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The Resurrection: An Interdisciplinary Symposium on the Resurrection of Jesus.

This beautifully produced but rather disappointing book is primarily a work of apologetics. It deals with the Resurrection of Jesus, and consists of twelve papers read during a conference in America at which most of the contributors were Roman Catholic scholars. Each paper was followed by a response, but considerations of space have meant that only three of these responses are reproduced in the book.

Perhaps the most satisfactory contribution is a paper by the distinguished jewish scholar Alan Segal which is, however, only tangentially relevant to the main topic, being an admirably clear and learned account of the rise and development of belief in life, after death among the ancient Jews. Two of the other contributions, by Janet Soskice and Brian Johnstone, discuss the theological and ethical implications of the Resurrection, arguing that traditionally the significance of it has not been fully drawn out. Marguerite Shuster discusses the preaching of the Resurrection by Augustine, Luther, Barth and Thielicke, highlighting how these preachers have dealt with doubts about it among their contemporaries. A, presumably Protestant, scholar from a Southern Baptist theological seminary, Carey Newman, explores the significance of the way the New Testament identifies Jesus as 'Glory', and sees it as meaning that the final age of blessing came into the world with the Resurrection.

The main concern of the book, however, is with the objective reality of the Resurrection and the risen Christ. The tone here is frankly adversarial: as early as the top of page 2 those who take a different line from the traditional line taken by the contributors are described as 'opponents', and three of the contributions are largely taken up with attempts to discredit the position of some of these opponents, in the persons of J. H. Hick, R. H. Fuller and J. D. Crossan. Estimates about how far these efforts succeed will depend on readers' views with regard to wider questions which are touched on in these papers and discussed more fully in some of the others, (especially 8, 9, (Francis Schussler Fiorenza), and II). It cannot be said that the book has anything very new to say on these topics. Richard Swinburne (now an Orthodox Christian) contributes an elegant and well-argued version of the traditional case against Hume, and the authors generally take the line, now popular among more traditional theologians, of emphasizing the extent to which historical arguments and conclusions depend on their proponents' theories and assumptions about the nature of history and reality, (e.g. pp. 186, 232-33, 247 and 298). The views of the opponents' are attributed to their being dominated by what is described as the 'Enlightenment prejudice' which prevents them from accepting the occurrence of miracle unless supported by an overwhelming weight of evidence -- or at any rate a more overwhelming weight than any forthcoming in the New Testament accounts of the Resurrection.

Although the writers all seem to accept that the (surely only partial) dependence of historical conclusions on prior assumptions is universal, they do not describe their own presuppositions as the 'credulity prejudice', for example, or indeed as a prejudice at all; which is odd, seeing that the so-called 'Enlightenment prejudice' can at least plead in its support the fact that no one today has witnessed anything indisputably miraculous, or known anyone else who has.

Even the most challenging miracle raises no problem for these authors. For example, Stephen Davis, who regards the risen jesus as having been physically so completely on all fours with other physical beings that 'a camera could have taken a picture of him' (p. 147), when faced with the claim that he could pass through doors, simply replies that 'an omnipotent being would have it well within its power to make a human body materialize in a room' (p.134; cf. 22.), a reply which taken by itself could be used to validate the most bizarre of medieval miracle stories. The claim is made, it is true, that the resurrection and the post-resurrection appearances were 'strikingly unique', but that is simply a presupposition which begs the whole question.

In fact this book is basically question-begging, which makes it the more regrettable that the scholars attacked in it were not invited -- or if they were, did not take up the invitation -- to speak in their own defence. In his response to Gerald O'Collins the Anglican Archbishop, Peter Carnley, is able to point to the injustice of some of his strictures on John Hick, but the other responses -- by Sarah Coakley and P. R. Eddy -- are from scholars too sympathetic to the papers they criticize to pack much punch. The former makes a number of points so interesting that it is a pity she was not called on to give a full paper; even, so, she does not hammer the preposterous claim that R. H. Fullir's historical methodology forces him to conclude that 'if it is possible a thing happened this way, it did!' (p. 181)

A correction is necessary if the above suggests a complete homogeneity of view among the contributors. For example, while Stephen Davis believes Jesus' risen body to have been totally similar to all other physical bodies, Gerald O'Collins argues for a body which, though completely and objectively real, could be seen only by those granted special grace for the purpose. Another example is that whereas Gerald O'Collins lists thirty scholars (against an unstated number of opponents) in order to show that there is no scholarly consensus against the. existence of a historical nucleus to the empty tomb tradition, Alan Padgett insists that consensus arguments should be eschewed, on the Athanasius contra mundum principle (p. 297). A review such as this does not have space for detailed discussion of points of scholarship, but it may be worth pointing out that the discussion of the ending of Mark's gospel on pp. 162-63 is superficial in the extreme, and gives no evidence of even a knowledge of R. H. Lightfoot's magisterial article on the question. The discussion of the verb ophthe on pp. 134 ff. could be described as tendentious.

There is undoubtedly a wealth of research and acute reasoning behind these papers, but it is difficult to think that they will carry much weight with readers who do not share the authors' highly traditional presuppositions. It is these presuppositions which need careful definition and a full defence. The authors themselves lay relatively little weight on the fact that they are in accordance with orthodoxy or the opinions of the Fathers (though see e.g. p. 144), but the claim that statements in the New Testament should be accepted wherever there is no specific reason to doubt them, is clearly a petitio principii. Nor, despite page 2, should a historian be swayed by the reference to suffering and failure in the world which only a full resurrection of the body could overcome'. The book would have been far more cogent had it explored the grounds of its presuppositions, particularly in the light of the great cultural changes which have taken place between New Testament times and our own, and allowed others who hold different presuppositions to speak for themselves.
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Author:Nineham, Dennis
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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