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Meier's Monumental Opus

The fourth volume of John Meier's A Marginal Jew has appeared. It is subtitled, "Law and Love," and weighs in at a hefty 735 pages. As reported on the America blog, this is not beach reading! Nonetheless, it exhibits Meier's trademark clarity, carefulness, and verve -- not least in his delineation of the scope and focus of his project.His introduction repeats some needed reminders and distinctions:

The first important distinction scholars often fail to make is the distinction between Christology and the quest for the historical Jesus. Both are valid academic endeavors Obviously, the two endeavors are related. Christology is a subdivision of the academic discipline called theology in Anselms famous phrase, fides quaerens intellectum, faith seeking understanding. Christology is therefore faith seeking understanding of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, the object of Christian faith.By contrast, the quest for the historical Jesus is by definition a strictly historical endeavor. Of its nature, it prescinds from or brackets Christian faith. This does not mean that it denies, rejects, or attacks such faith All this is simply a matter of functional specialization, to use a phrase beloved of Bernard Lonergan.Granted this distinction what then do I mean by the historical Jesus? The historical Jesus is that Jesus whom we can recover or reconstruct by using the tools of modern historical critical research as applied to ancient sources. Of its nature the historical Jesus is a modern abstraction and construct. He is not coterminous with the full reality of Jesus of Nazareth. (pp. 5&6)

And he admits, with the modesty we have come to expect from New York priests and Notre Dame professors,

In any rigorous and honest quest for the historical Jesus, we are always dealing with various degrees of probability. Of its very nature, the quest cannot and should not try to sell the product of its hypothetical reconstruction as the new and improved version of Christian faith in Jesus Christ. That would be absurd, though it is all too often done or at least implied. Rather the historical critical method, when applied to Jesus of Nazareth, exemplifies both its importance and its limitations, as a very astute theologian has put it. (p. 17)

(For the identity of that "very astute theologian," see p. 25, n. 36.)

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A certain Benedict, if memory serves.

I thought the opus was already finished -- this looks like a stupendous bonus. Teaching the Gospel of Luke in a course on The Bible as Literature I find some students nagging at the question 'but did all this really happen' -- I'll tell them now that it is up to historians to determing the vaious degrees of probablility of the narratives. and up to theologians to read the narratives for their theological content -- and up to students of literature to read the narratives as narratives, admiring the literary accomplishments of the author.

At the end of volume IV, John Meier announces that there will be at least a fifth volume, which will deal with the parables, Jesus' self-designations, and his death. Unfortunately, he does not intend to deal with the question of Christt's resurrection, apparently on the ground that it cannot be dealt with by means of the method and criteria he has adopted. I think this is a mistake, and it is for me another reason for questioning important features of the method, not least of all the sharp distinction made between Christology and the historical Jesus and that between the "real" Jesus" and the "historical" Jesus.

Fr. Imbelli:I have just ordered it by overnight delivery from Amazon. I look forward to some light summer reading! I think this volume will be especially relevant to some of our previous discussions regarding soteriology and the difference (or lack thereof) between Christianity and Judaism.One other issue that I look forward to thinking about is one of credibility. I have for some time now been interested in the problem that Christianity started out (at least outside of Pauline communities) as a Jewish religion, but was very quickly defined almost exclusively by Gentiles with little understanding of, and often strong opposition to, Judaism. If we postulate that Jesus was much more Jewish than many Gentile Christians were to conclude, and understood by his earliest followers from within Judaism (two conclusions that Meier may or may not endorse), then what reasons do we have for confidence in the understandings of Jesus that were presented by, and made orthodox over time, by individuals who seriously misunderstood the Jewishness of Jesus? This at least, will be a question in the back of my mind as I read the book.

Is there some pattern in the fact that all comments thus far emanate from "Josephs?"Joseph G.: bingo on Benedict!You are now eligible for 5% off the list price of volume 5.The methodological issues raised by Joseph K. are of central importance and, if memory serves, they are at the heart of Luke Johnson's respectful critique of Meier's previous volumes in Commonweal. It will be interesting to see who is reviewing the new volume for Commonweal. But I myself find that Meier's appeal to Lonergan's "functional specialties" helps clarify for me what he is about.

