Part 1:

This argument will be mostly of interest to those engaged in apologetics or those familiar with common apologetic arguments or scholarly discussions.

BACKGROUND:

I was spurred to write this by the common apologetic argument that Jews wouldn't likely have come up with Jesus's resurrection on their own, because the Jewish concept of 'resurrection' is both collective and eschatological. That is, it is an event in the future age that happens to many people at once. Jesus's resurrection (so the argument goes) would have been an anachronism. No individual was supposed to be resurrected before the resurrection in the future age when everyone else would be resurrected. As N. T. Wright asserts (Evans & Wright 2009, pp. 89f.):

--'Nobody ever imagined that this final event would be anticipated in the case of one person in the present. No first-century Jew, prior to easter, expected it to be anything other than that large-scale, last-minute, all-people event.'

This thinking isn't exclusive to apologists either. The basic assumptions behind it are reflected even in more secular scholarly work. For example, Adela Collins writes (Collins 1995, p. 97):

--'Two elements are constant, however, in Jewish literature of the time, namely, that resurrection is a collective event and that it is an event of the future...Thus, one of the innovations of the Christian movement was the claim that God had raised a single individual, Jesus.'

This argument had always thrown me for a loop until recently (see more below). I tried to address both aspects of it in terms of both the generality and futurity of the Jewish concept of 'resurrection'. Why didn't Jesus's followers just say he would be resurrected in the future age with everyone else and call it a day? Why say the resurrection already began and 'split it into two', as N. T. Wright puts it (e.g., Wright 2003, p. 415)?

I read an interesting piece by Richard Carrier. I thought he had a good answer to the generality aspect of 'resurrection'. He pointed to a 1961 study by Hermann Strack and Paul Billerbeck demonstrating some Jews thought the resurrection would take place in stages, with Adam resurrecting first, then the patriarchs, etc. (Carrier 2005, p. 107&n.11). But this evidence came from late rabbinic literature. That wasn't convincing enough. I also read some work by C. D. Elledge on the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. He defended the various comments on resurrection in this text as pre-Christian (see Elledge 2006). In this text the resurrection is also conceived as happening in a temporally ordered hierarchy, where revered ancestral figures from Jewish lore are said to come back to life ahead of other Israelites. That was a little better. I could begin to see that Jewish notions of collective resurrection did not preclude the possibility that it might happen first to privileged individuals or in multiple stages. If Abraham was resurrected an hour before young Jehoshaphat, this would still be considered as one phenomenologically synonymous event. The temporal priority of Jesus's resurrection did not thus present some radical discontinuity with Jewish beliefs about resurrection.

But that was only the generality aspect. What about the futurity aspect? I needed to deal with that as well. The real force of the apologetic argument, then, must not really rest on the view that Jesus's *individual* resurrection was unprecedented but on the fact that it was said to have *occurred*. You could have the resurrection happen in as many stages as you want, but why would Jesus's followers think such a process had already begun and not await it as a future occurrence (cf. Jn 11.24)?

This puzzle was trickier. I came across an article by John Crossan. He stated (Crossan 2003, p. 50n.18):

--'...if, however, you announced that God’s new creation, God’s justified world was already present, you would be asked immediately to show where that newness could be seen...Think, for example, of this analogy. The assertion of some Christians that the Rapture, in which God’s holy ones will be snatched from this earth before hell is loosed upon it at the end, is not capable of empirical evidence because it is a future event. But if some of those Christians claimed it had already started, they would have to show some empty houses and some missing people.'

It all started to make sense. Jesus's followers held an ultimate hope of general resurrection (cf. Ac 23.6), incited in them by Jesus's kingdom preaching. When his promises ostensibly failed when he died, it would be a natural, though not necessary, theological step to reassure the promise of resurrection for the righteous by asserting Jesus had been resurrected as precursor. This was, I thought, precisely the tenor of Paul's lengthy exposition in 1Cor 15.12-34. Once this was grasped, it was viable to question whether the logic of this dual-stage resurrection in some way *generated* belief in Jesus's resurrection (i.e., a rationalization to show his message really was true and the resurrection was imminent) instead of being the *result* of an initial belief in Jesus's resurrection.

