on July 26, 2003
while nodding in approval to what the other reviewers have said thus far:
having devoured the first two works in Wright's _Christian Origins and the Question of God_ series, i was eagerly anticipating the third volume, which i expected to be on the life and theology of St. Paul; thus i was somewhat disappointed by the subject matter of the third volume when it finally (at last!) appeared. i kept asking myself (with my head slowly shaking), "an entire volume on the resurrection?"
but my doubts were quickly laid to rest when i received the work. Wright offers us here a masterpiece on the resurrection, as theologically deep as it is historically broad in scope. Wright not only persuasively argues for the fact of the resurrection, but places it firmly in context as he brings to light the many aspects which constitute it, and upon which it bears definitive influence. the "world-affirming" nature of Wright's conclusions, which he highlites continually throughout the text, actually reminded me something of Maximus Confessor.
which brings up my final point: N. T. Wright is an unusually excellent exegete. so often, New Testament exegetes are simply dull; such is not the case with Wright. his work is saturated in wit and laced with solid reason. one always leaves his work feeling somewhat "charmed". but the best thing about Wright, in my opinion, is that he is capable of actually being an exegete and a theologian at the same time (yes, this is in fact uncommon in our day and age). thus we are left with not simply an argument based on texts, or dry analyses stacked one atop another; rather, we see perhaps the finest New Testament scholar of our era approaching the texts with a master's touch, and the reader is thus in a position wherein the full radiance of the subject matter can be perceived.
the only critique i have is that it is somewhat repetitive; it almost seemed as though it would be better to consult its various chapters in reference format--as needed--rather than "reading it straight through". yet considering the above mentioned breadth of scope, this is certainly a small price to pay.
in sum, this book is highly recommended--there are few New Testament scholars who can be placed alongside Wright, and those of us who are interested in this field are certainly blessed that he chose to write an enourmous work on this particular topic. with this work, Wright has succesfully placed the Resurrection of the Son of God where it belongs--in the center of Christian theology, world history, and the cosmos itself.
... which makes the wait for his work on Paul (if on Paul it be) all the more nerve-racking.
five stars, without a doubt.
on May 11, 2003
With this 800 page volume, N. T. Wright has now written the definitive work on the resurrection of Jesus. From this point on, scholars will be arguing with, for, or against Wright. All discussion must now start with this book and Wright's discussion of the biblical accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. In breadth and depth of scholarship, *Resurrection of the Son of God* can only be compared to Raymond Brown's *Death of the Messiah*.
Wright thoroughly dismantles all attempts to interpret the resurrection narratives as "interpretations" of the death of Jesus or as symbolizations of the new found faith of the disciples of Jesus. Wright also effectively destroys the arguments of those who advance the theory that the first Christians employed resurrection language to speak of Jesus' eternal, though spiritual, life with God after his death on the cross. The evidence does not allow us to entertain the possibility that the apostles might have claimed that Jesus had been raised from the dead even while his corpse was still lying in the tomb. If the desire was to simply assert that Jesus was now "with God" or that his soul was in heaven, there was language and conceptuality available to make such claims. To speak of someone being "raised from the dead" can only have one meaning within first century Judaism--God has acted to bestow upon that person an embodied, "physical" form of existence. The surprising thing is that the early Christians employed this language about Jesus even though it was clear that the expected general resurrection of the dead had yet to occur! There was no precedent at all for such a restricted use of resurrection language; but such was the mystery of Easter!
It is time for the Church to finally move beyond Bultmann, Marxsen, and Crossan and confidently reclaim the New Testament proclamation of Jesus' embodied resurrection. This message may be wrong; but let's at least be clear that this is the message of the Church.
on June 25, 2003
We finally have with us the third volume of Tom Wright's great work. If after reading the second volumen, Jesus and the victory of God, anyone thought that Tom wasnt interested or didnt believe in the resurrection of Jesus, now is the time to find out. Important in his exposition is making clear that when Paul and the evangelists talked about Jesus being raised and/or resurrected, they were NOT talking about a post-mortem spiritual existence or Jesus's continued prescence in the early church. They werent either talking about a mere resucitation or using the word resurrection as another way of saying that he was dead and resting with God. They were literally speaking about death's reversal, about someone being dead and then being alive again, with a (trans)physical body.
My favorite chapter was the one devoted to what Paul actually said about his encounter with Jesus. You might be surprised to learn that there was no falling from the horse in the road to Damascus, and that the narrative in Acts about a blinding light and a voice is only a biblical model to tell about an encounter with God's sphere. Tom Wright is more interested in what Paul himself said, not Luke. And Paul's words cannot be read in another way: he says that he saw Jesus.
