Crossan probably spends the most time on this issue and does present a rather novel approach. He holds that the accounts of both Jesus’ nature miracles and his resurrection appearances are notconcerned with miraculous acts, but with authority structures in the early church. Taking Paul’s famous account in 1 Corinthians 15:1– 11, Crossan notes “that there are three types of recipients” of Jesus’ “apparitions or revelations” consisting of: “three specific leaders,” Peter, James, and Paul; “two leadership groups”: the twelve and the apostles; and “one single general community” represented by the five hundred.^32
Concerning these “three types of recipients,” Crossan then makes two proposals. First, the post-resurrection phenomena are not about Jesus’ appearances, but are “quite deliberate political dramatizations” showing the priority of one leader over another, or one group over the community as a whole. Second, the nature miracles
30 See the discussion in chapter 7 for the significance of these early kerygmatic reports.
31 Another possible indication in favor of the traditional burial of Jesus is the Nazareth Decree, a first century marble slab that warns that grave robbing is punishable by death, which may be a response both to the Jewish charges, as well as the reports of Jesus’ resurrection. Some think that the Shroud of Turin is at least an evidence of an individual burial for a crucifixion victim. For an overview of such reasons (including sources), see Gary R. Habermas, Dealing with Doubt(Chicago: Moody, 1990), pp. 43–45.
32 Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, p. 169. (The emphasis is Crossan’s.)
(of which the resurrection is the greatest) likewise “serve the same function” and describe not Jesus’ power but the “apostles’ spiritual power over the community.”^33
Thus, Crossan interprets both the nature miracles and the resurrection narratives not as being indicative of any supernatural occurrences, but as a socio-political commentary on the early church leadership. The chief leaders held authority over the main groups, in turn directing the church community as a whole. These miracle texts, then, serve the purpose of being a powerful facilitator in establishing and maintaining the ecclesiastical hierarchy.
So what does all of this mean concerning the resurrection of Jesus? Crossan thinks that the New Testament accounts are not primarily concerned with the facticity of the appearances, but rather with “power and authority in the earliest Christian communities. That is what they were intended to be, and that is how we should read them.”^34 In this sense, then, we ought not be inquiring about the miraculous element, and doing so is to trivialize the message. These accounts “tell us nothing whatsoever about the origins of Christian faithbut quite a lot about the origins of Christian authority.”^35
Does this say anything about the facticity of the resurrection appearances? Even if recording the miraculous element is not the chief point of the New Testament narratives, Crossan is careful not to infer that the appearances never really happened. In fact, in speaking about Easter he expressly affirms: “Of course there may have been trances and visions.” Then he adds that these sorts of things happen “in every religion” and so we should not be surprised.^36