Home Page


Reflections on Scripture Home Page 

Part 2

(iii) Resurrection in History and Theology

(a) No Other Starting-Point?

This brings me to the second set of arguments which might preclude such historical study: those which say not that it can't be done but that it shouldn't be. These objections are more overtly theological in character. The target, say the objectors, is not just difficult to see or to shoot at; it is in principle unreachable.

We begin with the argument which I find in various writers, and trace back to Hans Frei among others. [44] If I have understood Frei, he was arguing that we should not try to investigate the resurrection historically because the resurrection is itself the ground of a Christian epistemology. Everything that Christians know, they know because of the resurrection and for no other reason. There can therefore be no other starting-point, no neutral ground on which one might stand, from which one might observe the resurrection itself. Even to try to find one constitutes a kind of epistemological blasphemy. You must not try to shoot arrows at this target, because the only appropriate place from which to shoot at anything is where the target itself is standing.

This, in my view, simply begs the question. There is no reason in principle why the question, what precisely happened at Easter, cannot be raised by any historian of any persuasion. Even if some Christians might wish to rule it off limits, they have (presumably) no a priori right to tell other historians, whether Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, New Agers, gnostics, agnostics, or anyone else, what they may and may not study. It might of course be the case that, in the last analysis, what Christians mean by the resurrection of Jesus would turn out to be so large and all-embracing a fact, or concept, that it would, if accepted, illuminate all other areas of thought and practice. [45] But we cannot decide that question in advance. Certainly it is not true that what most twentieth-century New Testament scholars have thought 'happened at Easter' is incapable of being researched historically. Bultmann thought that what happened at Easter was the rise of Christian faith, and he wrote quite a lot of history (sense 4) about it. Liidemann thinks that Peter and Paul had major internal, psychologically explicable experiences, and has written quite a lot of history (also sense 4) about them. And so on.

Frei's proposal, in the last analysis, is always in danger of describing a closed epistemological circle, a fideism from within which everything can be seen clearly but which remains necessarily opaque to those outside. However much this happens to accord with that branch of contemporary literary theory in which the discovery of extra-textual reality is ruled out from the start, and however much this also accords, whether by coincidence or the happy confluence of different streams of thought in Yale University at a certain period, with an insistence on the biblical canon as the epistemological starting-point for Christian reflection (and with a sense of despair over the present state of historical biblical scholarship), this position seems to me profoundly untrue to the worldview of the early Christians. Even if it were true that a fully Christian epistemology would want to begin all its knowing with Jesus, confessed as the crucified and risen Messiah, that does not mean that there is no access to Jesus and his death and resurrection in the public world. Peter did not need to appeal to Christian writings when reminding the crowd of what they already knew about Jesus. [46]

A further obvious point could be made, on the analogy of other well­known arguments. (Think, for instance, of the standard reply to the logical positivists' principle that we can only count as 'knowledge' that which could in principle be falsified: how might that principle itself be falsified?) If Frei were right, how could we know that the resurrection was the only valid epistemological starting-point? If the answer is, because only that will work, how do we respond to those who say that other starting-points work just as well?

Another analogy may help here. Ed Sanders, in his well-known reading of Paul, argues that Paul did not start off with a problem and then discover that Jesus was the solution; he discovered Jesus, found him to be God's solution, and then figured out that there must have been some kind of problem. [47] This can be shown to be, not exactly mistaken, but misleading. There was an earlier stage involved as well: Paul's thought moved from his Jewish perception of 'the plight' to the solution offered in Christ and thence to a fresh analysis of the problem. [48] The 'problem' he eventually described was a rethought version of the 'problem' he had before he began. He moved from an initial epistemological starting-point to (what he came to see as) fresh knowledge; then, reflecting on what had happened, concluded that there was actually a better starting-point from which he could see things clearly.

