The historicity of the resurrection of Jesus : a study of the New Testament evidence
Buglass, Anthony Edward
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If Jesus's resurrection did not happen, the Christian faith is falsified. The question is therefore raised as to whether it is possible to prove the historicity of the resurrection, and thus verify the Christian faith. The problem is first historical (what is the nature of the evidence for the resurrection?) and secondly apologetic (how does the resurrection help in communicating the Christian faith?); this thesis aims to address the historical question, and introduce apologetics as a future concern. The work is set in context by a survey of approaches to the historical Jesus through the centuries, culminating in the "Third Quest for the Historical Jesus." The origins of the idea of resurrection are sought in an examination of ancient Hebrew ideas about death, exploring the development of hope from the survival of the community rather than the individual, through the awareness of the need for justice and the continuing relationship with God, through a range of metaphors to the first explicit hope of resurrection from the dead. The influence of Hellenism and ideas of immortality in the intertestamental period are noted, but these ideas were not adequate to explain the experience of Jesus's disciples. The New Testament is then surveyed to identify all resurrection traditions. Some traditions are theological and metaphorical, but some are narrative or apparently derived from a historical event. It is noted that some canonical books make relatively little of the resurrection, and that extracanonical books such as the Gospel of Thomas ignore it completely. A study of the extracanonical texts suggests that omission of resurrection tradition is due to later theological preference, rather than indicating early tradition implying that passion-resurrection tradition was a later innovation. Where there is extracanonical resurrection tradition, it is dependent upon canonical tradition. There follows a discussion of the various criteria which have been used to examine New Testament tradition for historicity, examining the strengths and weaknesses of each. It is concluded that no single criterion is adequate, but that it is possible to achieve a satisfactory degree of historical plausibility. The discussion returns to the New Testament traditions to identify where they purport to be historical, and then explored in the light of the historical criteria for plausibility. While there is clear theological development and interpretation, there is a persistent core tradition deriving from an original event. Alternative explanations, that the disciples invented resurrection to explain other experiences, are dismissed as resurrection is the least likely explanation for them to offer. The historical event itself is irrecoverable, but may be discerned by its effects. The most plausible explanation for the testimony underlying New Testament tradition, celebration on the first day of the week, and the explosive growth of the Jesus movement, is that the resurrection actually happened. Brief consideration is given to the implications of the resurrection for theology, eschatology, apologetics and engagement with postmodernism.
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