Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Durham Days

From 1977-80 my wife and I lived in Durham and our daughter Christy was born here. It is nice to be back in beautiful Durham (google Durham Cathedral and oggle the pictures). I have had a glorious day with members of the Divinity Department (Loren Stukenbroeck, John Barclay) and spent some good time with my former mentor C.K. Barrett and his wonderful wife Margaret. Kingsley is now almost 90 but his mind is still quite keen, and he still loves to teach the Greek NT. My visit with him was followed by dinner with my good friends Bishop Tom Wright and his wife Maggie. It has all too seldom been noticed in the U.S. that the epicenter of excellent, and I might add mostly orthodox NT scholarship has been Durham England (not somewhere in the U.S.) for the last 150 years--- the following names should be very familiar to those who read NT literature--- B.F. Westcott, J.B. Lightfoot, Alfred Plummer, C.K. Barrett, C.E.B. Cranfield, James Dunn, and now John Barclay and Tom Wright. To this we could add other Durhamites like Morna Hooker, John Painter, and last but not least yours truly. There is hardly any place better on earth to study the NT than here, in the shadow of the world famous Norman Cathedral. But that is not all for you see Durham has been a living center of Christianity since the time of the Venerable Bede, who single-handedly helped save the church from the Dark Ages and wrote one of the first full commentaries on James and Jude. It is a rich heritage, and a tough one to live up to.

When I went into the Bishop Aukland palace where Tom Wright lives I was stunned by all the pictures of the great scholars and bishops who passed through here going all the way back to St. Cuthbert. Equally impressive were the huge number of bookshelves in this palace. You see Durham bred scholarly bishops like Lightfoot and now Wright. They believed in a learned clergy, not just learned scholars. I do as well. Clergy should be the Bible experts for their people. But there is another wonderful dimension to Durham as well--- it is a center for Wesleyan studies as well as it is a Methodist stronghold.

It is a blessing to be back in Durham, one of my spiritual homes.


Tenax said...


for me, jealous isn't the word.

Enjoy the gifts you are being given; I can tell from your post you do.


byron smith said...

What is it about Durham that has led to their esteem for scholarly bishops?

Allan R. Bevere said...


Your comments take me back to my days in Durham. What a blessing it was for me to study there. I hope to return again to that beautiful old city filled with the echoes of centuries of scholarship.

Glen Alan Woods said...

Dr. Witherington,

I am curious. Did you know Dr. Anthony Cassurella? He was a graduate of Asbury and Durham. He studied under C.K. Barrett for his PhD. He was also my mentor at Western Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon when I did my MA in NT studies in 93-96. Through him, I had a second generation influence from C.K. Barrett, for which I am very grateful.


Glen Woods

Ben Witherington said...

To Byron--- the answer is that the legacy of Bede here in Durham, a legacy of enlightenment and Christian scholarship even in dark days is part of the answer. In the 19th century this University was really turned into a place which could build on the huge libraries left by the monks and bishops through the ages, and with Westcott and Lightfoot this place was established as the bastion of Evangelical Anglicanism. There could hardly be a more appropriate place for Wright to be bishop.

To Allan--- well Allan I was so glad that you decided to go to Durham. Now we need to convince you to apply for the NT post at Asbury so you can help us with our new PhD program at Asbury :)

To Glenn yes I did know Tony, who was one of the ones who nominated me to be a member of the SNTS in 1988. Barrett's former students are something of a club or fraternity. We pretty much all know each other.



Terry Hamblin said...

And yet, Durham was the see of David Jenkins, famous for his description of the resurrection as a 'conjuring trick with bones'.

Ben Witherington said...

Indeed--- and some would say that Jenkins stupid remark led to the lightning strike on the cathedral--- however it was the cathedral just down the road, Yorkminster. I think God has better aim than that.

Anglicanism is in a better place today than in Jenkins day.


Marc Axelrod said...

I'll check the pics out. What a blessing it is to go home after doing all that globetrotting. I can sense and appreciate how much you love Durham and what a blessing it was to see Dr. Barrett and Dr. Wright again.

I'm in John Woodbridge's class today - at TEDS Revival History in America - great class.

bradandgeo said...

and how about a shout out for the OT studies going on at Durham? Walter Moberly and others are doing some fine stuff...

