Resurrection and Reception in Early Christianity
Routledge – 2015 – 176 pages
Series: Routledge Studies in Religion
This book offers an original interpretation of the origin and early reception of the most fundamental claim of Christianity: Jesus’ resurrection. Richard Miller contends that the earliest Christians would not have considered the New Testament accounts of Jesus’ resurrection to be literal or historical, but instead would have recognized this narrative as an instance of the trope of divine translation, common within the Hellenistic and Roman mythic traditions. Given this framework, Miller argues, early Christians would have understood the resurrection story as fictitious rather than historical in nature. By drawing connections between the Gospels and ancient Greek and Roman literature, Miller makes the case that the narratives of the resurrection and ascension of Christ applied extensive and unmistakable structural and symbolic language common to Mediterranean "translation fables," stock story patterns derived particularly from the archetypal myths of Heracles and Romulus. In the course of his argument, the author applies a critical lens to the referential and mimetic nature of the Gospel stories, and suggests that adapting the "translation fable" trope to accounts of Jesus’ resurrection functioned to exalt him to the level of the heroes, demigods, and emperors of the Hellenistic and Roman world. Miller’s contentions have significant implications for New Testament scholarship and will provoke discussion among scholars of early Christianity and Classical studies.
"This is a ground-breaking study of the literary antecedents for the resurrection stories in the Gospels, with wide-ranging implications for Christian history and theology. Never again can the resurrection stories be read and interpreted apart from their ancient literary context." —Dennis Smith, Phillips Theological Seminary, USA
"Early Christianity emerged in a world of intense interaction among the devotees of different cults and religions. Narratives, images, ritual practices, and ideas continually crossed the boundaries of religious groups. With the interdependence of ancient religions as his starting point, Richard Miller shows the close relation of the early narratives of Jesus’ resurrection with pre-existing pagan and Jewish narratives of divine translation. This study makes a significant contribution to the study of Early Christianity and the religious trends of the Roman Empire." —Angelos Chaniotis, Professor of Ancient History, Institute for Advanced Study, USA
"Richard Miller's reading of ancient Greco-Roman narratives concerning the disappearance of heroes and demi-gods successfully challenges the traditional reconstructions of the formation of resurrection accounts in the Gospels. Miller moves with theoretical sophistication through an impressive array of ancient texts and shows how early Christian stories about Jesus were developed in the context of literary imitation and emulation that characterized the Mediterranean world in antiquity."—Giovanni Bazzana, Harvard Divinity School, USA
1. Justin's Confession 2. Translation Fables in Hellenistic and Roman Antiquity 3. Critical Method and the Gospels 4. Translation Fables and the Gospels
Richard C. Miller is an adjunct professor at Chapman University in the Department of Religious Studies.