that he could eat (and John adds that he could cook, too).

Beyond that, there is only a baffling picture of continuity and discontinuity.

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FWIW, Peter, I would suppose from all this that digestion would not occur at all in a resurrected body; what happens to ordinary food consumed by Jesus, like Jesus' body itself in the tomb at the moment of resurrection, would not be subject to earthbound analysis. It would pass from what we can know and measure into what we cannot begin to fathom.

Forgive me for using my George Carlin voice to intone "Heavy mystery time."

Actually, I'm not all that interested in the question of protoplasm or digestion. In reality they are Enlightenment questions that are being asked of pre-Enlightenment material (in what may be a post-Enlightenment world.) As such, the answers really don't matter. (Perhaps they do in the world of literalists, I don't know.) Certainly for those of us not tied to a literal understanding of scripture, they become very unimportant - even a distraction from the more important questions of what we are being told in the scriptures. I brought it up merely as an example of difficulties that arise when we insist on viewing these stories in a particular light.

As to Ryan's question about Borg, Crossan and the creeds. They are part of churches that use the creeds each week. I suspect they affirm the creeds, but that may not be the same thing as giving mental assent to what is in the creeds. I come from a non-creedal tradition, but when I worship at a Episcopalian or Catholic church, I feel no qualm reciting the creed, but that doesn't mean that I give mental assent to everything. To say "I believe" should never be confused with mental assent.

Also, I have to protest your assertion that association with the Jesus Seminar would mean they would not. The Jesus Seminar is made up of both believing and non-believing scholars. It is inappropriate to doubt the faith of any of the participants with such a broad brush.

Edited by Darrel Manson

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As to Ryan's question about Borg, Crossan and the creeds. They are part of churches that use the creeds each week. I suspect they affirm the creeds, but that may not be the same thing as giving mental assent to what is in the creeds. I come from a non-creedal tradition, but when I worship at a Episcopalian or Catholic church, I feel no qualm reciting the creed, but that doesn't mean that I give mental assent to everything. To say "I believe" should never be confused with mental assent.

:blink:

Um, wow. I thought I had heard it all.

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SDG wrote:

: FWIW, Peter, I would suppose from all this that digestion would not occur at all in a resurrected body . . .

Well, perhaps at the level of chemical digestion, you might be right. But if Jesus chewed his food at all, or swallowed it, then that right there would be an example of mechanical digestion. I had both aspects in mind when I said "How exactly does digestion work for him now?" Clearly, I think, at least PART of the digestive process as we would recognize it is still in evidence there.

FWIW, I'm guessing you probably know that the Scholastics don't hold much sway over the Eastern branches of the church, so I'm not really sure how much overlap there is between the ideas you summarize here and what we might call an Eastern point of view. (Which is not to say that there ISN'T any overlap; I just don't know how strong it would be.) I do get the impression that Orthodox theologians tend to talk of the resurrected body as being free of "corruption", and it is assumed that waste products such as one would leave in a bathroom are a sign of "corruption", ergo the resurrected Jesus would never have to go to the bathroom. Still, it is interesting that the fish Jesus ate, at least, seems to have become "corrupted" in some sense, inasmuch as it was subject to at least some forms of digestion within his body.

(Note to Darrel: I trust that neither SDG nor I, in our use of Western and Eastern theological traditions, have appealed to Enlightenment modes of thought in dealing with this pre-Enlightment question. :) )

Darrel Manson wrote:

: Certainly for those of us not tied to a literal understanding of scripture, they become very unimportant - even a distraction from the more important questions of what we are being told in the scriptures.

Well, this takes us back to what I said earlier about Paul's letter to the Corinthians, when he refers to the "signs, wonders and miracles" that he himself performed in their presence. Never mind what WE are being told in the scriptures, what were THEY (i.e. the Corinthians) being told? Would it make any sense to say that neither Paul nor the Corinthians were tied to a "literal" understanding of those terms? What would it mean if Paul or the Corinthians had believed that the "signs, wonders and miracles" that Paul stakes his reputation on were "true" but not "actual"?

