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Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God

Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God


Resurrection Son of God V3: Christian Origins and the Question of God

ratings:
4/5 (114 ratings)
Length:
2,819 pages
44 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 17, 2003
ISBN:
9781451415018
Format:
Book

Description

This book, third in Wright's series Christian Origins and the Question of God, sketches a map of ancient beliefs about life after death, in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds. It then highlights the fact that the early Christians' belief about the afterlife belonged firmly on the Jewish spectrum, while introducing seve
Publisher:
Released:
Mar 17, 2003
ISBN:
9781451415018
Format:
Book

About the author

N. T. Wright, one of the world’s leading Bible scholars, is the chair of New Testament and Early Christianity at the School of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews, an Anglican bishop, and bestselling author. Featured on ABC News, The Colbert Report, Dateline, and Fresh Air, Wright is the award-winning author of Simply Good News, Simply Jesus, Simply Christian, Surprised by Hope, How God Became King, Scripture and the Authority of God, Surprised by Scripture, and The Case for the Psalms, as well as the recent translation of the New Testament The Kingdom New Testament and the much heralded series Christian Origins and the Question of God.


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Resurrection Son of God V3 - N. T. Wright

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THE RESURRECTION

OF THE SON OF GOD

‘A monumental achievement in its scope, depth, and execution … a landmark in scholarly studies of the resurrection.’

Gerald O’Collins, The Tablet

‘The most monumental defence of the Easter heritage in decades … The Resurrection of the Son of God marches through a clearly organized case that confronts every major doubt about Easter, ancient and modern.’

Richard N. Ostling, Associated Press

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First published in Great Britain in 2003

Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

36 Causton Street

London SW1P 4ST

Copyright © Nicholas Thomas Wright 2003

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

Unless otherwise stated, biblical quotations are either the author’s own translation or are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

British Library Cataloguing-in-Publication Data

A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library

ISBN-13: 978-0-281-05551-7; ISBN-10: 0-281-05551-3 (cased edition)

ISBN-13: 978-0-281-05550-0; ISBN-10: 0-281-05550-5 (paperback edition)

3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4

‘Seven Stanzas at Easter’, from Telephone Poles and Other Poems, by John Updike, copyright © 1959 by John Updike.

Used by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.

Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge copyright holders of material reproduced in this book. The publisher apologizes for any omissions that may remain and, if notified, will ensure that full acknowledgements are made in a subsequent edition.

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for Oliver O’Donovan and Rowan Williams

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CONTENTS

Preface

PART I   Setting the Scene

1    The Target and the Arrows

1.   Introduction: The Target

2.   The Arrows

(i) Shooting at the Sun

(ii) Resurrection and History

(a) The Senses of ‘History’

(b) No Access?

(c) No Analogy?

(d) No Real Evidence?

(iii) Resurrection in History and Theology

(a) No Other Starting-Point?

(b) Resurrection and Christology

(c) Resurrection and Eschatology

3.  The Historical Starting-Point

2    Shadows, Souls and Where They Go: Life Beyond Death in Ancient Paganism

1.   Introduction

2.   Shadows, Souls, or Potential Gods?

(i) Introduction

(ii) Witless Shadows in a Murky World?

(iii) Disembodied but Otherwise Fairly Normal?

(iv) Souls Released from Prison?

(v) Becoming a God (or at least a Star)?

3.   Further Life from within the World of the Dead?

(i) Introduction

(ii) Eating with the Dead

(iii) Spirits, Souls and Ghosts

(iv) Returning from the Underworld

(v) Cheating Death: The Scheintod Motif in Novels

(vi) Translated to Be With the Gods

(vii) Transmigration of Souls

(viii) Dying and Rising Gods

4.   Conclusion: The One-Way Street

3    Time to Wake Up (1): Death and Beyond in the Old Testament

1.   Introduction

2.   Asleep with the Ancestors

(i) Next to Nothingness

(ii) Disturbing the Dead

(iii) The Unexplained Exceptions

(iv) The Land of No Return

(v) The Nature and Ground of Hope

3.   And Afterwards?

(i) Introduction

(ii) Delivered from Sheol?

(iii) Glory after Suffering?

(iv) The Basis of Future Hope

4.   Awakening the Sleepers

(i) Introduction

(ii) Daniel 12: The Sleepers Wake, the Wise Shine

(iii) The Servant and the Dust-Dwellers: Isaiah

(iv) On the Third Day: Hosea

(v) Dry Bones and God’s Breath: Ezekiel

(vi) Resurrection and the Hope of Israel

5.   Conclusion

4    Time to Wake Up (2): Hope Beyond Death in Post-Biblical Judaism

1.   Introduction: The Spectrum

2.   No Future Life, or None to Speak of: The Sadducees

3.   Blessed (and Disembodied) Immortality

4.   Resurrection in Second-Temple Judaism

(i) Introduction

(ii) Resurrection in the Bible: The More Greek the Better

(iii) New Life for the Martyrs: 2 Maccabees

(iv) Judgment and Life in God’s New World: Resurrection and Apocalyptic

(v) Resurrection as the Vindication of the Suffering Wise: The Wisdom of Solomon

(vi) Resurrection, in Other Words: Josephus

(vii) Resurrection at Qumran?

(viii) Pseudo-Philo, Biblical Antiquities

(ix) Pharisees, Rabbis and Targumim

5.   Resurrection in Ancient Judaism: Conclusion

PART II   Resurrection in Paul

5    Resurrection in Paul (Outside the Corinthian Correspondence)

1.   Introduction: The Early Christian Hope

2.   1 and 2 Thessalonians

3.   Galatians

4.   Philippians

5.   Ephesians and Colossians

6.   Philemon

7.   Romans

(i) Introduction

(ii) Romans 1–4

(iii) Romans 5–8

(iv) Romans 9–11

(v) Romans 12–16

8.   Interlude: The Pastoral Epistles

9.   Paul (outside the Corinthian Correspondence): Conclusion

6    Resurrection in Corinth (1): Introduction

1.   Introduction: The Problem

2.   Resurrection in 1 Corinthians (apart from Chapter 15)

(i) Introduction

(ii) 1 Corinthians 1–4: God’s Wisdom, God’s Power, God’s Future

(iii) 1 Corinthians 5–6: Sex, Lawyers and Judgment

(iv) 1 Corinthians 7: Marriage

(v)   1 Corinthians 8–10: Idols, Food, Monotheism and Apostolic Freedom

(vi) 1 Corinthians 11–14: Worship and Love

3.   Resurrection in 2 Corinthians (apart from 4.7–5.11)

(i) Introduction

(ii) 2 Corinthians 1–2: Suffering and Comfort

(iii) 2 Corinthians 3:1–6:13: the Apostolic Apologia

(iv) 2 Corinthians 6:14–9:15: Fragments?

