Though unacknowledged, the resurrection of Jesus looms large over the work of biblical scholars (yes, even also Old Testament/Hebrew Bible ones).
There is it that a mess of questions about God’s agency and historical science comes to a very fine point. The resurrection of Jesus in my experience usually stays off the conversational table at disciplinary functions: it is kept even by confessional scholars in a kind of sequester of piety, a privately sustained parenthesis amidst the running work of historical reconstruction. If in their research scholars provide exhaustively this-worldly explanations for all the phenomena preserved in the Bible, in a whisper they will sometimes make one exception to God’s activity: the raising of Jesus.
But this – as it stands – may not really be possible or responsible. Whatever the claims mounted, legitimately, from the side of theology for the absolute singularity of this event, like all other events the Bible describes, at least in theory, it either left some empirical residue – or it did not. Under all the strata of tradition and theologizing, some ancestors of later Israel came out of Egypt in a way that is detectable, in principle if not in practice – or they did not. Likewise, under all the supercharged layers of reception, some event with a detectable profile catalyzed the New Testament’s preaching about the resurrection of Jesus. And, crucially, something in the character of this event as experienced by its first witnesses called for an explanation that centrally featured God’s agency. What about the shape of the resurrection event demanded from the disciples that they point to God as its primary actor? And would we now accept that this shape demands the same causal explanation from us?
But if – as I think is true – God’s activity is never directly, incontestably readable from the surface of history, then what does this mean for the resurrection of Jesus, which is clearly, on the New Testament’s interpretations of it, meant to generate faith in God’s intervention and not depend on it? How can we at once affirm the paradoxical character of God’s presence in human history – veiled and revealed, visible by faith and not by sight – and also the faith-catalyzing (indeed, literally visible) quality of Jesus’ resurrection? Must we with Bultmann repudiate Paul’s reference to the 500 living witnesses in 1 Corinthians 15, since the apostle certainly intends there to provide a verifiable basis for belief in God’s raising Jesus?
(If this whets your appetite, one of the older posts of which I am proudest is also about the resurrection).