from jesus to christ - the first christians

Faculty Panel and General Discussion

(This round-up discussion occurred at the end of the day-and-a-half symposium on the FRONTLINE series "From Jesus to Christ - The First Christians")

 

Participants

L. Michael White
He is Professor of Classics and Director of the Religious Studies Program, University of Texas at Austin. He served as chief academic advisor to the FRONTLINE series "From Jesus to Christ - The First Christians."

Marianne (Mimi) Bonz
She is managing editor of Harvard Theological Review and has published several articles on the developing religious message of the Roman emperors and the status of Jews in the Greek province of the Empire.

Helmut Koester
He is a leading authority on the gospels in early Christianity and Professor of Ecclesiastical History, Harvard Divinity School.

Holland Hendrix
He is President of the Faculty and a Professor of Divinity at Union Theological Seminary and a specialist in the archaeological and social world of the apostle Paul.

Marilyn Mellowes
She is the Producer of FRONTLINE's series "From Jesus to Christ - The First Christians" which first aired in April 1998 on PBS.

White:
Let me start us off this way. I've got two starting questions I want to throw at the table here. The first question I want us to think about is: Why history? Why not start with doctrine or creed or faith? Why do we start with history as what we do, rather than the other way around? That's the first way I want to formulate the question. And the second one is a slightly different angle, but I think that the two are somewhat related. In the TV program, we made a great deal out of the relationship between Jews and Christians in the early stages of the movement. Now, in the topics that we selected for this set of presentations, we did not do as much with the Jewish material. I don't want to ignore that, however, and I think the program made a very strong statement in that regard. So I would like for us to think very briefly among ourselves about how we see the development of early Christianity as a Jewish sect first, and only later as a separate movement. How is that significant for the way that we as scholars are working these days? So those are the two general rubrics I want us to talk a little bit about.

Why History

Let's start with "why history" first. Does anyone want to fire off at that one? Why history? Why not start with creedal propositions? Why not start with the statement, "X is," and start with that as the basis of religion, rather than thinking about history as a way of going at this? We've made a strong presentation, I think, in the program and here, that history is a necessary element for going at this enterprise. Why?

Koester:
Let me start with something. To start with creedal propositions or theological statements is difficult because they are themselves historical statements. If we have the Apostles' Creed or the Nicene Creed used in services, these are documents from the third and fourth centuries, and they are formulated to their particular historical situations. So if one really begins to think about them rather than repeating them, one has to see what this historical situation was in which such creeds as the Nicene Creed were developed.

Now, there is a reason to go to history, because history has to do with the actual lives of people. One reason that all of us are interested in archaeological materials is that archaeological materials introduce us to aspects of the actual lives of people, through archaeological finds: coins that people have handled, the shops in which they have been shopping for their stuff, the meat markets. What is a cultic dining room like? What does it mean to dine in a dining room with sacrifices to the idols?

So every aspect of the actual lives of people is important because once we move that way and try to understand what people were like--what was their social status, what were living conditions, what were the relations between masters and slaves, how did they handle money--we begin to establish analogies to our own experience. It is not a piece of a creed or a piece of paper or a piece of the New Testament that is sort of a statement I can pick at will. But we begin to see that these people were real people, they had life problems, and they responded to them. And how they responded, how they kept their faith, how they solved their moral problems, thus becomes something with which we can enter into a discourse. And this discourse is so much more fruitful than saying, "This is my doctrinal statement, and no matter what, I stick to it," which really shuts off discussion. And so therefore, history opens up the real life dimensions, which are the dimensions in which we live ourselves.

White:
So history is a kind of common ground of conversation, both among ourselves as moderns, talking about the tradition, but also a common ground of conversation with the ancient world that we're trying to discover.

Hendrix:
But let me build on what Helmut is saying, and respond religiously, respond theologically to your question, because as a religious person, as a Christian (a Unitarian Christian at that), I see as part of my task [as] what's called "discerning the times". Part of the religious task, both Jewish and Christian, is to discern the times. And to discern the times, one must understand the history. The historical task is essentially part of the theological task. And I think what you were getting at yesterday in the quest for the historical Jesus, that's both our blessing and our curse, because as historians, then, we also try to step outside of our religious persona and theological persona, and try in as what is usually termed "objective" [a way as possible] -- (for those deconstructionists among you, I'll be pelted later), the task of really trying to step outside of those personae so that we're sure about seeing that history through as unfettered a lens as possible, and unclouded a lens as possible. But make no mistake about it. As religious persons, we are enjoined, at least in the Jewish traditions and the Christian traditions, we are enjoined to take history very seriously as part of our religious lives, as part of our religious task, to discern the times.

