Book Plunge: Greek Resurrection Beliefs and the Success of Early Christianity

What do I think of Dag Endsjo’s book published by Palgrave Macmillan? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I was challenged to read this book which leads to my going to the library as soon as I can and getting a hold on such a book. The author’s name here is not entirely accurate since it has a slash through the o, but I am not sure how to do that on the computer so no disrespect is intended and keep that in mind when you do a search for it at the library or on Amazon. At any rate, what are my thoughts?

Endsjo wants to challenge the idea that the body would have been seen in a negative light by early Christians. He starts with describing the Trojan War in the works of Homer and how it was horrific to have the dead left on the battlefield. For here, Endsjo says that it is because the flesh is identical with the warriors themselves. In the same paragraph, he says the souls go off to Hades. Already, I’m puzzled. If the flesh is the warriors themselves, then what are these soul things? Also, does it really follow that the horror was because the flesh was seen as the warriors themselves? Could it not be because there was no honorable burial for them?

This is something I found confusing in the book. What is his view of how the Greeks viewed a man? It’s hard to say. Sometimes it seems like the soul is dominant. Sometimes it seems like the body is dominant.

Endsjo contends that we normally think of the flesh as something shameful to the Greeks, but he wants to say that is not the case. If the flesh is shameful to anyone, it’s Paul. He rarely has anything if ever good to say about the flesh and even in 1 Cor. 15 argues that the resurrection is spiritual. I think this is one of the great weaknesses of the book. There’s plenty of great material arguing that the body must be physical. One such piece available at the time would have been Gundry’s Soma in Biblical Greek.

We go into a large number of listings of Greek gods and heroes and how many of them were seen as living in immortal flesh. This could have been very appealing, but what is ignored is all the people who die and go to Hades and even still don’t want to return to the land of the living. What of people like Socrates who die and when they do want a sacrifice to be done to the god of healing to show their true healing in leaving the body?

I have often said before that it is easy to make a case when you have the sound of one hand clapping, and I was looking for the other case. To be fair, many on the other side have not sufficiently argued with the examples that Endsjo brings forward, but that does not mean that Endsjo should do the same. Both sides need to be looked at. I look forward to seeing someone like N. T. Wright respond in the future to the work.

I said earlier that the great weakness I think is 1 Cor. 15. Endsjo contends that Paul is speaking of a spiritual resurrection. While that is a common interpretation, that does not equal a true one nor does it equal one that should be assumed. Endsjo has a church that goes to Paul and gets a spiritual resurrection and then suddenly does a 180 and goes material. It’s understandable that some people would think this, but I don’t think Endsjo makes the case.

The stories are interesting and even still the view would be a problem for the Greeks. The Greeks apparently believed that the body of a person could not be recreated. That would have been essential for the Christians. Thus, the Christians would still have a hard case to make.

Endsjo also uses the argument that the Christians were persuading the people that they believed nothing different from the Romans in some aspects. Sure, but he misses why. That’s because Christianity was seen as shameful. The Christians were trying to point out similarities to show inconsistencies to the Romans in how they were treating the Christians. Many times people will look at the text and think that there was one-to-one parallels going on. Since the persecution didn’t stop, we can think it likely that the Romans did not see those parallels.

We can also say that the Greeks might have thought immortality to be desirable, but that in itself would not be enough since some figures got immortality as a punishment, say Prometheus who was forced to have his liver regrow every day for a wild bird to eat. Many Greeks in Paul’s audience would have thought that that was reserved for the gods and their children, but not for them. Jesus was the exception.

I think more work should be done on Endsjo’s book and I’d like to see a Wright take it on. Again, there was the sound of one hand clapping. Hopefully, we’ll have the other hand join in more and see what comes of the discussion.

In Christ,
Nick Peters

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