Review of “The Resurrection Fact”, Chapter 6, by Jonathan Mumme who states, for all known [early] Christians, “resurrection” was always about physical bodies

“[NT} Wright has substantiated that the referent of the word “resurrection” and its cognates in early Christianity (as specified by the Jewish and Greco-Roman contexts in which the Christian faith arose) points to a bodily resurrection of Jesus of the sort that would necessitate an empty tomb.  A transformed body, not an apparitional form, is precisely what the New Testament authors claimed to have witnessed.”  p.  149

Gary:  Why is it that conservative Christians, including the authors of this book, accept NT Wright’s views as “gospel” regarding the early Christian beliefs pertaining to resurrection yet completely ignore his views regarding the authorship of the Gospels (Wright believes that no one knows who wrote the Gospels)?  What criteria do they use to affirm Wright’s scholarly views on one topic yet completely ignore his views on another?  Could it possibly be…bias??

“It can hardly be legitimate to substantiate a “resurrection” of Jesus needing no empty tomb based on examples taken from societies and cultures whose very thinking about the dead has been shaped precisely by categories provided by such a bodily resurrection of Christ in the Christian tradition…Could or would [someone] even talk about what [he or she] “felt” in such an encounter [seeing and touching  a deceased loved one in a vivid dream/bereavement hallucination] had the Christian resurrection narratives not provided the categories?”  p. 153

Gary:  I readily admit that this is a very important point.  If the people of Jesus’ day had never imagined that a dead person could come back to life and could be seen in the form of their former body; could eat; could drink; could touch; could be touched, then it would be pretty difficult to imagine that they would dream or hallucinate such an experience because we know from medical research that hallucinations involve content already present in the brain.  A person living in rural Tibet who had never heard about Abraham Lincoln would never hallucinate about a man named Abraham Lincoln.

But here is the problem with this oft repeated Christian claim:  Jews of Jesus’ day HAD heard of people rising from the dead.  There are at least two stories from the Old Testament of people (allegedly) being raised from the dead, in one situation, simply by coming into contact with the bones of a prophet!  So “resurrections” were NOT unheard of in first century Judaism.

Secondly, if we are to believe the Gospels, many of the Jews of Jesus day believed that John the Baptist was Elijah “resurrected” from the dead!  John the Baptist was not an apparition.  Anyone who wanted to could walk up to the man and touch him.  He was baptizing hundreds if not thousands of people in full view of the Pharisees and Sadducees.  Yet he was believed to be a resurrected human!  There is also the Biblical account that Herod and his court believed that Jesus was the “resurrected” John the Baptist!  So we have yet more Jews believing that it was possible for one individual to return from the dead in a flesh and blood body.

Third, if the Bible is historically accurate on this point, Jesus himself was predicting that he would rise from the dead three days after his death.  See Mark 8:31 for just one example.

So my point is this, if we are to believe the Gospels and the Old Testament:  There were at least some first century Jews who would not have been surprised that a dead person could rise from the dead with a flesh and blood body, whether that body was their own body or someone else’s.

Now, I can hear the Christian complaints already:  “Being raised from the dead (such as in Lazarus’ case) and being resurrected are two very different things.”

Wrong!  The only way the disciples would have known the difference is if Jesus had remained on earth long enough that everyone could see that he never died.  Jesus (allegedly) had supernatural powers before his death.  You can’t walk on water and turn water into wine with positive thinking.

Therefore, if Jesus had been telling his disciples that three days after his death he would rise from the dead, and, he had been telling them that he was the messiah, the King of the Jews, I do not believe that anyone should find it difficult to imagine that one or some of the disciples would have “bereavement dreams/hallucinations” in which a Jesus in bodily form appears to them, touches them, and informs them that he is risen and that they need to spread the message to all the world.

“Simply put, for Jews committed to Resurrection beliefs as part of their scripture-tradition and for all known Christians, “resurrection” was always about physical bodies and never about apparitions.”  p. 156  (bolding, Gary’s)

Where does Mumme get this information?  He doesn’t say, but the only scholar he has quoted so far is NT Wright.  Wouldn’t it be a good idea to tell his readers the consensus of scholarship on this issue, or if scholarship is divided on this issue, to give the different perspectives?  Why just state one position, by one scholar, as if it is THE only historical truth??  Scholar Bart Ehrman states that Wright is categorically wrong on this issue.  Scholar Gregory Riley states that Wright is wrong on this issue.  Both scholars state that not only did first century Jews have varying views on resurrection but so did early Christians.  For Mumme to categorically say “all” early Christians believed something based on ONE scholar’s opinion is BAD apologetics! 

“Resurrection referred to something bodily and entailed for the dead a return to embodied life.”  p. 161

“Nowhere within Judaism, let alone paganism, is a sustained claim advanced that resurrection has already happened to a particular individual.”  p. 161

Gary:  Now by using the odd term “a sustained claim” I am guessing that Mumme means here that the person raised from the dead “never dies” in an attempt to exclude the “resurrections” mentioned in the Old Testament.  But how would Jesus’ disciples have known that the body or apparition of Jesus that they saw, or thought they saw, was never going to die???  Even most skeptics agree that shortly after Jesus’ death, his disciples came to believe that Jesus appeared to some of them and that Jesus had risen (in some manner) from the dead.  But does this mean that the earliest Christians necessarily believed that Jesus possessed a transformed body that would never die and that this transformed body would be transported to the outer reaches of the universe to sit on a golden throne to reign over heaven and earth as Lord God until the Second Coming???

I doubt it.  I will bet that this advanced theology developed long after they were all dead.  Most probably the earliest Christians (the disciples) simply believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead, proving that he was Yahweh’s messiah, the promised King of the Jews.  (If there is any historical grain of truth to any part of the Ascension story in Luke and Acts, even at this point the disciples were still expecting Jesus to establish an earthly kingdom by the questions they were asking.)   Resurrection theology very probably came later.  When later, who knows.

Gary’s conclusion:  The biggest “hole” in this chapter is the author’s assumption that NT Wright’s view of the unanimous perspective of a physical resurrection among early Christians is correct.  However, Mumme only compared and presented Wright’s view on this issue to one other scholar, Dale Allison, a liberal Protestant, yet states Wright’s position as if it is fact.  It is not fact, the issue is disputed among scholars.  Mumme owes it to his readers to acknowledge this.

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