White:
But are there foundational claims in Christianity or in Jewish tradition, either one, that are outside of history?

Koester:
It is deeply rooted in the belief of Israel and Jewish belief and Christian belief that God is a God of history. God reveals through God's acts in history what God's will is, what God's will is for people. This is a fundamental theological insight that binds all Jewish and Christian tradition together, and that culminates in the Christian doctrine, the doctrine of incarnation. God became a human being, a real human being.

The biggest heresy in Christianity has been, from the beginning, to deny Jesus' real humanity. We forgot sometimes that this is the case. We think you have to be sure that you acknowledge Jesus' divinity. But in ancient times, they thought that was easy. That's not a problem. The problem is that you cannot deny the full humanity of Jesus. And a lot of the dogmatic controversies of the early centuries are about this very question....

White:
The reason I asked the question about the history is, it's come up in some reverberations from people asking me things during the breaks and so on. And I want to get back to some of those questions. One of the real groundbreaking kind of thing that we do as scholars on a day-in-day-out basis is, once you come to the realization that Judaism was not the same over time-- The Judaism of Jesus' day is not the same religion as the days of David and Solomon and so on. Judaism changed radically from the days of Moses to the days of Jesus. The religion changed, and things meant different things in those changes. Similarly, Christianity started out as one thing and evolved into other things, maybe several other things over time. And when you look at people who say, "Well, we don't really need to worry about all this historical development so much. All we need to know is the basic faith or the foundational beliefs," what often that means is the assumption that nothing changed, that you can go to a moment in time of pristine beginnings, when everything was just like it was when you think of later Christianity as a fully institutionalized religion. And in fact, that's never the case. That usually is something that comes along later in the process. So when you actually cut back through the archaeological layers, you always discover that things are a little different. And the context of each of those layers is really what we're looking at.

Christianity Seperation from Judaism

White
Let me segue to that other question. How about the Judaism? How about the Jewish issues? Christianity doesn't start off as a separate religion. It starts off as a part of Judaism. [For example] I don't think Paul ever knew he was a Christian.

Koester:
That's true.

Hendrix:
Sure. We all agree to that.

White:
I think we can say this: Paul, even though he's absolutely clearly a follower of the crucified messiah Jesus, who has become (as he says) both Lord and Christ, both Lord and Messiah, nonetheless he never thinks this is a non-Jewish movement. He doesn't know it. He calls it the church, but "church" and "synagogue" are synonymous terms. They're both used in the Septuagint, in the Jewish scriptures, to refer to the congregation of Israel (usually translated mishkan in Hebrew. But you can translate mishkan as "synagogue" (means "assembly"), you can translate it as ecclesia, "church" (still means "assembly"). It's only later that those terms become the signature terms for two separate groups that essentially in other ways look a lot alike. Now, that's already happening by the time we get to Matthew. Matthew talks about "their synagogue" and "our church."

Koester:
It's interesting. This little change from one gospel to the other, from the phrase, "On the sabbath, Jesus went into the synagogue," and then in the later gospel, "Jesus went into their synagogue."

White:
And Matthew changes that very intentionally. In fact, we can go even farther. In Mark's gospel, the term "their synagogue" is used, but it's only used once, and it's used in the context where Jesus goes to his home region around Nazareth, and he goes into their synagogues, meaning the synagogues of that region. It's a regional designation. Matthew takes it and turns it into an "us" versus "them", and he repeats it eight more times.

Hendrix:
Yes. In fact I think, if the series could be faulted for one thing, it would be that perhaps we didn't spend enough time on the divisiveness that had developed between Israel or Judaism and other forms of religion associated with it, and what was becoming Christianity. And just this morning, we've been emphasizing the indistinguishableness of early Judaism and Christianity. I think we'd have to appreciate that it was becoming distinguished. It was becoming distinguished rather early on. And we have very good evidence of that, that we might have gone into a bit more fully.

