Bishop Spong On: "Breaking The Literal Mold Of Easter"

There may not be a more controversial story in all of religion than that which is written in the Gospels of Jesus Christ's last week on earth. For over a thousand years historians, theologians and scholars have studied the story in search of its deepest meanings and lessons. Others have searched for historical evidence that would prove that the events took place in history as they are written on the pages of scripture. Many claim there is no such evidence. In a rare occurrence, even a Christian will admit that the actual life of the historical Jesus does not fit the details of the life experience of the Jesus of faith - taught of in the Church. However, many Christians that make such an admission react in different ways.

One such Christian is Bishop Shelby Spong. Bishop Spong for years has been evaluating and comparing and contrasting literal truth and the historical record with the interpretation of the scriptures. He has produced several books that reflect his method of study and the perspective shaped by his study.

Today at Belief he has penned a thoughtful column entitled, "Breaking The Literal Mold Of Easter, Part III" that should give many food for thought. Here is a portion of the column:

The resurrection experience changed lives, reoriented people's understanding of God, and created a new holy day. That is sufficient empirical data to indicate that something real happened during the experience called Easter.

But when people began to explain that experience, reality became a casualty. They spoke of darkness covering the earth, of earthquakes announcing human events, of angels descending out of the sky, of bodies three-days dead being resuscitated, and finally of this resuscitated body rising into the sky like a self-propelled rocket bound for the heavenly realm. Very few people living in the post-modern world can suspend their rational faculties so totally as to find these concepts believable.

So we are left with an experience that cries out to be explained, and an explanation that has no credibility. On the tension line between these two statements, the Christian enterprise hangs in the balance.

In this third column in my Easter series, I want to delve deeply into those inadequate explanations in search of clues that might carry us beyond these limited words into the meaning of whatever the experience was that caused disciples to explain ecstatically "Death cannot contain him!" "We have seen the Lord!"

The way to accomplish this task is to peel back the explanatory material layer by layer by asking basic questions. Where did this experience occur? To whom? At what time? In what context? Perhaps in this process, we can come closer to the experience that caused Christianity's birth. We will also discover the necessity of making informal decisions when the biblical material is radically contradictory.

At what location did the gospels assert that the meaning of resurrection first dawned on the disciples? Paul doesn't say. Mark and Matthew assume it is in Galilee. Luke says not so. It was only in the environs of Jerusalem. John says it was in Jerusalem first and much later in Galilee.

In this conflict we can see the tension that marked the Jewish nation at the time. Galilee was the remnant of the Northern Kingdom that seceded from the Jewish nation centered in Jerusalem as early as the 10th century before the common era. Jerusalem and Judea were the remnants of the Kingdom of Judah, which, after that fracture, had remained faithful to the Royal House of David. The rivalry between these two regions was intense. Galilee was looked down on by the Jerusalem Jews who felt that nothing good could come out of that region. There is therefore good reason to suggest there was pressure to relocate important events in Jesus' life from Galilee to Jerusalem. There would be no reason to relocate Jerusalem events into Galilee. So the weight of evidence suggests that, whatever the resurrection experience was, it dawned first in Galilee, not Jerusalem.

For the rest of the column click here

Sunday, April 15, 2001