Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Snap: Stephen Kingsley's "The Easter Answer"

From the July 2009 E-Block.


Author Stephen Kingsley has produced an earnest effort in response to Dan Barker's Easter Challenge. I can affirm both from correspondence and from this book that Kingsley is a serious student of the Bible (he is a pastor by trade) who sought a satisfying answer to the question of how to reconcile the Resurrection accounts. 

For that reason, despite what I will say below concerning what I consider to be major weaknesses -- one overcomable, the other not so -- I can recommend this book for those who are looking for a thoughtful resolution, in modern literary terms. The fact that I lay out that defining aspect will tell you what my reservations are. 

The first reservation is this. Kingsley has the Biblical characters acting like modern people, and this made the scenarios posed unbelievable to me. One of Kingsley's early hypotheses is that Mary Magdalene visited the tomb alone at an early stage, and then made her report to Peter and John, this before she went with the other women for another visit. But in order to maintain this chronology as believable, Kingsley must explain why Mary Magdalene remained silent about her prior visit to the other women. His answer: Peter and John found her story so unbelievable that she was strongly rebuked and kept silent. 

Believable as chronology? Arguably so. Believable as social psychology? Not really. In the agonistic society of the Biblical world, this simply would not happen. Mary Magdalene, rather, would heartily defend herself; this especially so if she was, as Luke 8:3 indicates, someone of significant social status -- probably outranking Peter and John socially, and also one who provided for the ministry of Jesus from her means (and would therefore warrant respect and attention from all the others). Kingsley's scenario requires Mary to be in some sense subordinate to Peter and John, and the other women, and therefore, I cannot accept it as plausible. 

And yet, Kingsley could perhaps overcome this difficulty by positing some other scenario that would render Mary to silence. Perhaps she could have been shamed into silence by some other person's act, or for some other reason. I cannot conceive of such a reason offhand, but with sufficient thought and research, it is conceivable that something could be figured out. 

But that is the resolvable problem. I am not sure the second one can be resolved, because it is not a problem with Kingsley's work per se, but with the very objections involved in things like Dan Barker's Easter Challenge, as well as in many answers to it and in many harmonizations (including Wenham's Easter Engima). And yet in another sense, one could say it isn't a problem to be overcome at all. Let me explain. 

My own answer to the "Easter problem" -- as can be seen in my series here -- is in many ways, "What problem?" I do not think there is one. While some of the tensions in the Easter accounts can (and should be) resolved the way Kingsley and others resolve them, many do not need to be -- the tensions are rather the product of an anachronistic reading of the texts, one which presumes that they will, and were intended to, follow a strict, Western form of literary and historical chronology. I do not think that is the case. I think, rather, that because of a number of factors -- the use of oral transmission; narrative freedom, practical restraints on composition, and so on -- that harmonization of this sort is simply not necessary. Ancient authors felt free to dischronologize and anthologize for the sake of communication of ideas. We certainly could come up with a strict chronology, but it is not strictly necessary. Barker's Easter Challenge is directed towards a highly literalist vision of the Gospels that simply does not exist.

All of that said, Kingsley's effort is arguably useful even so as a hypothetical chronology of the sort I am saying could be come up with. In that vein, I would consider it worthy food for thought, even as I also consider it (and works like Wenham's) solutions to what are not actually problems. I again commend Kingsley for his efforts, and hope he will endeavor to produce more materials like this one.

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