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NT Histories

New Testament and Early Christian Literature in Greco-Roman Context: Studies in Honor of David E. Aune edited by John Fotopoulos (Supplements to Novum Testamentum, Vol. 122: Brill Academic) is a collection of scholarly studies honoring Prof.Dr. David. E. Aune on his 65th birthday. Its title, The New Testament and Early Christian Literature in Greco-Roman Context: Studies in Honor of David E. Aune, reflects Prof. Aune's academic training, interests, and extensive publications. The volume's studies investigate a range of topics within the Pauline correspondence, Gospels, Apocalypse of John, and other early Christian writings with insights drawn from Greco-Roman culture and Hellenistic Judaism. Thus, the studies make use of Greco-Roman literature, rhetoric, magic, medicine, moral philosophy, iconography, archaeology, religious cults, and social conventions while also utilizing social-historical, social-scientific, literary-critical, and rhetorical-critical methodologies, thereby adding an interdisciplinary dimension to the volume. These groundbreaking studies have been written by prominent international scholars and are published here for the first time.

Slaves in the New Testament: Literary, Social, And Moral Dimensions by J. Albert Harrill (Fortress Press) (Hardcover) In this exciting new analysis of slaves and slavery in the New Testament, Harrill breaks new ground with his extensive use of Greco-Roman evidence, discussion of hermeneutics, and treatment of the use of the New Testament in antebellum U.S. slavery debates. He examines in detail Philemon, 1 Corinthians, Romans, Luke-Acts, and the household codes.

Excerpt: How did the early Christians think about slaves? In this book, I argue that they did so through the literary artifice of conventional figures and stereotypes familiar from ancient literature, handbooks, and the theater. Such stock characters included the domestic enemy, the comic, the trick­ster, the elite, and the faithful slave. Although modern scholars often consider such New Testament figures as the maid Rhoda (Acts 12:13-16) evidence for the "liberating" participation of slaves in early Christian communities, a careful study of the evidence shows them to be literary characters drawn from the ideologies that supported Roman slavery.

I advance this thesis primarily through close readings of particular passages in their ancient context, in order to trace the development of literary themes or social types. I work strictly as a historian; that is, I do not advocate a "faith" solution to or a theological position on the question of slavery and the Bible; such questions are best left to Chris­tians, theologians, and ethicists to answer. But I do deny that appeals to "what the Bible says" can serve as a foundation for Christian moral argu­ments, because such appeals do not explicitly acknowledge the agency and contingency of the interpreter.' Rather, any critical interpretation of the New Testament must start by situating the early Christian writ­ings firmly in the literary, social, and cultural world of the early Roman Empire. Indeed, this book argues that the Roman context is particularly helpful in bringing clarity to difficult texts and in moving scholarship beyond tired, old cliches about the Bible and slavery that repeat unexamined presuppositions born of the modern abolitionist era. On the other hand, I do not argue that the resulting interpretations are the only valid ones. The professions of history and of biblical studies have happily moved beyond the objectivism of seeing historical facts naively, as prior to and independent of interpretation. Asserting an interpretative hege­mony can no longer be intellectually justified. This should press us into caution, not despair.2 We have gained some historical knowledge about ancient slavery that makes some interpretations from the abolitionist era (surveyed in chapter 7) impossible. Even if a reader disagrees with my exegesis at points, I hope that she or he nonetheless would see the value of exploring how an ancient Roman audience and its slaveholding cul­ture would have heard the early Christian passages about slaves.

Rejecting the old "biblical theology" approach, I occasionally use early Jewish sources, such as Philo of Alexandria and Josephus, as a manifesta­tion of Roman culture, seeing the integration of the Jewish material as a necessary part of good scholarship on ancient history. The problem with biblical theology is its totalizing interpretative framework that sets up an artificial cultural dichotomy between "Judaism" and "Romanness" (often conflated into "Hellenism") as code words masquerading as historical entities. The aim of that kind of scholarship is to urge the distinctiveness of Christianity against its "pagan" environment, a distinctiveness that it allegedly shared with ancient Israel.' Unlike other scholars who sepa­rate early Christianity from early Judaism or classical culture, and who compare the different "social worlds" to see how they are alike and how they differ, I study early Christianity as fully a part of and implicated in the ancient world. For this reason, I integrate Greek, Roman, and Jewish materials throughout all the chapters directly into my exegesis, rather than isolating them in some introductory "background" chapter. This volume, then, is an essay in biblical interpretation and hermeneutics, not a factual survey of slavery in the New Testament or early Christianity generally.'