White:
But that's where we do have a disagreement. It came out even yesterday. Let me identify it, because Mimi wants to argue that the Lukan community thinks Judaism is distinct at an earlier stage than I've tended to suggest as a little bit later. We may both be right, in this sense. I think we probably are. What I keep suggesting is, in fact, that there's a variable separation. It's a process. And the split begins with a very tiny rift at 70, but accelerates in different places at a different rate. And what we may have is a more distinct quality in the Lukan community by the 90's and 100. The Johannine community that reflects this tension is a little bit later perhaps, and probably in a different location.

And we also know that there is a Jewish Christianity that is retaining its place within the Jewish tradition into the fourth and fifth centuries, and is only by that time becoming considered heretical by other Christians. The Matthian community, though, is a good example. I still would place Matthew at about 90, not much if any before Luke. And Matthew's community doesn't know it's not Jewish, in that sense. And what's really interesting in that way is that in the picture of the spread of Christianity that you get in the Book of Acts, there's no place for Matthew's church.

Bonz:
I wanted to say one thing about the Book of Acts, or Luke-Acts. Why this book has become important to me is because I think it seems that so much, without even thinking about it, as Christians, our whole perception of Christianity and how it happened is unconsciously drawn from Luke-Acts. That's where the picture is developed most fully, and that's where we get our nativity scenes, for the most part.

If it's true that Luke-Acts was written on a pattern of the Aeneid, and it's doing the same thing in basically just confining [all of Israel's past] to a prologue for Christianity, there you see, then, the beginnings of some of the problems that have confronted Jews and Christians, I think, because the sense of how Christianity began, seems to come from Acts--which is one of the things that you tried to dispel in the program by saying it didn't start out as this one little community, and it went in this linear direction. It was greatly variegated from the beginning.

White:
Right. And the traditional way you would do the history of Christianity is, you start off with Jesus, born, dies, resurrection, and immediately you go into the Book of Acts and you follow the spread motif of the Book of Acts, and that's the history of earliest Christianity. But in fact, it's not the history of earliest Christianity, at all. And that's why you can't use it as kind of the template. And again, that's both reflected in the way we tried to do the series, but also in the way that we as scholars have to do our work these days, because you can't just work that way.

Read more on Christianity's separation from Judaism.

Women in Jesus' Circle

White:
Let me turn us to some of the other questions....What is known about the presence of women and their role in the immediate circle of Jesus? We made a lot about the role of women more generally in early Christianity, but in the immediate circle of Jesus. Crossan seems to say that they were very prominent in the Jesus circle. What is your view?

Koester:
Well, it's difficult really to know. Mary Magdalene is an interesting figure, not because she probably was the girlfriend of Jesus--

White:
Martin Luther thought so.

Koester:
--but because she appears as the first witness of the resurrection, in the story that's behind the Gospel of John. And this is still preserved in the later Gospel of Mary, where Mary Magdalene is very prominent, which may go back to very early tradition. And indeed still in the Gospel of John, the first person to whom Jesus appears is Mary of Magdala. That there were women in the company of Jesus, I think, is very likely, because the construction of the twelve apostles is a later construction. It's not true that Jesus just walked all over Galilee and Judea accompanied by the twelve apostles. It's a construction. We have the twelve. That's apparently an old institution, a symbolic representation of the twelve tribes of Israel. We have apostles, and as Paul said in I Corinthians 15, more than 500 apostles. And better, the new translation: that he appeared to more than 500 brethren. I would say it's "appeared to more than 500 brothers and sisters." The Greek plural can very be standing for both male and female.

White:
It often is, in Paul.

Koester:
And if you look at the names of the 40 names that are quoted in Paul's letters, of which 16 are women, and they were not Paul's girlfriends but they were collaborators, ministers, apostles.

White:
I think the Pauline material is very clear that we have women--

Koester:
It's clear, but to stand up with certainty and say, "Now we do know that there were so and so many women in Jesus' company," I think, would be hazardous. I think we just simply don't know.

