DID JESUS RISE FROM THE DEAD? WHAT IS THE EVIDENCE FOR THE RESURRECTION?

Question:
Dear Rabbi Singer:

I’m doing a project on missionary and counter-missionary groups. There is a very large section in my project that deals with theology. I have read your site as well as the Jews for Jesus site, and I must say that the information is both deep and extensive. I must commend you. Your site offers many good counter arguments to the validity of Jesus being the messiah. I have, however hit a stumbling block.

I checked your Q&A section on the web pages, but found very little dealing with “Jewish” explanations of the resurrection. I found that quite odd, as any Christian will tell you that Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of the Christian religion. I assume that we as Jews do not believe in Christ’s resurrection, so how do we explain the resurrection? Did a bunch of crazy people decide to create a story about a resurrection? This story was passed on to the time when the Gospels were written, so how inaccurate can they be? The memory of someone 40 years ago isn’t considered faulty today, so accounts from 40 years may have been altered, but all adhere to a resurrection story. What is the Jewish take on the resurrection?

Answer:
You certainly did not overstate the centrality of the Christian claim that Jesus resurrected from the dead. As Paul concedes,
“If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.”

(I Corinthians15:17)

In essence, the validity of Christianity stands or falls on this astounding claim. Because of the importance of this topic, I have dedicated an entire segment on the audio recording,Confused Texts and Testimonies, to this subject.

Bear in mind that Christianity is not the only religion to have declared that its savior or demigod was resurrected from the grave. The story of a deity who defeated the grip of death is one of the most common themes embedded in the plethora of religions that have emerged since time immemorial. Your question, therefore, should be expanded even more widely because the claim of a divine savior who is born of a virgin, suffers a brutal death, and ascends to heaven was widespread among pagan and Gnostic religions during the first century (this was especially true for the regions around Tarsus, Paul’s hometown). Mythologies throughout the Roman Empire and beyond contained popular beliefs that notable mortals and god-men were born of virgins and returned from the dead. See accounts of Romulus, Apollonius of Tyana, Drusilla, Claudius, Dionysus-Bacchus, Tammuz, Mithra, Osiris, Krishna, and Buddha.

The question for the Jewish people is simple. Should we accept the numerous claims made by widespread religions of miraculous resurrections from the dead simply because their zealous defenders promoted them? Claims of biased followers need to be particularly scrutinized, especially if they are the only claims that exist.

Since the belief in Jesus’ resurrection is the foundation of Christianity, we should certainly examine the credibility of this story. What is the evidence for the belief that Jesus rose from the grave? Aside from the accounts in the New Testament, there is no independent supportive documentation, nor is there any circumstantial evidence. There is not even one contemporaneous historian who mentions one word about Jesus’ resurrection. The entire claim hangs exclusively on the New Testament texts. Moreover, it was the creators and defenders of Christianity who promoted the stories of the resurrection. Their biased testimony must therefore be examined more carefully. Is this testimony reliable? As a seeker of truth, you are the judge.

Obviously, a judge must be impartial, and objectively weigh all of the relevant evidence. Realize this is not a routine case; your relationship with God is at stake. As an individual examining the case for the resurrection, you should not be swayed by conjecture or hearsay, but demand clear proof.

If you were the judge presiding over a murder case, you would want to be absolutely certain before convicting the defendant. If the prosecutor called his key witnesses, but each told a different story, his case would be very shaky. The defense attorney would argue for the acquittal of his client by demonstrating the weakness of the prosecutor’s case. He would impeach the state’s witnesses by showing how their accounts are contradictory.
The resurrection narratives in the Gospels may be convincing testimony for people who have not read them very carefully. As a responsible judge, though, you can’t be satisfied with just a casual examination of the evidence, especially if biased witnesses gave the testimony. The stories told in the New Testament, and the passion narratives in particular, are so inconsistent, that the resurrection story collapses under careful scrutiny. The conflicting testimonies of the evangelists are so unreliable, that they would not stand up to critical cross-examination in any court of law. In fact, there is virtually not one detail of the crucifixion and resurrection narratives upon which all four Gospel authors agree. Yet, it is upon this story that the entire Christian religion stands or falls.

I have prepared the following three-part study to help you critically evaluate the case of the alleged resurrection of Jesus. This analysis consists of the crucial date of the crucifixion and the events that allegedly followed the resurrection.

Study the CRUCIFIXION/RESURRECTION CHART, which maps out the vast number of widespread inconsistencies in the Passion Narratives throughout the four Gospels and the letters of Paul. Let’s begin this examination of the resurrection stories by studying the date of the crucifixion as told by the four Gospels.

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