Let me sketch the book's main thesis. I argue that early Christian writ­ings reflect, participate in, and promote the literary imagination about slaves and the ideology of mastery widely diffuse in the ancient Mediter­ranean, which supported what the Romans called auctoritas. Auctoritas denoted the quality of actual power in the individual person (the auc­tor) granted by the willing compliance of subordinates and the esteem of one's colleagues, in contrast to the transactional power from govern­mental magistracies, social status, or family name. The value was deeplymoral, belonging to the cultural milieu of masculinity and competition in Rome's conflict culture.' By ideology I mean language that colludes with, supports, and makes sense of the current structures of authority and domination that a particular society uses to construct and maintain its social "reality" and in which writers can participate even if the collu­sion is not altogether conscious.' This focus on ideology avoids the pit­fall of claiming that authorial intention alone controls "the meaning" of a text. As Dale Martin writes, "I may wish to speculate about what Paul thought he was doing, but that speculation does not have the power to settle the question of what he was actually doing."' Because the Romans traditionally perpetuated their moral values through the retelling of example stories (exempla), the use of slaves and masters as literary figures was commonplace and a natural referent for the early Christians accus­tomed as Romans to use such language for self-definition and the con­struction of a religious community.'

The book is organized by corpora of texts, roughly in chronological order, and by theme. The first two chapters examine the Apostle Paul. Chapter 1 offers an exegetical study of Romans 7, one of the most impor­tant and controversial passages on the self in the Christian Bible. I side with a number of scholars who take the subject to be a fictive "I," a tech­nique of speech-in-character (prosopopoiia), and examine what remains unclear in this reading: Why a slave is chosen for the persona. Chapter 2 analyzes the rhetoric of the accusation, preserved in 2 Cor 10:10, that Paul was a religious fraud. I argue that the invective conforms to physiog­nomic conventions of what a "weak bodily presence" signified in ancient Mediterranean culture—the slave. I then connect the slave physiognom­ics to Roman ideologies of masculinity and manhood.

Chapter 3 is a study of Luke–Acts. I investigate the comedy of slavery in fictional characters that mock slaves. Rhoda, the slave maid in Acts 12:13­16, has been seen by modern scholars as a classic example of a touch a realism that lends authenticity to Luke's narrative. However, I argue that Luke has created an artificial stock figure from Roman comedy, a highly conventionalized sequence of narrative. Rhoda is the "running slave" (serous currens) whose function is to siphon implausibility from the scene, by which the subsequence action could be made to seem more real. The second figure is the dishonest manager ("steward"), subject of the most difficult of all the parables in the Gospels to understand (Luke 16:1-8). A solution lies in reading the action as that of a parasite (parasites) play­ing the clever slave (serous callidus). The serous callidus was the template that defined and measured the form of all tricksters in ancient drama. This association held even for dramas that focused on nonslave charac ters. I argue that the parable of the Dishonest Manager contains clear narrative tags signaling this particularly Roman dramatic convention. But the function was more than mere comic relief. I interpret the Dis­honest Manager as part of a narrative sequence leading to the Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31), and so I find problematic the scholarly habit of taking either parable out of its Lukan context to find its "real" historical meaning. The Dishonest Manager and the Rich Man and Lazarus form a literary diptych that contrasted two complementary modes of comedy, the farcical and the naturalistic. Read in this way, the dishonest manager thus acts as a catalyst that provokes important insights from more serious and complex characters in the literary artifice. In other words, both Rhoda and the dishonest manager are made up and play to ancient slave-holding tastes and sensibilities.

