Friday, April 03, 2015

The Hope Of Worms

It's important to recognize how unexpected and objectionable Jesus' crucifixion and resurrection were to the world Christianity was born into. Critics often parallel Jesus to the dying and rising gods of paganism, but Christianity didn't originate among pagans. It came out of and agreed with a highly anti-pagan form of Judaism (Acts 17:23, Romans 1:22-3, 1 Corinthians 10:14-22, Galatians 4:8, Ephesians 2:12, etc.). And the manner in which Jesus died and rose was repulsive to most pagans, so drawing vague parallels to dying and rising gods, without further qualification, is misleading. Jews also found crucifixion revolting, and they weren't expecting anybody to be resurrected prior to the general resurrection in the end times.

But there's a more direct way of addressing this issue. What did the early Christian and non-Christian sources commenting specifically on Christianity say about crucifixion and resurrection?

Paul refers to Jesus' crucifixion as a difficulty for both Jews and Gentiles in general (1 Corinthians 1:23). Justin Martyr anticipates mockery of Jesus' sufferings among non-Christian Jews when he comments, "Say no evil thing, my brothers, against Him that was crucified, and treat not scornfully the stripes wherewith all may be healed, even as we are healed." (Dialogue With Trypho, 137) He goes on, in the same section of his work, to suggest that non-Christian Jews have been taught by their leaders to ridicule Jesus in that manner. He tells them to "pour no ridicule on the Son of God; obey not the Pharisaic teachers, and scoff not at the King of Israel, as the rulers of your synagogues teach you to do after your prayers". Origen commented that the suffering of Jesus "in the eyes of most people brings shame on the doctrine of the Christians" (Against Celsus, 3:28).

Ancient Jews expected a resurrection of all the dead in the end times (Daniel 12:2, John 11:24), but not the resurrection of one individual before then. Paul's mention of Jesus' resurrection to pagans in Acts 17:31 is met with sneering and hesitation (17:32). It's probably not a coincidence that sneering is the first response mentioned and that Luke's record of Paul's presentation ends there, followed by a reference to Paul's departure (17:33). See, also, Festus' reaction to Paul in Acts 26:23-4. Sebastian Moll notes, "It can be considered almost certain that a pagan audience would have sided with Marcion on that point [i.e., would have rejected physical resurrection]." (in Sara Parvis and Paul Foster, edd., Justin Martyr And His Worlds [Minneapolis, Minnesota: Fortress Press, 2007], 151). Justin Martyr expects his pagan audience to be skeptical of the concept of resurrection (First Apology, 19). Celsus, a second-century pagan critic of Christianity, referred to physical resurrection as "revolting", "impossible", and "the hope of worms" (cited in Origen, Against Celsus, 5:14). Addressing the Christian concept of resurrection, Tertullian hyperbolically writes, "if a Christian promises the return of a man from a man, and the very actual Gaius from Gaius, the cry of the people will be to have him stoned; they will not even so much as grant him a hearing" (Apology, 48).

Christianity originated and succeeded in that atmosphere.

No comments:

Post a Comment