Sunday, April 16, 2006

Rising to the Occasion--- Easter Reflections

The word Easter comes to us from the word eastern and easterly—as in the direction the western worshipper should be facing when he thinks of the source of his redemption in Jerusalem. It has been said that Christians are by nature an Easter people, and certainly in all generations of the church belief in the bodily resurrection of Christ has been the sine qua non of Christian faith--- the most essential belief of all without which a person is not a confessing Christian.
As far back as we can go chronologically in the NT, to the earliest Aramaic fragments found in Paul’s earliest letters, there is clear evidence that Jesus was worshipped after Easter, but not really in any full sense before then. Indeed, Jesus was prayed to in Aramaic not long after his ascension—as we can see from 1 Cor. 16.22b-- the famous maranatha prayer--- “Come o Lord”. Now a monotheistic Jew only prayed to God. He or she certainly did not pray to some dead rabbi to come back. But here is a tiny window into the prayer life of those Jerusalem Jewish followers of Jesus who are urging Jesus to return as promised. What was it that led to this remarkable change in their piety from before and after Easter. How had James, a non- follower of Jesus, become one of the three great leaders of the Jerusalem church, one prepared to pray this prayer? The answer is found only a chapter earlier in 1 Corinthians---“then he appeared to James” (1 Cor. 15.7). It is the resurrection which produced worship of and confession of Jesus as the risen Lord.

Now it is notable that the text does not say of any of those who saw Jesus after he was dead—“he was seen by…” The Greek verb here does not focus on subjective sight, nor does it encourage us to think in terms of a vision. Indeed, it focuses on the initiative of the one making these appearances--- Jesus himself. This is about Jesus appearing, not merely about disciples thinking they saw him. The language is clear here. And notice as well from 1 Cor. 15 that he appeared to many different groups and individuals in different places at different times, in some cases to those who had not been Jesus’ followers before (e.g. James and Paul), in some cases to those who had. There is even the insistence here of an appearance to 500 persons at once. Whatever else one can say, the variety of these appearances in a variety of locales and the fact that the appearances happened to both disciples and non-disciples of Jesus rules out the mass delusion or hysteria theory.

And notice that there is no suggestion at all in 1 Cor. 15 that any one saw the event of the resurrection, except perhaps the angels! No, they are claiming to have seen the results of the resurrection of Jesus—the appearances of the risen Lord. We do have a later apocryphal account in the Gospel of Peter of what Jesus’ resurrection looked like when he came out of the tomb, but this is just later amplification of the tradition. Our NY is notably reserved on this topic. Perhaps it occurred to them that an empty tomb and a risen Jesus was not enough to change the lives of those who had seen the crucifixion. There had to be appearances. And in a heavily patriarchal culture no one would make up the notion that Jesus appeared first to women like Mary Magdalene. That story in John 20 is too improbable not to be true! You don’t make up a first appearance of the risen Jesus to a Galilean peasant woman who was formerly demon possessed--- not if you want to start an evangelistic religion.

Some of my favorite Easter celebrations occur in strange places. Everyone should have the privilege of going to Athens at Easter and celebrating with the orthodox as they march through town in the darkness before down singing and shouting ‘Christos anesti’ Christ is risen. Or you should show up at O dark 40 on Easter morning in Winston Salem N.C. in the Moravian Graveyard next to Salem college where the Moravian band will be playing and marching through the graves singing Easter hymns like ‘Christ the Lord is Risen Today” ( a good Charles Wesley hymn). The Salvation Army has got nothing on these tuba and other horn players. Or you should have been with me in County Durham when I was preaching at a small pit head chapel (a chapel built near the mines as Methodists were the ones who evangelized these folks in the 18th century). I got to the chapel before the service on Easter Sunday and the chapel steward raced out and said “ I’m ever so sorry but I must ask you something first”. I said “Shoot”. He said, “Nothing so drastic as shooting.” I said “Go ahead”. He asked with a worried look on his face “You do believe in the resurrection don’t you?” I said, “Oh yes, that’s what Easter is all about.” “I’m ever so relieved he said, the chap we had last year didn’t and preached on some nonsense about the beautiful spring flowers.” Not me brother-- Jesus did not rise from the dead as part of the rites of spring. His resurrection was a supernatural miracle, and as Peter was to say in Acts 2--- the bars of death could not hold him. God’s yes to life was and is louder than death’s no. And anyway Jesus didn’t merely give the resurrection, he said “I am the resurrection”.
There are oh so many Easter stories. Like the lady in 1992 whose house received a letter from the welfare department in Greenville S.C. which said “ We have been notified that you are deceased and so we are canceling your food stamps. If your circumstances should change please let us know and we will begin sending you the stamps once more.” Were they looking for resurrection? George Caird was a fine NT scholar at Oxford, and I had been accepted to do my doctoral work with him. I decided however that I would do better to study with C.K. Barrett at Durham. As things turned out it is a good thing that I did. Caird had the ultimate exit. He died a few years thereafter on Easter Sunday morning--- apparently in church!