The fourth and fifth chapters examine the deuteropauline material on slavery. Chapter 4 surveys early Christian domestic codes that exhort believing slaves as moral agents and believing masters as subordinates of another Lord (Col 3:22-4:1; Eph 6:5-9; Epistle of Barnabas 19.7; Didache 4.10-11).9 Although New Testament scholars have found irresistible a popular form of argument that these Haustafeln "upset" the domestic hierarchy of the ancient family and of slavery, I argue that they borrow the three didactic themes of justice, accountability, and piety widely dif­fuse in classical topoi on household management and best exemplified in the ancient handbook tradition on agriculture. A figure that previous scholarship has not thought to consider is the elite slave "bailiff" (vili­cus) overseeing the estate in the place of the absentee estate owner (pater familias). In the household codes, the Christian master is exhorted as a vilicus, in charge of a household yet also subordinate to another. Con­tinuing the investigation of the deuteropauline letters, chapter 5 inter­prets the curious reference to "slave traders" in 1 Tim 1:10. I explore the cultural stereotypes surrounding the slave-trading profession in classical antiquity. In early Christian self-definition, slave traders functioned as a stock term of abuse and pointed not to actual people dealing in slaves but to the use of stereotyping to get a congregation to think about oppo­nents as correspondingly vicious.

The final two chapters address the legacy of the New Testament. Cast­ing my net wider than the New Testament canon in order to gain a fuller picture of early Christianity, I analyze in chapter 6 early Christian apolo­gies and martyrdoms that condemn the ordinary household slave as an instigator of family corruption, the "domestic enemy" par excellence. As in the case of the term slave trader, I argue that the language is more liter­ary artifice than social reality. In the process, I call into question recent scholarship that sees martyrdom as a discourse that undermines ancient ideologies of the family. By looking at tales of slave martyrs, and of slaves who betray their Christian owners in early Christian apologies, I find that martyrdom did not entirely contest the prevailing ideology of the family in the case of slavery. Elements of that ideology do appear in the moral polarity of "the slave" as either the domestic enemy or the faithful companion.

Chapter 7 shifts to the modern era and examines the use of the New Testament in the religious debate over legal slavery in antebellum Amer­ica, offering several hermeneutical reflections on the book as a whole. I trace patterns in nineteenth-century exegesis that illumine a funda­mental paradox in American religious culture—between literalism and moral intuition as opposing ways to read the Bible. The moral imperative of antislavery fostered an interpretative approach that found conscience to be a more reliable guide to Christian morality than biblical author­ity. Antislavery/abolitionist exegesis constituted an early form of biblical criticism that promoted more critical readings of the Bible, which pre­pared the way in the United States for the eventual reception of German higher criticism. My study thus illustrates the complicated relationship between the historical-critical interpretation of the Bible and Christian debate over moral issues, which carries implications beyond my case his­tory of slavery. This book offers a hermeneutical challenge to the noble dream that biblical criticism can settle Christian moral debate, espe­cially on family values.

Because a complex topic like slavery requires a diversity of interpre­tative approaches, as a historian I try out different methods in order to discover which best addresses the questions that a specific passage raises. Consequently, I do not conform my research to a consistent application of a single methodology or model. For example, I explore recent direc­tions in gender studies and cultural theory, build on insights from liter­ary approaches, do a great deal of social history, and pay close attention to what rhetorical analysis can yield. My approach is thus eclectic."

In sum, this book investigates in detail representative examples of the main kinds of evidence in the New Testament (and elsewhere) used to recover early Christianity's "challenge" and "answer" to ancient slavery.

The findings show how difficult such claims are to maintain historically. Such references are literary figures that confirmed ideological stereotypes and bland moralistic polarities that slaveholders and those associated with the slaveholding orders of Roman society created and maintained. The evidence cannot support readings that purport to find early Christi­anity's moral unease with ancient slavery. Unfortunately, we cannot cor­rect New Testament passages that appear to be immoral, even when the interest to do so serves the noblest of aims.

The New Testament and the People of God by N. T. Wright (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol 1: Fortress)
Jesus and the Victory of God by N. T. Wright (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol 2: Fortress)
The Resurrection of the Son of God by N. T. Wright (Christian Origins and the Question of God, Vol 3: Fortress)
The first of Wright's projected six books in the series. I do not recommend reading out of sequence as you will find yourself overwhelmed by Wright's material. He is carefully constructing an argument that is complex, but the reader will find it rewarding. NTPG is footnoted extensively in the second book of the series, Jesus And The Victory Of God, so reading this book will save the time required to cross reference.

Wright offers a one stop veiw of previous NT research, and expalnation of methodology (both his and other's), and a comprehensive analysis of first century Palenstine. The material lays the ground work for his belief that current NT scholarship is missing the forest in its focus on the trees.

