Tuesday, October 05, 2010

"The Trouble With Resurrection"

The following excerpts are from the recently released book "The Trouble With Resurrection: From Paul to the Fourth Gospel" by Bernard Brandon Scott, Darbeth Distinquished Professor of New Testament at Phillips Theological Seminary, and one of our keynote lecturers at Revival/Retreat 2010 Oct. 14-17 in Carrollton, TX at Horizon UU Church.

He talks about why resurrection is the wrong English word to describe what words the writers of the gospels, and Paul, meant when referring to the events following Jesus' crucifixion. At the end of the book he describes "four models" for how early believers referred to those events: "raised up" "he has been seen for" "taken up" and "exalted." Each of these has precedent in the Hebrew scriptures.

Where to start seems obvious, he says. First: Jesus was crucified by Rome. The second point is "more contentious and involves an inference". Second is: They did not know where the body was.

"A hypothesis. Before Jesus' crucifixion the group with him had experienced healings, exorcisms, common meals, parables and aphorisms, and the empire (kingdom) of God. Following Jesus' crucifixion they continued to experience healings, exorcisms, common meals, parables and aphorisms. But most important: they continued to experience the empire of God. Rome crucified the prophet of God's empire. She crushed him. Yet God's empire was still present, so God must have acted.

"The parables and aphorisms of Jesus do provide a ground for a conviction that God will act. The parables prepare their listeners for the empire of God as a re-imagined world...There is a double pivot. Rome crucified Jesus and the experience of the empire of God continues. Jesus then must be a prophet or a martyr whom Rome had killed like Antiochus Epiphanes had killed those Jews faithful to God's Torah. After Rome's apparent victory, when the group that had gathered around the parables and aphorisms, the healings and exorcisms, the common meals came together they discovered that the re-imagined world of the empire continued to exist. The empire of God was still present. To explain this, they turned to their tradition--to the stories of their ancestors....

"We need not imagine this happening all at once, on the third day, so to speak. Nor need we imagine it as unified. At different times and in different places it took place along different paths. It is a myth that all early followers of Jesus believed in the resurrection, that Jesus had been raised up. That is simply not the case. The Q-gospel makes that point. Very likely there is no oldest resurrection tradition, but a variety of traditions. They employed a variety of metaphors to explain their conviction that Rome had not triumphed; God had acted....(He then summarizes much of the book that looks at how this is drawn out of Paul, Peter, Mary.)

"Since the dramatic, big bang type stories are all later, post 85 CE, I am driven back to my original hypothesis. Rome crucified Jesus, and Jesus' group still continued to experience the empire of God...These stories make the same point. Jesus remains present in the community's activity. This is a part of the empire of God...To say that God raised Jesus from the dead, that he is at the right hand of the father, that he has been seen for, are all ways to confess that the empire of God proclaimed and present in Jesus' healings and exorcisms, parables and aphorisms, the meals shared together is still effective. It is also a profound political statement against the Roman empire and all imperial authority...

"I would argue that rebirth, new life, resurrection is a fundamental theme and need of human life and the effort to reclaim and restore it is worthwhile. On the one hand the experience that underlies resurrection is always trying to come to language, to find expression in words and story. On the other hand many of the metaphors in which this experience has been embedded are now dead or deadening."

He delves into how the immortality of the soul is not a concept in the Hebrew bible or a clear concept in the New Testament but is a later evolution of an idea applied to the stories of the Bible; how the resurrection of the dead is a "distinctly Jewish idea, distasteful to the Greeks." He says the coordinates for resurrection are these: 1. it is corporate, not personal; "resurrection is the restoration of creation to the state in which God intends it."; 2. Justice. God raises up the martyrs who were unjustly killed, and justice is not just for individual martyrs but for the whole people because of the first coordinate; 3. Scenario: the raising up of Jesus implies a story..the story imagines the way a world should be, can be; and 4. Not about Jesus but God. "the raising up is ultimately about God. God's justice is at stake, God's creation is at risk, God's action is celebrated."

He finishes with "three different ways of envisioning resurrection in our situation". One is Literal Resurrection. He uses the film Jesus of Montreal to illustrate this. The actor Daniel in the passion play in the film is almost "a literal version of Paul's body of Christ or even the eucharist. Daniel's organs give new sight, a new heart, to those who receive the transplants. Thus he lives on in these others. The second is Metaphorical Resurrection. He uses the film Stranger Than Fiction to illustrate this. The main character in the film hears the narration of a story in which he is the main character, one who in the story dies to save another but in the film does not die, who gets a new ending, one that "argues that resurrection is about everyday life, bout making the everyday a new life." The third is We Shall Overcome nd he uses the life and story of Martin Luther King Jr. to illustrate this sense of resurrection where "God did raise Martin Luther King from the dead. King's prophetic words and martyrdom helped raise up a nation to a new standard of God's justice, helped it live up to its creed....To listen to King's I Have A Dream Speech to hear that last triumphal shout, free at last free at last thank God Almighty we are free at last, is to be drawn into the kingdom of God, to be raised from the dead, if only for the moment. That is the transcendent moment."

"The trouble with resurrection is that we have literalized it, narrowed and restricted it, turned it into a creedal belief and in the process have forfeited its great claim and hope." ....

Hope you can come to Dallas on the evening of Oct. 15th to hear the lecture by Brandon Scott, and to the workshop on Oct. 16th he is leading during the UUCF Revival/Retreat 2010. More info and registration at www.uuchristian.org. It is not too late to plan to come be with others exploring "Rediscovering Jesus and Communities of Hope."


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