Brother Gilbert JosephParticipantJuly 8, 2020 at 8:36 pmPost count: 48
Resurrection of Jesus: Myth or History
This essay will discuss the historicity of the death and Resurrection of Jesus with an emphasis on its Jewish cultural context. For the orthodox Christian whether Catholic, Orthodox or Protestant the historicity of these events is central to their faith. In accord with this traditional faith the ‘Catechism of the Catholic Church’ affirms that the Resurrection and its manifestations are “real events” and are “historically verifiable”. However with the advent of the Modernist Higher Critical theology and its offshoots, over the last two hundred years, this orthodox Christian teaching has been called into question. There have arisen theologians who do not believe in or seriously question the historicity of the events of Jesus death and resurrection. Some of them speak of the Resurrection as a subjective experience of the Christ and they make a dichotomy between the Christ of Faith and the Jesus of History. These interpretations of Christ’s Resurrection draw from a world view that is philosophical and naturalistic rather than Jewish or Christian. The event of Jesus of Nazareth’s death and Resurrection is an event situated within the ‘faith’ based community of Pharisaic Judaism. When theology and philosophy divorce themselves from the Jewish and Pharisaic roots of the Christian faith then a subtle form of Gnostic Christianity takes its place.
Today’s ‘peer-reviewed’ academia would have us believe that Pope Pius XII somehow approved of and encouraged the modernist theology with its elaborate and imaginary literary theories. In fact Pius XII in ‘Divino Afflante Spiritu’ encouraged Catholic theologians to use the modern studies in history, archeology, philology and other disciplines to understand the faith more deeply. The theologians were encouraged to take into account the historical literary genres of the time and culture of a particular text. This did not include an encouragement to create their own subjective literary theories based on their own imagination rather than any factual or historical evidence. The Pope also warned against those who wished to limit the infallibility and inspiration of Scripture to only matters of faith and morals and affirms once again the Catholic teaching on Biblical inerrancy. Pius XII proclaims:
“…When, subsequently, some Catholic writers, in spite of this solemn definition of Catholic doctrine, by which such divine authority is claimed for the “entire books with all their parts” as to secure freedom from any error whatsoever, ventured to restrict the truth of Sacred Scripture solely to matters of faith and morals, and to regard other matters, whether in the domain of physical science or history, as “obiter dicta” and – as they contended – in no wise connected with faith, Our Predecessor of immortal memory, Leo XIII in the Encyclical Letter Providentissimus Deus, published on November 18 in the year 1893, justly and rightly condemned these errors and safe-guarded the studies of the Divine Books by most wise precepts and rules…”
Instead of a true renewal of theology in the Jewish cultural roots of the faith, a growing acceptance of liberal theology based on literary theories and the late datings of the books of the New Testament occurred. When Bishop John Robinson a famous liberal Anglican scholar set out to research why theologians accept these particular datings, he found there was no historical or archeological or philological evidence for this but it was all based on what he called “a house of cards”. He very convincingly demonstrated that all the New Testament was written before the fall of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD. There is no evidence whatsoever that any author of the New Testament knew of the fall of the Temple. The only mention of its fall is by Jesus as a future prophecy. Of course modernist theology does not accept the validity of the miraculous or prophecy so they assume that the writers of the Gospels must have written after the events of 70 AD. Using this same mentality of naturalistic belief they dismiss the Gospels as historical documents and its claims of an historical death and Resurrection of Jesus.
In the late 1970’s, to the surprise of many, a famous orthodox Jewish New Testament scholar, Pinchas Lapide, came forward with a book “The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective” in defense of the historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus. Of course, as an orthodox Jew he did not accept that the Resurrection of Jesus proved he was the Messiah or God in the Flesh. He wrote:
“…If the defeated and depressed group of disciples overnight could change into a victorious movement of faith, based only on autosuggestion or self-deception—without a fundamental faith experience—then this would be a much greater miracle than the resurrection itself…”
He did believe that this historically verifiable death and Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth showed some kind of divine approval and that Jesus was one who was important for preparing for the advent of the Messiah son of David. He also situated the Death and Resurrection in its historically Jewish cultural and spiritual context. There is a clear tradition in Judaism that the Messiah son of Joseph would be killed and then resurrected. The Talmud also teaches that the Messiah may come from among the Dead. Lapide states that it is possible that the Jewish Messiah who comes in the future may have once been Jesus of Nazareth. He writes:
“I cannot imagine that even a single Jew who believes in God would have the least thing against that… Should the coming one be Jesus, he would be precisely as welcome as any other whom God would designate as the redeemer of the world. If he would only come!”
