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There are fifteen principal theses affirmed in this essay. Some are entirely new to the history of the tradition and all are immensely significant and rigorously argued. The three main themes are almost without precedent in the history of ideas on John 20:24-29.

i.The historical thesis that there was a problem of indubitable identification regarding the Twelve in particular
ii.The historical thesis that John provided a solution to this
iii.The historical thesis that in so doing he perceived that Jesus had enacted sovereignty over time

But I list all fifteen below:

The Gospels left behind historical evidence to the effect that the disciples evinced uncertainty and hesitation in affirming an ‘identical’ Jesus as the real Jesus. This presupposes the simple truth that an identical Jesus had appeared to the disciples not long after his death - not just a spirit (or the result of hallucination) but the identical physical form of Jesus. The problem of the indubitable identification of the risen Jesus as itself an event in history presupposed the appearing of the very appearance of Jesus.
The importance of this should not be underestimated; as a historical phenomenon it has the potential to make a major contribution to New Testament studies. It should be thought of in terms of a first-century CE archaeological find – in a text we have had since the first-century. It may in fact be the closest we have gotten to the risen Jesus himself by historical means (it may also be the closest we can get to the risen Jesus by historical means). It is the only example of the historiographical principle of divergent patterns whose subject presupposes (therefore pertains to) the objectivity of the resurrection appearances themselves.

Hitherto the closest enquiry may have got with this principle is the tradition that women were the first to see the risen Jesus. James Dunn, quoting Josephus (Ant. 4.129) and the Mishnah (m. Shebu 4.1; m.Rosh Hash. 1.8) writes: ‘… as is well known, in Middle Eastern society of the time women were not regarded as reliable witnesses: a woman’s testimony in court was heavily discounted.’ (Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 833). Hence to claim that the first witnesses were women when the tradition had been invented would be to have devised a tradition that would be significantly less likely to be believed. It is therefore more probable it is authentic tradition. Nevertheless this tradition does not refer to an objective feature of the appearances but rather designates a ‘social’ property imposed on women in the first century.

The other well-known example of the principle in action is the empty tomb. The Gospels testify that Jesus’ opponents accused the disciples of stealing the body from the tomb; hence this was their explanation of the tomb being empty. Now of course this may be embarrassing (this is what makes it a ‘divergent pattern’): the Gospels refer to a belief which if true contradicts the claim of the risen Jesus. Nevertheless that the Gospels record it allows us to infer that even Jesus opponents’ believed the tomb was empty (what they didn’t accept was Christianity’s explanation of it). The point is: just as the opponents’ explanation of theft presupposes that they themselves believed the tomb to be empty, it is argued that the nature of the uncertainty of the disciples presupposes the appearing of an identical Jesus.

This uncertainty constituted the origins of the problem of indubitably identifying this identical Jesus as the real Jesus: the problem of the indubitable identification of the risen Jesus.
The problem of the indubitable identification of the risen Jesus makes significant progress toward a unified conception of the history of the risen Jesus. It may provide a hermeneutical clue to the meaning of the stories of the risen Jesus to those who are ‘not of the Twelve.’ Indeed it may have been the means by which the Evangelists came to understand these otherwise puzzling stories. The insight that even in the complete presence of the visual sense in relation to Jesus the Twelve responded with uncertainty - positing an identical Jesus who may not be the real Jesus – provided the way of making sense of the Mary Magdalene story and the Emmaus story. The moral of the Mary Magdalene and the Emmaus encounter is that even in the absence of the visual sense in relation to Jesus they believe it is the risen Jesus. It is not coincidental that Mary identifies Jesus in terms of an auditory feature: Jesus’ exclamation of ‘Mary’ is sufficient for her. The case of the Emmaus disciples is more complex but still follows the same rule of logic. Joseph Fitzmyer makes a brilliant and nuanced observation: ‘What is above all important is that the disciples report that they knew him “in the breaking of the bread” (v. 35) and not by seeing him’ (Fitzmyer, Luke 1569). The distinction is crucial. Cleopas and his companion do not say they saw an identical Jesus. Mary Magdalene does say she saw the Lord but this is easily linked to 20:14: ‘… she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.’ She can therefore claim the figure she saw was Jesus – as indeed can the Emmaus disciples of their experience of walking with Jesus. Neither invoke an actual sighting of the physical features of Jesus. They get ‘one thing’ of Jesus (and this is not even a ‘visual’ feature) and they believe; the Twelve get ‘the whole of Jesus’ and they don’t. (The implication is: had the Twelve been substituted into these circumstances they would not have believed it was Jesus. Indeed faced with the identical Jesus they did not. This is the contrast: faced with a visually identical Jesus they interpret it as Jesus’ ghost, which is Jesus’ ghost or the ghost of Jesus and therefore: not Jesus.)