In the same way, I suggest, historical knowledge about the resurrection, of a sort that can be discussed without presupposing Christian faith, cannot be ruled out a priori, even if the resurrection, if acknowledged, would then turn out to offer a differently grounded epistemology. Some such movement takes place in the story of Thomas in John 20. He begins by insisting on the sense of touch as the only foolproof epistemology. He is confronted by the risen Jesus. He then discovers that visibility is enough (he abandons his intention of touching), only to be told 'blessed are those who have not seen, and yet believe'. His original epistemology led him in the right direction, even though, when faced with the risen Jesus, he abandoned it in favour of a better one, and was pointed towards a better one still. [49]

I suspect that we are faced here with one of the long-range outworkings of Barth's rejection of natural theology, and of the various counter-proposals that have been and can be made to his position. [50] (Equally, one still meets the proposal that one should not engage in historical study of Jesus for fear of turning one's faith into a work. [51]) New Testament scholars have long avoided grasping nettles in this area, and I am not going to pursue the point further at this stage. I simply suggest that Frei's objection, though offering important reminders at one level, should not prevent us from continuing to investigate the resurrection from a historical point of view. As Moule put it at the conclusion of his important little monograph:

A Gospel which cares only for the apostolic proclamation and denies that it either can or should be tested for its historical antecedents, is really only a thinly veiled gnosticism or docetism and, however much it may continue to move by a borrowed momentum, will prove ultimately to be no Gospel. [52]

Or, if you prefer: all earthly activity takes place within the sun's gravitational field; but this doesn't mean that we cannot act within the earth's own gravity. Or that the historical arrow can never reach the sun's true image.

(b) Resurrection and Christology

This brings us to the second more theological objection. One of the reasons Frei and others have taken the line they have is because, in a good deal of Christian theology, the resurrection has been seen as the demonstration of Jesus' divinity. Some, indeed, may understand the title of the present book in that sense. This is where the parable of the king's archers comes fully into its own.

Resurrection and incarnation are often muddled up. Theologians often speak of the resurrection as if it directly and necessarily connotes Jesus' divinity, and indeed as though it connotes little else besides. The objection to a historical investigation of the resurrection is then obvious: the arrows will simply not reach the sun. You cannot mount a historical argument and end up proving 'god', or proving that Jesus was the incarnation of the One True God. [53] The historian ought not even to attempt to pronounce on a topic which would lead so directly to the question of whether this god was in Christ. Even Pannenberg, who of course does think we can speak historically of the resurrection, seems to me to go too far in the direction of a direct link between resurrection and incarnational Christology. [54]

Part of the problem here and to this we shall return lies in the confusion that still occurs about the meaning of Messiahship [55] To say that Jesus is 'the Christ' is, in first-century terms, to say first and foremost that he is Israel's Messiah, not to say that he is the incarnate Logos, the second person of the Trinity, the only-begotten son of the father. Even the phrase 'son of god', during Jesus' ministry and in very early Christianity, does not mean what it came to mean in later theology, though already by the time of Paul a widening of its meaning can be observed. [56] But even when we have reminded ourselves of all this it is still not the case that resurrection necessarily entails Messiahship. If one of the two brigands crucified alongside Jesus had been found to be alive three days later, or if one of the Maccabaean martyrs (who were reported to have died with the promise of resurrection on their lips) had been raised from the dead a few days afterwards, it would have delighted their families and astonished their friends; a large hole would have been made in the second-Temple Jewish expectation, not to mention non­Jewish worldviews; but no one would have concluded that such a person was the Messiah, far less that he (or she, for at least one notable Maccabaean martyr was a woman) was in any sense an incarnate divine being.[57]

We can make a similar point in relation to Paul's argument in 1 Corinthians 15, that all Christians will be raised as Jesus was raised. This does not turn all Christians into Messiahs; nor does it mean that they will thereby share (let alone that they already share!) the unique divine sonship which, in the same letter (15.28; cf. 8.6), Paul attributes to Jesus. Already in Paul, in fact, we see the clear distinction between resurrection (a newly embodied life after death) and exaltation or enthronement, a distinction which some scholars have suggested only enters the tradition with Luke.[58] Resurrection does not of itself connote cosmic Lordship, or divinity. This brings us to the important point: the theological conclusions that the early Christians drew from the resurrection of Jesus had far more to do with what they knew of Jesus prior to his crucifixion, and with what they knew of the crucifixion itself, and with what they believed about Israel's god and his purposes for Israel and the world, than with the bare fact (granted we could ever speak of such a thing) of the resurrection itself. For the moment we may simply note that whatever we think about Jesus' divinity, that cannot have been, in the first century, the primary meaning of his resurrection even if, as we shall see, the train of thought which began with belief in Jesus' resurrection led the early Christians towards such a belief.