In the late 1990’s an important tablet was discovered in the Holy Land. It was a three-foot tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew text from the first century BC. It is now called “Gabriel’s Revelation”. This text speaks of a future Messiah who would die and be resurrected “in three days” [l’shloshet yamin]. Daniel Boyarin a professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California at Berkeley states:
“…Some Christians will find it shocking- a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology- while others will be comforted by the idea of it being a traditional part of Judaism…”.
Israel Knohl, a famous professor of Biblical Studies at the Hebrew University who is an expert on the Jewish traditions of a Suffering Messiah, found in the Dead Sea Scrolls as well as in rabbinic and early Jewish apocalyptic writings evidence for the belief in a resurrected Messiah. He believes that the discovery of “Gabriel’s Revelation” solidifies the thesis that the idea of a suffering Messiah who dies and is resurrected, comes from Second Temple Judaism before the time of Jesus. Knohl notes that Jesus made many allusions to his death and suffering in the Gospels but many New Testament scholars deny this. They teach that Jesus’ later followers wrote this into the Gospel as they believe the historical Jesus would not have any knowledge of this idea. However “Gabriel’s Revelation”, which has been authenticated by many leading Israeli experts, proves otherwise. Professor Knohl sees this through a Jewish prism. He states that the mission of Jesus
“is that he has to be put to death by the Romans to suffer so his blood will be a sign for the Redemption to come. This is the sign of the son of Joseph. This is the conscious view of Jesus himself. This gives the Last Supper an absolutely different meaning. To shed blood is not for the sins but to bring redemption to Israel.”
The resurrection faith of the first Jewish Christians would see both aspects as interconnected in the Eucharist. In the Eucharist the fruits of the death and resurrection of Jesus is made present as the fountain of mercy and cleansing from sins referred to in Zechariah 12 in the context of the pierced one. At the same time they would see the Eucharist as a pledge, sign or promise of the eschatological redemption of all Israel by the resurrected Messiah.
Raphael Patai is another Jewish scholar who earlier published an excellent resource titled “The Messiah Texts”. He presents the Jewish textual sources for the Jewish ideas of a Suffering or Leper Messiah and the Messiah son of Joseph who is killed and resurrected and that they are an integral part of Talmudic and mystical Judaism. Knohl himself claimed, from his study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that there was a man named Simon whose followers believed he was the Messiah and that he would be resurrected after three days when he was put to death in 4 BC (he wrote this before he learnt of the discovery of “Gabriel’s Revelation”). Even today some elements within Chabad (Lubavitch) Hasidism have claimed that the late Chabad Leader, Rebbe Menachem Schneerson, is the Messiah son of Joseph and they await his resurrection. Some of these also believe that the late Rebbe as Messiah is God himself. They quote numerous Jewish sources to prove their point.
“Gabriel’s Revelation” focuses us on the phrase L’shloshet yamin (in the third day) which is part of the early Jewish Christian creedal faith- “on the third day he rose from the dead”. Two decades earlier than the tablet’s discovery Rabbi Lapide writes of the significance of the ‘three days’. Judaism has always read the story of the Binding (Akeidah) of Isaac by Abraham in the context of the hope of the Resurrection. Lapide points to the significance of the phrase in Genesis 22: 4- “On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes…”. Lapide also then sees the connection with the Sinai revelation and God’s appearance there in Exodus 19: 16. “On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings, and a thick cloud upon the mountain…”. For the Jewish Christian this is a manifestation of the resurrected God-Man and Messiah coming out of Eternity through the power of his Resurrection to give the Torah to Moses and Israel as Sar ha Torah (Prince of the Torah).