Hendrix:
But I would point, though, to the remarkably ubiquitous presence of women. And they just keep cropping up everywhere in the Jesus traditions. And their role is very interesting, because they're certainly not passive. I mean, the best example I guess I can cite is the case of the Syro-Phoenician woman, who in a sense explicitly challenges the inclusiveness of Jesus' ministry, and says, "Why can't you heal my son?" And Jesus says, "I'm not going to cast pearls before swine." In other words, I'm not going to go outside the ethnos of Israel and lend my support to someone who's not religious like I am. And she says, you know, "Well, why the heck not?" And it's one of the few jokes in the New Testament. It's funnier than I just portrayed it. And Jesus, at least in this story, grants her wish. So it's not just a ubiquitous presence of women in the gospels. It's the roles they play that are quite interesting.

White:
But those aren't historical.

Bonz:
Yes, stories like that are propaganda stories, so therefore the characters can't be looked at as really historical characters.

White:
Mark is doing a literary game with all of the stories, in a lot of ways, to make the people who are the marginal characters in society reflect on Jesus properly, when the disciples themselves can't see who he really is. Now, I grant you, that's a very important statement that Mark is doing it that way. But we also run a peril by naively pulling that back into the days of Jesus and saying, "This is the way Jesus works."

Hendrix:
I didn't mean to suppose that, Michael. As you know, what I'm saying is just that the fact that they are there in so many places, and doing such important things, is saying something about, I think, the earliest movement.

White:
And the only reason I'm challenging you is not because I think you think that way, but when someone hears somebody saying "Jesus doing this with a woman," the immediate assumption is, that's what's Jesus is doing, not what Mark is making Jesus do. And notice, we've got to have this layering going on constantly. And we have to check ourselves.

Koester:
But one other thing is evident in the tradition: that the tradition begins to diminish the role of women. That is, the women characters are in a very early layer of the tradition that we have, and later that is diminished.

White:
I wouldn't be surprised, though, just from a stringently historical perspective, if there weren't some brands of earliest Christianity in which women were not as prominent. I think, in most brands that we know about, especially Pauline, maybe even the circle of Jesus. But there's enough evidence now about the so-called wandering charismatics of the early--

Koester:
The Gospel of Thomas.

White:
--the Q community and some other things. And it may be the case (and it looks like it is the case, to me) that in those, we're looking at basically a kind of an ascetic male club. And that may be a very different expression of an early Jewish-Christian movement that went its own way, and basically drops out of sight--thank goodness. But we don't know.

Bonz:
And also, there are many scholars who believe that the pastoral epistles are really in dialogue with other Christian communities that are producing other literature at that time, in which women have very different roles than the pastoral epistles is assigning them. And so this debate was also going on within the churches in the second century. And there still is not any uniformity, even then. It's not even then a uniform development toward progressive marginalization of women.

Read more on women in early Christianity.

The Gospel of Thomas

White:
Another question: What are the Thomas traditions, and why was the Gospel of Thomas not accepted into the canon? If you go to the Jesus Seminar, it is. It is in their new canon, the five-gospel canon. The church tradition did not put it in the canon.

Let's say what it is, first. The Gospel of Thomas is an early sayings gospel that is dated differently by different scholars. It is a collection of 114 sayings of Jesus, originally written in Greek. Fragments of the Greek original are known from Egypt, but the full text was only discovered in 1945, in the discovery of the Nag Hammadi codices. And that version of the text had been translated into Coptic. We now call it often the Coptic Gospel of Thomas, to distinguish it from other Thomas texts that we have. So there's a whole collection of works in early Christianity under the name of this apostle Thomas. This 114 sayings collection is significant because it looks similar to what we think that Q document must have looked like. And it's our evidence that such sayings collections did exist, although as I pointed out yesterday, no, we are not saying that Thomas is Q. That's the Gospel of Thomas.

When was it written? I'm going to turn this over to Helmut for a moment, because he's our resident authority. But there are two basic dates assigned to the Gospel of Thomas, depending on who you listen to. A recent book by a scholar by the name of Steven Davies has re-dated the Gospel of Thomas significantly earlier than what had been the traditional date. Davies dates it between 60 and 70. And it is that dating that has been used by the Jesus Seminar in a very important way, and is in fact, without most people realizing it, it is actually the lynchpin for most of the arguments of the Jesus Seminar. It's the crucial issue that they don't talk about that dating, because what they do is, they take a layer of Q prior to what we now call Q, say that that's what's preserved in the Gospel of Thomas, use the Q-Thomas connection in a pre-70 state, and say that's the earliest collection of sayings of Jesus. And that's what they use to authenticate sayings.