I am not trying to say here that we would have to accept all of the miracle stories in the gospels as actual historical fact if we accepted the idea that Paul and his audience believed that they themselves had witnessed (and, indeed, facilitated) actual miracles. But I AM trying to get a sense of the parameters of the discussion here. If we are denying that literal miracles happened in the early church, or if we are saying that the miracle stories are all a form of midrashic fiction that no one took literally because they were designed to illuminate spiritual truths, then the primary test case for these assertions is not the gospels, which were after all written decades after the fact, but the epistles, which are personal letters between people who (on one side of the conversation, at least) claimed to have witnessed some of these miracles together.

: I suspect they affirm the creeds, but that may not be the same thing as giving mental assent to what is in the creeds.

What would "affirming" the creeds mean, then, if not affirming their content?

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: The miracle stories are not told to show us that Jesus was a wonder-worker, but to shed light on his proclamation of God's Kingdom.

To a point, sure. But the miracle stories are not told simply about Jesus; they are also told about the apostles, both in the gospels and in the Book of Acts. What is more, Paul himself speaks of the miracles that he performed in the presence of his own readers (II Corinthians 12:12: "...for I am not in the least inferior to the 'super-apostles,' even though I am nothing. The things that mark an apostle -- signs, wonders and miracles -- were done among you with great perseverance"). So the miracles shed light, yes, but only because there is a wick to burn in the first place.

If, however, we say that the miracles are "metaphors", then we have to ask what Paul was telling the Corinthians when he reminded them that he had performed "signs, wonders and miracles" in their presence. Was he speaking about events that were "true, not actual"? Would his readers have thought that that was what he meant? Again, the claim being made here is essentially an autobiographical one -- and I would say it's much more clearly autobiographical here than it is in John's gospel, since there don't seem to be any editors tweaking Paul's epistle.

I never said the miracles were metaphors. The accounts of the miracles are metaphors. I think most serious scholars would agree that Jesus was healer and exorcist. The nature miracles might be more in dispute about how actual they were. But the healings and exorcism that are told of in the gospels are told in such a way to be saying far more than Jesus did these things.

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FWIW, I do believe that Crossan has said that he does not believe dead bodies ever become not-dead again. It has been a long time since I followed the "historical Jesus" field all that closely, though, so I can't remember which precise book or magazine article contained that statement.

Borg, in my experience, has tended to speak somewhat vaguely of the Resurrection, saying e.g. that it was not the sort of thing that one could have filmed with a video camera. But as for other parts of the Nicene Creed, such as the question of Jesus' divinity, I believe Borg writes in The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (a dialogue between Borg and his fellow, but much more orthodox, Anglican N.T. Wright) that he regards Jesus as a sort of "spiritual genius", the same way we might describe Mozart as a "musical genius", i.e. as someone whose connection to the divine was rare and uncommon but not necessarily unique.

Ah. Thanks.

As to Ryan's question about Borg, Crossan and the creeds. They are part of churches that use the creeds each week. I suspect they affirm the creeds, but that may not be the same thing as giving mental assent to what is in the creeds. I come from a non-creedal tradition, but when I worship at a Episcopalian or Catholic church, I feel no qualm reciting the creed, but that doesn't mean that I give mental assent to everything. To say "I believe" should never be confused with mental assent.

:blink:

Um, wow. I thought I had heard it all.

Yes. This notion that one can affirm the creed without giving mental assent strikes me as complete nonsense.

Also, I have to protest your assertion that association with the Jesus Seminar would mean they would not. The Jesus Seminar is made up of both believing and non-believing scholars. It is inappropriate to doubt the faith of any of the participants with such a broad brush.

