75 of 82 people found the following review helpful
on March 1, 2008
This 152-page volume is a great analysis of the historical, political, and religious context of the accounts of the resurrection of Jesus. But don't let the brevity of the book fool you; I had to read it very carefully: Professor Vermes' analysis is erudite; I believe the book is accessible to the lay reader but meaningfully nuanced for the academic. This concise character stands in contrast to N.T. Wright's 800-page tome The Resurrection of the Son of God, which favors belief in the physical resurrection of Jesus.
Refreshingly, Vermes' book is devoid of any argumentative tone. I grew up in an evangelical Christian environment and recently have begun to research the historicity and theological durability of what I was taught. In the course of my research, I have realized that both "sides" of the debate are often dismissive of each other (a fact which finds attestation in the laudatory reviews on Amazon for books which support individuals' predisposed views). My point is that Professor Vermes seems utterly neutral in his treatment of the subject, for which I am very grateful.
What has surprised me in my review of the academic research is how poor the evidence is for many of the supernatural accounts of the Bible. Shame on me for waiting over 30 years to analyze this. Clearly, an omnipotent God could work miracles if so desired. However, I don't see any better evidence for the miracles of the Bible than I do the many superstitions and rumors of the supernatural throughout the span of civilization (as analyzed in books such as Keith Thomas' Religion and the Decline of Magic).
Though I am now agnostic, I do appreciate the tone of Vermes' epilogue: Resurrection in the Hearts of Men, which is one of optimism and the power of the messages of Jesus to inspire us. I will continue to survey scholarly research as it emerges; but for now I embrace my personal responsibility to treat myself and others with respect, a stance which the historical Jesus might support, whether or not he rose from the dead.
34 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on March 18, 2008
"Resurrection" is an interesting exploration of the resurrection stories by one of the leading New Testament scholars today. He gives a far more lucid and concise exploration of the idea of resurrection in the Old and New Testaments than N.T. Wright does in his massive "Resurrection of the Son of God."
Vermes begins by exploring the idea of resurrection/afterlife in the Old Testament. In short, there's not much there. In the Old Testament, the prevailing idea of death was Sheol- a semi-conscious, joyless existence in the grave shared by wicked and just alike. The idea of a resurrection of the just first appears in the Maccabean period, when Jewish martyrs wanted to continue worship of God beyond the grave. The idea of resurrection, of both the wicked and the just to their respective rewards, first appears explicitly in Daniel. In Jesus' time, the only major group to except the idea of resurrection were the Pharisees. According to Vermes, it's not clear that most of the Jewish world yet accepted the idea.
Vermes then moves on to exploring the resurrection narratives and Jesus' teaching on resurrection. Vermes analyzes the texts and concludes that Jesus actually taught very little regarding the resurrection of the body. Further, the actual resurrection narratives don't agree. For one thing, Jesus ascends into heaven immediately in some versions, and waits 40 days in others. Finally, Vermes concludes that the resurrection narratives were primarily about Jesus' glorification at the right hand of the father, not resurrection, and that the early Christians were expecting to have glorified bodies along with Jesus in their own lifetime. As this failed to materialize, Jesus' resurrection was regarded as the "first fruits" for the just who died.
The only part of the book that was not convincing was Vermes' explanation of the resurrection. He claims that Jesus "rose again in the apostles' hearts" after his death, and that they simply wanted to continue his mission. But if this was the case, then why would they have felt the need to write about the resurrection as though it were real in the first place? Why wouldn't they just have said that they were carrying on the ideals of Jesus, rather than writing something that they didn't believe was true? Still, this is an important book by an acclaimed scholar that hopefully will encourage readers to explore the topic further.
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
An outstanding even-handed look and evaluation of the many forms and stories of resurrection in the Bible. The book does not seek to prove or dissprove the resurrection. As Sgt. Joe Friday(Jack Webb) used to say on the old "Dragnet" TV show: "The Facts, Mam, just the facts...."
That's what Geza Vermes gives us in this scholarly, but readable and easily understood work: The ideas and concepts of resurrection and life after death in the Jewish world in Jesus' time, What the Gospels say-and don't say--about Jesus' resurrection, How Paul views it, How critrics have sought to explain it away, and, in the end, he leaves it to the reader to decide what is true, what isn't, what's fact and what's tradition. As any good teacher should do.