I came across a book by Kris Komarnitsky and was introduced to the hypothesis of cognitive dissonance applied to the resurrection of Jesus (see Komarnistky 2009). This theory made it even more plausible to me that a weird and fanatical cult group could generate bizarre rationalizations just like the above.

Doubts crept in though as I 'tested' this view by continuing to debate apologists and by reading more literature on the subject. Why would Jesus's followers need to prove to themselves that the futute resurrection was imminent by in turn trying to prove to themselves that Jesus was resurrected? Many Jews believed in the future resurrection already, and many Jews already believed the end of days was at hand. They didn't need Jesus to think that. If they wanted to include Jesus in some way in all this, why not say *his* resurrection was imminent too? Further, a look at the gospels yields only minimal teaching from Jesus about the future resurrection. It wasn't something Jesus had much to say about anyway. While not totally implausible, it all sounded too speculative. I began not to really believe what I was arguing.

I returned to the drawing board and considered whether there was precedent for thinking an individual could be said to have been resurrected in the present before the future resurrection. I discovered a book by Dag Endsjø, and he noted several Hellenistic tales where mortal heroes died and were resurrected (see Endsjø 2009). That was helpful, but difficult to argue because of the non-Jewish context. The language of resurrection was not really used in these tales either to boot. Conceptually, they were in fact resurrections, but they were clearly translation tales focused on the immortality and divinity of the hero, which (if the hero happened to die in these instances) only entailed a resurrection. But the lack of emphasis on that aspect made it unlikely that it formed a plausible background for anything Christians might have claimed about any connection between Jesus's resurrection and the future resurrection.

I then wondered about Jewish tales of resurrection. There was a problem though. I knew that multiple scholars claim these are only 'resuscitations', or bodily returns to mortal life. These people presumably died again, unlike Jesus. They weren't 'resurrected'. Presumably, the difference was 'resuscitation' involves return to mortal life, while 'resurrection' involves coming back to life in a transformed, immortal body, something which was only supposed to happen at the future resurrection. So in addition to the generality and futurity aspects of the Jewish concept of 'resurrection', there was a 'bodily immortality' dimension, which complicated things even further. But it didn't take me long to see this view was probably wrong.

TOWARD A NEW UNDERSTANDING:

The difference between 'resuscitation' and 'resurrection' is an artificial one. There is actually no terminological distinction in the relevant sources between these two supposedly different concepts. Literally, none. When the sources say Jesus was 'resurrected', that in fact doesn't mean anything different than what the same language means with respect to stories about so-called 'resuscitations'. Many scholars have actually tied themselves in a conceptual knot that continues to be both propounded and influenced by the way the discussion is framed in apologetics.

The error this confusion is based on is pretty simple to track. Many scholars, I argue, have erroneously conflated the concept of immortality with the concept of resurrection. They do this because they associate the future resurrection in Jewish texts with immortality. So when they observe that Jesus is said to be resurrected but also immortal, they think the language of resurrection as applied to Jesus means 'resurrected to immortality'. Jesus's resurrection is thus mapped onto the general, future resurrection, but becomes unprecedented and anachronistic because it is neither general nor future. These scholars thus end up manufacturing the very conundrum they are trying to solve.

But we need to disentangle all this. When we see the language of resurrection applied to Jesus, it does *not* connote a special kind of 'resurrection to immortality' or with some kind of 'immortal body'. Resurrection does *not* speak to whether the one who is resurrected dies again or has a transformed body or is immortalized in some way. The language of resurrection in the New Testament as applied to dead persons just means for them to stand up (the Greek verb 'anistemi') or to be roused (the Greek verb 'egeiro').

Jewish views of the future resurrection don't make the language connote immortality either. For one, not all Jewish texts which speak of a future resurrection involve immortality. For example, in the Book of the Watchers in 1Enoch, those who are resurrected in the future age don't become immortal. Instead, the antediluvian world is restored, and they live a long life like the antediluvian ancestors (1En 25.6). Second, in those texts where the future resurrection is connected to immortality, it is not in virtue of the fact that resurrection language is used. It is because the future age represents an altered cosmic realm where immortality can be acquired. Immortalization is thus connected to *eschatology* in these texts, not the language of resurrection. Third, the same language of resurrection in the NT that is applied to the future resurrection is also applied to the resurrection of individuals in so-called 'resuscitation' stories. So that language literally cannot mean 'resurrected to immortality' or have any connotations of the future resurrection. Fourth, in some Jewish texts the evil dead are also resurrected by they are not thereby bodily immortalized.

