Why Not Stop Here

In Bach's B Minor Mass the solemn, slow-moving chorus is fol lowed at once by the joyous allegro, 'Et Resurrexit'. Which is what one might expect in Christian worship. But in a historical study of Jesus should we follow suit? After all, on pretty well any definition, 'resurrection' moves beyond history, at least in the sense of 'that which can be observed by historical method'.1 Death is, almost by definition, departure from the time-space continuum, the only arena in which any historical method can operate. No one regards post-mortem existence as a viable subject of historical study. So why not end the quest of the historical Jesus at his death? If 'the flight from history' (chapter 5) can be justified anywhere, it can surely be justified here.2 Many questers accept the logic and write accordingly, even if they add some reference to Christian belief in Jesus' resurrection as an epilogue.3

In this case, however, I will not follow that logic but will bring this volume to a close with a chapter on Jesus' resurrection. I do so for several reasons. First, in what is projected as a three-volume study of Christianity in the Making, it

The limitations of the historical method and the problems of speaking about the resurrection as a 'historical event' are familiar to students of the subject. The recent study by A. J. M. Wedderburn, Beyond Resurrection (London: SCM, 1999) is a model of scrupulous care in this respect (see here 9-19).

2. For a review and critique of Barth and Bultmann on the subject see Carnley, Structure 3, especially 127-30.

3. E.g., Sanders limits himself to a tantalising half-page in Jesus 320, but includes a five-page Epilogue in Historical Figure 276-80; Gnilka — 'Easter Epilogue' {Jesus 319-20); Becker adds only a brief consideration of how the Easter faith influenced the reception of the Jesus material (Jesus 361-64).

makes better sense to round off the first volume. on Jesus. with a treatment of what Christians have always (from the first) believed was the most remarkable thing about Jesus — his resurrection from the dead. That belief seems to have been not only fundamental for Christianity as far back as we can trace. but also presuppositional and foundational.4 Any claims to disentangle a Jesus movement or form of Christianity which did not celebrate Jesus' resurrection inevitably have to assume what they are trying to prove (petitio principii), since all the data available (including Q) were retained by churches which did celebrate his resurrection. As a historical statement we can say quite firmly: no Christianity without the resurrection of Jesus. As Jesus is the single great 'presupposition' of Christianity. so also is the resurrection of Jesus. To stop short of the resurrection would have been to stop short.

Second. the Gospels themselves obviously regarded the resurrection of Jesus as the climax of their accounts of the remembered Jesus. The story of Jesus would be incomplete without ■ including the story of his resurrection.6 Even Mark. who records no appearance of Jesus. clearly affirms the resurrection and points forward to such appearances (Mark 16.6-7).7 We should respect that perspective and be prepared to investigate what that conviction was based on.8 Of course the

4. 'God raised him from the dead' is probably the earliest distinctively Christian affirmation and confession. It is presupposed again and again in the earliest Christian writings (Rom. 4.24-25; 7.4; 8.11; 1 Cor. 6.14; 15.4,12, 20; 2 Cor. 4.14; Gal. 1.1; Col. 2.12; 1 Thes. 1.10; Eph. 1.20; 2 Tim. 2.8; Heb. 13.20; 1 Pet. 1.21; Acts 3.15; 4.10; 5.30; 10.40; 13.30. 37). It was the faith to which Paul was converted. probably within two to three years of Jesus' death (1 Cor. 15.3-8).

5. On Q see above. §7.4. J. S. Kloppenborg does not dispute the influence of 'Easter faith' on Q (' "Easter Faith" and the Sayings Gospel Q'. in R. Cameron. ed.. The Apocryphal Jesus and Christian Origins, Semeia 49 [1990] 71-99 [here 83]; for Q 'Jesus arose in his words' [92]). but still assumes. without sufficient warrant. that had the Easter 'events' been significant for the Q they would have been included within Q's 'narrative world'. But we will have to revisit the whole question in vol. 2.