Wright rebuts the current work of the Jesus Seminar, Form Criticism, and other popular researchers that seek to deconstruct the NT in an effort to make the material easier to digest rationally. Ironically, it is Wright's arguments that offer the most credible explanation for the origin of the NT material.

The length of five hundred pages is deceptive. "The New Testament and the People of God"is a very dense read. It is heavily (though not too heavily) footnoted. Its ideas take adequate time for reflection to digest. I would even go so far as to suggest that reader either unfamiliar with Wright's work or not used to reading theology or books about the historical Jesus start with one of Wright's more popular books in preparation for reading this series. I would recommend starting with a book such as "The Way of the Lord," "The Challenge of Jesus," or "The Crown and the Fire" instead of starting cold on a massive undertaking like "The New Testament and the People of God." Wright is a great writer. You don't want to turn yourself off to him by jumping into the deep waters before you're ready.

This book is not an easy read, and may require a refresher course in history, methodology, and some of the social sciences. I found myself dusting of books not read since college to familiarize myself with some of Wright's references. But the whole experience is well worth the effort.

This book calls into question most of the liberal scholarship and much of the "traditional orthodox" research. I believe it will change the focus of NT Studies once the series is complete.

Building on detailed arguments developed in Vol I Wright presents in Jesus and the Victory of God a Jesus of Nazareth as an eschatological prophet who believed that he was standing at the cornerstone of Israel's history, and thus -- because of Israel's fundamental calling -- of world history. He believed he was the messiah whose task was to usher in the new age and fulfil the Jewish dream, the dream that Yahweh would act withing history to bring about (1) the real return from exile (the new exodus out of bondage), (2) the final defeat of all evil, and (3) the return of Yahweh to Zion. But unlike the wilderness prophets and royal pretenders who attempted to bring about the Kingdom of God and failed, Jesus attempted this and succeeded. His "triumphal entry" into Jerusalem, his symbolic destruction of the Temple (a foretaste of the year 70 AD), his passover/eucharist meal, and his death on the cross and subsequent resurrection were precisely those things which began to bring about the real return from exile and bondage. Jesus did not simply announce that Yahweh was returning to Zion. He enacted, symbolized, and personified this event. He did not think that the Temple would be rebuilt as predicted in scripture, nor that the Gentile nations would flock to a new, liberated Israel. He believed, stunningly, that HE served as the new Temple, that the primitive church would constitute the new Israel. Wright believes that when orthodox Christians acknowledge that Jesus "suffered, died, and was buried, and on the third day he rose again," they are correct, but they so often forget that their creed is fundamentally Jewish in origin, even if radically revisionist at the same time.

Wright is certainly correct to root Jesus in the context of Jewish eschatology, but he forces way too much of the gospel data through this eschatological sieve. The result is a somewhat one-dimensional portrait which screens out other important issues. For instance, even parables like The Prodigal Son and The Talents are read as allegories for "Israel's return from exile" and "Yahweh's return to His people" instead of stories about family, community, and economy. Likewise, Jesus' conflict with purity and sabbath is understood soley in eschatological terms instead of peasant inability to cope with the Torah's demands. But for a conservative believer, he offers a fairly revolutionary Jesus -- at the very least not an image of the scholar himself.

Wright's approach has many virtues. He is intimately familiar with an incredible amount of scholarly literature on the subject, and refers to it in a way that is always thoughtful. He seldom arbitrarily discards evidence merely because it doesn't fit his theory, as many do. His favorite critical device is what he calls the principle of "double similarity, double disimilarity." He shows that, while most of the synoptic material makes sense both within the Jewish community, and as the template for the new Christian religion, it also differs from both traditions in ways that strongly suggest the marks of individuality, that neither ordinary Jews nor Christians would have invented for Jesus.

This is a helpful approach, in my opinion, though not so unique as Wright seems to think. Readers with literary or psychological sensitivity have been making similiar, less systematic but sometimes even more insightful, observations for a long time. See, for example, G. K. Chesterton (Everlasting Man), Philip Yancey (The Jesus I Never Knew), M. Scott Peck, Per Beskow (Strange Tales About Jesus) or C. S. Lewis (Fernseeds and Elephants -- an essay Wright scoffs at, but that grows in my estimation the more I read of modern Biblical criticism). I think any reader can discern the unique style of Jesus in the Gospels. To a certain extent, Wright is just approaching the unique character of Jesus' sayings in a more formal, and less intuitive, manner.

