This is a continuation of my series on “The Lost Tomb of Jesus,” a Discovery Channel documentary that aired on March 4.
I have remarked several times that Simon Jacobovici relies on a big stretch to make his case that the tomb of Jesus has been found. That big stretch is the whole Mary Magdalene myth familiar from the novel and movie “The DaVinci Code.” This conspiracy theory about the church conning mankind into believing Jesus is real when, in fact, he was just an ordinary man, has captured the historically illiterate minds of millions.
Rather than this big stretch, I have suggested that evidence for the historical reality of Jesus’ bodily resurrection is actually far more persuasive. In fact, I would compare the persuasiveness of the resurrection theory and the DaVinci Code theory this way: The DaVinci Code theory is up there with black helicopters and contrails; the resurrection theory is up there with the historical reality of Caesar crossing the Rubicon.
I have offered to those who doubt the resurrection a challenge: read N.T. Wright’s The Resurrection of the Son of God. I know most people, however, are not going to read an 816-page academic book, no matter how excellent it is. So, I will be posting some summaries of Wright’s case.
First, Wright develops a solid case about the beliefs of pagans and Jews about the afterlife. He wants to demonstrate that resurrection had a clear meaning, a meaning unparalleled in the beliefs of the Greeks, Romans, and peoples of the Ancient Near East. Resurrection was and is a distinctly Jewish view of life after life-after-death.
What does he mean by life after life-after-death? Resurrection is not the belief in immediate life after death, but the belief in something that happens after a period of being bodily dead. In the fully developed doctrine, the afterlife has two parts: the intermediate state and bodily resurrection. The intermediate state is what happens immediately upon death, and is what most people mean by saying someone is “in heaven.” Resurrection is not that state, but a later event in which bodies and souls are joined in a state of bodily existence greater than bodily existence in this life.
Let me put that very simply in case I am not explaining it clearly enough. We believe that when you die, you go to heaven to be with God. Then, at the end of the age, God will raise the dead and the living to a higher kind of life in the body.
So the question is this: did the disciples expect Jesus to be resurrected in this sense? Did they make up the story of Jesus’ resurrection because this was an expected way to prove he was the Messiah?
Wright demonstrates thoroughly that what happened to Jesus was so unexpected, it cannot be explained as fiction. It is a case of truth being stranger than fiction. The resurrection of Jesus is so different from pagan belief about the afterlife and was so unexpected even in the Jewish context, that it must be evaluated on its own merit as a possible historical event.
There is more to Wright’s case than this, but I think he has chosen a good starting point for the case that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead — an event that calls for serious examination of the meaning of life and the reality of the God of Israel. If Jesus of Nazareth (or Yeshua, as we prefer to say in Messianic Judaism) was truly raised from death, then his other claims must also be true (we will make that case later).
With that in mind, look for a series of posts:
1. What Pagans Believed About Afterlife
2. The Jewish Doctrine of Resurrection, Part 1
3. The Jewish Doctrine of Resurrection, Part 2
4. Paul’s View of Resurrection
5. The Gospel’s View of Resurrection
6. Resurrection in Second-Century Christianity
7. Resurrection and Messiahship
8. Resurrection Stories in the Gospels
9. The Resurrection and History
10. Yeshua as the Son of God