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Thursday, July 05, 2007

Resurrection and Scholarly Rhetoric: A Response to Wright

I was going to one day respond in non-blog print (mainly) to N. T. Wright’s comments on me in response to my comments on him. I’m not sure I have the will to write it up ‘properly’ (i.e. in article format) to be honest so instead, following the leads of e.g. April DeConick, Mark Goodacre and James Tabor, I will give a response here. And, after all, Wright posted his response on the web. Or again: it’s a popular topic. So collectively they seem good enough reasons, don’t they?

Just about all the references are to Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3 (2005) where I also reference Dale Allison’s introductory article. I know it is two years later but, in the words of Captain Jack, whatever.

Other bits will be found in the book I’m doing versus Bird.

So let’s begin…

While Allison has a lot of sympathy with the tradition of arguments based on visionary experiences and certain criticisms of Wright, he is critical of me on other points. He points out that legend can be parasitic on memory, pointing to legends surrounding the JFK assassination. Consequently legendary features do not discredit the resurrection stories entirely (127-128). Allison is of course right that miraculous/legendary/whatever stories can have a historical core and I would not argue otherwise. As I said, ‘These examples [of Jewish storytelling], which cannot be historically accurate, rewrite stories of figures in the past to justify a belief in the present. It follows that it is perfectly possible for the Gospel writers to do the same.’ My heavy emphasis on secondary storytelling in early Judaism was partly to counter Wright’s almost stubborn refusal to entertain the possibility that a story so laden with supernaturalism might just be an invention and as an alternative to some of the complex tradition histories in scholarly arguments against the empty tomb and resurrection stories (181). Against Wright, the fact that such stories would almost certainly be regarded as secondary in a non-Christian context should lead to a little suspicion in Christian document. That said, my argument is not so much to show that invention exists therefore the empty tomb story is necessarily secondary but more to build a plausible context upon which my more specific arguments could function.

Wright’s response is more evangelical apologetics and polemic than argument and this may explain why he frequently replaces arguments I made with ones he presumably thinks I made. And there are plenty of patronising remarks in the tradition of the posh Englishman who just knows he has an audience of sympathisers! Wright accuses me of ‘fine rhetoric but mere assertion…when the argument is weak we hear the repeated tell-tale word, “Surely”, which means more or less, “I very much want to assert this but I can’t at the moment tell you why”.’ (p. 220). Well, I didn’t recognise myself in that. I argued that there ought to be suspicious given that after Mark tells us that the women fled out of fear, Luke and John have Peter turning up at the empty tomb and the women immediately go and tell the disciples in Matthew. Then there is the inauguration of the gentile mission in Matt (cf. Matt 10:5-6!!!) and the replacement of Galilee with Jerusalem in Luke. And Thomas saying my Lord and my God (why would anyone have left that out if it was an early tradition????). This is nothing like Wright’s representation of me: he simply avoids the points and replaces it with sarcasm and no argument.

So no matter how hard Wright pleads, it remains a brute fact that I did explain the argument. Irrespective of whether I am right or wrong the argument for scepticism is not an assertion. Yes, the use of ‘surely’ was, obviously, for rhetorical reasons but that is academic as it does not follow from this that I did not argue. Besides, Wright appears to contradict himself by informing us that we do not need to be informed that the resurrection accounts should be approached with sceptical incredulity because countless readers have done so. So is it all built on argument or not? Or was that whole tradition built on no arguments? What’s more, if Wright can tell us that a meeting between a rabbi’s daughter and an emperor is no doubt fictitious yet cannot even bring himself to be so sceptical of a story which includes a lot of dead people rising from tombs (Matt. 27.51-53), a point which Wright, tellingly, did not answer when put it to him (I think Mark Goodacre initially put the point to him at BNTC a few years back and never got a proper answer), then I think Wright really does need to be reminded of just how incredible the resurrection accounts are.

