Edward Norman

Scripture was composed by believers

Edward Norman on the new book from Geza Vermes

It is difficult enough to evaluate the evidence that the British government is supposed to have received before its decision to engage in the Iraq war: imagine, therefore, the enhanced problem in determining the evidence for the Resurrection of Christ — 2,000 years after the event. There are also 2,000 years of accumulated attempts. Now Professor Vermes offers a further essay; his version is lucid and uncomplicated and unoriginal. His arguments are, in their way, fair- minded, but no new insights extend before us, and his conclusions, impeccably liberal, add virtually nothing to understanding.

Vermes writes from a Jewish perspective, and with the authority of an established scholar; he is a Fellow of the Jewish Academy. His study sets out to describe the ideas of resurrection, both corporeal and spiritual, which furnished discussion in the time of Christ. The work, however, lacks depth: astonishingly, there is no mention of the Egyptian cult of Osiris and Isis, the most widespread form in which the culture of the ancient world envisaged bodily resurrection. Osiris had been murdered and dismembered by Set, and his wife Isis had dredged his remains from the Nile in order to secure his resurrection — in Egypt resurrection from the dead depended on the preservation of the body. The Osiris cult remained hugely influential as a popular spirituality well into the Roman period among Mediterranean peoples. It attracted the Greeks, whose thinkers considered the Egyptians possessed of a special genius for religious ideas. Plato is said (presumably incorrectly) to have visited Egypt in order to see for himself. The presence of the Holy Family, the story of the flight from Herod testify to continuing links of Palestine and Egypt — indeed Egypt became a second Holy Land until the Arab invasion. For Vermes ‘bodily resurrection is definitely a Jewish idea’.

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