Review of “Resurrection Reconsidered, Thomas and John in Controversy” by Gregory J. Riley, Part 1

According to conservative Christians, Paul believed and taught that Jesus had risen from the dead in a resurrected, transformed body of flesh.  His resurrection was not simply of his spirit as some modern liberal theologians would have us believe.  In the Resurrection doctrine of conservative/orthodox Christianity, the Resurrection of Jesus was most definitely of his physical body.  And not only did Paul believe and teach Jesus’ physical resurrection, according to conservative Christians Paul claimed to have seen the resurrected physical body of Jesus the Christ standing before his very eyes on the Damascus Road.  Conservative Christians will tell us that the evidence for Paul’s orthodox views are overwhelming.   They will often point to New Testament scholar NT Wright’s 800 plus page “landmark” work, “The Resurrection of the Son of God” for the proof.

So I read Wright’s book in 2014.  His evidence seemed reasonable.  I accepted his scholarship as fact.  The apostle Paul believed and taught that Jesus was physically resurrected.  But is this true?  Let’s review a book by a scholar who takes a very different view on this issue.  The title of the book is“Resurrection Revisited” by Gregory J. Riley.  Riley is Associate Professor of New Testament at the School of Theology at Claremont, California.  Here is a copy of his bio from the institution’s website:

Gregory J. Riley

 Professor of New Testament B.A., M.A., University of California, Los Angeles; M.A., University of California, Santa Barbara; M.A., Ph.D., Harvard University

Dr. Riley has expertise in the culture and religions of the Greco-Roman world and the ancient Near East. His main interests are the relationships between the diverse expressions of Christianity and their cultural context. His most recent book The River of God: A New History of Christian Origins was chosen by the History Book Club as an alternate selection. His book One Jesus, Many Christs was selected by the Book of the Month Club and the British Book of the Month Club as a first choice in Religion.

Education

B.A., M.A. – University of California, Los Angeles
M.A. – University of California, Santa Barbara
M.A., Ph.D. – Harvard University

 

Gary’s Review:  The Introduction

I think that most conservative Christians will find this opening statement from Riley’s introduction quite shocking:

“Early Christian missionaries proclaimed the Resurrection of Jesus throughout the Roman world  not only as the founding event of their own faith but also as the central event in human history.  Yet the claim that anyone might rise bodily from the dead was met in the Hellenic world by utter disbelief; it shocked the listeners into ridicule.   We are told that the Athenians sneered at the apostle Paul; the philosopher Celsus thought the idea was disgusting and impossible.  Even more remarkable, however, was that for the first four hundred years of the movement many Christians, often the most educated and often in the majority, agreed with the opponents.  Jerome complained as late as the fifth century that the Eastern Church had written the great ecumenical creed of Constantinople in such a way as to be able to continue to deny the resurrection of the flesh.  This opinion, that neither Jesus nor anyone else could rise from the dead in the flesh, had ancient roots in Greco-Roman culture and in earliest Christianity.  Representative of such a view was the brand of apostolic Christianity which arose around the figure of the disciple Thomas and is found in the earliest document that bears his name, the Gospel of Thomas.”

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