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The Resurrection and early Christian faith


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#21 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 12:01 AM

I'd refer you to various Historical Jesus folk and the Jesus Seminar for ways of looking at these question.

I'm loosely acquainted with "historical Jesus" scholarship and the Jesus seminar. With my limited experience, I don't find either satisfying, to put it quite kindly.

I think Borg and Crossan are very good for doing this from the context of faith rather than only scholarship.

Are Borg and Crossan of an orthodox Christian faith? I'm entirely unfamiliar with them.

Why would these stories (which have to be seen as stories in opposition to the imperial cult) be taken differently?

Well, as far as we can tell about the early church, it would seem that they were taken differently. But in terms of the texts themselves, John's gospel obviously has broad theological sweep that could lend itself more to a "metaphorical" approach of interpretation, but the other three gospels strike me as being very much grounded primarily in historical truth. Particularly Luke, whose two-part writings to Theophilus were, to paraphraise, to bring certainty to the things he had been taught. I suppose you could define that "certainty" as certainty in theological, rather than historical terms, but given Luke's suggestion of "eyewitness" in the introduction, I think that would be going against the grain of the introduction.

It might fit with the picture of Pilate in the gospels, but not with the picture of the ruthless military administrator of the Roman Imperial system that we have elsewhere (and even occasionally in the gospels).

Perhaps so. But if Pilate really was as terrified as the canonical gospels suggest he was...

For the sake of argument, though, I am willing to allow for the possibility that Jesus might have been buried in a mass grave or something, rather than a dedicated tomb. Then again, if we follow SDG's point about the physical continuity between "died", "buried" and "raised", then we have to wonder how Jesus would have gotten out of this mass grave. I now have images from zombie movies and other films coming to mind, of hands clawing their way up through the dirt. :)

:D

In addition to Paul's mention of the burial, we must take into account that Paul confirms Jesus "was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures." If the Romans left him to hang on the cross as food for the birds, is it likely that he'd have been down for the count for only three days?

#22 SDG

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 01:20 AM

Thanks, Darrel. A lot to think about there. (Hat tip for everything that follows: N. T. Wright.)

It looks like we would agree on the centrality of the resurrection appearances, on the disciples' experience of Jesus in some living and powerful way after the crucifixion, in the genesis of Christian faith. Without such experiences of Jesus, the genesis and shape of Christian faith in the earliest forms known to us would seem inexplicable, even inconceivable.

The resurrection appearances are necessary to explain the genesis and shape of early Christian faith. But are they sufficient? There is a certain prima facie plausibility in the proposal that belief that Jesus was raised might eventually have produced empty tomb stories. But is it also plausible that belief that Jesus had been raised could have been produced without an empty tomb?

Expanding the question somewhat, does the kind of experience you posit of Jesus, however living and powerful, make the disciples' faith and proclamation intelligible? The radical nature of this idea that resurrection had occurred, and of the larger implications for resurrection belief among the early Christians, are perhaps not widely appreciated.

Experiences of encountering deceased loved ones, sometimes in vivid and powerful ways, were by no means unknown among the Jews or their pagan contemporaries. Visions, hallucinations, encounters with spirits, angels and ghosts (Jewish ideas about the afterlife were pretty fuzzy), and other forms of paranormal experiences were all well-accepted phenomena.

The catch is, nothing in Jewish thought, and still less in pagan thought, pointed toward interpreting such experiences with respect the hope of resurrection. It seems very difficult to avoid the conclusion that any experience of Jesus after the crucifixion -- if the experience itself were the only data point -- would be interpreted as a vision / spirit / angel, probably by the disciples themselves and certainly by anyone hearing about it secondhand. Something of this sort is indeed reported in Acts 22-23, where the Pharisees hear Paul's entire Damascus Road story -- and, apparently knowing nothing of the empty tomb, proceed to defend Paul on the grounds that perhaps "an angel or a spirit" has spoken to him. (OTOH, Paul himself, having persecuted the Church, was likely more familiar with the Church's kerygma on this point when he had his Damascus Road experience.)

Resistance to interpreting such an encounter or experience in terms of resurrection, or even thinking to do so, would be formidable. The idea of resurrection occurring for one person while the rest of the world went on was virtually a non sequitur -- and that's far from the only way that the Christian idea of resurrection parted ways from existing Jewish ideas.

Lazarus' sister Mary's reply to Jesus' assurance that "Your brother will rise again" -- "I know that he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day" -- accurately expresses how Jews thought about resurrection (when they thought about it at all). What Christian theology calls "the general resurrection," in contradistinction to the resurrection of Christ, the Jews called simply "the resurrection," no other sort being looked for. The disciples' reported bewilderment at Jesus' predictions of rising on the third day is also entirely plausible: From a traditional Jewish perspective, it would seem that Jesus must be speaking metaphorically either with respect to "the third day" (in some cryptic reference to the last day) or else "rising from the dead" (thus their actual reported puzzling over what "rising from the dead" might mean).

In a word, resurrection in Jewish belief was not nearly as significant, clear or central a tenet as it became in Christian belief. What was in Jewish belief a rather peripheral, debatable, shadowy doctrine becomes in Christianity central, essential and sharply defined. As Wright puts it, the idea of resurrection underwent a striking mutation (or a number of mutations) in the new Christian faith. One thing that had not shifted, though, is that resurrection still meant not just survival after death, but a reversal of death, a bodily return from death. It was still fundamentally the hope of (some of) the Jews, but seen in a brilliant new light.

