Book Review: The Resurrection by Fabrice Hadjadj

Here I will review/summarize a new book by Fabrice Hadjadj, titled The Resurrection: Experience Life in the Risen Christ. It is a series of commentaries about the Resurrection. Each chapter begins with a quote or quotes from scripture, and Mr. Hadjadj offers some reflections that can be applied to every day life.

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First, some background for Mr. Hadjadj. After reading this book I experienced a new regret: I cannot speak French (nor any of the other languages of the Continent his works appear in).  This is his first book to be translated into English.

Mr. Hadjadj is a father and husband, philosopher and teacher. He is of Jewish, Tunisian background, and converted to Roman Catholicism after a long tenure as an atheist.

According to a website about Algerian Jewish culture, the surname Hadjadj apparently can mean “one who argues with God.” A good name for a philosopher.

I am somewhat disappointed this book hasn’t received more attention. It came out in May of this year, and I have found a handful of reviews on the web.   If you google his name you can find a few interviews that have been translated into English.  Artur Rosman has offered some commentary on his books at his Patheos blog.  While he is a famous figure in France, he is virtually unknown in America.

I want to do my part to increase his profile in the Anglosphere, thus this review. I am a layperson with no training in philosophy or theology, so there may be a lot of mistakes. However, you might never catch me at them as you do not need to be a philosopher or theologian to enjoy this book. His audience is the general public. You will find references to Miss Marple, the Superbowl, Disney’s Frozen, etc. throughout. Generally, I found Mr. Hadjadj’s book to be charming, witty, and a pleasure to read.

Now, onto the contents:

Introduction

Archbishop Chaput of Philadelphia writes the intro and calls this a “a brilliant little book” and compliments Hadjadj for his “extraordinary reflections” on scripture. He also calls him “… one of the finest Catholic minds in decades.” I include these comments to show that the book has been reviewed by the Church, and there is nothing problematic in it from this Archbishop’s perspective.

Chapter 1  Your Money or Your Life

Matthew 28:11-15 is the source of reflection. In those verses, the soldiers that had been guarding the tomb are paid by the priests of the Temple to spread the lie that the Apostles stole Jesus’ body.

I had always thought of Jesus commentary on money as a warning against excessive love or pursuit of it. All things in moderation, right?  However, Hadjadj examines how even the ordinary, every day use of money may be problematic at times. Hadjadj explains that money’s three functions as “measure of value,” “store of value” and “medium of exchange” can imitate and supplant the three theological virtues of faith, hope and charity if we are not very careful.

Chapter 2  The Myrrh-Bearing Women

The subject verses are Mark 16:1-8. Here, three women arrive at Jesus’ tomb to anoint him and instead find it empty.

Doing one’s duty in the face of despair can lead to great things. The Resurrection was not dependent on Mary Magdalene and the other women going to the tomb. We can imagine an alternative history in which, out of despair or fear, the women stayed home and cried their eyes out.  Jesus would have then appeared in a different circumstance to, perhaps, a different group of people. But it seems that something good would have been lost.

This chapter touches on several topics and questions. One, how we have lost touch with death. We don’t care for and bury the dead like our ancestors. Two, why did Jesus appear to women first, given that their testimony would be subject to doubt? Three, reasons some should be scared by the Resurrection.

Chapter 3   The Head Cloth in Its Place

John 20:1-8 is reflected on. This is John’s version of the discovery of the empty tomb, which includes Peter and his footrace.

The key phrase of this chapter is “After You,” a reference to John letting Peter enter the tomb first, despite outracing him. Hadjadj then applies it to the Lord himself. The Resurrection is the ultimate “After you.” His disappearance from the Tomb makes room for us and the rest of creation. He is invisible but totally present. He carries us along in his wake as he breaks the waves of time and space.

Chapter 4   Go Down and See If I’m There

The verses under discussion are John’s description of the encounter between Mary Magdalene and Jesus in John 20:11-18.

Hadjadj explores the mystery of Mary’s initial non-recognition of Jesus, and his command to her not to touch him.  The suggested solution is that the body of Christ is to be found in your neighbor, no matter how annoying he or she may be. You must go forth as part of being a Christian.

Chapter 5   Do You Have Something to Eat?

Hadjadj provides three different verses that mention Jesus eating after the Resurrection, and asks, why does the Risen One eat? In short, to do poetry. To expand, eating is democratic, universal, and reminds us of our dependence.

Chapter 6  In Accordance with the Scriptures

The subject verses are from Luke, in which Jesus comments on Scripture. Hadjadj explores the importance of scripture in understanding the Resurrection.  In reading the Bible, we should strive for a personal understanding that can be lived in our own life, and not a pedantic interpretation.

Chapter 7  Out of Breath: Saying Good Day and Forgive Me

The subject verses are John, 20:19-23, where Jesus appears to the Apostles and breathed the Holy Spirit on them.

Hadjadj contrasts the Resurrection of Christ with the sci-fi reanimation of a corpse. There must be joy in living for us to want to return to it.

He discusses how the Lord’s words are Shalom, or “Peace be With You”, which in our times has become “Good Day.” Saying “Good Day” every day and meaning it is the great reset button, a forgiveness of the prior days slights and sins. Forgiveness is even more key in the family context, where we are particularly vulnerable and exposed to the truth of our sins.

I am going to include a long excerpt here, because my descriptions cannot do justice to what a fine writer and thinker he is:

If I make some affectionate gesture toward her, my dear and tender wife can’t keep from getting everything off her chest. In order to become completely receptive to my affection, she has to dump out on me all the grievances weighing on her soul. This is a legitimate way of proceeding, and a sign of great confidence. For her it is a matter of accepting my bouquet of flowers by pouring out onto my head a whole cartload of trash – my own trash, I admit – and for me it is a matter of continuing to hold out those flowers even though they are no longer that fresh and my desire to offer them is completely gone.

