Monday, August 11, 2008

Mike: Response to Rami's 8/11 Post

There you go again, posing good questions! Of course, by now I should know better than to drop a loaded term into a sentence. Your sharp eyes miss nothing!

Before I try to answer the question you pose at the end of your post, I think it best to address the matter of "literal" and "myth." "Myth," to my way of thinking, is a story that captures a key truth or insight into reality and/or human nature. Scientific reality has to do with theories which are capable of being verified in some manner, not just once but repeatedly. Both myth and science deal with truth, so to speak. Unfortunately, we do not yet know how or if the two methods and their conclusions can be unified. To use an analogy, we're in a quandary similar to that faced by modern physics when it attempts to create a unified theory of everything.

The resurrection of Jesus, at the very least, is one of the great myths. Taken as metaphor or parable, it provides many a modern Christian with insights and motivation enough to sustain viable faith. Naturally, as myth the entire matter falls outside the scope of science.

The same is true, if the resurrection was a one-time event. Whether "myth" or "fact," the scientific method is not designed to investigate or assess the resurrection.

So...when all is said and done, one's approach to the resurrection boils down to individual decision.

My personal decision is to accept the resurrection as a unique event. With that as my starting point, I see the resurrection as God's validation of Jesus (his teachings, actions, way of life, etc.), hence my use of the term "hallowed." To use theological language, all the "powers" could not kill the way of God, stuff it into the grave, and make it stay there. The way of agape love triumphs, when all is said and done. As Aslan once said, this is "deep magic," and the witch does not understand it. Winters come, but they can not hold forever. Now, I'm slipping into literary talk, which is to say drawing on the resource of various sub-created myths, all of which spring from the story of the resurrection.

Would it make a difference to me if the resurrection could be proven beyond doubt to be nothing more than a delusion, a hoax, or a mistake? I suppose the honest answer is: "I don't know." I doubt that it would, mostly because the power of the story long ago gripped my imagination and began to shape my living. I choose to think it would continue to do so.


AaronHerschel said...

I have two comments here.

First, I don't think the Rabbi was asking what would happen to your faith if the resurrection were proved false, but rather: how would Chrisitan faith be altered if the resurrection was not part of the Gospels? That is, what is it the resurrection story adds to the Christian mythos? You may have answered this question in the third and fifth paragraphs of your post, but I suspect there is much more to the myth of the resurrection than its function as a validation of Jesus, and I'd be interested in hearing your thoughts.

Second: I have a quibble with your identification of the resurrection as a unique event. Resurrection as a mythical archetype is both ancient and widespread. To quote, er, Wikepedia, "A cyclic dying-and-rising god motif was prevalent throughout ancient Mesopotamian and classical literature and practice (eg in Syrian and Greek worship of Adonis; Egyptian worship of Osiris; the Babylonian story of Tammuz; rural religious belief in the Corn King)."

Nor is the resurrection motif absent form the Old Testament. "Some of language concerning resurrection in the Hebrew Bible appears to have origins in Canaanite belief as demonstrated by the Baal cycle found at Ugarit in Northern Syria. Ba'al-Hadad's battle against Mot seems to be the origin of the some of the resurrection imagery found in Hosea, Isaiah and Daniel." Job and Ezekiel are also cited as mentioning resurrection.

Finally, Jesus himself resurrects at least three people before the crucifiction, and both Paul and Peter are said to have performed resurrections. Father Alfred J. Hebert, in his book Raised From the Dead, lists no less than 400 resurrection miracles in the Christian tradition (though these are ogten performed by Saints and are not part of the Gospels).

So what is going on here? What do you mean that Jesus' resurrection is "unique"? Also, how might we read the resurrection of Jesus in terms of its relation to this long standing mythic motif?

I want to be very clear here that I am not trying to challenge the factuality or even the importance of the resurrection. As you say, myth transcends fact, and it is clear from the history alone that this particular myth is a great one. What I am curious about is how the resurrection myth figures in the human imagination, and what conclusions we might draw from the story of Jesus' resurrection given this context. Thanks!

Mike Smith and Rami Shapiro said...

This is Mike. Thanks, Aaron, for your comments. I always benefit from what you bring to the discussion.

With regard to your first point, it's entirely possible I misunderstood Rami's question. If so, I'll try to rectify the matter. That being said, I agree there is considerably more to the resurrection than the validation of Jesus. That's but a piece of a larger whole. I focused on the matter in response to Rami's question regarding a previous post.

As for your second point, I think we probably need to define our terms.

In Christian theology, we usually distinquish between resurrection and resuscitation. The story of Lazarus, for example, is about resuscitation, that is a recall to the kind of life one already had. Lazarus lives, but his body is the same as before, and he will die again.

The resurrection of Jesus is something different. His identity and body have continuity with the past, yet there are substantial differences, and he will not die again. His resurrection is believed to prefigure the new bodies and lives God will grant his children in God's own time.

The dying and rising motif certainly is found in any number of religions. Classic Christian theology tends to see such stories as preparation for the Jesus story.
In my own case, I remember being deeply moved by the story of Balder (Norse mythology). Again, though, these are more nearly stories of resuscitation, of a return from death to the kind of life one already had.

In fact, if you want to find a literary example of the resurrection motif, one of the best is the return of Gandalf--who genuinely dies but is sent back, still himself yet different as well, somehow greater than he had been.