The converse is also important. Let us suppose for a moment that the disciples had become convinced, on other grounds, that Jesus of Nazareth was indeed the Messiah. (A contemporary analogy suggests itself: the Hasidic Jews of the Lubavitcher movement believe that their Rebbe was indeed the Messiah, and they do not regard his death in 1994 as evidence to the contrary. [59]) This would not have led the early disciples to say that he had been raised from the dead. A change in the meaning of 'Messiah', yes (since nobody in the first century supposed that the Messiah would die at the hands of the pagans); but not an assertion of his resurrection. No second-Temple Jewish texts speak of the Messiah being raised from the dead. Nobody would have thought of saying, 'I believe that so-and-so really was the Messiah; therefore he must have been raised from the dead.'

If this is true of Jesus' Messiahship, it is certainly true a fortiori of any suggestion of his 'divinity'. For the disciples to become convinced, on other grounds, that Jesus was divine would not of itself have led them to say that he had been raised from the dead. Nothing in Jewish beliefs about the Jewish god, and certainly nothing in non-Jewish beliefs about non-Jewish gods, would suggest to devotees that they should predicate resurrection of their object of worship. Some sort of new life beyond the grave, quite possibly; resurrection, certainly not. [60]

We should not, then, be put off the historical investigation by theological coyness [61] We must keep our nerve. It should be perfectly possible for historians to study the reports of, and beliefs about, Jesus' resurrection, just as one should be able to study reports, however startling, of the re-embodiment of any other second-Temple Jew, without supposing that by so doing we are necessarily committed to boldly going where no historian has ever gone before.[62] What we make of our findings is another question altogether. We cannot, by short-circuiting the theological issue, escape the challenge of history. Reminding the archers about gravity should not put them off their task.

(c) Resurrection and Eschatology

The final problem is a broader version of the question of resurrection and Christology. It has commonly been said that the resurrection is of necessity an eschatological event, and that since, once again, the historian is not equipped to study eschatology, he or she should keep at a safe distance. [63] Just because the sun's heat and light may suddenly penetrate the thick clouds, that doesn't mean you can shoot at the sun itself. Sometimes, indeed, this is elided into the former objection, since it is sometimes supposed, in a muddled sort of post-Bultmannianism, that talk of 'eschatology' means, more or less, talk of God breaking into history, and that talk of God breaking into history means talk of Christology. But if we are to use words with any historically rooted meaning we must be much more precise.

There are at least ten meanings of the word 'eschatology' currently being employed within the guild of New Testament Studies. [64] If we are to keep as strictly as possible to meanings that relate to particular phenomena within the world of second-Temple Judaism, what we ought to mean as historians if we spoke of the resurrection as an eschatological event would be that it was the sort of event that second-Temple Jews would see in terms of the apocalyptic climax of their own history. But saying that an event would be read in those terms by those people would certainly not rule out the study of the same event by historians today. After all, the successful Maccabaean revolt was understood eschatologically by (at least) the author of 1 Maccabees, but nobody has therefore suggested that we should not examine the event as historians. [65] The fall of Jerusalem in the sixth century BC, and the similar and equally catastrophic events of the first century AD, were understood 'eschatologically' by a good many people then and subsequently (this was, after all, the day of YHWH'), but nobody suggests that we therefore cannot investigate or understand those events historically. The tragic poetry of Jeremiah does not bar us from studying the events of 597 and 587 BC. We are not kept from writing history about AD 70 by the apocalyptic nature of the visions in 4 Ezra, and the conviction that an eschatological event had taken place.