If the early christians were wrong or right about Jesus being raised from the dead is another point. Tom puts the evidence in front of us and lets us decide. What remains clear at the end is that those 1st century christian-jews really believed that Jesus raised from the tomb in the first Easter.
on October 6, 2003
If you are not reading NT Wright's Seires of Books on the People of the New Testement and the Question Of God, you are not taking your beliefs seriously. Even if you are an atheist, agnostic, liberal or conservative believer. Wright is reframing the discussion about Christianity, if you want to participate in the future discussions you will need to address his arguments. his ideas are a fresh new perspective based on the newest information. How he interpetes the breadth of material will send scholars and theologians running to the presses.
This book is the third of the series, and the previous two are required background (New Testament and People of God, Jesus and The Victory of God) You could opt for the cliff notes version Wright published under the title The Challenge of Jesus, but you miss a lot of impressive analysis.
His work is too detailed to offer an adequate summary. He begins by diagraming beliefs about the after life in all the cultures that begat the hotbed of first century Palestine. This begins with Greek, Roman, and other pagan ideas, ending with a survey of NT Gospel, and early 1st - 3rd century writers. Wright gives careful consideration to non cannon works and gnostic literature. His survey is almost too much for an average reader to bear.
However, just when you are about to become overwhelmed, Wright begins his analysis and exegesis, both are rewarding and fascinating. He ties the entire survey together along with his two earlier books in the series. At the end you find yourself, not relieved to have finished the 800 page book, but want it to continue for another 8,000.
I can't wait to get the next in the series on Paul, you will feel the same excitment.
on December 4, 2003
This work should be required reading in seminaries the world over. Whether one agrees with Wright's thesis or not, no responsible student of the New Testament or Christian history can ignore this work.
Wright traces the development of the Christian belief in resurrection by contrasting it with the prevailing notions of life after death in the Jewish and Greek cultural worlds. What emerges is clear: nothing quite like the resurrection stories in the Gospels was ever in view before the evangelists wrote them down. He argues cogently that the differences in the resurrection stories in the gospels, far from proving their lack of trustworthiness, point toward a sense of awe and wonder that everyone involved felt regarding Jesus' appearances. This should be expected when someone has an experience that is literally the first of its kind in human history.
As a methodological point, I especially appreciate Wright's assertion that history is not made up of repeatable events, but unrepeatable events, such as Caesar crossing the Rubicon. No one expects Julius to march on Rome again any time soon, but no one seriously doubts the he did just that. The same criteria should be extended to the resurrection of Jesus.
I also enjoyed his point that dead people stayed dead in the ancient world just as in the modern (or is it post-modern?) one. Modern NT scholarship often assumes no one who lived in the first century knew anything at all about the world or how it operates, and therefore their understanding of the world needs correction through the lenses of the enlightenment.
As always, Wright writes with an almost devotional warmth and never slides into the dreaded trap of speaking theologese, though it's clear that he could if he so chose.
This work is likely to offend fundamentalists and liberals alike, which is always refreshing. Buy this book. You may hate it or it may change your life, but Wright's work is worth your money.
on July 20, 2005
As a theology graduate student, this massive book rates as the most influential theological/biblical book that I have read thus far. Why? Wright is a thorough, first-class scholar who goes back to the sources and back to the historical context. The key to his method is that, unlike so many disappointing, so-called biblical scholars, he instead seeks to discover what the biblical writers actually thought and intended, and not retroject post-modern Western views on the biblical writers. His conclusion in this now standard study of the Resurrection of Christ is that the biblical writers believed in a bodily resurrection as Christian orthodoxy has always affirmed, not in some ethereal, non-bodily survival after death that some "prestigious" scholars seek to promote. As a historian, he concludes that no alternative belief other than the genuinely bodily resurrection of Christ explains the content and belief-system of the New Testament and the rise of Christianity after Christ's death (see Chapter 18). And he makes the historical case that such a belief could have arisen only if this event, the bodily resurrection of Christ, really occurred. Read the book, take your time, read even the footnotes, and you will get a graduate education in biblical theology for the price of this book. You will be light years ahead of many so-called theologians and biblical scholars. The book has 738 pages of text; but Wright, thankfully, has summaries scattered throughout to help you see the big picture. I would recommend beginning by reading the first chapter and chapter 18 and then reading the summaries or conclusions at the end of each of the chapters in between. Then I would go to Wright's chapter seven where he discusses the key passages on resurrection in 1 Corinthians. Then, go back to chapter 2 and start reading through the book methodically, taking your time, for as long as it takes. It will not be a waste of time. In the end, you will agree with Wright's last line, borrowing from St. Paul in 1 Cor. 15:58b, that "in the Lord our labour is not in vain." Your faith will be decisively confirmed.
