Item description for Beyond Resurrection by A. J. M. Wedderburn...
Overview Veteran scholar A. J. M. Wedderburn scrutinizes perhaps one of the most central tenets of the Christian faith--the resurrection of Jesus, and he does so through the cold hard lens of historical criticism. Recognizing that such a rigorous examination can be an uncomfortable undertaking which constantly threatens to undermine cherished and established beliefs (from the foreword) and risks controversy and sharp criticism, Wedderburn, nonetheless, strives to apply strenuously the methods of historical criticism to the question of Jesus' resurrection in an effort to determine whether the resurrection was more probable, less probable, or somewhere in the middle. Wedderburn eschews neat and tidy answers, insisting that, if in truth any talk of God or of ultimate reality must come up against a profound mystery, then does that not set a question-mark against the sort of theological studies where what God is and is not is declared with the greatest of precision? (from the foreword).
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Studio: Hendrickson Publishers
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.43" Width: 5.34" Height: 0.91" Weight: 0.81 lbs.
Release Date Nov 30, 1999
Publisher Hendrickson Publishers
ISBN 1565634861 ISBN13 9781565634862
Reviews - What do customers think about Beyond Resurrection?
Beyond An Answer Nov 22, 2008
The books title, Beyond Resurrection, does in fact reveal where the author takes you, but also like the title, you find yourself beyond an answer. A.J.M. Wedderburn seeks to strip away any reasonable confidence one can have concerning the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. After a well written and developed review and critique of scholarly sources, Wedderburn provides what can only be described as an inadequate conclusion.
Wedderburn concludes that all the evidence points to adopting at best a "reverent agnosticism" (98). From the opening of the book, Wedderburn foreshadows his final conclusions clarifying the issues of claiming knowledge through historical investigation as only being "more or less probable"(4). The reader can sense from the onset that the author desires to gingerly navigate the Christian down a path of unsettling realizations concerning the truth claims for the resurrection and convince them to re-examine their beliefs in light of such compelling arguments. I commend the author in this regard for understanding what the implications of his arguments mean for the average Christian, which is why he spends sometime fleshing out some of the pastoral problems his case presents.
However, many of the claims raised by Wedderburn have some compelling refutations that he neither takes the time to address or simply overlooks. In order to maintain his agnostic presuppositions, he seems to focus on naturalistic explanations as the only viable options without offering substantial arguments that have been presented as problematic. For example, Wedderburn raises the apparent accepted facts concerning this event by discussing the a) coming to faith of the disciples, b) the role of woman in the story, and c) the issue of the empty tomb. In discussing what I believe to be probable evidence for the resurrection event, he seems to not interact with scholars who propose these arguments as evidence. In fact several times he gives credence to these issues.
At one point in discussing the emergence of the Christian faith he states, "Where Christianity differs (from other religious movements) is in this dramatic recovery from what had seemed like a crushing defeat" (47). If we are trying to find out if the resurrection is the most likely event, then we must be willing to look at the historical evidence like this and realize that it is significant in answering the question. But he says himself "Something must surely have happened to effect this change" (47) Even going so far as to say that this `something' is the "historical kernel" of Christianity (47). But instead of discussing the positive nature of this fact, he simply expresses that we have no certain means of what this `something' was.
So, Wedderburn begins to postulate possible explanations through natural means such as, viewing the resurrections as "interpretations" of what the resurrection is, giving it a "spiritual" context. He also goes on to, cite that "Paul's experience seems too mystical, too other-worldly, too visionary, to provide this assurance" (75). In this case, all the author offers by way of analysis are rhetorical questions asking how we can know Paul was right. To stay consistent with his presuppositions he then brings up the classic psychological explanation so as to not give any room for an explanation other than the natural kind.