PamBG said...

David Jenkins claims that he said that the resurrection was much more than a conjuring trick with bones. The Guardian newspaper states that its recording archives substantiate Jenkins' claim.


Ben Witherington said...

huzzah for Prof. Moberley--- may his prose always be mobile and moving. But seriously, there are some serious scholars here in Bible and Theology. It is quite the think tank.


Ben Witherington said...

Well David Jenkins in my memory is perfectly capable of revisionist history. Thanks for the link Pam,


Terry Hamblin said...

As I remember, York Minster was where David Jenkins was initiated into the bishopric. And he certainly did not believe in a bodily resurrection. To imagine that the resurrection means more if it didn't actually happen hardly accords with St Paul's opinion

I wrote an ironic poem about the occasion:

York Minster

Would you really
Rain fire down merely
Because of doubting?
Really flame those windows out
Fusing fine and thrilling lines
Of laid up treasure?
Derive pleasure from unmaking?
Want us quaking,
Knees shaking,
Slaking the pride of God the vandal;
Who wreaks havoc and upheaval
On one small, self-seeking scandal?

No, God is love and meekness, kindness;
Shows complete, benevolent blindness
To our foibles.
Long suffering, He forgives, forebears,
Does not notice when we err.
Forty-winks at deviation,
Falling short or reprobation.
Wouldn’t make a fuss
About us. Fear not,
Gomorrah will be here tomorrow.
Sodom is safe.

Sandalstraps said...

While the meaning of the resurrection of Jesus is found in part in literal history (that is, it means a great deal more if it happened in fact than if it happened only in myth), it does have a mythical meaning which speaks to us even more if we resist the temptation to say that the resurrection is meaningful only because it happened in some historical point in the past.

The mythological meaning of the resurrection allows each of us to participate in it, rather than to just speak of it as an event that happened at some point in history.

I can't pretend to know what David Jenkins said or meant, but I can say that something like what he claims to have said, regardless of what he said or meant, is very powerful.

I have no reason to doubt that anyone here has correctly represented his public statements. But, I do think that those of us who believe in a literal resurrection can learn a great deal from those who do not treat the resurrection as a merely historical event.

The resurrection, in other words, is not just something which happened to a single person at a single point in history. It is instead something which transcends literally history, allowing each of us to, through grace, connect ourselves to it and be transformed by it. When we spend all or most of our time arguing for the resurrection as a historical event we can deprive it of its mythic meaning, and its ability to speak beyond history.

If, in other words, Christ alone was raised from dead at only a single point in history, then that does nothing for me. It is just something that happened once. But when it becomes more than a historical event, an event which serves as an intersection between myth and history, then it becomes the event of my salvation, and your salvation, and the salvation of the whole world. When we spend all of our energy trying to prove that it happened without exploring the mythos behind it, then we deprive it of its rich meaning.

I am not saying that anyone here is doing that. But when that happens there is a need to say things like "the resurrection was much more than a conjuring trick with bones," or, even better, "the resurrection is much more than a conjuring trick with bones."

Ben Witherington said...

Sandalstraps--- Just because something is supra-historical or goes beyond historical particularity does not make it mythical in any of the modern senses of myth. If you are using the term mythos in its ancient sense, a 'tale about the gods' well fine. This could be history or fiction but then the term is not to be set over against history but can include history.


PamBG said...

I can't pretend to know what David Jenkins said

I'm not either. I'm just trying to figure out why The Guardian, which is notoriously anti-religion, would say that they have an audio-tape with him saying "much more than" if it was factually untrue. But maybe The Guardian is lying about the audio-tape, who knows?

or meant

Perhaps it is the meaning that we are talking about here, which is a somewhat different thing.

I'm with sandalstraps and I was reading the word "myth" in his/her post in the theological sense rather than in the sense of "factually untrue". I believe in a bodily resurrection, but along the lines of Paul's discussion in 1 Corinthians 15, not as a resuscitation of a dead body. At a popular level, this idea seems to be beyond the Protestant orthodox pale.

Sandalstraps said...

Dr. Witherington,

I am, in fact, using mythos in the ancient sense, as I hope was clear from my comment. Sorry if my failure to explicitly say so confused anyone.

Sandalstraps said...

