It is that time of year again when assorted clowns —some claiming to be scholars—trot out the repeatedly debunked ‘dying and rising Gods/Saviours’ thesis.
In 2003 I gave a public lecture in Kingston, Jamaica, which provided, inter alia, a rebuttal of this thesis (see my book Revelations on Ras Tafari, 2008, 81-87). Significantly, I invited two lecturers from the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies to respond live to the lecture right after my delivery and provided the text of my lecture to them weeks before. Neither lecturer challenged the rebuttal I leveled at the ‘dying and rising Gods/Saviours’ thesis and other copycat charges alleged of Christianity. I am withholding the names of the lecturers because they were kind enough to agree to respond to the lecture.
Christian students and Church leaders who work with them need to be clear on the basic problems with the ‘dying and rising Gods/Saviours’ thesis because this canard is used to intimidate Christian students, especially at the tertiary level.
Beyond the basic framework provided in my book, interested persons should carve out time to read the very thorough and tightly argued demolition job provided by the Anglican Bishop of Durham, England, N.T. Wright in his 2003 massive magisterial tome The Resurrection of the Son of God (Fortress Press). For those unfamiliar with Dr. Wright, he formerly taught at Cambridge, Montreal and Oxford.
Wright combs through the corpus of classical literature and examines the notions held concerning ‘life after death’ and gave his summary conclusion thus “At no point in the spectrum of options about life after death did the ancient pagan world envisage that the denials of Homer, Aeschylus and the rest would be overthrown. Resurrection was not an option. Those who followed Plato or Cicero did not want a body again; those who followed Homer knew they would not get one. The embargo remained.” (p.60)
Earlier, Wright advanced a significant conceptual difference between ‘resurrection’ and ‘life after death’. He said “The meaning of ‘resurrection’ as ‘life after “life after death”’ cannot be overemphasized, not the least because much modern writing continues to use ‘resurrection’ as a virtual synonym for ‘life after death’ in the popular sense. It has sometimes been proposed that this usage was current even for the first century, but the evidence is simply not there. ” (p.31)
For Wright, Christianity’s doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection had no antecedent in the ancient world because its central nuance—an actual return to bodily life after being dead (as opposed to a mythical return, e.g. Alcestis or Osiris)—was believed by no one in the ancient world. All of the alleged types of Jesus’ resurrection were mythical entities that echoed the agricultural cycles of winter (death) and spring (life) and all depictions in any literary source, Egyptian, Babylonian, Persian or Greco-Roman had to do with disembodied ‘souls’.
Bishop Wright, after a very well argued historical argument, offers the view that, given the empty tomb and post-mortem appearances of Jesus plus the rise of Christianity the inference to the best explanation is the bodily resurrection of Jesus (pp.710-716). Wright claims that no other explanatory option compares in scope and power with the bodily resurrection thesis (717). I like the way Wright delivers himself at p.717,
“The claim can be stated once more in terms of necessary and sufficient conditions. The actual bodily resurrection of Jesus (not a mere resuscitation, but a transforming revivification) clearly provides a sufficient condition of the tomb being empty and the ‘meetings’ taking place. Nobody is likely to doubt that. Once grant that Jesus really was raised, and all the pieces of the historical jigsaw puzzle of early Christianity fall into place. My claim is stronger: that the bodily resurrection of Jesus provides a necessary condition for these things; in other words, that no other explanation could or would do. All the efforts to find alternative explanations fail, and they were bound to do so.”
Afrocentrists at the University of the West Indies and elsewhere need to protect their intellectual credibility by reading carefully and analyzing critically the sources behind and the content within books like George James’ Stolen Legacy, James Frazer’s The Golden Bough and the numerous offshoots.
Jesus’ death and resurrection are at once historical and unique in all of ancient literature. There was really, in history, no other dying and rising God or Saviour. Let us deal with and not dodge the implications.
March 30, 2009