Wright does try to counter: ‘Haggadic legends about figures in the distant past, written to justify a belief in the present, are in fact very significantly different to the resurrection narratives. The latter…concern a figure of very recent memory, not Moses or Abraham or someone else from long ago…’ (219-220). Well, that is an extremely misleading account. Have a look at what I did say (which includes unambiguous reference to figures of more recent memory) and I’ll put in bold the clear enough point I made which is ignored by Wright. And just to add, Wright quoted me from in the immediate context of my article! As I said:

While it is true that much of the rewriting of history concerns distant figures, this alone does not prove that creative storytelling could not be done in the case of more recent historical figures. In fact historically inaccurate storytelling was done for fairly recent historical figures. Stories of rabbis are one example. Another notable parallel is the rapid emergence of miraculous and legendary traditions surrounding pagan figures such as Alexander or Augustus, even within their own life times. It is regrettable that these points still need to be made. (181)

Moreover, there is a clear case of inventing history with reference to resurrection right there in the gospel tradition. In Matt. 27:51-53 we are told: ‘The earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised. After his resurrection they came out of the tombs and entered the holy city and appeared to many.’ If one story about people being resurrected and appearing to others can be invented within decades after Jesus’ death then why cannot more?

But significantly, and as mentioned, Wright is hesitant to accept that even Matt. 27:51-53 is secondary! I do not think it is going too far to suggest that his evangelical agenda interferes far too much when he claims, ‘Some stories are so odd that they may just have happened. This may be one of them, but in historical terms there is no way of finding out’ (RSG, 636). Leaving the question of precisely where this would leave us in terms of historical criticism, the basic argument against historicity is put well by Allison,

That an earthquake opened the tombs of some long-dead saints, who then awoke from their collective slumber, entered Jerusalem, and appeared to many – all of which is solely attested by a document coming from perhaps sixty years after the alleged events – does not clearly commend itself as solemn fact to the sober-minded historian…Mt. 27.51-53 is a religious yarn spawned by the same source that gave us…other transparent fictions – the human imagination. (217)

Yet there is another criticism which should further point to the weirdness of entertaining the idea that a lot of dead people rose from tombs and wandered around: where are they now? By Wright’s model of resurrection in early Judaism, would these people not still be walking around to this very day? I am inclined to let my sceptical nature get the better of me here and say that if it is correct that they would still be around according to Wright’s reconstruction of early Judaism, then I would be amazed if they were walking around today and that this also implies that Matthew or someone else invented a story involving resurrection just decades after the time of Jesus. I would also repeat the following argument to Wright: why is the story of a rabbi’s daughter no doubt fictitious but the same degree of suspicion is not applied to a story of a lot of dead people rising from tombs?

Wright also claims that ‘the resurrection stories are not of the same type as those which seek simply to “make heroes greater”. They were written to declare that something had happened’ (220). We can pass the second sentence because it is an irrelevant point as it is something I actually accepted in my article and it is not an either/or situation as Wright comes close implying. But the first sentence is a strange claim (‘type’?) and directly contradicts the primary sources. Why does Peter suddenly get the premier viewing? Why is else is Jesus called my Lord and God? Is there not a general theme of how wonderful Jesus is after being crucified??? And so on…

Wright also repeats the old conservative argument that ‘there were plenty of people around who could back them up, or indeed controvert them.’ (P. 219) But as I said this confuses modern notions of truth with ancient ones. It is hardly controversial to say that people made up stories in the ancient world and were not always as worried about historical accuracy like most modern historians. Then Wright says that Crossley does ‘somewhat shoot himself in the foot’ when he declares that stories of the Patriarchs etc. were invented with one eye on the present but, as we saw, this counter argument only works by ignoring the fact that I explicitly mentioned stories written by contemporaries/near contemporaries of some hero or event. But then Wright attacks my highlighting of the Esther tradition saying why I think this is relevant is ‘beyond me’: ‘traditions developing over three or four centuries can hardly be compared with traditions which, as I have argued, show remarkably little development over three or four decades.’ (219). Wright has once more missed the point. Among others, a key point of using the Esther traditions was to give a culturally very close parallel to how closely related traditions can change and do not require us to make arguments of historicity. This is reason why I felt this point should not have to be made but if a scholar is going to make such arguments as Wright’s then they have to be repeated and I make no apology for that. And as for remarkably little development, where do we begin (a dead man rising and eating with people, gentile mission, claims of divinity, name checking top figures and so on…)

Then we get to the discussion of visions which Wright, and skipping over his pointless polemic, Wright claims:

What he [Crossley] seems to mean…is that (a) when people have visions, the content of the vision is determined by the cultural context they are already in… (c) that these visions, and this context, were very different to the supposedly ‘Hellenistic’ visions which I have rejected as an explanatory grid. I am not sure how secure (a) is; there are many accounts of people from utterly non-Christian contexts experiencing visions of Jesus; and there may well be, for all I know, similarly cross-cultural phenomena in quite other traditions. This calls into question, too, the absolute disjunction postulated by (c).