I should add that the ancient meaning of myth is a bit richer than "a tale of the gods." A myth is a story which provides meaning and a sense of identity, and mythos involves the shared identity which comes from common myths.

Take the resurrection as part of the Christian mythos - we are resurrection people; people who share the story of Jesus' resurrection and who are identified by that resurrection and our participation in it.

Being resurrection people means that we believe not just in a literal resurrection, but also in a spiritual resurrection, the transformation of a life which was once dead in sin but is now alive again in Christ. This is, as C.S. Lewis (among many, many others) recognized, myth. Not myth in the sense of a lie, but myth in the sense of a story which comes to define the people of that story.

The modern definition of myth is far, far too limiting, and reflects a misunderstanding of ancient literature, a misunderstand which I had hoped that Dr. Witherington would appreciate. Just because Western academia has tried to redefine myth does not mean that we must just sit back and watch the word myth be stripped of all its power. And just because evangelical Christianity has too often bought into the truth-value claims of modernity does not mean that we must simply allow Christianity to be robbed of its powerfully mythic character.

As I alluded to in my earlier comment, people like David Jenkins (and, again, I don't know Jenkins or his work) - if his quote is reasonably accurate, are stepping into a void left by a version of Christianity far too interested in literal-historical truth-value and as such have lost the richness of meaning in the Christian life.

If, as I've already said, the resurrection of Jesus is simply a historical event, something which happened to a single person at a single point in history, then it is robbed of all power in my life. If, instead, it is a point at which myth and history intersect, then I am connected to the story, and it becomes my story, informing my life and making me part of the resurrection community.

Weltanschauung said...
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Terry Hamblin said...

I Corinthians 15:13-14 in literal Greek translation: Now if a resurrection of dead persons there is not, neither Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, empty then the procalamation of us, empty also the faith of you.

There is certainly a misunderstanding about the meaning of the word myth. The resurrection of Jesus means more than just the raising of one man. We are not saved by the raising of Lazarus or of Jairus'daughter or the widow of Nain's son nor of the man who fell upon Elisha's bones. But if Christ be not risen we are still in our sins.

It is not the mythological content of the resurrection that saves us - the theme was a common one in ancient religions. It is the actuality of the historical event. It is not just a pretty story; it actually happened. Fine to explore the resonances and the transendence of the event, but if it didn't really happen, then we are of all men most miserable.

If the gospel is not grounded in historical truth then it is a pretty lie told to children.

PamBG said...

Is sandalstraps really saying that the resurrection isn't historical? He may be, but I know I'm not. But here is where the phrase "much more than a conjuring trick with bones" resonates for me.

I think that the belief of the average person on the street (note, I'm not talking about theologians here) about Christian salvation is that when a person who is "saved" dies, his or her spirit goes to heaven to be with God. The importance of the resurrection is simply to prove that Jesus was God. It's an even bigger "Ah hah!, I told you so!" than Jesus' miracles. The ultimate "ah hah!", if you will.

As I studied and learnt more about the bible - and certainly people like NT Wright were extremely important in my formation - I came to understand that the biblical vision is one of a Kingdom of God, a New Creation that is physical and tangible. I learnt that the Hebrews and the Jewish people did not have any concept of a body and soul that were separate and that the vision of the Kingdom was not a spiritual place but a spiritual-physical place.

For me, this means that Jesus' death, resurrection and ascension weren't just magic tricks - conjuring tricks - to prove his power, but events which affected the entire cosmos. One of my favourite theologians actually sees these events as part of creation.

For forty years I attended churches from mainstream traditions that believed the bible is verbally-inspired, inerrant and infallible. No-one ever talked about the resurrection in the terms I've outlined above. It was always presented to me as a resuscitation of Jesus' dead body. The importance of the resurrection seemed to be the importance of believing in God's "supernatural" powers. In my conversations on the internet, it is this belief in God's "supernatural" abilities that conservative Christians seem to see as a mark of true faith.

I realise that this is not what conservative theologians believe. However, I do think that church leaders and teachers are failing the people in the pews when they emphasise the importance of supernatural events and don't educate people in the importance and meaning if The Kingdom of God and of New Creation.

Sorry if this was a semi-rant, but I do have some sympathy with what I think Jenkins might have been trying to achieve, even if one has doubts about him being "too liberal".

