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Friday, April 6, 2012

The Resurrection According to N.T.Wright

As we have seen in the previous posts, even some scholars who claim to be Christians argue that no earth-shaking event took place after Jesus' death, except for some compelling visions and dreams. According to them, some of the apostles felt that Jesus was still with them spiritually and over the years the Church came up with a tradition of Him being raised physically. From the beginning of my "journey" towards conversion I felt that this version of the birth of Christianity was just not good enough. Of course I was delighted when I found out that the Anglican bishop N. T. Wright supported my opinion, because I found support in my faith as well.

Wright wrote that the resurrection narratives, had they been fabricated, would have contained "words of the Lord" to explain what happened, or some embroidery from biblical tradition, which is present in all the other gospels stories. Of course he doesn't believe that the gospel stories are fabricated, but he maintains that the evangelists would have tried to be consistent with the rest of their work. Jesus would have been depicted as a radiant heavenly being, like in the transfiguration narratives, or perhaps like He was described in the gospel of Peter. Most scholars believe that this gospel is later than the canonical gospels but it doesn't belong to the Gnostic tradition. It narrates how two men came down from heaven while a loud voice was heard ranging out up there, and how the stone which had been laid against the entrance to the tomb rolled away by itself. Then the two man, whose heads were reaching the clouds, entered the tomb and came out supporting a third man, supposedly Jesus, whose head was over-passing the heavens. They were, by the way, followed by a speaking cross. This is how ancient people wrote works of fantasy. The canonical gospels, on the other hand, sound truthful precisely because they are vague and contradictory, like the account of an inexplicable event would be.

When I make this claim, my son objects that whoever wanted to fool the reader would have used these expedients. What he doesn't acknowledge is that this form of literary subtlety was unknown in ancient times. Back then, writers either did "reportages" or used hyperbolic images to describe fantastic events. The practice of adding details to make an invented story resemble reality came in use only three hundred years ago. If my son were right, the evangelists would represent a unique case in history.
In the gospels, the risen Jesus is sometimes unrecognizable and sometimes He's solidly physical, as if He belonged to two dimensions at once. These properties don't resemble anything in pagan or Jewish tradition, It's like the evangelists are saying: I don't understand what happened, but this is what I was told and I can't change it because it's an extremely serious matter.

Wright insists that ancient people knew as well as we do the difference between visions and reality. "Cognitive dissonance" is the state in which individuals or groups fail to come to terms with reality and live instead in a fantasy that corresponds to their deep longings. He maintains that this can't be the case with Jesus' resurrection because the gospels narratives indicate that something unexpected happened after the crucifixion, something so compelling that the apostles had to turn their lives around completely. This led them to leave their families behind to organize their missionary work. They certainly didn't act like people who live in a dreamlike state.
According to Wright, all the explanations other than the reality of the resurrection mean "to stop doing history and to enter into…a new cognitive dissonance in which the relentless modernist, desperately worried that the post-Enlightenment world view seems in imminent danger of collapse, devises strategies for shoring it up nevertheless".

"The story of Jesus of Nazareth", he writes, "offers itself as…the arrival of God's kingdom precisely in the world of space, time and matter, the world of injustice and tyranny, of empire and crucifixions…But it's the real world…that the real God made and still grieves over…and that was decisively and forever reclaimed by that event, an event which demanded to be understood not as a bizarre miracle, but as the beginning of a new creation".

1 comment:

Manny said...

These are all excellent points! I never thought of them before. Thank you for putting that together.

Happy Easter! He is risen!