What Really Happened to Jesus
By Gerd Luedemann
In collaboration with Alf Ozen
· Resurrection of Jesus is the central point of Christian religion
· Perhaps the “key” question
· Almost all other questions of faith and theology are decided by this question
· Christianity stands or falls upon the raising of Jesus from the dead by God
· Christianity begins at Easter
· Without Easter there is no gospel, no faith, no proclamation, no church, no worship, no mission
· Everything depends on the event of Resurrection of Jesus
· Observation that the resurrection of Jesus though indispensable is requisite of theology, also an empty formula
· Witnesses within the bible don’t describe the resurrection
· They report what they experienced, therefore reported differently; full of inconsistencies
· One certain thing, resurrection of Jesus had an incomparable effect
· The resurrection of Jesus was the decisive significance for the rise and developing Christian tradition
Arguments for investigation of Resurrection:
1. No eye witness of accounts of resurrection of Jesus
2. Traditions about the resurrection can’t be disentangled and the historical sources are inadequate
3. The resurrection of Jesus is a miracle, which completely evades our grasp, what can historical work achieve here?
4. It’s impossible to talk meaningfully about the resurrection of Jesus outside the experience of faith and Christian testimony – “To put the question of the resurrection exclusively in historical terms is to alienate the texts of the Easter narratives”
5. Event and interpretation are always interlocked, so that it’s impossible to have access to the event of the resurrection without the interpretation
· All can be explained as visions
· Peter and Paul’s vision to be termed original visions/ because they took place without external catalysts
· Peter’s vision – was failed mourning and overcoming of a severe guilt complex
· Paul’s vision- was an overcoming of a smoldering “Christ Complex”
· Other visions-from mass psychoses
· In both, the vision of Jesus is inseparably related to the denial of Jesus or the persecution of his community
· In both, a feeling of guilt replaced by certainty of grace
· In both, it put forward a doctrine of justification, which led both to turn to Christ in their Easter Experience
This means that God must no longer be assumed to be the author of these visions. Rather, they were psychological processes- without divine intervention. Therefore, assumption that Jesus resurrected is unnecessary to explain phenomena. “The consistent modern view must say farewell to the resurrection of Jesus as a historical event.”
What Really Happened to Jesus: a historical approach to the Resurrection
The text wants to reconstruct the events following Jesus’ death. To do this, it is important to survey all information at our disposal. The author lists the four Gospels, Acts, Paul literature and the Apocrypha. When doing this we cannot assume that chronological age assures accuracy of the information in the text. We must take into account the Gospels were not written by actual companions of Jesus. In addition, just because a passage is referenced in several Gospels does not validate the accuracy of that passage. The author explains that the stories that do not overlap each Gospel can be attributed to local traditions of the community the Gospel was written for. Each community would have favorite fragments of sayings that would have been included for that community. In the forty years between Jesus’ death and when the Gospels were written we know stories change. There may be elaboration and legends formed, so we must understand that not every word of the Gospel may be an actual event. Traditions in the gospels need to be independently studied. The author gives an example that the miracle stories were added later to show the uniqueness of Jesus. It also must be remembered that the Gospels were not written by objective or neutral parties, they were written by followers of Jesus. Therefore, for us to determine the actual historical events of what happened there must be a critical investigation of the legends and exaggerations.
The earliest source we have of the death and resurrection is in I Corinthians 15:1-11. Paul uses traditions of an earlier period. The author uses this text as a guideline for his investigation. The author will try to 1) determine its age, 2) illuminate the situation in which they came into being and 3) to discover what historical events lie behind them.
Paul knows his audience first hand and they share the same tradition and knowledge so there are details that are not mentioned. The author separates the verses in to three parts:
1) Vv. 3b-5 what Paul preached when he founded the community.
2) Vv. 6-7 Further resurrection appearances
3) Vv. 8 The last resurrection appearance to Paul himself
Verses 3b –5 Read
3b that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scripture
4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures
5 and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.
The fourfold “that” indicate a sequence of different formulae. These scriptures actually make up two parts of 1) death and buried and 2) raised and appeared, with the tradition originating in Jerusalem. Luendemann identifies vs5, the appearance to Cephas, as an independent unit of a tradition which Paul proclaimed on his first visit to Corinth and is supported in Luke 24:34. Luendemann concludes that the appearance story for both James and Paul are traditions used to legitimize their positions in the church.
It is concluded in Chapter 2 that the traditions of the death, burial and resurrection and appearances are developed in the first couple of years after the crucifixion of Jesus. He uses a secondary source of Gallio that confirms when Paul was in Corinth and back tracks history to determine Paul’s conversion/appearance of Jesus was around the year 33. He concludes that Paul being the last appearance tradition in I Cor. 15:1-11 came about shortly after Jesus’ death.