When Jesus is said to be resurrected in the gospels, therefore, it doesn't mean anything other than what it meant when, e.g., Lazarus was resurrected, or when Elijah resurrected people. It just means he's alive again. His immortality does not follow from this, and nothing about the future resurrection is implied by this. That's why the gospels don't connect Jesus's resurrection with the future resurrection. Wright realizes this (Wright 2003, pp. 602-4), he just draws the wrong conclusions from it. But as far as the concept of immortality is concerned, it is discrete, and as applied to Jesus has different precedents.


Sources:

Carrier, Richard. 2005. 'The Spiritual Body of Christ and the Legend of the Empty Tomb', in The Empty Tomb: Jesus beyond the Grave (eds. R. Price & J. Lowder), pp. 105-231.

Collins, Adela Y. 1995. 'Apotheosis and Resurrection', in The New Testament and Hellenistic Judaism (eds. P. Borgen & S. Giversen), pp. 88-100.

Crossan, John D. 2003. 'The Resurrection of Jesus in Its Jewish Context', Neotestamentica 37/1, pp. 29-57.

Elledge, C. D. 2006. 'The Resurrection Passages in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: Hope for Israel in Early Judaism and Christianity', in Resurrection: The Origin and Future of a Biblical Doctrine (ed. J. Charlesworth), pp. 79-103.

Endsjø, Dag. 2009. Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity

Evans, Craig A.; Wright, N. T. 2009. Jesus, the Final Days: What Really Happened

Komarnitsky, Kris. 2009. Doubting Jesus' Resurrection: What Happened in the Black Box?

Wright, N. T. 2003. The Resurrection of the Son of God
« Last Edit: February 19, 2019, 06:15:52 am by Eric Lamont Bess Jr. »

1

jayceeii

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I’m impressed with the degree of thought you have applied to this, but in asking questions about the resurrection you remain tied to historical paradigms for doing so. For living people there are far more urgent ways of looking at it. For all your mind’s complexity, there are further complexities you are not apprehending. I’ll try to list a few.

1. When resurrection tales first appeared it was not know the body is composed of cells, then atoms. People only saw “flesh,” either moving or not moving. With this type of primitive perception (where your mind is still enchained), it seems natural to speak about resurrection as easy, similar to someone getting out of bed in the morning. Instead we now know there are many physical obstacles God would need to overcome by bizarre miracles. It isn’t enough just to wave a magic wand and watch the puppet resume his dance. In the case of Jesus, rigor mortis would have set in, that needed to be reversed. After going to all that trouble, why wouldn’t the Lord simply resume His ministry in the reconstituted body? We have the even more stunning issue that were the bodies of all those who have died to be reassembled, it’d mean gathering the atoms of those bodies from all their scattered places, stealing from the bodies of thousands of animals, insects and bacteria. If you want to talk about resurrection, you must present mechanisms or theories of mechanisms, that some of the technological issues that are now seen present.

2. Your discourse is immensely unclear about the issue of immortality, to the point of not seeming to care whether people want to be immortal or not. You gloss over the construction of an immortal body as if it should be a simple thing, without any theory of how that could be achieved. I think you’d have to admit it could not be with atoms, since things constructed from atoms always disintegrate eventually. So, how are you proposing this would occur? You aren’t speaking meaningfully about an immortal body, if you aren’t thinking about how it would be done in a real world. It’d be an unsupported dream.

3. Always in history it has been presumed resurrection would be a good thing, but this is not necessarily so. If you agree the planet is currently overpopulated, with too many humans to support over the projected five billion years astronomers say remain to us, then when (and if) Jesus resurrected Lazarus without giving instruction about restraining the population, the actions of the Lord led straight to the current crisis. If you want to say God will snap His fingers or wave a magic wand to make a new Earth after humanity has disposed of this one, again to speak meaningfully you must present mechanisms or theories of mechanisms, in a situation where building planets slowly is all science sees.