I thought I would leave you with my favorite Easter poem from none other than John Updike, perhaps our most celebrated American novelist of this era. You can find this poem in the volume I did with Christopher Armitage entitled The Poetry of Piety.


SEVEN STANZAS AT EASTER

Make no mistake: if he rose at all
It was as His body;
If the cell’s dissolution did not reverse, the molecule reknit,
The amino acids rekindle,
The Church will fall.

It was not as the flowers,
Each soft spring recurrent;
It was not as His Spirit in the mouths and fuddled eyes of the
Eleven apostles;
It was as His flesh; ours.

The same hinged thumbs and toes
The same valved heart
That—pierced—died, withered, paused, and then regathered
Out of enduring Might
New strength to enclose.

Let us not mock God with metaphor,
Analogy, sidestepping, transcendence,
Making of the event a parable, a sign painted in the faded
Credulity of earlier ages:
Let us walk through the door.

The stone is rolled back, not papier-mache,
Not a stone in a story,
But the vast rock of materiality that in the slow grinding of
Time will eclipse for each of us
The wide light of day.

And if we have an angel at the tomb,
Make it a real angel,
Weighty with Max Planck’s quanta, vivid with hair, opaque in
The dawn light, robed in real linen
Spun on a definite loom.

Let us not seek to make it less monstrous,
For our own convenience, our own sense of beauty,
Lest, awakened in one unthinkable hour, we are embarrassed
By the miracle,
And crushed by remonstrance.


Happy Easter everyone……. :)

35 comments:

Rainsborough said...

Asked his own opinion, would not Paul have said he was a Jewish monotheist? One who believed all things are from (ek) and directed to/for (eis) one God the Father, and all things are through (dia) the "one Lord Jesus Christ." (I Cor. 8:6)
It's remarkable that within days of the crucifixion, Jesus's followers were seized by the conviction he had risen and would soon return, bringing in train what they now conceived as his kingdom. But it doesn't follow that within a generation they had devised a high christology that would have passed muster at Nicea.

Steve T said...

rainsborough -

High Christology runs through the New Testament writings. It may not have all the precision of the philosophical and theological terms employed at Nicea, but Jesus' divinity is certainly there nontheless - it is particularly evident in the context of the verse you cited. Or perhaps I've misunderstood your point...?

Rainsborough said...

Well, one point is that Paul thought himself to be a Jewish monotheist. Another is that from/to v. (merely) through might not have met with approval at Nicea. Another is that the role of Jesus was eschatological, and the Last Things brought by the Parousia were coming soon.
But I agree that the makings of high Christology are there, and remarkably early.

Ben Witherington said...

In addition there is this--- 1 Cor. 8.6 is a Christological modification of the Shema--- "Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One" only Paul is prepared to predicate half the Shema of Jesus who is the Lord in the reconfigured formula. This is surely already an including Christ in the Godhead in some sense.

