Book Plunge: Jesus’s Resurrection in Early Christian Memory

What do I think of David Graieg’s dissertation? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

As far as I know, this isn’t published yet nor is there an official name, but the title i have put is something found in the heading of the dissertation. I saw on Facebook that Graieg had done his dissertation on the resurrection from a perspective of memory and I asked if I could see it. He sent it to me and I did tell him I would write a review.

I have now finished it and for my thoughts, well, it’s certainly thorough. If you go through a dissertation, pretty much everything has to be backed, save for when you’re doing your conclusion on the matter, and the bibliography makes up about a third of the writing itself. This would be something for many of our atheist friends to keep in mind who think we just blindly believe matters about religion.

The emphasis in this paper is on the creed in 1 Corinthians 15 and the memory of Jesus’s resurrection event. As we know, the letter was written between 55-60 AD, but the creed comes much earlier. Most scholars will place it no more than five years after the event in question. Most place it at a very early timeframe. Some have placed it within a few months of the event.

Yet the earliest record we have of it is this letter. Perhaps somehow matters changed. Can we be sure that this is accurate? We have Paul’s word on it, but can we trust his memory stood the test of time? Doesn’t memory change? We’ve all experienced remembering something that didn’t happen or filling in details or telling a story and have it change based on the audience.

This is the basis of Graieg’s work. Early on, he has a look at the chapter as a whole exegeting it. I thought this was interesting, but if there was one part of the dissertation I didn’t see fitting in, it was this part. I could understand some parts like the idea of a spiritual body being worthy of discussion, but not the entirety of the chapter as a whole. It was unclear to me how this related to memory studies.

However, from there, nearly every question that can be asked about memory is asked. This includes how memories are shared and how they last and flashbulb memories and what kinds of memories fade. One concern of people who haven’t read this might be that this could be seen from an individual basis. Nope. Graieg spends time looking at the aspects of communal sharing and notes that this would be a communal memory that would be not just shared, but rather performed, several times.

Such factors even as Paul’s age is looked at. We don’t have a biography of Paul, but Graieg goes on the best information we have and he sees no reason to think that Paul would have his memory sufficiently altered to make the creed radically different from what it was originally. Like I said, it’s very in-depth.

This also includes look at how reliable testimony is. Hasn’t eyewitness testimony been called into question a few times? Graieg looks at the ways in which memory is reliable in these situations and in the ways in which it is more prone to error.

In the end, Graieg concludes that there is no reason to believe that there is an error in memory taking place sufficient to overcome that Paul really believed this event happened. That does not mean that it did, but it does mean critics of the resurrection need to be careful before making such an argument. They also need to contend with the evidence and realize perhaps Paul really remembers what happened because it really did happen.

If there was one other area though I would like to have seen covered, it would have been cognitive dissonance. This is a favorite magic word of skeptics who have never ever read anything on the topic, but it is thrown out to make it look like they know what they’re talking about. I consider it a weak objection, but I would have liked to have seen Graieg talk about it.

Keep an eye out for this author. If you’re interested in resurrection studies, this is worth it.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

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