I don't recall questioning their faith, at least not openly. I simply wondered and then speculated about the nature of their faith, and it would seem in this instance, my hunch was right; Borg and Crossan cannot affirm the Apostle's and Nicene creeds in terms of mental assent. Now, are there any orthodox, creed-affirming (in terms of mental assent) Biblical scholars who participated in the Jesus Seminar? I wouldn't know--I didn't even know who Borg and Crossan were until this thread--but given the ideas put forward by the Jesus Seminar, I imagine not. Always open to being surprised, though.

Edited by Ryan H.

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I never said the miracles were metaphors. The accounts of the miracles are metaphors. I think most serious scholars would agree that Jesus was healer and exorcist. The nature miracles might be more in dispute about how actual they were. But the healings and exorcism that are told of in the gospels are told in such a way to be saying far more than Jesus did these things.

This sounds not entirely unlike the traditional distinction of the literal sense and the allegorical sense. FWIW, I would prefer that language to saying "the accounts are metaphors," which strikes me as confusing on more than one level. (An account might be metaphorical, but I'm not sure it makes sense to say an account is a metaphor. An account is, well, an account, regardless whether it's historical, fictional, symbolic, or whatever. I'm not sure an account per se is ever a metaphor in its own narrative context, though it might become a metaphor in some other context. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, and all that.)

Edited by SDG

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ryan -. while Crossan might (or might not) be strictly orthodox from your pov, I think his work is well worth reading. (At least, what I've read so far has been very intriguing and thought-provoking.)

I cannot fathom any formulation of thought that would require a caveat on Crossan's non-orthodoxy. Just sayin'.

I think he was the "eaten by dogs" guy. Unless that was Funk.

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: DM

: Something I didn't include above is how unlikely it was that the Romans would

: have permitted Jesus to be buried. The idea of crucifixion was to publicly

: torture and humiliate, and to provide an example - which almost always meant

: leaving the body there for the dogs and birds to feast on.

FWIW I've considered this claim from time to time. It seems to me that if Crossan is correct here about corpses being left on crosses then this actually backs up the gospel's claims. Crucifixion was horrifically commonplace, so your average reader, anywhere in the Roman Empire, would be familiar with it: the fact that most people stayed alive longer than Jesus and that corpses were usually left on the crosses means that even those without the stomach for it would be aware of the fact that what the gospels describe is exceptional.

But whereas Crossan sees this as pointing away from this being historical, it strikes me as the kind of claim that you would only make if it were true. It seems to me unlikely that you would risk the veracity of your account by including details that even a child could see through.

Furthermore, the story of the empty cross almost makes more sense. I don't know how long bones and other left over bits stayed on the crosses but I imagine it would be considerably more than the 3 days until every last piece was gone.

And yet here, two days later Jesus' cross is empty.

Secondly on this, whilst what Crossan describes throughout the Empire was the standard, there is at least one known exception (Johanan) found in 1968. Who had been buried. So it's not like this is without precedent. And where, of all the places in the empire was this corpse found? Jerusalem. So it's possible, even if not likely, that there were some special rules in Judea, as there was with covered standards etc. And this was Passover time after all.

: PTC

: Heh. I don't pretend to understand the physics (or metaphysics!) of all this,

: but I am reminded of that age-old question: If Jesus ate a fish in his glorified,

: resurrected body, will he need to go to the bathroom afterwards?

: How exactly does digestion work for him, now? :)

And if he eats a fish right before walking through a wall, do the bits of fish stay in his stomach, or are they left behind on the other side of the wall?

Matt

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I think it can be very helpful to read/hear work written from perspectives that are different from our own.

Of course. I wouldn't have read through so much of Nietzsche's work if I felt otherwise.

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Darrel Manson wrote:

: I never said the miracles were metaphors. The accounts of the miracles are metaphors. I think most serious scholars would agree that Jesus was healer and exorcist. The nature miracles might be more in dispute about how actual they were. But the healings and exorcism that are told of in the gospels are told in such a way to be saying far more than Jesus did these things.

