Resurrecting Jesus: Buy now!

Yesterday I mentioned a Sept 30 release date for Dale Allison’s Resurrecting Jesus, which is apparently incorrect. I just received word from Dale that his book is available now, yes, now. For glowing blurbs see the page at Continuum. Heed the words of David Aune: “Since excellent books are rare, I would counsel you to go, sell all that thou hast, and buy this one!”

As one who has had the privilege of reading much of this book in advance, most notably the crucial chapter on the resurrection, I add my own endorsement as follows:

This is a profound study of the relationship between the historical Jesus and modern needs, which ends by being (surprisingly) stronger for its own excursions into theology. Allison explains, with enviable critical acumen, what makes people like or dislike the apocalyptic Jesus who preached hell and judgment, and the persistent trend in secularizing his world-view. He concludes with a sound treatment of the empty tomb, and a satisfying response to Tom Wright. Acknowledging good and bad arguments for both the historicity and fiction of the empty tomb, Allison finds the scales tipping slightly in favor of historicity. Steering between apologetics and arch-skepticism, he shows that the cognitive dissonance experienced by the early Christians came not from the crucifixion (which squared with expectations), nor the visions (which were perhaps grief-induced, and a common enough phenomenon), but the empty tomb in conjunction with visions. Far from being the product of dissonance, the empty tomb was the cause of it, and Christian theology was further shaped by what the disciples’ bereavement wrought.

Don’t wait any longer. Order today.

Post-script: Note Mark Goodacre’s comments here.

Death is so uplifting…

The latest issue of Choice magazine reviews Sean Freyne’s Jesus, a Jewish Galilean. The book addresses how a Galilean prophet might have been inspired by his tradition to face death in Jerusalem:

“Freyne contends that the suffering servant of the book of Isaiah and the maskilim (wise ones) of the book of Daniel served as motivating figures in the self-understanding and the public ministry of Jesus. In particular he holds that those figures brought Jesus to accept the inevitability of his death as an eschatological prophet and to assign definite meaning to his death. The book illuminates this approach to Jesus with careful attention to the ecology, archaeology, history, and sociology of Galilee…” (Choice, Sept ’05 p 117).

I’m pleased by ongoing fresh approaches to Jesus’ death. One of the classic questions in HJ studies has been, “Was Jesus going to Jerusalem to work or to die?,” and I think Schweitzer was right to say the latter. But details are destined to remain elusive, as Stephen Finlan’s recent book has made plain, illustrating the complex and often contradictory ideas behind martyrdom, atonement, scapegoat, and ransom redemption.

Freyne’s book has been out since December, and I’ll need to read it, especially given its healthy attention to archaeology and the social world of Galilee (Context Group member Halvor Moxnes is cited in strong doses). Then too we should remember Scot McKnight’s impending work which argues that atonement ideas (no less) trace back to Jesus. It will be interesting to see how such a case is presented.

On the same day Scot’s book is being released (Sept 30), Dale Allison’s formidable Resurrecting Jesus will appear. I’m excited about this book, which is definitely the best study of the resurrection. (I know from proof-reading a part of it.) It steers between the poles of Wright and Ludemann, using the best of both worlds while eschewing dogmatism from either side. Dale makes a good case for historicity of the empty tomb, though differently than Wright, and with sanity by recognizing the variety of possibilities which could account for an empty tomb — an actual resurrection being but one of them. He dabbles into grief-induced visions, though again, better than Ludemann does, and with less dogmatic surety. Dale well understands that Jesus expected to suffer and die (probably expected some of his followers to die too) as a necessary prelude to the apocalypse. That apocalypse, about which our Galilean friend was obviously mistaken.

Strange Bedfellows

On The Loom, Carl Zimmer has been following Deepak Chopra’s attempt to save Intelligent Design from the evangelical Christians. Deepak’s misguided presentation is on The Huffington Post. PZ Myers retorted to Chopra here, as did many readers of Huffington. Deepak then replied to all of this with another string of confusion here.

Fundies and new agers make strange bedfellows, though we’ve certainly come to expect this. One finds parallels in the field of Jesus studies, where the fundies and Bultmannians agree, for opposite reasons, that searching for the historical Jesus is detrimental to faith. For fundamentalists, the historical Jesus is the Christ of faith; and Bultmannians say that Jesus is forever lost, and questing for him is not only impossible but represents a feeble attempt to justify oneself by works (!). I’ve never considered myself an especially aggressive proponent of the scientific method, just one who naturally accepts it, without letting it threaten any faith I have about transcendental mysteries.

"To Touch a Jew"

The following quote is from St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who preached the Second Crusade in 1146.