2
I’m impressed with the degree of thought you have applied to this, but in asking questions about the resurrection you remain tied to historical paradigms for doing so.

This is correct, as my interest is historical not hermeneutical.

3
Part 2:

As previously stated, what the language of resurrection means in the New Testament needs to be disentwined from the concept of immortality. There are not, as N. T. Wright suggests, 'different kinds of coming back from the dead' (Wright 2004, pp. 508f.), one which means a return to mortal existence and one which results in immortality. This notion erroneously stems, as noted above, from certain understandings of Jewish eschatologies featuring a resurrection event, but the primary influence among these is Paul's eschatology in 1Corinthians 15.

Why does Paul think the dead will have an immortal body at the future resurrection? It is not because they are resurrected. In fact, we know that can't be the case, because the living also undergo the same process of bodily immortalization (1Cor 15.51f.; 1Th 4.15-17). It is because the event Paul is talking about takes place in the eschatological future. The eschatological future represents a different cosmic space and function for humans, because of the way God changes reality.

Immortality involves questions of cosmological space and function. When the Hellenistic and Jewish heroes achieve bodily immortality, it is because they have been removed to some fantasy realm where bodily immortality is achievable: heaven, Olympus, remote places on earth, etc. (see Endsjø 2009, 78-89). In Paul's eschatology and similar Jewish eschatologies, humans no longer have to be removed to some fantasy realm away from normal life on earth to achieve bodily immortality, because God redesigns the cosmos into the same kind of fantasy realm. In other words, humans aren't taken out of the normal world to a transcendent realm; the normal world itself is recreated as transcendent. The distance isn't now only spatial; there has been added an overlapping temporal dimension (see Økland 2009, pp. 91f.). You just have to wait until it happens in the future.

Paul is contrasting two kinds of bodily human existence: that of the present age (which is subject to death and decay), and that of the future age (which is immortal). The basis for the distinction isn't whether one undergoes some immortalizing 'process' or 'kind' of resurrection but the contrasting worlds humans inhabit: the present earthly and the future heavenly (see 1Cor 15.45-9). The instantaneity of the future resurrection with immortality in Paul's view is necessary because Paul states flesh and blood can't enter the kingdom of God (1Cor 15.50). So mortals (again, both the dead and the living) must be altered the moment it arrives. 'Resurrection' isn't the reason for immortality.

Does this mean Jesus's bodily immortality is anachronistic? Or in other words, does the fact that Jesus became bodily immortalized mean that the kind of bodily immortalization imagined in some Jewish eschatologies has been projected backwards onto Jesus? Not at all. The reason why should be clear by now. There are exceptional humans in Hellenistic and Jewish myth who achieved bodily immortality apart from any notions of what would occur in an eschatological future: Romulus, Herakles, Achilles, Enoch, Noah, Moses, Elijah, etc. (see Miller 2015, esp. pp. 39-66 on the Greek and Roman figures; see Bryan 2005, pp. 167-9 on the Jewish figures). They did not thereby have a different 'kind' of immortal body than anyone who achieves bodily immortality in Jewish conceptions of the eschatological future. The reason they are bodily immortalized is just different: they no longer live as normal humans on earth.

Jesus's immortality is conceived along the same lines as the translated Hellenistic and Jewish heroes. Certain themes and language used in the gospels let us know Jesus has achieved bodily immortality, but it isn't the language of resurrection (which merely establishes that he's no longer dead).

First, there's the language of disappearance. Jesus miraculously disappears from his tomb and isn't found where he's expected to be (see Smith 2010). This theme is found in multiple translation tales, and is perhaps the key theme in such tales. Romulus disappears during the storm. Aristeas of Proconnesus disappears from the shop. Cleomedes disappears from the chest. Herakles disappears from the funeral pyre. And so forth. The language of disappearance extends to the stories of Jesus's appearances. That's why it is said in the resurrection stories in the gospels that he can appear and vanish at will, become 'hidden', or go unrecognized. He's displaying a divine power (see Pease 1942), like Raphael in Tobit 12.15-21. Moses and Elijah also display these powers at Jesus's transfiguration (Mk 9.4, 8 ).

