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Gerd Luedemann on the Resurrection: A Blast From the Past

Here is an interesting post on the resurrection of Jesus that I made almost exactly four years ago today.  It’s interesting because (a) I don’t remember writing it (and only vaguely remember having read the book) and (b) my own views ended up being very similar indeed (even though I don’t at all remember being influenced by the book!).   These are views not widely shared by my colleagues in the field of New Testament studies, as will seem obvious (since most of my colleagues are committed Christians who believe in the resurrection!).  In any event, here’s the post.  Happy reading!

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One of the first books that I have re-read in thinking about how it is the man Jesus came to be thought of as God is Gerd Lüdemann’s, The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry (2004). Lüdemann is an important and interesting scholar. He was professor of New Testament at Göttingen in Germany, and for a number of years split his time between there and Vanderbilt Divinity School in Nashville. He is a major figure in scholarship, and is noteworthy for not being a Christian. He does not believe Jesus was literally, physically, raised from the dead, and he thinks that apart from belief in Jesus’ physical resurrection, it is not possible for a person to be Christian.

This book is written for people with a lot of background in New Testament studies. It is exegetically based, meaning that he goes into a detailed examination of key passages to uncover their literary meaning; but he is ultimately interested in historical questions of what really happened. To follow his exegesis (his interpretation) requires a good knowledge of how NT scholars argue their points: the book is aimed at other NT scholars and, say, graduate students in the field.

The basic historical conclusions that Lüdemann draws – based on a careful analysis of all the relevant passages and a consideration of the historical events that lie behind them – is this:

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o When Jesus was arrested and crucified his disciples fled. They did not go into hiding in Jerusalem – then went back home, to Galilee (where *else* would they go? They went home, to get out of Jerusalem!)

o Soon after, it was in Galilee (not in Jerusalem) that belief in the resurrection occurred. It occurred because Peter had a vision of Jesus that included auditory features (he thought he saw and heard him).

o This “vision” was induced by psychological factors. Peter felt terrifically guilty for having denied Jesus, and the “vision” he had brought forgiveness from his deep guilt.

o This vision was like other visions that people have (all the time): visions of dead loved ones; visions of the Virgin Mary. In these visions, of course the loved ones do not *really* come back to life from the dead, and the Virgin Mary does not *really* show up at Lourdes, etc. These are psychologically induced visions.

o Still, like other people who have visions, Peter took the vision to be real and assumed that Jesus was alive again, in heaven.

o Peter brought the other disciples together, and maintained with them that the end time was near, as Jesus had originally preached, and that the kingdom of God was soon to appear. The evidence? The resurrection of the dead had already begun. The evidence? Jesus had been raised. The evidence? He had appeared to Peter. All this is happening in Galilee.

o The vision was infectious, and the mission got underway.

o Even Jesus’ brothers were caught up in the excitement and James became a believer in Jesus.

o The other person who had a genuine vision of Jesus was much later, the apostle Paul, who too experienced a psychologically induced vision of Jesus. In this case, he found Jesus’ teaching of forgiveness and mercy appealing, even as he was violently persecuting the church as an enemy. But forgiveness won out and in a cataclysmic break from his past, Paul had a vision of the living Jesus, convincing him that Peter and the others were right: Jesus was still alive, and therefore had been raised from the dead.

o Some Christians thought that these visions showed that Jesus was spiritually exalted to heaven – not that his body had been physically raised from the dead.

o Others, including Peter and Paul, insisted that in fact Jesus had experienced a physical resurrection of the body, which had been transformed into an immortal body before being exalted to heaven.

o The implication was that the tomb was emptied before Jesus’ started to make his appearances (other Christians also claimed to see him, but it is hard to establish that any of the others actually had any visions – they may have simply been building on Peter’s original claim).

o But by this time it was too late to know whether the tomb was really empty. For several reasons:

 We don’t know how much after his death the vision to Peter came; Acts suggests that it was fifty days before the preaching began; if so, the body would have decomposed.

 No one knew where he was buried anyway (the story of Joseph of Arimathea may be a later account, not something that really happened; Jesus may have been buried in a common grave or somewhere no one knew.

