An Excerpt for James Alison's The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes (New York: Crossroad, 1998), pages 70-83.

The Resurrection (1)

Eric Gans, in the book I have cited above, when dealing with the revelatory moments that have led to our gaining access to our scene of origin, posits two key revelations: the Mosaic and the Pauline. He says, almost en passant that no special revelatory experiences undergone by Jesus are transmitted to us. (2) Rather it was Paul's perception of him as Christ-as-human-victim in his revelation on the road to Damascus that was important for constructing the theological mystery of Christianity and the Trinity. Now, here I think that Gans is just plain wrong, not about Paul's perception of Jesus as Christ-as-human-victim, but about that experience being the central moment of the Christian Revelation. The Christian Revelation was not, as Gans rightly suggests, a revelatory experience undergone by Jesus. However, neither was it a single, Pauline, moment of insight. (3) Rather it was the resurrection of Jesus from the dead made available to a large number of people, including, finally, Paul (1 Cor 15:3-9).

What we have then is a public revelatory experience, made available to a number of people, and especially to a small group who had been in some sense prepared for the experience by the life, leading up to the death of the one who appeared after the Resurrection. Now it seems important to note that all the texts we have with relation to Jesus either formally insist that he was raised from the dead, or are clearly structured by an awareness that he was. That is to say that the texts themselves are the witness, put into writing, of the irruption into the midst of a group of humans, of a completely new phenomenon: a man whom they had known before, whom they knew to have died, who came back into their midst. It is equally clear that, if Jesus had not been raised from the dead, then there would have been no such texts. The group of people, friends, disciples and well-wishers, who had accompanied Jesus during his adult life would have suffered a loss at his death, and they might have meditated on what he had meant to them and so forth, as one does when one loses a friend. However, eventually they would have got over it. He would be just another dead man, even an especially just dead man, but still like all those other dead people whom the circumstances of human tyranny and confusion put to death.

So, in the New Testament texts, we have a witness to a life and a death, a witness that is structured by the revelatory presence of the Resurrection. If there had been no resurrection there would have been no texts, and no guiding understanding of what the life and death of Jesus had been about. Prior to the texts, therefore, is a revelatory experience to a group of people, an event. It is this event that I would like to explore, attempting to find out something of the density of this event as evidenced by the witness that has been put into writing.

In the first place, the resurrection was something that happened to Jesus. It is quite clear from the New Testament accounts that the apostolic group is claiming this. The same Jesus who had been put to death also rose from the dead. His resurrection was as objectively related to him as his death. No one thinks of someone else's death as, in the first place, a subjective experience that happens to the onlooker. Everyone knows that it is something that happens to the person concerned. It is quite plain from the New Testament texts that the resurrection of Jesus was seen as having done something extraordinary and indescribable to that death, which happened to a real person. All the talk of death having been overcome would have been nonsense if the resurrection had not undone the real death undergone by a real person. Any attempt to make out that the death was real enough, but the resurrection was essentially a subjective experience in the lives of the disciples is but an example of modern eisegesis, and an eisegesis based on one of two possible starting points.

The first starting point is that the apostolic witness is not trustworthy (and this seems a perfectly intellectually coherent position). In that case we should not believe what the apostolic witness says: they were making things up for reasons of their own. Furthermore it is not only the resurrection of Jesus that becomes dubious, by exactly the same criterion the very historical existence of Jesus can be called into question. This seems a plausible position given that our relationship to the events described, and the interpretation put on them in the New Testament texts is that they are only accessible to us by our trusting the apostolic witness. Either we accept on trust the apostolic witness, or we do not.

