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152[HJMatMeth] Re: Psychological Origins Of The Resurrection Myth

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  • John Dominic Crossan
    Feb 29, 2000
      Re: [HJMatMeth] Re: Psychological Origins Of The Resurrection Myth That was a short post, Jack, with a very big question and my reply will have to be rather lengthy. For clarity, I will outline by points. But, lest we get lost in here, those questions posed in  (5) below are where the cutting-edge is for me at the moment.
      1.  I myself distinguish between visions/apparitions and hallucinations. I think of visions/apparitions and dreams as altered states of consciousness, as absolutely natural and normal, as hard-wired possibilities within our brain. I distinguish visions/apparitions or dreams from hallucinations as follows: It is a question of whether you are aware or not afterwards about what you have experienced. If I have an awful dream in which a giant creature attacks me and I wake up screaming, that is a dream. If I call 911 and insist to the officers that such a creature was in the house, and if the next day I sue ADT for inadequate security systems, etc., etc., that is an hallucination. Similarly, with a vision. If I know afterwards that I have had a vision, that is normal. If I insist, for example, that my beloved dead person is roving the streets disguised as other people, I am moving into hallucination.
      2.  If all the gospels ended with the crucifixion and there were nothing that could be read as visions/apparitions, I would still presume that many of Jesus' closest followers would have had visions/apparitions of that beloved person who had died suddenly, tragically, and brutally.
      3.  My point has always been that those stories in the last chapters of our canonical gospels are not, and never were, descriptions of visions/apparitions (I leave Paul aside as a separate case). The Emmaus story, for example, was never, ever, intended to recount a vision/apparition. It was intended to say, in a superbly brief parable, that all the scripture study in the world will not make Jesus present, it will only warm your heart (which is not nothing, by the way). Jesus only becomes present if and when you invite the stranger in to share a meal which belongs to God. In that story, for example, the invitation is crucial.
      4.  To get to the heart of the matter. Even if everything in our present gospels were taken literally and all of those events were considered visions/apparitions, they would not necessarily indicate "resurrection" in 1st century terms. That brings me to the questions we now have to ask.
      5.  These are the core historical questions which should be answerable by any competent 1st century historian, by Jewish or Christian ones alike, and by areligious historians as long as they are actually neutral. First, as the major or dominant question, this:  What did the term "resurrection" mean as used by 1st century Jews (whether they affirmed or denied it is a secondary question)? What, in other words, would "resurrection" have meant if the historical Jesus and earliest Christianity had never existed? Second, as the subordinate or derivative question, this: How did those earliest Christian Jews specify that general understanding in applying it to Jesus? (By specify, I mean this, for example: there was a general and very diffused messianic expectation among 1st century Jews; the Essene Jews specified it as the single coming of a double messiah, the Christian Jews specified it as the double coming of a single messiah. Those specifications were equally valid for some, equally invalid for others, and equally possible for historians.)  
      I think those are the core questions we must now face, and we must bracket, until after we have answered them, whether we believe or do not believe in any answers we give to them. In other words, even if you do not agree with my answers, I would ask you to consider what are your own answers (as an historian) to those historical questions. I am not, I repeat, for the moment, asking for a theological answer to a question of faith. Here are my own answers to those questions. That is, here is where I am at the moment. Three negative and a positive.
      6.  Resurrection did not mean resuscitation. It was, as I mentioned in BofC 549, very easy until modern times for somebody to be considered dead only later to be resuscitated (the term "resurrected" might be used in such a case, but it is not the correct term). The insistence in early Christian texts of "after three days" or "on the third day" intends to deny resuscitation by insisting that Jesus was actually, factually, dead (recall the wait in the Lazarus story).
      7.  Resurrection is not apparition. The ancient world knew all about visions and apparitions and even about such events as revelations from God, but they would not have used the precise term resurrection for such events.
      8.  Resurrection is not exaltation. It was utterly possible to imagine Jesus, because of his unique relationship with God (however that is understood) to have been taken up to God like Elijah. In fact, that pre-Pauline hymn in Phil. 2:6-11 was probably about exaltation and not resurrection (in its pre-Pauline usage).
      9.  Turning from those three negatives to the positive. In terms of 1st century Jews, resurrection was part and parcel of apocalyptic consummation whereby the justice of God was publicly and cosmically vindicated before the world. Resurrection was important in the establishment of such a divine Eutopia (allow my word) because the just who had been oppressed and the martyrs who had been tortured and killed must be openly vindicated in their bodies on this transformed earth. Resurrection, in other words, was about the justice of God and not the survival of me. Put another way, resurrection stands or falls within apocalyptic consummation and the evidence that those early Christians who insisted on the resurrection of Jesus never withdrew that claim or softened it in any way can only mean that those same Christians considered the apocalyptic consummation to have been established. If we think not, that may be our problem and indicate our misunderstanding of what they were saying.
      10.  As we move more closely into the Christian specifications of that general apocalyptic and/or resurrection expectation, there are two rather startling differences. One stream of tradition claims that Jesus descended into Sheol/Hades/Hell and broke out at the head of "them that sleep," that is the just and especially the martyrs of Jewish tradition. You will find that magnificently proclaimed in the Odes of Solomon, graphically portrayed in the Gospel of Peter, tritely and residually present in Matt 27:52-53, and forgetfully present in the Christian  creedal declaration, "he descended into hell. That is an intensely Jewish stream of tradition that insists on a corporate resurrection or, better, that the only type of resurrection which confirms the justice of God is not just one for Jesus alone, but one for him and all those other Jews who died for God before him.
      11.  The other stream of tradition is the one we know so well from Paul and I would like to underline that it is different from that former one (I said different, not wrong). It claims that Jesus is "the first fruits of them that sleep," (we still have that technical terms: the sleepers), that Jesus alone arose from the dead as the beginning of the general resurrection, and that the rest of the general resurrection (the ending of an apocalyptic consummation already begun) is imminent. That is quite different from the former specification of general Jewish resurrection/apocalyptic expectation, but it is, in itself, no more right nor wrong than it. I admit, however, that I get very nervous when I read I Thess and find Paul talking about the rest who will arise later as being Christians. Does Paul consider that the oppressed just and martyred saints, who died before Jesus, have risen with Jesus or what? Where are they in Paul's imagination?
      12. That seems a good number to end on. In order to hold together those answers to my two historical questions AND the history of earliest Christianity which, despite what we might consider to be the failure of apocalyptic expectation, kept insisting that it was present and kept especially insisting on the resurrection of Jesus being valid and basic to faith, I can only make the following conclusion. What they experienced was more and more pagans, that is followers of Caesar, becoming converts to a Jesus who had been crucified by Caesar. It was in that experience that they found the justice of God being vindicated not on the side of the crucifiers, but on the side of the crucified.
      From: Jack Kilmon <jkilmon@...>
      To: hjmaterialsmethodolgy@...
      Subject: [HJMatMeth] Re: Psychological Origins Of The Resurrection Myth
      Date: Mon, Feb 28, 2000, 11:25 AM