 It is worth pointing out, Ludemann notes, that Christians in Jersualem appear to have placed ZERO emphasis on the location of the tomb. It was not until 326, according to Eusebius, was the alledged site of burial “rediscovered” under a temple dedicated to Venus. Life of Constantine 3.26-28.

And so, the short story: Chrsitianity started among Jesus’ followers in Galilee, sometime after his death, after Peter had a vision of Jesus that was psychologically induced.

So, to be clear, I’m not saying I agree with this entire reconstruction. But it’s very interesting, based on a detailed examination of all the evidence from the NT (and outside) by a skilled interpreter, and worth bearing in mind when trying to figure out what really happened both to Jesus’ body and to the followers of Jesus to make them believe it had been raised from the dead.[\private]


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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Judith  October 5, 2016

    It’s your birthday! May the coming year be even better than last year was. 🙂

  2. Avatar
    puzzles  October 5, 2016

    I just finished your book on this topic, and I had a question. The Nicene creed describes the Son as “begotten”, but the arian heresy used “begotten” to imply that there was a time when the Father existed without the Son. That seems odd to me.

    Also, when I used to read the Bible, I always felt that there was stuff missing. There were phrases that seemed to assume knowledge from the reader that I could not find in the Bible itself. Your books and videos seem to supply this missing knowledge, so the Bible makes a little more sense to me now. It’s kind of ironic that I couldn’t find these answers from Christian sources when I was a believer.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2016

      I think the idea is that if Jesus *became* the son by being “begotten” (conceived) then he must not have existed before that.

  3. Avatar
    Stephen  October 5, 2016

    If the disciples returned to Galilee and had their visions (of whatever nature) of the resurrected Jesus there, why would the early church then relocate to Jerusalem?

    thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  October 5, 2016

      I wish we knew! I’ve wondered if it’s because they thought Jesus would be returning there.

  4. Avatar
    Bibi  October 5, 2016

    Perhaps when we have a final result of the famous “Tomb of Jesus” of Tarpiot we can better understand these proposals. By the way what do you think about Dr. Bart? I means, The Tarpiot’s Tomb ? I have not heard of the issue from you.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 6, 2016

      I think most scholars do no think of this as an ongoing debate. Apart from my friend James Tabor who is on this blog, I don’t know of major scholars of Jewish and Christian antiquity who consider it to be the tomb of Jesus. But James can maybe comment: are there others?

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  October 5, 2016

    Well, I could be totally wrong, and often am, but it seems to me that a loving God would make all of this a whole lot clearer than leaving it up to four ancient Gospels written decades after the described events by unknown authors and filled with contradictions with different Gospels saying different things.

  6. tompicard
    tompicard  October 6, 2016

    Lüdemann’s thesis as presented here sounds like a bunch of psychobabble to me.

    Peter’s vision ‘psychologically induced’ by his guilty conscience for having denied Jesus thrice.
    Paul’s vision similarly ‘psychologically induced’, but from a different cause, i.e. his admiration of Jesus teaching on mercy!
    Sprinkle in some bullet points that no one debates about, like Jesus being arrested and executed, Peter traveling to Galilee, and James finally becoming a follower of Jesus, to add a scholarly sound;
    Then some more speculation upon speculation till you get a seemingly somewhat ‘reasonable’ explanation for the theory of an empty tomb.

  7. Avatar
    thormas  October 7, 2016

    Bart,

    Something caught my attention in your response to a question/comment above when you said you don’t believe in a divine being in the world. This is the theistic view of God as Christianity and Judaism are theistic religions. Have you, and I assume you have either professionally or personally, thought of ‘god’ outside theism and given thought to whether other notions of god, such as Being, Really Real, Ground of Being and on and on, resonate with you any more than the theistic view?

    And there pantheistic and panentheistic views of God in the Bible and early Christianity as opposed to, or in addition to, theistic views? That would be an interesting book, at least for me.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 8, 2016

      Yeah, I have to admit, these options have never held any appeal for me.