The second starting point is that the disciples thought that the resurrection was something objective that really happened to Jesus, and so described it in the way they did. However, we from the vantage point of "modernity" or some such position of supposed superiority, know better than they, and in the light of our more sophisticated philosophical techniques are able to re-read the texts and see that in fact what is being described is a subjective experience. Now this does not seem to be an intellectually coherent position. This is saying "we accept the apostolic witness, but we do not accept this bit of it, because we understand this bit better than the apostolic group". Now, it is quite clear that whatever the apostolic witnesses are describing it was something which broke the categories of easily available speech, something entirely new and unexpected, and furthermore something which they saw as definitive, and unsurpassable. For us to claim that we understand it better than they is effectively to claim that it was not definitive and unsurpassable, because we, in our understanding have surpassed it and are able to understand it. That is to say, the approach I am describing is somewhat dishonest. It is a way of not accepting the apostolic witness while pretending to. Considered as an intellectual approach to a text from a different culture it also shows an incapacity for alterity, for being able to imagine that something might be being described in the text which in fact blows open all approaches to reality, including our own. It is as though that can only be accepted which can be digested within our frame of reference; that whose acceptance alters our frame of reference cannot be accepted. But then, all that this shows is that human thought is inescapably either tentatively open to alterity, or else totalitarian, but never objective or neutral.

Accepting, then, the reality of Jesus' resurrection, we can begin to enquire as to the witnesses' perceptions of that event, and, in particular, to the appearances which were the signs that the event had taken place, and which, as signs, were events in themselves. It would be proper to start by looking at the circumstances of the disciples after the crucifixion and before the resurrection. From their point of view, their relationship with Jesus had suddenly ended. They had all the memories and loose ends of the way Jesus had influenced their lives, but the possibility of reciprocity from Jesus had ended. So, their emotions were held in a vacuum. It was not merely a neutral vacuum, as if they had had nothing to do with Jesus' death; it was a tragic vacuum because of the way they had abandoned and (in Peter's case) denied Jesus. That is to say that along with the beginnings of mourning, there was present the guilt of betrayal, or at least abandonment, of their friend when the going got tough.

The disciples were not only mourning and feeling guilty, but were also severely disappointed. After all, Jesus was not for them just a friend or a relation who had been killed, but a leader who had promised them much, and whom they had trusted to lead them to some sort of radical upheaval in Israel (quite what sort was not clear). They had trusted him, and embarked upon an extraordinary adventure with him, and it had come to nothing. Furthermore, these reactions were held within a generalized fear of what might become of them in the wake of their leader's execution. They were, after all, easily identifiable, probably by both accent and dress, as foreigners, and many were from the region from which Jesus himself had come. As foreigners in the capital of a police state, and ones linked with a major criminal who had just been executed, it is fully understandable that they met behind locked doors. They may indeed have been more frightened than they need have been: it is quite possible that they thought of themselves as to some degree part of a politico-messianic movement, (4) in a way which Jesus did not. This will have led them to feel the danger of their position maybe more acutely than they need have.

What we have then, in the apostolic circle, is a group of disillusioned, frightened, guilty, mournful, semi-traitors. It was into their midst exactly as they were that Jesus began to appear starting on Easter Sunday. The whole Christian understanding of revelation hangs from these appearances: without them there would have been no Christianity.

The first category by which we can approach the density of the witnesses' experience is that of gratuity. The irruption into their midst of Jesus after his death was totally gratuitous. That is to say it was not part of any ordinary human mechanism of reciprocity. Someone who is attacked may attack back, but someone who is killed does not come back to kill. By killing someone we are in fact terminating the possibility of reciprocity on their part. So, the resurrection was completely gratuitous for the disciples: unexpected, it was not part of any human story that any of them knew how to tell (or could know how to tell). It was indeed the beginning of the possibility of a totally new human story. Nothing in popular Jewish belief in a resurrection on the Last Day had prepared them for this. Furthermore, the resurrection of Jesus was for them something utterly "other": their first reactions were ones of consternation and difficulty in identifying what was going on. This irruption of what is utterly other is by no means simply a delightful experience. Where the "customary" other (the people and places who surround one) is often experienced as constraining , this "customary" other at least gives us a certain sense of security. The "removed" other, like experiences in foreign lands, or in the midst of unforeseen upheavals is both exciting and frightening -- exciting as we see new things and frightening as we appear to be at the mercy of forces we do not know how to control or deal with (how does one cope with an angry foreign policeman whose language one can scarcely understand? Is one not more likely to get a rough deal at his hands than back home?).