This is a historical phenomenon that wants a historical explanation. What caused this mutation? What happened to make the early Christians reevaluate previous perspectives on resurrection so significantly?

The answer closest at hand would seem to be that their experience of Jesus' resurrection somehow caused them to see resurrection in this new light. How, then, did they come to believe that what had happened to Jesus was precisely resurrection, so much so that resurrection itself was now to be understood in this brilliant new light? Post-crucifixion encounters alone wouldn't seem to do it.

In particular, the conviction that Jesus had been raised on the third day poses an added difficulty. The credal formula of 1 Cor 15 doesn't say "He appeared to Cephas on the third day," but "He was raised on the third day." Whatever extraordinary experience of Jesus might have taken place on any particular day, it's not easy to see how that experience alone would produce the universal affirmation that Jesus' actual status changed somehow on a specific day after his death, especially given, again, the fuzziness of existing Jewish ideas about the afterlife.

As PTC notes, that the 1 Cor 15 credal formula mentions Jesus' burial also seems significant. In a compressed summary like this, such a detail would only be mentioned if it were deemed very significant. Not only does the stated burial contradict Crossan's theory about wild animals eating the body, it probably also militates against the idea PTC mentions of a mass grave. The likely import of the mention of the burial is that the location of Jesus' body for those three days was known -- and that after those three days the body was no longer there, and known to be no longer there. Surely we aren't to picture the disciples rooting through some mass grave looking for Jesus' body in a heap of corpses! There must have been a tomb, and an empty tomb.

Still another factor is the actual shape of the Easter stories as we have them. To start with, if Mark were going to invent an empty tomb account in order to give narrative flesh to the idea that Jesus had been raised, it's highly unlikely that he would hit on the idea of having the empty tomb discovered by women, who were not considered reliable witnesses (as even the disciples' skepticism accurately attests), without bringing in any male witnesses at all. Rather, like the 1 Corinthians 15 formula which lists only fine, upstanding male witnesses, Mark would likely have had the apostles doing the discovering. Likewise, Matthew and John give apparently independent accounts of Jesus appearing first to women. Other oddities, seemingly independent literarily, crop up, including failure to recognize Jesus. These oddities make the most sense if they preserve the actual character of the original experiences that caused Easter faith, not if we regard them as narrative expressions of Easter faith. I'll explore that argument further in a future post.

Wright argues that while the post-crucifixion appearances are necessary to explain the shape of early Christian faith, by themselves they are utterly insufficient to produce it. The empty tomb, the absent corpse, is also a necessary condition -- and only both conditions in tandem produce a sufficient condition that adequately accounts for the origin and shape of early Christian faith. Neither one by itself does it without the other. It further seems that Easter faith alone is insufficient to explain the narrative accounts we actually have of the discovery of the empty tomb and the encounters with the resurrected Christ. Again, more later.

P.S. Ellen, perhaps Darrel meant "ectoplasm"? Ryan: Borg and Crossan are two of the top guys at the Jesus Seminar.

Edited by SDG, 21 March 2010 - 11:37 AM.


#23 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 01:35 AM

Ryan: Borg and Crossan are two of the top guys at the Jesus Seminar.

Ah.

#24 Darrel Manson

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 09:12 AM

P.S. Ellen, perhaps Darrel meant "ectoplasm"? Ryan: Borg and Crossan are two of the top guys at the Jesus Seminar.

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.

As to their faith traditions, Borg was raised Lutheran and is now Episcopalian; Crossan in Roman Catholic. Borg is lay, and is now retired from teaching religion at Oregon State. Crossan is a former priest, now retired fro teaching religion at DePaul.

#25 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 09:53 AM

As to their faith traditions, Borg was raised Lutheran and is now Episcopalian; Crossan in Roman Catholic. Borg is lay, and is now retired from teaching religion at Oregon State. Crossan is a former priest, now retired fro teaching religion at DePaul.

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.

Edited by Ryan H., 21 March 2010 - 09:53 AM.


#26 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 10:17 AM

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.

#27 SDG

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 05:18 PM

: 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, 21 March 2010 - 05:23 PM.


#28 Darrel Manson

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 05:53 PM

: 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, 21 March 2010 - 05:55 PM.


#29 SDG

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 05:56 PM

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.

#30 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 07:10 PM

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?

#31 Darrel Manson

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 08:04 PM

: 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.

#32 Ryan H.

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 08:49 PM

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., 21 March 2010 - 08:54 PM.


#33 SDG

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Posted 21 March 2010 - 09:05 PM

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, 21 March 2010 - 09:25 PM.


#34 Buckeye Jones

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 07:57 AM

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.

#35 MattPage

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 11:15 AM

: 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

#36 Ryan H.

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 11:29 AM

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.

#37 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 12:59 PM

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? :)

#38 MattPage

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Posted 22 March 2010 - 01:25 PM

: 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

#39 SDG

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Posted 04 April 2010 - 06:22 PM

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:


  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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, 04 April 2010 - 06:54 PM.


#40 Peter T Chattaway

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Posted 05 April 2010 - 11:56 AM

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?