Don't forget Joseph Ratzinger aka Benedict XVI!On the question of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, it seems clear to me that we have solid historical evidence that a number or people who had good reason to believe that he had died before the Sabbath eve in a certain week were convinced that they had then encountered him unambiguously alive over a period starting on the first day of the week following that Sabbath. This opens up two main possibilities. (1) No one can be raised from the dead--to use Pauiline language--and so the witnesses cannot have seen what they thought they saw. (2) Something very strange happened even if we are not in a position to understand what it was. It seems to me that position (1) is founded more on a prejudice than on sound method.

How do New York priests manage to be such fine scholars? Is it just that they are so talented to begin with that they dont need the support that Jesuits, Dominicans and other religious orders provide?If some poor soul not endowed with the gifts of New York priests wants to grow up to be both a priest and a world class theologian (or any kind of scholar) should he join an order or become a diocesan priest? Follow the path of Rahner or Ratzinger?

1) No one can be raised from the deadto use Pauiline languageand so the witnesses cannot have seen what they thought they saw. (2) Something very strange happened even if we are not in a position to understand what it was. It seems to me that position (1) is founded more on a prejudice than on sound method.It seems to me that for a non-Christian historian, the weight of historical evidence would have to be so overwhelming to constitute undeniable historical fact. As I recall, at the beginning of Volume 1, Meier says his method is the equivalent of locking Christian, Jewish, and atheist historians in a room and telling them they can't come out until they have hammered out a consensus statement about the historical Jesus. If the consensus statement they arrived at included an affirmation of the historicity of the resurrection, when they came out of the room, the atheists and the Jews would have to be Christian converts!

having schlogged a little through Fr. Meier, I think it's quite fair to say he is deply scholarly, judicious and balanced.I do havea question (especially for the exegetes here), is the state of biblical scholarship either historicocritical or Christological, or are the parctitioners generally in both camps with an emphasis towards one side or the other based on their own preoccupation and their perception of the needs of their readers?

Is there something about the historical-critical method that necessitates that it "bracket out" the possibility that Jesus was not only fully human but also fully divine? Would such a self-imposed(?) restraint on an academic discipline have made sense to a pre-Enlightenment scholar?

Is there something about the historical-critical method that necessitates that it bracket out the possibility that Jesus was not only fully human but also fully divine?Jim,It is not a matter of the historical-critical method. It is a matter of writing history. Obviously in his other work, Meier can and does use the historical-critical method as a believing Catholic exegete, as do all Catholic Biblical scholars, including (to some extent) the current pope. But Meier has set himself a task to try and write about the historical Jesus from a limited perspective. I think it would be unusual for a non-Mormon writing a history of the Mormon Church to try to prove or disprove that the Angel Moroni gave Joseph Smith a set of golden plates with the Book of Mormon on it. That may not be the best example, but in any case, historians in general do not try to prove or disprove the supernatural events many religions claim to be facts. If you could really prove the resurrection of Jesus as a historical fact, everyone would be a Christian. Someone who insists on the historicity of the resurrection would have to explain, it seems to me, why it was not widely accepted in the very community to which Jesus directed his ministry. Why did Christianity die out among the Jews within a few generations and become a gentile phenomenon when it was the Jews to whom Jesus addressed himself, and among whom he worked miracles and continued to address himself after the resurrection?

About the New York scholar-priests: In the space of ten years, the NY semnary system produced the following (in order of ordination): Robert Kennedy (canon law), Richard Dillon (Scripture), William M. Shea (philosophical theology), Thomas J. Shelley (church history), Bernard McGinn (history of theology), David Tracy and me (theology), Robert Imbelli (theology), and John Meier (Scripture). We had the good fortune of having some excellent professors who encouraged and exemplified the intellectual life. David Tracy and I are particularly grateful for the education we received in the six years at Cathedral College, particularly for all that we received there from Frs. Francis D. Cohalan, Joseph N. Moody (both in history), and David Rea (English literature). At Dunwoodie the great influence was Fr. Myles M. Bourke (Scripture).It will be understood why we are not flattered when, after we have given a talk or a sermon with at least one compound sentence, someone says to us: "You must be a Jesuit!"

