Jeffrey Pulse, Figuring Resurrection: Joseph as a Death and Resurrection Figure

Pulse, Jeffrey. Figuring Resurrection: Joseph as a Death and Resurrection Figure in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism. Studies in Scripture and Biblical Theology; Lexham Academic, 2021. ix+309 pp. Pb. $29.99   Link to Lexham Press  

Studies in Scripture and Biblical Theology is a peer-reviewed series exploring topics and issues in biblical studies and biblical theology. Jeffrey Pulse is the Dr. Dean O. Wenthe Professor of Old Testament Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary and has been involved in pastoral ministry for twenty-two years. This monograph adapts his 2017 Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Durham.

In this study of Joseph as a resurrection figure, Pulse uses a biblical hermeneutic reading scripture as a unified theological narrative. He wants to trace biblical motifs as they weave their way through the canon. But this study does more. He examines the Joseph narrative (Genesis 37-50) in the Masoretic text (chapters 3-5). He then compares this to the Septuagint (chapter 6) and Targum Onqelos (chapter 7), Second Temple period literature (chapter 8), and (briefly) Philo and Josephus (chapter 9). Unlike Samuel Emadi, From Prisoner to Prince: The Joseph Story in Biblical Theology (NSBT 59; IVP Academic 2022), Pulse does not see Joseph as a “type of Christ” in the New Testament.ResurrectionPulse follows Brevard Child’s canonical approach, along with Bernard Levinson and Robert Alter. He focuses on the text’s final form and carefully observes the literary artistry and overarching themes that resonate across the canon. He rejects atomizing the text in favor of a narrative reading. Israel considered their scripture a united message from God. He wants to follow this lead as much as possible. Pulse’s methodology is neither a typology nor allegorical. For example, he traces several themes and motifs and Joseph across the canon. For example, he follows the “garment motif” from Genesis 3 to Revelation (55-56).

Chapter 3 is a detailed exegesis of Genesis 37-50 of the Masoretic text. At eighty pages, this section is a detailed commentary on the Joseph story and is well worth the price of the book by itself. Pulse gathers a series of death-and-resurrection motifs from this exegesis, such as the downward/upward movements. The Joseph story has twelve such motifs, conveniently listed on pages 7-8 and detailed in chapter 5. “No other character or portion of scripture has such a predominance of these various death-and-resurrection manifestations” (144).

Anyone who has read the Joseph story closely should be familiar with the downward/upward movements. For example, Joseph is thrown into a pit and raised up out of it; he is thrown into prison (also a pit), and once again, he is raised out of it. Pulse suggests the narrator intends the reader to see Joseph’s life as preserving the life of Abraham’s family. This applies in general terms to Israel’s exile from the land. Israel’s restoration is like a death and resurrection idea in Ezekiel 37 (the Valley of the Dry Bones vision). Pulse connects Israel’s restoration to moving Joseph’s bones back to the land after the Exodus (chapter 10). These “traveling bones” are a transition from the patriarchal stories in Genesis to the tribal stories (Exodus-Deuteronomy).

Chapter 4 deals with a potential problem, Joseph’s character. There are many flaws in Joseph’s character, and he is certainly not always a clear example of moral virtue. He cites Moberly, “patriarchal religion lacks moral content or at least moral emphasis in the way that contrasts with the strong moral content enjoined on Israel in the covenant at Sinai.” Joseph is an arrogant son and a bad brother. He may have even made himself available to Potiphar’s wife. He uses a cup of divination and lives like an Egyptian. He takes an Egyptian wife and names his son Manasseh, which refers to forgetting his father’s household. (Pulse suggests Jacob may reverse the blessings because of this name.) Deception seems to be a family trait (160). The questions raised by the Masoretic text are addressed in the Septuagint and the Targum versions of this story. I would add that Joseph’s moral failings are frequently overlooked in contemporary preaching on Joseph. But this is not new. The Second Temple period novel Joseph and Asenath makes Joseph into a paragon of virtue.

