What the disciples believed to have happened should be the crucial question for historians. What actually happened (or did not happen, as the case may be) may be of more burning interest to theologians and scientists.On this point I would like to raise a very interesting passage from the Synoptics. It so happens that this is one of the passages I am writing for the commentary that members of the NT Mysticism Project are collaboratively putting together. It is Matthew 22:23-32. I had volunteered for the passage because of my past work on encratic behavior and the rejection of marriage by many early Christians, and I never expected to come face-to-face with an odd passage about the resurrection. This is a passage I've read a thousand times, but for some reason, when I began working on the logic of the whole pericope, I found that Jesus appears to be arguing for the feasibility of the resurrection because Abraham, Issac and Jacob were resurrected already. Thus Jesus says in Matthew 22:31-32 that the resurrection is proven because scripture says that God IS (not WAS) the God of Abraham, Issac and Jacob, he IS the God of the living, not the dead.
But Wright is a theologian as much as a historian, as we all know. It's always amazed me how he thinks the lack of precedent for Jesus' resurrection historically validates it. I.e. That since Jewish tradition didn't provide for an individual's resurrection before the end -- especially for a messiah who had gone down in shame -- the Christians wouldn't have made such a far-fetched claim, unless it were actually true. (emphasis mine)
This same thread is picked up in another story attributed to Jesus (Luke 16:19-31). It is that famous story about the poor man Lazarus who, when he died, was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. A rich man also dies but goes to the torments of Hades. He looks up and sees Abraham far away with Lazarus at his side. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his family to warn them about the place of torment. Abraham tells him that they already know this - they have Moses and the Prophets and should listen to them. Besides he argues, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." Not only do we have here the belief again that Abraham wasn't dead (whether he was resurrected or a spirit is not clear in this passage), but we have a Jewish man who believes it possible for a dead person to rise and go to talk to his family - and this is NOT the general resurrection of the dead at the end of time.
At any rate, I am wondering now about our common assumption that Jews in this time period thought that the resurrection was only an end-of-time event.