Luedemann confirms that the following events are historical:
I. The death of Jesus did occur as the results of crucifixion.
II. The burial of Jesus the earliest account is I Cor. 15-3 but gives no details as to how. There are two different versions of his burial. In Mark 15:42-47 and parallels in Luke, Matthew and John, Joseph of Arimathea buried Jesus.
In John it also says in 19:31-37 the Jews buried Jesus. Luedemann relies on Bultmann who says that Mark 15:42-47 is a “historical account that does not sound like legend.”
Mark made an effort to share details of the time of day to explain Jewish customs. The characterization of Josephus is changed to a respectable member of council is now concerned with kingdom of God stuff yet he is still plays a part in Jesus’ crucifixion. Josephus is singled out from the opponents of Jesus and becomes a positive character. The statement that Josephus asked Pilate to bury Jesus’ body helps confirm the death of Jesus had happened. Mark 15:46, concerning the rock tomb and the stone rolled in front, is not part of the original story. It is added to make sense of Mark 16:1-8.
The significance of referencing a shroud being purchased implies it is new. This may have been written to remove any dishonor revolving around Jesus’ burial. It would have been a dishonor to not being buried in your family tomb, and to not anoint the body. This would be why Mark refers to Jesus’ anointing while he was still alive. Because Mark has used traditions to remove dishonor of the burial, we are unable find additional references for historical evidence concerning the nature of the burial.
Matthew, Luke and John all characterize Josephus in more variables than Mark had done. In Matthew, Arimathea is a rich man and a disciple of Jesus. Matt 27:57 describes him as a good and just man. Luke 23:50 who had no part in Jesus judgement. Luke 23:51. The Gospel of Peter calls him Jesus’ friend. John also describes Arimathea as a disciple of Jesus (John 19:38) He keeps his discipleship a secret out of fear (John 12:42, 9:22). This is done to give the burial of Jesus honor. Because of the additional effort in Matthew, Luke and John, we are left with Mark as our source for historical value of the tradition.
John references Old Testament referencing that scripture has been fulfilled in Jesus.
Exodus 14:46 ‘Not a bone of him shall be broken” and Zech. 12:10 “They shall look on him whom they have pierced.” Luedemann believes verse 31 is the earliest tradition of the Jews requesting to bury the body of Jesus. He states their request was refused an in v. 38, we have Josephus’ request being honored. There is a parallel to John v. 31 in Acts 13:29 “Jews took….him (Jesus) down from the tree and laid him in the tomb.” Luedemann states no one would make up a story of being denied Jesus’ body this statement must be historical.
Leudemann believes the tradition of the burial of Jesus is found in two independent narratives:
1) Josephus of Arimathea asks Pilot for the body of Jesus and buries it.
2) Jews ask Pilate for the body of Jesus to bury it.
The second one is the earliest tradition of the two.
Looking at Romans practices, the bodies of the crucified were normally not buried, but Luedemann references writings from Philo at the beginning of the first century stating exceptions made by the Romans to let those who had been crucified be buried. The Passover feast would have been one of these exceptions, to avoid unrest among the increased crowds that gathered. Since Jesus was not executed by Jews, it would not have been permitted for Jesus to be buried in a Jewish cemetery for those who had been executed by Jews. These two assumptions support the fact that Josephus of Arimathea could have buried him, but we cannot say where.
The appearance stories are what first confirm the resurrection of Jesus. Luedemann looks at the Gospels in chronological order starting with Mark. Each Gospel has a different take on the account of the resurrection. Mark underlies both Matthew and Luke.
A quote from Joachim Jeremias says all appearance stories vary. However, they follow a sequence: “The Risen One appears now to an individual, now to a couple of disciples, now to a small group, now to an enormous crowd. The witness are mostly men, but also women; they are members of the inmost group of disciples, other followers like Joseph and Matthias (Acts 1:22), but also sceptics like the oldest of the family group, James (I Cor. 15:7), and at least in one case we have a fanatical opponent, namely Paul.” (I Cor 15:8).
Jeremias states that the appearance stories need to be separated in two categories. The ones included in the passion story are grounded in the events that took place in Jerusalem over the course of a few days, where the others are more Christophanies. Jeremias goes on to talk about three motifs that are attached to the Easter stories. 1) “people elaborated the reports of the appearances with words of the risen Jesus and conversations with him. 2) the pressure of the burden of proof upon the first Christians influenced the final form of the Easter accounts. 3) the development within the church shaped the Easter stories, thus church formulae (Matt 28:19, the church calendar (John 20:26; Acts 2:1) and above all the missionary obligation of the church ( Matt 28:16-20; Luke 24:44-49, Acts 1:4-8) have been worked into the accounts.”