Terry Hamblin said...


You are absolutely right in linking the resurrection to creation. There are several points to draw from the resurrection. First, that the Sacrifice was complete. Had Jesus stayed dead we would never have known that more was not needed. Second, that Jesus is alive and still reigns. Third, that our resurrection will be a bodily one, not just our spirits going home to God. Fourth, that Jesus's resurrection body was a new creation - able to appear and disappear at will, able to enter locked rooms, yet touchable and able to cook breakfast. Fifth, that although we know not what our resurrection bodies will be like, we know that they will be like Him.

I don't think you need to stray beyond the plain teaching of Scripture to appreciate that the significance of the resurrection is far beyond any old resuscitation. But David Jenkin's reference to conjuring tricks gives credence to the idea that there was subterfuge involved in the actual resurrection -= an allegation ably dealt with many years ago in Frank Morrison's "Who moved the stone?"

Sandalstraps said...

I'm decidedly not saying that the resurrection was historical, which I hope was made clear by my oft-repeated phrase "intersection between myth and history." With that phrase I am following not only more liberal thinkers such as Marcus Borg, but even and especially C.S. Lewis, who noted the connections between Christianity and certain ancient myths. For Lewis, the life of Jesus and his [Lewis, not Jesus] version of the claims of Christianity were where myth met history.

I am however, saying that some people who do in fact deny the historisity of the bodily resurrection of Jesus offer a very important criticism of certain aspects of evangelical Christianity. It is a criticism that we can learn from. Once again, I do not know anything about David Jenkins save what has been written here, but if his point was anything like one of the ways in which it has been represented here (the resurrection as more than a conjuring trick with bones) then it can be a point well taken, even if he does not believe in a literal resurrection.

People do not attack orthodox beliefs because they irrationally hate God or because they desire to do evil or because they have made a pact with the devil. They attack orthodox beliefs because those beliefs or the way in which those beliefs have been used no longer work for them. Even if we disagree with the beliefs of our critics, we can still approach them honestly, and here their concerns pastorally. And I think that the concern of people like Jenkins (if his position has been represented accurately) is a good one: that we are too concerned with literal-historical truth value and not nearly concerned enough about meaning.

The resurrection of Jesus has always been best demonstrated by the redemptive power of God's grace in the lives of those who have been reborn in Christ. While I'm sure that some form of apologetic is necessary to render our faith as intellectually defensible, we have spent far too much time and energy on that end and far too little time and energy exploring what it means to be a people resurrected with Christ.

We can say over and over again that if Christ was not literally raised there is no hope, and we can even be right about it, but the fact remains that there is hope. We experience that hope daily. And, while that may not answer every skeptic's concern about the possibility of a literal resurrection, it is that hope which is the concern of most people who darken the doors of our church. So when someone says that the resurrection of our Lord is more than just a conjuring trick with bones, we can and should say "AMEN!" It is our hope and our salvation. It is our story and our song. It is our redemption and our deliverance. It is much more than just something which happened to a single person at a single point in time. It happens daily. It happens to me, it happens to you, and it happens to us. It happens in this place, this church.

We spend too much time dividing the world into those with us and those against us, as though we had nothing to learn from people who have rejected our way of being religious. We may or may not share with David Jenkins a belief in a literal-historical resurrection, but we can share with him a pastoral concern which is tied to that resurrection. And, we can also leave his beliefs between him and God, where they belong, understanding that when we have to go before God with our own beliefs, they are going to look similarly silly in face of the divine reality.

PamBG said...
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PamBG said...

[previous post deleted for reasons of grammar and syntax]

sandalstraps, thanks for clarifying your position. Other than my disagreement with you on the historicity of the resurrection, I think I agree with just about everything else you've said (and, by the way, I read "intersection between myth and history" in the opposite way from which you seem to have intended it - so interpretation issues are always present!)

I cannot seem to find a reliable account or transcript of what Jenkins said. The consensus here seems to be that his claim of having said "more than a conjuring trick with bones" is his dissembling. As far as I can tell, sites on the web that I normally trust support Jenkins' own assertion. So I guess I have to leave the factual discussion there.

We spend too much time dividing the world into those with us and those against us.

This statement I totally agree with and that's my underlying unease about this whole discussion. I think that I should and will just bow out at this juncture.