I quite agree that the Nicean formula is a later refinement of things, but still and all, the divinity of Christ is not hard to find even in the chronological earliest documents in the NT--- including for example at Phil. 2.5-11. Most scholars think that Paul is quoting early Christian hymns in a text like Phil. 2.5-11, which is to say, this is not an idea Paul has made up--- rather it is one he shares with other early followers of Jesus. We must then speak of a very early Christological reformulation of monotheism, and as Richard Bauckham has pointed out--- this was by no means unthinkable for an early Jew. There was a debate about what 'one' meant in the OT formula about the oneness of God--- did it mean one person, did it mean a unified being of many different facets and expressions, and so on.

Blessings,

Ben

Traditionalist1611 said...

I talked to somebody in my neighborhood about Easter yesterday. He refused to call it easter and called it resurrection Sunday. He said Easter was rooted in paganism and that the dying of eggs was a pagan tradition about fertility cults or something and that some even tied the resurrection of Jesus to the spring because it symbolized the new life of plants that cames with Spring. He said that they follow instead more closely the Jewish calander of holidays because it is closer to historical and theological truth. Is this true?

Ben Witherington said...

Well, like so many half truths, it has a ring to it. The term Easter has nothing whatsoever to do with pagan rites, though the hunting of eggs or preoccupation with bunnies does have connections with fertility. We are already on the Jewish calendar when it comes to Easter, since it is connected with Passover of course--- Jesus died at Passover time in 30 A.D. Your friend needs to be a little better informed about such matters.

Blessings,

Ben

Rainsborough said...

Suppose Easter was celebratory of the beginning of spring, the renewal of life, and --dare we say it--fertility. Would that be a bad thing? Does Christianity wish to deplore spring? Cannot the Resurrection of our Lord be green?

Ben Witherington said...

I have nothing against spring. Indeed I love it. Spring in N.C. with the azaleas, dogwoods, etc. blooming is the best. And indeed creation theology, and indeed the fertility of God's creatures including humans, is a good thing as well. It simply has nothing to do with Easter-- which is a celebration of a miraculous event in the life of a human being which changed the world.

History, not the annual crop cycle or the goodness of nature renewed is being celebrated at Easter. When we want to celebration human fertility ands the like we do it on mother's day or father's day-- both of which are also remembered in the church calendar.

Easter however deserves its own day and celebration.

Ben

Rainsborough said...

I doubt (as I begin) if we have a serious disagreement. I certainly didn't mean to deny that Jesus's Resurrection lies at heart of what Easter means and is its sine qua non. I only meant to add that it seems to be no accident its celebration comes in early spring, at a time of life renewed, and that that timing seems to suit well the central meaning of the holiday. Similarly, fertility and the begetting of new life don't seem disconsonant with the conquest of death. If Christians took on a little pagan freight at times, still it might have considerable value and needn't be thrown overboard.
I suppose that infant baptism contravenes the understandings of the early church and might even be said to undermine Jesus's and Paul's conception of the practice. Certainly it takes the focus off the baptized and shifts it to responsible adults. But commitment to rearing a child in the faith surely is worth fostering, and surely there's nothing wrong with the hopes that a new life arouse in us.
If baptism can be so transformed and still retain considerable value (albeit of a different sort), why cannot Easter preserve its central meaning and yet add more? Surely Jesus's resurrection is rightly described as a renewal of life. Why need that description be confined strictly to the tomb and its environs? Why cannot its meaning be properly extended (so long as believers remain mindful of the centrality of the resurrection itself) to the entire value of life in all its myriad ramifications? Jesus's Abba showed concern even for the sparrows. If in Christ all are made alive, can it be a mistake at Easter to celebrate life as the gateway to most or all of what we cherish? Christ conquered death. So what? The answer must lie in what life has to offer, and all or very much of that is worthy of celebration. Why not at
Easter, when it was safeguarded even against the power of death?
I see now how one might conceive of Resurrection not as a renewal of life as we know it but instead as the entry to the next life, another life, a life of an order transcendent and vastly superior to the life we know. As Paul says, the Resurrection body is qualitatively different from the body we know, a Spiritual body.
But my fear of death and the grief I have known have been of the loss of life as I have known it, nothing more and nothing less. And I wouldn't think there could be any greater crime than to destroy this life we know (for all its limitations) for the sake of some life in another world.
As I end, I'm not so sure we don't have a serious disagreement, though not quite the one I thought we didn't have as I began.