Chapter 5 concludes the book’s first part with a detailed examination of the death-and-resurrection motif in the Joseph narrative. Pulse surveys the Testament of Joseph (a biblical expansion written as early as 250 BCE). The story has many up/down movements, which Pulse argues represent the death-and-resurrection motif. Even though there may be Christian interpolations in the Testament of Joseph, this still contributes to Pulse’s argument since it shows early Jewish and Christian readers saw the up/down movement as a death-and-resurrection motif. He details the rest of his 12 sub-motifs, tracing how they are developed in the Joseph story and the larger context of the patriarchal narrative. For example, he traces a “barren woman/opening of the womb” motif, first looking back at Sarah, Rebecca, and Rachel, then looking forward to Samson’s birth and Zachariah and Elizabeth (Luke 1).

One might pause after reading the book’s first part and ask, “That is all fine, but did anyone else notice these motifs?” Chapters 6-10 trace the death-and-resurrection motif in the Septuagint, Targum Onqelos, and other Second Temple texts to respond to this question. Joseph is a salvific figure in the history of Israel who preserves the family and, in doing so, preserves the nation of Israel. He argues that the early church fathers read the story this way and relied on the Septuagint, where the salvific role is enhanced (174). He concludes, “As is often the case with Joseph, ancient exegetes chose to use him in a way that suited the purpose of their current situation” (215). The Septuagint preserves the up/down motif, and the salvific themes are enhanced, “indicating the possible advent of a messianic figure that will arise from his house in the blessings of Genesis 49” (215). But Targum Onqelos focuses on Joseph’s moral and ethical character.

Conclusion: Figuring Resurrection is an excellent study of the Joseph narrative. It does not rely on typology as many evangelical biblical theology studies do. Instead, Pulse uses careful exegesis to suggest themes that naturally arise from the text. Some readers may be disappointed that the canon in this book does not include much from the New Testament, but there is really nothing related to Joseph in the New Testament. Unlike other evangelical biblical theology series, this volume of the SSBT uses intertestamental literature. This permits Pulse to track his “resurrection figure” through several examples of Second Temple period writers, potentially tracking the development of an idea within early Judaism.

A short excerpt of the book appears on Lexham’s blog.

NB: Thanks to Lexham Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.



M. Jeff Brannon, The Hope of Life After Death: A Biblical Theology of Resurrection

Brannon, M. Jeff. The Hope of Life After Death: A Biblical Theology of Resurrection. ESBT; IVP Academic, 2023. xii+185 pp. Pb. $24.00   Link to IVP Academic  

Brannon is a professor of biblical studies and chair of the biblical studies at Belhaven University. His Ph.D. dissertation (written under Larry Hurtado) was published as The Heavenlies in Ephesians: A Lexical, Exegetical, and Conceptual Analysis (LNTS; Bloomsbury, 2011). The Hope of Life after Death develops some of those insights by examining the idea of resurrection throughout the canon of scripture.


Brannon begins by observing that the resurrection gets less attention than the atonement. Most studies on the resurrection are apologetic or historical in nature. In addition, most focus on only parts of Scripture, primarily the Pauline letters. But resurrection is an essential and central doctrine throughout the canon. Brannon argues that the hope of the resurrection is inextricably linked with the biblical theology themes of creation and redemption. Resurrection is, therefore, not a peripheral doctrine but an indispensable element of God’s plan of redemption. Moreover, Christian hope in bodily resurrection distinguishes Christianity from other religions and worldviews. Other than Judaism and Christianity, bodily resurrection is not found in other religions. In the Bible, death is the enemy of God and humanity, and in the end, death will be defeated.