This misses the point. People have visions and have had visions in different cultural contexts. That is undeniable of course. Also undeniable is that the content of each vision is different according to cultural context. Therefore, the early Christian context, with all its particularities, including the death of Jesus who had predicted his death, would have dictated the content of the vision. It is the content that is different from cultural context to cultural context. That is the point Wright misses. Whether there are people from utterly non-Christian contexts experiencing visions of Jesus we would need a much more detailed argument than Wright’s assertion (I am sceptical because it has been used as an evangelising tool, on me too – though I know of course that this does not disprove the case) and, crucially I think, we would need to see how they are interpreted as Jesus, by whom and in what context. If we take Wright’s argument, are we then saying that there is something miraculous about people seeing Jesus even though there have not been any cultural links, despite the disclaimer that it could be possible in other traditions? Finally, it seems to me that looking at the cultural assumptions of a vision is standard practice in critical studies or religion and cultural contexts. Consequently, this functions as a perfectly plausible explanation without having to resort to the supernatural.

Wright then fires at my use of the confusion between ghostly figure and bodily figure in Mark 6. This ‘was not an indication,’ Wright retorts, ‘that people in that culture could not easily, under normal conditions, tell the difference between the two, but rather that the conditions abnormal.’ (…and therefore supernatural is the better explanation????) Whether Mark 6 is an indication of people in general not being able to distinguish between ghosts and bodily figures I leave to one side but the fact that it occurs in a very early Christian document is one indication that there could be confusion in this context. Moreover, and I may well be letting my own scepticism get the better of me again, I would be prepared to suggest that people claiming to see, or claiming people have seen, the bodily raised Jesus, who eats and passes through walls (among other things) is an abnormal situation. But even so the very fact that the earliest Christians acknowledged the possible confusion between ghost and body means that we have the basis for a perfectly naturalistic interpretation of the resurrection appearances which does not have to resort to making judgments of divine intervention. If believers want to say that this was the result of divine intervention I really couldn’t care less but when it gets to the level of historical argument and the claim that it virtually has to be explained with reference to the supernatural, well that really does not necessarily follow.

Against Wright’s argument that the lack of scriptural embellishment in the resurrection narratives, I suggested that the absence could be explained with reference to scripturally ignorant gentiles and the resurrection being central to faith. Wright responds by saying, ‘Why should the evangelists, who have made such dramatic use of scripture throughout the rest of their narratives, suddenly refrain from doing so here? Were Gentiles supposed only to read the final chapter?’ (p. 221). On the first question, well that was precisely what my argument was designed to answer. As for the second question involving gentiles only reading the final chapter, why would I argue that (note: I did not)? As I pointed out, resurrection was a key aspect of faith in early Christianity and as not all gentile converts would have been scripturally aware then it is possible that this could be a reason why there is little scripture in the resurrection stories. It still remains that I provided evidence from the Aeropagus speech in Acts to scripturally ignorant gentiles which does not invoke the scriptures in contrast to when Jews are addressed in Acts. I freely admitted (as Wright acknowledged) and freely admit that this remains a speculative argument but it would certainly work as a historical argument and Wright have provided no serious counter argument. The main purpose of this kind of argument is to show that there is an alternative explanation and one which does not have to resort to something as dramatic as the implication of a bodily resurrection. What is really more speculative: people modified texts to suit the audience or modified texts points in some part to supernatural intervention in history??!!!

It speaks volumes that my doubting of the historicity of resurrection accounts can lead to these kinds of comments:

The key thing to note in all these four points, which Crossley never really begins to come to terms with, is that the normal account of the resurrection narratives within mainstream New Testament scholarship – namely, that after a brief and dubious statement by Mark the other evangelists created their stories out of whole cloth in the post 70 period – is simply incredible. These stories, for all they have been lightly edited by the evangelists, go back to the very early oral period, and were regarded as all too important, in this character of primary testimony, to be significantly altered. (221)

Lightly edited? Referencing scholarship is not really much of a counter argument (especially as the ‘mainstream of New Testament scholarship’ would reject many of Wright’s arguments – so where does that leave us?) but more alarming is the idea that these narratives have been lightly edited. Peter suddenly being there? Matthew and the gentiles and the mountain? An additional angelic man? The shift from Galilee (Mark) to Jerusalem (Luke)? The story of Thomas? I don’t know if the evangelists were responsible for all this or earlier tradition but that they did edit seems a plausible scenario to me and so the argument that many of these stories were largely created is not ‘simply incredible’, at least not by a standard use of ‘incredible’ in historical reconstruction (for what it is worth, the supernatural in historical research is widely regarded as simply incredible). Yet as it turns out I don’t know if the idea of the gospel writers more or less inventing the stories is accurate but then I have never made such claims and I do not rely on this scholarly tradition. It may well be the case that they go back to early oral or written traditions. But whatever way we look at it the stories remain wildly implausible for the reasons I have outlined here and elsewhere. We ultimately do not know if these were traditions from the early oral period of if they were invented close to the time of the evangelists.