6.1 use the last phrase 'the story of his resurrection' loosely. The story is of empty tomb and sightings of Jesus after his death; the nearest we have to a description of 'the resurrection' itself is the manifestly imaginative Gos. Pet. 10.39-42. So care has to be taken lest language used predispose the quester towards a particular reading of the data. We shall return to this issue in §18.5.

7. There is a very broad consensus that Mark's Gospel ended at 16.8 (textual data and evaluation in Metzger. Textual Commentary 122-26); the longer ending (16.9-20) shows knowledge of Luke 8.2; Luke 24.10/John 20.11-18; Luke 24.13-39 and episodes from Acts; it was probably added to Mark 16 to round off the Gospel more satisfactorily in the second century. On the possibility of a book ending with the conjunction gar ('for') see P. van der Horst. 'Can a Book End with gar? A Note on Mark xvi.8'. JTS 23 (1972) 121-24.

8. By the same logic we might have included discussion of Jesus' 'ascension' (Luke 24.51). But it is unclear how the concept 'ascension' relates to the concept 'resurrection' (cf.

Evangelists' inclusion of Jesus' resurrection as part of their accounts of Jesus' mission is a reminder to us that they viewed the whole life of Jesus in the light of that climax. But we have seen sufficient indication of the impact made by Jesus even before his death, so we can hardly avoid asking here too what it was that was being remembered.

Third, I have emphasized from the beginning that there can be no real hope, historically speaking, of getting back to an 'objective' Jesus (as though it was possible somehow to strip away the 'subjective' elements of the responses to him). All we have is the impact Jesus made on those who responded to him, the impact crystallized in the tradition — the remembered Jesus. To that extent, the final chapters of the Gospels are no different from the earlier chapters. They too embody the impact made by Jesus; 'resurrection' is the crystallization of that impact. As with the earlier chapters, we have to attempt to discern the outline of the impacting body from the impression left by the impact. It also follows that as with 'the historical Jesus' generally there is an unavoidable intangibility about that which made the impact. If we cannot grasp 'the Jesus' in our own hands, as it were, still less can we grasp the 'resurrection' of this Jesus. But the challenge in terms of discerning and analysing the beginning of the tradition process is essentially no different.9

Here as before we can proceed only by scrutinizing the tradition itself. Again and again we have found good reason to conclude that the core of the various traditions so far examined was probably formed more or less by the impact which Jesus made through his teaching and actions; the traditions themselves were part of the impression made. That is, the very sharing of experience among Jesus' followers gave lasting shape to these formative impressions. Traditions were being formulated right away, and not only at several removes from the occasions which they recalled, and were performed with diversity of emphasis and

Luke 24.26; John 20.17!); contrary to a common assumption, Matthew does not end with an 'ascension' (Matt. 28.16-20), and only Luke, and only in his second volume, clearly distinguishes the two (Acts 1.9-11). The subject is better dealt with in vol. 2.

9. Bultmann's famous dictum remains true: 'If the event of Easter Day is in any sense an historical event additional to the event of the cross, it is nothing else than the rise of faith in the risen Lord. . . . All that historical criticism can establish is the fact that the first disciples came to believe in the resurrection' ('New Testament and Mythology' 42). Similarly Bornkamm: 'The last historical fact available to it [historical scholarship] is the Easter faith of the first disciples' (Jesus 180). The thrust of my inquiry, however, is slightly differently directed: not How can we explain the rise of Easter faith? but How can we explain the rise of the Easter tradition? To some extent that circumvents the impasse posed by Wedderburn's formulation of the problem: ' "Jesus is risen" is not a historical statement and is not open or accessible to the historian's investigation' (Beyond Resurrection 9). The assertion is misleading: 'Jesus is risen' as a statement is historical and accessible to historical investigation; the problem lies with what the statement affirms.

detail from the start. Is the same true for what we may conveniently call simply 'the resurrection traditions'? They fall obviously into two groups — the traditions regarding Jesus' tomb, and the 'resurrection appearances'.

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