- Series: Coniectanea Biblica, Old Testament, 50
- Paperback: 275 pages
- Publisher: Almqvist & Wiksell International (December 10, 2001)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9122019456
- ISBN-13: 978-9122019459
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 2 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,379,112 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Riddle of Resurrection: Dying and Rising Gods in the Ancient Near East (Coniectanea Biblica, Old Testament, 50) Paperback – December 10, 2001
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About the Author
Tryggve N. D. Mettinger is Professor of Hebrew Bible at Lund University, Sweden.
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Dr. Mettinger, of the Dept of Theology, Lund U. in Sweden, reviews the scholarship on the issue, through 2000.
That's less cool than you'd think for a couple reasons.
#1 The scholarship deals a lot on archaic gods like Baal, Melquart, Adonis, and there's not a lot of surviving info on them -- so the issue often comes down to scholarly speculation, or scholarly spatting over cuneiform verb forms, as in (I am not making this up):
hklh. sh. lqs. ilm. tlhmn
ilm w tstn. tstnyn `d sbí
trt. `d. skr. yí.db .yrh
(The Ugarites were a very poor people, and so couldn't afford vowels.):
#2 Scholars have defined the issue pretty tightly, so, for example Tammuz isn't a dying and rising god because he's really a demi-god, not a fully vested, tenured god. So, see, there really were no dying and rising gods. QED.
Or, yeah, Osiris did die and get resurrected and go to Egyptian heaven, where he judges people and gives his followers enteral life -- but his resurrection was to heaven, not to Earth,_see, so it wasn't really a resurrection. So there really were no dying and rising gods. QED.
Because the scholarship is so narrowly defined, it doesn't touch on questions people like you or I would like answered. Questions like, "Well, is it possible there's a relationship between Osiris -- a pre-Christian godman who died and got resurrected and now lives in heaven and judges the dead, and Jesus -- a godman who died and got resurrected and now lives in heaven and judges the dead?"
Still, none of that is Dr. Metting's fault, and he's written a fine, readable book summarizing the state of the (narrow) scholarship.
Sorry, no. Not even close.
Very briefly, here is the background: from about 1880-1920 there was a school of biblical studies called the "History of Religions" theory that argued, among other points, that the early Christians swiped the idea of the resurrection from the mystery religions. Frazer suggested Christ was one of many 'dying and rising gods" in "The Golden Bough" about 1910. He also thought Mary was one of many virgins who gave birth to a god, until someone pointed out that none of the pagan god's mothers continued to claim to be virgins after they slept with a god and had gotten pregnant.
To find a wonderful summary of how scholars refuted this idea look up Mircea Eliade--and no, he wasn't a Christian--in "Encyclopedia of Religon". Or get Nash's "The Gospel and the Greeks" or "The Jesus Legend" by Eddy.
At any rate, Jesus was not part of a mythic vegetative cycle. The claim is that he died as a recent, very real, historical figure with thousands of claimed witnesses.
All scholars agree that Paul wrote his epistles 20-25 years after the death of Christ, at a time when Jesus' brother James was still alive, not to mention thousands and thousands of other people who has seen the real Jesus.
In fact, much new biblical research is being done investigating the beliefs of Paul and others during the earliest days of Christianity. For information, read Larry Hurtado's "Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity". Hurtado investigates the early Christian creeds embedded in Paul's epistles. Textual evidence puts the creeds at 2-5 years after the death of Jesus.
When the old "History of Religions" theory was in its heyday, very little archaeological evidence was on hand about the Second Temple Jews. Subsequent digs and further study of the literary works of Second Temple Jews revealed them to be fiercely monotheistic.
Also, it is simply silly to suggest the Second Temple era Jews would have bothered swiping anything from a mystery religion when they had a huge number of mysterious prophecies embedded in their own writings. I mean, a huge, huge number. And apocalyptic hints of all kinds.
And, sure enough, all evidence from Paul and other early Christian writing shows no influence from mystery religions but a VAST influence of Jewish literature of all kinds. The early writings are drenched in quotations from Jewish writings. Plus, a recent important study by N T Wright makes it very clear that Second Temple era Jews meant a very different thing by resurrection than did the mystery religions. And, in addition, from the earliest Christian writings, Christianity was concerned with moral teachings, as opposed to paganism.
All of these recent investigations make it impossible to imagine any serious scholar arguing that Jesus was just another vegetative myth.
Now, let me return to the book "The Riddle of the Resurrection" which, on the back cover, breathlessly promises to discuss "The resurrection of Jesus in the light of religio-historical research".
I imagine the publishers hoped it would sell books. But, the reality is that Mettinger only mentions Jesus in a few paragraphs.
No, as Mettinger points out the gods he discusses are only deities, whereas "In the case of Jesus we are confronted with a human....For the disciples and for Paul, the resurrection of Jesus was a one-time, historical event...The empty tomb was seen as historical..." (p 221).
All of the gods Mettinger studied who could even be distantly be called dying and rising "were closely related to the seasonal cycle" (p 221). In other words, they were pagan vegetative myths.
Moreover, "the death of Jesus is presented...as suffering as an act of atonement for sins" (p 221), a one time event.
Mettinger's book is a scholarly and quite enjoyable. First, he reviews the old discussion on the History of Religions theory and shows why it was refuted. Then he investigates new evidence regarding Melqart. There is new information from a Melqart stele, a vase from Sidon, and a Pyrgi inscription. Melqart dies in flames, much as Baal went to the Netherworld and was swallowed. However, a vase from Sidon suggests he is reborn.
Most interesting is the discussion of Adonis. For Adonis, "The late sources for Levantine Adonis speak clearly about his vegetation symbolism" (p 153)
Also, Mettinger reports on the new evidence of Dumuzi-Tammuz. Dumuzi, who seems at first not to have been a god, but "according to Sumerian mythographers, rises from the dead annually and, after staying on earth for half the year, descends to the Nether World for the other half (p 189).
These are all interesting discussions, although they offer no help to atheists still, for some inscrutable reason, clinging to the idea that Jesus was a pagan rising and dying god.