The "utterly" other is then even more exhilarating and terrifying, because it completely throws our frame of reference. In the case of the risen Jesus, the disciples experienced this disturbing sense of the utterly other (it was necessary for the Risen Lord to say "Why are you troubled?" [Luke 24:38] or, "do not be afraid" [Matt. 28:10] or, "Peace be with you" [John 20:19, 21, 26] when he first appeared) before they were able to glimpse something familiar -- and say "It is the Lord" (John 21:7), but even so, this was not a collapsing of something strange into something familiar after all. The experience seems to have been that the utterly other had a familiar center without ceasing to be utterly other. That means that it could not be approached as simple presence which could so easily be turned into part of what we dominate and control, but was presence always as other -- leading the disciples on and out of themselves. So we find the conviction that it is the same Jesus who is present, and present physically, but at the same time a frank recognition that he could not be instantly recognized. He is announced (in Mark 16:7) as the one who "is going before you to Galilee". He is only recognized in Luke at the culmination of a leading the disciples on through a re-interpretation of scriptures -- and he vanishes as soon as recognized. As an irruption of the "utterly" other, Jesus' presence is not one that can be held onto, or reduced to part of our world, but is itself a disturbing presence as "other," as leading on.

This presence that is utterly other is also physical (as Luke and John attest). In this way the gratuity is emphasized: a ghostly presence could have been part of the "other" which haunts one -- a projection of a guilty conscience (as Herod imagined John the Baptist into rising from the dead, Mark 6:14-16). A physical presence underlines both the continuity of person (the presence of the marks of the crucifixion also attest to this) and the way in which that person is quite outside any scheme of reciprocity, any sort of posthumous vengeance from beyond the grave.

It may seem unnecessary to say so, but this presence is also a human presence. It is not as though, after his death, Jesus gave up his pretense of being human, and resurrected as God. Rather, the apostolic witness underlines that he was resurrected as a human being. This is evident from the way in which a clear distinction is made between the Risen Jesus, who is a human being, and at a certain moment ascends to heaven, and the Holy Spirit, which is not a human being.

So we have a certain sort of density of presence to the disciples that is radically other, and yet familiar without ever losing its otherness. What one might call a presence which leads out, rather than a presence which comes home. But this is not all. For this presence appeared in the midst of the frightened, ashamed, disappointed, abandoners. And there is no sense in which the presence was a ticking-off, a form of rebuke for having abandoned Jesus. That is to say, part of the nature of the gratuitous presence is that it is forgiving. The risen Jesus did not need to say to those who'd run away "I forgive you": his presence to them was a forgiving presence, was forgiveness as a person. So in Luke and John he gives them power, and commands them, to forgive others, as the way of spreading this presence dynamically in human form. To the disciples themselves the very fact of his gratuitous presence was forgiveness. This enabled their confusion and sorrow to be loosed within them because the focus of their sorrow and guilt and confusion had come back from right outside it, and was not affected by it. The risen Jesus was not reciprocating anything done to him, but was a presence of love without condition. Now it is worth noting that this gratuitous presence as forgiveness was only forgiving because there was something to forgive. The forgiveness was not a change of attitude on the part of Jesus or God, but a change in their relationship to the other of the disciples. If there had been nothing to forgive, it would still have been possible to perceive the gratuity of the other as simply loving. Because there was something to forgive, this gratuitous loving is experienced as forgiveness. Gratuity is experienced as the lack of retaliation where some sort of retaliation is to be expected, and then as the giving of something unexpected. This surprising non-reciprocation is what pulls the person experiencing it out of the reciprocating mode-of-being, and enables them to begin to receive and then transmit love as something simply given.