Two incidental points: 1) I am not sure of how much relevance to me is the argument that the post-Markan stories were created in the post-70 period and, John’s gospel aside, I would be surprised if I did given that I date Matthew and Luke close to 70 CE. 2) The idea that a scholar can claim that the argument of the invention of ideas surrounding dead people rising from tombs, a man risen from the dead eating with his living disciples, etc. is ‘incredible’ while the argument that it all more or less happened is true brings us back to the ideological make up of the discipline. I just wonder if that kind of argument would ever see the light of day in another discipline.

Wright says my argument that women did have a more significant role and could therefore be acceptable in the resurrection accounts ‘simply will not do’. This apparently contradicts my point that I apparently made that the resurrection accounts were written for gentile outsiders (I actually think there were mixed audiences but we will let that pass) but these people were ‘as we know from Celsus’ were ‘quick to mock such an unlikely story “verified” by such an incredible set of witnesses’ (221). Firstly, the second century Celsus does not equal ‘the gentiles’ as the logic of Wright’s argument would have to go. And Celsus actually points to the oddity of the role of women so Christians could have seen some women as plausible witnesses. Moreover, it is perfectly clear that in some sections of earliest Christianity women did have a more prominent role than might be expected and that this gradually diminished. As I’ve argued elsewhere, the socio-economic upheaval which provided the context for the emergence of the Jesus movement was conducive to a temporary shift in gender relations. Furthermore, Jews could and did write stories of women like Esther and Judith who played much more prominent roles than some might expect. So once again we have a perfectly logical explanation to explain that someone somewhere in earliest Christianity could use women to do things of high importance in the narrative and which does not require resort to supernatural implications.

That alone ought to be good enough but, typically, Wright missed off a crucial part of my argument which pointed out that the women were not the only ones present in the earliest narrative account. I can only repeat my argument and add that the italics are original at a time when I assumed they would highlight the point: ‘this point cannot be stressed enough, the man dressed in white, presumably an angel, may have provided all the authority Mark’s audience required’ (184).

And finally note the typical polemic of Wright when he adds that he gets the impression that ‘it is Crossley who is driven by his ideology to say that, since bodily resurrection cannot have happened, something wrong with the argument that says it did, though to date he has not been able to figure out what it is.’ (219). He may be correct that my ‘ideology’ makes me think that the resurrection did not happen – at a push I would accept that I use conventional historical methodology – but if ever an argument could be turned against the arguer this would have to be it! Seriously though, I have given a series of arguments which show that we do not have to resort to the supernatural and Wright really should pay more attention to the details of that argument instead of excessive misrepresentation, ignoring arguments and ultimately resorting to cheap polemic.

NOTE: I find myself coming closer to the view that I am only really showing that there are countless other explanations which mean we do not necessarily have to resort to the supernatural. I wish that some people would just recognise that calling ‘naturalistic’ explanations of the resurrection stories ‘speculative’ etc. is not half as speculative as saying ‘well, it must be the supernatural then’. Theological types (I’m looking at YOU Jim West), does this make me more Barthian or Bultmannian?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Bout time too...:)

But I hope you are going to send this as a piece to JSHJ.


July 05, 2007

Anonymous Jim said...

You're a very, very good Bultmannian.

July 05, 2007

Blogger Doug Chaplin said...

Well, glad you survived the floods! I think you're right to resist being buried by Wright's rhetoric, and that he is over-conservative on the particular stories. I did offer here a different argument for the empty tomb which I still find historically persuasive, and which makes me give more credibility to the core of the gospel narratives. I do think that too much of the argument between you and Wright focusses on details which may or may not be embillishments on the assumption that finding (or not finding) embellishments determines the nature of the core.
(PS Now we've bought Torres, we're going to be raised up -- above you!)

July 05, 2007

Anonymous Philip Davies said...