Luedemann sums up this section by saying that it is obvious something happened for the followers to speak of Jesus as a risen Christ. There is still a need for critical analyses to determine what really happened historically at Easter.
Referencing Mark 16:1-8 or the conclusion to Mark, if verse 16:9 and on were part of the original tradition, there would have been copies made by scribes to confirm this unless the original copy was lost or damaged before it could be copied. The second question is if the women did not tell anyone about what they had seen, how did so many people find out about it? The tradition of Mark begins by emphasizing the third day.
· Why is it so hard for a scholar to believe that miracles could happen, and that Jesus really is capable
· How can Luedemann assume there is a denial from Pilate to the Jews by a break in the flow of scripture? Nowhere in the scripture could I find a denial.
· Luedemann states if the early Christians knew where Jesus was buried they would venerate it and that tradition would have been preserved. I would invite Luedemann to take a trip to Jerusalem.
· Motives for execution of Jesus are clear
· Jesus seen as a political troublemaker/needed to be put out of action
· Unsure as to involvement of the disciple Judas
· Trial, execution and death of Jesus took place in the same day
· Followed by the Sabbath
· Which in that year was on the feast of Passover
· Problem for body because Jewish custom didn’t permit a corpse on the cross overnight
· Jesus given permission to take the body down from the cross
· Possible Joseph of Arimathea or unknown Jews buried the corpse
· No one knew what Jesus felt like in his last hours
· The words attributed to him during the trial and the cross were certainly later creations
· Nor can it be said he collapsed inwardly
· Peter experienced the living Jesus in a vision
· From this the conclusion was drawn that God was speaking to men and women in the crucified Jesus
· Jesus would return as judge of the world
· The Jesus movement had a tremendous new beginning
· The movement was 1st understood as a forgiveness of sin
· Secondly, it developed as an overcoming of death
· Thirdly, it became a belief in eternity- an eschatological faith
· It was followed by others who “saw” Jesus
· Even to the large group of 500 who “saw”
· Women also “saw” Jesus
· One can’t underestimate this religious enthusiasm
· Even James received an individual vision
· All of this took no more than 6 month’s
· The Pharisee Saul went into action and suppressed the new preaching
· That is until he was similarly overcome by Jesus in a vision before Damascus
· “If Jesus didn’t rise in that way, there are serious consequences for our religion, but they don’t mean the end of it”
· The revival of the corpse of Jesus, was not a historical fact but a verdict of faith
· We can’t blindly join in to the resurrection and must honestly confess to that
· “The tomb of Jesus was not empty, but full, and his body did not disappear, but rotted away”
· “If the traditional ideas about the resurrection of Jesus are to be regarded as finished and need to be replaced by another view, the question of course inexorably arises; are we still Christians?”
· The answer is yes, because traditional faith is not really robbed of any of its content, provided that we ask critically enough and do not regard historical research as a threat to our faith
· It’s here on the historical Jesus as he is presented to us in the texts and encounters us as a person through historical reconstruction, that the decision of faith is made
· Not on the risen Christ as we would like him to be
· Peter arrived at a fundamentally better understanding of Jesus, whom he had known
· Peter experienced the unlimited grace of God
· It was Peter and the disciples that needed the Easter Event, not Christ
· “No one can prove historically that Jesus deliberately took the cross upon himself;” however, it can’t be refuted, either
· Christ is hidden from us as the Exalted One, and our access to him is only in God
· We must stop at the historical Jesus, but we may believe that he’s also with us as one who is alive now
· He believes that the unity with God experienced in faith continues beyond death
· It does Christians no harm to live by the little that they really believe, not by the much that they take pains to believe- which is a great liberation
It is unclear to me as to why all the people who “saw” Jesus have to having visions?
It seems to me that we are to assume that people in the past did not know the difference between when they were having a vision and when they were actually having a visual encounter and I do not understand clearly why that would have to be.
For me there are such gaps, that I am finding it hard to reason why if Christ can be alive within me today, why it would be any harder to believe he could be raised in his earthly body as well. My question is in part, could Jesus not raise his own earthly body to occupy as spirit?
In regard to Paul’s Jesus Complex…What would make a modern day term something that is easier to believe than an encounter with Jesus Christ? Also, does this Jesus Complex extend to present day people who believe in Christ? If Paul is being true to his experience and is relating it as closely as he is able, why must it be in a sense tied to some secret longing. I would encourage Ludemann to also speak to the other side of the spectrum; to investigate Paul as literally being changed, even to the point of being against his human will into a totally different mindset; to take Paul at his word and investigate from that stance, instead of explaining it away with present day psychological terms.