Ben Witherington said...

Rainsborough:

I think we shall save the discussion of infant baptism for another time. There is certainly evidence in the NT of the baptism of whole households, and it is doubtful none of them included infants.

But on the more fundamental point, I hear very much your heart cry in regard to grief and the goodness of this life and not wanting to lose it. Here is where I say that Christ's history is our destiny. By this I mean that the central focus of the NT, in so far as the afterlife is concerned, is not on dying and going to another world called heaven, though clearly that is in the NT ("to be absent from the body and be present with the Lord"--- 2 Cor .5). The focus of the NT, is the future resurrection of believers in this world to a life form like Christ experienced on Easter. This is why in 1 Cor. 15 Paul talks about Christ being the first fruits of the resurrection. One could also compare Rev. 21-22 which speaks of our final destination being down here after heaven comes down and transforms the material earth, and us as well at the second coming.

As for the 'spiritual body' phrase in 1 Cor. 15, this is not a reference to a body made out of spirit. The phrase means a body suffused with or totally empowered by the Holy Spirit. It will be a real physical body used in this world--- but it will be one that is immune to disease, decay, and death. One that is powerful and glorious rather than weak and vulnerable. This is the real Christian hope we celebrate at Easter--- that we shall be conformed to the image of the risen Christ (see my "Jesus,Paul and the End of the World").

Blessings,

Ben W.

Billy V said...

It is great to see such an accomplished scholar affirm his faith so ably.

Rainsborough said...

This world, shorn of of its pain and infirmities.

A consummation devoutly to be wished.

Now if it is life in all its pleasing ramifications towards which the Resurrection points, why cannot Christians incorporate in their celebration of Easter an appropriately decentered appreciation of, say, the splendor of the reoccurent rhododendron on Roan Mountain.

More generally, beat the pagans at their own game (so long as it isn't against the rules of one's own). Don't, for God's sake, let them have spring.

Ben Witherington said...

I am with you Rainsborough--- and in fact that is why the church from time to time has incorporated some of the best insights from sources outside the Christian fold. Me personally, I am looking forward to spending time at Wiseman's View overlooking Linville Gorge in the Blue Ridge mountains of N.C. when the Kingdom comes on earth.

Blessings,

Ben

Traditionalist1611 said...

Ben,about your last statment to Rainsboro there, are you expecting the end-times to be in our generation, in your own lifetime? For thirty years I have been wathcing and waiting, the signs today seem clearer than ever. I know that one one knows the day or hour, but reading Jesus' signs in the gospels, Paul's words to Timothy about the last days and reading Revelation makes it all seem like things are winding down fast.

Ben Witherington said...

Well I am always hopefully about the Lord's return--- I think we are to live as the church expectant.

But no, I don't see any particular signs that we are close to the end. For one thing we've got hundreds of language groups to which the Gospel has never been preached (see Mk. 13). But I would be happy to be wrong. I don't really think we can tell from mundane earthly events when Jesus will return-- it will be at an unexpected time and like a thief in the night. It will however be accompanied by cosmic signs-- to judge from Mk. 13.

Blessings,

Ben

Traditionalist1611 said...

But what about everything going on in the holy land, God's timeclock? What about the dry bones coming back together (Israel), the explosion of knowlege in the last century prophezied by Daniel? Increase in wars, earthquakes, sinfulness, false doctrine, rise of false doctrine even in the church, more disease, and so on? What about the plans currently in action in Israel to build a third temple or the rise of the EU (ten toes reforming). It's hard to deny all those signs!

lingamish said...

Ben wrote: Our NY is notably reserved on this topic.

Did you mean NT?

During our Easter service, I was startled by Thomas' words in John 20:28: "My Lord and my God." Is there any other declaration so explicit that the disciples considered Jesus to be God in the flesh? So for that reason, I think rainsborough's comment above could be disputed that the generation after Christ's resurrection didn't have a high christology.