(v) 2 Corinthians 10–13: Weakness and Power

4.   Conclusion: Resurrection at Corinth

7    Resurrection in Corinth (2): The Key Passages

1.   1 Corinthians 15

(i) Introduction

(ii) 1 Corinthians 15:1–11

(iii) 1 Corinthians 15:12–28

(a) Introduction

(b) 1 Corinthians 15:12–19

(c) 1 Corinthians 15:20–28

(iv) 1 Corinthians 15:29–34

(v) 1 Corinthians 15:35–49

(a) Introduction

(b) 1 Corinthians 15:35–41

(c) 1 Corinthians 15:42–9

(vi) 1 Corinthians 15:50–58

(vii) 1 Corinthians 15: Conclusion

2.   2 Corinthians 4:7–5:10

(i) Introduction

(ii) 2 Corinthians 4:7–15

(iii) 2 Corinthians 4:16–5:5

(iv) 2 Corinthians 5:6–10

(v) Conclusion

3.   Conclusion: Resurrection in Paul

8    When Paul Saw Jesus

1.   Introduction

2.   Paul’s Own Accounts

(i) Galatians 1:11–17

(ii) 1 Corinthians 9:1

(iii) 1 Corinthians 15:8–11

(iv) 2 Corinthians 4:6

(v) 2 Corinthians 12:1–4

3.   Paul’s Conversion/Call in Acts

4.   Conversion and Christology

5.   Conclusion

PART III   Resurrection in Early Christianity

(Apart from Paul)

9    Hope Refocused (1): Gospel Traditions Outside the Easter Narratives

1.   Introduction

2.   Resurrection in Mark and its Parallels

(i) Healing

(ii) Challenge

(iii) The Future Vindication of Jesus

(iv) Puzzles

(a) Herod

(b) The Disciples’ Perplexity

(v) The Sadducees’ Question

(a) Introduction

(b) No Marriage in the Resurrection

(c) God of the Living

(d) Patriarchs, Exodus and Kingdom

3.   Resurrection in the Matthew/Luke Material (Sometimes Known as ‘Q’)

4.   Resurrection in Matthew

5.   Resurrection in Luke

6.   Resurrection in John

7.   Resurrection in the Gospels: Conclusion

10  Hope Refocused (2): Other New Testament Writings

1.   Introduction

2.   Acts

3.   Hebrews

4.   The General Letters

5.   Revelation

6.   Conclusion: Resurrection in the New Testament

11  Hope Refocused (3): Non-Canonical Early Christian Texts

1.   Introduction

2.   Apostolic Fathers

(i) 1 Clement

(ii) 2 Clement

(iii) Ignatius of Antioch

(iv) Polycarp: Letter and Martyrdom

(v) The Didache

(vi) Barnabas

(vii) The Shepherd of Hermas

(viii) Papias

(ix) The Epistle to Diognetus

3.   Early Christian Apocrypha

(i) Introduction

(ii) The Ascension of Isaiah

(iii) The Apocalypse of Peter

(iv) 5 Ezra

(v) The Epistula Apostolorum

4.   The Apologists

(i) Justin Martyr

(ii) Athenagoras

(iii) Theophilus

(iv) Minucius Felix

5.   The Great Early Theologians

(i) Tertullian

(ii) Irenaeus

(iii) Hippolytus

(iv) Origen

6.   Early Syriac Christianity

(i) Introduction

(ii) The Odes of Solomon

(iii) Tatian

(iv) The Acts of Thomas

7.   ‘Resurrection’ as Spirituality? Texts from Nag Hammadi and Elsewhere

(i) Introduction

(ii) The Gospel of Thomas

(iii) Other Thomas Literature

(iv) The Epistle to Rheginos

(v) The Gospel of Philip

(vi) Other Nag Hammadi Treatises

(vii) The Gospel of the Saviour

(viii) Nag Hammadi: Conclusion

8.   The Second Century: Conclusion

12  Hope in Person: Jesus as Messiah and Lord

1.   Introduction

2.   Jesus as Messiah

(i) Messiahship in Early Christianity

(ii) Messiahship in Judaism

(iii) Why Then Call Jesus Messiah?

3.   Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord

(i) Introduction

(ii) Jesus and the Kingdom

(iii) Jesus and Caesar

(iv) Jesus and YHWH

4.   Conclusion: Resurrection within the Early Christian Worldview

PART IV   The Story of Easter

13  General Issues in the Easter Stories

1.   Introduction

2.   The Origin of the Resurrection Narratives

(i) Sources and Traditions?

(ii) The Gospel of Peter

(iii) The Form of the Story

(iv) Redaction and Composition?

3.   The Surprise of the Resurrection Narratives

(i) The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Stories

(ii) The Strange Absence of Personal Hope in the Stories

(iii) The Strange Portrait of Jesus in the Stories

(iv) The Strange Presence of the Women in the Stories

4.   The Historical Options

14  Fear and Trembling: Mark

1.   Introduction

2.   The Ending

3.   From Story to History

4.   Easter Day from Mark’s Point of View

15  Earthquakes and Angels: Matthew

1.   Introduction

2.   Ruptured Earth and Rising Corpses

3.   The Priests, the Guards and the Bribe

4.   Tomb, Angels, First Appearance (28.1–10)

5.   On the Mountain in Galilee (28.16–20)

6.   Matthew and the Resurrection: Conclusion

16  Burning Hearts and Broken Bread: Luke

1.   Introduction

2.   Luke 24 and Acts 1 within Luke’s Work as a Whole

3.   The Unique Event

4.   Easter and the Life of the Church

5.   Luke and the Resurrection: Conclusion

17  New Day, New Tasks: John

1.   Introduction

2.   John 20 within the Gospel as a Whole

3.   The Contribution of John 21

4.   The Gospel Easter Stories: Conclusion

PART V   Belief, Event and Meaning

18  Easter and History

1.   Introduction

2.   The Tomb and the Meetings

3.   Two Rival Theories

(i) ‘Cognitive Dissonance’

(ii) A New Experience of Grace

4.   The Necessary Condition

5.   The Historical Challenge of Jesus’ Resurrection

19  The Risen Jesus as the Son of God

1.   Worldview, Meaning and Theology

2.   The Meanings of ‘Son of God’

(i) Introduction

(ii) Resurrection and Messiahship

(iii) Resurrection and World Lordship

(iv) Resurrection and the Question of God

3.   Shooting at the Sun?

Bibliography

Abbreviations

1.   Stylistic Shorthands

2.   Primary Sources

3.   Secondary Sources, etc.

A    Primary Sources

1.   Bible

2.   Other Jewish Texts

3.   Other Early Christian and Related Texts

4.   Pagan Texts

B    Secondary Literature

Indexes

Index of Ancient Sources

1.   Old Testament

2.   Apocrypha

3.   Pseudepigrapha

4.   Qumran

5.   Josephus

6.   Philo

7.   Rabbinic Works

8.   New Testament

9.   Christian and/or Gnostic Works

10.  Greco-Roman Texts

11.  Persian Texts

12.  Egyptian Texts

Index of Modern Authors

Index of Selected Topics

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PREFACE

I

This book started life as the final chapter of Jesus and the Victory of God (1996), the second volume in the series Christian Origins and the Question of God, of which the first volume is The New Testament and the People of God (1992). The present work now forms the third volume in the series. This is a departure from the original plan, and since people often ask me what is going on some explanation may be appreciated.