It is about time Wright came clean and admitted he is one of the saints who rose from their tombs in Jerusalem as Matthew records. Some of us have long suspected him of being undead. Now, do we need a stake in the heart or a silver bullet or what to put this man to a peaceful end?

July 05, 2007

Anonymous Jim said...

That's simply too funny not to share, Philip.

On an unrelated matter, please change your mind about San Diego!


July 05, 2007

Blogger April DeConick said...


Hooray! I have meant to post on this same topic, and maybe I will in a few days.

July 05, 2007

Anonymous Justin Meggitt said...

All sounds very reasonable to me - and the last point is, of course, crucial. It is bewildering that naturalistic explanations can be thought speculative - they are obviously just incredibly more likely. What passes for reasonable amongst many NT scholars is, at times, quite bizarre, and it is even odder that they do not seem aware how strange their assumptions are.Thanks for not letting this kind of stuff pass without a response.

July 05, 2007

Blogger April DeConick said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

July 05, 2007

Blogger Steven Carr said...

Wright claims that the body of Jesus was 'transphysical', and made of a new type of matter never before seen on earth.

Why spend a billion pounds on particle accelarators at CERN, when you can discover new types of matter just by reading an old book?

As it happens, the Gospel of Luke has Jesus trash the disciples mistaken belief that the body of Jesus was made of a material that of its nature could pass through walls.

To Luke, the resurrected body of Jesus was just flesh and bone, presumably the same sort of flesh and bone as that of Philip whose body could also disappear and reappear in Acts 8

As for Wright's claim that all these stories go back to early tradition, we know for a fact from 1 Corinthians 15 that people converted to Jesus-worship and still scoffed at the idea that God would choose to raise a corpse.

What early tradition of corpse-raising had *they* heard of?

July 05, 2007

Blogger Steven Carr said...


James makes the excellent point that Mark has the resurrection announced by a young man, not by women.

And if Mark's readers knew enough to make the connection that this 'young man' was really an angel, then they were the sort of people who would expect angels to have great authority.

As it happens, the Gospels claim that people would believe in Jesus having heard only the testimony of a woman. See John 4:39.

Wright in his 'John for Everyone' book tries to avoid discussing this early Christian belief that people would believe in Jesus having heard only the testimony of a woman.

And Wright succeeds in avoiding it!

Also, as it happens, Wright's proof-texts that women were not considered reliable witnesses fall apart on examination (not to mention that such prim and proper Jews like Josephus cite women as reliable sources).

For example, women were not considered reliable witnesses on matters of astronomical observations.

But surely this is because women were by and large uneducated on such matters, and not because they were female.

July 05, 2007

Blogger Deane said...

I remember reading through that issue of the Journal, and thinking The Bishop of Durham had completely misunderstood your point about the cultural-determination of vision experiences. As far as I am aware, the view of Steven Katz--that visionary experience is always affected by the mystic's beliefs, practices and expectations--has survived the challenges to it. In any case, Wright seemed to be unaware of what you were alluding to at all.

There is a prevalent bias against visionary experience amongst Protestants, that has a lot more to do with "rationalist Protestant presuppositions" than first century Palestine, as James Tabor noted years ago. This is in stark contrast to Paul's views, for example, who has a lot of trouble telling real life apart from a vision (as Acts 12.9 shows).

Contrast again NT Wright, who isn't afraid to assert that people in the ancient world:
"knew the difference between visions and things that happen in the "real" world"
(Resurrection of the Son of God, 690).
As St Paul demonstrates, let alone the mass of aNE & Greco-Roman evidence, this is quite false. First century Jews were not twenty-first century Protestant rationalists.

July 06, 2007

Blogger James F. McGrath said...

Thank you for this extremely helpful and thought-provoking blog entry! It is interesting that I found myself reflecting on matters of rumor and legend in relation to the resurrection on my own blog yesterday at http://exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com/

There my focus was on insights from social-scientific and personal cross-cultural experiences, which have raised questions about the reliability of information transmitted in such cultural contexts. The signs of development and transformation are such that, even if Bauckham were correct about the ongoing role of eyewitnesses in determining the course of the tradition, this would simply mean that it was the eyewitnesses themselves who reinterpreted their memories, rather than it merely being later authors and interpreters who edited the tradition they inherited. To my thinking, this makes the historical issues more problematic rather than less.

