Monday, August 03, 2009

Wright on Resurrection in Today's Guardian

N. T. Wright has a short piece, a kind of numbered list, in today's Guardian, responding to Adam Rutherford who has been attending an Alpha Course* and who is writing up his experiences as he goes:

The resurrection was as shocking then as it is now
When Adam Rutherford talks about the resurrection, he misses the point. It isn't an extra thing, bolted on to our moral philosophy

Fans of Wright's work will find the piece a robust and engaging summary of familiar themes from his work on the resurrection, like the claim that the ancients found resurrection as perplexing an idea as we do ("we all know that dead people don't rise. Actually, the early Christians knew that too") but there was one element that appeared new to me, the idea that "The other "raisings" in the NT are of course what we would call 'near death experiences' – people who are clinically dead and then find themselves called back," but it is possible that I have missed that in Wright's writings.

A couple of other things occur to me. The first, underlined for me all the more after reading James McGrath's post today on Preach your doubts, is that I am quite taken aback by the degree of confidence that Wright has in his historical analysis. For those who do not share the same degree of confidence, the certainty expressed here, the repeated "of course" (x 6 in a short article), may perhaps be tough to handle. I wondered too whether this kind of vigorous response quite met the more impressionistic jottings-style commentary of Rutherford's original piece in his ongoing response to the Alpha course he is attending.

*The Alpha Course is a popular British evangelical week-by-week introduction to the Christian faith, usually consisting of a talk, a meal and some discussion.

11 comments:

Steven Carr said...

'we all know that dead people don't rise. Actually, the early Christians knew that too"

Presumably because they had never seen Moses return from the dead to speak to Jesus at the Transfiguration?

Mark Stevens said...

Mark, I wonder whether his confidence comes from his 'foot' in the church. As an academic it might be easy to say maybe, maybe not. However, as clergy, people in the pew are often shaken when clergy are not firm in their beliefs.

Just my thoughts as a minister.

Mark Goodacre said...

Steven: good point. Also, I don't think that Tom has adequately answered the material about Herod thinking that Jesus was John the Baptist raised from the dead. That seems to suggest that in extraordinary circumstances this was an option.

Mark: good point. I think that's why I make a better teacher than I would have made a minister. I want to ask questions the whole time!

Juliette said...

Surely the only witnesses to the Transfiguration were Peter, John and one other of the Twelve whose identity temporarily escapes me?

Scott F said...

It's all so clear now! I always wondered why the widow approached Jesus crying, "My son is mostly dead!"

Does this leave an opening for the come back of the Swoon Theory? I just don't see why people take BNishop Wright so seriously when his reasoning descends to this level, or the one where the emptying of the graveyard in Mathew is so weird it has to be true.

James said...

What I find even more interesting than "other" resurrections attributed to Jesus in the N.T. Gospels (Mark's girl, Luke's widow's son; John's Lazarus), all of which might be seen as sort-of-near death--if you stretch it on Lazarus, is to make of the MANY dead "saints" mentioned in Matthew 28:52-53, who came "bodily" out of their tombs and made their own "appearances" to the living. How does the author intend this to be understood? Are we talking about a scene out of Thiller here? Were ossuaries left open? Were all the body parts collected into a new form? Or was the "old clothing," to use Paul's metaphor, left behind? Were these folks in various states of decay, and a la 1 Cor 15, if so, "in what kind of body did they come," and if a "pneumatikos" body, did they then not die--and had they put off flesh, etc. I know Tom addresses this elsewhere but I don't think he has faced the force of it, just as with the point Steve mentions, about JtB raised form the dead. Clearly the notion of "resurrection of the dead" or just the verbs used, "get up," "take up" etc. are not so static.

Mark Goodacre said...

I think you can see how it's done, James, when you look at Captain Jack's resurrections in Torchwood, especially in the most recent one. You have to have at least some pieces of the body and they need to be together in the same place, and they will reconstsitute themselves.

You are quite right, though (and Scott). I think Tom really struggles with the Matt. 27.51-53 passage. I asked him about this at the BNTC some years back, just after the Resurrection of the Son of God had come out, suggesting that if he were to concede that Matthew is not relating something that "actually happened", people might then be able to sift through other elements in his historical analysis without so much scepticism. With the weak defence of the historicity of that pericope in the book, it can't help but make one feel that there is nothing that he would question, and then it becomes a strange kind of history.

Juliette: yes, Peter, James and John. I think the point was that it shows that the category of resurrected individuals is not as unusual as Tom wants to suggest.

Simply Blog (dot net) said...

Actually, resurrection in the sense Wright discusses was unique and unusual, at least from what I've read and gathered on the subject. Some folks still seem to be confused to what resurrection actually means. :)

Steven Carr said...

Tertullian said that the raising of Lazarus was a resurrection.

Perhaps early Christians were also confused by the difference between a resurrection and a non-resurrection.


Where did they claim that Lazarus had *not* been resurrected?

And Moses obviously must have died again, as the resurrection of Jesus was unique, therefore Moses had not been resurrected when he rose from the dead.....

James said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
James said...

I think half the problem is creating a "category" of systematic theology called "resurrection," when the descriptive phrases, both verbs and nouns, in Hebrew and Greek are much less loaded and usually quite literal...stand up, get up, make live the dead ones, etc. It is a lot like the word "suicide." Droge and I covered this years ago in our book, A Noble Death. There is no "term" suicide, for the act with all its moral condemnation, until the 17th century. Before that we have description--he fell on his sword, she cut her wrists, he drowned himself, she shot herself. One did not "commit suicide" (a la "adultery" "murder" etc.) per se. I think it would take us a long way if we stuck to the expressions actually used in our narrative texts, and then could entertain a discussion of what those descriptions imply in terms of body state, etc. Just a thought...