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The Resurrection of the Son of God byN. T.Wright Fortress, Minneapolis, 2003. 817 pp. $39.00. ISBN 0-8006-2681-8.
. T. WRIGHT HAS WRITTEN WHAT WILL probably be viewed for many

years as the definitive work on resurrection (and particularly the resur rection of Christ). The main intent of this mammoth undertaking may be to establish the historical plausability of Jesus' resurrection, but even readers who cannot accept Wright's conclusions in this regard will find much to inform their scholarship and, indeed, their preaching and teaching concerning what may be the central doctrine of the Christian faith. The volumethe third in a series by Wrightis dedicated to "Christian Origins and the Question of God," the first two being The New Testament and the People of God (on the Jewish roots of Christianity) and Jesus and the Victory of God (on the historical Jesus). The present volume began as a final chapter to the latter work. A work on Paul is slated to follow. The basic thesis of the book is as follows: the early Christians embraced an understand ing of resurrection that was compatible with a particular Jewish view yet also modified that view. This specific "modified Jewish view" seems to have been embraced by Christians in a manner that was early and virtually unanimous. Such a development requires historical explanation, and the most likely proposal to account for the development is that these Christians had been surprised by something that they all believed had happened to Jesus, something that caused them to re-think their inherited understanding of resurrection. Early portions of the book are devoted to distinguishing Jewish views on resurrection and the afterlife from pagan ones. Though many of the ancients believed in some form of disembodied life after death, the Gentile world did not believe in any sort of resurrection that would involve a return to bodily existence. Such a hope did develop within the Jewish world, however, where some believed that God would someday raise the bodies of the dead to new life. There was diversity of opinion regarding such a phenomenon (the Sadducees famously denying it altogether), but everyone agreed that such a resurrection would consti tute, in Wright's words, "life after 'life after death'." Resurrection was not synonymous with "going to heaven" or achieving immortality as a disembodied soul. Wright locates early Christian belief at the Pharisaic end of the Jewish spectrum. Those who have died are currently in some sort of temporary resting place ("asleep"), but they will someday be raised bodily from the dead by the power of the Creator. Yet four modifica tions of such an understanding become immediately evident among Christians: (1) belief in

REVIEWS

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SSn

JAMES

O.

G.

DUNN

CHRISTIANITY IN THE M A K I N G VOLUME


"Jesus Remembered is highly readable and reliably informative on the history and tendencies of critical research on Jesus.... Dunn's imposing work deserves attention beyond an academic readership/' - PETER STUHLMACHER "Modern portraits of the historical Jesus abound. But here James Dunn provides a tour of ancient sketches ~ ~ a gallery of impressions that this provocative figure left upon his earliest followers,... An indispensable contribution to an ongoing quest to comprehend the significance of Jesus for the history of Christianity and for modern civilization." - MARK ALLAN POWELL "A magnificent achievement. Jesus Remembered is massively thorough and wide-ranging, innovative in its stress on orality, at times provocative, yet also immensely readable and clear. James Dunn's book will undoubtedly shape Jesus study for the next generation and more. This is a 'must* for all those engaged in study ofJesus at whatever level." ~ ~ CHRISTOPHER TUCKETT
ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 1038 pages hardcover $55.00

At your bookstore, or call 800-253-7521 www.eerdmans.com

WM. B. EERDMANS PUBLISHING CO.

255 JEFFERSON AVE. S.E. / GRAND RAPIDS, MI 49503

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resurrection becomes more important and central; (2) the resurrection is understood as a two-stage event: the messiah is to be raised bodily from the dead (indeed, this has already happened) as a proleptic guarantee of a general resurrection that will occur later; (3) resurrection is no longer understood simply as a resuscitation of dead bodies but as a dramatic transformation of those bodies into something "transphysicaT; and (4) resurrection language comes to be appropriated metaphorically for such matters as baptism and holiness rather than for the national restoration of Israel. Why would Christians come to believe that God's eschatological timetable involved a proleptic resurrection of the messiah when such a view was unprecedented in Judaism and was certainly not required by any usual understanding of scripture? Wright suggests that Christians developed this view in response to what they were certain had happened to Jesus-they had been taken by surprise by his resurrection but were forced to re-examine scripture and re-think their (Jewish) understanding of God's timetable accordingly. And where did Paul get his peculiar (and, again, unprecedented) notion that the dead would be raised with "spiritual bodies," as opposed to "soulish bodies" (1 Cor 15:44)? Wright suggests that Christians came to such an understanding because of the unanticipated transphysicality they were certain had characterized the risen body of Jesus. As a historian, Wright reaches conclusions both modest and daring. The modest conclusion is that the early Christians believed that Jesus had been raised from the dead in a literal and corporeal (though transphysical) sense. Thus Wright wants to dispense with popular proposals of liberal theology that claim the New Testament authors themselves (especially Paul) merely believed that Jesus had gone to heaven to live with God or continued to be present in the kerygma of the church. He accomplishes this task admirably, indeed with what many readers might regard as a bit of overkill. The more daring conclusion comes with Wright's suggestion that a historian might conclude on the basis of historical evidence that the early Christians were correct in their belief that Jesus had been literally raised from the dead: "The proposal that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead possesses unrivaled power to explain the historical data at the heart of early Christianity" (p. 718). Wright allows that there could be numerous other explanations for Christians believing Jesus had been raised from the dead, but he maintains that none of these is as convincing as the proposal that the event actually happened. For instance, he dismisses with a single footnote (p. 709 n. 70) the idea that Jesus might have been placed in the tomb unconscious and then later recovered. Such a suggestion is implausible: the Romans were very good at killing people and at making sure they were dead. But can we reasonably expect historians who are not Christians or theists to think it more plausible that Jesus was bodily raised from the dead? Historically minded evangelical/orthodox theologians will sing this volume's praises. Time will tell whether it can appeal to those who do not already sing in that choir. Mark Allan Powell
TRINITY LUTHERAN SEMINARY COLUMBUS, OHIO

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