David: I wonder if the credibility of the resurrection is really at stake in the fact that Christianity did not thrive within Jewish communities. Rather, what might be at stake is the Messianic Age, or what we would call the apocalypse. As multiple NT scholars have noted (most recently in my reading Amy-Jill Levine in The Misunderstood Jew), early Christians had a problem proclaiming Jesus to be the Messiah among Jews because there were very specific expectations of what was supposed to happen upon the arrival of the Messiah. The one clear test for whether or not a person was the Messiah was whether or not the Messianic Age came to pass. If it did not, and by most accounts it did not in the first century, then a particular claim that a person was the Messiah would be difficult for the average Jew to believe. One interesting speculation among scholars is that the 40's and 50's were particularly difficult times for the followers of Jesus, precisely because the Messianic Age did not come to pass, and that one response taken by many was to move away from the apocolyptic expectation that had earlier been proclaimed. Thus, it is speculated that there was a return to an emphasis on following the law among many Christians, creating both a more long-term view of things, and setting up a clash with Gentile congregations; a clash we have clear evidence for in the writings of Paul.Regarding the resurrection, I am inclined to think that historical accounts are on the side of credible belief that something resurrection-like happened. Otherwise, I find it hard to explain the commitment of the Jerusalem community led by James and Peter to a gospel proclamation that included an affirmation of the resurrection. Of course, what may have happened may have been more along the lines of the garden variety experience of the dead still being alive within a spiritual dimension of this world; a belief widely held within religions, especially those that emphasize ancestors.Two of the more tantalizing NT texts regarding the resurrection are: "Paul, a servant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy scriptures, the gospel concerning his Son, who was descened from David according to the flesh and was declared to be Son of God with power according to the spirit of holiness by resurrection from the dead" (Romans 1:1-4)"And we bring you the good news that what God promised to our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising Jesus; as also it is written in the second psalm, 'You are my Son; today I have begotten you.'" (Acts 13:32-33)What I find interesting about these texts is that they can be read to suggest that the title Son of God was given to Jesus as a result of the experience of his resurrection (and so not beforehand). Thus, one might say that through the resurrection Jesus was elevated to a new status. Now, the texts are not definitive in this regard, but they are suggestive, and certainly seem to indicate the importance of the resurrection to the developing understanding of Jesus.I do find the absence of any reference to the resurrection, crucifixion, or last supper in the Didache to be rather difficult to explain.

The destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 would also make promoting anything even remotely Jewish, rather difficult, and it would certainly provide powerful rhetorical resources for those promoting a non-Jewish understanding of Christianity (e.g. all of Paul's churches).One reason I think that Gentile Christianity wins out is the near destruction of Judaism. Jews go into life support mode and so are not in a position to have strong internal debates about how to think about new Jewish movements.

I need to read Meier, but I'm still working my way through N.T. Wright's massive (and excellent) tomes on the historical Jesus. For those interested in a meticulous and historically responsible look at the resurrection of Jesus, I recommend Wright's "The Resurrection of the Son of God" (2003). (Warning: It is 738 pages, so you can read it on the beach after you finish up with Meier.)I'm very interested in two related points of the discussion that have come up so far:1. Meier's definition of "historical Jesus".It strikes me that Meier's definition is actually quite similar to Luke Timothy Johnson's (as he laid it out in "The Real Jesus"). Wright is quite critical of this definition of "history", thinking that it gives too much ground to an enlightenment era worldview in which history and theology must be kept at arms length from one another. Wright distinguishes between 5 different senses of the word history (from pg. 12ff in "Resurrection"):i. history as event (what happened, "whether or not we can know or prove that it happened")ii. history as significant event (in the sense of something that is historic)iii. history as provable event ("we can demonstrate that it happenend, on the analogy of mathematics or the so-called hard sciences."iv. history as writing (or oral tradition) about events in the past v. a combination of definitions iii. and iv.: history as what post-Enlightenment historians can say about a topicBoth Johnson and Meier seem to embrace the fifth definition. Wright argues strongly against this position on the basis of a critical realist epistemology that is actually quite akin to Lonergan's. I highly recommend Wright's discussion of epistemology and historical method at the beginning of "Jesus and the Victory of God". 2. David Nickol states that a non-Christian scholar who affirmed the historicity of the resurrection would have to convert. Wright argues that this is not necessarily so:"Resurrection does not of itself connote cosmic Lordship, or divinity... the theological conclusions that the early Christians drew from the resurrection of Jesus had far more to do with what they knew of Jesus prior to his crucifixion, and with what they knew of crucifixion itself, and with what they believed about Israel's god and his purposes for Israel and the world, than with the bare fact (granted we could ever speak of such a thing) as the resurrection itself. For the moment we may simply note that whatever we think about Jesus' divinity, that cannot have been, in the first century, the primary meaning of the resurrection- even if, as we shall see, the train of thought that began with belief in Jesus' resurrection led the early Christians towards such a belief... It should be prefectly possible for historians to study the reports of, and beliefs about, Jesus' resurrection, just as one should be able to study reports, however startling, of the re-embodiment of any other second-Temple Jew, without supposing that by doing so we are necessarily committed to boldly going where no historian has ever gone before. What we make of our findings is another question altogether. We cannot, by short-cutting the theological issue, escape the challenge of history." ("Resurrection, pg. 25-26)Thanks, by the way, to Fr. Komonchak. You were the one who originally put me onto Wright's series when I was in one of your classes at CUA.I've mentioned once on these pages before, but I also reccomend the exchange between Wright and L.T. Johnson in "Jesus and the Restoration of Israel" (ed. Carey C. Newman). It deals with some of these same issues of historiography.