But scholars such as NT Wright, Gary Habermas and others have provided articulate and convincing arguments that offer a more probable answer to the event than the problems that are inherent in all of the naturalistic explanations. Wedderburn even concedes that the naturalistic explanations are problematic, but for some reason chooses to lean towards an agnostic view, when a theistic view appears to hold more weight. If all of the commonly accepted facts surrounding the "something" that happened, such as, the rise of Christianity, the role of woman, (which would be an embarrassment for furthering the gospel considering the cultural context of the time) and the problem of the empty tomb are placed in the context of a supernatural explanation, it would follow that a literal resurrection seems to be more probable than these other explanations.
In discussing this type of naturalistic explanations listen to Wedderburn's conclusion, "Indeed, however unconvincing they may seem, these psychological explanations have a built-in advantage over the more supernatural explanations of the resurrection..." (96). He further asserts that a supernatural explanation may in fact really just be a denial because someone does not want to accept natural explanations. But this begs the question...by his denial of the supernatural, is he rejecting more probable claims solely on incredulity?
In the end, this book does not provide a convincing argument that would cause a Christian to have to re-examine their belief system. Although, he did raise a few thoughts that were interesting, his middle of the road epistemology leaves the reader with something to be desired.
Wedderburn..."We don't know?" Oct 13, 2006
In a word, Wedderburn's verdict for critical analysis of the historic Resurrection of Jesus is agnosticism and the title of his book bears his ruling, Beyond Resurrection. Wedderburn asserts that we cannot know with full certainty if the Resurrection of Jesus occurred. Furthermore, Wedderburn contends that we cannot even be sure what the phrase "Jesus has risen" probably originally meant. Therefore, we should move on--beyond resurrection. However, does Wedderburn make a compelling case for his impressive judgment of, basically, "I don't know?"
After Wedderburn quickly dismisses much of the historical evidence for the Resurrection without much attention, he moves on to the one piece of historical evidence he considers worthy of evidential value, the disciples' belief that they had experienced the risen Lord. From Wedderburn's assessment, whatever the 1st century followers of Christ experienced is undoubtedly significant. However, Wedderburn's assessment that someone can get from certainly significant to certainly an empty tomb on such unsure evidence is unwarranted.
However, a judgment of agnosticism is certainly not a strong ruling against an historical event. From Wedderburn's analysis, it seems that all he is saying is that there is too much positive evidence to rule it out completely but the evidence is just too obscure to say what happened exactly. For Wedderburn to consider only the disciples' belief that they had experienced the risen Christ as good evidence and still not definitively rule out the Resurrection speaks volumes for how good the cumulative evidence for the Resurrection actually is.
Why does Wedderburn decide we must be agnostic in regards to the Resurrection? Why not rule what probably happened based on the evidence?--that is what historians do. Wedderburn's frail verdict of agnosticism does have at least one strong point, he evades one of the critic's most familiar snares--actually positing a natural explanation for what may have happened to Jesus after his crucifixion. Wedderburn, as an historian, seems to recognize the fact that there is enough positive evidence for the Resurrection to make all natural explanations, offered to date, untenable. Wedderburn was, therefore, confronted with three options when deciding where the evidence points. His first option would be to rule against the Resurrection while providing an alternate explanation that better explains all the available evidence. Wedderburn's second option would be to rule in favor of the Resurrection as the historical event that best explains the evidence. On the other hand, Wedderburn could choose the third and final option and say, "I have spent a long time looking at all the historical evidence and I just don't know what happened." Early in his work Wedderburn states, "Those who question the resurrection of Christ have destroyed Christianity at it roots." Considering that Wedderburn by no means makes a strong case against the Resurrection and that even he says he is not sure what happened, he should sleep well knowing his criticisms have not disturbed Christianity's firmly established Root.
Beyond...Historical Knowledge Oct 3, 2006
A.J.M. Wedderburn, in his book Beyond Resurrection, correctly states, "For Christianity to be possible the resurrection of Christ must have happened, must be a historical fact." (4) After looking at the resurrection, the Christian faith, and the Gospels in light of historical criticism (xi), Wedderburn ends up with what he calls an agnostic view concerning the resurrection (153). Unfortunately, his analysis is fatally flawed due to his view of historical knowledge.
