I also love Wright’s take on Paul (e.g. from “Fresh Perspective”). So much more reasonable and appealing than the domesticated institutional Paul of the Church.
After I read Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God, I was utterly convinced that he demolished all arguments against the historicity of Christ’s bodily resurrection. Since that time, however, I have come across and been deeply troubled by a proposal that Wright did not consider. The art historian Thomas de Wesselow argues, in his recent book The Sign, that the Shroud of Turin is in fact authentic, although the image was formed by natural means, and that to the disciples the image would have appeared to offer a ‘window’ onto Christ’s glorified/resurrected body in heaven. Thus, he argues, the evident objectivity of the resurrection-event can be explained. The key piece of evidence to refute this would of course be explicit early testimony to the empty tomb, but I have so far found Wright’s arguments for this specifically less than convincing. I’m curious if anyone here has encountered this argument–it seemed to go largely unnoticed by the world of Biblical scholarship. It is rather distressing, to say the least, to have one’s faith shaken at this most joyful time!
I haven’t read the book you mention, but it sounds like a leveraged argument to me. I doubt the apostles could have developed such an ethereal conception of Christ’s glorified body based on a stained burial shroud. Not to mention the explosiveness of the early Christian movement as it cut across all social and national boundaries. Who knows, maybe the shroud is authentic – but good grief, there is a lot of downright weird phenomena that cannot be directly explained by that, no matter how many contemporary pseudepigraphal and extra-canonical sources one cites. The book probably went unnoticed by the world of biblical scholarship for a reason.
I suggest reading (or perhaps rereading) Richard Bauckham’s essay “God Crucified.” He has also written some on the gospels as eyewitness accounts, I believe. Good arguments worth considering.
Oh, deus meus. I’m sorry, but after reading this interview with de Wesselow (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/9162459/Mystery-solved-Turin-Shroud-linked-to-Resurrection-of-Christ.html) I cannot take the argument seriously.
An undergraduate with one year of Greek could refute his assertion about how Second Temple Jews understood resurrection, particularly with reference to 1 Corinthians 15. Like I said, read Bauckham. He builds a strong case on 2nd temple readings of Old Testament texts and he is an actual NT scholar; not some dilettante making presumptuous claims about early Jewish literature.
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Hi, Morgan. There was a time when I tried to keep up on Shroud research, but that was many years ago. I remember being quite disappointed when the carbon-dating results were announced, and am gratified to learned that scientists now believe that the original carbon-dating was flawed.
I have not read Wesselow’s book. It sounds like a provocative thesis, but to be convincing he needs to prove the strong probability of his key assertions. Has he done that?
1) You state that Wesselow accepts that the shroud is authentic. When you say authentic, does this mean that he believes that it was in fact the burial cloth of Jesus? I too am strongly inclined to accept the Shroud as the shroud of Jesus, but I don’t know if this can be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt.
2) Wesselow believes that the image of the Shroud was created by natural means, but by what natural, ordinary means? You are no doubt aware of the STURP findings, as well as subsequent research. As far as I know, scientists have still not been able to offer a compelling natural explanation for the image. It’s scorch-like, but definitely not created by heat; and the image is restricted to the topmost fibers. Do we have any other ancient burial cloths that bear similar images? Nor have scientists been able to reproduce an analogous image that contains three dimensional information.
3) What evidence does he present to prove that the Shroud itself was the catalyst for belief in the resurrection? Certainly the earliest literary documents do not provide any such evidence. Quite the contrary. These documents testify that the catalyst was the mysterious appearances of Jesus to his disciples. According to the Gospel of John, Peter notes the linen cloths, but no particular significance is attached to them. Indeed, even if the disciples had carefully examined the burial shroud, what would they have seen? The image is only clearly visible in black-and-white negative.
4) How did the Shroud become separated from the corpse? Did thieves steal the body, leaving the linen cloths and empty tomb behind, subsequently to be discovered by the disciples? If so, how do we explain the fact that the blood clots on the cloth are not broken or smeared?
So it seems to me that all Wesselow has offered is a conjecture for which there is, at the present time, very little direct support.
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I would suggest that Wright’s discussion in the The Resurrection of the Son of God does more or less seem to answer this particularly in relation to the discussion concerning various 1st century BC/AD peoples of the Mediterranean beliefs about the afterlife, the landscape of the worldview, concepts, language, praxis and meanings, and in particularly that that existed among Jewish people specifically.
In particularly this would be worth re-reading his discussion on their understanding of both resurrection and how everyone (from all the evidence we have to us) understood it and agreed on it’s meaning at this time (whether they affirmed it, as some Jews did, or denied it as possible at all as everyone else did) to mean physical, bodily resurrection. It had, according to Wright’s research and argument, no other meaning or understanding, taking about a non-physical resurrection would have no meaning to the people of the time, and would a confusion of terms and a category mistake, would you would be talking about would be a gloried spirit state, which would precisely simply be a pious way, very much so in Jewish culture of the time, of saying the person was dead. To repeat one of Wright’s oft quoted phrases, to be resurrected is life after life after death, ie to be taken out through and beyond death to renewed physical, bodily life, the idea had no other meaning, anything else was simply to describe death (and so would neither give rise to the idea that Jesus had been resurrected, nor that the resurrection of the dead which the disciples then declared, had began, nor would anyone else have ever accepted such a suggestion, they would be declaring Jesus was dead, to resurrected, and everything would stop right there).