A few months before I finished work on Jesus and the Victory of God (hereafter JVG), Simon Kingston of SPCK came to see me to say that, since the covers for the book had already been printed, I had an absolute maximum number of pages available, and what did I propose to do? Had the work run its intended course, with the material in what is now the present book compressed (as I had foolishly thought I could compress it) into seventy pages or so, JVG would have been at least 800 pages long, and would have burst out of its own new covers, not a sight a middle-aged scholar wishes to see.

As providence would have it, I was at the same time turning over in my mind the choice of topic for the Shaffer Lectures at Yale Divinity School, which I was due to give in the Fall of 1996, shortly after the publication date for JVG. The topic was supposed to be something to do with Jesus. I had puzzled over how I might either compress material from the big book which would just have been published, or try to lecture on some aspect of Jesus I had not covered in the book (which I had hoped would be reasonably exhaustive; certainly I did not intend to leave out three lectures’ worth of original material). The two problems solved each other: miss out the resurrection chapter from JVG, lecture on the resurrection in Yale, and turn the three lectures into a small book to join the present series, in between JVG and the originally projected third volume on Paul, which would now become Volume IV. (This had the unexpected result that some reviewers of JVG accused me of not being interested in, or not believing in, Jesus’ resurrection. I trust that this accusation may now be laid gently to rest.)

The Shaffer lectures were exciting, for me at any rate. My hosts at Yale were warm in their hospitality to my wife and myself, and encouraging in their response, on top of the honour they had shown me by their invitation. But it was clear that each lecture needed expanding considerably. So, to help me towards what I still hoped would be a short book, I frequently chose the same topic when lecturing elsewhere in the next three years: the Drumwright Lectures at South-Western Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas, the Bishop’s Lectures at Winchester, the Hoon-Bullock Lectures at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, the DuBose Lectures at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee, the Kenneth W. Clark Lectures at Duke Divinity School, Durham, North Carolina, and the Sprunt Lectures in Union Seminary, Richmond, Virginia. (The Sewanee version was published in the Sewanee Theological Review 41:2, 1998, 107–56; I have published other lectures and essays on the subject from time to time, details of which are in the Bibliography.) I gave similar lectures to the Princeton Theological Seminary Summer School at St Andrews; and I compressed the argument into a single lecture for various establishments, including St Michael’s Seminary, Baltimore, the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome, and Truett Seminary, Baylor University, Waco, Texas. I have grateful memories of all these institutions. Their hospitality was uniformly magnificent.

But the highlight, enabling me to lay out the material in much more detail and giving me space and time to ferret around and fill in lots of gaps, came when I was appointed to the MacDonald Visiting Chair at Harvard Divinity School for the Fall Semester of 1999. Suddenly, instead of three or four lectures, I had the chance to give more than twenty on the topic, to a large, intelligent and, in the best sense, critical student audience. Of course, I emerged from each lecture realizing that the material still deserved much more expansion. My initial dream of writing up this book as I went along (and my initial expectation that it would be a small book) was unrealizable. But I was able to lay the foundation for the present work far more deeply than before, in a wonderfully congenial setting. I am extremely grateful to my colleagues and friends in Harvard, and to Al MacDonald, the founder of the Chair, whose personal support and enthusiasm for my work has been a great encouragement. Thus, though the book has changed its shape considerably since late 1999, the seeds sown in Yale bore fruit in Harvard, fruit which in this book is brought at last to harvest. I trust my friends in both august establishments will not object to finding themselves thus associated with one another.

II

The book has reached its present length partly because, as I have worked over the material and read as much as I could of the voluminous secondary literature, it has seemed to me that all kinds of misconceptions about both the key ideas and the key texts have over the years become widely accepted. As with certain types of garden weed, there are occasions when the only thing to be done is to dig deeper to get right under the roots. In particular, it has become accepted within much New Testament scholarship that the earliest Christians did not think of Jesus as having been bodily raised from the dead; Paul is regularly cited as the chief witness for what people routinely call a more ‘spiritual’ point of view. This is so misleading (scholars do not like to say that their colleagues are plain wrong, but ‘misleading’ is of course our code for the same thing) and yet so widespread that it has taken quite a lot of digging to uproot the weed, and quite a lot of careful sowing to plant the seeds of what, I hope, is the historically grounded alternative. Readers may be glad that I have not had space to highlight more than a few examples here and there of what I take to be misleading views both of Judaism and of the New Testament. I have preferred to expound the primary sources, and to let them shape the book, rather than to offer a lengthy ‘state of the question’ and to allow that to dominate the horizon. (The first part of Jesus and the Victory of God provides a general background to the discussion.)

Just as the book could have grown considerably if I had entered into debate with, or even simply cited, all the writers from whom I have learned, whether in agreement or disagreement, it could easily have doubled in length if I had explored all the interesting-looking secondary roads that lead off this particular highway. There are lots of side-issues that get a cursory mention, if that. Those who continue to work on the Turin Shroud, for instance, may be disappointed to find no further mention of it here.¹ I am aware that I have annotated some discussions much more fully than others, and that in some cases a bare statement of my own view has had to stand in for the detailed debate with colleagues and friends that should ideally have taken place. This is so particularly in Part II, on Paul, for which I hope to make amends, to some extent at least, in the next volume in the series. My main concern here has been to lay out the large-scale argument which seems to me in urgent need of clear statement. I envisage the present book, unlike either of its predecessors, as essentially a simple monograph with a single line of thought, of which I provide an advance map in the first chapter. The shape of the argument is hardly novel, but the particular point of entry, namely, the study of the way in which ‘resurrection’, denied by pagans but affirmed by a good many Jews, was both reaffirmed and redefined by the early Christians, has not, I think, been followed like this before. Nor has a similar range of material, some of it inaccessible to many readers, been made available in this way. I hope the book will contribute to the clarity of future discussions as well as to historical understanding and responsible faith.

Several introductory matters about style and indeed content are dealt with in the prefaces to The New Testament and the People of God (hereafter NTPG) and JVG. One fresh comment is called forth by questions I sometimes receive. I refer to the non-Jewish and non-Christian inhabitants of the ancient world as ‘pagans’ for the same reason as most ancient historians do: not intending it as in any way a term of abuse, but finding it the most convenient way to designate a large number of otherwise disparate peoples. The term is of course etic rather than emic (i.e. it was not, in our period at any rate, a term used by anyone to describe themselves, but reflects rather the perspective of others, in this case Jews and Christians, on the people in question). It has here a purely heuristic value.