As a scholar who studies the (often amazing) ways in which Christianity fulfills Asian cultures, I especially appreciated Wright's deep insights into the relationship between the Jewish tradition and the life of Christ. Wright argues that these elements were not retroactively inserted in the narrative, but most probably derive directly from Jesus. I don't recall that Wright places much emphasis on it, but in a sense, much of the argument here could be summarized by Jesus' statement: "Don't think I have come to do away with the Law and the Prophets . . . I have come to fulfill them." I believe that applies to more than Jewish culture, but that is another story.

For the most part, Wright uses the synoptic gospels as his primary biblical source of information, with occasional use of John and Acts, and extensive examination of Old Testament text. Wright sees the gospel stories as historically reliable. He arranges the material by themes rather than chronological events. He uses a technique of double similarity with double dissimilarity, where what is believable within first century Judaism and early Christianity, while at the same time enough dissimilar from both in some aspect, is likely to be historically accurate. Wright accounts for the variations in the synoptic stories by convincingly arguing that Jesus used the same stories on several different occasions.

The book is divided into four parts. In the first section, Wright surveys the history, from the nineteenth century to the present, of the quest of the historical Jesus. I feel the first two chapters are the weakest part of the book, and will be the first to date what should otherwise be a long enduring work. Wright seems overly concerned about pointing out the weakness of more liberal scholars, and spends much time critiquing their work. He seems particularly concerned with the works of Crossan, Mack, and the Jesus' Seminar. He attacks their methods of "criteria of authenticity," and their narrow focus on the individual saying of Jesus.

In the third chapter Wright presents some key questions in the study of Jesus and looks at how they are handled within the Third Quest. Answering these questions becomes the task of much of the remainder of the book. The largest section of the book, Profile of a Prophet, Wright shows that Jesus' public image within first century Judaism was that of a prophet, one who proclaimed the coming kingdom of Israel's God. The portrait of Jesus as a prophet fits well with what is known of his public career and praxis. Jesus, like John the Baptist before him, seems to consciously model himself after Elijah. Like John, Jesus issued solemn warnings about imminent judgment. Jesus delivers his prophecies with great authority, often in the form of parables. Wright sees the literary background of the parables as apocalyptic. As such, they were subversive stories told to articulate a new way of being a people of God. Jesus engaged in the characteristically Jewish activity of subversively retelling the basic Jewish story, accommodating them for the new situations. Wright argues that Jewish apocalyptic, for many, did not include the end of the world, but rather a renewed covenant with God was "this-worldly." Key to Wright's thesis, which he argues repeatedly, was that most first century Jews would have seen themselves as still living "in exile." The exile functioned, in the second-Temple period, as an eschatological hope, that the triumph over the pagan occupying rulers of Israel was yet to come. The Jews regarded themselves as still living in exile because of the Roman domination. While they had returned form exile in a geographical sense, the great prophecies of restoration had not yet come true. The coming kingdom of God is the true return from exile. Wright demonstrates that Jesus had prophetically announced that the promised restoration of Israel had started. This restoration was to take place in and through Jesus' ministry. Through Jesus, God is restoring his people.

Wright contends that Jesus proclaimed this return from exile was not to be an armed revolution against the Romans, but a divinely appointed task of leading the Gentiles to worship the one true God. Israel's history is drawing to a climax. Rome was not the enemy of Israel, but Satan, and the true victory was the liberation from sin.

At several points throughout the book, Wright uses diagrams, with arrows and words, to illuminate his point. Unfortunately, for me, these did more to confuse me than clarify anything. I found Wright's suggestion that Jesus' death on the cross was for the forgiveness of the nationalistic sin of Israel, and not for individual sin, to be the most disturbing. I feel his case was well made within the synopotics, but it was not the understanding of the early church, and certainly not the understanding of Paul.