Patrick Molloy,besides the factors that Joseph Komonchak stated, there is the New York water :-)Joseph K. mentioned Monsignor Myles Bourke whose teaching of scripture at Dunwoodie and whose intellectual rigor and pastoral commitment formed and inspired a generation of priests, most of whom dedicated their lives to parish ministry. It is noteworthy in this regard that Monsignor Bourke is one of the two men to whom John Meier dedicated this volume of "A Marginal Jew."I would also add to Joe's list Philip J. Murnion, whose doctorate from Columbia was in sociology, one of the brightest, most capable, and dedicated people I have had the privilege to know.Joe Petit and David Tenney,thanks for your comments. I have a few thoughts, but need to attend to supper -- we have guests this evening. In a diocesan display of ecumenism, one of them is a Jesuit!

David Nickol states that a non-Christian scholar who affirmed the historicity of the resurrection would have to convert. Wright argues that this is not necessarily so . . .David Tenney,I have to (or should) go home and read ten or twenty very large and difficult books before I dare say anything more. But is N.T. Wright in essence here saying that historians can examine the evidence -- found only in the writings of the followers of Jesus -- about whether Jesus arose from the dead and come to a conclusion that he did, and then go on to examine the question of whether those followers were actually correct in how they interpreted the significance of the resurrection? That is to say, historians could conclude that the early Christian communities were correct that Jesus rose from the dead, but that they were wrong about who or what Jesus was? If a Christian proselytizer were to hand me a religious leaflet on the street and say, "Jesus rose from the dead," I could say, "So?"

"It is not a matter of the historical-critical method. It is a matter of writing history. ... in any case, historians in general do not try to prove or disprove the supernatural events many religions claim to be facts. "Right. It's as if there is a brick wall between (at least some sorts of) religious truth-claims and the sorts of truth-claims that the historical method is prepared to accept. David Tenney's list of the different senses of history sheds some light on the boundaries that history has established for itself.

Johnson's review of Meier's work might have been respectful but what sticks out in my mind from Johnson's interview is his relating that it took Meier 100 or so pages to establish one fact. Is it possible for Meier to write differently? I understand he cannot do the work for us but can he not at least say that this is what this all means as my body of work shows or something like that? Or does even Joe Petitt confuse his students thus?Of course, Peter Brown, Marcus, Crossan and Wright are no piece of cake either. At least Kung in later books responded to critics saying he should write more clearly. What's wrong with writing the way James O'Donnel writes in his book "Augustine?" Great book and profound enough. But then O'Donnel reverts to drudgery in his new book: "The Ruin of the Roman Empire."No wonder people trusted lying historians for so many years!!

Bob: Thanks for adding the name of Phil Murnion. I knew there was someone else...

Johnsons review of Meiers work might have been respectful but what sticks out in my mind from Johnsons interview is his relating that it took Meier 100 or so pages to establish one fact.I read somewhere (I forget all the details) that someone said that Meier takes several volumes to tell us pretty much what we already know. To which someone else answered, "And is that a bad thing?" Nobody is forced to read the books. And is it a problem if someone exhaustively reviews every bit of the evidence and comes to the same conclusion as people who have done relatively cursory studies? By the way, I don't know that is really true of the first three volumes, and if memory serves me correctly, Meier tells us in the early pages of the book that everything we have read about Jesus and the law is wrong. I will provide the quote when I get home. (I earnestly hope I have not imagined or misremembered!)

