April Book of the Month–Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews

resurrection1You think you know resurrection?  Bet you can learn something from Kevin J. Madigan and Jon D. Levenson (two Harvard professors, one a Christian and one a Jew) that you didn’t already know.  In their book, Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews, Madigan and Levenson trace the history of the resurrection of the dead — the bodily resurrection of the faithful dead at the end of time — from its origins on through the Jewish faith into its central mythological position in the Christian faith.  Mythological, not because it isn’t true, but because our modern day understanding of resurrection has been shaped as much by opinion, philosophical and theological debate, and miscommunication as it has by good, careful, thorough biblical study and interpretation.  The book challenges readers to revisit what we “know” about resurrection.

The historic debates (battles, more accurately) over the concept of resurrection are fascinating, and it is somewhat surprising to realize the number of early Christians who fought against the notion.  For both early Christians and Jews, resurrection had little to do with life after death or going to heaven, but was a more central belief in the power of God to redeem and renew all of creation at the end of time.  Resurrection was a final reckoning — a time of judgment and justice — linked to a fundamental belief, both by the Jews in exile and the Christians under Roman persecution, that God would set all things right.

For both the Christian and Jewish faiths, resurrection was a bodily, physical event, where people would rise up, leave the graves, and live again.  It had less to do with individuals and the ‘afterlife,’ but was communal and immediate in nature.  Christ’s resurrection was but a foretaste of what would come to all the faithful in God’s own time.  Our Apostle’s Creed affirms our belief in “the resurrection of the body,” though few who recite these words today fully understand their meaning.

And that is the real gift of Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews— it causes us to stop and reflect on what we really believe.  Resurrection is not a dividing issue between Christians and Jews, but a continuity between Christianity and its parent faith of Judaism.  A fuller understanding of the history and meaning of resurrection does nothing to diminish our faith, but indeed reinforces what a powerful, defining event the resurrection of Jesus Christ was, and is.  Madigan and Levenson write a scholarly, helpful book in straight-forward, down-to-earth language.  This is a great book to read, study, and reflect on during holy week.

4 replies

    • The book takes an academic approach to the subject, offering one of the best analyses grounded in both scripture and the relative theologies of Christianity and Judaism. They respectfully address resurrection as a matter of faith — central to both Christianity and Judaism — but the main premise of the book is that what we think we believe about resurrection has very little to do with what Jesus, Paul, most early Christians, and many early Jews believed.

      Ultimately, resurrection is more a confession of belief in God’s power rather than a hope for an afterlife. It is about God’s redemption and restoration of creation. Both authors reflect the traditions of their Roman Catholic and Jewish backgrounds and focus on the centrality of resurrection to their respective faiths.

    • The resurrection “of Jesus Christ” is what defines Christianity as unique from other faiths. However, the concept of resurrection did not originate with, nor is it exclusive to, Christianity. Most Christians hold a belief in resurrection based on a children’s Sunday school understanding of the Easter event — so this book is eye-opening and enlightening as it examines the larger understanding of (and belief in) resurrection from both our Jewish and Christian roots.

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