on May 17, 2003
Tom Wright continues to bring an extraordinary level of erudition, careful argument, and old-fashioned work in the scholarly woodshed to his magnum opus, Christian Origins and the Question of God, the series in which this book is the third. What is most unique about Wright's project is the way that he is applying the discipline of history to theological territory with considerably more rigor than previous (and current!) searchers for "the historical Jesus," while also developing a theological argument that is both innovative and faithful to the Christian tradition. While many other theologians who wish to maintain a vigorous form of Christian belief find it necessary to escape into pietism or ahistorical formulations of that belief, Wright has reclaimed the intellectual high ground.
The burden of proof--that the resurrection did not happen, that Christian origins have mundane historical roots, that a post-Enlightenment dismissal of Christian claims can be taken for granted--is now solidly on the side of Wright's opponents. In one hundred years (or perhaps even ten years) this series may be seen as marking as much of a turning point in New Testament studies as Bultmann's work was in the early twentieth century.
on March 20, 2004
As a non-Christian, I must say that I was, at first, overwhelmed by the size and scope of this book. The author has such a familiarity with his time period and the sources relevant to it that, at times, it seems almost unreal (even super-human). His entire project has been ambitious to say the least and this last volume has been no exception.
Essentially, Wright starts by analyzing the pagan worldview as it was (theoretically speaking) around the time of Jesus. As noted above, his command of the literature is impressive, he gives a convincing portrait of what a pagan living sometime between 200 BCE and 200 CE would have believed about the nature of life, death and the after-life. It is clear, to the discerning reader, that from the outset his goal will be to show why it is a mistake for scholars to read too much paganism into the early church and, thus, into the New Testament documents themselves. He illustrates this by giving an account of the stories, praxis, questions and answers, and symbols of both second temple Judaism and paganism, and then by arguing that the data of Christian literature proves a best fit within the Jewish worldview.
From there, he goes on to show how the Christian story was a linear offshoot of the Jewish story, particularly concerning the resurrection. Christians would have been seen a "radical" Jews by the surrounding Jewish community, because of their beliefs concering the resurrection and the man named Jesus of Nazareth whom, apparently, God had raised from the dead marking the beginning of the kingdom and the promise of a future resurrection for those whom follow the Christ. Wright argues his point by analying the relevant passages themselves and, for the most part, his analysis is brilliant, original and refreshing.
However, I still disagree with Wright on many points including his estimation of the pagan influence on early Christianity and, thus, on the writings of the New Testament (particularly Paul) as well as some of his exegesis of Scripture and, ultimately, his conviction that Jesus is the resurrected, divine, Son of God. I suspect that in a conversation he and I would have to agree to disagree: fair enough. After all, Wright's three books are just telling a story, a story from a particular point of view. It is a higly detailed and fairly coherent story, but it is still just a story, one of many. I like that Wright himself admits as much (see book one), and leaves it to the reader to make his decision. I have made mine (for now). I envite you to read this work, for it has the potential to challenge you re-consider the story you now tell, and replace it with something closer to the one Wright wants to tell the world. If this intruigues you, this book is well worth your time.
on February 3, 2004
The only reason I gave this book 4 stars instead of 5 was because it was way too long-winded. This is perhaps the editor's fault as well as the writer's.
The author makes the convincing argument that without the actual bodily resurrection of Jesus, Christianity as we know it would not exist.
Wright makes it very clear that resurrection is an actual physical existence or a coming back to earth in a body after your life after death or "life after life after death". It is not a soul or ether ascending to Heaven nor is it a resuscitation of a corpse. It is a complete transformation into an incorruptible physical existence as explained by the Apostle Paul. Christianity is true to its Jewish roots in believing in the physical resurrection which was a foreign idea to gentiles.
Wright talks about the earliest ideas of resurrection developed in Daniel 12:12 and Ezekiel 37 which became more personalized in 2 Maccabees in which martyrs or those suffering from injustice would be vindicated in the world to come by obtaining a new physical but incorruptible life and inheriting a transformed earth.
The resurrection of Jesus was an unexpected event which could not be fully comprehended or explained by the gospel writers. This accounts for the lack of Biblical exegis or implications in the gospel accounts.