Meier states in volume one and repeats in volume four his "fantasy of an unpapal conclave" -- in which a Catholic, a Protestant, a Jewish, a Muslim, and an agnostic scholar are locked in the bowels of the Harvard Divinity School and kept on a spartan diet until they agree on a consensus document regarding what can be known of the historical Jesus (in Meier's understanding of the term).My own fantasy would lock John Meier, N.T. Wright, and Luke Timothy Johnson in the Notre Dame Library where they could feast at the end of a day of stimulating exchanges, with the condition that their discussion would be streamed live on dotCommonweal.As we await that blessed hope, here are two references to the projects of the others that Meier makes in volume four:1."I see the important work of N.T. Wright (eg. Jesus and the Victory of God) in this light. I consider this book not an example of the quest for the historical Jesus as such, but rather a prime example of how one goes about appropriating the results of the quest for a larger theological/Christological project" (p. 22, n. 17).2. "For an understanding of the real Jesus that moves in the theological and Christological rather than the historical realm, see Luke Timothy Johnson, The Real Jesus. For example, on p. 142 Johnson states that the real Jesus for Christian faith is the resurrected Jesus. I have no problem with such a definition when one is operating in the realm of faith and theology (p. 23, n. 22).The question I bring to Meier's project, which may surface with particular force in his fifth volume, concerns what can Meier say about Jesus' self-understanding within the limitations of the methodological approach Meier has chosen. The last pages of the present volume (if I read them correctly) seem to sketch the beginning of a response to my question.

Ithought it quite excellent in this thread that the ownderful leadership of msgr, Bourke and Murnion were noted. (Too bad Cardinal Law thought so little of "common ground.")What a pity that their scholarship and the other outstanding thinkers noted here did not continue on at he NY Seminary, which now,I understabd, has 18 students for priesthood.It makes one wonder how much true scholarship is valued in training our future clergy in appeciating the great mysteries of Christoloigy and the historical Jesus mentioned here and the other thorny issues we talk about today.

Meier tells us in the early pages of the book that everything we have read about Jesus and the law is wrong. I will provide the quote when I get home. (I earnestly hope I have not imagined or misremembered!)I wasn't so far off (although it is a shame to give such a tiny excerpt).

I remember how well, when I told a learned Jewish colleague that I was beginning to write a volume focused on the Jewish Law around the time of Jesus, the professor replied: "Don't go in there; you'll never come out." Six years later, I emerge from Moses' (not Plato's) cave, perhaps wiser but certainly older. In any event, I come out convinced that, although I may not be right in my positions, every other book or article on the historical Jesus and the Law has been to a great degree wrong. . . . .

David Nickol, Here's Wright's argument in very cursory form: The emergence of Christianity presents us with a number of facts that demand historical explanation. Not least among these is the Christian belief in resurrection. This belief looks very different from anything found in the broader Greco-Roman world. (Wright spends a good chunk of pages looking at the various beliefs about life after death for which we have any evidence from this time period in this region.) And while the Christian belief clearly has continuities with the growing and already wide-spread Jewish belief in a general resurrection, it also has some clear discontinuities. Specifically, he counts 6 such discontinuities:1- Resurrection is a central doctrine for all Christians for whom we have evidence, whereas it was peripheral, or at least secondary, for most (non-Christain) Jews for whom we have evidence.2- Christian writings are quite specific about what form the resurrected body will take, whereas the (non-Christian) Jewish writings we have are vague.3- Christian writings present an extremely consistent portrait of resurrected life whereas there is a wide spectrum of belief among non-Christian Jews.4- Christians believe in a two-part resurrection (Jesus first, everyone else later) whereas other Jews believed that everyone would be raised at once.5- Among Jews, resurrection had nearly always been linked metaphorically to the vindication of Israel, but Christian writings generally do not use it in this way, but tend to use it new metaphorical ways (e.g. for baptism and holiness).6- We have no evidence that there was any widespread belief among the Jews that the messiah would be resurrected- for Christians, Jesus' resurrection comes to be taken as a central proof that he is the Christ.Wright says that the sudden emergence of this remarkable set of beliefs among diverse and widespread communities of Christians demands a historical explanation. He makes the case that, absent any precedent for these beliefs in Jewish or Greco-Roman thought, the best explanation is that first Christians witnessed something very much like what is described in the gospels.If you are interested in a short version of this argument, Crossan and N.T. Wright engaged in a dialogue on this topic and it has been put out as the first chapter of a book: "The Resurrection of Jesus: N.T. Wright and John Dominic Crossan in Dialogue".