In treating the Old Testament, he argues that God created humans to live, but the fall introduces death. Beginning with this observation, Brannon tracks an unfolding promise in the Pentateuch and historical books that God will “crush the head of the serpent.” There is not much in the historical books, so he moves on to the poetry books, including Job 19:25-27, the Psalms, Isaiah 25:6-8, the Servant Songs, and Ezekiel’s Valley of the Dry Bones. He finishes Daniel 12:1-3 (the only passage usually cited as implying resurrection in the Old Testament).

The trouble with many of these examples is separating national resurrection from personal bodily resurrection. He admits that “at face value, it does not seem reasonable Ezekiel has in mind a future bodily resurrection” (86, note 17). Nevertheless, he sees Ezekiel’s vision as a national and spiritual resurrection metaphor. Brannon does this by connecting the Dry Bones vision to Ezekiel 36-37 and then connecting that passage to new creation language. For Brannon, new creation includes the physical resurrection (82). All kingdom language fulfills the “crushing of the head.”

There is a methodological flaw built into biblical theology studies like the ESBT. In this case, by limiting the study to the biblical canon, Brannon misses the development of Jewish eschatological resurrection through the Intertestamental period. There is a great deal of development of resurrection theology between Daniel 12:1-3 and the New Testament. He is clearly aware of this data since he cites N. T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God extensively. Still, the constraints of the series prevent any examination of Apocrypha and pseudepigrapha in this study.

After surveying the Old Testament data, chapters 6-7 move into Jesus’s life, ministry, and death. Following N. T. Wright, Brannon argues that the resurrection is a vindication of the son of God and proof that Jesus was, in fact, the Messiah. Using Pauline language, Jesus’s resurrection demonstrates that he is the second Adam (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinthians 15:21-22). The ascension is the enthronement of Jesus as the Messiah when he begins his rule from God’s throne (Psalm 2).

Chapter 8 discusses the church as the resurrected people of God, already participating in an eschatological life. Yet that life is still yet to be consummated even though the new age of the Spirit has already begun.  Chapter 9 develops the “not-yet” aspect of the resurrection. Reading Revelation 20 as an amillennialist (149 note 4), Brannon sees this chapter as a picture of believers in the intermediate state. The final resurrection is a bodily resurrection to the eternal state (the new creation). As a fulfillment of Genesis 1:28, believers live in the new creation in real, spiritual bodies. Jesus’s body is the pattern: he had a real body, spiritual and incorruptible.

Here is a completely non-academic observation about Brannon’s book. He uses song quotes at the beginning of his chapters, starting with Buddy and Julie Miller in the introduction, and even Steve Winwood makes an appearance. I am not sure you will ever read this, Jeff, but you have great taste in music!

Conclusion: The Hope of Life After Death is an excellent introduction to the doctrine of bodily resurrection. The book is written with the layperson in mind. There is minimal technical language, and Brannon always keeps the application of resurrection theology in mind.


Other reviewed commentaries in Essentials of Biblical Theology series:


NB: Thanks to IVP Academic for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.




The Importance of the the Resurrection of Jesus – 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

After he gives a list of eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Jesus, Paul states clearly: the resurrection is the basis for the faith of the Christian (15:12-14). Paul says if Jesus Christ is not raised from the dead, our faith is useless. Paul’s point is that is Jesus was not raised, then it is rather stupid to believe Christianity. The world for “useless” here is “without content, without any basis, without truth, without power, empty words….”

resurrection of Jesus

Without a resurrected Jesus Christ, Christianity is the same as any other world religion with a dead founder. If there is no risen Lord, then we have a religion, not a relationship. This is the earliest written reference to the resurrection. The gospels and Acts are written as many as ten to fifteen years later even in the more conservative dating of those books. This is important because the belief Jesus was raised from the dead was present from the earliest days of Christianity. This is not a doctrine that developed over fifty or a hundred years.

If the resurrection is not a fact, then the preaching of the Gospel itself is false and those who believe the resurrection are pitiable (15:15-16). It is remarkable that the first witnesses to the resurrection described Jesus as “raised from the dead.” This is not the way a first century Jew would have expected to happen to Jesus even if they thought he was a great teacher or true prophet.