So we have a presence that is gratuitous, human, physical, elusive because leading-on, and experienced as forgiving. There is a further dimension which must brought out so as less inadequately to describe the presence of the resurrected one to his disciples. This is the way in which Luke and John both attest that the Risen Jesus still bore the marks of his death. This insight is difficult to express clearly, but it means that when Jesus rose, it was not a simple continuation of his life (as if he were simply a few days older), with his wounds cured by God, but rather that he was given back to the disciples as simultaneously dead and alive. In the Risen Lord there is no chronological distance between the death and the life, rather the complete "otherness" of the resurrection life is that it is not on the same level as either human life, or human death, and is thus able to give back both simultaneously. The risen Lord is thus always the crucified-and-risen Lord. This difficult concept is attested to famously in the visions of the slaughtered lamb in Revelation (5:6), where the triumphant lamb is triumphant as slain, not because having once been slain, it is now fully recovered. I suspect that this is what lies behind the difficult Semitic idea that Jesus was unable to be held by the pangs of death (Acts 2:24): for Jesus merely to have been cured of death, would mean that the resurrection life was on the same level as death, merely its contrary, and stronger than it. However more is shown: the resurrection life has emptied death of its power, by showing the form of death (the marks of crucifixion) without its content. What is given back is not only the particular act of God in the case of Jesus, of loving him through and beyond the barrier of death, but the permanent way in which God has made of death an empty threat: his gratuitous, loving presence, is always present as overcoming death at any given moment. So, the risen presence is of the dead-and-risen one as gratuitous forgiveness revealing love beyond death.

This brings us to a final point about the density of the dynamic of the risen presence to the disciples, one that once mentioned is too obvious to need much illustration. This is the way in which the experience of the Risen Lord was felt to be in some sense definitive, or originary. The risen Lord was the irruption of something utterly new that was also the beginning of creation, or a new creation. St John's description of the Garden harks back to the Genesis account of creation; Paul talks of a new creation. John and Matthew, in different ways, imply that that final judgement is already realized in the presence of the crucified Lord. The irruption of something originary into history is also the irruption of what is final and definitive. Now this, it seems to me, brings us back to our discussion of an originary scene. For what we have been describing is a revelatory presence that has a quite specific structure: the other as gratuitously forgiving human victim irrupting into the midst of those who were unable to avoid some sort of contamination with complicity in the victimization.

Here is something quite clear: we have a foundational scene of origin in reverse, in which the victim is uncovered and given back so as to permit a new sort of foundation that does not depend on a cover up. This permits us to see the Resurrection not in the first place as the next step in the chronological continuation of the life of Jesus, as though everybody knew that Jesus prophesied his death and resurrection, he interpreted his death beforehand in the last supper, he died, and then he was resurrected, the next part of the story. The resurrection is the possibility of a completely new and previously unimaginable human story, a re-reading of all human stories from a radical perspective that had previously been hidden. It had previously been hidden by the reality of death. So, the resurrection brings the completely new perception of what Jesus' life and death had been about: the Father's interpretation of Jesus' life as hated without cause. By giving him back, the Father permitted a fresh re-reading of the death of Jesus, and of his life and self-interpretation leading up to it, and thus affords a completely new perspective on human victims. Thus, when Paul has his vision on the road to Damascus, he is perceiving exactly the same new regard on human life as previously had been experienced in a public way by the disciples: this is the revelation of God as human victim.

The Intelligence of the Victim

A revelatory presence would have had no significance unless it provoked simultaneously a certain shift in human understanding. It is exactly this shift in human understanding that the texts of the apostolic witnesses reveal. That is to say that the presence of the crucified-and-risen Lord to the disciples did not so much "reveal" a piece of information that had previously been unknown; rather it permitted a manner of looking upon reality that had previously been impossible, a human perception of reality that was not available while death was still a definitive reality for all humans.

To explain this more fully it is perhaps worth indicating that what was revealed was not, in the first place that there is a resurrection of the dead. It is clear that by the time of the Maccabees elements of popular and pharisaic Judaism did believe in the resurrection from the dead. That the Pharisees believed in the resurrection from the dead is shown by their support of Paul in Acts 23. Martha believed that her brother Lazarus would be raised on the last day (John 11:25). In this sense Jesus' resurrection recast an existing belief in the resurrection so that resurrection was from now on linked to his person: it is not just because of the fact of being human that one rises from the dead, as if it were just the next stage of some journey. Rather one rises from the dead if in one's life one has been associated with the life and death of Jesus. The "fact" of the resurrection from the dead, as news of the existence of a hereafter, is of secondary importance compared to the whole new kind of perception that it made possible. (5)

