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RESURRECTION by John Shelby Spong


Myth or Reality?

by John Shelby Spong

Pub Date: March 21st, 1994
ISBN: 0-06-067546-2

 The Episcopal bishop of Newark, New Jersey (Living in Sin?, etc.--not reviewed), offers a controversial view of the key element in Christianity--the resurrection of Jesus. Spong suggests that Christians have forgotten that the New Testament frequently makes use of Midrash, a genre in which different biblical motifs are interwoven in order to speak of things that transcend human categories. Thus the story of Joshua's parting of the sea means that he was a second Moses, and the opening of the heavens at Jesus' baptism tells us that Jesus is the true Moses. Spong argues that since Jesus' resurrection is divine, it is beyond the realm of history, and the stories surrounding it are Midrash. The question we need to ask, then, is not whether these stories are literally true, but what experience they describe. For Spong, the transformation of the disciples is evidence that something did take place, and in the course of several chapters he attempts to get near their experience by decoding the language of Midrash. His conclusion is that no one knows what happened to the body of Jesus; there was no empty tomb, no angels, no appearances. Instead, Peter later saw Jesus--``in the realm of God''--in a way that Spong says was real but not objective. Although Spong considers his approach to the texts the only viable one today, many may find his view more difficult to accept than the traditional one and will want to question his basic premise--that modern people cannot, with integrity, believe in angels and the supernatural. He bases his own position, furthermore, on probabilities and literary criticism; yet he does not hesitate to make absolute statements such as ``Jesus could not have said, I am the bread of life.'' A stimulating study, although the author has hardly succeeded in his desire to avoid a ``pale subjectivity.''