There are those, of course, good meaning Christians, who will criticize the book because it doesn't attempt justify their view of truth...there will be others, good people, too, who will attempt to discredit the book because it even bothers to consider that resurrection might be real...
In the end, the book is right where the author intended it to be and where it should be---and outstanding compilation and evaluation of all the resurrection stories, not just those regarding the resurrection of Jesus., but all resurrections cited in the Biblen (Surely you realize that Jesus is not the only resurrection story in the Bible.)
And outstanding piece of work for Christians who want to use their God-given mind and think. Perhpas not for the Fundamentists among us, good people though they are. who say, "It's in the Bible and that's all there is to it...." The question then becomes, "Which of the resurrection accounts do you beleive?" because they all can't be true.....
This book outlines them all with respect and reverence, points out tht differences and similarities, and let's the reader--the thinking Christian, if you will--determine what he or she beleives. That, in turn, becomes "truth" for that individual. Good work. Highly recommended.
61 of 81 people found the following review helpful
Geza Vermes is one of the top scholars on the life of Jesus and perhaps the leading scholar on the Dead Sea Scrolls. In this book, he turns his attention to the resurrection of Jesus. Unfortunately, the book lacks depth and fails to grapple seriously with alternative scholarly perspectives. References to other works are few. There are no footnotes, though there are a few non-referenced endnotes. That is not to say that Vermes is not an accomplished scholar. He surely is and because of that I was interested in his conclusions. But the conclusions of even a respected scholar cannot be divorced from his reasoning and interaction with other scholarship.
Vermes covers the usual bases, albeit briefly. He discusses the development of resurrection belief in early Judaism, the interim period, and then during Jesus' time, including the New Testament. Few of his conclusions are beyond the pale, but time and again Vermes reaches them with little discussion and almost no interaction with other scholarship. For example, Vermes seems dismissive of Ezekiel 37:5-6's vivid description of the valley of dry bones, thinking it mainly as a metaphor for national restoration that inspired later "creators of the new concept of bodily resurrection." As a result, he does not really examine why it occurred to the author to use bodily resurrection as a metaphor for anything if no Jew had conceived of the idea yet. In other words, the author's use of this particular metaphor is suggestive that the concept of bodily resurrection was not foreign to early Judaism.
Vermes also sometimes interprets passages in the way most helpful for his conclusions with little or no regard for reasonable, alternative understandings. Jesus' debate with the Sadducees over marriage and resurrection is a good example. When the Sadducees - who denied resurrection altogether - tried to show its absurdity by using the unlikely hypothetical example of a woman who had many husbands in this life and asking who would be her husband after the resurrection, Jesus turned the tables on them and said that their question betrayed a fundamental ignorance of the Scriptures. Mark 12:18-25; Mt. 22:23-30; Lk. 20:27-36. The question itself was off base because in the next life we will be like angels. Vermes assumes this means that in the afterlife the righteous will be incorporeal. But none of the gospels link the issue to incorporeality (nor is it at all clear that they would; angels could be quite corporeal). Rather, the issue, as Luke makes explicit, is eternal life. The afterlife is radically different because those who participate in it will never die.
Although intended to be the heart of the matter, the actual discussion of the New Testament resurrection accounts is surprisingly brief. There are nine pages recounting the contents of each gospel, then eight pages of discussion with a chart. (As with the rest of the book, these are small pages with rather large print). Additional pages are devoted to the resurrection in Acts, Paul, and the rest of the New Testament. He notes the differences in the sequence of events, identities of participants, and the number and location of appearances. But rather than spend much time inquiring into the reasons for such differences, including the possible use of literary devices such as telescoping, the use of different sources or the influence of different apologetic purposes, Vermes concludes that such evidence does not satisfy the rules of a legal or scientific inquiry. Which may be true, I suppose, but tells us little about what a historical inquiry should yield.
