What then did the earliest Christians mean when they said that Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead?
They cannot have meant that, though his body remained in a tomb, his spirit or soul was now safe in the hands of God, perhaps even given a place of honor. That was a perfectly reasonable Jewish thing to think about someone now dead, particularly a great leader or teacher, particularly one who had died a cruel death. There was normal Jewish language to express such a belief. If that had been what Jesus’ first believed about him, Jesus would have been on a par, in their eyes, with the Maccabean martyrs of the prophets of old.
Resurrection implies at the very least a coming back to something that had been forfeited, that is, bodily life. In the well-developed Jewish language for describing the continuing nonphysical existence of someone who…
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