It could of course be objected that, if one concluded that the resurrection of Jesus had in fact taken place, it would be necessary to understand it eschatologically, that is, to commit oneself to a worldview in which the god of Israel acted climactically at certain points, including particularly this one. But this is misleading. It arises from the effect of perspective. Those who have written about Jesus and the resurrection in the last two centuries have done so, for the most part, from within either a Christian, a semi-Christian or a sub-Christian worldview, within which such a connection appears very natural. (It is possible, of course, to go so far in the direction of deJudaizing the word 'eschatological' that it simply means 'miraculous'; the objection then collapses into a restatement of Troeltsch, or even Hume.) But within either an ancient pagan worldview or a contemporary non-Christian world­view no such conclusion would be reached. Those Romans who supposed that a 'Nero redivivus' was alive and kicking certainly had no thoughts of interpreting this phenomenon within the worldview of second-Temple Jewish eschatology. [66] Those in our own world (in New Age movements, for instance) who suppose that all human beings are going to be 'recycled' sooner or later are often bitterly opposed to a Jewish or Christian view of reality, not least the Christian claim that Jesus himself was, uniquely, raised at Easter. Once again, even if we were to accept the bodily resurrection of Jesus, the decision to interpret that event as connoting anything beyond an exceedingly puzzling and unexpected turn of events depends to begin with at least on the worldview within which we come to it. Why 'to begin with at least'? Because some events seem to have the power to challenge world­views and generate either new mutations within them or complete transformations; and of such events the resurrection of Jesus, according to the early Christians, was the most obvious. The reason why the early Christians interpreted the resurrection eschatologically was that they were second­Temple Jews who had been either part of, or spectators of, a would-be eschatological movement focused on Jesus himself. They then came to reshape their worldview around the resurrection as the new central point. But that takes us too far towards our later discussions.

This summary of several complex arguments has not, I fear, done full justice either to the positions I have opposed or to the possible counter­arguments. To some readers, I will have skated over the key issues; to others, I may have fallen into the traditional theologians' trap of giving incomprehensible answers to questions nobody was asking. But I hope it is sufficient to show that several reasons frequently advanced for not considering the resurrection as a historical problem are not in themselves cogent. We are left with the positive conclusion: at the end of the day the historian can and must ask why Christianity began, and why it took the shape it did. Since the universal early Christian answer to that question had to do with Jesus and the resurrection, the historian is forced to ask further questions: (a) what the early Christians meant by that, (b) whether and in what sense we could say that they were right, and (c) whether we have any alternative proposals that will stand up to scrutiny. The historian cannot, then, be debarred from asking whether or not it is true that Jesus was raised from the dead.

3. The Historical Starting-Point

What, then, is our target, and what arrows can we use to shoot at it?

Our target is to investigate the claim of the earliest Christians, that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead. In order to be sure we are aiming at that target, it is important to locate their claim where it belongs, within the worldview and language of second-Temple Judaism. In addition, since this (still recognizably Jewish) claim was quickly advanced within the wider non-Jewish world of the first century, it is important also to map out where the claim belonged within that larger universe of discourse.

This triple mapping operation will be undertaken in reverse, beginning with the pagan worldview, moving inwards to the Jewish, and thence to early Christianity. It is not a question of describing the entire worldview in each case. That would take many volumes for each segment. We shall focus on those aspects that concern life after death in general and resurrection in particular. It will become clear and this is among the first major conclusions of our historical study that the early Christian worldview is, at this point at least, best understood as a startling, fresh mutation within second­Temple Judaism. This then raises the question: what caused this mutation?

Among the more striking aspects of the mutation is the fact that nowhere within Judaism, let alone paganism, is a sustained claim advanced that resurrection has actually happened to a particular individual. [67] Since this claim has huge effects in other areas of the early Christian worldview, these too must be examined. How, in particular, do we explain the early Christian claim that the crucified Jesus was indeed Israel's Messiah? How do we explain the belief that 'god's kingdom' though in some senses still future, has become, in a new way, a present reality? Like the mutation within the meaning of 'resurrection', these features point towards the central question: what happened at Easter? This is the subject of Part V.