Despite his misgivings, Vermes seems to accept the historicity of the empty tomb and the fact that some sort of appearances occurred. He explores alternative theories, such as the wrong tomb, stolen body, and not-really-dead theories, and finds them all lacking as historical explanations. So just what does Vermes think happened? I still do not know for sure. His epilogue is titled, "Resurrection in the Hearts of Men." He admits that Jesus' followers experienced a powerful mystical event that caused them to proclaim the gospel with authority. His theory seems to be that these two factors combined to spur them on to proclaiming the gospel, and that when their newfound missionary activities were successful, their doubts eased and Jesus was resurrected in their hearts. This seems to put the cart before the horse and fails to offer an explanation for the empty tomb and the resurrection appearances in the first instance. It also leaves unexplained Paul's encounter with the risen Jesus. Finally, it fails to explain why Jesus' followers would have interpreted these events as a resurrection rather than some other event -- such as an assumption into heaven. This last issue is one of the crucial historical questions surrounding Jesus' reported resurrection and the absence of any serious exploration of it is a substantial omission.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on July 12, 2010
Vermes attempts to harmonize the gospels with each other and gives insight into Jewish perepective at the time of Christ. The work is brief but scholarly and filled with quotes. Vermes has done his homework. His style is notable. It's scholarly and erudite while still being readable for the lay person. He also walks a fine line, maintaining a calm, objective tone while neither attacking nor endorsing the physical resurrection of Christ.
I highly recommend this book for thinking Christians and those who seek a deeper understand on the gospels and their writers. Also, it's mercifully short.
11 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on March 23, 2008
Vermes does an excellent job as an historian examining the development of notions of life, death, and life after death throughout ealier history in the Jewish world. He then turns to the tales of Jesus of Nazareth's resurrection in the New Testament, giving them a thorough examination regarding their development and possible historical value, if any. He definitely avoids conclusions he does not feel warrented by what he considers the New Testament documents, which is, I feel the one criticism that can be leveled at what is otherwise a very thorough treatment. Somehow he doesn't fully make the case for the fictiveness of most of the trial and crucifixional stories in the Gospels, and certainly doesn't deal with the contradiction between the Markan tale of Jesus's burial the same day as his crucifixion in the sort of tomb reserved for upper echelon people--the nobility and kings--and the fact that Roman crucifixion practice did not permit removal of the body of the crucified, but left them on the cross to be food for birds and dogs, thus terroristically preventing the proper burial so dear to the hearts of the peasantry. Jesus, in fact, was no doubt left on the cross, and his remains ultimately thrown into the usual common bone-burial spot used for such removals. Whatever his resurrection was would have to be explained more on the basis of the hopes and dreams of his followers than the bodily "standing up from among the dead ones" these unhistorical tales have fomented among Christians since the time they were eventually developed after the fact of Jesus's disciples concluding that he was now alive again somewhere somehow on the divine plane of God. Vermes probably avoided examining these issues due to the furor they would doubtless cause among those whose beliefs are founded on the notion that somehow these stories describe actual historical events when in fact they are perhaps best called "theological fictions."
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Vermes is a noted scholar, but his conclusions about the resurrection are confused and not convincing.
Although the title of the book would indicate he was going to discuss the resurrection of Christ, in fact Vermes spends the bulk of this short book on a discussion of the idea of resurrection in ancient Israel. Much of this will be of little interest to anyone, since it is merely a retelling of common knowledge.
One bad stumble: Vermes calls Jesus' statement in John's gospel to 'eat my flesh and drink my blood' a "cannibalistic allegory...hardly attributable to Jesus speaking to his Galilean listeners" (p 68). Granted, the image would be anathema to a devout Jew of the time.
That is, in fact, why in John 6 some followers promptly ask Jesus whether he means this symbolically. Jesus insists again, using the word meaning 'to gnaw', as in meat. The idea is so antithetical to Jewish teaching that many of his followers desert him.
Why, it's so odd it almost sounds like Jesus was trying to start something new, like a new religion, a point Vermes misses.
Vermes argues that "Afterlife did not seem to have occupied a central position in the thought of Jesus," (p 111), a point anyone who has read the New Testament will find nonsense.
Nevertheless, Vermes admits that by about 53 AD Paul can call upon some 500 people who saw the risen Christ. Then, having admitted this, he attempts to investigate the usual explanations for the resurrection.
Most of these explanations have been tried since the beginning of Christianity and found wanting for various reasons, such as the theft of the body, the wrong tomb, Jesus surviving the crucifixion, visions, and a spiritual, not bodily, resurrection.