I second Robert Imbelli's fantasy conclave. I'm actually waiting for N. T. Wright and Luke Timothy Johnson to move past their disputes over the historical Jesus and realize that they are strong allies on some very controverted points about Paul (e.g. the proper translation of "pistis Chistou", Pauline authorship of Ephesians and some of the other "contested" letters).Unfortunately Meier is a gaping hole in my reading. Maybe that will be next summer's project for me.

With all the talk about genre and midrash very few scholars explain these things clearly. While all seem to agree that each Gospel is the expression of that Evangelist's community, the details seem sorely lacking. Is the fact that later scholars stress the historicity so much that we lost the feel of the first century understanding of these events? What else can it be. As far as the Resurrection is concerned I like the modern theory that all of a sudden the followers of Jesus "knew" that he was alive and believed in him. For me that really takes faith and certainly frees us from matching all the narrations together. And outside the Women's movement is the Woman at the Well and Mary Magdalene ever going to get their due; more than in mere footnotes?

Bill,The problem with understanding the resurrection as the followers of Jesus suddenly "knowing" that Jesus is alive is that that is not what the word resurrection means. Resurrection as it was understood in second temple Judaism meant a renewed bodily existence after a period of being dead. This is what it meant for Jews and this is also what it meant for Christians- the New Testament writings go out of their way time and again to stress the bodily character of Jesus' reappearnce to his followers. There were lots of stories and lots of language in both the Jewish and Greco-Roman traditions to express a belief in the ongoing existence of a person's soul after death. The early Christians consistently opted not to use that language and instead to use the language of resurrection despite the incredulous responses of both Jews and gentiles.

NT Wright has a nice web page where you can find many of his articles, including Christian Origins and the Resurrection of Jesus: The Resurrection of Jesus as a Historical Problem.

David N.I agree that the evidence for the raising of Jesus of Nazareth is not conclusive, but neither is it negligible. In such a circumstance historians may try to come up with the most plausible hypothesis that would account for the evidence. It is not to bexpected that all will ever come to an agreement. Meier's thought experiment has that shortcoming. Must silence be enforced when there is no conclusive evidence on any subject. As an instance take the "Secret Gospel of Mark" which Morton Smith claims to have discovered a fragment of. The original manuscript he claims to have found is not available. Serious scholars continue to disagree about whether the so-called Gospel fragment was concocted by Smith. The situation was well described in a recent review in the NYRB by Antony Grafton. The probability that there will always disagreement does not render further consideration pointless.

"I agree that the evidence for the raising of Jesus of Nazareth is not conclusive, but neither is it negligible. In such a circumstance historians may try to come up with the most plausible hypothesis that would account for the evidence."I think Joseph G. is correct. In fact, The carbon-dating controversy notwithsatndingding, there is very substantial scientific evidence--much of it gathered by scientists who are agnostics--that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of the historical person Jesus Christ, and that the image on that piece of linen, now the most scientifically-studied artifact in human history, remains an enigma. In addition, the blood stains on the Sudarium of Oviedo (there is no image on this head cloth) corroborate the scientific evidence related to the image of the head on the Shroud. http://www.shroud.com/guscin.htmThough science can never definitively prove that these burial cloths were those of Jesus, that Jesus rose from the dead, and that Jesus is God, the burial cloths are in accord with the descriptions of the burial cloths provided in at least some of the Gospels. See, e.g., John 20-6-7.

Question: if faith is salvific, and the resurrection is the touchstone of that faith (If Christ is not risen, then our faith is in vain,") how much risk is necessary for faith to be that saving act that requires both grace and our acquiesence?(Obviously, I think we would like to emphasize what little historically we know of the empty tomb and its aftermath as well as the early Church, but we need to give due place to the Spirit working His way.)The shroud is another story. I'm told that one of the scientists working on it was a guy from our lab who's also a deacon here in the parish and some folks question his objectivity.I just think pridence is necessary in these matters, recalling the old dictum that the man who proves too much proves nothing.

Thinking of the late Msgr. Murnion, I note David, over at his Pontifications (which always has interesting stuff, some of which also surfaces here), notes the president is invoking the late Cardinal Bernadin and the common ground initiative (which Msgr. Murnion was given charge of) as the president is holding an "unprecedented" listening session with eight members of the Catholic presas prior to his going forth to meet BXVI.Another thread here? With the names of the lucky eight?