Now I'm going to make one side comment on that. People think the Jesus Seminar is a radical bunch of weirdos. Well, they may be. But how radical they are is an interesting problem. They now find (I counted them one time) 54 authentic sayings of Jesus. That's more than double what most scholars would say. Are they more radical, or are they more conservative?

The other main dating for the Gospel of Thomas, the way it was originally formulated, goes something like this (if I remember my early Christianity seminar). The Gospel of Thomas is referred to in literature of the middle of the second century, at about 160 or so. There are people who refer to the document, and people who refer to the document as existing. So we know that by about the latter half of the second century, they knew this document. Consequently, the dates traditionally assigned to it were roughly 100 to 140, based on how long it would take to circulate and what the rough look of the material would be. All right. Now, based upon the most recent discussions, Helmut, where do you now date it?

Koester:
Well, I have to put in a little caution here, because these gospels were not protected literature. And, as we can even see from the comparison of the Greek fragments and the Coptic translation, the text was fluid. Sayings could be added. Things could be changed. Things could be left out. Ancient writings like this were collections for usage. Gospels were not a special holy sacred category of writing, and there was no reason that anybody should say, "Oh, no, no, don't change the Gospel of Mark." In fact, Matthew and Luke sat down and did change it. So the Gospel of Thomas probably has its own history.

Even for the synoptic sayings source, most scholars admit that it had several stages of its development. But I do think that the collection of sayings of Jesus on which the Gospel of Thomas is ultimately based must have been made somewhere in the middle or later middle of the first century.

White:
Why was the Gospel of Thomas not in the canon, Helmut?

Koester:
Well, I said it yesterday. I think that the canon has to do with Christian story and Christian ritual. The churches that were gathered around and united eventually around the celebration of the eucharist as the central ritual, and around the story of Jesus' suffering and death and resurrection, had a very particular concept of themselves as a people united by ritual and story. And the Gospel of Thomas does not include that. We don't even know what the stage of the Gospel of Thomas was at the end of the second century.

It's clear, Irenaeus took gospels only that had a passion narrative. Now, there are others that have a passion narrative, the Gospel of Peter, which was not included. It was apparently a local version that was known, but not significant. But from the perspective of the uniting of those four gospels into a four-gospel canon, it preserves diversity, but at the same time is inclusive, not exclusive.

White:
The Gospel of Thomas seems to reflect a rather different kind of Christianity.

Koester:
Right, a very different kind of Christianity, developed in a very different direction.

Read more on The Gospel of Thomas.

Audience Questions

White:
Let me see if we ought to take a moment and just throw it open to questions [from] the audience as well.

Question:
What do you think Jesus thought [he was]?

Koester:
I think that it's completely irrelevant, because (a) it's not interesting, and (b) we wouldn't know.

Bonz:
It is interesting. Why isn't it interesting, Helmut?

Koester:
It's a very important question that actually Mike talked about -- Gunther Bornkamm and the new quest for the historical Jesus. That new quest for the historical Jesus opened up the interest in what Jesus had said and done, as relevant for the understanding of the Christian message and Christian faith. But it explicitly stated that this quest is not a biographical quest, because for a biographical quest there are no data available that allow it. And only in the biographical quest can a historian ask the question of the self-consciousness of the person legitimately. So excuse my very abrupt response, but I think one has to see that, that the question of the self-consciousness of Jesus here is neither here nor there. And that's true also of the self-consciousness of Paul. He was called. If Jesus was called, fine. What he thought about himself is not interesting. What he did is interesting.

White:
But that's very different than the Jesus Seminar would answer your question, because the Jesus Seminar does want to talk about a kind of self-consciousness issue.

Hendrix:
I think it's a fallacy.

Koester:
I think that it's methodologically illegitimate.

Question:
I'd like to know what your personal goals are, not only for the program, but how all this new information is going to filter down, whether it's to divinity students, whether it's to parishioners in different communities. What are your goals for all of this, even for today?

