Wednesday, September 07, 2005

The risen Jesus, Dale C. Allison and Mike Bird versus the Seven Headed Dragon





Dale C. Allison’s new book on the resurrection looks like an important contribution to the debate, aptly noted by Loren Rosson at The Busy Body .

I like Allison’s ICC commentary on Matthew (which is largely his work), Allison's book on Jesus traditions in Q (assuming there was a Q) is a good alternative to Kloppenborg, and his book on Jesus as Millenarian prophet is well worth digesting (although I favour Witherington’s book Jesus the Seer on how Jesus relates to apocalypticism).

It will take an awful lot of argument for me to swing away from my preference for Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God. I was not impressed with Ludemann’s idea of Paul and Peter having visions of Jesus based upon a projection of their grief and guilt stricken state, and (although I haven’t read Allison’s new book yet) I was disappointed that Allison is arguing for a grief-vision theory. For me it doesn’t work for a variety of reasons:

Proving that the disciples had grief stricken visions of Jesus is impossible anyway. This is data simply beyond our bounds. But even if they did, why, oh why on earth did they use the language of resurrection to describe it? When I was in the Army many moons ago I was on a training activity called the “Hydra” (named after the dragon) and I got so exhausted and dehydrated that I began hallucinating that I was fighting a seven headed dragon. In reality I was repeatedly punching a tree, but the thought of cracking all seven-heads of the Hydra with one left-hook was too much to resist so I did it anyway. Afterwards, in hospital, I knew that I had had a hallucination and I did not think that the Hydra was real. I knew what language to use to describe it. By analogy (and all analogies do break-down I know) there were oodles of visionary type language the Christians could use to describe a vision, but the repeated and insistent reference to resurrection, bodily resurrection at that, is an oddity in desperate need of explanation and I don't think grief/guilt visions make the grade.

If someone out there wants a non-supernatural explanation for the belief in the resurrection, I reckon your best bet is to say that something happened to Jesus’ body (thrown in a beggars grave, eaten by scavengers etc) but we don’t know exactly what; and to say that something happened subjectively to a group of the disciples, though again we just don’t know what. It is when you start trying to fill in the blanks with theories like the body was stolen, grief-visions, etc that you create more problems and questions than you solve. Sander's position is the best to take for those in this camp - something created a 'transformed situation' after the cruxifixion but we don't know what!!!

As for me, I reckon ton estaurōmenon, ēgerthē (Mk. 16.6). So in sum:
1. I’m sticking with Wright
2. I don’t think grief/hallucination theories work
3. The scoreboard reads: Mike Bird one, Hydra – nil!

6 comments:

Loren Rosson III said...

Michael,

Proving that the disciples had grief stricken visions of Jesus is impossible anyway

It's not a matter of "proof". It's simply acknolwdging that this is a common phenomenon, however it be understood (whether as hallucinations, or spirits who really wish to comfort people).

But even if they did, why, oh why on earth did they use the language of resurrection to describe it?

They used resurrection to describe the visions because of the empty tomb, not because of visions themselves. Allison is quite clear on this point. He is thus somewhat in agreement with Wright, though with caveats.

It is when you start trying to fill in the blanks with theories like the body was stolen, grief-visions, etc that you create more problems and questions than you solve

How so? There's nothing unlikely at all about the above phenomena. Any number of things could have happened to the body -- body-snatching only one of them. Why does this "create more problems than it solves"?

It will take an awful lot of argument for me to swing away from my preference for Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God

Wright is overrated, given to deductive overstatements that are (frankly) hard to take seriously. Ludemann can be just as dogmatic on the skeptic side. That's why Allison is so refreshing on this subject where answers are destined to remain murky.

I think Wright has a good understanding of what the concept of resurrection entailed for the early Christians. But as to the genesis of the concept, he's using apologetics.

Joel said...

I've been enjoying peeking in on your blog.