July 06, 2007

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Since you argue so strongly that the resurrection of Jesus never occured, then you should be able to come up with similar arguments that the birth of Jesus did not occur either. After all, impossible claims are made for both. Or do you like to pick and choose which impossible events you keep in your history?

Someone else who likes to have their cake and eat it!

July 06, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Grumpy Geoff: congratulations, you read James in true Wrightian fashion ie. you completely missed the point.


July 06, 2007

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

James wrote:

"I find myself coming closer to the view that I am only really showing that there are countless other explanations which mean we do not necessarily have to resort to the supernatural."

Why does one have to cloud the issue with 'countless other explanations' of the resurrection story when one very simple non-supernatural human explanation will do? Like the birth, betrayal and crucifixion stories, it was a complete Pauline fabrication. It was one aspect in the creation of a new 'Christian' religion out of the original prophetic Christianity that came out of Judea. The new religion was established under Roman imperial control post 70 CE. The cultural context was largely the cult of the emperor, not Judaism.

July 06, 2007

Blogger Mark Goodacre said...

Thanks for an interesting post, James. It's good to see you adding to the number of those doing serious academic responses in the blog medium. I still can't help but think that you would have it easier if you didn't have such an early Mark. A post-70 empty tomb tradition in Mark is so much more straightforward to understand than one within a stone's throw of the events.

Yes, I put that question re Matt. 27.51-53 at the BNTC Jesus Seminar when you gave your response to the book too. What I was interested to try to discover was whether he was willing to distinguish between stories like that one and like the Empty Tomb one, suggesting that one of the tasks of the historian is to weight different evidence differently. His response, if I recall correctly, was a form of "strange things happen", which I do struggle with as an historian, and which you clearly struggle with too.

July 06, 2007

Blogger BobGriffin said...

You wrote:
"the fact that such stories would almost certainly be regarded as secondary in a non-Christian context ..."
I'm not quite sure what you mean by secondary, but we have a perhaps equally outrageous account in 'The Autobiography of a Yogi' by Parmahansa Yogananda. The account in question can be found at http://www.crystalclarity.com/yogananda/chap1.html
paragraphs 25-38. The account is given in the 3rd person, as having been witnessed by the man through whom Yogananda's father became a disciple of Lahiri Mahasaya.

I would appreciate it if you could explain how the above account would be considered secondary.

Be Well,
Bob Griffin

July 07, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dang you make a whole lot of sense!

I am interested in reading more of your stuff


July 07, 2007

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Is Mark Goodacre's 'post 70 empty tomb tradition' equivalent to a fabricated empty tomb story? If so, it is certainly straightforward to understand. But I wouldn't mince my words.

July 07, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

steph says...

It would be dishonest to change the date of Mark to post 70 in order to make the empty tomb tradition more straightforward. I'm sure Mark wasn't suggesting that James did that really, but in any case an early date is no less straightforward that a late date.

If the earliest visions of Jesus after the crucifixion were interpreted as his bodily resurrection, then it would be assumed that there was an emptied tomb. Furthermore there is no evidence for the veneration of a real empty tomb (until the recently discovered full Jesus tomb .... not!) Also if the women were in recent memories the only historical witnesses to the crucifixion, Mark would have to have included them in an empty tomb story, adding a heavenly male for an additional and more "convincing" witness. All this I think points to an early belief (not necessarily historical fact) in Jesus' bodily resurrection and makes sense with an early late 30s early 40s Mark.

(Although I think Mark is in his mid to late thirties...)

July 07, 2007

Blogger Steven Carr said...

'If the earliest visions of Jesus after the crucifixion were interpreted as his bodily resurrection, then it would be assumed that there was an emptied tomb.'

Then the early converts to Jesus-worship in Corinth would have believed in the resurrection of corpses, and Paul would not have called them idiots even to discuss how corpses are raised.

July 07, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

so what's the point of a belief in an empty tomb without a belief in a bodily resurrection?

apparently ANON

July 07, 2007

Blogger Steven Carr said...

Wright takes Crossley to task as follows... 'Again, Crossley concludes his key discussion by saying that a (presumably non-bodily) vision ‘would strongly imply that Jesus’ message had been vindicated......third, that a non-bodily vision of someone recently dead would prove nothing about the ‘validity’ or ‘vindication’ of the ideas they had held and taught during their lifetime.’.

Has Wright read the Book of Acts?

Acts 7
54 When they heard this, they were furious and gnashed their teeth at him. 55 But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God."

Did Stephen really see a bodily Jesus in Heaven standing at the right had of God?