Ben Witherington said...

Traditionalist: Almost everything you mention have been part and parcel of every single Christian century. I know nothing at all about plans in Israel to build a third temple, but I would be surprised if it was ever even attempted. Most Jews are opposed to it in Israel. The establishing of a Zionist socialist state in Israel in the late 40s fulfills no prophecy in Scripture. Ask the orthodox Jews, they will tell you that Israel's secular government has never been Biblical Israel. And in any case, those prophecies are either already fulfilled, or are fulfilled in the body of Christ which is Jew and Gentile united in Christ, or will be fulfilled when Christ returns to rule on the earth as Romans 9-11 makes perfectly clear and then "all Israel will be saved". There was really nothing about the 20th century specifically referred to in Daniel. That would be a misreading of the very generic nature of apocalyptic prophecy. I would suggest you read the chapters in my The Problem with Evangelical Theology in Dispensationalism. This is a modern theology cooked up in the 19th century. Its not something the church every believed before folks like Darby, Moodym and Scofield came along.

And as for the comment on John 20--- you are quite right about that remark, but then Rom. 9.5 where Jesus is called God is at least 35 or more years earlier than John 20 so far as to where the document itself dates.

Blessings,

Ben

Traditionalist1611 said...

How can you call Israel socialist? They are the freest country in the region! I hope you should know that the comments "Zionist socialist state" is the same kind of comments coming from anti-Semites. I don't think you want to be in their company. Also, if Israel wasn't a fulfillment of Bible prophecy what do you do about the valley of dry bones from Ezekiel and the fig tree of the new testament?

Ben Witherington said...

Traditionalist:

If you will go and study the origins of Zionist Israel you will discover that Ben-Gurion. Golda Meier etc. were socialists, who founded kibbutzim or communes where Jews would live and work together for the common good. Israel has indeed evolved into a modern secular democracy with lots of splinter parties, though of course it didn't allow about 35% of its adult population to vote--- namely Palestinians, both Christians and Jews. Not very democratic.

The dry bones prophecy has to do with the revival of the nation Israel after exile in Babylon, which certainly does not apply to 1948.

The fig tree prophecy of Jesus in Mk.13.28-40 refers to events which transpired within a Biblical generation (40 years) of Jesus' prophecy. And the proper translation is "Even so when you see these things, you will know that IT is near" by which is meant the end of the 40 year period when the Herodian temple would be destroyed. It has nothing to do with late 20th century events.

Blessings,

Ben

Ben Witherington said...

Traditionalist:

If you will go and study the origins of Zionist Israel you will discover that Ben-Gurion. Golda Meier etc. were socialists, who founded kibbutzim or communes where Jews would live and work together for the common good. Israel has indeed evolved into a modern secular democracy with lots of splinter parties, though of course it didn't allow about 35% of its adult population to vote--- namely Palestinians, both Christians and Moslems. Not very democratic.

The dry bones prophecy has to do with the revival of the nation Israel after exile in Babylon, which certainly does not apply to 1948.

The fig tree prophecy of Jesus in Mk.13.28-40 refers to events which transpired within a Biblical generation (40 years) of Jesus' prophecy. And the proper translation is "Even so when you see these things, you will know that IT is near" by which is meant the end of the 40 year period when the Herodian temple would be destroyed. It has nothing to do with late 20th century events.

Blessings,

Ben

Socrates13 said...

Dr. Witherington, I appreciate your post. However, your comment about 'the Kingdom coming to Earth,' well I must disagree about that comment. Hasn't the Kingdom already come? I believe Jesus said the "Kingdom is among you" didn't he?
I tend to agree with Preterists that the Kingdom came in its fullness in AD 70 when the old order of Temple was finally destroyed. That would explain who the generation was who would live to see Jesus return.

Your blog is a joy to read.
Regards, Socrates13

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Socrates: You seem to be forgetting all the passages where the kingdom is viewed as future and connected to the final state of affairs including the final resurrection. Whenever we hear about entering, inheriting or obtaining the Dominion it is still yet to come. The real problem is realizing that Baseleia refers to the divine saving activity when we are talking about its already dimension. In other words it refers to a condition of change in the present, but it refers to a locale in the future. This is why we still pray "thy kingdom come" in the Lord's prayer.