Despite the anxiety of some, I have continued for the most part to write ‘god’ with a small ‘g’. This is not an irreverence. It is to remind myself, as well as the reader, that in the first century, as increasingly in the twenty-first, the question is not whether we believe in ‘God’ (with it being assumed that we all know who or what that word refers to), but rather to wonder which god, out of the many available candidates, we might be talking about. When first-century Jews, and early Christians, spoke of ‘the god who raises the dead’, they were implicitly making a case that this god, the creator god, the covenant god of Israel, was in fact God, the one and only being to whom the word appropriately refers. Most of their contemporaries did not see it like that; not for nothing were the early Christians known as ‘atheists’.² Even New Testament scholars, seeing the word ‘God’, can easily be tricked into making unwarranted assumptions about the identity of the being thus referred to—precisely the sort of assumptions that an investigation like the present one is meant to challenge. However, when I lay out the views of the early Christians, and quote from their writings, I shall often use the capital to indicate that the authors were making just this point, that the god they worshipped and invoked was in fact God. In the concluding chapters I shall begin to use the capital myself, as I did at the equivalent points in JVG, for reasons that I hope will become apparent. I hope this is not too confusing. The alternative is to adopt the standard usage and thus fail, for most readers most of the time, to alert them to the most important question which underlies this entire series.

One other vital matter must be mentioned at this point, since space has precluded fuller treatment in the body of the text.³ I constantly run into loose talk about a ‘literal’ resurrection as opposed to a ‘metaphorical’ one. I know what people mean when they say that, but those words are unhelpful ways of saying it. The terms ‘literal’ and ‘metaphorical’ refer, properly, to the ways words refer to things, not to the things to which the words refer. For the latter task, the appropriate words might be ‘concrete’ and ‘abstract’. The phrase ‘Plato’s theory of forms’ literally refers to an abstract entity (in fact, a doubly abstract one). The phrase ‘the greasy spoon’ refers metaphorically, and perhaps also metonymically, to a concrete entity, namely the cheap restaurant down the road. The fact that the language is being used literally or metaphorically tells us nothing, in and of itself, about the sort of entities it is referring to.

When ancient Jews, pagans and Christians used the word ‘sleep’ to denote death, they were using a metaphor to refer to a concrete state of affairs. We sometimes use the same language the other way round: a heavy sleeper is ‘dead to the world’. Sometimes, as in Ezekiel 37, Jewish writers used ‘resurrection’ language as a metaphor for concrete political events, in that case the return of the Jews from exile in Babylon. The metaphor enabled the prophet to denote the concrete event while connoting the idea of a great act of new creation, a new Genesis. As we shall see, the Christians developed their own fresh metaphorical usages, which likewise referred to concrete states of affairs. But most of the time those Jews and pagans who spoke of resurrection, whether they were affirming it (as the Pharisees did) or denying it (as the Sadducees did, along with the entire world of greco-roman paganism), used the word to refer to a hypothetical concrete event that might take place in the future, namely the coming-to-life in a full and bodily sense of those presently dead. Though the words they used (e.g. anastasis in Greek) had broader meaning (anastasis basically denotes the act of making something or someone stand or rise up, or of doing so oneself), they acquired the specially focused meaning of this ‘rising’ from the dead. Thus the normal meaning of this language was to refer, literally, to a concrete state of affairs. One of the main questions of this book is whether the early Christians, who were in so many ways cheerful and eager innovators, used the language of resurrection like that as well.

III

I am grateful to the many family members, friends, colleagues and lecture-audiences who have discussed this topic with me over the years. I have learnt much from many and hope to continue to do so. I am especially grateful to my beloved wife and children for their encouragement and support, not least to my son Dr Julian Wright for taking time from his own historical research to read right through the text and make dozens of helpful comments. One of the most extraordinary modes of encouragement came out of the blue through the invitation to write the libretto for Paul Spicer’s Easter Oratorio, based on John 20 and 21. The work received its first performance at the Lichfield Festival in July 2000, and has since then been performed on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as being broadcast in part on BBC radio. Paul and I have both written about this experience in Sounding the Depths, edited by Jeremy Begbie (London: SCM Press, 2002). Working with Paul made me think about the resurrection from several new angles, and I cannot now read the Johannine Easter stories without thinking of his music all the time, and without an enormous sense of gratitude and privilege.

Having explained the delay in JVG by reference to a move of house and job, I find myself doing so again; our move to Westminster in 1999–2000 took time and energy, and inevitably slowed things down. That they have now speeded up again is due not least to the support of my new colleagues, particularly the Dean of Westminster, Dr Wesley Carr, and my fellow Canons; and also the cheerful assistance, in matters great and small, of the Canons’ Secretary, Miss Avril Bottoms. On the technical side, Steve Siebert and the manufacturers of Nota Bene software are again to be congratulated on the magnificent product which has helped so many scholars to produce their own camera-ready copy, even for a work of this complexity. I am very grateful to several friends and colleagues who have read some or all of the manuscript and helped me to avoid mistakes; they are not, of course, to be blamed for those that remain. In particular, I thank Professors Joel Marcus, Paul House, Gordon McConville and Scott Hafemann; Drs John Day, Jason König, and Andrew Goddard; and several members of various faculties at Baylor University, Waco, Texas, notably Professors Stephen Evans, David Garland, Carey Newman, Roger Olson, Mikeal Parsons and Charles Talbert, each of whom provided searching critique and detailed comment as the book neared completion. Professor Morna Hooker generously lent me her own copy of a newly-published work so I could take note of it at the last minute. The many mistakes which remain are, of course, all my own work.

Pride of place in acknowledgment, though, goes this time to my publishers, SPCK, themselves. Having challenged me to take on a substantial programme of writing, they have provided excellent support, not only in the editorial department, but particularly in the shape of a research assistant. Dr Nicholas Perrin, himself a published scholar, has filled that role with tireless good cheer for the last two years, putting his own wide-ranging expertise at my disposal, ferreting out sources ancient and modern, providing a one-man equivalent of a university common room where I could try out ideas and get instant quality feedback, and functioning in general as helper, adviser, critic and friend. Working with him on an almost daily basis has been an intellectual and personal delight.

The dedication reflects a long-standing double debt of friendship and scholarship. I met Oliver O’Donovan (in a Hebrew class) on my first day in Oxford; his wise friendship, scholarly example and profound theological and philosophical understanding have been an inspiration ever since. I got to know Rowan Williams when we both returned to Oxford in 1986. Our shared teaching, and the many layers of friendship which surrounded it, are among my happiest memories of that time. Oliver and Rowan have themselves, of course, written distinguished books on the resurrection, and that alone would have justified my offering them this token of affection and respect. But when, on the day I wrote the final section of this book, it was announced that Rowan was to become the new Archbishop of Canterbury, that sense of justification turned to compulsion. Congratulations to him, and gratitude to them both.

N. T. Wright

Westminster Abbey

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Part One

Setting the Scene

anscheo‚ mēdʼ aliaston odypeo son kata thymon;

ou gar ti prēxeis akachēmenos huios heoio,

oude mon anstēseis, prin kai kakon allo pathēstha.

Bear up, and don’t give way to angry grief;

Nothing will come of sorrowing for your son,

Nor will you raise him up before you die.

Homer, The Iliad, 24:549–51

ʾim yā·mûṯ gě·ḇěḏ ǎyāḥ·yě(h)

If mortals die, shall they live again?

