I'm going to skip over her discussion regarding resurrection bodies and the various conceptions thereof in second Temple speculation. I'm not at all sure Paul's discourse in 1 Cor. 15 opposes the concept of bodily resurrection, though he certainly argues for qualitative differences between "what is sown" and "what is raised." But our definitions of the relevant terms are also an issue here; for instance, I note that DeConick acknowledges that Paul argues for an "embodied" view of resurrection, and she's exactly right. Oh . . . and I note the curious statement at the end of her first paragraph: "[The early Christians] understood the visions of his spirit not as a ghost (as a non-Jew might have framed it) but as a resurrected body (as a Jew would have framed the afterlife)." But as I pointed out in my previous post, problems plague this ethnic division (Jew/non-Jew) of perceptions of the no-longer-dead.
Unfortunately, our first stop involves what I perceive to be a serious flaw in DeConick's argument, a flaw that she's inherited from more traditional perspectives on the subject. DeConick writes,
Now these two impulses resulted in two activities. First, they reread their bible, the Jewish scripture in order to figure out what the suffering and death of their Messiah meant, and they talked to each other, "remembering" what they could of Jesus' teachings whether public or private and began to write it down.
Scientists have long been aware that observing a thing necessarily alters it, so that the act of observation itself distorts the thing we're trying to understand. Dissecting a frog might give us greater insight into the layout and function of its internal parts, but we destroy the frog in the meantime and interrupt the processes that enable those parts to be the frog. A similar problem attends historical analyses of the early Christians' response to Jesus death. I agree with DeConick that Jesus' followers turned to the Jewish scripture[s] to "figure out what the suffering and death of their Messiah meant," but our view of these processes is distorted if we take a sequential view of this process, "first Jesus' death, then examination of scripture to interpret Jesus' death."
Jesus and his followers lived in a traditional world framed by Jewish biblical traditions, and those traditions, as frames, oriented them (and their contemporaries) within their world and gave it meaning. Much like certain verbal utterances invoke standard (and larger) images in our own culture (in certain contexts the word commando recalls Joey standing in Monica's apartment with all of Chandler's clothes on at once, or Hasta la vista . . . baby recalls Arnold Schwarzeneggar in a leather jacket and a bad case of red-eye), allusions to and invocations of Jewish biblical traditions were, in some cases, part of the original perception of Jesus' ministry and death in the first place! Certainly there was also later reflection (John's gospel is explicit in this regard; e.g., John 2.22). But we get a distorted picture if we envisage Jesus' followers, nearly in shock by the sheer incomprehensibility and brutality of Jesus' death, desperately leafing through the pages of their Bible looking for anything that could help them interpret their experiences and happily stumbling upon what we now call Psa. 22 or Isa. 53. DeConick, of course, is well aware of and largely avoids the problems with this simplistic scenario, unlike many other historians. But she still assumes a "first Jesus' death, then turn to scripture" schema that never really existed.
I also think we need to nuance our understanding of the transformative effects of Jesus' death on the early Christians' interpretation of the scriptures. DeConick writes,
So after Jesus' death, the first Christians turned to scripture and began to read it with new questions and a new perspective - that is they were trying to understand why the Messiah suffered and why he died as a criminal. They took passages that traditionally had nothing to do with messianic prophecy and made them such, which the other Jews loudly protested.
Yes, this did happen. Especially in Luke-Acts we see that the early Christians were involved in re-evaluating the significance of the traditional stories. But modern historians and exegetes presume too much when we classify some scriptures as messianic and others as not messianic and then impose that classification on the ancient evidence. Unless we take a very technical (and overly restrictive) view of "messianic scriptures" as only those which explicitly refer to an "anointed one," messianic is a label that applies to how traditions were appropriated rather than an inherent property of the tradition itself. Certainly there were debates about how biblical traditions should be understood, and as these debates took shape between Jesus' followers and other Jews, many of them concerned the messianic interpretation the Christians imposed on them. But there was also a move away from messianic understandings of some scriptures on the part of some non-Christian Jews (as Justin Martyr attests). And there were other factors, too; Daniel Boyarin (Border Lines; University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004) has argued that rabbinic Judaism expelled Logos/Memra theology from within Judaism in response to Christian appropriation of that theology for its own purposes.
Finally, DeConick offers a historical possibility for understanding the origin of the sayings genre. I have one very minor quibble and a major complaint. First, the quibble: DeConick says, "We know they [sayings source books] existed because we have Thomas," but I would like some clarification about how far we can generalize Thomas's genre. So we have Thomas; how much support does that fact give to the supposition that sayings sources were common (and how common?) in early Christianity? But my major complaint is this: Even if "sayings source books" were a dime a dozen, I would like us to make sure to avoid two excesses of traditional Jesus scholarship. First, the emphasis on Jesus' sayings is methodologically problematic and rooted in assumptions regarding the ipsissima verba Jesu ("the very words of Jesus") that are no longer sustainable. Second, we should not assume (and I'm not sure DeConick does) that written sources (a) provided a stability to the Jesus tradition that the oral tradition lacked, or (b) eased any anxiety the early Christians may have felt regarding the authenticity of their traditions. The traditions of Jesus' sayings and his actions were vouchsafed by the communities preserving, actualizing, transmitting, celebrating, recounting, and proclaiming those traditions; the church wouldn't begin to turn to written sources as guarantees of their traditions for some time, and not in the same way we turn to their texts until the Enlightenment.