      "Rev. Jack A. Kent" wrote:
      Crossan then argues that since Mary Magdalene and the disciples did not
      fall into a trance then the appearances of Jesus were all fiction. I
      disagree with Crossan on this point. I think that every post
      crucifiction appearance to Mary Magdalene and the disciples can be
      easily explained by what happens to people in serious grief. Mary
      Magdalene and the disciples had very normal grief.

      In preparation for this forum I went back and re-read the works of Strauss and others from the
      "first quest" period of the 19th century in order to get an idea of how far we had come or what
      was new about the current quest for which, I think it accurate to say, Dom is the "point man."

      One area that appears to be new is the willingness to give some historical credence to some
      of the miracle stories.  This had previously been a problem with me in HJ research since,
      even as a youngster, I reasoned that if a pitchman like Oral Roberts could pull it off, certainly
      Jesus could have.

      This brings us to the ultimate "miracle" that is the underpinning of Christianity and without which
      we would not be studying the HJ at all....the "resurrection."

      Like everyone else I have heard every explanation for why the post-passion family, friends
      and associates of Jesus may have had spiritual "hallucinations" of him following his death.

      I wonder, therefore, if the next step may be (ruling out the absurdities of funny mushrooms
      and alien intervention) to consider reasonable explanations for the HJ to have survived the
      crucifixion and that he did actually make appearances afterward...but not immediately
      afterward.  Is there some serious school of thought in that direction?



      taybutheh d'maran yeshua masheecha am kulkon

      Jack Kilmon


      sharing a meal for free.

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