      • Avatar
        Iris Lohrengel  October 23, 2016

        Should a scholar not be open to all possibilities? Why is it that scientists nowadays think that only what can be seen with physical eyes and touched with physical hands (the material world) is true and real? That wasn’t always so. Why is it that this modern view is considered ‘correct’ when it is just a view? Why are visions considered ‘psychologically induced’, if in fact they could be portals to another dimensión of reality, the Real Real, the Ground of Being, the invisible (to physical eyes) world of spirit? Before discarding this possibility it needs to be investigared. It would explain visiones. It would explain God’s Problem, because it is not a problem of God at all but of our definition of God. The Bible with its theistic view is about beliefs, an attempt to explain what was perceived. What if this attempt to explain something went wrong? What it the theistic view is wrong and the pantheistic view a possibility? It would concord with the most recent discoveries in the área of quantum physics, which actually denotes that our view that only the material is real is wrong. Quite wrong, actually. Paul Davies, a renown physicist, is at the forefront of re-introducing a spiritual dimensión into hard core physics and he has no Christian agenda, just a very inquisitive mind. Already now there exists a scientific base (quantum physics with its implications) to be able to rationally explain visions, and ‘miracles’, and other psychic possibilities.

    • Avatar
      Iris Lohrengel  October 23, 2016

      Should a scholar not be open to all possibilities? Why is it that scientists nowadays think that only what can be seen with physical eyes and touched with physical hands (the material world) is true and real? That wasn’t always so. Why is it that this modern view is considered ‘correct’ when it is just a view? Why are visions considered ‘psychologically induced’, if in fact they could be portals to another dimensión of reality, the Real Real, the Ground of Being, the invisible (to physical eyes) world of spirit? Before discarding this possibility it needs to be investigared. It would explain visiones. It would explain God’s Problem, because it is not a problem of God at all but of our definition of God. The Bible with its theistic view is about beliefs, an attempt to explain what was perceived. What if this attempt to explain something went wrong? What it the theistic view is wrong and the pantheistic view a possibility? It would concord with the most recent discoveries in the área of quantum physics, which actually denotes that our view that only the material is real is wrong. Quite wrong, actually. Paul Davies, a renown physicist, is at the forefront of re-introducing a spiritual dimensión into hard core physics and he has no Christian agenda, just a very inquisitive mind. Already now there exists a scientific base (quantum physics with its implications) to be able to rationally explain visions, and ‘miracles’, and other psychic possibilities.

  8. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  October 12, 2016

    If Peter, not just any old disciple, was the first to see Jesus alive, why would the story of a woman, the same woman, being the first to know of his resurrection make its way into all four gospel accounts? Did some factions want to take Peter down a peg, or assert the equality of female apostles?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 12, 2016

      My guess is that the woman/women discovering the tomb was the most widespread (earliest?) tradition. The idea that Peter was first comes from Paul.

  9. Avatar
    VirtualAlex  October 15, 2016

    Re: 1 Cor 15, v 3 and 4 (as mentioned in the comments above) – “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures…”

    To which scriptures is Paul referring? I thought it was just the gospel writers who fished around for scriptural justification of their theologies. Is Paul doing this too? Why does he think these “scriptures” refer to Jesus?

    Thanks, Bart.

    • Bart
      Bart  October 15, 2016

      We don’t really know! It is often said that he is thining of something like Isaiah 53, but he never quotes that passage in his writings. So it’s really a bit of guesswork to know what he is referring to.

      • Avatar
        VirtualAlex  October 15, 2016

        Kind of like Matthew then, shoehorning bits of scripture to make his story sound authentic!

  10. Avatar
    madmargie  October 31, 2016

    I think Process Theology makes the most sense and is intellectually responsible for modern day Christians. It has good ethics. God neither causes or stands by and lets evil happen. I believe God is spirit and suffers with the world and calls us in each moment to be the best we can be. We may not listen to that call and go our own way, but it is always there. God’s power is not coercive… it is persuasive. I believe God is omniscient and knows everything there is to know perfectly but that means knowing the future is open and has a wide range of possibilities, not as fixed or settled. God cannot force people or the world to obey God’s will. Instead God works by sharing with us a vision of a better way. God’s power lies in patience and love, not in force. I also believe God is with us in our moments of greatest guilt and despair. God works in everything to bring about the good and therefore is worthy of our love. But God is not in control. If God were in complete control, what need would God have of our service? Jesus taught that God’s peaceable kingdom (or empire) was the goal and we should all work together toward that peaceable kingdom.

