There’s been plenty of blog-buzz about James Crossley’s response to Tom Wright about the resurrection. Be sure to read it, as James gives a lengthy reply.
April DeConick chimes in with a four-point commentary, and I agree particularly with the third:
“What matters for the historical study of early Christianity is that the early Christians thought/ believed/ promoted/ remembered/ taught that Jesus had risen, not whether it ‘really’ happened. It is the belief that is foundational to understand the early Christian movement. It tells us that it was an apocalyptic movement with strong eschatological factors, including the belief that Jesus’ resurrection had begun the events of the last days…”
That’s right. What the disciples believed to have happened should be the crucial question for historians. What actually happened (or did not happen, as the case may be) may be of more burning interest to theologians and scientists.
But Wright is a theologian as much as a historian, as we all know. It’s always amazed me how he thinks the lack of precedent for Jesus’ resurrection historically validates it. I.e. That since Jewish tradition didn’t provide for an individual’s resurrection before the end — especially for a messiah who had gone down in shame — the Christians wouldn’t have made such a far-fetched claim, unless it were actually true. Wright has a very poor understanding of human behavior. People from all cultures make wild and far-fetched claims all the time to cope with crushed spirits. Self-delusion is essential to the human condition.
On the other hand, I’ve made it plain in the past that I agree with Wright that the early Christians wouldn’t have claimed Jesus was raised from the dead unless they really believed it to be true — but not because they were incapable of being wildly inventive, rather because there was no reason for them to be so inventive at this point. Dale Allison (Resurrecting Jesus) points out that people resort to wild revisionism when expectations fail, and the disciples’ expectations hadn’t failed. Jesus’ shameful execution squared with what they were told to look for in the tribulation period: suffering, persecution, and death. It would have demoralized them to be sure, but ultimately taken as part of the apocalyptic drama (“it would have put them down but not out”, as Allison says). They would have continued to hope for the end of all things, at which point their messiah would be raised and vindicated along with the rest of the righteous. The empty tomb interrupted that hope.
So Wright is sometimes Right, but for Wrong reasons.