"The shroud is another story. Im told that one of the scientists working on it was a guy from our lab whos also a deacon here in the parish and some folks question his objectivity.I just think pridence is necessary in these matters, recalling the old dictum that the man who proves too much proves nothing."That's true enough, Bob. I'm trained as a scientist, and I'm all for objectivity and prudence. I have no idea whether the deacon's objectivity is impaired, but there are hundreds, if not thousands, of reputable scientists in multiple disciplines--e.g., chemistry, pathology, microscopy, nuclear physics, botany, geology, and textiles science (just to name a few)--who have probed, poked, tested, discussed, and debated the science of the Shroud. The great majority believe that it is a burial cloth from the 1st century, and that it contains the image and body fluids of the historical Jesus. (Why Jesus? Several reasons have been given, but there is no known Roman record (and the Romans kept such records) of a crucifixion of an individual who had been crowned with thorns.)As to proof, there will never be proof sufficient to meet the criminal standard of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, but IMO there is sufficient scientific and historical evidence to meet the civil standard of proof by a preponderance of the evidence. Others of course may disagree, but I think it's worthwhile for all Christians, especially, to learn more about the Shroud and the Sudarium. (I've been studying about them for almost 30 years, and my fascination has never waned.) Even if one day the burial cloths are shown to be forgeries, there are at least two positive outcomes to such a result: (1) We will have had the opportunity to have viewd the work of the greatest artist and scientist who ever lived, and (2) the forgeries will still be tangible and powerful reminders of Christ's Passion. The bottom line: I'm not vouching for the authenticity of the Shroud and the Sudarium; I'm only suggesting that dispassionate inquiry into the science behind these burial cloths may also result in the strengthening of one's faith.

WilliamI was actually thinking of the direct witness of Paul and the (probably) second hand witness of the Evangelists, but of Paul in particular. The letters reveal a remarkable man whose life was profoundly changed by an encounter with the risen Jesus. He is certainly very human, but I find his testimony as born out by his actions to be very persuasive.

Joseph--I wasn't sure if you were referring to tangible, scientific evidence like the Shroud, but I grabbed at a tangent and ran (many will say rambled) with it.Something very incredible happened on that road to Damascus, didn't it? Something so powerful that it changed the zealot cloakholder at the stoning of Stephen into the totally focused and committed leader of Christ's expeditionary force among the Gentiles. Something that shook Saul so completely to his core that it sustained and nourished his single-minded decades of missionary work, and that provided him with the courage and faith to accept martyrdom those many years later. Perhaps it's heresy to say so, but after Christ, I find Paul the most fascinating figure in the NT.

Im only suggesting that dispassionate inquiry into the science behind these burial cloths may also result in the strengthening of ones faith.William,I find it difficult to believe there can be a dispassionate inquiry into the authenticity of the Shroud of Turin. Haven't all the radiocarbon test so far found it to be less than 1000 years old? I suppose the tests may be wrong, but I doubt that the people who are criticizing them are "dispassionate." Many people desperately want to believe that it is the burial shroud of Jesus. I am not sure why, even though I used to be one of those people. Does the Shroud tell us anything at all important, or does it prove anything that non-Christians deny?

Hi, David, I'd think that the shroud's primary importance for most believers isn't that it might establish incontrovbertible proof, but that it's a relic - an exttraordinary relic. It's a tangible window into a mystical reality.

David--There's so much I could say about the radiocarbon testing--volumes, in fact, that would be dispassionate and completely scientific--but this thread isn't about the Shroud, though I'm the one guilty of veering off topic. If you'd like, feel free to contact me offline, and I'll discuss it more fully, and I'll cite some good resources for you. I'll leave it at this for now: There isn't an "all" the radiocarbon testing. There has been but one sample from the Shroud that was tested. A piece was cut, from the absolutely worst place to have taken the sample, and it was divided in three smaller pieces, each of which was tested at a different lab. All the labs were very reputable, and I don't question their science. However, there is growing evidence that the sample was taken from an edge of the cloth where there had been re-weaving with material from the late Middle Ages that skewed the results. If the Shroud is authentic, and I emphasis the "if," it tells us a great deal about Christianity. Most importantly, it would be strong evidence that the Resurrection took place. Not definitive evidence, but strong evidence. It would also corroborate many of the details of the Passion that are set forth in the Scriptures, e.g., the scourging, the crowning with thorns, the lance wound in the side (instead of the customary breaking of the bones of the legs). Again, I'm happy to continue offline if you'd like.

but that its a relic an exttraordinary relic. Its a tangible window into a mystical reality.Jim,I agree completely. Nothing claimed to be true by Christians will diminish in credibility if the Shroud is definitively proven not to be authentic. If it is an authentic relic, then it is an awesome one. But I think people very much want to have an awesome relic, which is why I say there can be no dispassionate investigation of it.