I described and defended my preferred historical method in Part II of The New Testament and the People of God, and exemplified it in Parts III and IV of that work, and in Parts II and III of Jesus and the Victory of God. This method recognizes that all knowledge of the past, as indeed of everything else, is mediated not only through sources but also through the perceptions, and hence also the personalities, of the knowers. There is no such thing as detached objectivity. (To say, therefore, that we can investigate other historical claims in a neutral or objective fashion, but that with the resurrection an element of subjectivity inevitably creeps in, is to ignore the fact that all historical work consists of a dialogue between the historian, in community with other historians, and the source materials; and that at every point the historians' own worldview-perspectives are inevitably involved.) But this does not mean that all knowledge collapses into mere subjectivity. There are ways of moving towards fair and true statements about the past.

Among these is the attempt to plot the worldview of a particular community by studying, not just its ideas (which are often only accessible to us through the writings of an intellectual elite), but the praxis, stories and symbols which constitute the other bottom-line elements of a worldview. [68] It might be possible in principle to structure the following investigation along those lines, studying each element in turn (as I did in Jesus and the Victory of God Part II), but this would involve a substantial amount of overlap and repetition. The line I have taken draws on all these as need arises, but within a different structure. The central parts of the book are mostly concerned with one particular question, that of beliefs about life after death in general and about what happened to Jesus after his death in particular. But these beliefs are surrounded, at least implicitly, with praxis, stories and symbols which we shall draw on from time to time: burial habits, characteristic stories about life after death, and the symbols associated with death and what lies beyond. Thus, rather than simply attempting an explanation of the rise of the early church in terms of ideas and beliefs alone ('people who believe/think X will, under certain circumstances, modify that belief/idea in such and such a way', and so on), we should look as well for wider explanations ('people who live within the following controlling story-world will, if confronted by certain events, retell their story in the following ways'; 'when people whose lives are ordered around the following symbols are confronted by certain events they will re-order their lives, and those symbols, in the following ways'; and 'if people who habitually behave in the following fashion are confronted by certain events, they will alter their behaviour in the following ways'). We wish we knew more about early Christian praxis, stories and symbols; but we know enough to see where help may be found. We must broaden the investigation to include the communities that actually existed within the first-century world, as opposed to those communities that, projected back by modem scholarship, reflect simply the dogma and piety (or, indeed, the impiety) of our own times. These communities pluriform first century paganism, Judaism and Christianity - provide our best access to the questions of what the Christian claim meant and how we today can assess it.

Sketching these large entities is of course complex. As is now widely agreed, there are only first-century Judaisms and Christianities, and for that matter paganisms; it is not so frequently noted that there must be something singular in each case of which these pluralities are variant forms. [69] Equally, despite those who have tried to keep them apart, very early Christianity should itself properly be seen as a sub-branch of first-century Judaism. [70] Studying these two closely related movements is the place to start. These are the initial targets at which the historical arrows are to be aimed.

The point of this obvious suggestion is its negative corollary. Many studies of the resurrection have begun by examining the accounts of the Easter experiences in Paul and the gospels, subjecting those accounts to detailed traditio-historical analysis. This puts the cart before the horse. Such analysis is always speculative; until we know what resurrection meant in that world, we are unlikely to get it right. This is not just a matter of seeing the big picture ahead of the little. details though that is important too; it is about knowing what we are talking about before we begin to talk about it. [71]

Here we need some working definitions. 'Death' and its cognates regularly denote: (a) the event of a particular death of a person, animal, plant or whatever; (b) the state of being dead that results from that initial event; and (c) the phenomenon of death in general, in the abstract, or as a personification ('Death shall be no more'). [72] The loose phrase 'life after death' can thus denote: (a) the state (whatever it is) that immediately follows the event of bodily death; or (b) the state (if there is one) that follows a period of being bodily dead; or, conceivably though this is not found frequently (c) the state of affairs after death in the abstract has been abolished.[73] When people speak of 'life after death' they usually mean (a), the life that follows immediately after bodily death. People often assume, in fact, that this is among the primary things that Christians believe and that atheists deny.

