Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Book Write-Up: The Resurrection Fact

John J. Bombaro and Adam S. Francisco.  The Resurrection Fact: Responding to Modern Critics.  New Reformation Publications, 2016.  See here to purchase the book.

Allow me to quote the description of the book on Amazon, before I offer my thoughts about it.  The description says who wrote the book, the book’s general perspective, and the book’s intended audience.

“As this team did with the book, ‘Making The Case For Christianity’ (CPH), Drs. Bombaro and Francisco bring together a variety of contemporary Lutheran apologists to respond to a wide array of challenges to the heart of the Christian Faith. Each chapter addresses a specific argument from a popular, non-Christian author and offer a clear and concise rebuttal and argument for the resurrection. The editors have found able representatives from the disciplines of biblical studies, history, philosophy, and the legal profession to write each chapter. The book is accessible, written for a broad audience, and is ultimately designed to equip its readers for the apologetics task.”

Now for my thoughts:

A.  Whenever I see a book like this, I wonder if it will contribute anything new to the discussion.  So many Christian apologetic books have already been written defending the historicity of Jesus’ resurrection.  Does this book contribute anything new?  I will later detail what I learned from this book, but, in response to the question of whether it contributes anything earth-shakingly new to the debate, I would say that it does not.  It responds to skeptics with the usual apologetic spiel, even though many of those skeptics have already raised objections to that spiel.  How about responding to their objections to the spiel, rather than regurgitating the spiel itself?  I will address how they could have done this in the next item.

B.  I have heard that, in writing a book review, I should avoid talking about the book that I wish the authors had written and instead focus on the book as it is.  I am going to depart from that rule in this item because I do believe that there are things that the authors could have done to make this book better.  This book could have responded to skeptics without regurgitating the usual apologetic spiel, while still being accessible to a broad audience who would not want to get lost in scholarly minutiae.  It could have done so by interacting with specific topics.  For example, there is the debate about whether Jesus’ resurrection in Paul’s writings was an exchange of a physical body for a spiritual body (while the physical body remains in the grave) or a resuscitation and transformation of a body: the latter option implies the empty tomb, which apologists deem to be physical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, whereas the former does not.  There is debate about whether Second Temple Judaism had a conception of resurrection that was a bodily exchange rather than a bodily transformation; this is significant because apologists in this book assert that Second Temple Judaism only conceived of resurrection as physical transformation of a dead body into a living body.  On that basis, they argue that Jesus’ resurrection was physical, meaning early Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection arose from Jesus’ resurrection itself and not from seeing a ghost.  Another debate is whether there are parallels between the Gospels’ resurrection stories and themes in Greco-Roman literature; one author in the book briefly touches on this, but more discussion would have been helpful.  And, if one wants to respond to Bart Ehrman’s textual critical arguments, how about engaging some of the texts that he cites—-the texts that he believes reflect theological revision on the part of the proto-orthodox scribes—-rather than casually dismissing Ehrman’s argument by saying that most of the differences among New Testament versions are theologically insignificant?  Such discussions would have responded to skeptics in a fruitful, engaging, fairer, and more interesting manner.  It also would have brought these debates to a broader audience.

C.  The description of the book highlighted that the apologists were Lutheran, and that made me wonder if they would add a distinct Lutheran perspective to the debate.  I saw that in this book occasionally.  The author of the introduction lists among his pieces of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection “the continual assertion by the disciples and apostles that the living Christ was with them in the Eucharist and governing them by his Spirit…”  I vaguely recall a reference to baptismal regeneration.  There was also a discussion of Martin Luther’s conception of faith.  Overall, though, the distinctly Lutheran references were  rare.  Much of the book was the usual apologetic spiel!

D.  I did learn things from this book.  A few of the authors referred to scholar Craig Evans’ scholarship on Jewish burial.  They argued that the Sanhedrin ensured that crucified Jewish bodies were disposed of properly, and that Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus may have been commissioned by the Sanhedrin to ensure Jesus’ burial.  That may differ from seeing Joseph and Nicodemus as nobly stepping forward out of devotion to Jesus (see John 19:38-39), but it does coincide with Acts 13:28-29’s statement that the Jewish leaders as a whole buried Jesus.
Mark Pierson refers to a scholarly source that disagrees with the idea that Papias was historically unreliable.  Papias is a significant figure in debates about whether the Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony.

Another author referred to a book about rabbinic views on Jesus’ resurrection, and another author mentioned Christian writings as early as the sixteenth century (maybe earlier) that tried to harmonize the Gospels’ resurrection stories.

C.J. Armstrong and Andrew DeLoach explore the nuances of mystery religions, including the question of whether they focused on the afterlife.  They also discussed the difficulty in ascertaining what the Mithra cult actually believed.  Their essay was probably the best in the book, even though it could have been more consistent.  (Was Jesus myth entering historical reality, or was Jesus different from other mythical figures?  The authors claimed both.)

E.  Back to the issue of Jewish burial practices, John Bombaro states in the book that “Scholarly opinion agrees with Craig that the Jews of Jesus’s day fastidiously observed Torah burial mandates regardless of the deceased’s economic status and circumstances.”  Relying on the synoptic Gospels, however, a number of Christians believe that the Jewish authorities transgressed a lot of Passover laws in trying Jesus (Craig Parton refers to this issue in an endnote).  Were the Jewish authorities fastidious in their Torah observance or not?