Job 14:14

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Chapter One

THE TARGET AND THE ARROWS

1. Introduction: The Target

The pilgrim who visits the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem faces several puzzles. Is this after all the place where Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and buried? Why is it inside the city walls, not outside as one had supposed? How does the present building relate to the original site? How did the place come to be so different from what the New Testament leads us to expect (a garden with a tomb in it, close to a hill called Golgotha)? And, even supposing this is roughly the right place, is this the right spot? Is this rocky outcrop, now enclosed within an upstairs chapel, actually the top of Golgotha? Is this marble slab really where the dead Jesus was laid? Is this highly ornate shrine really the site of the tomb? And—a different sort of question, but a pressing one for many visitors—why are different groups of Christians still squabbling about who owns the place? These puzzles, though, do not noticeably affect the appeal of the place. Despite archaeological, historical and ecclesiastical squabbles, the church retains its evocative and spiritual power. Pilgrims still flock to it in their hundreds of thousands.¹

Some of them still question whether it all really happened. Did Jesus of Nazareth, they ask, really rise from the dead? Whether or not they realize it, they join a different throng on a different pilgrimage: the jostling, overheated crowd of historians investigating the strange reports of events at the tomb of Jesus on the third day following his execution. Here they are confronted with a similar set of problems. The story of Easter, like the church at its supposed location, has been demolished and reconstructed again and again over the years. The tantalizing narratives in the gospels are as puzzling to the reader as the building is to the visitor. How do they fit together, if at all? What precisely happened? Which school of thought today, if any, is telling the story truly? Many have despaired of discovering what, if anything, happened on the third day after Jesus’ crucifixion. Yet, despite perplexity and scepticism, billions of Christians around the world regularly repeat the original confession of Easter faith: on the third day after his execution, Jesus rose again.

So what did happen on Easter morning? This historical question, which is the central theme of the present book, is closely related to the question of why Christianity began, and why it took the shape it did.² This in turn is the fourth of five questions I set out in Jesus and the Victory of God, which proposed answers to the first three (where does Jesus belong within Judaism? what were Jesus’ aims? and why did Jesus die?). (I hope to address the fifth question, why the gospels are what they are, in a subsequent volume.) The question of Christian origins is inevitably a question about Jesus himself as well as about the early church. Whatever else the early Christians said about themselves, they regularly explained their own existence and characteristic activities by speaking of Jesus.

It is remarkable but true that in order to determine what happened on one particular day nearly two thousand years ago we find ourselves obliged to call and cross-examine a wide variety of witnesses, some of whom are simultaneously being questioned by advocates of other answers to the question. The debate has frequently been bedevilled by oversimplifications, and to avoid this we shall have to set things out reasonably fully. Even so, there is no space for a full-scale history of research on the subject. I have chosen certain conversation partners, and regret that there was no room for more. My impression from reading the literature is that the primary sources themselves are not well enough known, or carefully enough studied. This book seeks to remedy that, without always noting the scholars who either agree or disagree.³

As the overall title of the project indicates, and as Part I of the first volume explained, my intention is to write both about the historical beginnings of Christianity and about the question of god. I am, of course, aware that for over two hundred years scholars have laboured to keep history and theology, or history and faith, at arm’s length from one another. There is a good intention behind this move: each of these disciplines has its own proper shape and logic, and cannot simply be turned into a branch of the other. Yet here of all places—with Christian origins in general, and the resurrection in particular—they are inevitably intertwined. Not to recognize this, in fact, is often to decide tacitly in favour of a particular type of theology, perhaps a form of Deism, whose absentee-landlord god keeps clear of historical involvement. Preserving this position by appeal to divine ‘transcendence’ is a way of restating the problem, not of settling it.⁴ The mirror-image of this is the assumption of a rank supernaturalism whose miracle-working god routinely bypasses historical causation. Elsewhere on the map are various forms of pantheism, panentheism and process theology in which ‘god’ is part of, or closely related to, the space-time world and the historical process. To recognize the link between history and theology, therefore, is not to decide questions of history or theology in advance, but to give notice of the necessary many-sidedness of the topic.

This is near the heart of the multiple disagreements I find between myself and one of the major writers on the subject in the last twenty years, Archbishop Peter Carnley.⁵ There seems to be an implicit argument in his work (and in that of some others) according to which (a) historical-critical scholarship has thoroughly deconstructed the events of the first Easter but (b) anyone attempting to engage with this scholarship on its own terms is told that to do so is to cut the resurrection down to size, to reduce it to a merely mundane level. Historical work, it seems, is fine, necessary even, as long as it comes up with sceptical results, but dangerous and damaging—to genuine faith!—if it tries to do anything else.⁶ Heads I lose; tails you win. While not wishing to embrace the older historical-critical methods uncritically, we must insist that the appeal to history still matters and can still be made, without prejudging theological questions at this stage. We can be content neither with ‘an apologetic colonizing of historical study’ nor with ‘a theologically dictated indifference to history’.⁷ I agree with Carnley (345, 365) that we must not be lured into a one-sided preoccupation with the attempt to establish factual propositions about Jesus; but he uses that warning as a way of allowing demonstrably spurious historical reconstructions to remain unchallenged. As Moule insisted, taking history seriously does not constitute a vote for liberal Protestantism.⁸ Nor did the question of ‘what actually happened’ only begin to be felt important with John Locke.⁹

For much of the present investigation, the ‘question of god’ introduces itself in the form: what did the early Christians believe about the god of whom they spoke? What account of this god’s being and action did they give in their earliest days, and how did this express and undergird their reasons for continuing to exist as a group at all, after the death of their leader? In other words, for Parts II, III and IV we shall be concerned with the historical reconstruction of what the early Christians believed about themselves, about Jesus and about their god. It will become clear that they believed in the god of the Israelite patriarchs and prophets, who had made promises in the past and had now, surprisingly but powerfully, fulfilled them in and through Jesus. Only in the final part must we open up the far harder issue: in reaching historical conclusions about what happened at Easter, we cannot avoid the question of the historian’s own worldview and theology. Here, once again, not to do so is usually tacitly to decide in favour of a particular worldview, often that of post-Enlightenment scepticism.

The shape of the book is thus determined by the two main sub-questions into which the principal question divides: what did the early Christians think had happened to Jesus, and what can we say about the plausibility of those beliefs? The first of these is the subject of Parts II, III and IV, and the second is addressed in Part V. The two obviously overlap, since part of the reason for the conclusion of Part V is the striking beliefs discovered in Parts II–IV, and the difficulty of accounting for those beliefs except on the hypothesis that they were true. But in theory the questions are separable. It is perfectly possible for a scholar to conclude (a) that the early Christians thought Jesus had been bodily raised and (b) that they were wrong.¹⁰ Many have taken that view. It is incumbent on anyone who does, however, to provide an alternative account of why (a) came to be the case; and one of the interesting features of the history of research is the range of quite different answers that continue to be given to that question.