This problem could only be resolved by comparing the Jesus in identical physical form with the earthly Jesus, and in particular the Jesus of the crucifixion i.e. the indubitable Jesus. In this sense it involved comparing the Jesus ‘here and now’ in the post-crucifixion encounter, with the Jesus of the crucifixion, the Jesus ‘then and there’).

This was tacitly acknowledged by both the classical and the modern tradition though neither perceived John’s actual resolution of the problem of the indubitable identification of the risen Jesus.

The resolution of this problem came in the form of John’s articulation of the Thomas narrative. This narrative is an intrinsic part of John’s statement of the resolution of the problem of the indubitable identification of the risen Jesus. Jesus showed wounds that were indubitably his: not merely wounds in continuity with the actual and very same wounds originating at the time of the crucifixion but the actual and very same wounds originating at the time of the crucifixion.

Explicit articulation of John’s tacit knowledge informed as it was by historical reality did not occur until Saul Kripke’s argument regarding origin and identity in the middle of the twentieth century. This may explain the absence of a related reception history. Martin Hengel’s characterisation of John as a ‘towering genius’, in contradistinction to those who ‘came after’ (John is brighter than any of us!), is also relevant (cf. Nozik’s description of Kripke as ‘the one true genius of modern philosophy’).

In showing these wounds Jesus enacted sovereignty over time. What he showed in the present was objectively the ‘before’, the very same ‘before’, ‘numerically the same past.’

Jesus enacting sovereignty over time manifests what it is YHWH is in the action of the creation of time, i.e. Elohim (true God) (cf. Genesis 1:3-5). It parallels fundamentally what it was that made the people ‘Israel’ claim their god was true God.

This is the historically authentic explanation of John having Thomas confess to the risen Jesus “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28).

The enduring tradition of Jesus rising at the resurrection with wounds or scars, a view common to both the classical and modern legacy, cannot be right if Jesus showed the very wounds existing before the resurrection.

The disciples’ response to the individual proofs collected together in Luke 24:36-43 approximates more nearly to the authentic historical tradition

John 20:19-20 as interpreted by 20:24-28 narrates what ought to have happened at the time of the encounter but didn’t. Jesus showing his wounds had been sufficient for resolving the problem of the indubitable identification of the risen Jesus.

A central claim of this essay is the fact that in his narrative of the risen Jesus’ appearances to the Twelve John’s sole focus is the wounds tradition. This is a datum in need of explanation. I argue that in John’s mind only this tradition lended itself to re-interpretation in terms of ‘Jesus then and there’, the indubitable Jesus represented by the crucified one. All the others were necessarily confined to the ‘identical’ Jesus ‘here and now’, a physically instantiated Jesus who nevertheless might be other than the real Jesus and was therefore not indubitably Jesus (which, given the extraordinary monumental nature of the historical claim, perhaps had ramifications not normally those of a ‘mere academic problem’). Both the classical and the modern tradition implicitly acknowledge this distinction.

John meant 20:29 to be interpreted within the context of this distinction; he interpreted 20:29 within the remit of the wounds tradition. Not only does the origin of the problem of the indubitable identification of the risen Jesus and its solution presuppose the historical phenomenon of the appearing of the very appearance of Jesus, John 20:29 does so too. A remarkable hitherto hidden dimension of 20:29 reveals itself. Jesus’ words presuppose that the only possible doubt the Gospel countenances is whether this identical Jesus was really Jesus. Jesus, as John presents him, discounts the possibility that the reader should have thought there was an issue whether any appearance at all took place. The terms of Jesus’ words to the Church discount the possibility of no appearances at all. From the perspective of the risen Jesus speaking to the Church there is no other stand-point from which the world can address the question of the risen Jesus.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherRoutledge: Taylor & Francis Group
Publication statusUnpublished - 2020

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