F.  I think that the book based some of its prominent arguments on certain assumptions.  More than one author said that the disciples could not have stolen Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because guards were at the tomb site, as the Gospel of Matthew states.  That assumes that the Gospel of Matthew was historically accurate on this detail.  The Gospel of Mark, which many scholars believe is earlier, does not say there were guards at Jesus’ tomb.  More than one author said that the Roman and Jewish authorities would have presented Jesus’ corpse to the public to refute the emerging Christian movement, had Jesus’ tomb not been empty.  That assumes that the Roman and Jewish authorities were preoccupied with Christianity.  A few authors said that early Christian eyewitnesses would have prevented historically-inaccurate details from getting into the Gospels, but were things really that neat?

G.  A few authors attempted to refute the skeptical idea that people in the first century were especially gullible, and thus we cannot trust the early Christian claim that Jesus rose from the dead.  They did not engage the examples that Richard Carrier has cited of this.  And yet, one of the authors did well to observe that the disciples in the Gospels were initially skeptical after hearing that Jesus rose from the dead.  Granted, Jesus seems to rebuke their skepticism (Luke 24:25; John 20:29), but the Gospels present the disciples as the opposite of gullible, perhaps showing some respect for critical thought.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Cross Focused Reviews.  My review is honest!

8 comments:

  1. "For example, there is the debate about whether Jesus’ resurrection in Paul’s writings was an exchange of a physical body for a spiritual body (while the physical body remains in the grave) or a resuscitation and transformation of a body: the latter option implies the empty tomb, which apologists deem to be physical evidence for Jesus’ resurrection, whereas the former does not."

    If a "spiritual body" is defined in contrast to a physical body, isn't a "spiritual body" synonymous with or indistinguishable from a ghost? On that definition, Paul would be saying Jesus became a ghost 3 days after he died, and since Jesus is the template for the Christian afterlife, Corinthian Christians will become ghosts in the world to come.

    But surely that's a highly implausible interpretation of Paul's argument in 1 Cor 15.

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  2. I think the idea is more that the disembodied soul receives a glorious spirit body. That would differ from a ghost, since a ghost would probably be a disembodied soul.

    I'm not saying I agree with this idea, necessarily, since I read (not in this book, but elsewhere) a case that Paul and Second Temple Judaism conceived of resurrection as bodily transformation rather than bodily exchange, whether the resurrection body was physical or spiritual. It's just that so many skeptics appeal to bodily exchange, so, if this book wanted to effectively challenge skeptical arguments, it should have engaged this one, I think.

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    1. But what's the conceptual distinction between a ghost and a spirit body? Both are immaterial and both are potentially visible?

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  3. Ghosts have a corporeal appearance, so I don't see any distinction between a ghost and a spiritual body. But Paul and his audience wouldn't think there's anything exceptional about a ghostly apparition.

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  4. Some of the distinction may relate to luminosity----the spiritual bodies shine like the sun, whereas ghosts do not shine to the same extent. Another consideration: the ghosts are less real. That may sound odd----either something or someone is real or not real----but there are scholars who have characterized the shades of Sheol as less real, at least in comparison to people on earth. Possessing a glorified spirit body would perhaps be more real.

    One question I have: Would you say that all spirit bodies are the same? Are the souls in Sheol similar to or different from angels in heaven?

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    1. Are you asking what ancient people believed or what I believe? I think there's credible evidence for ghosts and apparitions. I have in mind haunted houses, poltergeists, and crisis apparitions. I think some reports are credible.

      Whether angels or souls, these are essentially discarnate spirits. When they appear to people, the apparition simulates a body. In the case of dead friends and relatives, the appearance is recognizable–as is the voice.

      If they appear to someone at night (e.g. in their bedroom), then the corporeal appearance must be luminous to be visible in the dark.

      There's the question of whether apparitions are generated by an external stimulus or telepathic projection. Is it psychological, or truly "outside" the observer. Even if the phenomenon is psychological, it can have a source of origin outside the observer.

      Ghosts can also be detectable not visually but by actions. Take poltergeists. Moving objects around a room. Making noises.

      As you know, in some OT narratives, angels seem to assume physical form.

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    2. "Are you asking what ancient people believed or what I believe?"

      Both, in a sense, but mostly what ancient people believe.

      My question goes back to your question about whether there is a distinction between a spiritual body and a ghost. What I am wondering is if you acknowledge distinctions among spirit bodies, and if you think the ancients did, as well. The ancients are relevant to this discussion because you are asking about what Paul and his audience would have believed to be exceptional.

      In your latest response, you say that angels and souls are discarnate spirits, so you seem to be placing them in the same category: spirits are spirits and are similar. But it also seems as if you are questioning whether these spirits even have a body: you say they assume a body.

      I think an ancient idea was that there were distinctions among spirit bodies----that an angel was a more glorified being than a disembodied soul. (Of course, I am slightly contradicting myself by saying the disembodied soul has a body----he is something, I guess).

      On I Corinthians 15 itself, though, I am open. I have not been entirely persuaded that Paul in I Corinthians 15 is talking about a glorified physical body. At the same time, looking at Paul's other writings, I do think that a fairly reasonable case can be made that Paul believed in a physical resurrection.

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    3. It's analogous to whether a hologram has a body. It doesn't have a physical body, but it simulates a physical (3D) body. I haven't studied the issue in sufficient depth to know if ghosts and apparitions have a 2D or 3D appearance. Could you walk around them and see their side and back, or is a frontal view sufficient to be recognizable, especially in the case of dead friends and relatives? Or maybe if one were to attempt to walk around a ghost or apparition, it would be the same frontal image from all angles.

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