Koester:
I think we are all united in the belief that better education leads to making better, more humane people, maybe better divinity schools, better Christian ministers, Jewish rabbis, and leads to a better understanding of each other, because it's on the level of critical discourse that we can meet. Notice, From Jesus to Christ had three Jewish scholars on it. And Christian and Jewish scholars together could tell a story, because we were on the same ground as critical historians. And I think that's an enormous achievement. And we need that better understanding because we need to understand better who we are together, in a country in which there are a lot of all sorts of Christians and a lot of Jews and a lot of Muslims and a lot of people who don't believe a damn thing. And I think that what really drives our work is to lead to a better understanding of our tradition, for the benefit of us all and for the better discourse among each other, and the tasks which we have in this time and for the future.

Hendrix:
Helmut has put it extremely well. I could only elaborate on that, and say that this kind of critical (and I emphasize), critical mutual understanding is precisely what I see to be the great challenge to the ecumenical movement right now, and extending beyond what Helmut has said, beyond the Jewish-Christian discourse to dialogue and discourse between Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism-- I mean, you could just go on--and especially indigenous native religions that are becoming extremely popular in North America. It's this kind of critical discourse among ourselves, about ourselves, that I think can be the most honest way of realizing the negative things about our traditions, the negative things about our pasts, the damage that we've done to one another, and to move on beyond that, and to realize the common tasks that together we can agree on as being good for the future of not only humanity but Creation as a whole. And I think that's what we're all about in this project, and our scholarly projects probably in general.

Koester:
But it doesn't mean to give up our own religious identity.

Hendrix:
Absolutely not. If anything, it [means] to assert it more clearly.

Mellowes:
I don't have anything to add to either of them in that context. But I do think, though, that in an educational atmosphere where other types of concerns with the gospels are becoming paramount, and where new methods of research are beginning to overtake programs, that it's really important to see so many people who really were excited by the relationship of archaeology and history, [their] application to the books of the bible and to early Christian history. And I guess I just would like to say to people, I wish that you would go back to your churches, go back to your local areas or whatever, and push for more of this.

White:
Let me add on quick comment in my own case. I teach in a completely secular institution, in a non-theological context. And that's my difference from what either Helmut or Holly do. And consequently, the kind of teaching that we have to do there is, and should be, different. You can't presuppose that people are coming because they want to be professional ministers. You also cannot be teaching in those kinds of contexts and raise any specter of proselytizing to different religious traditions. That would be completely inappropriate. Thus the way we have to approach this material (and this has increasingly become the issue in the study of religion generally, but also in this material) is therefore a little different. But I actually think that has had an enormous salutary benefit to the entire enterprise of New Testament study, because it has forced us to think about what is central to the discipline in and of itself, without lapsing into the easy move into a theological agenda.

Now, let me say what I think that means for me. I am not a theologian. I know a little about theology. I've studied a fair amount of it. But I do not think of myself as a theologian. I think of myself as a historian, as a historian who is in conversation with theologians, who gives information or talks about information that then is going to be the grist for the mill of theology. In many cases, my role as a historian is to say, "You can't say that. You can't make that claim about the history. And if you do, you're misunderstanding the theology you're trying to deal with." Sometimes it's a negative function. In other cases I can say, "Now, let's open this up and look at what they were thinking at their time religiously, and see if that informs your theology." But then it's up to others (and I would say, you, as well as my students, as well as the theology students who read my stuff), it's up to you, then, to take this historical information and then use it responsibly to think about what kind of theology is legitimate in the light of it. And I think that's the ultimate conversation.

I'm going to take one last question, and then we'll need to do a wrap-up.

Question:
Thank you. Years ago, the BBC had a series on "what [do you] consider the most important question of history?" And it asked 20 of the leading people as they evaluated in England, in UK. And [one of them] sent in a question: "Did Jesus Christ rise from the dead? If he rose from the dead for me, all other questions are secondary." And in view of that, may I ask why the resurrection did not have a more important place in [the] series?

White:
I'll respond to that myself. It's my fault. It was my suggestion that we do it this way, because it's not Marilyn's fault; it's my fault as the advisor. Now, let me tell you what we did. And I tried to address it yesterday in my comments on the development of the resurrection. When I hear people say, "Why didn't you talk about the resurrection in the program?" I say, "We did. We said explicitly, Paul affirms that Jesus had risen from the grave. That was his belief. So we talked about it." I'll explain a little bit more about that. But what most people or many people mean when they say, "You didn't talk about the resurrection," is, "You didn't talk about the empty tomb."