However the shift in human understanding to which I am referring was not the addition of information about the afterlife to what was previously known; it was the possibility of a radically new regard on human life and relationships. The Gospels are clear on this: before the resurrection there was a great deal that the disciples were unable to understand about what Jesus was saying, towards what he was leading them, and so on. From the resurrection onwards they were able to understand something quite new about Jesus, about God, and about human beings. This is shown by the simultaneous presence in the Gospels of two sorts of understanding: the incomprehension, or miscomprehension, of the disciples, and at the same time, the clear comprehension of Jesus of what was to come to pass. This presence of two understandings in the same texts was made possible by the texts themselves having been written after the resurrection, when the apostolic group was able to understand, for the first time, what Jesus had really been about, and at the same time, to understand that, unlike themselves, he had understood what was going on all along.

This new understanding, or intelligence, of the life of Jesus permitted the disciples to go back in their memories and re-interpret what they had witnessed, recalling and making an unified sense out of what had not seemed to possess a unified sense before. This re-reading included, of course, an honest appraisal of their lack of understanding, and indeed of their abandonment and betrayal of their master, and how even that was part of what had to happen. The evidence for this is the way they were able to make an unitary sense out of the texts of the Old Testament, pointing to the death of the Messiah. (6) In the appearance of Jesus on the road to Emmaus (Lk 24:25-27) it is exactly this that is indicated:

"Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
The risen Lord permitted a completely new re-reading not only of his own life and death, but of the way that life and death re-interpreted the scriptures. It was not that the apostolic group were able to find a whole series of proof texts in the scriptures to bolster their belief in the Risen Lord, but rather the presence of the crucified-and-risen Lord was suddenly the hermeneutic key permitting a reading of the Hebrew Scriptures that was able to show God's self-revelation as a process leading to a point of culmination of which they were, through no merit of their own, the witnesses.

The apostolic group was perfectly aware that this change was being produced in them in the aftermath of the resurrection, and they give witness to this awareness in their description of the Holy Spirit. In the first place, a clear distinction is made between the presence of the Risen Lord, who is a human being, and the Holy Spirit who is not a human being. This distinction is clearest in Luke/Acts where the Ascension is accomplished before the coming of the Holy Spirit. However it is implicit in John, where Jesus breathes the Holy Spirit into the disciples on the first evening of Easter. That is to say, it is not merely the fact that the risen Lord is present that is the Holy Spirit, but he actually gives them something that is his, but not totally identical with himself. John brings out the difference when he has Jesus tell the disciples that it is to their advantage that he should go, so that another advocate may come (John 16:7), and indicates that the other advocate will bring about an understanding that was not possible before the death of Jesus (John 16:12-13). John also brings out the identity by insisting that it is the things of Jesus that the Holy Spirit will bring to mind and reveal (John 16:14-15). This shows that the disciples understood themselves to have received a profound new intelligence into what Jesus had been about, who God is, and who man is, that had not been available before Jesus' death, and became available shortly after his death. This intelligence, which they understood to be the inner dynamic of the whole life and death of Jesus, and what had formed his relationship with his Father, I choose to call the intelligence of the victim.

By this term I do not mean a peculiar sort of intellectual brilliance, some sort of an increase in intelligence quotient. I mean a particular regard on God and humanity made manifest in the life and death of Jesus by his resurrection. So the disciples were able fairly rapidly to re-read the process leading up to Jesus' death as the story of the self-giving and self-revealing victim, who alone had known what was going on. They were able to understand that Jesus' death was not an accidental interruption of a career that was heading in another direction, but rather that his whole life had been lived in a peculiar sort of way toward that death, and that he had been aware of this. It is because of this that all the Gospel accounts are focused around the Passion, as the build up to it. The disciples, then, were aware that the intelligence of the victim which they now possessed was not only a post-resurrection intelligence, but had been a pre-resurrection intelligence in the person of Jesus alone. It was an intelligence that had, all along, been guiding the life and death that they had accompanied and witnessed. What was unique was the way in which, after Jesus' death they began to be able to tell the story of this life and death not from their own viewpoint, as muddled hangers-on, but from the viewpoint of the dead man, of the one who had become the victim. It is not as though they had invented a profound new insight into Judaism to honor the memory of a dead teacher. Rather they were now able to see clearly the inner unity of the interpretation of Judaism which their teacher had been explaining to them as with reference to himself. They were able to see his life through his own eyes: that is, tell the story of the lynch from the viewpoint of the victim's own understanding of what was going on, before the lynch, leading up to, and during it.