Sense (a) is not what 'resurrection' meant in the first century. Here there is no difference between pagans, Jews and Christians. They all understood the Greek word anastasis and its cognates, and the other related terms we shall meet, to mean (b): new life after a period of being dead. Pagans denied this possibility; some Jews affirmed it as a long-term future hope; virtually all Christians claimed that it had happened to Jesus and would happen to them in the future. All of them were speaking of a new life after 'life after death' in the popular sense, a fresh living embodiment following a period of death-as-a-state (during which one might or might not be 'alive' in some other, non-bodily fashion). Nobody (except the Christians, in respect of Jesus) thought that this had already happened, even in isolated cases.

Thus, when the ancients spoke of resurrection, whether denying it or affirming it, they were telling a two-step story. Resurrection itself would be preceded (and was preceded even in the case of Jesus) by an interim period of death-as-a-state. Where we find a single-step story death-as-event being followed at once by a final state, for instance of disembodied bliss the texts are not talking about resurrection. Resurrection involves a definite content (some sort of re-embodiment) and a definite narrative shape (a two-step story, not a single-step one). This meaning is constant throughout the ancient world, until we come to a new coinage in the second century. [74]

The meaning of 'resurrection' as 'life after "life after death"' cannot be overemphasized, not least because much modem writing continues to use 'resurrection' as a virtual synonym for 'life after death' in the popular sense. [75] It has sometimes been proposed that this usage was current even for the first century, but the evidence is simply not there. [76] If we are to engage in history, rather than projecting the accidents of (some) contemporary usage on to the remote past, it is vital to keep these distinctions in mind.

The place to start, then, is the turbulent world. of first-century paganism. Without looking ahead to the answer supplied by Acts 17, we must ask: what would someone in Ephesus, Athens or Rome have understood Paul to be talking about when he announced to them that the Messiah had been raised from the dead? And what reaction would their existing framework of beliefs suggest to them?


44. cf. e.g. Frei 1993 chs. 2, 8 and 9; in a larger context, Frei 1975.

45. In the same way, a determined solipsism (the belief that the five senses tell one nothing about an external world, but only about oneself) will, if accepted, radically undermine other epistemologies, and the symbolic universes that depend on them.

46. Ac. 2.22; cf. Lk. 24.18-20; Ac. 10.36-9.

47. Sanders 1977; 1983; 1991.

48. Wright, Climax; Thielman 1989.

49. See below, chs. 17, 18. I think this may be a way of getting at what Frei was after in, for instance, 1993 ch. 9. without leaving so many issues so disarminely open-ended.

50. A recent study on Barth and the resurrection is that of Davie 1998. On the relation between Barth and Frei, see e.g. Frei 1993 ch. 6, esp. (on this point) 173 (admiring Barth for affirming that both the possibility and the need for the factual event of 'incarnate Reconciliation', and hence also for faith in its saving power, 'are. . . to be explained solely from the event itself'); and, more generally, Demson 1997. The relation between this point and the senses in which Frei admitted a continuing need for some level of 'natural theology' (e.g. 1993, 210) raises issues too complex to deal with here.

51. Barclay 1996a, 28 reports this view, without saying whether he agrees with it.

52. Moule 1967, 80f.

53. Thus e.g. Schlosser 2001, 159: one cannot pronounce on the reality of the resurrection, because that would be to pronounce on the reality of the transcendent, which is beyond historical enouiry.

54. Pannenberg 1991-8 [1988-93], 2.343-63. This forms part of a long chapter dealing with 'The Deity of Jesus Christ'. The same problem recurs in e.g. Koperski 2002.

55. cf. NTPG 307-20; JVG ch. 11; and below, chs. 11, 18.

56. cf. e.g. Gal. 2.20; Rom. 1.3f.; 8.3, 32; and Wright, Climax, ch. 2. See below, ch. 19.

