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Robert Price

Robert Price

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Published by: michael olajide on Oct 28, 2012
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N.T. Wright’s
Theesurrection of the Son of God 
Minnneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003Reviewed by Robert M. Price
If you have seen any of a number of ABC or PBS documentaries on the historical
Jesus question, you have certainly seen N.T. Wright. He is one of the ―usual suspects‖
rounded up by Peter Jennings and his producers, along with John Dominic Crossan,Paula Fredriks, Ben Witherington, and others, all of whose views are comfortinglyhomogenized by the pleasant host (along with the pronouncements of Pentecostalchoir directors and Middle Eastern tour guides) to reinforce the comfy prejudices of the audience. Wright always adopts the stance as of a career historian in the field of ancient history, as if approaching the gospel texts as an admiring outsider. In fact, heis a bishop of the Church of England celebrated there for his reactionary theologicalopinions. He has expressed these opinions in a number of books which seek torehabilitate pre-critical views of the Bible by a sophistical appeal to recent scholarlyresearch.
Wright’s massive book on the resurrection is, even for the garrulous bishop, an
exercise in prolixity. It is several times longer than it needs to be, as if designed tobludgeon us into belief. One might save a lot of time and money by finding a copy of 
George Eldon Ladd’s
 I Believe in the Resurrection of Jesus
(Eerdmans, 1975), whichused most of the same arguments at a fraction of the length, and without skimping.The arguments have not gotten any better. They are the same old stale fundamentalistapologetics we got in Ladd, essentially the same old stuff we used to read in JoshMcDowell and John Warwick Montgomery. The same hash reslung. Only now it isgetting pretty smelly. Perhaps that is why Wright seeks to perfume it, reminiscent of Joseph and Nicodemus attempting to fumigate the decaying corpse of Jesus byencasing it in an extravagant hundred pounds weight of spices (John 19:39). Wrightbacks up much too far to make a running start at the resurrection, regaling us withunoriginal, superfluous, and tedious exposition of Old Testament and IntertestamentalJewish ideas of afterlife and resurrection, resurrection belief in every known Christianwriter up into the early third century, etc., etc. The mountain thus laboring is doomed
to bring forth a messianic mouse, alas. All this erudition is perhaps intended tointimidate the reader into accep
ting Wright’s evangelistic pitch. But it is just a lot of 
fast talking. In the end, Wright, now Bishop of Durham, is just Josh McDowell in abetter suit. His smirking smugness is everywhere evident, especially in hiscondescension toward the great critics and critical methods of the last two centuries,all of which he strives to counteract. He would lead the hapless seminary student(whom one fears will be assigned this doorstop) backwards into the pre-critical erawith empty pretenses of post-modern sophistication, shrugging off the Enlightenmentby patently insincere attempts to wrap himself in the flag of post-colonialism.Genuine criticism of the gospels he dismisses as the less advanced, muddled thinking
of a previous generation, as if ―cutting edge‖ sc
holarship like his were not actuallypathetic nostalgia for the sparkling Toyland of fundamentalist supernaturalism. It is afamiliar bag of tricks, and that is all it is. The tragedy is that many today are falling for
it. Witness Wright’s own prominence i
n the Society of Biblical Literature, to saynothing of his ecclesiastical clout.
The weight of this book’s argument for orthodox traditionalism is to be found,
of all places, in the acknowledgements section, where Wright thanks the hosts of theprestigious venues where he first presented bits of this material: Yale Divinity School,South-Western Theological Seminary, Duke Divinity School, Pontifical Gregorian
University, St. Michael’s Seminary, etc., etc. Wright is the mouthpiece for 
