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Raised from the Dead According to Scripture. The Role of Israel’s Scripture in the Early Christian Interpretations of Jesus’ Resurrection.
London u. a.: Bloomsbury T & T Clark 2014. XXII, 269 S. = Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies, 12. Kart. US$ 39,95. ISBN 978-0-567-41370-3.
Arie W. Zwiep
According to the earliest recoverable statements of early Christian belief, the resurrection of Jesus was an act of God and it had taken place »according to Scripture«. In this learned monograph, Lidija Novakovic (Associate Professor in the Department of Religion at Baylor University in Waco, Texas), sets out to clarify the puzzling notion that Jesus’ resurrection had been foretold in Scripture, as 1 Cor 15:3 states it most emphatically. When Paul wrote these words, he did not seem to expect fierce opposition from his readers but texts that expressly corroborate his claim are conspicuously absent from the Jewish Bible. To later readers, New Testament texts that do appeal to Old Testament Scripture to make sense of the resurrection often seem far-fetched and superficial, to put it mildly. Moreover, a resurrection of the Messiah (Luke 24:26) was clearly not anticipated in early (Second Temple) Judaism. The question then is, under what conditions could the New Testament authors speak intelligibly about the resurrection of Jesus as the long-awaited fulfillment of the claims of Scripture?
To answer this question, N. starts with a lengthy (all too lengthy?) survey of early Jewish interpretation techniques and hermeneutical procedures, including the interpretation of Israel’s Scripture in the New Testament (7–67). Reviewing the interpretive techniques in current translations (LXX, Targums), rewritten Scriptures (Jub., Pseudo-Philo, Jos. Ant.), and scriptural commentaries (pesharim, Philo, rabbinic Midrash), she concludes, not surprisingly, the authors of the New Testament worked with the same interpretive methods and strategies as their Jewish counterparts, that is, they used the same methodology. They differed though in perspective: they read their texts in relation to Christ (67). Especially the approaches of pesher-exegesis and rewritten Scripture appear to be important for understanding the New Testament proof-from-Scripture. Other approaches discussed in this chapter do not come back in the other parts of the book (e. g. Philo) and are, by hindsight, perhaps a bit distractive to the overall argument.
In chapter 2 N. discusses resurrection hope in the Hebrew Scriptures and early Jewish literature, reviewing the usual repertoire of biblical texts (Ezek 37; Hos 6; Isa 24–27; Dan 12) and intertestamental writings (1 En.; Qumran; T. 12 Patr.; Pss. Sol., etc.) (68–113). Resurrection hope was a major expression of (an otherwise highly variegated) belief in the afterlife in Second Temple Judaism. She takes Dan 12:1–3 as evidence of the belief that (only) the exceptionally righteous and the exceptionally wicked will be raised to be judged at the day of judgment (76–82). There is no evidence that the Messiah at some point of his career would be raised from the dead. In the case where he is said to play a role in the eschaton (4 Ezra 7), he is explicitly said to die before the day of judgment breaks in. She concludes that none of the texts discussed in their original context express belief in a bodily resurrection, which of course sharpens the problem.
It is only halfway the book that the New Testament resurrec-tion texts come into view. N. discusses the three major collections in which the notion of resurrection is explicitly linked to Scripture, namely the Pauline Epistles (chapter 3), the Gospels, including the Fourth Gospel (chapter 4), and the Book of Acts (chapter 5). In Paul, several thematic blocks link resurrection to scriptural texts, such as the third-day motif in 1 Cor 15 (Hos 6:2), the enthronement of the Davidic Messiah in Rom 1:3 and elsewhere (Ps 110:1; Ps 8:7; 2 Sam 7:12–14; Ps 2:7), the (super)exaltation of the cosmic Lord in Phil 2:6–11 (Isa 45:23 LXX), the first fruits and the Last Adam typology in 1 Cor 15 (114–171). Their function is not so much apologetic but directed to insiders, who already believe that Jesus was risen and that he was the Messiah: »Paul uses Scripture with regard to the resurrection of Jesus primarily in the service of elaborating its implications for believers« (171), notably that the significance of Jesus’ resurrection for their own (future) resurrection. Especially the third-day motif turns out to be important: in some rabbinic sources the resurrec-tion of the dead of the end of time is associated with the third day as the time of divine deliverance, based on the conviction that »God does not leave Israel (or the righteous one) in distress for more than three days« (129): »If Christian interpreters were familiar with this tradition, then the application of Hos 6:2 to Jesus would have al-lowed them to express their principal conviction that with Jesus’ resurrection the general resurrection of the dead had already begun« (130–31).
In the gospels, Jesus’ sayings about the sign of Jonah and about the temple rebuilt in three days link resurrection to Scripture. The sign of Jonah is explicitly associated with the third-day motif. The story was popular among first-century Jews to proclaim divine deliverance and therefore quite fit to proclaim Jesus’ resurrection as a divine act (182–83). In Acts, the christological titles Lord and Messiah (Ps 16:8–11; 110:1) and the fulfilled promises to David (Ps 86:2; 132:10–11) link resurrection to Scripture first and foremost to demonstrate the identity of Jesus as Messiah.
N. concludes that the New Testament authors appeal to only a handful of Old Testament texts to link resurrection to Scripture: Gen 2:7; 2 Sam 7:12–16; Pss 2:7; 8:7; 16:8–11; 86:2; 110:1; 132:10–11; Isa 45:23; 55:3; Ezek 37:5–14, and Hos 6:2, a relatively small number and, moreover, heavily indebted to a typological reading. Fit for insiders, not for outsiders; aimed at insight and understanding, not at apologetic proof. That only a few texts serve a scriptural foundation, should of course not minimize the importance first-century Chris-tians attached to a scriptural basis (one can imagine a first-century fundamentalist Christian crying out that even one single text would suffice), but perhaps it is a slight indication that scriptural backing was »a second-order reflex«: to make sense of what had happened, the early Christians turned to the Scriptures and then read them with new eyes. In the terminology of speech-act theorist John R. Searle, resurrection discourse was typically couched in a »world-to-word fit«: the Easter event (whatever it may mean) led to a reappraisal or a new interpretation of the old texts: until then, Psalm 110:1, for instance, had never been read with a view to a resurrec-tion from the dead of any person; after Easter, Christian readers would be hard pressed not to read the psalm with reference to the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus.
In sum, the strength of N.’s monograph is that it makes unstat-ed hermeneutical principles underlying scriptural citations and allusion explicit and thereby shows the mechanics of scriptural proof regarding the resurrection of Jesus and its implications for the believing community. It convincingly shows how the authors did not rely on isolated texts but on clusters of themes that to-gether build an (in their view) authoritative interpretive framework that enabled them to make sense of whatever experience had befallen them after Easter in the light of Scripture. N. rightly ob-serves that »regardless of the actual impact of these texts in their own times, they supplied powerful imagery and resourceful lang-uage that later readers used to describe bodily resurrection« (76).
James Charlesworth (Novakovic’s Doktorvater) has written a preface in which he rightly points to the fact that resurrection is part of Shared Judaism (XXII). All in all, this monograph is a valu-able and much-needed contribution to an ongoing debate. Fortunately, the book, which in 2012 appeared as a hardcover, is now also available as a paperback, so that it becomes available to a wider readership. I noticed only a few typos: »Albertus Klijn« (21.237) would more appropriately be referred to as »A. Frederik J. Klijn«; 25 line 2 from below: fida interpretatio (in the quotation from P. S. Alexander) should best be provided with a (sic); 184 the first line of section 3 misses a few letters: »temple a build« should read »temple and rebuild«.