Sunday, September 11, 2005

τον εσταυρωμενον ηγερθη

The Crucified One - has been raised!
[Mark 16:6]

There is good discussion about the resurrection by Loren Rosson and Mike Bird with cameo appearances by others in the comments sections! The debate is far too dense to make any dent or developments in the discussion on a grand-scale level but there are a few things that can be said and asked along the way.
Why is it surprising that more Jewish groups didn’t make wild and offensive claims in order to make success of their failures? I don’t think that it is. Jewish groups weren’t in the habit of making things like this up to compensate for failed dreams. They didn’t do this with other messianic failures, why should we suppose that they did it with Jesus? Following this, I’m not at all sure that it is abundantly plain that apocalyptic groups become wildly creative, unpredictably creative, in the face of failed expectations. Where in the world of 2nd temple Judaism can we see this happening? The viability of this thesis would depend on it’s historical merits, not blunt assertions or appeal to authority (Festinger).
While I would concede that it’s no stretch of the imagination that the disciples could have invented a resurrection belief in order to cope with broken dreams and keep their movement going. The question that needs to be asked is “Did they?” It seems to me that they had every reason not too. Who invents this kind of belief and invites more persecution and hardships? Were the early Christians that crazy/stupid? With their primary leader, a failure par excellence, why would they want to continue? Rome had proved them wrong - what more was there for them?
Surely if they were going to invent something like this, the natural place to go looking for inspiration would be the Hebrew narratives and thus there would be traces of prophetic fulfilment/vindication in the resurrection narratives. But strangely, there is none. How do we explain this? As Bockmuehl noted:
Ironically, in the canonical sources the resurrection is nowhere described, never clearly defined and quite diversely interpreted. Nevertheless, the NT writings unanimously agree on one thing: in some sense that was both inexplicable and yet nmistakeable, Jesus was seen alive in personal encounters with his disciples soon after his death.
[Bockmuehl, The Cambridge Companion to Jesus, pg. 102]
I beg to differ that Jesus’ death was not a cause for dissonance in the minds of the disciples. The Lukan narrative makes clear that hopes were dashed and dreams destroyed when Jesus died. John tells of a Peter who left the movement to return to fishing. The cross, and the reports of the cry of dereliction [taken to be authentic by most] would surely cause the disciples to face a serious kind of dissonance that they were indeed mistaken about their claims, aspirations and hopes concerning this Jewish prophet. And they abandoned both him and his cause at the first major sign that God was not going to immediately act to intervene and save Jesus, and them.
I’m also struggling to see how for the disciples, things were still going “as expected”. As noted, Peter had forsaken the movement and gone back to fishing. Most of the other disciples had abandoned the cause because of the cross and all that was left was possibly John and probably a few women. How exactly were things still going “as expected”? What was the plan that these events were following?
The thought that transphysical visions of the dead are common is also hard for this student to digest. Transphysicality is a way of describing the notion that the resurrected body is both continuous with the present body and discontinuous. Wright has an extensive discussion of σομα ψχικον (ordinary human life or a body animated by life/breath) and σομα πνευματικον (a life indwelt by the Spirit of God or a body animated by the Spirit), This is illustrative of what the early Christians were grappling with. Somehow Jesus’ body was both continuous and discontinuous with that of his former body. (See RSG: pp. 347-56 and Ben Witherington’s commentary on 1 & 2 Corinthians is still the best discussion of this that I’ve found.)
Now how does one have a vision of transphysicality? I may be arguing semantics, but I’m confused as to how one can say that you can “see” [vision] transphysicality. Just because one has a vision that is interactive [hear, see & touch], does not make the vision transphysical. So this is a misnomer. You cannot see something transphysical. You can see something that's physical and then have other reasons for concluding that the physicality in question has somehow been transformed and it is thus a: transphysical phenomenon.
Good hypotheses are also good explanations; but sometimes what is needed is a simple exegetical demonstration. I hope when I get Allison’s book that this will be provided for me. My last quibble with Loren’s comments is that I’m not convinced that because of this mysterious vanishing act, we today have the doctrine of the resurrection. Maybe I’m being pedantic, and if so please forgive me, by the doctrine of resurrection precedes Christianity by some time. Wright and others have demonstrated this well.
The discussion, as Michael Bird notes, hinges on why the early Jewish/Christian sect used resurrection language to describe what had happened to a crucified wannabe. Wright states that:
“It remains the case that resurrection, in the world of second-Temple Judaism, was about the restoration of Israel on the one hand and the newly embodied life of all YHWH’s people on the other, with close connections between the two; and that it was thought of as the great event that YHWH would accomplish at the very end of the present age.”
Why did the early Christian movement believe this had already happened to Jesus? Why did they not just die out like many other messianic movements that lost their leader? Why make the daft claim that God had acted so decisively, if he clearly hadn’t? They knew what language to use to describe this freak event.
If they were trying to convey something else, then they had many Socio-linguistic resources available to them to convey that something else. I end with the wisdom of Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, pg. 291 and Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, pg. 165
Stanton: The New Testament writers stress that it was the appearances of the risen Jesus which led to the resurrection faith of the first followers of Jesus and to the their conviction that God had raised Jesus from the dead. Their claims about the risen Jesus do not fit into any of the Jewish and Greco-Roman ways of understanding post-mortem existence. They were not claiming that Jesus had been restored to normal human life only to die again in due course, as happened to the widow’s son at Nain, for example [Lk 7:11-16]. Nor were they claiming that the risen Jesus was some kind of ghost or apparition [cf. Mk 6:49; Matt 14:26]. In the Greco-Roman world the apotheosis of deification of a ruler or hero was not unknown, but this patter does not provide a parallel, for apotheosis was of the sour not the body. If was confined to the elite on the grounds of the alleged virtue – and it often drew scorn and derision.
Hays: The resurrection, just as much as the other events of the story, must be assessed as a historical event. It is told as such in the narratives. Certainly, it is a mysterious event, but is is not presented as a vision, a dream, theological inference, or an ineffable event in the hearts of those who loved him. It is told as another remarkable event within the narrative, as the bodily resurrection of the man Jesus, leaving the tomb empty, conversing with his disciples, showing them his hand and his feet, eating fish with them. This is the historical event that alone renders the development of the church historically explicable. This is the historical event in the light of which all our history must be interpreted anew.
Thus with Mark: τ ο ν ε σ τ α υ ρ ω μ ε ν ο ν η γ ερ θ η !

1 comment:

Michael F. Bird said...

Sean, you have said it well and with better fonts than I have available.