Wright's argument that the Second Coming was fulfilled in the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE is unconvincing in light of the rest of the New Testament's understanding, as well as that of the early church (page 341 and elsewhere). Throughout the book, Wright preferred to treat the synoptic text literally, but in the case of Mark 13, he inexplicably prefers the metaphorical approach. The writings of Paul and Revelation have more to say on the subject of the Second Coming, and they would make little sense if the fall of the Temple was all the Second Coming entailed. Wright does not give a rational interpretation the period of forty years that pasted between the death of Jesus and the destruction of the Temple. From our vantage point today, the fall of the Temple did not usher in a new world, one in which evil no longer exist, and certainly not one where God's will was done on earth as in heaven.

I enjoyed most of Wright's book. Wright demonstrates that conservative viewpoints can be taken seriously. He is not a skeptic who reduces the historical Jesus to just a few lines of text. Wright believes that truth exists, and much of it can be recovered by historians. He does this without abandoning the Jesus of faith, as so many biblical historians have done.

All agree that Jesus began his public work in the context of John's baptism," he means, "all we scholars." The fact that billions of other readers usually come to the same conclusion, is, to Wright, irrelevent. The same, when he tells us, "It is apparent that the authors of the synoptic gospels intended to write about Jesus, not just their own churches and theologies," (really!) that "one of the chief gains" of the last 20 years of scholarship has been to link the crucifixion of Jesus to his cleansing of the temple, (my grandma could have told them that) and that when Jesus cursed the fig tree, he was acting out a parable against the Jewish religious rulers. Biblical scholars resemble the emperor's fashion experts, who, after decades of involved debate, and several fads in nudity, make the astonishing discovery that the emperor has no clothes. They pat themselves on their backs and complement one another for their brilliance, as the little boy, who first made the observation decades before, rocks in his chair in a retirement home nearby.

Chesterton said, one of the ways to get home is to stay there. Wright allows that Biblical criticism is taking a more circuitous route, (he himself uses the metaphor of the Prodigal Son), and he almost makes me think the view along the way might be worth it. But if he choses to lecture about the layout of the family farm when he returns, he ought to acknowledge that some of his hearers have been on that ground for a while already. Wright seems less kind to his conservative Christian "elder brethren" than to younger (separated) brethren still sowing wild oats in the far country of historical speculation. This attitude troubles me.

After hundreds of pages of argument, Wright rather abruptly asserts that "Jesus did not know he was God," at least not as one knows one "ate an orange an hour ago." He thinks such self-knowledge would be unbecomingly "supernatural." (Though he doesn't quibble with multiplied loaves or the resurrection.) At this point one gets the feeling that Wright's conclusion (or guess) is based less on historical evidence (which, as another reader points out below, ought to include John, Paul, and other Jewish Christians), but on a desire to keep a souvenir from the far country -- perhaps to show other scholars. Or maybe he just doesn't want to sound too conventional -- publish novelties ("discoveries") or off with your academic head. In any case, one wonders if his own dogmatically expressed opinion about Jesus' sub-divine mode of consciousness itself has a supernatural origin. He offers no other sources, in this case.

There seem to be two ways to "see" Jesus. One is the scholar's approach, which is that of blind men touching an elephant -- each connecting with that which communicates, with special vividness, a focused reality. The other method is that of the unwashed masses, who see the whole, though dimly at times, as through a fog. To see Christ as he is, yet without reductionism, has not proven an easy task for anyone. I do not know if it is the holiest, wisest, humblest, or just the most desperate, who come closest. Wright shows that, if a blind man touches the elephant in enough places, and takes scholarly theories for the narrow simplifications that they tend to be, he may begin a fairly recognizable and systematic mapping of the shape before us, which, in the end, may help see the elephant once again. It is a brilliant and insightful work. And, I am beginning to think, one very patient elephant, to put up with modern criticism, and not step on anyone.

The Resurrection of the Son of God

Why did Christianity begin, and why did it take the shape it did? To answer this question – which any historian must face – renowned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright focuses on the key points: what precisely happened at Easter? What did the early Christians mean when they said that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead? What can be said today about his belief?

The Resurrection of the Son of God, third is Wright’s series Christian Origins and the Question of God, sketches a map of ancient beliefs about life after death, in both the Greco-Roman and Jewish worlds. It then highlights the fact that the early Christians’ belief about the afterlife belonged firmly on the Jewish spectrum, while introducing several new mutations and sharper definitions. This, together with other features of early Christianity, forces the historian to read the Easter narratives in the gospels, not simply as late rationalizations of early Christian spirituality, but as accounts of two actual events: the empty tomb of Jesus and his "appearances."

