Periodical Reviews -- By: Anonymous
BSac 139:553 (Jan 82) p. 67
“Resurrection Fictions,” Randel Helms, Free Inquiry 1 (Fall 1981): 34-41.
This article attempts to demonstrate that the New Testament accounts of the resurrection of Jesus are fictional narratives invented by His followers to embue their leader with superhuman qualities and to insure faith in His continued existence and leadership. Such fictional embellishment was frequent in ancient times, according to Helms, who asserts, “Resurrection from the dead, for example, was almost the norm for ancient divine heroes” (p. 34). He insists that the various biblical accounts of Jesus’ resurrection provide conclusive evidence of their fictional nature.
To begin with, Helms shows an amazing ignorance of contemporary New Testament and especially Synoptic Gospel scholarship. To a large degree his case is built upon the chronological priority of Mark’s Gospel. He states, “Furthermore, since we now know the probable order in which they were written, we can even watch the fiction growing and taking shape”(p. 34). Apparently he knows nothing of William Farmer’s case for the priority of Matthew instead of Mark, which destroys his whole case. Apparently also he is unfamiliar with Bishop Robinson’s case for dating all of the New Testament books before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Without endorsing either Farmer or Robinson, the point is that the whole queston of Synoptic priority and of New Testament dating is highly fluid and far from as settled as Helms thinks.
Helms makes quite a point of critical analysis and careful reading of the biblical accounts. He then quotes 1 Corinthians 15:2–7 as chronologically the first record of Jesus’ resurrection. He criticizes Paul for not referring to the empty tomb as do the Gospel writers. Obviously, if the resurrected Jesus was seen alive, the tomb was empty; but Paul’s
BSac 139:553 (Jan 82) p. 68
emphasis throughout this chapter is on physical resurrection, not the empty tomb. Also Helms says, “Paul insists that the first appearance of the risen Lord was to Cephas” (p. 35); but Paul does not say that at all, as careful reading will show. Paul simply says, “and that he appeared to Cephas,” with no statement or implication that this was the first resurrection appearance. The other appearances Paul lists, including the one to him, are in sequential order but not in immediately successive order. Helms also calls attention to Paul’s reference to Jesus’ resurrection appearance “to the Twelve” as indication that “Paul did not know the story about the defection and suicide of Judas Iscariot” (p. 35). Helms ignores the fact that the phrase “the Twelve” became a technical...
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