Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Strange Easter Story

The following are exerts from Surprised by Hope by N.T. Wright. Wright comes to the conclusion that it is more historically accurate to believe that Jesus really did rise from the dead.

1. Jesus didn't really die; someone gave him a drug that made him look like dead, and he revived in the tomb. Answer: Roman soldiers knew how to kill people, and no disciple would have been fooled by a half-drugged, beat up Jesus into thinking he'd defeated death and inaugurated the kingdom.
2. When the women went to the tomb they met someone else (perhaps James, Jesus' brother, who looked like him), and in the half light they thought it was Jesus himself. Answer: they would have noticed soon enough.
3. Jesus only appeared to people who believed in him. Answer: the accounts make it clear that Thomas and Paul do not belong to this category; and actually none of Jesus's followers believed, after his death, that he really was the messiah, let alone that he was in any sense divine.
4. The accounts we have are biased. Answer: So is all history, all journalism. Every photo is taken by somebody from some angle.
5. Perhaps the most popular: what actually happened was that they had some kind of rich "spiritual" experience, which they interpreted through Jewish categories. Jesus after all really was alive, spiritually, and they were still in touch with him. Answer: that is simply a description of a noble death followed by a Platonic immorality. Resurrection was and is the defeat of death, not simply a nicer description of it; and it's something that happens some while after the moment of death immorality.
More historical information that points to the actuality of the resurrection.
1. Jewish tombs, especially those of martyrs, were venerated and often became shrines. There is no sign whatever of that having happened with Jesus' grave.
2. The early church's emphasis on the first day of the week as their special day is very hard to explain unless something striking really did happen then. A gradual or even sudden dawning of faith is hardly sufficient to explain it.
3. The disciples were hardly likely to go out and suffer and die for a belief that wasn't firmly anchored in fact.

In any other historical inquiry, the answer would be so obvious that it would hardly need saying. Here, of course, this obvious answer ("well it actually happened") is so shocking, so earth shattering, that we rightly pause before leaping into the unknown. And here indeed, as some skeptic friends have cheerfully pointed out to me, it is always possible for anyone to follow the argument so dar and to say simply, "I don't have a good explanation for what happened to cause the empty tomb and the appearances, but I choose to maintain my belief that dead people don't rise and therefore conclude that something else must have happened, even though we can't tell what it was." Thats fine; I respect that position, but I simply note that it is indeed then a matter of choice, not a matter of saying that something called scientific historiography forces us to that route.

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