Lapide also points to the figure of Joseph in Genesis 42:18- “On the third day Joseph said to them, Do this and you will live…”. For the Jewish Christian this has even deeper meaning in the context of the Jewish traditions of Messiah son of Joseph who will appear in the Galilee and will be killed and rise from the dead. Lapide then refers to the three days mentioned in regards to Jonah (Jonah 1:17), Queen Esther (Esther 5:1) and Hosea 6:2. He writes:
“On the third day…contains for ears which are educated Biblically a clear reference to God’s mercy and grace which is revealed after two days of affliction and death by way of redemption… thus, according to my opinion, the resurrection belongs to the category of the truly real and effective occurrences, for without a fact of history there is no act of true faith…”
The German Higher Critical school was known for its anti-Semitism and for it wishing to distance the New Testament from its authentically Jewish origins by postulating a long development of Christian theology through oral traditions over three or four generations. They ignore the fact that Jewish religious culture and its male population were extremely literate and that there is no historical or archeological evidence for this long development of oral traditions. The oral traditions that can be verified are those handed down by the Fathers of the Church and the Jewish fathers of the Talmudic wisdom. The elaborate literary theories based on imaginary oral traditions have lead to the ideas of such theologians as John Dominic Crossan and Edward Schillebeeckx who deny or question the historicity of the Resurrection and the post Resurrection encounters of the Apostles with Christ. They see it as a subjective experience of ‘the risen Christ’ in his later followers who then reconstructed the Jesus story to fit this experience. The canonical writings of the Gospels and other New Testament writings are then placed on equal footing with the Gnostic literature and Gospels. While many modern theologians don’t go as far as Crossan and Schillebeeckx in their understanding of the salvation events, they draw on the same modernist and naturalistic theories. In one sense, Crossan and Schillebeeckx are more consistent and take these theories to their logical conclusions.
Pinchas Lapide however states that the historical event of the Resurrection has primacy over the death of Jesus. The death of Jesus only gains its historical significance in the light of the resurrection. If Jesus had not risen from the dead then his death would be just one more Jewish crucifixion victim of the Romans among many. He states: “I accept the resurrection of Easter Sunday not as an invention of the community of the disciples, but as an historical event.” Carl Braaten in his introduction to Lapide’s book states that Lapide is aware of the so-called mainstream schools of theology who relegate the Resurrection of Jesus to a category of myth, legend or hallucination without any historical reality. Lapide writes:
“I am completely convinced that the Twelve from Galilee, who were all farmers, shepherds and fishermen-there was not a single theology professor to be found among them-were totally unimpressed by scholarly theologoumena, as Karl Rahner or Rudolf Bultmann write them. If they, through such as concrete historical event as the crucifixion, were so totally in despair and crushed…then no less concrete a historical event was needed in order to bring them out of the deep valley of their despair and within a short time to transform them into a community of salvation rejoicing to the high heavens.” 
Lapide discusses those that seek to discredit the historicity of the Resurrection and to connect it with the stories of the death and resurrections of characters such as Osiris in the pagan mythologies. Lapide sees the so-called “plausible historical objections” which deny any historical reality to the resurrection of Jesus as seriously impaired and restricted. He states that “a physically comprehensible or rationally understandable facticity” is a “standard which is hostile to all human faith. It is a lack of empathy with the Jewish locus of that original Easter faith whose eyewitnesses and the first testifiers were without exception sons and daughters of Israel.” It is rather strange that an orthodox Jewish scholar would be the champion of the historicity of the Resurrection while the former Catholic priest John Dominic Crossan writes of the body of Jesus being eaten by wild animals and other theologians of Christian background speaking of the bones of Jesus still being in a tomb in the Holy Land.
