Resurrection - Fact or Fiction?

Posted to Surefish 26th April 2004 at 00:40

The empty tomb I regard with many scholars as a later tradition. A key text here is Mark, who introduces it, who puts it that the women were told not to tell anyone. Why write this unless the tomb tradition was unknown in the community. The tomb allows the resurrection to become bodily, rather than Paul's confusing spiritual body (a square circle?). The earliest texts are those of Paul and the language of appearances, and these appearances are given as a roll call of authority to which he attaches that given to him. The whole thing is in an atmosphere of expectation of the world coming to an end and the Messiah instituting the new reality. The texts are written some ten years on or so when the tradition is already underway, where Paul connects his own claim of appearance to that of the central authorities and the nature of their faith. When he did not return, Paul's focus on faith in Christ crucified and resurrected became more centred on the person. It was already a shift from the Jerusalem church and its more messianic (out there) understanding of the suffering servant. What actually happened, any historical nugget in all of this, is completely lost in fog. I think it is to do with expectation and longing, and maybe, just maybe, there are appearances that form a core. We know that when people have died that occasionally they are seen by a loved one in more than a dream, and that this appearance to them reassures. Whatever, Paul entered his experience into the confused language of spiritual body, and they used the language of resurrection as expected by Pharisees and present in the synagogues where the first Christian Jews worshipped. There are far too many layers and cultural conditions for Western scientific type thought to say what happened. This is in the realms of mythic history.

Posted to Surefish 26th Apr 2004 at 23:21

No, the fog is a natural creation and God may well be a human creation. Wave your paws, but when you make claims in words, words and their claims are open to all users.
The Archbishop of Canterbury is an interesting theologian. He speaks in terms of stories, and finds himself in some agreement with the atheist Philip Pullman, the storyteller of highly symbolic tales. When you read Rowan Williams, this attachment to what the story does is quite postmodern. Of course he is now in what he calls "the job" which, for example, has called on him to keep a church together despite what he thinks about homosexual equality, for example. So we suppose there is the demand of the job. His 1983 book on the resurrection is most interesting for how it works out the implications of the story: he attaches a new foreword and makes the odd point that if he took account of the scholarship since he would have to thoroughly rewrite it, which meant I was a bit resistant to buying it. But I still might.
I recently read material by Barnabas Lindars, the late biblical scholar, who states that the Markan text means he brought in the empty tomb story, but there are many who argue for the primacy of the appearances as stated by Paul.
Actually, it often comes to just reading the texts yourself. For example, if you read the Luke account of the two walking with Jesus. You do not need to be a specialist to realise that the point where the disciples recognise the person they were walking with was the point where they could "see" what was being said, the linking of this Jesus to the mythic history of Jewish prophecy. And once they get the point, he vanishes. Like it means, now you've got the point, get on with it yourselves. The point about having a meal, is that it links with the Last Supper and that he is obviously back and the community can get on with it in his name. Or if you read Paul and see the order of events of these appearances, it just looks like a list of who is important.
What puzzles me is how anyone with this straight reading can be "fundamentalist" unless they want to read something else. The empty tomb is a wonderful tale until you get the odd bit about the women not to tell anyone. So how did anyone find out. Ah, Matthew disagrees, but then the tale gets more fantastic. Whatever this is, it clearly is not some sort of roadside event, even allowing for how witness statements at roadside events vary. People like Barny can read the Greek and that gives them even more insight. But given the references back to the Hebrew Bible in the New Testament texts, the more you look at it the more you realise, quite simply, that the New Testament is constructed by referring back.
The early Church has, in its branches, become an offshoot of Judaism and is stretching out to non-Jews in its enthusiasms, like we can see many excited Jews to this day in their synagogues. This is the community writing its faith and writing from orally transmitted nuggets and the scriptures of old its faith document.
Incidentally I don't take a lot from the Jesus Seminar. I think Jesus was himself eschatological, thinking that the world was ending and God was very close. In the end this is a narrative too. I think the Jesus Seminar is modernist and historical, and that this knowing Jesus project has failed before. They downplay the last days element too much as being Mark and Paul and John the Baptist, but surely the urgency of Jesus is consistent with the strange world view that few of us share any more. We are not born in sin but make mistakes as well as good decisions, we will not die because of sin but because of biological decay, and the world will not end sometime soon after tomorrow because it will depend on how the sun is doing - and nothing will follow it or the emptiness of the universe billions of years later. Jesus is a strange person in a lost world written about by excited people thinking some lost outcome is around the corner.