Well, okay, they do say more than that. But they do not say less. There may be some theologizing embedded in the way that these stories are told, but there is, in general, an historical core to them as well (though perhaps not in every single case).

MattPage wrote:

: It seems to me that if Crossan is correct here about corpses being left on crosses then this actually backs up the gospel's claims. . . .

: And yet here, two days later Jesus' cross is empty.

Ah, excellent point! So it's not just the "empty tomb" (or the tomb, period) that deviates from standard Roman practice, but the "empty cross" as well! And yet the fact that Jesus was "buried" the same weekend that he died is part of the core kerygma going back to our earliest written sources, written only two decades or so after the death and burial in question.

: Secondly on this, whilst what Crossan describes throughout the Empire was the standard, there is at least one known exception (Johanan) found in 1968. Who had been buried. So it's not like this is without precedent. And where, of all the places in the empire was this corpse found? Jerusalem. So it's possible, even if not likely, that there were some special rules in Judea, as there was with covered standards etc.

Yes. Crossan, to be fair, cites the fact that Israel is one of the most heavily excavated places on the planet to the effect that, if we have found only ONE crucified skeleton there in all this time, it probably indicates that the burial of crucifixion victims was exceedingly rare. But as you say, by the same token, the fact that we HAVE found a buried crucifixion victim -- and that we found him in Jerusalem -- lends support to the idea that Jesus really WAS buried after his crucifixion, just as Paul and the Evangelists said he was.

: And if he eats a fish right before walking through a wall, do the bits of fish stay in his stomach, or are they left behind on the other side of the wall?

Ha! Kind of like, when the Rapture happens, will people leave their fillings and pacemakers behind? :)

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: Ha! Kind of like, when the Rapture happens, will people leave their fillings and pacemakers behind?

Yeah, though (partly due to some of the things in this conversation) I would definitely say "if".

Matt

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In honor of Easter Sunday -- celebrated in common this year with (most of?) the Orthodox, woo hoo! -- some more thoughts about the resurrection appearance accounts. (As before, global props to N. T. Wright.)

As previously noted, the earliest data we have on Christian belief regarding the resurrection of Jesus, the (probably) pre-Pauline credal formula of 1 Corinthians 15:3ff, hints at the empty tomb by emphasizing Christ's burial, but specifically enumerates the witnesses who saw Christ raised: first Cephas (Peter), then all the Twelves, then more than five hundred at once, then James, and last of all, Paul adds, himself.

It doesn't seem possible to explain the early Christian conviction that Jesus had been raised from the dead on the third day, along with the whole complex of early Christian reinterpretation of the idea of resurrection, simply on the basis of post-crucifixion encounters with Jesus alone. The Jews were as familiar as other ancient peoples with the experience of encounters with the recently departed, and such experiences by themselves, however extraordinary, would certainly have been interpreted as visions or encounters with a spirit or angel, probably by those who had these experiences, and certainly by others.

Although the early Christians reevaluated and reinterpreted the Jewish doctrine of resurrection in a number of ways, as discussed above, one thing that did not change is that resurrection meant a bodily return from death, a reversal of death and return to bodily life. There is no support anywhere either in contemporary Jewish literature or early Christian literature (first or second century) for resurrection language referring to spiritual survival or spiritual glorification after death, leaving the body to death and decay. In Wright's memorable turn of phrase, resurrection was precisely not about "life after death," but "life after 'life after death.'" In that connection it is significant that all the data insists that Jesus was raised "on the third day" -- not simply that on that day he was experienced alive, but that on that day his actual status changed. On the second day he was still dead; on the third day, he no longer was.

It would be sheer nonsense to imagine Jesus' followers coming to believe that their Master had been raised if the body were still buried and in a tomb. It is, I submit, not much less nonsensical to imagine them having this belief if the body were simply unaccounted for because no one knew or pretended to know what had become to it -- e.g., if, per Crossan, the body had been devoured by wild animals and the only data were the post-crucifixion appearances. This seems to be part of the significance of the insistence on Jesus' burial in 1 Cor 15.

