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on 18 February 2008
Spong presents reasons why he believes the resurrection of Jesus became literalized gradually after his death. Spong proceeds through the letters written by Paul to argue why he does not find good evidence that Paul regarded Jesus' resurrection as bodily. He then proceeds through the Synoptic Gospels in the order in which they are believed by most scholars today to have been written (Mark, Matthew, and finally Luke) to show what he believes are signs of increasingly literalized presentations of the resurrection. After reviewing all the Gospels including John, Spong speculates boldly to try to capture some sense in which Peter and the others who had known Jesus might have had a transforming Easter experience after the death of Jesus that led them to proclaim that he had been raised. Spong explains what it was about Jewish beliefs and the conditions of the times that would have influenced their response to Jesus's death.

Is it plausible? Probably not if you believe to begin with that the resurrection was bodily. It will seem that Spong is certainly reverse-engineering this book's arguments to fit his own rejection of a supernatural resurrection. Will it be plausible to other Christians? Perhaps but it may seem one set of speculations among many. Spong has not carefully graded his speculations as to which seem most likely and which least so he may have weakened his presentation by making it seem dependent on too many speculations. As for non-Christians, they may note that however "radical" Spong may seem to Christians in questioning the Gospel accounts, he seems not to question much, if at all, Jesus himself. One might compare Elaine Pagels' speculations in The Origin of Satan: How Christians Demonized Jews, Pagans, and Heretics or those of Bart Ehrman in Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium neither of whom seem to hold as closely to the Jesus of the Gospels as Spong does. It may seem baffling that Spong would question so much but not Jesus, especially given that Spong accepts that Paul, who had such a powerful response to Christ, seemed to know little about Jesus's life and especially given that Spong believes the Gospels were constructed by those not directly familiar with Jesus with heavy appeal in a midrash-like way to Old Testament writings. So who was this Jesus? Spong's faith seems to rest in a belief that Jesus had at the least earned the deepest love of those close to him, that he had taught them profoundly and that they had believed he had given himself for their sake. But it is the very Gospels that Spong calls into question which seem to provide Spong most of reasons for faith: Spong's attention to Paul seems secondary, mostly to convince himself that the resurrection was not bodily.

It seems a good idea to read Spong's books in the chronological order in which they were written. His theologizing evolves but whatever his skepticism of specific New Testament passages, his acceptance of the image of Jesus he derives from the New Testament seems not to be called into question by him in either of the later Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers In Exile or A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith is Dying & How a New Faith is Being Born. In rejecting literal aspects of Jesus, Spong seems to hold tight to idealized aspects. But which came first, the Jesus Spong met or the New Testament texts through which Spong has freely speculated to arrive at the Jesus he proclaims?
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on 6 April 2003
This is a very thougtful look at the problem of the resurrection, attempting to see behind the 'magic' that has become associated with it, to determine what (as far as we can tell) might actually have taken place, what motivated the first Christians, and (most important) how much of what we believe is later accretion, and not really present in the Easter story of the NT.
Important strands of thought are as follows:
(a) Looking at the writings in the NT in the order they were written, rather than the order in which they are traditionally presented. This leads to interesting results. The later the text, the more mystical and magical the events of the resurrection become. Paul's writings give no sign of any concept of a bodily resurrection at all.
(b) Recalling that the writers of the NT were working within the Jewish midrashic tradition, which means that ideas from earlier texts are used to add depth and resonance to events. So concepts from the OT, and indeed from other religions prominent in 1st Century Judaea, particularly Graeco-Roman, are introduced to add significance to the events of Christ's life, and help make them clearer to readers. We shouldn't forget that the gospels were written for a 1st century audience, not for the 21st century.
Overall, a good and well-thought book. This should not challenge anybody's religion, but it might help them to come to terms with which aspects of their faith are simply modern consructs, and which actually reflect the underlying truth.
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on 12 August 1997
I am persuaded by much of what Bishop Spong argues in this book and I was genuinely moved by the penultimate chapter when he speculates on the purely spiritual experience that Peter must have had that formed the cornerstone of Christian faith and that later led to the New Testament mythological formulations of the empty tomb, angels, physical appearances, etc., that according to Spong collectively tried to point to that original experience. What bothers me about this book is that his argument is so demanding and dependent on technical scholarship that the actual truth behind Christianity that he attempts to uncover is, in this day and age, too inaccessible to inspire the masses of humanity. I mean, why should we have to master something as arcane as Midrash in order to get at the underlying truth of Christianity?

Yet Spong's argument remains strong. What this tells me is that the nature of God is such that He is unable to provide us with a definitive revelation that will be valid for all times and places. This is not news to students of general religious studies, but it will be a hard pill to swallow for Christians. All of this "searching for the historical Jesus" stuff that Spong is deeply committed to is probably necessary, but not to salvage Christianity or to inject it with new life. It is necessary to force this issue, that Christianity has had its day, and our religious conscience needs to come up with new conceptions of God that are more in tune with what we know about the nature of history and the nature of the universe. It boggles the mind how tenacious writers like Spong are in holding on to something that has so obviously faded into obsolescence.
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on 20 October 1998
a great bok for any christian or non christian to read. Spong goes into the minds of the writers of the gospels and explains theyre techniques and how midrash played an overimportant role in the gospels. a must read for early christian history
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on 6 September 2015
hard to believe anyone rises from death anyway
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on 17 August 1998
This is better than most of Spong's works, if only because it makes more of an effort to grapple with the biblical texts. However, it once again misrepresents his opposition as much more unsophisticated than is the case. If Spong is to invoke Tillich, than his Tillich should be set upon Karl Barth, rather than Jerry Falwell. More to the point, the book never gets around to providing a real answer to the obvious question of "If no bodily Jesus, then what?" The obvious answers, a living body or nothing, are forbidden from the outset, so the exercise is in the end unsatisfying.
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on 20 July 1999
The previous reviewer, if German, is quite right in calling it a great bok. "Bok" is phonentic German for "goat" and that just about sums it up.
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on 7 September 1999
There is no excuse for the Truth and the Word of God!
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