To the editors:
While Dr. Thomas Sheehan of Loyola University exhibited an extensive knowledge of exegesis in his interview with Mr. Robert McClory [April 21], Dr. Sheehan dismissed the authenticity of the resurrection story too quickly on the basis of known biblical redaction. Although Shakespeare characterized death as the bourne from which no traveller returns, modern medical research has uncovered evidence of the probability of life after death in interviews with individuals resuscitated from clinical death, defined generally as the cessation of bodily functions. These interviews, conducted independently by researchers like Dr. Raymond Moody and Dr. Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, provide empirical evidence that the clinically dead experience a body apart from the physical body and that this “new” body can move about. In one instance, Dr. Moody reported on a woman, lying in a hospital bed out of view of an adjacent waiting room, who after resuscitation correctly described the mismatched clothing that her daughter was wearing in the waiting room. The daughter never viewed or otherwise saw her mother on that occasion. The author, however, stated that she left her physical body and that, before returning to her physical body, she walked into the waiting room where she saw her crying daughter with her nanny who had hurriedly dressed her child in the mismatched clothes before coming to the hospital. If archaeologists discovered the physical remains of Rabbi Joshua Ben Nazareth a/k/a Jesus Christ in Judea today, the discovery would not invalidate the resurrection story in light of this recent medical research on near death experiences. Furthermore, Dr. Moody has found evidence of comparable near-death experiences in other cultures and times, e.g. the Tibetan Book of the Dead written in the eighth or ninth century A.D.
While unlike Dr. Sheehan I have not read the works of nineteenth century liberal Protestant biblical scholars, I have read some books by twentieth century Roman Catholic and Jewish scholars such as Father Raymond Brown, Rabbi Harvey Falk, Hyam Maccoby and Paul Johnson who have attempted to clarify the historical Jesus. Rabbi Falk has suggested that Jesus belonged to the school of Rabbi Hillel and not to the school of Rabbi Shammai, the two leading Jewish theologians at the time of Jesus. Paul Johnson has noted that Jesus’ great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself reiterated Rabbi Hillel’s comment to a Roman centurion that the essence of Judaism involves the avoidance of acts, hateful to you, that affect the lives of other persons. Hyam Maccoby has suggested that St. Paul invented Christianity and Paul Johnson, an eminent historian, has characterized St. Paul’s efforts as the rise and rescue of the Jesus sect. Father Brown and Paul Johnson have noted that the Jerusalem Church, headed by St. James (the “brother” of Jesus) and linked to the Ebionites, may not have shared St. Paul’s view of Jesus. The Jerusalem Church insisted on strict adherence to the Mosaic Law which provoked disputes with the Gentile congregations founded by St. Paul. Since we do not have any extensive writing on or by the Ebionites, the remnants of the Jerusalem Church, we do not know the full extent of their objections to St. Paul’s Christology.
While I share Dr. Sheehan’s concern over the role and value of ecclesiastical bureaucracy, the institutional church protects the individual from the dictatorship of the proletariat in the communist world. The institutional church also keeps the message of selfless love alive in a narcissistically inclined world of imperfect human beings. Lastly, while the victors, not the vanquished, write history including the life of Jesus, we should consider the advice of Rabbi Gamaliel, a descendant of Rabbi Hillel, to the Jewish Sanhedrin when it debated measures to suppress the early Christian Church. The Acts of the Apostles record Rabbi Gamaliel as saying: “My advice is that you have nothing to do with these men. Let them alone. If their purpose or activity is human in its origins, it will destroy itself. If, on the other hand, it comes from God, you will not be able to destroy them without fighting God himself.”
Eugene L. Mahoney
Adjunct Professor of Law
Loyola University of Chicago