Blessings,

Ben

Traditionalist1611 said...

But Ben, you are a scholar, you should know that prophecy can have near and distant fulfillments. That's the case with old testament scriptures that applied to the jew's' immediate future and to Jesus. So why can't it be the case with other prophecy too? Take for example the valley of dry bones. it might have had some relevance to the Jews during the exile time, but what best fulfills that prophecy, that stuff, or the Jews coming from AROUND THE WORLD to establish a Jewish state for the first time in 1500 years!!!

Ben Witherington said...

Traditionalist:

The major problem with your view of prophecy is that you seem to assume that after Jesus has come there will be any prophecy fulfilled outside the context of Jesus' actions. This however is not really true.

All the NT writers are perfectly clear that the promises and prophecies of God are yes and amen in Jesus. All such prophecies are either fulfilled in Jesus, in his followers, or by Jesus when he returns, and not elsewhere.

Promises made to Jews are not fulfilled outside the context of Jesus or his the one people of God--- Jew and Gentile united in Christ. This is clearly what Rom. 11 says when it tells us that non-Christian Jews have temporarily been broken off from the one people of God until the full number of Gentiles is grafted in. Once that happens the Redeemer (i.e. Jesus) will return from heavenly Zion and only then will "all Israel be saved". They will not be saved outside the context of faith in Jesus Christ--- their own messiah.

There are not two second comings, one invisible one visible, any more than there are two peoples of God at the present each of which should expect prophecy fulfilled in and for them. This is simply not what either Jesus or Paul taught.

You are right that sometimes there is preliminary fulfillment of some prophecies, and a fuller completion of the same in the eschatological age, however we are already in the eschatological age ever since Jesus came, died, and rose. In the eschatological age we do not look for two stage fulfillments of prophecy--- there is no further age yet to come.

Hope this helps.

Blessings,

Ben

lingamish said...

Ben, you have been named "Baloney Buster of the Week" at 5slicesofbaloney.blogspot.com for your posts on the Gospel of Judas. You can find more information at that blog. Thanks, Lingamish.

Ben Witherington said...

Thanks for the heads up--- I am honored to be the first Baloney Buster. I've never been all that partial to baloney, and while we are at it--- who really knows what is in baloney.

Ben

lingamish said...

And a still more disturbing question: What is bologna?

Ben Witherington said...

Well that I can answer--- Bologna is of course a place in Italy, famous for its cured meats. Have you noticed how most of our generic meats are named after European cities--- Frankfurter frfom Frankfurt, Hamburger from Hamburger?

... and that's the meat of this argument :)

Ben

Traditionalist1611 said...

Ok, since you don't believe in the rapture, do you seem to not believe in the coming tribulation, rise of the antichrist, and the rest, do you believe there are ANY more prophetic signs other than the second coming itself?

Also, where does it say that all prophecy is fulfilled directly through Christ?

JD Walters said...