On the other hand, an empty tomb alone also would not suffice to bring about belief in the resurrection. An empty tomb could be explained any number of ways. An empty tomb alone would not regalvanize disspirited and demoralized disciples with an entirely new perspective on the meaning and the nature of resurrection. It would not bring about the confession that Jesus had been experienced alive and well by Cephas, James and the rest of the Twelve -- men whom St. Paul had met more than once in Jerusalem.

The Gospels agree with 1 Corinthians 15 that after being crucified and buried, Jesus was experienced alive by his disciples. Mark points to these experiences as something that will happen, but the text of Mark as we have it does not narrate these meetings. Matthew, Luke and John give narrative accounts of the meetings -- accounts that strike us as problematic and strange in a number of respects, but which also offer a number of striking convergences and oddities that make it difficult to dismiss them as theological fictions giving imaginative form to experiences about which nothing could be recalled or had been handed down.

Unlike the passion narratives, the most consistent sustained accounts in the four Gospels, the resurrection appearance narratives are notoriously diverse and difficult to harmonize. Of course this may be partly explainable by the fact that the passion narrative is by its nature a single narrative following a single figure (the only notable tangent being Peter's denials), while the resurrection accounts are by nature episodic and distributed among different individuals and different locales, without a single narrative thread. Still, it is extremely easy to pit one account against another, and it is beyond my purpose here to argue that the accounts as we have them can be harmonized, even in principle.

Instead, I want to argue that the accounts as we have them look in a number of respects like they preserve actual reportage of and memories of the post-crucifixion meetings. They contain details and convergences that it is hard to imagine the Evangelists making up if they merely wanted to dress up the confessional tradition of 1 Corinthians 15 in narrative clothes; and, conversely, they do not contain the sort of things we would expect to find in such a theological fiction.

First, some notable convergences.

  • All four Gospels agree that the story begins early on the first day of the week, two days after Jesus' execution, with Mary Magdalene (and in the Synoptic Gospels other women as well) going to the empty tomb.
  • All agree that the tomb was sealed with a large stone that the women would not be able to move, but that the stone is already rolled back when the women arrive.
  • All agree that the women encounter angels (or what seem to be angels) at the tomb, who question their presence and/or behavior; in all but John the angels tell the women that Jesus has been raised.
  • Matthew and John agree that Mary Magdalene then meets Jesus himself.
  • All but Mark have the women go to tell the male disciples (Mark reports that they were told to do so, but were silent for fear), and Luke and John have Peter and another disciple go to the tomb to see for themselves. (Wright highlights that while Luke's account of Peter running to the tomb mentions only Peter, Luke later indicates in 24:24 that Peter was not the only one to investigate the women's claims.)
  • Luke and John describe Jesus appearing to the disciples in the upper room, presenting his wounds for inspection, and promising the Holy Spirit.
  • Matthew and John agree that Jesus appeared not only in Jerusalem but also in Galilee (as Mark indicated he would do).
  • Finally, both Luke and John, and possibly Matthew, describe puzzling incidents in which Jesus is seen but not clearly recognized, and even taken for someone else.

Some notable points:


  1. The difficulty about recognizing Jesus. The Emmaus road account in Luke, and in John the early meeting with Mary Magdalene and the Sea of Tiberius account, offer one of the oddest features in the resurrection accounts: the implication that Jesus was not immediately recognizable by those who had known him. Almost equally oddly, he also was not immediately recognizable as a glorified or supernatural figure -- Mary thought he was the gardener, and the disciples on the Emmaus road took him for a random stranger. At the Sea of Tiberius John tells us that no one dared ask "Who are you?" since they "knew" it was the Lord, which would be an inexplicable thing to write if his appearance were simply that of the man they had always known. Even Matthew may hint at the difficulty ("When they saw him, they worshiped, but some doubted").