Vermes gives these explanations only a cursory look, barely a page or two. So what is his belief on the subject? He doesn't even attempt an explanation, which is too bad, and leaves the book feeling curiously flat and unfinished, given the title.
2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on September 25, 2010
The book is organized in two parts; the first dealing with the ideas about the afterlife in Jewish thought before and during the time of Jesus and the second with the resurrection and eternal life as its encountered in the thoughts expressed in the NT. He is compressing quite alot of research about these ideas in short chapters and progresses rapidly through the literature. Looking at how the idea of the resurrection gradually took its place in Jewish society, in some places alongside the idea of the finality of death and in some places, especially where the Pharisees were present, taking over the idea that death was final.
The 2nd part looks first at how the idea of the resurrection figured in the teaching of Jesus, at predictions of the resurrection of Jesus, how the NT portrays the resurrection of people other than Jesus. After that he reviews how the Gospels, Acts, Paul and the rest of the NT describes the resurrection of Jesus and rounds up with noting the parallels and contradictions between the accounts.
He ends with looking at 6 alternative theories to explain the resurrection of Jesus but shows how they fail to stand up under scrutiny. And leaves it at that. The epilogue is titled: "Resurrection in the hearts of men", which probably shows his own view.
Another interesting book by Geza Vermes. I enjoyed the rapid though thorough overview he gives about the ideas before and during Jesus' time concering the afterlife and resurrection. This was definitely helpful as a background to the second part where he treated the NT's presentation of the resurrection. His treatement of the latter was very good and I have few comments to make, clear and convincing. I was a bit dissappointed with the epilogue and expected more of him, but at the same time appreciate that he is careful not to overstep the limits of the historian.
8 out of 10
on May 23, 2010
In the Apostle's heart is a beautiful conclusion that comes from being cornered into a dead end.
Plowing through the available NT texts, accounts blurred by their numerous differences, Vermes tries to bring into focus a reasonable picture of what he believes happened or did not happen. Like everybody else, he fails because he neither believes in the resurrection nor does he dismiss the whole story as a myth. Concluding that the Resurrection was "In the Apostle's heart" opens a third path that supports that the resurrection account had a powerful meaning to the Gospel writers, whatever it really stood for. Vermes is a highly learned man in the biblical field, and gives here the impression that he "feels" something is wrong or poorly understood in the Resurrection story that cannot be weighed only on the scale of belief or disbelief. The reader also senses that Vermes does not have the answer to an event that is neither historical nor mythical, but had a community meaning to the evangelists.
At the start of the first century CE, ideas of eternal life and bodily resurrection were in the air amongst the Pharisees and their opponents from the Essene community of the Scrolls, with still no Christians around. So what happened later in a community that was called, according to second century CE Church father Epiphanius, Essene before becoming Christian? The real clues to understanding what the Gospels meant to those who wrote them and not to those who later used them will probably be found within the ideological affiliation between Essenes and Christians.
on September 5, 2013
The first part of this book did nothing for me, it was rehashing everything I had read elsewhere, which doesn't mean it isn't worthwhile, just that for me it was redundant. The last part of the book got really interesting. I found the explanation of Romans 1:4 to be a new one. The author writes, rephrasing Paul's words in Romans 1:4, "...the man Jesus, born of a Jewish woman as a descendant of King David, rose to the dignity of the Son of God through his Resurrection from the dead." He goes on to state that, according to Paul, "the Resurrection is the cause of Jesus' elevation to divine Sonship," an interpretation which I had never heard before but which could easily fit into some of the Arian thinking about "adoption." To follow that line of thinking would mean that Jesus wasn't the Son of God prior to his Resurrection!
The 6 theories to explain the Resurrection and the author's refutations of each one was one of the best parts of the book. I eagerly awaited the epilogue to find out this noted historian's explanation of the Resurrection. What a disappointment! My only comment after reading the last line of the epilogue was, 'huh'? I expected something more - which just goes to show that the Resurrection, no matter how difficult to accept rationally, simply isn't that easy to explain away. I would rate the first part of the book 3 stars and the last part 5 stars, so I averaged it for a 4 star rating.