Based on the belief that Enoch and Elijah were translated from life into heaven, it would have been far more natural for the first disciples to describe what happened to Jesus as an ascension into heaven rather than a real death and a real resurrection. The fact that the first witnesses immediately understood that Jesus was really raised is likely based on the fact of his death. He was really quite dead, unlike Enoch (who was translated) and Elijah (who ascended in a fiery chariot seen by eyewitnesses).

Paul takes the argument further in the next few verses: If Jesus is still dead, then you are still in your sins (15:17-19). If there is no resurrection of Jesus, then the Christian faith is futile. If there is no resurrection, then Jesus is still dead. In the preaching of the earliest apostles, the resurrection serves as a proof Jesus was innocent. God vindicated Jesus by raising him from the dead. In Philippians 2:5-11, because Jesus was obedient and humble to death on the cross God raised him from the dead and set him at the very highest place in the universe, God’s right hand, and even knee will bow, and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord. If Jesus was not raised, then he has the status of a very good human teacher and is not at all the Lord of all creation.

If there is no resurrection of Jesus, dead believers have perished. It is likely some members of the Corinthian church had died. If there is no resurrection, then the dead are simply that, dead. If there is simply no resurrection, then even Jesus is still dead, something that is not possible according to the many witnesses Paul listed in the previous paragraph. This might be a kind of logical argument, although the reverse of what might be accepted today.

If there is no resurrection of Jesus, there is no hope in this life and Christians are most pitiable. Paul ties hope to his belief in the resurrection in several passages (1 Thess 4:13, he does not want the readers to grieve like the pagans who “have no hope”). To be pitied (ἐλεεινός) is to be in the most pathetic condition imaginable.

Witnesses to the Resurrection – 1 Corinthians 15:5-11

To show that the resurrection of Jesus is credible, Paul lists several witnesses to the fact that Jesus was alive (15:5-7).

Witnesses to the Resurrection

Cephas and then to the Twelve. While the Gospels report the first witnesses of the resurrection were the women who came to the tomb to anoint Jesus, this creedal statement pre-dates the Gospels and begins with an appearance first to Peter. This may be Luke 24:36-49, although Peter is not mentioned specifically. In John 21:15–19 Jesus re-instates Peter as a leader of the disciples after the resurrection.

Five hundred brothers at one time. This is not recorded in the Gospels, although it is possible this is a reference to the commissioning of disciples in Matthew 28:18-20, although only the eleven are mentioned in v. 16. What is the point of saying some of them have died? It is possible this is a sad fact, some of the original witnesses of the resurrection have naturally died in the 20+ years since the resurrection. On the other hand, it is possible some in the Corinthian church thought the “true believer” would live until the Parousia, so the reference to the death of witnesses shows this belief cannot be true.

James, Jesus’ brother. As with the five hundred, a story of Jesus appearing to his brother is not found in the New Testament. It is a fact he is a significant leader in the Jerusalem church by Acts 15 and Paul refers to him in Galatians. Since the brothers of Jesus were not believers prior to the resurrection, it is likely Jesus appeared to James, confirming Jesus was the Messiah to his family.

Jerome, The Lives of Illustrious Men, 2. The Gospel also which is called the Gospel according to the Hebrews, and which I have recently translated into Greek and Latin and which also Origen often makes use of, after the account of the resurrection of the Saviour says, “but the Lord, after he had given his grave clothes to the servant of the priest, appeared to James (for James had sworn that he would not eat bread from that hour in which he drank the cup of the Lord until he should see him rising again from among those that sleep) and again, a little later, it says “ ‘Bring a table and bread,’ said the Lord.” And immediately it is added, “He brought bread and blessed and brake and gave to James the Just and said to him, ‘my brother eat thy bread, for the son of man is risen from among those that sleep.’” (NPNF, 3: 362).