    This is such an oddity in the stories, creating unnecessary difficulties without adding any obvious value, that it is hard to account for in any other way than by ascribing it to real memories and reports of the post-crucifixion encounters with Jesus. Certainly the texts themselves seem to make nothing of it. Wright goes so far as to argue that an attempt to create resurrection encounter narratives from whole cloth would almost inevitably portray Jesus as a luminous, unearthly being, as per Daniel 12:2-3.

  2. The prominence of women as the first witnesses. Though notably not mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15, women appear prominently in all four Gospels as the first to go to the tomb, the first to discover the missing body, the first to hear from the angel(s) of Jesus' resurrection, and (in John) the first to see Jesus himself raised. In both Jewish and pagan worlds, women were considered unreliable witnesses, and evidence given by women was evidence that begged to be dismissed and disregarded. If Mark were making up his account from whole cloth, working with nothing but the basic tradition recorded in 1 Corinthians 15, which lists only the male witnesses, to artificially introduce female witnesses of the empty tomb would only diminish his account's credibility.

    Even if one were to hypothesize (in the absence of any real evidence) a scenario in which Mark's account reflected a brief time of male and female equality in the early Church before the reassertion of male superiority, one would still have to explain both Mark's willingness gratuitiously to degrade his account's credibility to hostile readers, and also Matthew and John's crowning innovation of having the risen Christ himself first witnessed by a woman at a much later date. The easiest explanation is that the Gospel narratives record what the earliest tradition (the 1 Corinthians 15 credal formula), structured for maximum apologetical and evangelistic value, prudently omitted: the women who were in fact the first witnesses of the empty tomb and, according to John, of the risen Christ.

  3. The dearth of Old Testament citations and eschatological reflection. In contradistinction to the passion narratives, which continually tell us that this or that happened "to fulfill the scriptures," or that describe events in terms that echo Old Testament passages, the resurrection appearances are strikingly bare-bones and matter-of-fact. If the Evangelists had no actual memories or reports to work with, it would seem very odd indeed if they were to craft narratives without looking for inspiration to the Old Testament scriptures.

    One is always free to argue that the account of the soldiers casting lots for Jesus' clothes was inspired by the Old Testament passage the narratives profess to describe fulfilled, but what incentive would the Evangelists have, after referring to the Old Testament scriptures throughout their passion narratives which most scholars recognize as the most historical bits of their accounts, to push those scriptures aside when forced to fabricate resurrection accounts?

    Almost equally oddly, though resurrection in Christian belief came to occupy a far more important place than it ever had in Jewish belief, the accounts are remarkably free of theologizing about the hope of believers. There is little if any hint anywhere in the resurrection accounts that Jesus was brought back to life, and so believers will too. This is utterly unlike the method of Christian reflection on the resurrection of Christ throughout the NT, starting with 1 Corinthians 15. Also, while Jesus' body is certainly depicted as behaving oddly (appearing and disappearing at will), there is no indication that the disciples perceive his body as immortal and impassible (major theological themes in Paul).

Wright proposes that all of these oddities add up to accounts that "have the puzzled air of someone saying, 'I didn't understand it at the time, and I'm not sure I do now, but this is more or less how it happened.'" This seems persuasive to me.

Edited by SDG

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Brilliant as always, SDG. Two quick footnote-y thoughts occur to me:

: It would be sheer nonsense to imagine Jesus' followers coming to believe that their Master had been raised if the body were still buried and in a tomb. It is, I submit, not much less nonsensical to imagine them having this belief if the body were simply unaccounted for because no one knew or pretended to know what had become to it -- e.g., if, per Crossan, the body had been devoured by wild animals and the only data were the post-crucifixion appearances. This seems to be part of the significance of the insistence on Jesus' burial in 1 Cor 15.