This post leads me ask if you have ever read a book by Roger Haight called Jesus: Symbol of God? I'd be interested in any thoughts, especially good ones that I can steal since I've agreed to be part of a panel discussion on the book in October.

steph said...

I agree with Loren except that even without Allison's concession to an empty tomb isn't it likely that grief visions might be interpreted as resurrection rather than as an epiphany which they had mistakenly thought they had beheld by the lake? Considering that Jesus had prepared them for his forthcoming death, there would surely be an expectation that his death would be vindicated and resurrection would accomplish that.

If women (who weren't reliable witnesses anyway) apparently didn't tell anyone out of fear, maybe this suggests that the empty tomb tradition was not widely known, and in any case, were their ever any pilgrimages made to the tomb site?

James Crossley has written on this.

Loren Rosson III said...

I agree with Loren except that even without Allison's concession to an empty tomb isn't it likely that grief visions might be interpreted as resurrection rather than as an epiphany which they had mistakenly thought they had beheld by the lake?

It's more likely they would have said he ascended into heaven without being raised.

Considering that Jesus had prepared them for his forthcoming death, there would surely be an expectation that his death would be vindicated and resurrection would accomplish that.

How does it follow that because Jesus anticipated his martrydom, he must have been immediately resurrected before the apocalypse? I agree with Allison: the disciples would surely have continued hoping for the general resurrection, at which point they would be united and vindicated with Jesus.

If women (who weren't reliable witnesses anyway) apparently didn't tell anyone out of fear, maybe this suggests that the empty tomb tradition was not widely known, and in any case, were their ever any pilgrimages made to the tomb site?

I'm having trouble undertanding your (or Crossley's) logic here. It's precisely because women were unreliable witnesses that the gospel accounts of the women seeing the empty tomb commend themselves as history. If the empty tomb were a legend, female eyewitnesses would doubtfully have been invented.

James Crossley said...

I'll blog on this fully when the article is out but just a few comments here. The reason I stress Mk 16.8 is that it is our earliest narrative accountof the women strangely not telling anyone about the empty tomb. The other earliest account in or course 1 Cor. 15 where Wright showed that the empty tomb was assumed. But here, in notable contrast to the visions, there is no eyewitness account. This leaves us with some extremely shaky evidence for an empty tomb. We are left effectively with what we might call 'visions'.

As for visions, I don't think we should get too hung up on them not being identical to modern grief visions or any other visions for that matter: such a snug fit is never going to be the case in any use of interdisciplinary material. Visions we know happen. The cultural context dictates what the content of the vision is. If Jesus did suffer a martyr's death then one place to interpret this is 2 Macc 7 and hopes for bodily resurrection. This, among other texts, could potentially dictate the content of a vision and explain why the earliest Christians thought he was bodily raised even if he was not.

Apologies for going on so much on your site Michael and with an argument I suspect you will profoundly disagree with!

Michael F. Bird said...

James,

1. I think you raise some valid points about the empty tomb though I would add: (a)the ending of Mark raises a heap of questions, based on what Mark was doing and was there another bit of ending now lost to us. (b) On the empty tomb and 1 Cor 15, Paul assumes it because the tradition he cites does so, of course what the tradition actually said and how it relates to eyewitnesses is an open question. One can't assume then that the tradition that Paul cites did not have a connnection to eyewitnesses. (c) The eyewitness accounts from the other Gospels, though not earlier than Mark, should still be taken into account. Bauckham's study on eyewitnesses is also worth noting in this regard.

2. I think 2 Macc 7 does make a good link between martyrdom and resurrection. The problem here is threefold: (a) Again you've got the problem of going from vision to resurrection which is a big step. (b) The earliest Christian confessions assume that Jesus was vindicated, not just living-on somehow in heaven. (c) Whereas the Maccabean martyrs expected to be resurrected at a general resurrection at the end of history, you've got the resurrection of one man in the middle of history. How do visions account for this transition?