As the present book, and the research leading to it, have grown over the last few years, I have become conscious that there is at the moment a broadly dominant paradigm for understanding Jesus’ resurrection, a paradigm which, despite numerous dissenting voices, is widely accepted in the worlds both of scholarship and of many mainline churches. Though my approach throughout the book will be positive and expository, it is worth noting from the outset that I intend to challenge this dominant paradigm in each of its main constituent parts. In general terms, this view holds the following: (1) that the Jewish context provides only a fuzzy setting, in which ‘resurrection’ could mean a variety of different things; (2) that the earliest Christian writer, Paul, did not believe in bodily resurrection, but held a ‘more spiritual’ view; (3) that the earliest Christians believed, not in Jesus’ bodily resurrection, but in his exaltation/ascension/glorification, in his ‘going to heaven’ in some kind of special capacity, and that they came to use ‘resurrection’ language initially to denote that belief and only subsequently to speak of an empty tomb or of ‘seeing’ the risen Jesus; (4) that the resurrection stories in the gospels are late inventions designed to bolster up this second-stage belief; (5) that such ‘seeings’ of Jesus as may have taken place are best understood in terms of Paul’s conversion experience, which itself is to be explained as a ‘religious’ experience, internal to the subject rather than involving the seeing of any external reality, and that the early Christians underwent some kind of fantasy or hallucination; (6) that whatever happened to Jesus’ body (opinions differ as to whether it was even buried in the first place), it was not ‘resuscitated’, and was certainly not ‘raised from the dead’ in the sense that the gospel stories, read at face value, seem to require.¹¹ Of course, different elements in this package are stressed differently by different scholars; but the picture will be familiar to anyone who has even dabbled in the subject, or who has listened to a few mainstream Easter sermons, or indeed funeral sermons, in recent decades. The negative burden of the present book is that there are excellent, well-founded and secure historical arguments against each of these positions.

The positive thrust, naturally, is to establish (1) a different view of the Jewish context and materials, (2) a fresh understanding of Paul and (3) all the other early Christians, and (4) a new reading of the gospel stories; and to argue (5) that the only possible reason why early Christianity began and took the shape it did is that the tomb really was empty and that people really did meet Jesus, alive again, and (6) that, though admitting it involves accepting a challenge at the level of worldview itself, the best historical explanation for all these phenomena is that Jesus was indeed bodily raised from the dead. (The numbering of these arguments corresponds to the Parts of the present volume, except that (5) and (6) correspond to the two chapters (18 and 19) of Part V.)

Debate has focused on a dozen or so key points within these topics. Just as day trippers to the English Lake District make for the main towns (Windermere, Ambleside, Keswick) and remain within a few miles of them, so those who write articles and monographs on the resurrection come back, again and again, to the same key points (Jewish ideas about life after death, Paul’s ‘spiritual body’, the empty tomb, the ‘sightings’ of Jesus, and so on). The day tripper, however, does not get the best out of the Lakes; does not, perhaps, really understand the area at all. In this book I propose to head for the hills and the narrow country lanes as well as the more populated areas. As an obvious example (but it is remarkable how many seem to ignore it), to write about Paul’s view of the resurrection without mentioning 2 Corinthians 5 or Romans 8—which many have done—is like saying you ‘know’ the Lake District when you have never climbed Scafell Pike or Helvellyn (England’s highest mountains). One of the reasons this book is longer than I expected is that I was determined to include all the evidence.

Two preliminary subjects, both themselves controversial, must be examined before we can get to the heart of the question. First, what sort of historical task are we undertaking in talking about the resurrection at all? This introductory chapter attempts to clear the necessary ground on this point. Without it, some readers would object that I was begging the question of whether it is even possible to write historically about the resurrection.

Second, how did people in Jesus’ day, both Gentiles and Jews, think and speak about the dead and their future destiny? In particular, what if anything did the word ‘resurrection’ (anastasis and its cognates, and the verb egeiro and its cognates, in Greek, and qum and its cognates in Hebrew) mean within that spectrum of belief?¹² Chapters 2 and 3 address this question, clarifying in particular—a vital move, as we shall see—what the early Christians meant, and were heard to mean, when they spoke and wrote about Jesus’ resurrection. As George Caird once pointed out, when a speaker declares ‘I’m mad about my flat’ it helps to know whether they are American (in which case they are angry about their puncture) or British (in which case they are enthusiastic about their living quarters).¹³ When the early Christians said ‘The Messiah was raised from the dead on the third day’, what might they have been heard to be saying? This may seem obvious to some readers, but it was by no means obvious, according to the evangelists, when Jesus said similar things to his followers, and a glance at contemporary literature will show that it remains far from obvious to many scholars today.¹⁴ As well as the question of meaning (what did this kind of talk mean at the time?) we must consider the question of derivation: what, if anything, did the Christian shaping of ideas and language about Easter owe to the wider context, both Jewish and non-Jewish? Chapter 2 examines the non-Jewish world of the first century with these two questions in mind; chapters 3 and 4, developing the brief discussion in the first volume of this series, the Jewish world.¹⁵

Let me then spell out somewhat more fully the brief, almost formulaic account given a moment ago of how the argument develops from there. I shall come at the main question of Parts II–IV by asking: granted the wide range of views about life after death in general and resurrection in particular, what did the early Christians believe on these topics, and how can we account for their beliefs? We shall discover that, although the early Christians remained, in one sense, within the Jewish spectrum of opinion, their views on the subject had clarified and indeed crystallized to a degree unparalleled elsewhere in Judaism. The explanation they gave, for this and much besides, was the equally unparalleled claim that Jesus of Nazareth had himself been bodily raised from the dead. Parts II, III and IV will show that this belief about resurrection in general, and about Jesus in particular, presses the historian to account for such a sudden and dramatic mutation from within the Jewish worldview.

In exploring these issues, I shall follow a non-traditional route. Most discussions have begun with the resurrection stories contained in the final chapters of the four canonical gospels, and moved outwards from there. Since those chapters are among the most difficult parts of the material before us, and since they were by common consent written down later than our primary literary witness, namely Paul, I propose to leave them until last, preparing the way by looking at Paul himself (Part II) and the other early Christian writers, both canonical and non-canonical (Part III). Despite what is sometimes suggested, we shall discover substantial unanimity on the basic point: virtually all the early Christians for whom we have solid evidence affirmed that Jesus of Nazareth had been bodily raised from the dead. When they said ‘he was raised on the third day’, they meant this literally. Only when we have seen how strong this case is can we do justice to the resurrection stories in the gospels, which will occupy us in Part IV.

Part V will then close in on the question: what can historians in the twenty-first century say about Easter on the basis of the historical evidence? I shall argue that far and away the best explanation of the early Christian mutation within Jewish resurrection-belief is that two things had happened. First, Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty. Second, several people, including at least one, and perhaps more, who had not previously been followers of Jesus, claimed to have seen him alive in a way for which the readily available language of ghosts, spirits and the like was inappropriate, and for which their previous beliefs about life after death, and resurrection in particular, had not prepared them. Take away either of these historical conclusions, and the belief of the early church becomes itself inexplicable.