I wonder... what if no one knew where the body had been buried or disposed of, but they still experienced a risen Jesus who ate fish and allowed them to touch the holes in his hands, feet and side? Would THAT have been physical or resurrection-y enough for them? Or would there still have been some wriggle room whereby they might think that a ghost or some similar non-physical entity had done all these things? (Of course, Crossan and others of his ilk would probably dispute the literal historicity of those stories to begin with...)

: . . . the disciples on the Emmaus road took him for a random stranger.

Which is especially odd if the Cleopas named in this story is the same Cleopas who, according to Hegesippus, was Jesus' uncle. (And, hmmm, is it possible that the "Cleopas" named in Luke is identical to the "Clopas" whose wife, according to John's gospel, stood with the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene at the cross? Is it possible, even, that Cleopas's unnamed traveling companion on the road to Emmaus was this same wife? I know Orthodox tradition currently holds that Cleopas's traveling companion was Luke himself, but this seems unlikely to me...)

Incidentally, what are we to make of the fact that Cleopas and his traveling companion are not mentioned in the I Corinthians 15 credal formula? There are plausible theories, yes, for why WOMEN were left out of that formula -- but what about this MAN, who appears to have seen Jesus around the same time that Peter did, and certainly before the rest of the Twelve did?

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As to Ryan's question about Borg, Crossan and the creeds. They are part of churches that use the creeds each week. I suspect they affirm the creeds, but that may not be the same thing as giving mental assent to what is in the creeds. I come from a non-creedal tradition, but when I worship at a Episcopalian or Catholic church, I feel no qualm reciting the creed, but that doesn't mean that I give mental assent to everything. To say "I believe" should never be confused with mental assent.

:blink:

Um, wow. I thought I had heard it all.

Yes. This notion that one can affirm the creed without giving mental assent strikes me as complete nonsense.

I'm coming almost a year late to this discussion, I realize, but Darrel's remarks brought to mind something that the anthropologist Roy A. Rappaport (1926-1997) once wrote. It took me a bit to find it again, but I did. Rappaport, for those not familiar with his work, was one of foremost authorities in his field on ritual. I have and highly recommend two books of his - Ecology, Meaning, and Religion and Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity. In the latter work, in chapter 4, in a section titled "Acceptance, belief, and conformity," Rappaport writes:

First, acceptance is not belief. The concept of belief is difficult to define and the occurrence of belief difficult to establish (see R. Needham 1972). Let us say that the term "belief" at least suggests a mental state concerning, or arising out of, the relationship between the cognitive processes of individuals and representations presented to them as possible candidates for the status of true. As such, "belief" is a second-order process, that is, one concerned with the relationship between a first-order process and external reality. By this account, belief is an inward state, knowable subjectively if at all, and it would be entirely unwarranted either for us or for participants or witnesses to assume that participation in a ritual would necessary indicate such a state.

Acceptance, in contrast, is not a private state, but a public act, visible both to witnesses and to performers themselves. People may accept because they believe, but acceptance not only is not itself belief; it doesn't even imply belief. Ritual performance often possesses perlocutionary force, and the private processes of individuals may often be persuaded by their ritual participation to come into conformity with their public acts, but this is not always the case. Belief is a cogent reason, but far from the only reason, for acceptance. Conversely, belief can provide grounds for refusals to accept. Reformers and heretics, for the very reason that they deeply believe in certain postulates concerning the divine, may refuse to participate in the rituals of religious institutions they take to have fallen into error or corruption. ...