Edward Schillebeeckx while not going as far as Crossan does follow Bultmann in not accepting the Resurrection experiences of Jesus to the Apostles as historical events. In his book “Jesus: An Experiment in Christology” he discusses firstly St Paul and his Damascus Road experience. He seeks to analyse, according to his own literary theory, this experience in the light of his wider discussion on “seeing Jesus Christologically”.  He elevates his own literary theories and datings to the level of fact. Based on these new “facts”, Schillebeeckx sets out to demolish true faith in the historical element of Christ’s Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances.
Schillebeeckx does this by using theological jargon in order to mask his own loss of belief in the historical Messiah Jesus who rose physically from the dead. He writes to convince others that Christian faith and belief in the risen Christ is only an internal spiritual or mystical experience not historical happenings. He uses Paul’s experience of the Risen Christ to prove his point about the Resurrection experiences of the Apostles and other early Christians. He states:
“This was again the sole essence of all other Christ manifestations, which has been filled out either with the theology of the communities represented by Matthew, Luke and John or with the concrete career of the apostle Paul himself.”
This non-historical approach turns Christian faith into just another form of Gnostic or mystery religion mysticism. The subjective inner experience is now placed on a level with the subjective inner experiences of all other beliefs. Christianity is transformed into a cut and paste religion that creates a mythic story about a resurrected messiah over a few generations. The Resurrection and the Resurrection encounters of the first Christians now has merely become another story with mythic resonance similar to the mythologies of the Ennead of Egypt, the Greek gods of Olympus and Norse gods of Valhalla.
Schillebeeckx uses the same process, based on the literary analysis he has used with Paul, to destroy faith in the historical events of the formation of the church and its teachings on the Resurrected Christ. He writes:
“The next question is whether the tradition of the appearance of Christ to Simon and the Eleven did not undergo in the course of the first few Christian generations the same sort of development, growth and structuring that we detect in the Acts in a comparison between Acts 9, Acts 22 and 26.”
This attacks the very basis of the faith of the Catholic Church as the deposit of apostolic teaching passed on faithfully by the Bishops and Fathers of the church. This puts the Catholic and Christian faith on a par with other religions based on inner experiences that have no true or historical validity. These ideas are the most pernicious to faith as they masquerade in Catholic theological terminology and thus lead many souls astray from belief in a Creator God who is not the mere product of man’s own imagination. This form of theologising will only lead to loss of faith and belief in orthodox teachings and the embracing of Modernism and its associated errors.
Unfortunately certain segments of the priesthood (and theologians) today has been infected by this naturalistic approach to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, just as certain segments of the Second Temple priesthood and scribes were infected by the Greek naturalistic approach of the Sadducees who likewise denied the miraculous and the Resurrection of the dead. When faith in the historicity of the Resurrection of Christ is denied then Christ as the Lord of History is also denied. Christian faith then becomes a mere private, subjective and gnostic devotion cut off from its historical roots in the religious experience and encounter with the Divine by the Jewish people. While not discussed here in any detail a fuller understanding of the death and Resurrection of Jesus also needs to be understood through the prism of the Last Supper (and its continuance in the Eucharistic liturgy).
In order to safeguard the truth and meaning of one’s personal, mystical and subjective encounter of the Resurrected Christ then the historicity of the life, death and Resurrection of Jesus must be upheld and that of the first Resurrection experiences of the disciples of Jesus recorded in the New Testament. One can only ascend safely to the spiritual, moral and mystical meanings of the death and resurrection of Jesus when it is rooted in historical reality. This historical reality of the Resurrection occurs in the context of Jewish belief and culture and cannot be fully understood in its richness without a constant return to its Jewish sources. Lapide writes:
“Without the Sinai experience –no Judaism; without the Easter experience- no Christianity. Both were Jewish faith experiences whose radiating power, in a different way, was meant for the world of nations. For inscrutable reasons the resurrection faith of Golgotha was necessary to carry the message of Sinai into the world.”
 Catechism of the Catholic Church 639.
 Gary R Habemas, “The Late Twenthieth-Century Resurgence of Naturalistic Responses to Jesus Resurrection” Trinity Journal 2001, 179-196.
Rabbi Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee; A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus, New York ; Paulist Press,1985.