This intelligence of the victim is not, however, a piece of arcane knowledge passed by a teacher to a group of initiates, a secret to be divulged only to other initiates. Jesus taught perfectly publicly, though the Gospels do show that he gave privileged teaching to a few (the twelve), and even among them he was particularly careful in his preparation of Peter, James and John. The difficulty of Jesus' teaching was something to do not in the first place with its own content, but with the constitution of the consciousness of those he was teaching. It was as if they had had a veil over their eyes until after the resurrection. That is to say, what Jesus was revealing was something about which human knowledge is always shrouded in self-deception. The disciples understanding was (as ours is) formed by what Jesus was trying to change: that is, the constitution of our consciousness in rivalry, and the techniques of survival by exclusion of the other. What the disciples became aware of after the resurrection was that the person whose consciousness is constituted in rivalry and survival by victimization does not possess the intelligence of the victim. The beginning of the perception of the intelligence of the victim is already an alteration in what constitutes human consciousness, permitting us to see things from the viewpoint of the victim, and from the point of gratuitous self-donation. This, they saw, was already fully present in Jesus' life: his human awareness was simply not constituted by the same "other" as their own. It would of course take some time to move from the perception that the other who formed and moved Jesus was simply the Father, to the awareness that this meant that the Son was in fact a perfect imitation (or eikôn) of the Father, to the awareness that this implied an equality of substance with the Father, and the beginnings of the doctrine of the Trinity.

After the resurrection, the disciples were able to show the way in which what Jesus had been teaching them all along, the intelligence of the victim, was exactly what he had been living, and wanted them to live. Thus Jesus' moral teaching, and his teaching concerning discipleship were able to be understood not as extra features of his life, unrelated to his Passion, but structured by exactly the same intelligence of the victim that led to his Passion. Exactly the same is true of Jesus' understanding of the coming of the kingdom of God which he preached, which was also the foundation of the new Israel in his victimary death, which he prepared. So, for instance, the sermon on the mount paints a picture of blessedness as being related to the choosing of a life that is not part of the violence and power of the world, going so far as to show solidarity with those who are of no account in this world, even if this means suffering victimization because of the option taken. The parallel passage to the beatitudes, the parable of the sheep and goats, shows the same intelligence at work: divine judgement is recast entirely in terms of practical human relationship to victims, independent of formal creeds or group belongings. The only relationship that matters in the judgement is that with the victim. This intelligence is not only present in those passages which obviously and explicitly have to do with victims and persecution (which are not a few), but is present at one remove in all the moral teaching: in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus gives teaching about the way in which we are constituted in violence -- so anger is the equivalent of murder, lust of adultery, and so on. The Law cannot reach this, the constitution of our consciousness (as Paul was to demonstrate forcefully in Galatians and Romans), (7) so Jesus gives a series of teachings about how to break out of violent reciprocity, learning not to be run by the violence of the other (going the second mile and so on). This freedom, when lived, permits us to live gratuitously with relation to others, even if they then victimize us. Lest this sound too like a strategy for coping with an evil world, or some sort of paranoia, it is important to insist that the disciples' perception, after the resurrection, was that Jesus possessed this intelligence from the beginning, and that the self-giving, the gratuity, was prior to the intelligence. To put this in a different way: Jesus was able to teach about the intelligence of the victim because his human consciousness was not formed in violence but was purely pacifically given and received. Thus he was able to live his life in self-giving, and it was his self-giving that enabled him to understand the intelligence of the victim, and interpret the Jewish scriptures around this central perception. From the point of view of the disciples, the process was the other way round: as they became possessed of the intelligence of the victim, so they were able to perceive the gratuity which made it possible. But they also perceived that in Jesus, the gratuity was always there, and had made the intelligence of the victim connatural to him: in this world, what a purely gratuitous human presence perceives is the intelligence of the victim.