57. This point can be seen to good advantage in the remarkable thesis of Lapide 1983 [1977]: Jesus was indeed bodily raised from the dead, but this proves not that he was Messiah but that he was a crucial part of the god-given preparation for the Messiah.

58. See below, Part II.

59. cf. the recent discussion of Marcus 2001.

60 On dying and rising gods in oriental cults, and similar phenomena, see ch. 2 below.

61 Nor by the kind of dismissive comments we find in Carnley 1987, 26-8, 85-7, where he implies that the concern to bring rigorous historical study to bear on the Easter events (he has 'fundamentalist writers and ultra-conservative popularizers of the Easter faith' in mind) is to show that one has 'no present knowing of the raised Christ', resulting in 'the projected hostility of the believer's own "shadow side" of repressed doubt' against the wicked historical critics who point out discrepancies in the narratives, etc. Attempted psychoanalysis of one's opponents, and making slurs against their personal spirituality, is hardly either scholarly or helpful. One stage worse is Wedderburn's scornful attack (1999, 128) on those who pride themselves on a 'strong' faith as 'some sort of virility symbol, or as a form of self-assertion'. Would he say that of Abraham's faith even granted its specific content! in Rom. 4.19-22?

62. Pinnock 1993, 9 insists that '
one cannot make the resurrection a historical construct and expect people to be transformed by it.' What matters is preaching, witness and the Spirit. While not ultimately dissenting from this, it is quite clear that many people have succeeded in convincing others that, as a matter of history, the resurrection did not happen, and have thereby transformed people in a variety of ways. What people believe about what has actually happened is often an extremely powerful element in human transformation. The moment when Elizabeth Bennet learns what actually happened between Darcy and Wickham is, arguably, the turning-point of Pride and Prejudice (see, on this point, Marcus 1989.

63. cf. e.g. Barclay 1996a, 14. For Schillebeeckx's use of 'eschatological' in this sense see ch. 18 below (701-6).

64. cf. Caird 1997 [1980], ch. 13; JVG chs. 2, 3, 6, esp. 207-9.

65. cf. especially the language of 1 Macc. 14.4-15.

66. On Nero-myths, see 68 below.

67. One or two possible exceptions will be noted in the proper place: e.g. Euripides' tale of Alcestis, and Herod Antipas' reported comment about Jesus as a resurrected John the Baptist (below, 65-8, 412). The suggestion of Frei 1993, 47, that the early Christian claim was 'not all unique' on the grounds that 'Gods were raised from the dead in liberal numbers in the ancient world', thus providing 'a very large number of candidates for the same unproved miraculous occurrence', represents a remarkable misunderstanding of the historical situation: see further below, 80f.

68. cf. NTPG 122-6.

69. cf. NTPG 147 n. 1.

70. cf. Neusner 1991, discussed in NTPG 471-3.

71. I am reminded of what the British Prime Minister John Major said about his opponent Neil Kinnock. When Mr Kinnock began to speak, declared Major, he never knew what he was going to say, and thus not unnaturally never knew when he had finished saying it.

72. OED lists two primary meanings: 'the act or fact of dying' (subdivided into 'of an individual' and 'in the abstract'), and 'the state of being dead'. The quotation is from John Donne's 'Holy Sonnets' no. 6. Cf. too e.g. Barr 1992, 33-5.

73. As e.g. in 1 Cor. 15.26; Rev. 20.14; 21.4.

74. For the latter, see 534-51.

75. This confusion is present in Marcus 2001, 397. Some within the Lubavitcher messianic movement have apparently used 'resurrection' language in relation to their Rebbe (who died in 1994) as a way (Marcus suggests, following Dale Allison) of 'speaking of a dead person being alive'. What seems to be happening, rather, is that some have picked up a misunderstood Christian term and used it in a sense that goes against their own ancient literature. Another example, almost at random, is the essay of Wiles 1974, 125-46.

76. See e.g. the remarkably imprecise, arm-waving remarks of Goulder 2000, 95.

©; Nicholas Thomas Wright 2003

This version: 26th May 2003

Home Page


Reflections on Scripture Home Page