“Anyone who touches a Jew to take his life, is as touching Jesus himself.”

The citation is provided by Rabbi Ephraim of Bonn, who was thirteen years old when he witnessed massacres in Jewish communities during the preaching of the crusade. The fiend responsible for the pograms was a monk named Radulf — one of Bernard’s own pupils — who commanded people to “avenge Christ first, the crucified one, upon his enemies who stand right before you [the Jews]; and then only, go to fight against the Muslims.” To which Bernard countered as above. The full quote given by the rabbi is as follows:

“It is good that you march against the Muslims, but anyone who touches a Jew to take his life, is as touching Jesus himself. Radulf, my pupil, who said that the Jews should be destroyed, did not speak correctly. For it is written about them in the book of Psalms, ‘Slay them not, lest my people forget.'” [Psalm 59:11]

The rabbi emphasizes that the Jewish community hadn’t investigated whether or not Bernard received a bribe to defend the Jewish people in this way, but in any case, the quote is rather stunning. Anyone who kills a Jew is as killing Christ. In effect, this inverts Jewish guilt, foisting blame for Jesus’ death onto misguided Christians. The real “Christ-killers” aren’t Jews, but those who harm Jews.

It’s odd to hear sentiments like this coming from a medieval Christian, especially one who advocated crusade. In the New Testament itself, only Paul comes close to approaching such a positive estimate of Israel (in Romans). Historians have no reason to doubt that Bernard spoke as reported by the rabbi, for he wrote the following in Epistolae:

“The Jews are not to be persecuted, nor killed, nor even forced to flee. ‘God,’ says the church, ‘says, “Slay not my enemies, lest my people forget.”‘ [Psalm 59:11] Alive, the Jews are signs to us, a continual reminder of the Lord’s passion. Because of this they were scattered into every nation, so that while they are paying the just penalty of such a crime they may be witnesses to our redemption. Therefore the church, speaking in that psalm, added: ‘Scatter them by thy power; and bring them down, O Lord our shield.’ [Psalm 59:11] So it happened: they were scattered and brought low everywhere, enduring harsh captivity under Christian princes. But ‘at evening let them return’ [Psalm 59:14] and in time there shall be respite for them.”

Somewhat like Paul, Bernard was a supersessionist who became an aggressive defender of Jewish prerogative in the face of anti-Semitism.

No one wants to be an apologist for anything to do with the crusades. But when considered next to someone like Martin Luther, whose ravings might have inspired Hitler, the abbot of Clairvaux begins to appear “saintly” indeed.

Bibliography

Hallam, Elizabeth (editor): Chronicles of the Crusades: Eyewitness Accounts of the Wars Between Christianity and Islam. For Rabbi Ephraim’s testimony see pp 126-127.

Blurb of Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus

Publisher’s Weekly gives a starred review to Bart Ehrman’s Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the New Testament and Why.

“Ehrman points out that scribes altered almost all the manuscripts we now have…His absorbing story, fresh and lively prose and seasoned insights into the challenges of recreating the texts of the New Testament ensure that readers might never read the Gospels or Paul’s letters the same way again.” (8/22/05, pp 59-60)

Ehrman is getting more popular with the masses, especially after Truth and Fiction in the Da Vinci Code. I look forward to reading this one.

Intelligent Design, Intelligent Falling

Everyone should read the following article from The New Republic: “The Faith That Dare Not Speak Its Name”, by Jerry Coyne, Aug 22, pp 21-33. It’s available online (free registration) here.

“ID is here for only one reason — to act as a Trojan horse poised before public schools: a seemingly secular vessel ready to inject its religious message into the science curriculum.” (p 32)

It’s embarrassing that we’re still dealing with this nonsense in the year 2005. One could regard the controversy almost as a spoof — like the one mentioned by Tyler Williams on “Intelligent Falling”:

“‘Things fall not because they are acted upon by some gravitational force, but because a higher intelligence, God, if you will, is pushing them down,’ said Gabriel Burdett, who holds degrees in education, applied Scripture, and physics from Oral Roberts University.”