This is not to say that the private processes may not be important in the dynamics of ritual. In a later chapter we shall take up belief and religious experience. It is simply to recognize that the private states of others are in their nature unknowable and even one's own attitudes may not always be easy to ascertain, for we are inclined to be ambivalent about matters of importance, like the conventions to which we are subordinate, and private states are likely to be volatile. "Common belief" cannot in itself provide a sufficiently firm ground upon which to establish public orders, even in very simple societies. We cannot know if a belief is common, for one thing, and whereas belief is vexed by ambivalence and clouded by ambiguity acceptance is not. Liturgical orders are public, and participation in them constitutes a public acceptance of a public order, regardless of the private state of belief. Acceptance is not only public but clear. One either participates in a liturgy or one does not; the choice is binary and as such it is formally free of ambiguity. While ritual participation may not transform the private state of the performer from one of "disbelief" to "belief," our argument is that in it the ambiguity, ambivalence and volatility of the private processes are subordinated to a simple and unambiguous public act, sensible both to the performers themselves and to witnesses as well. Liturgical performance is, thus, a fundamental social act, for the acceptance intrinsic to it forms a basis for public orders which unknowable and volatile belief or conviction cannot.

As much as I like and respect Rappaport, I think there are certain aspects of religion that didn't fully resonate with him personally (and I believe he even admitted as much, somewhere). Try as he would to not let it - the good objective scholar and all that - I think this fact affected his work to some degree. But despite that, and looking past the "anthro" mindset and terminology, I think there is something valid in what he says above. I don't know, of course, whether Darrel was thinking in precisely these terms or not, but he could have been.

Also, on the topic of the creeds, my blog post of earlier today, "Rethinking the First Article of the Creed," may be of interest.

Edited by tenpenny

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It seems to me I've researched Humphrey's theories in the past and found them unconvincing. Going on my hazy memories, I'm not sure anyone has ever really shown that there were actually two calendars that might have been used at the time. I'm open to being convinced, though. It's certainly true that the Gospels record a lot of events to try to stuff into Thursday night to Friday morning, although obviously haste may have been warranted.

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I've also read some who have tried to set Palm Sunday a week earlier to leave enough time for all to take place. I'm also not convinced, and to a large extent don't care. At this point, the tradition is more important than the facts. Myth matters more than historicity. But then, that's how I can celebrate Easter anyway, isn't it.

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At this point, the tradition is more important than the facts. Myth matters more than historicity. But then, that's how I can celebrate Easter anyway, isn't it.

Words can't express how bleak and melancholy this sounds to me. Recently you Facebooked a haiku about "good news." A story isn't news. I love stories, but they aren't news. As far as I can see, for you, there isn't any news.

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Tyler wrote:

: A researcher thinks the Last Supper was on a Wednesday.

Or, "a western Christian thinks the eastern Christians got this one right." :)

The Orthodox are supposed to fast every Wednesday and Friday as a way of marking the betrayal and crucifixion of Christ, just as we meet every Sunday as a way of marking the Resurrection. If the betrayal of Jesus took place on a Wednesday, then I guess it would follow that the Last Supper took place on a Wednesday, as well.

Incidentally, one other way in which the eastern churches tend to follow John's gospel rather than the synoptics (with regard to the question of whether the Last Supper was a Passover meal) is that we use leavened bread for communion rather than the unleavened Passover-like bread that western churches use.

Edited by Peter T Chattaway

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At this point, the tradition is more important than the facts. Myth matters more than historicity. But then, that's how I can celebrate Easter anyway, isn't it.

Words can't express how bleak and melancholy this sounds to me. Recently you Facebooked a haiku about "good news." A story isn't news. I love stories, but they aren't news. As far as I can see, for you, there isn't any news.

Bleak? No! News must have narrative - theology too for that matter. It is why we have the stories we do have. Whether we view them as historical or not, they are the way we can speak of the one whom death could not defeat - the one who is with us always. To be sure, there is much more to the living presence than that, but that in itself is a great deal to celebrate.

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Bleak? No! News must have narrative - theology too for that matter. It is why we have the stories we do have. Whether we view them as historical or not, they are the way we can speak of the one whom death could not defeat - the one who is with us always. To be sure, there is much more to the living presence than that, but that in itself is a great deal to celebrate.

If God is with us always, that's certainly a great deal to celebrate. But is it news? Has anything happened? Has our situation been altered in some way, or is it only our thinking that's changed?

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