Wedderburn uses improper standards for historical knowledge. To begin with, he claims that the "state of the evidence" for an event that happened nearly two thousand years ago will likely leave one agnostic (4). While, statistically, this may be true, it is even more unlikely to know events that are older (Hittite civilization, Egyptian Pharaohs, etc.), but we do know many facts about these people. The "unlikely" nature of having conclusive evidence for these people is irrelevant. What is relevant is the fact of the matter, the evidence that we do have supporting such knowledge. It is wrong to deem past events/persons unknowable based on the amount of time that has elapsed between then and now.
Next, Wedderburn places an unusually high criterion for evidence, "beyond all reasonable doubt," regarding historical inquiry. Such a high benchmark is usually found in the court of law rather than in the historical endeavor. Additionally, this standard for evidence is not applied to other historical studies like Roman Empire, Persian kings, and other ancient civilizations. If this high standard was used consistently in each of these cases, then we would have to abandon all accepted historical knowledge of these ancient groups. Historians do not do this, including Wedderburn. In fact, he assumes the legitimacy of other historical knowledge of the same era (46, 54, 62, etc.) without this high criterion, indicating an historical double-standard for the Gospels compared with other knowledge of antiquity.
What is most concerning with Wedderburn's analysis of the New Testament Gospels is how he goes about rejecting the possibility of an actual resurrection to account for the disciple's faith. While he wisely agrees that the disciples did experience something (38), he uses the inability of historical study to confirm a physical resurrection as a basis to reject accepting this event as actually happening (95). One line of reasoning Wedderburn uses is that since there was no "eyewitness" to the resurrection event itself (12), other than what little we have with Paul (14), history is unable to prove that it happened. Therefore, he concludes that this event is unknowable. However, there are many events (both from antiquity and present era) that are accepted as being true without an eyewitness to the main event in question.
Rarely are criminals convicted of a crime in a court of law, where the burden of proof is higher than in historical studies, by a person who actually witnessed the crime. Many murders take place with no eyewitness. Innumerable white collar crimes are committed without an eyewitness. Instead, conclusions are correctly drawn based on the evidence. Historical conclusions are similarly drawn based, not necessary on eyewitness accounts, but based on the evidence. Did Aristotle really write Organon? Did someone see this to verify it? Such a requirement seems wholly unnecessary. The historian must base the conclusion on the evidence at hand. Ironically, Wedderburn feels comfortable proposing that Jesus' body was thrown into a common grave (65), which is why it could not be identified, and does so with neither supporting eyewitness account nor with any other evidence (textual support, etc.).
Likewise, the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus needs to be considered on its own merit and allowed to lead us to an informed conclusion. Evidence supporting the resurrection include, but is not limited to, four excellent accounts from the first century discussing this event (the Gospels), the empty tomb (Mark 16:1-6), eyewitness testimony of Jesus' death, burial, and post-burial appearances. Additional, a consistent account is necessary in accounting for the following issues: the changed attitude of the disciples, how the Christian church developed so quickly, Peter's conversion, and Paul's conversion.
The historian needs to evaluate relevant texts (in this case the Gospels, Acts, and relevant portions of Paul's writings). As Wedderburn looks at the Gospels he seeks to undermine their reliability with well-known objections that are often easily answered. For instance, Wedderburn begins chapter 2 with ten "factual questions" to highlight problems in the Gospels to show that they "cannot all be correct." (24) However, he does not deal with relevant rebuttals that can give relatively easy explanations to these supposed discrepancies. For instance, he asks, "Which women went to the tomb?" The rather simple answer is that they all did, with each writer highlighting different women in the story and no writer claiming that only one or two women went to the tomb. An underlying assumption seems to be that, for the Gospel to be accurate each writer would have to emphasize the same details in their writings. This is simply false. When authors write about President Clinton's presidency they emphasize different things on the same topic and that does not invalidate their biographies. This is normal, not contradictory. In fact, if stories are identical then collusion and plagiarism would be the problem. Wedderburn seeks to cast doubt on the reliability of historical texts by using poor historical technique. Informed readers will recognize how invalid such an approach really is.