Is it possible these appearances to Peter and James represent a commission to ministry? James seems to focus on Jerusalem, reaching priests and Pharisees with the Gospel of Jesus, while Peter goes to Diaspora Jews in Galilee and Antioch. Paul, the third named person in this section, is directly commissioned to go to the Gentiles, so it is at least possible the people named were specifically commissioned to a particular ministry after the resurrection. Is it also possible these named appearances reflect the divisions in the church at Corinth? Both Peter and Paul represent factions within the church, perhaps too there is a conservative Jewish faction holding to James as their leader.

Why doesn’t Paul mention the women who were the first witnesses of the resurrection? Each of the four Gospels mentions several women who visit the tomb early in the morning and discover Jesus is no longer in the grave. Although they are the first witnesses of the Jesus’s resurrection, Paul only mentions the men who saw Jesus. There are probably more reasons for this, but Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians are a tradition handed down to him, so this pre-dates the writing of any of the four Gospels. It is possible Paul did not know about Jesus appearing to Mary Magdalene (John 20), which was likely written 25 years later. On the other hand, Paul  is giving a list of credible witnesses, or maybe better, authoritative witnesses that would mean something to the Corinthian church. They knew Peter and the Apostles, and likely heard of James the Lord’s brother. that several women were the first witnesses would be less important to a Greek audience. (Feel free to add other ideas in the comments!)

Last of all, Paul lists himself as a witness to the resurrection. Paul is very humble since he was not a follower of Jesus prior to the resurrection (15:8-11). Historically, Paul is not a follower of Jesus until he encounters Jesus on the road to Damascus. (However, see this: Did Paul Know Jesus?) As is well known, he is a persecutor of Jesus’ followers prior to the resurrection appearance of Jesus. Paul is claiming to be an eyewitness to the resurrection, albeit one with different credentials than Peter or James since he did not know Jesus before the resurrection.

His experience was like one with an “untimely birth” (ESV). This word (ἔκτρωμα) is used for a stillborn child or a miscarriage. Many commentators think this is an insult Paul faced in his ministry, he is not just a “Johnny-come-lately” or someone who is trying to “jump on the band-wagon,” he has some spiritual deficiency that ought to disqualify him from being considered an apostle. Rather than responding to an attack, Paul is simply listing himself as the final witness because he was the final witness, and his experience is unique among the Apostles.

Paul is “unworthy to be called an apostle” because he persecuted the church, despite the fact he was called to be the apostle to the Gentiles by Jesus himself. Nevertheless, Paul by the grace of God, “I am what I am.” Likely he carried a great deal of guilt for persecuting the early believers as well as for missing out on hearing Jesus preach during his lifetime.

For Paul, the resurrection is a reliable event in history witnessed by a wide variety of people, including people who were not among the followers of Jesus during his ministry.

The Resurrection of Jesus is the Basis for Christian Faith – 1 Corinthians 15:1-4

The Gospel Paul preached when he founded the church at Corinth is the same Gospel Paul is still preaching. As Gordon Fee says, this opening paragraph on the resurrection of Jesus establishes a “common ground” of belief (Fee, 1 Corinthians, 793). This is necessary because some in the Corinthian church denied that Jesus literally rose from the dead. In a series of relative clauses, Paul explains the saving power of the Gospel has not changed since they experienced the power of the Gospel.

Resurrection of Jesus

First, this is the Gospel the believers in Corinth have already received. The verb (παραλαμβάνω) is used for receiving something passed along as a tradition. Second, it is the gospel “in which you have taken a stand.” The tense of the verb is important since it refers to an event in the past with ongoing effects. They “took a stand” when they received the Gospel, and that stand is still in effect when Paul writes. Third, it is the gospel “in which you are being saved.” Again, the tense of the verb is important; Paul chooses a present tense verb to describe the ongoing salvation of the believers in Corinth. They have not fully received salvation since they are not in Heaven yet. Paul therefore sees salvation as a past event, an ongoing reality, and a future hope. All three of these aspects of salvation are important, it is not good to focus on only the past or only the future and ignore the fact the Holy Spirit is working within us now, in the present time to bring us closer to the image of Christ Jesus.

