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The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives…
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The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives

by Reginald H. Fuller

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The strength of this work is that it covers all of the New Testament sources of the resurrection narratives, meaning Paul's letters as well as the canonical Gospels. There is also an appendix that discusses the resurrection appearances in some of the apocryphal gospels. Fuller is obviously competent and familiar with the material. He finds redactions, exaggerations, conflations, and invention at every turn. In fairness, though, he also reaches conclusions more traditional, such that Luke had an independent source beyond Mark, that the Emmaus Road Story is based on earlier tradition, and that at least the report of the empty tomb by a women or women is historical.

The greatest weakness of this book is the leaps that Fuller takes to reach conclusions that will appear to the reader as speculative, at best. The book has less than 200 pages of text. There are sentences that should be paragraphs and paragraphs that should be chapters and chapters that could easily be books. As a point of comparison, Raymond Brown takes 1500 pages and two volumes to cover the death and burial of Jesus. This does not mean that Fuller is always wrong, just that he often provides insufficient information and discussion for us to form an opinion one way or the other.

One example is Fuller's conclusion that the "third day" reference in 1 Corinthians 15 "is not a chronological datum, but a dogmatic assertion." Why the disciples would have found "on the third day" to be dogmatically necessary is gleaned from much later apocalyptic writings in the Talmud. But not only are these sources much later than the resurrection narratives, they are not discussed or even cited (Fuller provides a secondary reference). Nevertheless, Fuller assumes that these apocalyptic beliefs about the significance of the "third day" must have been powerfully active during the time of Jesus. So powerful that the early Christians had to invent a reference to "on the third day" to meet that expectation. But apparently not powerful enough to have left any contemporary evidence of its existence. This seems unlikely and needs much more evidence than is cited.

I do not mean to impugn Fuller. After sweeping away the possibility that there was a historical event that prompted the tradition, he had little choice but to come up with an alternative--no matter how unsupported. Of course, his discussion of why there could not have been a historical prompting for the tradition rests on his assumption that early Christians would not have seen the discovery of the empty tomb and the beginning of the resurrection appearances as indicating the day Jesus was resurrected. I disagree and think at the very least the point merits much further attention. Certainly it would be reasonable for the apostles to conclude that Jesus' resurrection occurred within the same time frame as the empty tomb being discovered and the beginning of the resurrection appearances. Fuller also ignores the reports that Jesus referred to the destruction of the temple and its being rebuilt in three days. This tradition is attested by two traditions (Jn. 2:19 and Mark 14:58; 15:29) so it is not so easily dismissed.

In addition to a simple lack of sufficient discussion, part of the problem seems to be Fuller's apparent assumption that any tension between the accounts can only be explained by authorial redaction. He also sometimes views the literary evidence as a closed universe. For example, because Paul only lists resurrection appearances without supplying narratives, Fuller appears to conclude that the narratives later grew out of the lists. I find this rather unlikely. Some of the appearances in Paul never found there way into a narrative and other narratives, though existing before the gospels, have no detectable source in the list. Additionally, Paul is expressing a creedal statement, useful in preaching and in letter writing. But it seems more likely that the list was distilled from known stories about the resurrection appearances. After all, the leaders of the church had actually experienced these appearances themselves (Peter, James, Paul, the Twelve, and the Apostles). Not nearly enough attention is given to the dynamic of how these witnesses would have shaped the development of the narrative traditions. Paul lived at least as late as 62 CE. James too lived into the 60s. Though we have less information about Peter, he too seems to have lived into the 60s. (Not to mention the Twelve and the other apostles). All of them were continuously active in the church as leaders of the young movement. Would they have really left such little imprint on gospels written only 5-15 years later? I am skeptical. But again, the issue deserves much more attention than it gets.

Overall, an informative read with some insights and good discussion. But ultimately this book is more useful for pointing out the issues than resolving them. ( )
  Layman | Aug 15, 2006 |
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