Jose Benléry-i-Hil. The boat of Charon
There is a widespread belief that the belief in the resurrection of Christ was based on the already existing beliefs of various religions. This statement was refuted by many Christian theologians. In modern theology, this topic has also been raised more than once, for example by the bishop of the Anglican Church, Nicholas Thomas Wright. Bishop Nicholas Wright, one of the leading modern experts in the New Testament, is known in particular for the fact that in a fairly liberal Anglican milieu he firmly upholds faith in the literal, physical, physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and gives a number of arguments. In her lectures, Wright proposes to consider the historical background on which Christianity arose, to be convinced: the belief in the Resurrection of Christ is a revolution, and not the natural development of the pagan or Jewish beliefs of that era.
What are the arguments of Nicholas Wright?
The pagan world did not doubt the invincibility of death. It was believed that after death, all go to the ghostly underworld, from which there is no return. And only Plato and his followers believed in some form of purely spiritual immortality and believed that it was better for the soul to remain pure, forever separated from the body.
The very word "resurrection" meant for the Gentiles not some unknown "life after death", but a literal return to bodily life in this world - no matter what happened to a person immediately after death. And on such a resurrection the pagans categorically did not believe. True, in literary monuments one can find many references to the ghosts of the deceased, who may be alive. But this was never called "resurrection" - the resurrection could only be bodily.
As for the Jews, a part of them (for example, the Sadducees) was in solidarity with the Gentiles and did not believe in any future life - especially bodily. Others (as philosopher Philo of Alexandria) converged, more likely, with the followers of Plato, who were expecting a glorious but purely disembodied death. But most Jews, as far as we can judge, believed in the resurrection of the dead on the last day, when God will transform the whole world and give His faithful new bodies to live in it.
And what did the first Christians believe in? Well, first of all, they, like the Jews, were more interested not in what happens immediately after death, but in the future when God's plan will be realized and people will be resurrected from the dead. But within this Jewish conception we can name not less than seven purely Christian modifications.
This is very important, since the beliefs concerning posthumans in any culture are usually very conservative and do not change from generation to generation: people in moments of grief are not interested in novelties, they are looking for comfort in what they learned from their ancestors.
The Prophet Ezekiel. The Prophecy of the Restoration of Israel
1 In early Christianity (unlike Judaism), there were no different opinions about life after death. Christians could argue - sometimes quite sharply - on a variety of topics, but were unanimous in their ideas about the resurrection of the dead.
2 At that time, for the Jews, the theme of the resurrection was far from the main thing. Many of the Jewish treatises were generally ignored. Christians, however, resurrected to the very center of faith.
3 Jews were vaguely imagining if people would resurrect in the same bodies as now, or in some other. Christians firmly confessed: the resurrected bodies will be "transfigured and glorified", they will be material, but at the same time they will have completely new properties - they will be "imperishable", that is, not subject to destruction and death.
4 The Jews expected the resurrection of the entire people of God at the end of time. Christians agreed with this, but claimed that with one person - Jesus Christ - this has already happened.
5 Christians have what the biblical scholar Dominik Crossan described as the "eschatology of co-operation". They believed that God calls them to work with Him to fulfill His purposes - and for this He sends the Holy Spirit who acts in Christians and through them - in the world, to bring into him that profound transformation that was made possible by the sacrificial death and the resurrection of Christ. We do not find this analogue in Judaism.
6 The metaphorical meaning of the word "resurrection" has changed. The Jews understood under it the restoration of Israel as an independent state and nation. Christians also meant Baptism under it, in which a person dies for the old life and, thanks to the power of the Holy Spirit, resurrects for a new one - in obedience to God.
7 None of the Jews believed that the Messiah would die - and therefore, that he would rise again. No Jew, who had traditional for the time performances, and it would not have occurred to him that the deceased on the cross, Jesus is the Anointed of God. But Christians changed the notion of not only the resurrection, but also about the Messiah: they from the very beginning claimed that it was the Resurrection of Christ that is the confirmation that He is the Messiah.
The Apostle Paul in Athens. Rafael, 1515
True, even in Judaism there were a number of messianic or prophetic movements that had disappeared from the general series. But with the death of their leaders, the disciples faced a choice - either to leave the movement or to find another Teacher. And if the Christians wanted to follow their example, they even had an obvious candidate - Jacob, the brother of Jesus, a man of deep respect, one of the leaders of the Jerusalem church. But no one saw him as the Messiah.
All this refutes the assertions of the skeptics: that the aggrieved apostles simply borrowed the idea of resurrection in contemporary culture, or that they first believed that Jesus was glorified in heaven, and only then did they gradually reach the faith of the Resurrection.
Bishop Wright calls for a little thought experiment. In the 70 year of our era, 40 years after the crucifixion of Jesus, the Romans conquered Jerusalem and captured thousands of Jews, including a man in whom they saw the leader of the rebellion, Simon Bar Gioru. He was held in chains around the streets of Rome in a triumphal procession, and then publicly scourged and executed.
Imagine several Jewish rebels who, after three days - or three weeks - are hiding in some kind of shelter. And suddenly one of them says:
"I believe that Simon was the Messiah!" And that he left them!
- No! They reply. "The Romans killed him!" If we need the Messiah, we need to find someone else!
"But I believe," insists the first, "that he rose from the dead!"
- What are you talking about? - his comrades are perplexed. "He's dead and buried!"
- No, - he persists, - I believe that Simon was lifted up to God!
His comrades are puzzled:
"Of course, he was taken up!" All martyrs killed by pagans go to God! And God will raise him up at the last day.
- No, you do not understand! I feel God's love. I feel that God forgave me for escaping! I feel a strange warmth in my heart. And recently I had a full feeling that Simon is alive and that he is with me!
But he is immediately interrupted with irritation:
- We all have visions! Sometimes very bright. Many see the ghosts of recently deceased friends and relatives. But this does not mean that they were raised from the dead! And certainly does not mean that one of them is the Messiah. And you, if you feel "warmth in the heart" - sing the psalm and do not make wild statements about the deceased.
In other words, the person who would first claim that Jesus was resurrected - as suggested by skeptics - would have faced the same reaction, because neither Jewish nor pagan beliefs gave the ground for believing in the resurrection of the Crucified. Historically, this explanation of the Christian faith in the Resurrection is not only implausible - it is impossible, Wright emphasizes.