March 15, 2008


Resurrection Is Often Misunderstood by Christians and Jews (PETER STEINFELS, 3/15/08, NY Times)

[B]oth books converge in challenging several widespread notions. Resurrection, they maintain, does not simply mean going to heaven or life after death.

Resurrection is not a belief that divides an other-worldly Christianity from a this-worldly Judaism.

Nor is resurrection something that refers only — or even primarily — to the individual’s survival after death.

Instead, both books emphasize that in classic Jewish and Christian teachings, resurrection refers to a collective resurrection of people and renewal of all creation at the end of time.

Resurrection was linked to the expectation of judgment and a final triumph of justice. This was the idea of resurrection that had evolved as Jews returned from exile and struggled under foreign domination in the period before Jesus. It was this idea of resurrection that Christians had in mind when they declared that what occurred on Easter was the “first fruits” of what was to come.

If there is a key to the convergence among these authors, it lies, first of all, in their insistence on the bodily and communal character of resurrection, a view that has long competed with a Hellenistic philosophical and especially Platonic dualism, in which an individual disembodied intellect or spirit could be saved from its corruptible and corrupting body.

Even as great a Jewish sage as Maimonides seemed to be tempted in this direction, and Bishop Wright sees the legacy of this dualism in the storehouse of Christian images, from Dante to classic hymns, in which souls shorn of bodies find their final destiny in a heavenly region quite elsewhere than on earth.

This Hellenistic dualism had earlier reached its apogee in Gnosticism, which almost always taught the incompatibility of spirit and matter and sought salvation in the shucking off of the material body. Professor Madigan, Professor Levenson and Bishop Wright view the anti-Gnostic stances of early church fathers and rabbinic sages alike as a proper defense of their traditions’ core beliefs and not, as recently argued, a tactic in religious power politics.

Unlike Gnosticism, Judaism and Christianity, in different ways, held to the goodness of creation and the flawed nature of humans. This equips both traditions, in these writers’ opinions, to avoid the illusion that humans can build a perfect world on their own while yet instilling in humans the confidence that the good they do will finally be affirmed and completed by the God of Resurrection.

One unfortunate aspect of the triumph of Christianity was the way Judaism become so reactionary that it largely ditched core beliefs that it associated with Christians. One odd manifestation of this was that while America was founded on the Biblical insight about human nature, Israel was founded on the illusion. Only with the rise of Likud did it become more realistic, by which we mean Lapsarian.

Posted by Orrin Judd at March 15, 2008 8:36 AM

One of Wright's books, "The Resurrection of the Son of God" is cited in the review linked to. That is part of a trilogy (so far-- more volumes are planned) that includes "The New Testament and the People of God" and "Jesus and the Victory of God." Taken together, the series is indicative of the best of evangelical Mew Testament scholarship of the last decade or so. Highly recommended.

Posted by: Dan at March 15, 2008 3:59 PM