We may as well start promoting Intelligent Falling too. What the ID idiots fail to grasp — and as the New Republic article points out — is that evolution is as theoretical and factual as gravity:

“It is important to realize that at the outset that evolution is not ‘just a theory’. It is a theory and a fact… It makes little sense to doubt the factuality of evolution as it does to doubt the factuality of gravity… We know that species on earth today descended from earlier, different species, and that every pair of species had a common ancestor that existed in the past.” (pp 23, 25)

“Intelligent Design is simply the third attempt of creationists to proselytize our children at the expense of good science and clear thinking.” (p 25)

And so the travesty continues…

Lk 17:20-21 and the Apocalypse

I want to applaud Brandon Wason, whose recent post on Novum Testamentum defends a translation for the kingdom of God being “among” the Pharisees rather than “within” them. Following other interpreters, Brandon points to lexical evidence which supports a meaning of “among” (or, as I prefer, “in the midst of”) for entos. For Jesus to have said that the kingdom of God was within the hearts of his own rivals would have made no sense. Besides which:

“No matter what stage of the New Testament tradition is being considered, the idea of the kingdom of God as a purely interior, invisible, present spiritual state of individual hearts is a foreign intrusion. It is at home in 2nd-century Christian Gnosticism (so the Gospel of Thomas, sayings 3, 51, and 113), 19th-century German liberal Protestantism, and some 20th-century American quests for the historical Jesus, but not in the canonical Gospels in general or Luke in particular.” (John Meier, A Marginal Jew, Vol II, pp 426-427)

Lk 17:20-21 has not only played a significant role in turing Jesus into a Western Protestant or quasi-gnostic thinker (the “within” translation), but also in undermining the idea that he preached a future apocalypse at all (however entos is translated). But that’s hardly warranted by a cumulative assessment of the evidence, and it’s not even implied by the Lukan narrative. Here’s what happens. When pressed by the Pharisees for the apocalypse’s timetable, Jesus redirects their attention to the kingdom’s present dimension:

“The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed. Nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For in fact the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

Of course, that’s evasive and doesn’t answer the question. In fact, it insultingly implies that it was the wrong question to ask. Instead of worrying about apocalyptic signs, these fools should be taking advantage of the sacred prologue all around them (or among them, or in the midst of them). This is how Jesus dealt with rivals who challenged him in public. Rather than allow himself to be shamed or put on the defensive, he blew them off by changing the subject. But on other occasions he promised red rain, saying the apocalypse would be coming within a lifespan or generation (Mk 9:1/Mt 16:28/Lk 9:27;Mk 13:29-33/Mt 24:33-36,42/Lk 21:31-33,36).

Jesus was like many millenarian prophets, keeping his cards close to his vest and refusing to commit on specific dates. He would sidestep the issue (Lk 17:20-21) or offer vague timetables (Mk 9:1; Mk 13), but no more. Some things never change, do they?

Karen Armstrong on Solitary Reader Paradigms

Jim West calls attention to an article in Mail & Guardian Online by Karen Armstrong. The following part caught my attention:

“Historians have noted that the shift from oral to written scripture often results in strident, misplaced certainty. Reading gives people the impression that they have an immediate grasp of scripture; they are not compelled by a teacher to appreciate its complexity. Without the aesthetic and ethical disciplines of ritual, they can approach a text in a purely cerebral fashion, missing the emotive and therapeutic aspects of its stories and instructions.

“Solitary reading also enables people to read their scriptures selectively, focusing on isolated texts out of context and ignoring others that do not chime with their own predilections. Religious militants who read scriptures like this often distort the tradition they are trying to defend. Christian fundamentalists concentrate on the aggressive Book of Revelation and ignore the Sermon on the Mount, while Muslim extremists rely on the more belligerent passages of the Qur’an and overlook its oft-repeated instructions to leave vengeance to God and make peace with the enemy.”

As usual, Armstrong only gets half the story right. Selective scriptural reading is not the domain of fundamentalist militants. It’s everyone’s problem, even those with benign interests. Furthermore, if there is one group of people less prone to the solitary reading paradigm, it’s those from Islamic cultures where the Qur’an is engaged orally and frequently, in classrooms and on the radio. Certainly those living in third-world oral cultures, not least the ancients, are capable of understanding God as condoning violence.

Philip Esler has recently blasted solitary reader paradigms with more precision in New Testament Theology. The problem with reading-based cultures involves not only selective reading (in oral cultures, selective teaching may just as well be a problem), but more generally, the self-indulgent process by which individualists see in the text whatever they want, and supplant the author’s view with their own. The postmodern love-affair with “intertextuality” doesn’t help matters. We’re too caught up in making distant and alien texts “speak to us” this way, and to suit our agendas, however intolerant or benign. The more odious groups simply highlight the problem.

Armstrong notes that “the Qur’an insists its teaching must be understood ‘in full’ (20:114), an important principle that religious teachers must impart to the disaffected young”. Fine, but what exactly does that mean? It’s possible to understand something “in full” and still end up supporting a jihad. More important is that the Qur’an, like the Bible, be assessed critically, with the expectation that parts will not — and should not — speak to us in the way they were meant to.

UPDATE: After reading the below comments, see Pete Phillips’ follow-up post on Postmodernible.