Second, there's also the theme of ascension. Romulus ascends, Elijah ascends, Herakles ascends...and Jesus ascends. This is a physical act that removes the hero into an (in this case, cosmologically upward) immortal space they will now inhabit. The language of 'exaltation' and 'sitting at the right hand' relates to this. Luke directly narrates Jesus's ascension. The translated individual can also sometimes makes brief reappearances (Romulus, Aristeas, Moses, Elijah, etc.).

The apologetically-influenced confusion over the concepts involved attempts to make Jesus's resurrection an unprecedented anachronism that violates ancient categories of thinking, and thus tries to carry us one step closer to thinking a miracle must have occurred.

I've proposed something far more intelligible. There's no anachronism because Jesus's resurrection is just another individual resurrection. His bodily immortalization isn't an anachronism because it's just another individual bodily immortalization. That they are combined in Jesus's case (i.e., occur in sequence) isn't significant and doesn't reflect a different conceptual pattern. Each element had a different conceptual foundation, and they are combined not to create a different pattern or to follow a pattern allegedly found in Jewish eschatology, but because the rationalizations Christians made necessitated both. They needed a not-dead messiah (so they said he was resurrected), but they also needed to account for where he was and what he was doing qua his role as messiah (so they said he was translated).

Properly understood, we've seen that Jesus's resurrection fits neatly into ancient patterns of thinking, and various hair splittings and red herrings related to this topic evaporate.

Sources:

Bryan, David J. 2005. 'The Jewish Background to The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright', Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 3/2, pp. 155-69.

Endsjø, Dag Ø. 2009. Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Christianity

Miller, Richard C. 2015. Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity

Økland, Jorunn. 2009. 'Genealogies of the Self: Materiality, Personal Identity, and the Body in Paul’s Letters to the Corinthians', in Metamorphoses: Resurrection, Body and Transformative Practices in Early Christianity (eds. T. J. Seim & J. Økland), pp. 83-107.

Pease, Arthur S. 1942. 'Some Aspects of Invisibility', Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 53, pp. 1-36.

Smith, Daniel A. 2010. Revisiting the Empty Tomb: The Early History of Easter

Wright, N. T. 2004. 'An Incompleat (but Grateful) Response to the Review by Markus Bockmuehl of The Resurrection of the Son of God', Journal for the Study of the New Testament 26/4, pp. 505-10.

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jayceeii

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I’m impressed with the degree of thought you have applied to this, but in asking questions about the resurrection you remain tied to historical paradigms for doing so.

This is correct, as my interest is historical not hermeneutical.
My point is that there seems to be a certain lack of mental integration, when the lights shown by science simply switch off, when the individual turns his attention to religion. Men are encountering science, and men are encountering religion, but they are not encountering science in religion, strangely tied to conceptualizations found in scripture. If men could think originally in both regions, the questions would be different than they are.
« Last Edit: February 19, 2019, 02:46:36 pm by jayceeii »

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jayceeii

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Part 2:

As previously stated, what the language of resurrection means in the New Testament needs to be disentwined from the concept of immortality. There are not, as N. T. Wright suggests, 'different kinds of coming back from the dead' (Wright 2004, pp. 508f.), one which means a return to mortal existence and one which results in immortality. This notion erroneously stems, as noted above, from certain understandings of Jewish eschatologies featuring a resurrection event, but the primary influence among these is Paul's eschatology in 1Corinthians 15.
To summarize your statements as I understand them, resurrection is a single type of event, but if the resurrection is to an immortal situation, the body is immortal, but if it is to a mortal situation, the body is mortal. Jesus is said to have ascended to Heaven after His resurrection, so it can be an immortal body, as He was leaving the mortal situation.

Instead of following Paul around, whose ultimate authority I’d question, I’d wonder if the soul itself is immortal, and capable of taking on different bodies. (If I said this directly you’d accuse me of attempting to speak like a prophet, which is not my intention.) Then we don’t need resurrection, we just need new bodies, as God seems ever-ready to supply.