Or did the author of Acts think that claiming to 'see' Jesus standing at the right hand of God was a vindication of Jesus, and that this 'non-bodily vision' proved that Jesus had been unjustly killed?

July 08, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...


Long live Roger Aus in all his work as well as on dead mean rising from their graves originating in Judaic traditions on 1 Samuel 28.

I wonder what Wright thinks of Aus.

July 08, 2007

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Acts was originally only about worship in the Spirit, not about worship of Jesus. So 7.55 (about seeing Jesus standing at the right hand of God) is a later Pauline interpolation. 7.54 is probably later interpolation also. Thus 53 wqas originally continued at 56. The prophet was continuing an autobiographical account of his speech, thus: "Look, I see heaven open and the SPIRIT OF GOD COMING." -'COMING' being the key word from 7.52 which was originally about priests killing prophets who proclaimed the 'coming' of the Spirit. The priests had always resisted the the Spirit (7.51). 'Righteous One' and 'And now you have betrayed and murdered him' (7.52) are clearly later interpolations. In 7.53, the prophet was originally saying that the priests had heard the Spirit through the prophets, but had not obeyed it.

July 08, 2007

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

Robert Eisenman would take great delight recognising the language of Acts 7:56 - "I see heaven open". It was the language of the rain-making prophet that Eisenman wrote so much about in his book James the Brother of Jesus. The travelling prophet James (who wrote Acts as an autobiography) didn't see the resurrected Jesus. He saw the Holy Spirit coming down symbolised by rain. The 'stoning of Stephen' was simply an attack on James. That attack was outside the synagogue of the Freedmen in Rome, not Jerusalem. The person giving approval to the attack, was not 'Saul' but the young high priest Ananus, James' eventual nemesis, who had travelled to Rome where he no doubt had his own private residence.

July 09, 2007

Anonymous Christopher Shell said...

Ref: the Matt 27 ghosts:
Isn't it obvious that Matthew has a category of folk-legend material in his gospel (Pilate's wife's dream, the coin and the fish) into which the ghosts fall? This being the case, it is beyond his capacity to check the truth or falsity of the stories: he is merely including them like Herodotus because they have been told him. We in turn may be suspicious about the fact that such motifs turn up in the folk legend (which may or may not be historically accurate in a given case) of various cultures.

If NTW says 'strange things happen' hs is absolutely right, and not least in the case of ghost-reports, which are legion. If anyone denied that 'strange things happen', they would be obviously wrong.

I seem to remember NTW (in the 1980s) scratching his head in puzzlement over the story, and particularly over the question of where all these dead people went next. They are, in that sense, clearly in a different category from Lazarus, Jairus's daughter and the widow's son.

July 10, 2007

Blogger David said...

After a brief listing of six features of the gospel narratives of different kinds (a rehearsal of a bit of the JSHJ article) that incline you to "scepticism" regarding the historical resurrection of Jesus, you write: "So no matter how hard Wright pleads, it remains a brute fact that I did explain the argument."

That's fair enough.

I don't know NTW's arguments (don't have the book -- once borrowed Hurtado's copy). The point of this blog comment is this: it takes more than differences in accounts to build a convincing case for the fabrication of a story.

Detour: recently I have been reading volume 3 of C.S. Lewis's collected letters. Since I'm not wasting paper here (only trying James's patience and that of his readers), I'll quote two bits for your enjoyment.

Lewis had fallen in love with Joy Davidman. She was a divorcée, dying rapidly from cancer. He asked a priest friend with a track record in praying for healing, Peter Bide, to come and pray for Joy. He "arrived in Oxford on 20 March 1957, and later gave this account of the visit:

Shortly after my arrival at the Kilns, [Lewis] said to me, 'Peter, I know this isn't fair, but do you think you could marry us? I asked the Bishop; I've asked my parish priest; I've asked all my friends on the Faculty; and they've said no. Joy is dying and she wants the sacrament before she dies.' ... I had myself for some time found the Church's attitude to remarriage in church after divorce difficult ... I aksed Jack to leave me alone for a while and I considered the matter. In the end there seemed only one Court of Appeal. I asked myself what He would have done and that somehow finished the argument.

...On 21 March 1957 Lewis and Joy were married ... by Bide ...." (Collected Letters, vol. 3, p. 841).