The further question then is, why was the tomb empty, and what account can be given of the sightings of the apparently risen Jesus? I shall argue that the best historical explanation is the one which inevitably raises all kinds of theological questions: the tomb was indeed empty, and Jesus was indeed seen alive, because he was truly raised from the dead.

Proposing that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead was just as controversial nineteen hundred years ago as it is today. The discovery that dead people stayed dead was not first made by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. The historian who wishes to make such a proposal is therefore compelled to challenge a basic and fundamental assumption—not only, as is sometimes suggested, the position of eighteenth-century scepticism, or of the ‘scientific worldview’ as opposed to a ‘pre-scientific worldview’, but also of almost all ancient and modern peoples outside the Jewish and Christian traditions.¹⁶ I shall advance both historical and theological arguments in favour of making this quite drastic move, drawing as I do so on the early Christian theological reflections which followed from the belief in Jesus’ resurrection—the reflections which, from very early indeed, came to the conclusion that the resurrection demonstrated that Jesus was God’s son, and that, equally importantly, the one true God was now to be known most truly as the father of Jesus. The circle of the book will thus be complete.

Before we can even take aim at the targets, however, we must ask: is such a task even possible?

2. The Arrows

(i) Shooting at the Sun

There was once a king who commanded his archers to shoot at the sun. His strongest bowmen, using their finest equipment, tried all day; but their arrows fell short, and the sun continued unaffected on its course. All night the archers polished and refeathered their arrows, and the next day they tried again, with renewed zeal; but still their efforts were in vain. The king became angry, and uttered dark threats. On the third day the youngest archer, with the smallest bow, came at noon to where the king sat before a pond in his garden. There was the sun, a golden ball reflected in the still water. With a single shot the lad pierced it at its heart. The sun splintered into a thousand glittering fragments.

All the arrows of history cannot reach God. There may, of course, be some meanings of the word ‘god’ that would allow such a being to be set up like a target in a shooting-gallery, for historians to take pot-shots at. The more serious a pantheist someone is, the more likely they will be to suppose that in studying the course of events within the natural world they are studying their god. But the god of Jewish tradition, the god of Christian faith, and indeed the god of Muslim devotion (whether these be three or one does not presently concern us) are simply not that kind of god. The transcendence of the god(s) of Judaism, Christianity and Islam provides the theological equivalent of the force of gravity. The arrows of history are doomed to fall short.

And yet. Deep within both Jewish and Christian tradition there lies a rumour that an image, a reflection, of the one true god has appeared within the gravitational field of history. This rumour, running from Genesis through the Wisdom tradition, and then into Jewish beliefs about Torah on the one hand and Christian beliefs about Jesus on the other, may yet offer a way for the circle to be squared, for the cake to be both eaten and possessed, for the transcendence of this god to come within bowshot.

This commandment is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?’ No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.¹⁷

And what Moses said of Torah, Paul said of Jesus, with reference not least to his resurrection.¹⁸

These reflections set the context for us to consider what history can and cannot say about what happened at Easter. Some have supposed that by offering historical ‘proofs’ of the Easter event they have thereby proved, in some modern, quasi-scientific sense, not only the existence of the Christian god but also the validity of the Christian message.¹⁹ Turning their arrows into space-rockets, they have forgotten Icarus and have set out boldly towards the sun. Others, remembering the force of gravity, have declared the whole enterprise pointless, and actually worse than pointless. If we claim to have hit the target, have we not reduced God to an idol? Thus, as in the previous volume, we find ourselves at the intersection of history and theology, which in the early twenty-first century means that we are still wrestling with the ghosts of our Enlightenment past. These questions, powerful and complex already when we talk about Jesus himself, become all the more pressing when we attempt to speak of the resurrection. What then are we trying to do in this book?

(ii) Resurrection and History

(a) The Senses of ‘History’

It has frequently been argued, indeed insisted upon, that, whatever we mean by the resurrection of Jesus, it is not accessible to historical investigation. Some have even suggested that it is not to be thought of in any meaningful sense as ‘an event within history’ at all. The archers cannot see the target properly; some doubt if it even exists. Over against this, I shall argue that the resurrection of Jesus, whatever it was, can and must be seen as at least a historical problem.

What, though, do we mean by ‘historical’?²⁰ ‘History’ and its cognates have been used, within debates about Jesus and the resurrection, in at least five significantly different ways.

First, there is history as event. If we say something is ‘historical’ in this sense, it happened, whether or not we can know or prove that it happened. The death of the last pterodactyl is in that sense a historical event, even though no human witnessed it or wrote about it at the time, and we are very unlikely ever to discover when and where it took place. Similarly, we use the word ‘historical’ of persons or things, to indicate simply and solely that they existed.²¹

Second, there is history as significant event. Not all events are significant; history, it is often assumed, consists of the ones that are. The adjective that tends to go with this is ‘historic’; ‘a historic event’ is not simply an event that took place, but one whose occurrence carried momentous consequences. Likewise, a ‘historic’ person, building or object is one perceived to have had particular significance, not merely existence. Rudolf Bultmann, himself arguably a historic figure within the discipline of New Testament studies, famously used the adjective geschichtlich to convey this sense, over against historisch (sense 1).

Third, there is history as provable event. To say that something is ‘historical’ in this sense is to say not only that it happened but that we can demonstrate that it happened, on the analogy of mathematics or the so-called hard sciences. This is somewhat more controversial. To say ‘x may have happened, but we can’t prove it, so it isn’t really historical’ may not be self-contradictory, but is clearly operating with a more restricted sense of ‘history’ than some of the others.

Fourth, and quite different from the previous three, there is history as writing-about-events-in-the-past. To say that something is ‘historical’ in this sense is to say that it was written about, or perhaps could in principle have been written about. (This might even include ‘historical’ novels.) A variant on this, though an important one, is oral history; at a time when many regarded the spoken word as carrying more authority than the written, history as speaking-about-events-in-the-past is not to be sneezed at.²²

Fifth and finally, a combination of (3) and (4) is often found precisely in discussions of Jesus: history as what modern historians can say about a topic. By ‘modern’ I mean ‘post-Enlightenment’, the period in which people have imagined some kind of analogy, even correlation, between history and the hard sciences. In this sense, ‘historical’ means not only that which can be demonstrated and written, but that which can be demonstrated and written within the post-Enlightenment worldview. This is what people have often had in mind when they have rejected ‘the historical Jesus’ (which hereby, of course, comes to mean ‘the Jesus that fits the Procrustean bed of a reductionist worldview’) in favour of ‘the Christ of faith’.²³

Confusion between these senses has of course bedevilled this very debate about the so-called ‘historical Jesus’, the phrase being used by some to mean Jesus as he actually was (sense 1), by others to mean what was significant about Jesus (sense 2), by others to mean that which we can prove about Jesus, as opposed to that which we must either doubt or take on faith alone (sense 3); by others again to mean what people have written about Jesus (sense 4). Those who, as I mentioned, have taken the phrase in sense 5 have often rejected the Jesus not only of that sense but, apparently, of the previous four as well.²⁴ Jesus and the Victory of God constitutes, in part, a response to this position. But we must now face one very specific, particular and in some senses peculiar case of the problem. In what sense, if any, can Jesus’ resurrection be spoken of as ‘historical’?