How do we explain these phenomena? The early Christians’ answer was that Jesus had indeed been bodily raised from the dead; that was why they hailed him as the messianic "son of God." No modern historian has come up with a more convincing explanation. Facing this question, we are confronted to this day with the most central issues of the Christian worldview and theology

His work is too detailed to offer an adequate summary. He begins by diagramming beliefs about the after life in all the cultures that begat the hotbed of first century Palestine. This begins with Greek, Roman, and other pagan ideas, ending with a survey of NT Gospel, and early 1st - 3rd century writers. Wright gives careful consideration to non cannon works and gnostic literature. His survey is almost too much for an average reader to bear.

However, just when you are about to become overwhelmed, Wright begins his analysis and exegesis, both are rewarding and fascinating. He ties the entire survey together along with his two earlier books in the series. At the end you find yourself, not relieved to have finished the 800 page book, but want it to continue for another 8,000.

The author makes the convincing argument that without the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus, Christianity as we know it would not exist.
Wright makes it very clear that resurrection is an actual physical existence or a coming back to earth in a body after your life after death or "life after life after death". It is not a soul or ether ascending to Heaven nor is it a resuscitation of a corpse. It is a complete transformation into an incorruptible physical existence as explained by the Apostle Paul. Christianity is true to its Jewish roots in believing in the physical resurrection which was a foreign idea to gentiles.
Wright talks about the earliest ideas of resurrection developed in Daniel 12:12 and Ezekiel 37 which became more personalized in 2 Maccabees in which martyrs or those suffering from injustice would be vindicated in the world to come by obtaining a new physical but incorruptible life and inheriting a transformed earth.
The resurrection of Jesus was an unexpected event which could not be fully comprehended or explained by the gospel writers. This accounts for the lack of Biblical exegis or implications in the gospel accounts.
The resurrection of Jesus was seen as a renewal of God's covenant not only with Israel but with all of creation as well. It was a restoration of creation. The age to come had entered into the present age. Those belonging to this new covenant were living in the age to come (the Spirit) even though still stuck in the present corruptible age (the flesh) according to Paul. The "Spirit" allows believers to experience the resurrected life in the present life.
Paul's apostleship was never challenged by the other disciples because he had been a witness of the resurrected Jesus. This was a limited event which was witnessed by a limited number of people during a period of time after the crucifixion. Thus, it was not some visionary experience. Paul admits to being unprepared and unworthy of the event since he had not been one of Jesus' followers and had actually persecuted the movement.
One of the best points made in the book was that the doctrine of bodily resurrection was a revolutionary doctrine which led to the persecution of Christians. The idea of a kingdom on earth replacing all other kingdoms could not be tolerated by the Roman authorities. A religion which taught that the souls of the dead would go to some otherworldly place would never pose a threat to authority.
Other than its length and numerous redundancies, this book is definitely worth reading.

Wright traces the development of the Christian belief in resurrection by contrasting it with the prevailing notions of life after death in the Jewish and Greek cultural worlds. What emerges is clear: nothing quite like the resurrection stories in the Gospels was ever in view before the evangelists wrote them down. He argues cogently that the differences in the resurrection stories in the gospels, far from proving their lack of trustworthiness, point toward a sense of awe and wonder that everyone involved felt regarding Jesus' appearances. This should be expected when someone has an experience that is literally the first of its kind in human history.

As a methodological point, I especially appreciate Wright's assertion that history is not made up of repeatable events, but unrepeatable events, such as Caesar crossing the Rubicon. No one expects Julius to march on Rome again any time soon, but no one seriously doubts the he did just that. The same criteria should be extended to the resurrection of Jesus.

I also enjoyed his point that dead people stayed dead in the ancient world just as in the modern (or is it post-modern?) one. Modern NT scholarship often assumes no one who lived in the first century knew anything at all about the world or how it operates, and therefore their understanding of the world needs correction through the lenses of the enlightenment.

As always, Wright writes with an almost devotional warmth and never slides into the dreaded trap of speaking theologese, though it's clear that he could if he so chose.

This work is likely to offend fundamentalists and liberals alike, which is always refreshing. Buy this book. You may hate it or it may change your life, but Wright's work is worth your money.

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