On June 25th (about three months later), Lewis was writing Dorothy Sayers. He included this account of "his news":

I ought to tell you my own news. On examination it turned out that Joy's previous marriage, made in her pre-Christian days, was no marriage: the man had a wife still living. The Bishop of Oxford said it was not the present policy to approve re-marriage in such cases, but that his view did not bind the conscience of any individual priest. Then dear Father Bide (do you know him?) who had come to lay his hands on Joy -- for he has on his record what looks v. like one miracle -- without being asked and merely on being told the situation at once said he wd. marry us. So we had a bedside marriage with a nuptial Mass." (Collected Letters, vol. 3, p. 861).

Two eye-witnesses, soon after the event, differing in quite significant details -- and these are well educated people with fine memories.

I find it easier to think that Bide's and Lewis's memories reshaped the events than to think the whole bedside marriage thing was a product of fertile imaginations.

Well, obviously that is simply an analogy. But it is meant to pose the possibility of maintaining that unconvergent, differing (whatever!) eyewitness accounts do not lead one inexorably to posit "fabrication".

Is a fair assumption that a your review of Bauckham's recent "eyewitnesses" book is floating around somewhere?

I'll shut up now.

Oh, and nice to find your blog, James. :)

David Reimer

July 18, 2007

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

If you recall, at his execution, the prophet called out to God in a loud voice (Mk.15:34). The editors made out (probably in interpolated text) that those standing near thought he was calling for Elijah. (35). In 36, the man who 'ran' (I suggest) was one of the witnesses who threw the prophet down from the high place for a stoning. Then he said, "Now leave him alone. Let's see if GOD (not Elijah) comes to take him UP (not down)" (meaning let's see if he dies). Hence there is no resurrection story in Mark.

July 19, 2007

Blogger Geoff Hudson said...

The usual understanding of tombs cut into rock, with multiple loculi sealed by stones is that they were the graves of the rich. Bones from the loculi of rock cut tombs were transferred to ossuaries sealed with lids. But the less elaborate trench graves at Qumran also had loculi undercut at the bottom and sealed with stones. The latter are reckoned by such as Magness to be graves of the poor. But clearly they are not the simple earth graves of the poor. Who then buried people in loculi and what was their view of spirits rising?

It seems as though these people believed that they were preserving the spirits of individuals below the earth in the bones of the deceased. Thus the spirits were kept sealed in a waiting place until such a time as they were fit to received their call to rise. To my mind this was the belief of the priests and whoever else sympathised with their view.

By contrast, the prophets believed that the spirit rose at death (Mt.27.50). Thus the prophet was placed 'in' the earth - he had already 'given up' his spirit.

We now have a clue to the identity of the editors of Matthew. They were ex Jewish priests who were creating the new doctrine of resurrection. So in Mt.27.52,53 they wrote: 'The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.' On the original priestly view, they would have written something like: The tombs broke open and the spirits of many holy people were raised.

The residents of Qumran were priests who received the burial of a priest if they died there.

Ant the ex-priestl editors of the NT and Josephus told us themselves that they didn't believe in the resurrection.

July 23, 2007

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice observation, thanks. I don’t visit your blog every day, but when I
visit your blog I enjoy browsing through your old posts and try to catch up
what I have missed since my last visit.

August 25, 2007

Blogger Quixie said...

Everytime I see folks rejecting naturalistic explanations as "just-so stories" while accepting the supernatural as totally tenable, it reminds me of a very good scene in a film (from '99 I think) The Messenger, about Joan of Arc. Her voices are played by Dustin Hoffman (who does a killer job). She is insisting that, because she found a sword in a field on that strange day of her "calling", that was validation of her divine mandate. The voices then run through a series of possible natural ways in which the sword could have wound up in that field other than "it was placed there by god for Joan". It's a fantastic film; I highly recommend it.

I find your blog very interesting. I'm sure I'll be reading more of it.

Oh . . . and for what it's worth . . . I vote "Bultmannian", except I think even Bultmann didn't go far enough, but that's for later.



September 17, 2007

Blogger Paul Bickley said...

Have just been reading JSHJ for a course. Found the exchange between you and Wright very entertaining... I hope you don't mind me saying you seem to run over elements of your arguments very quickly, lest they collapse underneath you. In particular, I lost the thread of your peice when you wanted to maintain that the ressurection narratives are free from jewish embroidery for the sake of "gentiles... entering the Christian community" - how can you hold this when the later Lucan accounts empahsise the importance of fulfilling the Jewish Scriptures, given that they were potentially more significant to gentile audiences. Just a thought.

October 05, 2007


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