Koester:
But you talked about the empty tomb.

White:
But you see, the problem is, if you look at Paul, where we start, we have Jesus; Jesus dies. The next thing we hear in the development of the Christian tradition is Paul saying, "I've determined to know nothing but Jesus Christ and him crucified. He died, he was buried, he was raised, he appeared." But we don't have anything else but that between the death of Jesus and the time of Paul. And that's exactly what the program tried to describe. That's the resurrection faith that they had. And I think that's the emphatic point that the series has to make historically as how the faith began, is with that. Did we ignore the resurrection? Absolutely not. Did we state it in the way that they understood it, in a historical way? I think we tried to. I frankly do not accept the criticism very well that we ignored the resurrection, because I think if you actually ask the people who say that, they mean: Why didn't you display the empty tomb scene? And as I showed you yesterday, the history of the development goes: He arose, and only generations later do we start to get that empty tomb scene built. That would be historically inappropriate, in my view, to foist back on the days of Paul, or on the days of Jesus. So that's why we did it that way. And I'll either take the credit or the blame for that.

Koester:
You may not be a theologian, but I have to say, as a theologian, that what you did was theologically correct, because the crucifixion indeed can be talked about as a fact of history, under Pontius Pilate. And so the Christian tradition dates it under Pontius Pilate, even in the Creed. You cannot talk about the resurrection on the same level, because the question whether Jesus rose from the dead is very closely related to the question whether on Easter people can greet each other with the greeting, "Christ is risen," and answer, "He is risen indeed," and in which that means the affirmation of Christ's presence among us. To talk about the resurrection as a historical fact then, without the affirmation that it is this risen Christ who is our life now, and celebrate this in our community, to talk about that resurrection then as historical fact is nonsense. I'm talking as a theologian now. The resurrection is real only if that resurrected Christ in our midst is the force of our life in this world. Otherwise, that statement of the resurrection is meaningless, irrelevant. And I think they did theologically the right thing.

Hendrix:
I would agree, theologically. I'll take it a different direction. If we had to depend on scientific proof for the resurrection, I would say you're being remarkably un-Christian, and you are entirely misunderstanding the force and dynamic of faith. If our articles of faith depend on science for their demonstration, then they are not faith and they are not faithful, I would say, to the Christian witness. We are lapsing then into a scientism that is ruling our thoughts, our beliefs, and our lives. And I would find that, as a Christian, quite tragic.

White:
Let me just make this wrap-up comment on what we tried to do in the program. If anything, I hope we've been successful in representing what is a kind of broad, mainstream of scholarship on a range of issues, not the marginal scholars, not on either end or all ends or all around the circle, but in a sense, what are the main issues. And I would say [as to] this question of how to handle the resurrection, this is the mainstream response I would find among most scholars of how to deal with that. And also the historical progression, the historical development of it.

But that's just typical of this problem. When Marilyn and I sat down and tried to say, "How are we going to do this stuff?" we kept coming back: What do most scholars say? How do they handle this issue? And how do we translate that into the program, and get it out for people then (as your question, I think, appropriately asked), get it out for people to start using as information, as discussion, as other things? And I hope that's what we've really done.

Listen, I know we need to wrap up. All of you need to go on. But I won't let you go without saying how very much we up here appreciate your presence and your enthusiasm and your questions. And we hope that this is one start in a longer process of education and conversation with you individually, with the Lowell Institute. And we have to thank Cy and WGBH and the Lowell Institute, and my colleagues here. [applause] Marilyn, a special thanks. It has been a wonderful project. Marilyn has one Emmy already. I hope she has another. Thank you very much, folks.

Read more on the Gospel of Luke in this essay by Marilyn Mellowes.

symposium . jesus' many faces . a portrait of jesus' world . storytellers . first christians . why did christianity succeed?
maps, archaeology & sources . discussion . bible history quiz . behind the scenes
teachers' guide . viewers' guide . press reaction .  tapes, transcripts & events

published april 1998

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