In this way, the evangelists are careful to indicate that there was no "death wish" in Jesus. It was not as though he wanted to die, and thus become a posthumous martyr and hero. The person who seeks to be martyred in this way is still very much formed by the violent desires of the world: to become a martyr is to engage in a peculiar form of victory over your enemies. John stresses in particular Jesus' freedom with relation to his "hour", and the way in which he was laying down his life of his own accord (John 10:18): Jesus' self-giving out of freedom was what gave him his intelligence of himself as fulfilling the promises of the Messiah of Israel as victim.

The disciples were able to perceive this gratuity, the element of the given in the whole of Jesus' life, and read this back into the telling of his story even before his ministry and passion. It was this element of gratuity, from which welled the intelligence of the victim, that enabled them to begin to understand that Jesus was a man who was connatural with God. Matthew and Luke both read elements of the gratuitously-given nature of Jesus into his birth and infancy and show the presence of threat and lynch not far from him even then (with Luke emphasizing the gratuity, and Matthew the threatening lynch). John takes the final step of tracing back explicitly the gratuitous self-giving of this man into God. In his Prologue John shows the self-giving as prior to the rejection, and in the Passion narrative he shows God giving a victim into the hands of men that is far more than any of the cultic victims which the figures of the Old Testament sought to offer to God. (8)

Here we have the second of the two key shifts permitted by the intelligence of the victim. The first was a new perception on humans as formed in violence, as with victimization as the constitutional base of human awareness. The second is the shift in perception that this affords with relation to who God is. As it becomes possible to perceive man as constitutionally violent, so it becomes possible to understand God as entirely without violence. What makes the intelligence of the victim possible to be applied to humans, is the completely gratuitous self-giving of God that is anterior to it. Thus we are able to accede to the way in which, for it to be possible to understand God as love (1 John 4:7-11), it was necessary that the human victim be revealed. Only the revolution wrought by the intelligence of the victim made this understanding possible. That God is completely without violence, that God is love, was a discovery only made possible by the self-giving of Jesus to death, and therefore the discovery that our awareness of God had, up till then, been distorted by our own complicity in violence, unrecognized and transferred or projected onto God. That distortion is undone. So, the intelligence of the victim works two ways: revealing man, and revealing God, simultaneously. The intelligence of the victim is simultaneously the definitive demythification of God, and the final undeceiving of man. We can only express that simultaneity dialectically, but of course, as a revelation the simultaneity was not dialectical, but gratuitously given: the two discoveries were simultaneous and part of the same discovery. God is entirely purely gratuitous self-giving, and what that looks like in the midst of humanity is like a dead human victim, and what that says about our relationship to God is that we are related to God as to a dead human victim, either in ignorant complicity in the victimization or, from now on, in the beginnings of a penitent solidarity.


1. A considerably less compressed account of some of the material dealt with here is to be found in my Knowing Jesus (London: SPCK, 1993).

2. Gans, Science and Faith, p. 85

3. In taking the line he does, I'm not sure if Gans is aware of how close he comes to the liberal protestant view of Paul as the founder of the Church. Elsewhere (p 12) he shows little respect for Protestantism!

4. Witness their question to Jesus even after the resurrection: 'Lord is this the time when you will restore the kingdom of Israel?' (Acts 1:6).

5. It is interesting in this regard to see how St Paul spends the first fourteen chapters of 1 Corinthians working out the consequences of the shift of perception, and dedicates only one chapter to the question of the fact of the resurrection.

6. Including their abandonment of him; see Zech 13:7, quoted at Matt. 26:31, Mark 14:27, and John 16:32.

7. See my "Justification and the Constitution of Consciousness: a new look at Romans and Galatians" in New Blackfriars 71 (1990): pp 17-26

8. See J.D.M. Derrett's brilliant The Victim: The Johannine Passion Narrative Reexamined (Shipston-on-Stour: Drinkwater, 1993).