  11. Avatar
    Luke9733  November 16, 2016

    This is sort-of related to this – I was thinking about your view of Jesus not having been buried in an individual tomb by any of the Jewish authorities (such as Joseph of Arimathea when I read the artcile: “”Where no one had yet been Laid: The Shame of Jesus’ Burial” by Byron R. McCane. The argument of the article is that some of the traditions of Jesus’ burial are probably historical because in none of the Gospels is Jesus’ burial presented as a truly *honorable* burial in the context of first century Judaism – the two key elements of an honorable burial (a family tomb and time set aside for mourning) are missing in all of them (save the Gospel of Peter). McCane states that the Gospel authors: “dignified it (the burial) as much as possible but did not deny its shame.”

    What are your thoughts on this?
    Side-note, McCane mentions that Cicero “mentions a governor in Sicily who released bodies to family members in return for a fee” and then cites n Verrem 2.5.45 – but when I looked at that reference, I couldn’t find what he was talking about. Would you know if he was referencing the wrong passage, or if perhaps I was reading it wrong?

    • Bart
      Bart  November 17, 2016

      I’m nmot familiar with the passage off hand, but the point is that we have no record of Jesus’ family having any access to the governor, or asking him for the body, or paying for it — so I’m not sure how it is a similar case.

      • Avatar
        Luke9733  November 17, 2016

        I think the point of the reference (in the article I read) was to support his statement that: “Roman prefects like Pilate, in fact, often allowed crucifixion victims to be buried.” He later goes on to say:
        “a request by a Jewish leader for the body of Jesus would not have been out of place, either, since Roman prefects–including at least one that we know if in first-century Jerusalem–did allow the burial of crucifixion victims. In the case of Jesus, such an allowance was likely, since Jesus was not caught up in a mass crucifixion, and his death did not come at a time of revolt against Rome. The Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day generally cooperated with Pilate in preserving public order in Jerusalem, and the occasion of Jesus’ death was a Jewish religious holiday. It may have taken a little nerve, then, but someone like Joseph of Arimathea could have reasonably expected that Pilate would grant his request for the body of Jesus.”

        The conclusion, though, is not that Jesus was buried the Jewish authorities *honorably* as many Christians think he was, but that Jewish authorities buried him in shame, perhaps in a tomb reserved for criminals. The argument is that no Jew in the first century would recognize the burial of Jesus described in the canonical Gospels as an honorable burial. They would have recognized it clearly as a *dishonorable* one, despite some of the Gospel authors’ attempts to dignify the dishonorable burial.

        • Bart
          Bart  November 18, 2016

          Yes, I try to show why this is wrong in my book How Jesus Became God (though I have been a friend of Byron for many years, since he was a PhD student at Duke)

          • Avatar
            Luke9733  February 1, 2017

            just want to clarify something about this. If it’s true that the burial depicted in the canonical Gospels is a shameful burial (specifically because it’s not a burial in a family tomb and there’s no time set aside for mourning), would that qualify as meeting either the criterion of dissimilarity or embarrassment (if no one knew what happened to Jesus’ body, requiring the earliest Christians to invent details of his burial, I’d think they’d invent an honorable one rather than the shameful one that’s described).

            And if it does qualify for either of those two, then wouldn’t there be two criteria met for the burial, either dissimilarity or embarrassment along with the criterion of multiple attestation (Mark and John, along with the Gospel of Peter, which mentions Joseph)?

            I know the criteria don’t guarantee historicity of a detail. I guess what I’m asking is whether or not you think that there are two criteria met in this case, and if you do, would your position be that the two criteria still don’t overpower the fact that it was regular practice for the bodies to be left on the cross?

          • Bart
            Bart  February 1, 2017

            No, the burial is precisely not a shameful burial. It was all properly done according to Jewish rules for such things.

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