A “no-fault” divorce culture never requires us to learn or practice the forgiveness required for the ordinary heroism of married life.

In short, the woman of my life has to become the death of me before she can become the woman of my resurrection.  I therefore have to forgive this woman who torments me by asking me for her forgiveness. To communicate with her not just through our facades but also through our cellars, our pits, our dungeons. Nevertheless our faithfulness in these little trials is what enables us to withstand the big ones.

This is offered without the slightest bitterness on Hadjadj’s part, and I am sure he would say the reflection would be equally applicable if the sexes were reversed.

Chapter 8   Place Your Hand in My Side

The subject verses are the description of Thomas’ doubts and recantation in John 20:24-29.

I said in my Amazon review that this chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Hadjadj dives in and provides a very intriguing analysis of Thomas’ character and conduct, based on all the instances in which Thomas is quoted or described in the Gospels.

Why was he not with the Apostles when Jesus appeared to them? Hadjadj posits that Thomas was a hothead, and perhaps the bravest Apostle in terms of taking physical risks. Rather than hiding from the Jewish and Roman authorities, he was parading around in public as if daring them to kill  him too.  He wanted to be crucified, and is perhaps suffering from survivor’s guilt.

Thomas cannot wrap his head around a cross and glory combined. The Resurrection threatens to make light of what has gone before. Hence he objects to the good news. Hadjadj compares him to that gloomy friend always going on about the suffering in the world.

Jesus takes Thomas up on his bet, and appears and breathes the Holy Spirit on him. Hadjadj claims that Thomas’ response (“My Lord and My God”) is the first time in scripture that an Apostle referred to Jesus as “My God” as opposed to “Messiah” or “Son of God.”  I wonder if this sort of makes Thomas the first recorded witness to the Trinity. He has received the Spirit, and now perceives both the Son and the Father as one.

The lesson here is that we should honestly approach our doubts. We should be hot or cold, but not play the part of a firm believer if we are lukewarm. Our very doubts expose our hunger for the whole Truth, one that can transfigure “all the wounds of history.”

Chapter 9  Back to Fishing

The lead verses are John 21:1-8, which describes Jesus’ appearance while the Apostles are fishing on the Sea of Tiberias.

Hadjadj asks a question about this verse I never considered. Why are the Apostles off fishing again after they have received the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t they be preaching somewhere? He acknowledges traditional interpretations, but offers a novel one.

This goes to the question of why so many Apostles, including the inner three (Peter, John and James), were fishermen. Why not shepherds, or hunters, or farmers? It was no accident he suggests.

Chapter 10   Papal Indignity

The lead verses are John 21:15-22, which includes Jesus’ three-fold question to Peter, and the final “Follow Me!” command.

Hadjadj explores why Jesus seems so hard on Peter, or perhaps, why the Gospel writers felt necessary to document his failings more than the other Apostles. Peter’s repeated failures and rebukes opened him to true humility. He would no longer trust on his own strength, and thus would build the foundation of a new Church on the Lord’s strength.

Hadjadj relates that the world would be so fortunate if we all had the same insight that Peter was dragged to acknowledge: we are not worthy. Or as he says it, that we have “concave worthiness.” The more we acknowledge we are empty, the better we can receive.

Chapter 11  To All Creation

Hadjadj opens with Mark 15:15-18, which is Jesus’ commandment to go into the world and preach the Gospel to all creation. He takes the word “creation” literally, and emphasizes the cosmic nature of this, something that cannot always be reduced to a purely human to human interaction.

Hadjadj humorously relates the advantage of seeing your fellow man as a “creature” and not specifically a human being:

… if you tell yourself that this someone is a creature, just like a pig or worm, then you are obliged to recognize that, for a worm or pig, he is nevertheless a fantastic pig or an absolutely fabulous earthworm.

The point being that in returning the focus to the literal command, “all creation”, we can move away from our sometimes particular disappointment with our fellow man, and see Jesus in everything.

In the reference to preaching to the world, he reminds us not to neglect our own family and ourselves. Our own hearts are “wilder than the Amazon jungle.” And “since the earth is round, the remotest end of the world is right here.”

Chapter 12   Laying One’s Head on the Chopping Block

The martyrdom of St. Stephen at Acts 7:55-60 is the inspiration for this chapter.

Hadjadj notes that true martyrdom comes from a zest for life, not a death wish. And that the true martyr has no other power but prayer. And that they will accept martyrdom because they love so much, they even love their persecutors. “After you,” Hadjadj says again.

Epilogue

In his epilogue Hadjadj offers an apology of sorts for his style, which some may find too lighthearted. He hopes that while he have been “whimsical” he doesn’t believe he has been “frivolous.” He says “Times have changed,” and new approaches are required.  I will share a very Chesterton like paradox of his that expresses this point:

And while the engineer designs a superman, God creates man and woman. This is why the Church today is waging countless battles on unexpected fronts: inspired by the Spirit, she glorifies the flesh; as the depository of the supernatural, she becomes the guardian of nature; calling people to be holy, she defends sex. And this is why it is no longer enough to say, as in the past:  “God became man so that man might become God.” It must also be added that God was made man so that man might remain human, and so that in being divinized he might still be even more human.

 

Well, this has been a very long review and summary of the book. I hope you found it useful if you are considering a purchase.

Finally, thanks to the publisher Magnificat for making this available in English. I hope we see more translations of Mr. Hadjadj’s books in the future.

6/22 update: One correction. I did learn that Hadjadj has authored one other book that is available in English. It is about the Ghent Altarpiece, and was published by Magnificat in 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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