Mr Witherington,

I thoroughly enjoyed your review of James Tabor's new book, I learned so much from it as you methodically dismantled all his argments. The only point that did trouble me somewhat was the reference to the Talpiot tomb ossuaries with the cluster of familiar Bible names: Jesus son of Joseph, two Marys, Matthew and Jude son of Jesus. James Tabor seems to think that this "is" the family tomb of Jesus and a lot of his first paragraph reads like a "chiller" in which he's trying to build an atmosphere of electrifying portent. Of course if an ossuary were found and it could be proven that it contained the bones or bone fragments of Yeshua of Nazareth then the faith would be in ruins. That is the risk that all Christians live with. However, it seems to me that Tabor seriously overstates his case here and the idea that the Talpiot tomb might be the family tomb of the Jesus dynasty seems riddled with holes. First, as is rightly noted in Tabor's book, all the above names were exceedingly common in 1st century Palestine. Second, the ossuary of "James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus" was not found in the tomb that Tabor mentions but it seems he likes to imagine that it was originally from there. Furthermore, if this were Jesus' family tomb doesn't that disprove Tabor's hypothesis that Jesus' father may have been 'Pantera'? He contradicts himself here. There is no mention in the New Testament or anywhere else that Jesus was married (except in the paltry fragment from the Gnostic Gospel of Philip) or had a son, as even John Crossan admits is very likely. If so then the ossuary saying "Jude son of Jesus" in all probability does not refer to Jesus of Nazareth. The brothers of Jesus according to the Gospels were James, Joseph, Simon and Judas, again very common names but at least they are explicitly referred to as Jesus' brothers. The Talpiot tomb does have an ossuary with the name Joseph but not any of the other brothers. Further, what does Matthew have to do with any of this? There is no mention of any filial relation between Jesus and a Matthew (unless by spectacular conjecture you identify the Matthias in the first chapter of Acts as Jesus' brother, not attested to anywhere else in the NT), so the presence of an ossuary labeled Matthew would seem to imply that this is not Jesus' family at all, given the absence of ossuaries for his other brothers and the fact that Jesus most likely did not have a son. The very fact that these are ossuaries suggests that they carried the bones of family members after they had been interred for a year in a loculus. This does not match the NT evidence, not seriously disputed by most scholars, that Jesus was placed specially in the new tomb of Joseph of Arimathea and after three days the body was missing. Now Tabor assumes that Jesus' body was only placed in Joseph's tomb temporarily and that the reason for the women's surprise was that the body had been removed to be taken to its proper burial place. Now of course nobody can prove that that didn't happen but barring significant evidence to the contrary we cannot assume that this happened. Finally if this is Jesus' family tomb then why is there no mention of the widespread practice of caring for and revering the tomb of martyrs and other holy men so common in the First Century. Things would be different (and of course there would be no resurrection account) if Jesus died and was buried like any other holy man and there was a significant historical record of devotion at a tomb in a location known and revered by all early Christians. But of course this is not the case. Do you have any comments to make on all this, Dr Witherington? It would seem that in the Talpiot tomb case all we have are very interesting coincidences of names, but maybe not so interesting given the commonality of all these names. Is there any reason to conclude other than that this is the tomb of a fairly ordinary family that lived in Jerusalem about the same time as Jesus? Once again thank you for your review and your other inspiring books.

JD Walters said...

Actually, re-reading the portion of the book about the Talpiot tomb online Tabor actually hedges his bets with regard to the tombs. At first he suggests that "there is also reliable circumstantial evidence [the James Ossuary] was looted from our Tomb of the Shroud either when it was first robbed in 1998, or perhaps just before we discovered it looted a second time in June 2000". The Tomb of the Shroud did not contain anything like an ossuary with Jesus son of Joseph inscribed, however, only one with the name Miriam or Mary and another which is possibly Salome, impossibly vague when it comes to trying to pinpoint a specific family. The shroud remains which were found indicate a man who had died of tuberculosis and was from an aristocratic background. That is almost certainly not the family of Jesus. But Tabor goes on to wonder whether the James Ossuary belongs to the Talpiot tomb with the much more interesting cluster of names. So which was Jesus' family tomb, the Tomb of the Shroud or the Talpiot tomb? Neither of them are very likely candidates for the Jesus family tomb, even if it could be proven that the James Ossuary was from one of them. Another point is that in all the Gospel accounts the women go to the tomb very early on the first day of the week after the sabbath. Now if Jesus' body was removed before then someone violated the sabbath, certainly not anyone who cared enough about Jesus' body to want to give it a proper burial. If there was a Roman guard present as Matthew suggests then nobody could have removed the body for proper burial anyway. The evidence just doesn't add up. We are left with the spectacular mystery of the empty tomb, the 'silence and fear' of the women, the subsequent appearances by the risen Lord, and the explosive faith of the first followers (including James, the Lord's brother) proclaiming the resurrection.

Terry Hamblin said...

A famous question in medical student examinations asks about the Baloney amptutaion.

