|Austin American Statesman
|Editorial Page - COMMENTARY
Some Christians now admit: Jesus is not risen
James H. Dee, LOCAL CONTRIBUTOR
Thursday, March 24, 2005
Once again, Christians retell "The Easter Story," and once again they remain blissfully unaware that, like "The Christmas Story,"
it has disintegrated under critical scrutiny that began with David Friedrich Strauss in 1835. One problem involves the "reality" of
the Resurrection and another involves the morality of redemption through torture and death -- topics few pastors will raise in
their Sunday sermons.
The problem of historicity emerges with characteristic directness in Paul's remark, "If Christ is not risen, your faith is in vain"
(Corinthians 1:14). For most people, this is a simple issue, since the Resurrection -- the central and uniquely defining element
in Christianity -- is widely supposed to be a historical fact. But a growing number of Christian scholars have come to regard this
belief as falsified by the biblical texts themselves.
The clearest sign of trouble is invisible in an ordinary Bible but glaringly evident in a "harmony" of the Synoptic Gospels (i.e. Mark
and the partially derivative Matthew and Luke), where the various episodes, which occur in disconcertingly different sequences,
are brought together, phrase by phrase, in triple-column layout. Many events occur in lock-step, with verbatim repetition, showing
that Matthew and Luke had versions of Mark at hand or memorized.
But this triple attestation vanishes in the Resurrection narratives: the Bribing of the Guard, the Road to Emmaus, the
Appearances to the Eleven (Jerusalem in Luke; Galilee in Matthew), Doubting Thomas and the Ascension are all "isolates" --
and even the three tellings of the Easter Morning stories have irreconcilable contradictions. The 79 Catholic and Protestant
scholars of the controversial Jesus Seminar concluded that all those episodes are completely fictional ("The Acts of Jesus"
pages 465-95). They also declared, using red letters to indicate their high level of certainty, "The Resurrection of Jesus did not
involve the resuscitation of a corpse... The body of Jesus decayed as do other corpses" (pages 461-2).
In his new book, "The Resurrection of Christ: A Historical Inquiry," the eminent New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann
incisively demolishes the Resurrection accounts, including the visions of Peter and Paul. He states, with remarkable
forthrightness, "For 2,000 years an abiding faith in Jesus' Resurrection has displayed enormous power, but because of its utter
groundlessness we must now acknowledge that it has all along been a worldwide historical hoax."
The once-solid façade of conventional belief is crumbling from within, and it is increasingly apparent that the founding event of
Christianity can be defended only through ignorance or dishonesty. And there is an even more serious problem, independent of
historical arguments: What is the moral sense of using physical torture and death of one person as expiation for offenses
against divinity committed by millions?
It seems obvious that Jesus' comparatively mild and brief suffering cannot be enough to compensate for the sins of countless
believers, especially since Christian doctrine has long asserted that only extreme, eternal torment will suffice if individual
sinners choose to be resolutely ethical and, in the vogue phrase, "accept personal responsibility" for their actions.
Those who saw Mel Gibson's "Passion of the Christ" may wonder at the words "comparatively mild and brief." But the Gospels
offer few details about the maltreatment Jesus received, and thousands of unfortunates crucified by Roman generals and
governors (for example, 6,000 prisoners from Spartacus' revolt in 71 BC) probably suffered similar preliminary abuse. Also, in
Mark alone, Pilate is surprised (and presumably disappointed) that Jesus died so quickly -- the Romans wanted their victims to
die after several days of agony.
However, the deeper issue is not the quantity of discomfort Jesus endured but the whole concept of a naively anthropomorphic
divinity, whose anger at human failings can be placated only by raw physical pain and death. The 2002 edition of the "New
Catholic Encyclopedia" has a 17-page, theologically sophisticated article on "Redemption" -- which unhesitatingly asserts that,
because of God's unrelenting hatred for sin, "satisfaction" must be exacted corporeally, either from mankind or from Jesus, as if
the cosmic deity had the mentality of a gang-lord.
This notion deserves to be called primitive, tribal and ?perhaps most embarrassing for a supposedly omniscient, loving and
creative entity -- supremely unimaginative in its fixation on brute cruelty.
As Lüdemann says, the fictionality of the Resurrection entails the falsehood of Christianity, thus reversing Paul: Jesus is not
risen, and his followers' faith is in vain. The big question is: When will believers start to read the Bible closely enough to discover
the unsettling truth for themselves?
Dee is a visiting scholar in the classics department at the University of Texas-Austin.
James Dee's March 24th Commentary denouncing the Resurrection of Christ is known, in this Biblical Age, as the beginning of
the great Apostasy. Dee dove to the bottom of the cesspool of aimless and inflammatory rhetoric in order to be published again
in the Statesman, with his characteristic maligning and opportunistic diatribe. Dee is clearly a self-serving academic attempting
to embellish his publish-or-perish collection of trenchant satire. His two primary reference sources, the Jesus Seminar and
Lüdemann, have been clearly castigated by all reputable Christian Scholars. For the Statesman to publish such a censure just
prior to Christendom's High Holy Day, Resurrection Sunday, is unconscionable. Austin's weirdness has enough following
without having to trounce Christianity and its foundational doctrinal tenant. Dee's tripe belongs, if anywhere, on the Religion
page and not on the Editorial page.
Shame and Mercy be on the barer of this apostate Commentary and his Tabloid.
Jon D. Hannum, Ph.D.
Amen Ministries of Austin
|Austin American Statesman published
Retort to Dee's Published Commentary