To have (remembering that among Jews of the time, if the resurrection was to happen it was envisioned the great resurrection at the end of time, which not all accepted and some outright denied along with the rest of antiquity) believed Jesus was raised from the dead, he would have to seem to have been raised from the dead. That would require an empty grave and physical appearances to give rise to this unique belief, that is the from according to Wright that makes the proclamation, stories, praxis, Paul’s writings and the unique shape of 1st century Christianity and the events around Jesus’ life and the birth of the Christian movement historically plausible. Simply seeing an image of the shroud, however impressive would not have, in the world of 1st Jewish Judea, or the wider 1st century world, it’s worldview, context and landscape of meaning and understanding in which the disciples existed, moved and had their being 😉 , would this give birth to this idea, nor would the movement take of with a body still in the grave. They would, as with other martyrs in recent Jewish tradition, assume perhaps that Jesus had been taken up and rested glorified in Paradise awaiting the resurrection of the dead to come, that perhaps this confirmed he was a holy man despite his failure and death, and a prophet like John, someone who’s grave could be honoured.
But he would remain precisely dead, not resurrected, and would not be the Messiah, since it’s the resurrection was seen by them, by Paul, as overturning the verdict of the Sanhedrin and his apparent failure (as yet another among so many kingdom of God movements that Rome in and crushed in hideous ruthlessness, and yet another would be Messiah who was crucified and humiliated and dead). And to them and everyone it would be confirmed that he precisely was dead and was not the Messiah, just another failed and dead Jewish revolutionary, who had failed the Jewish people, just another tragedy in a land and people filled with them, crushed under the cruel occupation of the Romans. And it would be clear that the kingdom of God Jesus had proclaimed had not come, he would be manifestly wrong, and it would have made no sense in context for them to reach this conclusion, nor would anyone had believed the nonsense of such a proclamation (which hinged around the resurrection and that it had began to indicate that it had happened but unlike anything anyone had expected). Either the disciples would have fled, kept their heads down and hoped no one would come for them, with maybe a few brave souls (probably the women, with some of the men later perhaps) attending the grave and perhaps venerating it as the site of a holy man and martyrs grave, or they would have moved on to another candidate for Messiah to continue the movement and their hopes where Jesus had seemed to fail (as in other Messianic and kingdom of God movements in this period) with James being the obvious candidate given his reputation as a righteous and holy Jewish man both within and without the early Christian movement. Yet this never happened nor is their any indication of it, but all evidence is of precisely the opposite.
To finish, I would believe Wright does answer this, simply put the grave being empty and found so is a seemingly irreducible historical datum that is required to make any sense of the evidence in context, along with the appearances, without both the sudden declaring of the Christian movement, the sudden change and shape of their beliefs both in general and telescoped in say Paul from his own letters specifically, doesn’t make sense. And an appearance of the image on the shroud, just like any other assertion to the idea they somehow were meaning a non-physical resurrection is just unhistorical in this time period and would have been nonsense, such would only lead them to believe that Jesus was among the righteous dead awaiting resurrection, that they knew well and had plenty of words and conceptual categories in 1st century Judaism to talk after spirits/souls and dead awaiting resurrection. This is what would be believed naturally to be the case, they had sense evidence of Jesus’ glorification as a holy one of God awaiting resurrection, that he was dead exactly, not alive and certainly not resurrected (and this even with appearances). Unless their are both an empty grave and appearances there is no way Wright asserts to understand how the Christian movement emerged and took the shape it did.
Agreed, there is zero NT evidence that the 1st century Jews, or even St. Paul, maintained a doctrine of resurrection that was somehow bodiless or non-physical. 1 Corinthians’s psychikos (soulish-animated) and pnevmatikos (spiritual) distinction simply plays off of a parallel which Paul builds through that entire epistle, using it elsewhere to refer to those who have been illumined by the gospel versus those who have not. We have no right to assume that Paul considered the pnevmatikoi suddenly to have shed their bodies upon believing! To say “it is sown a psychikon body, it is raised a pnevmatikon body” is simply to say (and he refers to Genesis here, too) “it is sown according to the old Adam, it is raised according to the new Adam.” Jews associated the soul with the life of the animate body, and the spirit with an life-giving force such as breath – not some immaterial ghosty flitting about in an aerial ascent as the gnostics maintained.
Thanks! I’ll definitely have to check Bauckham out!
“God Crucified” is among his best essays. It deals not with the historicity of the resurrection per se but, I think, effectively proves that belief in Jesus Christ’s divinity was not a late development. I think early the Jewish Christian conception of Christ’s divinity and the early Jewish understanding of resurrection, however, most likely go hand in hand. To argue it was determined ex post facto on the basis of some stained burial garment is simply and utterly bizarre. Not to mention the tenuity of basic historical-critical premises which that thesis presupposes (e.g. why cannot the gospels themselves be early witness to an empty tomb? what about the fact that probabilities multiply and so confute our assumption as to what is “most likely”? etc.)
And it came to pass, that, while they communed together and reasoned, the linen itself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were holden that they should not know it. And the cloth said unto them, What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another, as ye walk, and are sad?
And one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto it, Art thou only a strange fabric in Jerusalem, and has not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?
After eight days again his disciples were within, and Thomas with them: then came the Shroud, the doors being shut, and levitated in the midst, and said, “Peace be unto you.” Then saith it to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”
And Thomas answered and said unto it, “I can’t quite see where your hands and side are. This will all be much clearer once photographic negatives become available.”
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