Weak history Sep 18, 2006
Wedderburn's premiss is that historians can only establish a likelihood that an event has occurred. In his exploration of the resurrection of Jesus, he finds that significant questions remain unanswered and hence concludes that his premiss is confirmed. The book is well researched; however few arguments contrary to his thesis are presented or refuted.
His initial assumption is that "it is unlikely that the state of the evidence is often going to be such that the verdict upon it is ever going to be `beyond all reasonable doubt.'" He then limits the possible outcomes to being more or less probable. He concludes that one should not base one's life or faith upon a maybe. On the contrary, we routinely base our lives upon `maybe' when we drive on the freeway or fly. The real question regarding the resurrection doesn't concern certainty but probability.
Wedderburn's primary technique is to propose numerous questions to raise doubts about an issue, but he seldom develops answers or critically addresses a topic. He merely proceeds through the issue as if his merely asking questions prove his point. The standard he has established is that in the case of doubt one should not have faith. He presumes this is enough.
Through the use of historical criticism, he establishes doubts about the resurrection of Jesus. He questions whether the body was stolen, points out minor inconsistencies in the Gospel accounts, and questions whether we can believe in miracles. He fails to provide the answers which are readily available by such authors as N. T. Wright or Gary Habermas, but rather jumps to the conclusion that the biblical accounts are no longer reasonable in our modern world.
From there he proceeds to dilute the issue to one of `resurrection faith' rather than an actual bodily resurrection of Jesus in order to explain the actions of early Christians and beliefs of modern Christians. He concludes from this that "a historical investigation into the traditions of Jesus' resurrection seems to yield little that is of much use for Christian faith," yet this conclusion is reached solely upon "unsatisfactory uncertainty" by page 95 of the book.
It is at this point that the real purpose of Wedderburn's book becomes evident. Although he utilized his view of history to disprove not only the resurrection but also traditional Christianity, the objective becomes that of making Christian faith compatible with our modern world. This presumption is stated by him as a "necessity to refashion theology for another age and for a world that has become far vaster." He also finds that this is "a good reason for resisting the idea that truth is somehow encapsulated in those first-century writings." By removing the resurrection as a validation of a message from God and revelation of Truth through the authors of the New Testament, Wedderburn is free to modernize the message and translate it in light of human reason and empirical science.
Finally he raises more questions, such as the problem of the existence of evil in a world created by an omnipotent God, to discredit the foundations of Christian theology. He infers that theologians are dependent upon `satisfied customers', that pointing to "an after-life as a panacea" is not "appropriate or healthy", and hence we should restructure the Christian faith. This is his personal path and he thinks the only rational path given the historical evidence.
Wedderburn likes a `vulnerable' faith detached from the resurrection or the Christian God. He wants to modernize Christianity consistent with the worldview of science. He states that given his findings regarding Jesus' resurrection and life after death "if an agnostic `Not proven' is the most that we can say about either of these, then I think it better to acknowledge that clearly and unambiguously, and then to work out one's Christian theology and practice accordingly." However he has approached the resurrection, life after death, and the theology of Christianity superficially making and attacking straw men and has reached his conclusion utilizing a historical standard which needed only to establish doubt.
Wedderburn's problem with the Christian faith is a real problem faced in our modern society where truth can only be found in empirical science. He claims that history is a science and hence the truth of the resurrection cannot be established with certainty. Since many of the claims of Christianity, such as miracles, creation and sin, are not the subject of empirical verification they must belong to the realm of myth or fiction. The tension between free will and determinism, good and evil, and the laws of nature and the existence of God all drive Wedderburn to trust in human reason and scientific facts and hence deny the Christian God in favor of John Hick's `Real'. Based upon his assumptions he has created a god consistent with what he thinks is right.