"Who was Baloney?" asks the examiner.

The too-clever-by-half med student replies,"Not a person, sir, it refers to the Italian city of Bologna, famous for its University and early medical school."

"Idiot!" exclaims the professor, "It's spelt b-e-l-o-w k-n-e-e."

Incidentally, I agree that dispensationalism is a frightening and and perverse path. I suspect that America's mistakes in the Middle East can in part be attributed to a false belief that the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 presaged the Lord's return. And I say that even though JN Darby is buried here in Bournemouth.

Ben Witherington said...

First to Mr. Walters, thank you for all this. You have pointed out some additional flies in Tabor's ointment when it comes to the Talpiot tomb. It simply will not do to suggest the James ossuary came from that tomb. We have evidence of this ossuary being seen in an antiquities shop in Jerusalem a very long time ago. As you said the names in question are common, and here's another interesting point. The Aramaic spelling of Jame's name is very rare on the James ossuary and the Talpiot ossuaries do not follow suit.

As for my friend Traditionalist, I do indeed believe there will be a time of distress or tribulation before the return of Christ, and also cosmic signs when he comes. This seems clear enough from the book of Revelation. I also think its perfectly clear from Rev. 12 that the image of the church there, the woman who flees into the wilderness and is protected from old dragon breath (aka Satan), is John's explanation of the condition of the people of God on earth during that time--- under duress but protected from destruction by God. This comports nicely with Jesus' promise to Peter that the Gates of Sheol (i.e. death) would not prevail against his community. The entire book of Revelation is a call to Christians to be prepared to suffer and become martyrs--- this is why we have the central image of the slain lamb for Christ. He is the paradigm. There is no reason to think that God will exempt the last generation of Christians before the parousia from suffering, since he has not exempted any other generation from it. Thus the saints must always pray come quickly Lord Jesus.

Asa for your hermeneutical question look at 2 Cor. 1.20--- all the promises of God are yes and amen in Christ Jesus. Look at Hebrews 1.1-4. Jesus is the heir of all things, all the promises all the prophecies etc.

If you read my Revelation commentary you will discover that I think the early Christian readers of that book were right--- it does indeed refer to a millenium. They were called 'chiliasts' for their belief in a 1,000 year reign on the earth. Today we would call them non-Dispensational premillenialists. This was the only form of premillenialism in the church before about 1820 (see my The Problem with Evangelical Theology).

Blessings,

Ben

Lance E.L. Ouellette said...

Dr. Witherington,

I am using your "The Poetry of Piety" in my devotional time and a comment about Vaughan's "The Waterfall" raised a question in my mind. This was the only topic which I could find in your Blog which this book was referenced, so I apologize for bringing up an old topic (though in this season of Thanksgiving I appreciated the Easter reading!).

On p. 68 you state ". . . the Bible emphasizes that we are dust and that we return to dust unless given the special gift of eternal life." I agree with the criticism of Platonic thought and that eternal life is a special gift, but I wanted to get your clarification about the "return to dust" comment. I agree on the physical side that we will return to dust (though I would point out that even if we are saved, our bodies decompose), but I can't help but interpret that you are talking about the spiritual level. Are you saying that those who do not receive the gift of eternal life will simply cease to exist, that there is no hell or eternal punishment for unsaved humanity?

What did God mean when he promised Adam that he would surely die? Apparently He meant more than just in the physical sense, for Adam did continue to live physically for some number of years. At the point of his physical death did he just cease to exist, or does his soul "live on" in some other realm? If so, is this "to dust you will return" applicable to the point you were making?

If your answer is that in your view there is no "hell," then I would appreciate understanding your anthropology, i.e. does humanity consist of an immortal (I am using this term to express: having a beginning, but not an end, not to be confused with "eternal" which only the uncreated Triune God is) soul? If so, what happens to it upon physical death? If not, then are the unsaved nothing more than other animal life?

If your answer is "yes, there is a hell and/or eternal punishment" then what were you really trying to state with the above quote?

Hope all is well in D.C. with the conference.

Blessings,
lance