 Divino Afflante Spiritu 24.
 Divino Afflante Spiritu 1.
 Bishop John A T Robinson, Redating the New Testament, Philedelphia: Westminister Press,1976.
 Gary R Habemas, “The Late Twenthieth-Century Resurgence of Naturalistic Responses to Jesus Resurrection”, 179-196.
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective (USA; Augsburg Fortress Publishing House, 1982), 126.
 Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years (USA: Wayne State University Press, 1979) 165-170.
 Sanhedrin 89b
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 19.
 Ethan Bronner, “Ancient Tablets Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection” New York Times July 6 2008.
 Israel Knohl, The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls, University of California Press: USA, 2002.
 op. cit. Ethan Bronner, “Ancient Tablets Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection”.
 Romans 11.
 Samuel Heilman & Menachem Friedman, The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010), 29-64.
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 91-2.
 In fact one Jewish tradition teaches that Abraham actually killed Isaac and the Angel only stopped him from burning the body and Isaac was then resurrected. The Hebrew text can be read either way. A humorous legend of the Jews, states that Abraham also cut Isaac’s body up and when God resurrected him his head was on the wrong way. The shock of his mother Sarah seeing her son ride home with his head on backward led to her early death.
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 91.
 Professor Andrei Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition: Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism, (Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2005), 383.
 Raphael Patai, The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years, 165-170.
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 92.
 Some writers believe that this Higher Critical theology destroyed the Biblical faith of the German people which led to their being open to the Nazi propaganda. See Roy Schoeman, Salvation is from the Jews: the Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham until the Second Coming, USA: Ignatius Press, 2003.
 Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (London: Collins, 1979), 378-379.
 Even Pinchas Lapide along with many other Christian and Catholic theologians who do defend the historicity of the Death and Resurrection of Jesus have been influenced by these modernist literary theories. They are a product of their times and the schools they attended. It is very important to affirm a study of the use of the literary genres of the culture and time as this creates a great antidote to the fabricated literary theories of modernist theologians and philosophers.
 See John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography Harper: San Francisco, 1994.
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 33.
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 13.
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 14.
 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, 42-3.
 John Dominic Crossan, Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 160.
 Edward Schillebeeckx, Jesus: An Experiment in Christology, 364-367.
 ibid, 378-379.
 ibid, 378.
 ibid, 379.
 Rabbi Harvey Falk, Jesus the Pharisee; A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus.
 Pope Benedict XVI wrote: “The Last Supper sees itself as a prolongation of the Sinai Covenant, which is not abrogated, but renewed”
Ethan Bronner, “Ancient Tablets Ignites Debate on Messiah and Resurrection” New York Times July 6 2008.
Crossan, John Dominic. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography Harper: San Francisco, 1994.
Falk, Harvey (Rabbi). Jesus the Pharisee; A New Look at the Jewishness of Jesus, New York ; Paulist Press, 1985.
Habemas, Gary R. “The Late Twenthieth-Century Resurgence of Naturalistic Responses to Jesus Resurrection” Trinity Journal 2001, 179-196.
Heilman, Samuel & Friedman, Menachem. The Rebbe: The Life and Afterlife of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2010.
Knohl, Israel. The Messiah Before Jesus: The Suffering Servant of the Dead Sea Scrolls, University of California Press: USA, 2002.
Lapide, Pinchas. The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, USA; Augsburg Fortress Publishing House, 1982.
Orlov, Andrei. The Enoch-Metatron Tradition: Texts and Studies in Ancient Judaism, Tuebingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 2005.
Patai, Raphael. The Messiah Texts: Jewish Legends of Three Thousand Years, USA: Wayne State University Press, 1979.
Robinson, John A T (Bishop). Redating the New Testament, Philedelphia: Westminister Press, 1976.
Schillebeeckx, Edward. Jesus: An Experiment in Christology (London: Collins, 1979).
Schoeman, Roy. Salvation is from the Jews: the Role of Judaism in Salvation History from Abraham until the Second Coming, USA: Ignatius Press, 2003.
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