Sandalstraps said...


My last comment should have started with a double negative. Oops, I just emphatically stated the opposite of my position.

It should have read:

I'm decidedly not saying that the resurrection was not historical, which I hope was made clear by my oft-repeated phrase "intersection between myth and history."

My bad. I guess I typed too fast.


You read me correctly before I clarrified myself. Your reading of me was, in other words, better than my reading of myself. Sorry about the confusion.

Steven Carr said...

I am lucky enough to live in Durham, so I can walk by the riverbank and see the cathedral and castle in the evening sun whenever I wish.

Doubly lucky, as I live in Carrville in Durham, which I like to think was named after me....

Steven Carr said...

David Jenkins said 'more than a conjuring trick with bones'.

Steven Carr said...

There is a famous question in Rabbinical literature

'An emperor said to Rabban Gamaliel: 'Ye maintain that the dead will revive; but they turn to dust, and can dust come to life?'

Such a question must also have occurred to the early converts to Jesus-worship ie the ones in Corinth who denied the resurrection of corpses, or the Jesus-worshippers in Thessalonica who worried that the dead were lost.

Or even the author of 1 Peter , who wrote in 1 Peter 1:24 'All flesh is grass'.

The question was :-
'An emperor said to Rabban Gamaliel: 'Ye maintain that the dead will revive; but they turn to dust, and can dust come to life?'

Paul, unwittingly, gives a superb answer to this question in 1 Corinthians 15:47-49 'The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.'

I think that if the rabbis had heard that, they would have stopped worrying how dust could be made alive again.

Steven Carr said...

Terry Hamblin wrote 'We are not saved by the raising of Lazarus or of Jairus'daughter or the widow of Nain's son nor of the man who fell upon Elisha's bones.'

Some early Christians felt Paul missed a trick in 1 Corinthians 15, by not pointing out the similarity of the resurrection of Jesus to that of the man who fell upon Elisha's bones.

They forged a letter called '3 Corinthians' which says :-

'And if, when a corpse was thrown by the children of Israel on the bones of the prophet Elisha, the man's body rose up, so you also who have been cast upon the body and bones and spirit of the Lord will rise up on that day with your flesh whole.'

I wonder why some early Christians felt the similarity between the two cases, and felt the need to make 'Paul' says 'with your flesh whole'.

Obviously, Paul had worded himself very clumsily wheh wrote 'the last Adam became a life-giving spirit', when he had meant to say the last Adam rose with his flesh whole.

But it is too late to change Paul's words.

All we can do is follow the example of NT Wright and add the word 'body' in brackets where Paul left it out, and write 'When the perishable [body] has been clothed with the imperishable [body]...'

Adding words to the text helps clarify what Paul said.

Peter Kirk said...

Steven, why do you think that Paul answered the question to Gamaliel "unwittingly"? Paul was of course Gamaliel's student, so if there is any historicity to the question (although I doubt if it really came from "an emperor" at that period) Paul would very likely have heard the question and attempted to answer it. Or maybe his answer is based on Gamaliel's. Yes, I know from your blog that the further conversation in the Rabbinical literature takes a different line. But was that where Paul split from Gamaliel? Sounds like an interesting question to investigate.

Steven Carr said...

'Steven, why do you think that Paul answered the question to Gamaliel "unwittingly"? '

Unwittingly, in the sense that the question is not in 1 Corinthians 15.

But he did give a good answer to the question of how dust can be reformed to make a resurrected body.

1 Corinthians 15
'The first man was of the dust of the earth, the second man from heaven. As was the earthly man, so are those who are of the earth; and as is the man from heaven, so also are those who are of heaven. 49 And just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the man from heaven.'

Dust won't be reformed to make resurrected bodies.

Steven Carr said...

Pam wrote 'I learnt that the Hebrews and the Jewish people did not have any concept of a body and soul that were separate and that the vision of the Kingdom was not a spiritual place but a spiritual-physical place.'

Does Wright really claim that Hebrews had no concept of a body and soul that were separate?

So when Moses appeared at the Transfiguration, what appeared? His body or his soul?

And if his body returned from the grave to walk the Earth again, did it die again?

All these questions are answered in Wright's huge book 'The Resurrection of the Son of God'.

All I need to do is be told on which page.