institutional orthodoxy, a grinning spin-doctor for the Grand Inquisitor. Whatcredibility his book appears to have is due to the imposing wealth, power, tradition,even architecture, of the social-ecclesiastical world which he serves as chaplain andapologist. It is sickening to read his phony affirmations of the allegedly political andradical import of a literal resurrection (if you can even tell what Wright means by thislast). Does Bishop Wright espouse some form of Liberation Theology? No, for, just ashe emptily says Jesus redefined messiahship, Wright redefines politics. When he saysthe early Christians were anti-imperialistic, all he has in mind is the fact thatChristians withstood Roman persecution, valiant enough in its way, but hardly thesame thing. Like a pathetic Civil War reenactment geek, he is sparring at an enemysafely dead for centuries. In attempting to co-opt and parody the rhetoric of hisideological foes, Wright reminds me of Francis Schaeffer, a hidebound fundamentalistwho began as a childr
en’s evangelist working for Carl MacIntyre. Schaeffer, posing as
an intellectual and a philosopher, used to stamp the floor speaking at fundamentalist
colleges, shouting ―
are the true Bolsheviks!‖ Right.
Part of Wright’s agenda of harmonizing and de
-fusing the evidence is tosmother individual New Testament texts beneath a mass of theological synthesisderived from the Old Testament and from the outlines of Pauline theology in general.He is a
victim of what James Barr long ago called the ―Kittel mentality,‖ referring to
the approach of Kittel’s
Theological Dictionary of the New Testament 
, in whicharticles on individual New Testament terms and words synthesized from all uses of the term an artificial and systematic semantic structure, leading the reader to supposethat every individual usage of the word was an iceberg tip carrying with it impliedreference to all other references. In other words, each article in the TDNT composed a
―New Testament theology,‖ topic by topic. In just this manner, Wright first composes
a streamlined Old Testament theology of historical and eschatological redemption
(akin to that of Von Rad, without the latter’s understanding that much of it was based
on fictive saga rather than history); then Wright synthesizes a Pauline Theology, thena New Testament theology, then an early Christian theology; and finally he insists thatthe synthetic resurrection concept he has distilled must control our reading of allindividual gospel and Pauline texts dealing with the resurrection. In short, it is anelaborate exercise in harmonizing disparate data. The implications of 1 Corinthians15, for example, with its talk of spiritual resurrection, are silenced as the text ismuzzled, forbidden to say anything outside the party line Wright has constructed as
 biblical‖ teaching on the subject. Another example is his insistence on translatingthe Greek ―
‖ as ―the Messiah‖ in Pauline passages, lending them a falsely
Jewish coloring belied by their content. Wright even admits that the Pauline writings
are already pretty much using ―Christ‖ as simply another name for Jesus, yet he wantsto tie Paul’s theology in with the grand arc of Old Testament theology, ―redemptivehistory,‖ or w
hatever. Similarly, he sees everything in the context of second-templeJudaism. Again, we detect here a phony ecumenism, as if he thought Jews were not allgoing to hell for rejecting Jesus as the Son of God. The same is true with his cosmeticuse of polit
ically correct inclusive language and ecumenical mistranslations of ―Jews‖as ―Judeans,‖ etc. It is all to butter up the reader, like a used
-gospel salesman closingin for the sale. Wright is a better-educated Anglican Zig Zigler. In reality, the onlyvalue he sees in Judaism is the safe haven it gives him from taking into account thepatent influence on early Christianity of Hellenistic Mystery religions, which arereally all we need to account for the empty tomb legend and the resurrection myth.For Wrigh
t ―Judaism‖ really denotes Old Testament and rabbinic interpretation of it.
Here we spot the reason for, and the character of, the unholy alliance betweenmainstream Judaism and Evangelical Protestantism in the pages of the
 Journal of  Biblical Literature
 Bible Review
. They are closing ranks against radical critics inboth traditions: Old Testament minimalists and Jesus Seminar-type scholars alike. It israther like the Moral Majority, uneasy allies with certain goals in common.
There are three fundamental, vitiating errors running like fault lines throughthe unstable continent of this book. The first is a complete unwillingness to engage a
number of specific questions or bodies of evidence that threaten to shatter Wright’s
over-optimistically orthodox assessment of the evidence. The most striking of theseblustering evasions has to do with the dying-and-rising redeemer cults that permeated

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