Posted to Surefish 26th Apr 2004 at 23:36

Heather. I see you are in North Lincs, which is my location too (website tells all). Occasionally I go to the Barton Anglican church, with increasing frequency.
The accounts of Jesus' resurrection are years after the event, so even if someone wanted to produce a body, they would not be able to find it. That argument does not work for me. Nor is there a proof that Jesus was killed. I think the method of writing suggests he was. There were many who were crucified who survived. They do not die of their injuries but suffocation. It is a horrible death because of the time it takes without mercy, the blood coming from the lungs and the level of stress. If Jesus was on the cross for only hours, he would not have died.
Yes, the moral urgency of the preaching does suggest he did die. What it does not say is any description of what resurrection actually involved. The appearance to Peter is never described, just that it happened.
As for how this strand of the Jewish faith started, for that is what it was until it widened, it is interesting how other faiths or strands have their origins. There are the Bahais and Mormons, both of whom have developments that are put down to historical happenings but which are open to examination and question, and yet are more accessible than the period immediately after Jesus' death. Absence of truth (not implied) is not a test of the ability of a religious movement to grow and grow quickly: religious movements grow because of relevance to a cultural situation.
So there are all sorts of possibilities, but the texts that define Christians are the texts of communities asking where Jesus is as they go on, and how did it come about consistent with expectation. That is what is read, and the story is all there is.
Now I am about to write to a National Unitarian email list asking the same question the other way around: in what sense are some Unitarians Christians when the resurrection is either disbelieved or ignored (more usually). One of the effects of reading the New Testament is the realisation that it is a communal text with a certain thrust, and has no neutral position from which historical bits about a moral good man can be easily extracted. The argument, oddly, works both ways, and is the Christian paradox.Resurrection - fact or fiction?27th Apr 2004 at 20:42Quite right: I am offering an early twenty first century narrative. The language games are different and there is a small use of the language of science, but the language of historical construction and especially religion is a narrative. This one, I submit, is the best at hand for now in terms of the task it does, but it is no absolute truth and there will be change in the future.
Were the disciples fearful? Were they not perhaps disappointed, or even out of the way with their heads full of general resurrection and messianic expectations? Perhaps Mark had a point: they went away (say Galilee) and were waiting. We just do not know.
As best as I can make out Rowan Williams sits at that point where the narrative may be true and may not be objectively referent but whichever it is the narrative that does the job. Non-realists (as called - and Rowan Williams is pretty close) do not say that there is no reality, but that the issue of reality is not important because meaning is made by language and symbolism.
Andrew's view of history and "a fact" is not even shared by most historians. Everything is constructed, even if there are facts there. Arguments are made, and arguments are contestable. When you get into the realm of religion, and the how and why those texts were constructed and their standpoints, this is even more divorced from the simple idea of a fact. There are schools of history, see my files at and the nearest school to having facts is the one about having fidelity to historical documents, and the gospels/ Acts/ Paul are only partly (and not clear where) historical documents.
Andrew is using a circular argument as to why he is marked as a Christian. Whilst all arguments need some a priori statement it is not an argument to acquire a different even sectarian basis of reasoning except a psychological one, that somehow without membership one is inadequate. It is not likely to appeal either, and this makes evangelism difficult. The resurrection here being affirmed is only one view of it, and a narrow one based on an unsustainable view of history.
How many people observed the resurrection event? Not everyone, certainly, and not even someone alongside to the person who did have it, for example, and I think we will find that the big number has a scriptural not an historical origin.
I'm baffled. Surely if Jesus appeared to people, they become witnesses. The point is that the tradition is told, not the events, so what happened (if anything physical) is unknown. Remember that in later gospels they were to spread the news: the gospel stories about an tomb contradict each other and cannot be conflated. They are different.
I believe in species of humans of which we are the last, and for which there is historical evidence, and to pinpoint Adam and Eve is impossible. Presumably we are talking about homo sapiens. Neanderthals were pretty close it seems to our level of sophistication. Perhaps believers in Adam and Eve can tell us which point the first defined homo sapien (say instead of homo habilis) we are talking about.
Yes, all this has a lot more to do with covenant and faithfulness than a scientism of history.
Well I have been in the New Holland church 30 seconds away but it is the same priest and he is a good bloke but I don't go along with the thrust of what he says. Better than the previous one. There is more mental space at Barton.
You can have an opinion, but it is more a question I think (opinion) of methodology. What approach is appropriate given the data presented. The resurrection certainly has data, but what is the data? It is theological and communal.

Posted to Surefish 30th April 2004 at 20:26

I know that historicity is not always the basis for faith, and if it was then it would be rather limited. The nine hours, for example, may be something of significance: it is John isn't it who wants Jesus as the Passover lamb so that it is done quickly but the others quote nine hours. Who knows what happened regarding whipping and the rest.
So I am, like others - but I'll admit it happily - weaving a kind of historical narrative knowing full well that it has a kind of postmodern history approach to it. And what I am doing principally is saying can this faith be understood not from past concepts and a past world view, which we do not share, but do it from this world view. When it is done my way, there are trade offs and losses, but also gains. The question is whether it is sustainable and whether it looks enough like Christianity by a contemporary interpretation. For me there must be a consistency with how I understand the world on all else and the religious approach, allowing for the view that religion is the art of arts, symbolic and communicative, and means of how we think again and reorientate ourselves.
If I may say so, the contradiction in your post is to deny historicity and then say I should fit the known facts. I do not fit known facts but a narrative of facts, and there is a crucial difference, because it is open to other narrative streams by other factual speculations given the absense of facts. Faith then is like a rainbow.

Posted to Surefish 13th May 2004 at 01:46

This notion about the true facts of history: even your most historical facts types people, like Arthur Marwick, are focussed on the documents available, and this is just one historical method.
Now to say something is unique and therefore different, and then you have it or you don't: the point of its uniqueness may well be that you both do have it and do not have it. Assuming that there are witnesses, and they are not just authority roll calls and narratives after the event, these witnesses engaged with appearances visible to them but not to others at the same time. There is a pattern of seeing according to revealing a theological point, or after the Hebrew Bible along the lines of the hiddeness of God: it seems to me that this is in the area of something happening and not happening at the same time. There is a simpler explanation for this, but it does suggest even for the realist a dual nature and selectivity regarding witnesses.


Adrian Worsfold