N. T. Wright makes a very similar point about the apparently widespread reaction of many, many of the early Christians to the Good News -- that their choosing martyrdom was evidence of the strength of their belief. Only something apparently real could inspire such behavior.On the other hand, hysteria can make people believe and do very strange things. On the other (third?) hand, it seems to me that the miracles of Christ, the resurrection being pre-eminent among them, alone do not inspire long-term faith. Long-term faith requires corroboration in the bad times, i.e., it requires the grace of God needed to live as a Christian. So I believe that the martyrs were inspired not only by their faith that something totally extraordinary had happened but also were inspired by the fact of God's grace in their own lives, that miraculous grace which made their choice of martyrdom possible.In other words, other people's stories about miracles aren't enough. We require lived evidence, and for many of us that is pre-eminently God's grace.

I tried to read N T Wright's resurrection book. I found that when he came to the crunch and actually examined the resurrection narratives at the end of the four gospels he blithely sideskipped the most obvious problems.David Tenney offers a summary of Wright's argument that 'while the Christian belief clearly has continuities with the growing and already wide-spread Jewish belief in a general resurrection, it also has some clear discontinuities. 1- Resurrection is central for Christians, peripheral for Jews. (I doubt this -- Jesus' interlocutors in the Gospel and the Pharisees in debate with Paul speak of the resurrection of the just; Jesus talks as if such resurrection hope was taken for granted by his Jewish hearers.) 2- Christian writings are specific about what form the resurrected body will take, whereas Jewish are vague. (I do not think it possible to harmonized the specifics of Luke and Paul and John to produce a single non-vague account of the resurrection body.) 3- Christian writings present a consistent portrait of resurrected life whereas there is a wide spectrum of belief among Jews. (NT accounts of life beyond death are scanty and diverse -- the parable of Dives and Lazarus, the statement that they will be 'like the angels of God', the fantasias of the Book of Revelation, the Johannine notions of eternal life, the Pauline eschatology -- the spectrum seems quite heterogeneous). 4- Christians believe in a two-part resurrection (Jesus first, everyone else later) whereas other Jews believed that everyone would be raised at once. (Early Christians were convinced that the others would join Jesus very soon, and when people began to die they continued to believe that they would be raised from the dead to join Jesus very soon, along with the still living -- all of which suggests that the Jewish mould of universal resurrection was stongly in place in the minds of the first Christians.) 5- Among Jews, resurrection is linked to the vindication of Israel, but Christian writings generally do not use it in this way, but tend to use it new metaphorical ways (e.g. for baptism and holiness). (Luke still talks of Jesus inheriting the kingdom of David and would have gone much further -- though himself a non-Jew -- were it not for Jewish rejection of Jesus; also to talk of the resurrection metaphorically is a cop-out -- there is no controversy about spiritual resurrection; and is it true that Jews never use metaphorical resurrection language such as we find in the parable of the prodigal son?) 6- No widespread belief among the Jews that the messiah would be resurrected.The entire Jewish apocalptic frame of thought in which the resurrection kerygma emerges quickly became obsolete for Christians. Paul rethinks death and resurrection in Romans 4-8 in a way that can continue in independence of such a framework. It is the Pauline version of the paschal mystery that has held sway ever since (along with the Johannine). Some call this Hellenization, but I think it goes much deeper than that. The category of mystical vision comes to mind.The notion of Messiah also became obsolete.Today we try to retrieve the eschatological thrust of the Gospels, of Jesus' preaching of the kingdom, and of Paul too. But that does not mean we can step back into the lost world of 1st century apocalyptic. Existential eschatology a la Bultmann or social eschatology a la Liberation Theology are the main styles of retrieving an eschatological awareness. This is important for the resurrection too, in that its initial appearance was as an eschatological message -- "the Lord has gone before you into glory" -- and the resurrection appearances could not be disentangled from this eschatological call (cf. the end of Matthew's Gospel). A Pauline resurrectionism shorn of its eschatological reaches would degenerate into a vague, universal mystery religion.