The resurrection of Jesus was seen as a renewal of God's covenant not only with Israel but with all of creation as well. It was a restoration of creation. The age to come had entered into the present age. Those belonging to this new covenant were living in the age to come (the Spirit) even though still stuck in the present corruptible age (the flesh) according to Paul. The "Spirit" allows believers to experience the resurrected life in the present life.
Paul's apostleship was never challenged by the other disciples because he had been a witness of the resurrected Jesus. This was a limited event which was witnessed by a limited number of people during a period of time after the crucifixion. Thus, it was not some visionary experience. Paul admits to being unprepared and unworthy of the event since he had not been one of Jesus' followers and had actually persecuted the movement.
One of the best points made in the book was that the doctrine of bodily resurrection was a revolutionary doctrine which led to the persecution of Christians. The idea of a kingdom on earth replacing all other kingdoms could not be tolerated by the Roman authorities. A religion which taught that the souls of the dead would go to some otherworldly place would never pose a threat to authority.
Other than its length and numerous redundancies, this book is definitely worth reading.
on January 21, 2005
"The most monumental defense of the Easter heritage in decades ... 'The Resurrection of the Son of God' marches through a clearly organized case that confronts every major doubt about Easter, ancient and modern."
Richard Ostling's (Associated Press) words at the very front of the book, may be the best concise summary for this work.
In any case, Dr. Tom Wright's new work packs an intellectual and apologetic whallop, delivering a death-blow to liberal scholarship's cherished alternatives to Jesus' Resurrection. The third of a six-book series (Christian Origins and the Question of God), it walks the reader down a thorough tour of 'resurrection' - through the worlds of antiquity from the second millennium BC to the end of the second century AD. The author investigates the question, "What happened on Easter morning?" by pressing, at the outset, two similar questions: "Why did Christianity appear? And why did it take the shape it did?" In constructing his case, he proceeds to establish the various worldviews (Jewish and non-Jewish) of the ancient Near East, set boundaries (what does 'resurrection' mean for each; how does it differ from other views about post-mortem existence), before actually examining the witness of early Christianity itself (Paul; the Evangelists; other New Testament writings; non-canonical early Christian literature).
The volume is quite long - over 700 pages - but for those willing to endure the journey for its treasures, Wright blazes a trail through a seemingly endless amount of literature: from ancient non-Jewish Mediterranean & Near-Eastern cultures to ancient Judaism and into inceptive, and developing, Christianity: examining options, hitting upon all relevant communities and assimilating their worldviews and behavior into his argument (there was neither need nor space to be exhaustive). Wright stops to look at all pertinent letters, gospels and books - inside AND outside the New Testament - observing and expositing within each any 'resurrection' strands, directly or indirectly related ... for thoroughness.
For those unfamiliar with the book, its contents follow this sequence:
(1) Set the Scene, looking at
a. the target and the arrows (the tools and the goal of the historical task) used to investigate Easter;
b. life beyond death in ancient paganism;
c. death and beyond in the Old Testament; and
d. hope beyond death in post-biblical Judaism
(2) Explore 'Resurrection' in Paul
a. outside 1 + 2 Corinthians
b. 'resurrection' in Corinth (1): introduction
c. 'resurrection' in Corinth (2): the key passages
d. when Paul saw Jesus
(3) Explore 'Resurrection' in Early Christianity (Apart from Paul)
a. hope refocused (1): Gospel traditions outside the Easter narratives
b. hope refocused (2): other New Testament writings
c. hope refocused (3): non-canonical early Christian texts
d. hope in person: Jesus as Messiah and Lord
(4) Examine the Story of Easter
a. general issues in the Easter stories
b. fear and trembling: Mark
c. earthquakes and angels: Matthew
d. burning hearts and broken bread: Luke
e. new day, new tasks: John
(5) Belief, Event and Meaning
a. Easter and history
b. the risen Jesus as the Son of God
In my own study of Jesus' resurrection, this really did turn out to be the book I was looking for. Its study of the nature, stories, praxis, and world-view of historic Judaism and (more particularly) earliest Christianity is insightful, responsible, topically thorough, tremendous in its scope, compelling in its case, powerful in its implications, and surprisingly careful not to resort to reductionistic argumentation. In short: it challenges academia's highest, most sophisticated arguments against the bodily resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.
Because of its thoroughness, and the way in which it uniquely addresses its theme, THE RESURRECTION OF THE SON OF GOD should be standard reading for college-level courses studying early Christianity.
This is truly first-rate scholarship, from the first page to the last.
Five well-deserved stars!