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The power and complexity of the resurrection

EVERTON PRYCE

Sunday, April 20, 2014    

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THOUSANDS of Christians will gather today over the length and breadth of this country in churches, under tents, and in varying other structures, to celebrate and revere the resurrection event of Jesus Christ.

Even Jamaicans who are all children of the same God but choose to devise their own expressions — from pocomania through cultism to Zion revivalism, and to the contemporary version of self-government in religion known as Rastafari — will be preoccupied in one form or another with the question of whether the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happened.

Strictly speaking, one does not have to be a Christian, or believe in the scriptures for that matter, to be preoccupied with this question. For intense debates have gone on for centuries around it in religious and secular circles — and as night follows day, will go on for some considerable time to come.

Given the nature of the religious phenomena of this country — where Jamaicans have long found God to be an unassailable guiding principle beyond the reach of all oppressors — it is perhaps not surprising, yet understandable, that questions surrounding this issue are pursued with great passion and intensity.

The Daily Observer in its Thursday, April 17 - Friday, April 18 edition, for instance, treated its readers to a letter to the editor dramatically entitled 'The Bible proves there was no resurrection'.

And, like the devil, some local religious commentators are often observed to cite scriptures, like the Observer letter writer, for their perennial purpose of raising the question of when exactly was the crucifixion.

They have also, over decades, debated ad nauseam the implications of the traditional 'Friday view' of this epochal event against the non-traditional 'Wednesday view'.

In the final analysis, both the Observer letter writer and local religious analysts come over as little more than religious ideologues whose public utterances regarding the resurrection events are designed to cause us to rest on the sense of outrage they sometimes engender. But the implications of their arguments are too far-reaching to justify any such self-indulgence.

As such, one is forced on this score to share the view of a Gleaner letter writer (Dudley C McLean, April 17) that "It does not matter whether Jesus was crucified on Wednesday, Thursday or Friday".

What matters instead — in face of the impossibility of proving, or disproving, in secular terms, an event such as the resurrection of Jesus Christ with any certainty of arguments — is that we are able for the moment to suspend religious ideology and leanings towards theological scholarship and instead focus on a number of probabilities as lay persons which can provide answers to the dynamic question: Did the resurrection of Jesus Christ really happen?

In the first place — and in simple terms — it is very clear to me that something very dramatic and extraordinary happened to change the disposition of the disciples.

After the crucifixion, they were clearly a group of extremely terrified, frightened, confused, not to mention traumatised individuals who had seen their dearest friend brutally killed.

A few days later they were making what must have seemed like an absurd claim: "Jesus is risen from the dead!"

What do you think could have caused such a change in their demeanour?

In any event, if their claim about Jesus in the context of the period was utterly false, it could easily have been revealed as such.

The autocratic authorities at the time need only have shown to the public the decaying corpse of Jesus, and the disciples' claims would have been irrevocably refuted at a stroke.

If, furthermore, their claim about Jesus being raised from the dead was based on sheer deception, would they in all common sense really have been able to keep up the pretence, given the grave threat of being tortured for their own beliefs?

Moreover, if — as asserted by some sceptics — the man they called Jesus had indeed revived in the tomb and had not been dead when taken down from the cross, the critics of the disciples need, in the circumstances, only to have brought Jesus in front of a court of law to show demonstrably that the claims for the resurrection were embarrassingly outrageous.

And what about the calibre of evidence adduced by the Gospel writers?

John, for example, gave a central role to the women in the resurrection stories. But, as is known, the evidence of women in a court of law at the time was not given the same status as male evidence.

Why, then, deliberately "weaken" the evidence in the story when — if the story was a pure fabrication — it would have been more compelling to use the evidence of men? At the very least, does this not suggest some degree of historical veracity?

I am not a theological scholar by any stretch of the imagination, but my reading of the scriptures in my youth and in adulthood lead me to the view that the Gospels themselves not only have integrity in design, they were also a most unusual form of literature. Some even claim that they are unique. What kind of event, then, might give rise to such a development?

There will be millions of Christian worshippers across the globe today, including the many thousands here in Jamaica, who have not taken the time to analyse the resurrection story in these terms. They will be celebrating Jesus' resurrection out of a sense of duty and observance of centuries-old religious teachings.

But this need not cause alarm; for there is no doubt that there is an inevitable complexity about the resurrection.

What is extremely noteworthy, however, is that even the most sceptical observer cannot fail to admit that out of the crucifixion-resurrection events grew a church that has remained vital and vibrant throughout the years.

Karl Marx in his introduction of Critique of Hegel's Philosophy of Right (1844) declared that "Religion is the sigh of the oppressed... It is the opium of the people." It may well be. But is it really likely that so many sane, reasonable and coherent human beings would base their lives on deception?

There is, without a doubt, danger in raising this question, because as readers of this newspaper would agree, there is no end to human gullibility, nor any end to the abuse of the ignorant by those in power.

But as I wrote in 2010, "while questions can and must be raised about the historical truth of Jesus, questions must also be asked about the church itself, for the church claims in some sense to be the body of Christ and also to receive that same body within the Eucharist. In short, the church claims that the resurrection was not simply a historic event, but began and continues to shape its life in the here and now".

The "spiritual" resurrection theory is not really adequate to explain the change in the disciples, whose universe had literally been altered. Therefore, it is only when we piece all the various arguments together that we are able to reach the point where we can say that the story of the physical resurrection of Jesus makes more sense of the events surrounding His death than any other explanation.

I hope, dear readers, that wherever you are today you will find it appropriate to contemplate the resurrection of the Man from Galilee.

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