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John Shelby Spong, retired Episcopal Bishop, from "The Resurrection of Jesus; Think Different-Accept Uncertainty":
Part XVIII: "... We start our examination of the resurrection of Jesus by examining the biblical texts that purport to tell us about it. The reality of resurrection is assumed in almost every verse of the New Testament, but the details that purport to describe the resurrection are consistently both confused and in many cases actually contradictory.
There are five separate sources consisting of only six chapters in the entire New Testament that purport to tell us about what happened... The first.. [1 Cor 15].. was written .. about two decades before the first gospel.. Then Paul proceeds to give us a list of those to whom.. Christ had appeared.. The most fascinating of these witnesses, however, is Paul himself.. up to six years after the crucifixion.. [he] could not possibly have been referring to a physical body.. So we have in this our earliest source in the New Testament the elements that constitute an ultimate mystery. Whatever the resurrection of Jesus was, it was real, but it was not physical.
Paul gives us a hint as to what it was to which he was referring when he writes later in his letter to the Romans that "Christ being raised from the dead will never die again. Death no longer has dominion over him" (Rom. 6:9). If Paul was referring to a physically resuscitated body that returned to the life of the flesh, then presumably at some point this Jesus would have had to die again.. So, whatever it was that this epistle was trying to communicate, it is not about a body resuscitated and restored to the physical realm.. It also means that whatever that appearance to Paul was, it would have had to have occurred somewhere between one and six years after Jesus' death..
The interpretive task became even more complicated when the first gospel was written. The resurrected Jesus is never seen in Mark's narrative. All Mark gives us in his Easter morning story is an announcement made to the women at the tomb in which it is stated: "He is not here, he has been raised." This announcement was made by a messenger, Mark says, who is not yet regarded or pictured as an angel. So what do these words mean? Was Jesus raised back into the physical life of this world or was he raised into the life of God? That is a question that Mark does not answer. The messenger goes on to direct the women to go tell "Peter and the disciples" that the raised Christ will go before them into Galilee and there they will see him. If the disciples are still in Jerusalem when this announcement was first made, as this text suggests, we need to know that Galilee was a seven to ten day journey, so the promised "appearance" in Galilee of the raised Jesus would fall outside the three day time measure. So in this earliest gospel the promise of a future appearance is made, but.. the raised Christ appears to no one after the crucifixion. That is to many a startling reality, but it is also a biblical fact.
When Matthew writes the second gospel a decade or so after Mark, he has Mark in front of him and he incorporates most of Mark directly into his account. He also changes, heightens and adds to Mark's text.. First the messenger in Mark has become in Matthew a clearly identified, supernatural angel. Second the raised Christ actually does appear to the women in the garden.. in a form physical enough for them to "grasp his feet." Matthew then adds a second appearance story designed to give content to the messenger's promise in Mark that the disciples would see the raised Christ in Galilee. It occurred, said Matthew, on top of a mountain. The disciples presumably trudged up the mountain, but the raised Jesus came mysteriously out of the sky.. He is transformed and clothed in the garments of the Son of Man, who, in Jewish mythology, was to come at the end of the age..
When Luke, the author of the third gospel, written about a decade after Matthew, pens his version of the story, the angelic messenger in Mark, who became an angel in Matthew, has now become two angels and the physicality of the raised Jesus has been enhanced to the place where we are told that he walks, talks, eats, offers his flesh to be felt and interprets scripture. Luke also says that all of the resurrection appearances occurred in the Jerusalem area, dropping all references to a return to Galilee. Then Luke introduces the story of Jesus' ascension. Having made the resurrection into the physical resuscitation of a deceased body, he has to provide a way to get this physical body out of the world without dying again. The ascension was his answer.