Something Old Repeated Sep 12, 2006
A.J.M. Wedderburn, who is a professor of New Testament at the University of Munich, wrote Beyond Resurrection in 1999, with the express purpose of examining the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the viewpoint of historical criticism. It is divided into 2 parts and 10 chapters, and 226 pages, with the first part dealing with what he sees is a lack of historical evidence to validate Jesus' resurrection, and the latter part counseling the reader on how to "come to terms" with the lack. The problems, though, with his analysis and conclusion are too many to list here, so a brief critique of a couple of his errors should prove to be fruitful.
Let me say, first of all, that the words of Ecclesiastes 1:9 ring ever true when it comes to Beyond Resurrection: there is nothing new under the sun. For Wedderburn offers a mish-mash of antique criticisms and bad theology which are consistent with the ramblings of a Rudolph Bultmann, of days gone by, or the subjective skepticisms of the contemporary Jesus Seminar. In other words, one is not going to find anything new that has not been sufficiently rebutted elsewhere, and one will certainly not learn anything of theological beneficence by considering his revised theology at the end of his book.
For example, Wedderburn starts his book by questioning the historical veracity of the biblical writers. In fact, he accuses theologians of playing some kind of "game" that no one else can play, simply because they can offer plausible explanations to the resurrection event, as found in the Bible, that he somehow feels slighted and cannot participate himself, because of his "historical" perspective. What he fails to acknowledge, though, is that the resurrection event is not just something has been dealt with by theologians, but by historians, medical professionals, and those in the world of psychology, as well. And in each discipline there are a growing number of scholars who are willing to state that the gospel records are reliable, and that what the disciples saw was not just an illusion or figment of their imagination. Therefore, if the gospels are reliable, and they are, then Jesus did come forth from the grave as reported, all games aside.
Second, in liberal/critical fashion Wedderburn, when he is done attacking the veracity of the Bible, turns his focus on one of the primary witnesses of the resurrected Jesus: Paul, the apostle. Rather than accepting Paul's testimony, he attempts to cast doubt upon it by making it sound as if Paul was so unclear as to what he wrote as to be indiscernible. "Paul's experience seems too mystical, too other-worldly, too visionary, to provide this assurance," states Wedderburn. In other words, Paul probably never really saw Jesus as a living entity, but perhaps it was just a mental state or Paul was just wishing that he saw Jesus, for personal reasons. What this "scholar" conveniently fails to mention is that Paul was no average person willing to just give up his high-standing in the Jewish religion just because he thought he saw something. In fact, prior to Paul's conversion, he was a zealot for Judaism and had people either tortured and imprisoned for believing in the same thing he would later report as true, or he would have them put to death! He was a hard-liner, in other words, and no patsy, when it came to his religious stand in life. Therefore, when all of the sudden we see a completely different Paul, who was now willing to die for something that was that antithesis of his previous Jewish claims, clearly that is an indication that he did not see just a phantom, or that his mental faculties had slipped a gear. And his testimony is equally clear that the change was directly related to his encounter with the bodily risen Jesus.
Finally, as is the case with everyone who has a poor outlook upon biblical revelation, their theology is equally poor. Perhaps the one bit of consolation in Wedderburn's case is that he openly admits that he cannot accept the biblical or traditional view of God that has been accepted, and that he wants to advocate "an alternative." In fact, he spends nearly 20% of the book (the longest chapter, 9) trying to convince the reader that his view of God more aptly explicates the event called the resurrection than the one found in traditional, conservative, theology. Sadly, though, Wedderburn's "alternative" is more reminiscent of pagan theology than biblically theology, given that the God he wishes for all to accept is either so mysterious that he cannot be known, or so impotent that instead of overcoming death through actual resurrection, he suffers right along with everyone, and is "vulnerable."
In short, this book is trash. It says nothing new that has not already been said before by others of the historical-critical tradition, and has not already been addressed elsewhere by the Gary Habermas', N. T. Wright's, and Craig Blomberg's. And perhaps what makes Wedderburn's book worse than some is that he spends so much time making up a theology that even he admits toward the end that "is scarcely a stringent argument that [he has] advanced or can advance; [it is] more a matter of a groping after understanding" (217). So, if you want groping, Wedderburn is for you. If you want understanding, pick one of the other aforementioned authors.