A Resurrection as Interpretation

To return to the starting point of this chapter: in what sense, if any, can we speak of the resurrection of Jesus as historical? In terms of the distinction made earlier be

Kerygma and the Historical Jesus', in C. E. Braaten and R. A. Harrisville, eds., The Historical Jesus and theKe^gmatic Christ [Nashville: Abingdon, 1964] 15-42 [here 42]). Schillebeeckx attempts to discern an 'Easter experience' of conversion, 'of grace as forgiveness', which was independent of and prior to the appearances and traditions of the empty tomb (Jesus 379-97). Carnley attempts a both-and: resurrection faith is based not only on 'a memory of the Jesus of the past', but also on 'a knowledge of the present Christ-Spirit' (Structure 298); see also his critique of Schillebeeckx (199-222).

225.1 echo, of course, two of the classic slogans from the quest, from the Liberal quest (§4.3) and from Bultmann (§5.4).

226. 'The resurrected Jesus is not simply Jesus resumed, as if his death/resurrection had been a mere interruption' (Keck, Who Is Jesus? 110).

tween event. data. and facts (§6.3b). the resurrection certainly cannot be numbered among the data which have come down to us. Nor can we speak of empty tomb and resurrection appearances as data. The data are reports of empty tomb and of seeings/visions of Jesus. If historical facts are interpretations of the data. then the historical facts in this case. properly speaking. are at best the fact of the empty tomb. and the fact that disciples saw Jesus. The conclusion. 'Jesus has been raised from the dead'. is further interpretation. an interpretation of interpreted data. an interpretation of the facts. The resurrection of Jesus. in other words. is at best a second order 'fact'. not a first order 'fact' — an interpretation of an interpretation.227

To put the same point in a slightly different way: part of the data is the interpretation of the first disciples that 'God has raised Jesus from the dead'. The data include the interpretation made by the disciples. For the twenty-first-century quester. the conclusion that 'God has raised Jesus from the dead'. as a conclusion of the quest. is a further act of interpretation — again an interpretation (evaluation) of the first-century interpretation. When we add the initial observation — that departure from this life (death) can indeed be described as a historical event. whereas entry on to some further existence can hardly be so described — it can be seen just how problematic it is to speak of the resurrection of Jesus as historical.228

A further aspect is that. as again we observed in the historical method inevitably works with some application of the principle of analogy. The resurrection of Jesus as 'understood' in the beginning. however. broke through the analogies given in the term itself — the analogy of waking or rising up from sleep. the analogy of resuscitation. that is. of reversal of death. Even as already used for the final resurrection. the claim that Jesus had been raised from the dead soon became a claim to something different. The resurrection of Jesus. in other words. did not permit itself to be explained in terms of current or previous analogies. On the contrary. the interpretation that God had raised Jesus from the dead became itself paradigmatic. that which defines rather than that which is defined.

227. Cf. Marxsen's repeated emphasis in 'Resurrection of Jesus'. that 'the resurrection of Jesus' is an 'interpretation'. I leave unresolved the issue whether the interpretation 'resurrection' would have emerged without the discovery that Jesus' tomb was empty. as the considerations marshalled above (§18.2) would seem to suggest (cf. my Jesus and the Spirit

But the possibility cannot be ruled out that the initial 'seeings' were of a sufficiently earthy (tangible?) type (§ 18.5c) as to evoke the same interpretation. Craig. however. in talking of 'the historicity or historical fact or event of the resurrection' does not give enough weight to the interpretative jump involved (Assessing passim).

228. Cf. Pannenberg's convoluted attempt to state in what sense the resurrection of Jesus can be designated as 'a historical event': it can be so designated in that 'the emergence of primitive Christianity. . . . traced back by Paul to appearances of the resurrected Jesus. can be under stood . . . only ... in the light of the eschatological hope for a resurrection from the dead' {Jesus

In interpreting what they saw as 'the resurrection of Jesus', the first disciples were affirming that what had happened to Jesus afforded an insight into reality which was determinative for how reality itself should be seen. As interpretation, the resurrection of Jesus constituted a perspective on reality which determined how reality itself was conceived. As weak parallels I might cite e = mc2 or the American Declaration of Independence, each of them a window through which physical reality itself and society itself are perceived. The most obvious strong parallel is creation. As belief that the cosmos is created determines how one perceives the cosmos and the place of the human species within it, so belief in the resurrection of Jesus determines how one perceives the significance of Jesus and the function of life and death.

In short, resurrection of Jesus is not so much a historical fact as a founda-tional fact or meta- fact,229 the interpretative insight into reality which enables discernment of the relative importance and unimportance of all other facts.

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