But Paul adds a troubling condition: “If you hold fast…” The verb Paul uses (κατέχω) is used to describe someone who is remaining faithful to a tradition. In 1 Corinthians 11:2, holding to the traditions Paul passed along to them (cf., 1 Thessalonians 5:21, “holding fast to good doctrine”). What are the believers to “hold fast to”? The statement of faith in the following verses. Paul is reminding the readers the resurrection is at the very heart of the Gospel and if they rejected the resurrection, they are in danger of no longer believing the Gospel.

Is it possible to believe in the Gospel “in vain”? Could a person really accept Christ as savior only to find out they were never saved? The ESV sets the phrase off with a dash since it is a conditional phrase rather than a statement of reality. Paul does not say they have believed in vain, in fact, it almost sounds like an unreal condition (you didn’t believe in vain, did you? Of course not!) The adverb translated “in vain” can refer to “without careful thought, without due consideration, in a haphazard manner” (BDAG).

This means the Corinthian church may have accepted the Gospel of Jesus crucified without fully understanding the importance of the resurrection. Perhaps they thought a belief in a real, physical resurrection of Jesus was not necessary.

The core of this gospel is Christ crucified, buried, and raised from the dead (15:3-4). A tradition Paul passed along “of first importance.” While the adjective Paul uses in this verse can refer to something done first in a sequence, it often refers to something of the most significance, such as the “greatest commandment” (Matt 22:38). The word is used to describe the robe given to the Prodigal, the “most important robe” (Luke 15:22). “ἐν πρώτοις, which may indicate priority either in time or in importance—naturally the two may well coincide” (Barrett, 1 Corinthians, 336). Paul says: the “very first thing I chose to tell you about Jesus is that he was crucified, buried and raised from the dead.”

The core of the Gospel story is the crucifixion. Despite the fact most people in the Roman world did not speak of crucifixion in polite company (in the same way most Americans do not discuss lethal injection or electric chairs). The earliest preaching of the Gospel did not try to hide the fact that Christians worship a man executed by the Romans by means of crucifixion.

Jesus’ death is “for our sins.” This is a major difference between Jesus and his followers and Judaism, since from the very earliest preaching of the Apostles, Jesus is the Suffering Servant, whose death provides atonement for the sins of Israel. But this atonement is extended in the Pauline letters to all people who are “in Christ,” they are freed from bondage to sin, not simply the sins they have committed in the past.

Jesus was buried. It may seem strange to include the burial of Jesus as a core element of the Gospel, but since the problem Paul is addressing is the resurrection, his proper burial is an issue. It is possible someone could say Jesus was not buried so that his body could be stolen from a common grave.

Jesus rose to life on the third day. The phrase “on the third day” has some theological importance. In Hosea 6:2, the national revival of Israel is on the “third day.” This passage in Hosea refers to the resurrection of the nation of Israel, but the third day is often a “day of salvation.” On the other hand, there are many examples of important things happening “in the third day” in the Old Testament.

Paul twice adds the phrase, “according to the Scripture” to emphasize the plan of God in passion events.  There is probably no single verse Paul has in mind, but the whole theology of the Hebrew Bible is assumed here. The imagery of the Exodus, the Passover Lamb, the Suffering Servant, Psalm 22, and other texts point forward to the suffering of Jesus. It is also important Paul places scripture ahead of the witnesses of the resurrection. Scripture is the first line of evidence; the eyewitnesses of the resurrection are secondary.

Paul presents he death of Jesus was a divinely ordained event which dealt with sin in a final and decisive way. Without the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, Paul will say, the Corinthians are still in their sin.