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What Really Happened to Jesus: A Historical Approach to the Resurrection Paperback – January 1, 1996
"Enlightenment Now: The Case for Reason, Science, Humanism, and Progress"
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Text: English (translation)
Original Language: German
From the Back Cover
Were the resurrection appearances real physical events - or nothing more than grief-induced hallucinations? What does it mean to say, Jesus rose from the dead? Dissatisfied with what he regarded as evasive answers given by theologians and scholars about the nature of the resurrection of Jesus, Gerd Ludemann here subjects the New Testament traditions to a thorough investigation. In particular, Ludemann is concerned with the story of the empty tomb and the subsequent appearance stories first related by Peter. Ludemann's startling and somewhat radical conclusions have created a stir in Europe. This book, written for nonspecialists, presents Ludemann's provocative conclusions. Readers will find a positive, albeit a revolutionary, new way of viewing the resurrection.
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He wrote in the Preface to this 1995 book, "My book Resurrection of Jesus: History, Experience, Theology... [was] passionately rejected in circles which regarded questioning of the bodily resurrection of Jesus as a betrayal of the gospel, and legal proceedings against the author were called for. For others... what the book said about the corruption of the body of Jesus went too far... However, some people have complained that the book is too academic, too detailed and difficult for lay people to understand... The more popular version offered here is meant to meet the often-expressed desire for the results of academic research to be made more easily accessible to non-specialists."
He observes, "Roman legal practice provided for someone who died on the cross to rot there or to be consumed by vultures, jackals or other animals. This was to be a warning to the living. This conclusion is excluded for Jesus, as the traditions agree in relating that his body was taken down from the cross... So the 'burial of Jesus' may be one of those cases in which the Roman authorities released the body. The Jewish writer Philo... reports such exceptions. Presumably Jews took Jesus down from the cross, because someone who had died from crucifixion might not hang on the cross overnight... and because a feast day (=Passover) was imminent." (Pg. 23)
He suggests, "So specifically, 'Jesus appeared to Paul' means that Paul saw the risen Jesus in his glory, which need not tell against an inner vision of the outward vision. This vision was felt to be an extraordinary event and a revelation. This is expressed by the character of the event as 'light.'" (Pg. 105) After citing 1 Cor 12, he states, "We now know that Paul often had visions. He must assume that his conversion experience before Damascus, in which the risen Christ appeared to him, was also a vision." (Pg. 125-126)
He argues, "Despite their independence from each other there are clear parallels between the two original visions of Peter and Paul: 1. In both, the vision of Jesus is inseparably related to the denial of Jesus or the persecution of his community. 2. In both a feeling of guilt is replaced by the certainty of grace. 3. Both figures may have put forward a doctrine of justification which was similar... However, this means that God must no longer be assumed to be the author of these visions... Rather, these were psychological processes which ran their course with a degree of regularity---completely without divine intervention... this means that the assumption of a resurrection of Jesus is completely unnecessary as a presupposition to explain these phenomena. A consistent modern view must say farewell to the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event." (Pg. 130) He adds, "let us say quite specifically: the tomb of Jesus was not empty, but full, and his body did not disappear, but rotted away." (Pg. 135)
Lüdemann's opinions are obviously controversial, but his arguments---particularly the detail with which he focuses on the resurrection---are important to study for anyone investigating the historical Jesus... whether one agrees with him or not.
On the resurrection, Ludemann asserts that “...it is certain that something must have happened after Jesus’ death which led his followers to speak of Jesus as the risen Christ” (p.26). As for Jesus’ resurrection appearances, Ludemann goes into considerable dissertations equating ‘appearance’ = ‘seeing’ = ‘vision.’ He writes that “the original seeing of the Easter witnesses was a seeing in the spirit; they did not see a revived corpse” (pg. 69). He goes on to point out that the “tradition behind the meal of the risen Jesus with his disciples is relatively late. The Lord’s Supper is understood as a symbol of encounter with the risen Lord. Thus the presence of this tradition merely confirms that an appearance of Jesus to his disciples took place in some form; however, the link with a ‘supper’ is to be regarded as unhistorical” (pg.76).
Because of Ludemann’s emphasis on detail, it took me longer to get through the 137 pages of this book than a less studious book of 500 pages. I underlined and highlighted many lines and paragraphs and made copious notes in the margins. It was a worthwhile study, although the amount of detail did get a bit tedious at times.
The final chapter, “Consequences of the Results of the Investigation,” was so concise and to the point – and in my comfort zone – that I almost rated the book 5 stars. (I gave it a 4-star rating only because most of the book required such a degree of concentration and real study that I wasn’t expecting – which I know is an unfair way to rate someone’s scholarly treatise.) Ludemann states: “We can no longer take the statements about the resurrection of Jesus literally.” He continues, “we cannot unconditionally conclude that if we want to be proper Christians, we must believe in the revival of the corpse of Jesus.... This was not a historical fact but a verdict of faith.... With the revolution in the scientific view of the world, the statements about the resurrection of Jesus have irrevocably lost their literal meaning” (pg.134, 135).
Some of the best lines of the book for me are in this last chapter: “We must stop at the historical Jesus, but we may believe that he is also with us as one who is alive now.... It does no harm from now on for Christians to live by the little that they really believe, not by the much that they take pains to believe. That is a great liberation.....” (pg. 137).
So I close with an AMEN to this scholarly work. I have ordered two more of Ludemann’s books. He appears to be a fellow-“believer in exile.”