Ever since the time of Paul, people have tried to write about Jesus’ resurrection (whatever they meant by that). The question, of course, rebounds: were they thereby writing about an event in the past? Were they writing ‘history’? Or was it all actually the projection of their own faith-experience? When they said ‘Jesus was raised from the dead on the third day’, were they intending to make some kind of historical claim about Jesus, or did they themselves know that this was a metaphor for their own remarkable new religious experience, the rise of their faith, and so on? This pushes us back to sense 1, which is the question at stake throughout much of this book: was the resurrection something that actually happened, and if so what precisely was it that happened? We do not seem to have had much polemic against ‘the historical resurrection’ in the same way that there has been angry rejection of ‘the historical Jesus’.²⁵

There is no problem about predicating sense 2 of Jesus’ resurrection. Virtually everyone will agree that whatever-it-was-that-happened was extremely significant. Indeed, some recent writers agree that it was very significant while continuing to argue that we cannot know what ‘it’ is. There are enormous problems about sense 3: it all depends on what you mean by ‘proof’, and we shall return to that question in due course. Sense 4 is unproblematic: the ‘event’ has been written about, even if it was all made up. But it is sense 5 that has caused the real headache: what can historians in today’s world say on the subject? Unless we keep these distinctions clear in our minds as we proceed, we shall not just have enormous problems; we shall go round in ever-decreasing circles.

Is it, then, possible to speak of the resurrection of Jesus as an event within history? In his rightly famous book The Historical Jesus, J. D. Crossan says, of the Quest for Jesus as a whole, that there were some scholars who said it couldn’t be done, and some who said it shouldn’t be done; and that there were some who said the former when they meant the latter.²⁶ This is equally true, if not more so, when it comes to the resurrection. Since I believe we can and must discuss the resurrection as a historical problem, it is important that we address these questions head on. There are six objections; I shall divide them into two broad groups, beginning with those who say that such historical study of the resurrection cannot be undertaken, and going on to those who suggest that it should not be. The parable of the archers and the sun applies more to the latter than to the former group. A little modification of the parable will give us a double picture. Those who think we cannot study the resurrection historically suppose either that there is no target at all or that, if there is, the archers cannot see it. Those who think we should not study the resurrection historically suppose that the target lies outside the gravitational range of their arrows. The first group of objectors, assuming the target to be an ordinary terrestrial one, protest that the archers cannot aim at something they cannot see; the second declare that no arrow can reach ever the sun, so that the quest is doomed, and guilty of a kind of hubris, from the very start.

(b) No Access?

The first objection to treating the resurrection historically is made often enough, and is associated in the

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  • (5/5)
    I never thought I would read this book, it took a lot of time to finish this book. I would recommend this only if you are seriously interested in knowing, "What really happened at Easter?"

    Thanks to Wright, I understand a lot about the early beliefs of life after death.
    I enjoyed his writings on Early Church fathers.
    All the way from Paul to Tertullian, they firmly believed and knew Christ died on the cross and bodily rose from the dead.

    Resurrection has always been controversial, people in the ancient world knew, just like us, they knew that once a person died, it is a one-way street.

    This book inspired me on a deeper level of my faith.

    Overall, I really enjoyed Wright's writing and appreciate his work.
  • (5/5)
    "The Resurrection of the Son of God' by NT Wright is a scholarly analysis of the historical evidence for Jesus' resurrection. Dr. NT Wright, the Bishop of Durham, exhaustively looks at primary sources. His bibliography extends for 40 pages. He reviews what the pagan world believed about the resurrection, what the Jewish world believed, in the Old Testament, the intertestamental period and the New Testament era, what Christians believed in the New Testament, and in the early writings of Christian fathers up to the time to Eusebius. With his detailed historical analysis, he conclusively shows the Jews, specifically the Pharisees, believed in a bodily resurrection, the Sadducees did not, nor did the various pagan religions. The early Christians followed the Pharisees in their beliefs, but tied it to Jesus as the Messiah.Dr. Wright asks, "Why did the Christians have these beliefs?" Using standard historical analysis, he feels the best explanation is that 1) the tomb was empty; and 2) Jesus appeared to the disciples.His concluding chapter analyzes the meaning of this historical evidence and what it means in our post-modern age.This is a logical, well-written, outstanding Christian apologetic from a historian's view point. Five stars.
  • (5/5)
    This tome is extremely thorough, yet not dry. Wright's insights and some humour help to make this work a delightful read. Although, if you are looking for a survey of this topic you might want to refer to his work "Suprised by Hope". Note, however that this book is the 3rd in a series, so he constantly refers back to the first two books. At times, you also have to be patient with Wright while he is building up his point. Luckily though most of this work has already been done in the first two books of this series.
  • (5/5)
    I haven't finished this book yet, but so far, so good. Wright continues to follow his careful methodical approach, starting with resurrection in Greek and Roman literature and then Jewish literature of the time. He then deals with biblical texts relating to resurrection, showing convincingly that the early church fundamentally believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Very well written.
  • (5/5)
    Pure gold. Henceforth, all scholarly works on the resurrection of the Son of God will be measured by the breadth and depth of this work. Tough to read but thoroughly rewarding.
  • (5/5)
    This book is a comprehensive treatment of the resurrection. In it, Wright plows through piles and piles of ancient literature, following every conceivable first-century resurrection idea. Furthermore, he handles modern and post-modern rejections of the resurrection with the calm logic of a trained historian. Wright’s main point in this book is this: nothing less than the bodily resurrection of Jesus could explain the rise of early Christianity.This book is big. Here’s a summary of the main parts: 1. Setting the Scene: Wright reviews the diverse afterlife beliefs of ancient Greek, Egyptian, and Jewish cultures. He takes special care to explore how Jewish views of the afterlife developed, from the Torah to second temple. 2. Resurrection in Paul: Here Wright explores Paul’s views on resurrection, with specific attention paid to the key passages of 1 Corinthians 15 and 2 Corinthians 4:7-5:10. 3. Resurrection in Early Christianity (Apart from Paul): This section surveys the rest of the New Testament and onward through the Apostolic Fathers, and even the Nag Hammadi texts. 4. The Story of Easter: Here is where Wright gets down to business. After evaluating the historical relevance of the Gospel of Peter, Wright analyzes the main emphases of Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John with respect to the resurrection. 5. Belief, Event and Meaning: This section reminded me of that part of the Lord of the Rings after the ring was destroyed: there was still some mopping up to do. Wright uses his massive argument to challenge inadequate modern deconstructions of the resurrection. In the end, the resurrection led the early church to believe that Jesus truly was (and is) the Son of God.The scope of this book is staggering, but along with all of Wright’s writing, it’s quite readable and interesting. If you’ve got a lot of time on your hands and would like an encyclopedic understanding of the resurrection, give this tome a try.