Finally, when the Fourth Gospel is written near the end of the first century [95-100], its author offers new and sometimes contradictory material. There are four apparently separate vignettes that the Fourth Gospel has woven together, sometimes rather awkwardly. The first one stars Mary Magdalene alone at the tomb and the focus of this story is that one cannot cling to the idea of Jesus as a physical body. The second vignette focuses on Peter and the "beloved disciple" coming to an empty tomb and we are told that the "beloved disciple" believes without ever seeing a physical body. The third focuses on the disciples in a secured upper room on the evening of the first day of the week and that is the time for this gospel when the disciples receive the Holy Spirit.. the Pentecost transformational experience for the disciples. The fourth episode stars Thomas and its message is "Blessed are those who do not see (a resuscitated body) and yet who still believe..."
Part XVIX: "Behind the narratives of Easter contained in the gospel tradition was an experience that was undeniable, powerful and true to the followers of Jesus... their lives were changed from being fearful people in hiding to being heroic people willing to die for the reality of their new vision. That experience transformed the way they envisioned God so dramatically that the person of Jesus was incorporated into their understanding of God..
Whatever this experience was it occurred around the year 30 C. E. The gospels were not written for two to three generations after that [70-100 C. E. ].. By the time the gospels came to be written, the experience had been explained, told and retold, countless numbers of times and it had evolved into a kind of creedal or liturgical formula.. The phrase "three days" became part of the liturgy not, I suspect, because it was three days after the crucifixion .. but because the Christians gathered on the first day of the week.. and the first day of the week was the third day after the Friday on which the crucifixion was remembered. So three days became the symbol, not the measure of the time between the first Good Friday and the first Easter celebration.
..Who was it who stood in the center of whatever the Easter experience was and who then opened the eyes of the others to see what he had seen? There is no question, but that the gospels portray Simon, who was nicknamed Peter.. [many Bahá'ís would say that this distinction belongs more properly to Mary Magdalene -ed]
In the Epilogue to John's gospel, Peter is the star as he is reconstituted into the band of disciples after being the one who denied and who was then commissioned to feed the sheep of God..
Where were the disciples when this experience called resurrection occurred in a particular individual or in their collective minds.. when their lives were transformed? The earliest gospel tradition asserts that it was in Galilee. That was their home. That is where the messenger in Mark asserts that they will see him. Even Paul hints at.. Galilee. Matthew says that the only time the disciples saw the raised and glorified Jesus was in Galilee on top of a mountain. In the Epilogue to the Fourth Gospel, a very primitive resurrection tradition is recorded as occurring in Galilee, where they had returned to the fishing trade after Jesus' crucifixion. On the other hand both Luke and John assert a primary Jerusalem setting for the resurrection experience, denying the Galilean location totally. Everything about these Jerusalem appearances, however, looks contrived and developed, while the Galilee stories look fresh and original..
These are the details then that force us to answer the "when" question by suggesting that three days was a symbol and not a measure of time. It would have taken the disciples seven to ten days to return to Galilee from Jerusalem after the crucifixion so nothing could literally have occurred inside the three day interval.. Luke suggests that appearances of the raised Christ continued for 40 days. The main body of John's gospel relegates the resurrection experience to two special days separated by one week. The Epilogue to the Fourth Gospel seems to indicate that months had passed before the disciples confronted his risen presence by the Sea of Galilee. If we dispense with literalizing the three day symbol, we open the possibility that whatever Easter was, it might have occurred months after the crucifixion - perhaps up to as long as a year.
So, Peter is the central person, Galilee is the primary place and the time is perhaps months to a year after the crucifixion before the resurrection dawns as a life-changing experience. How then did it dawn? What was the context? I am convinced that it had nothing to do with a resuscitated body walking out of a tomb. It had to do, rather, with a new vision of life, a new consciousness, a new understanding of reality. It had to do with seeing the death of Jesus as a new freedom, a life no longer bound by the primeval drive to survive, a life free to give itself away and even to love those who took his life from him. That was something new, something transformative, something none of them had ever known before. A life free of the drive to survive is victorious over death. A life free to give itself away, free to love, not to avenge those who were his killers, represented a new dimension of what humanity can become and can be..."
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