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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?
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.”
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.
The Crucifixion Date:
On Which Day Was Jesus Crucified?
When examining the four crucifixion accounts as they are presented in the New Testament, it is difficult to identify a single event upon which all four Gospel writers agree. Even the date of the crucifixion is an issue of contention among the four Gospels.
A perfunctory examination of New Testament texts reveals that the Books of Matthew1
all agree that the Last Supper was actually a Passover Seder. Bearing in mind that Jesus was crucified on the very next day following the Last Supper, that would mean that according to all three synoptic4
Gospels, Jesus was crucified on the first day of Passover, or the 15th day of the first Jewish month of Nissan (for example, if tonight were a Passover Seder, tomorrow would then be the first day of Passover).5
The author of the Book of John, however, completely contradicts this crucial element of the crucifixion story as they are presented in the first three Gospels. The author of the fourth Gospel maintains that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover, or the 14th day of Nissan. The Book of John identifies the date of the crucifixion in the following manner:
“Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover… Then he handed him over to them to be crucified.”
The implications of this stunning contradiction cannot be overstated. Both claims cannot possibly have occurred. These conflicting claims cannot be explained away with the well-worn assertion that each Gospel writer expressed his own unique perspective. Jesus was either crucified on the eve of Passover, which is the 14th day of Nissan, as John contends, or on the first day of Passover, which is the 15th day of Nissan, as the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke maintain. Jesus could not have been crucified on both days.
Was the first Good Friday the first day of Passover? According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke, it was; according to John it was not.
As a result of the Gospel conflict over the crucifixion date, numerous other aspects of John’s Passion Narrative differ radically from that of the synoptic Gospels. Therefore, the details in John’s description of what transpired during the Last Supper had to be entirely different from the accounts of Matthew, Mark, and Luke.
For example, John could not include a Passover Seder in his version of the Last Supper because according to his reckoning of the date of the crucifixion, the night of the Last Supper fell on the night of the 13th day of Nissan, which means Passover had not yet begun. Accordingly, no aspect of the Seder ceremony occurs in John’s Last Supper. In fact, in John’s Gospel, no Communion takes place during the Last Supper (John chapter 13) – no eating of the matzo or drinking of the wine occurs. Because according to his version of the story the festival of Passover began Friday evening, the night of the crucifixion. Therefore, John’s account of the Last Supper contains no ceremonial holiday supper at all; he only describes Jesus’ washing the feet of the disciples.
Moreover, the opening words of John’s 13 th chapter begins, “Now before the festival of the Passover…” This is a striking introduction to John’s Last Supper narrative because it contradicts Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s account, which all claim that the momentous night wasn’t “before the festival of Passover.” Rather, according to the synoptic Gospels, it was the first night of the holiday of Passover.
What is more, according to John, when Judas Iscariot mysteriously leaves the Last Supper with the moneybag, the disciples immediately assume that he is taking money to purchase food for the “festive meal” (13:29). Why would the disciples presume that Judas is going to purchase food for the holiday feast if, according to the first three Gospels, they had just eaten the festive meal?
Furthermore, John’s story describes how, when the Jews were handing Jesus over to Pontius Pilate to be crucified on the morning of the crucifixion, “They [the Jews] themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover.”6
(John 18:28) Why were these Jews concerned about not being able to eat the Passover? According to Matthew, Mark, and Luke they had already consumed the lamb the night before because the Passover Seder
took place the previous evening. This is not a problem for John because the fourth Gospel states that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover, so that this statement is only consistent with his story. In contrast, the synoptic Gospels never mention in their accounts the fear the Jews had of entering the home of Pilate. Such concern would be preposterous because in Matthew, Mark, and Luke’s crucifixion story, the Jews had already eaten the Passover lamb the previous night.
The first question that immediately comes to mind is why would John change the crucifixion date from the 15th day of Nissan to the 14 thday? Why did the author of the fourth Gospel feel compelled to have Jesus crucified on the eve of Passover rather than the first day of Passover, as the synoptic Gospels claim?
The answer emerges when the message John’s Gospel sought to convey is understood.
Because the Book of John was the last of the four Gospels to be written, the author was trying to appeal to a Church that had quickly become predominantly gentile. The author of the fourth Gospel had the task of appealing to and thoroughly satisfying the pagan mind of the Greco-Roman world. This was accomplished by carefully integrating heathen practices with elements of the Jewish faith.
The notion that an animal was to be revered and sacrificed as a god was well known and widely practiced throughout the Roman Empire,7
in Mystery Religions such as Mithraism, which flourished during the time that the Book of John was written.
John was keenly aware of this rapid transformation, and seamlessly fused the Mithraic sacrifice of the redeeming bull with the Jewish sacrifice of the Paschal lamb.
For this reason, John the Baptist proclaims of Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God!” (1:29, 36) only in John’s Gospel. Of the four Gospels, only John equates Jesus with the Passover lamb. If Matthew, Mark, and Luke agreed with the fourth Gospel that the Passover lamb represented Jesus, why in the synoptic Gospels’ Last Supper does Jesus raise the matzo saying, “This is my body”? Instead, according to Jewish tradition, he should have raised the Paschal lamb. At Communion, priests should be feeding their parishioners lamb chops rather than a wafer!
In addition, the story told in the Book of John of the Roman soldiers who pierced the side of Jesus rather than break his legs on the cross (John 19:31-37) is not mentioned anywhere else in the New Testament. This brief narrative is only consistent with the theological story line of the fourth Gospel. Only the author of the Book of John was eager not to have Jesus’ bones broken so as not to violate the Torah’s prohibition of breaking the bones of the Paschal lamb (Exodus 12:46).
Therefore, John places the crucifixion on the 14th day rather than the 15th, because the Torah commands Israel to slaughter the Paschal lamb on the eve of Passover or on the 14th day of Nissan (Exodus 12:6), John’s Jesus was also “slaughtered” (i.e. crucified) on the eve of Passover or the 14thday of Nissan.
|After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. 2.And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it.3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.” 8So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
||Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. 2. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.” 3Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went toward the tomb. 4 The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. 5 He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. 6 Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, 7 and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. 8 Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; 9 for as yet they did not understand the Scripture, that he must rise from the dead. 10 Then the disciples returned to their homes. 11 But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; 12 and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet. 13 They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.” 14 When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means Teacher. 17 Jesus said to her, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” 18 Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”; and she told them that he had said these things to her.
Why are Matthew and John’s passion narratives incompatible? If read independently, the resurrection accounts presented by either Gospel appears fancifully viable, if all the other New Testament stories are ignored. When read side by side, however, the varsity of these two narratives becomes indefeasible because it would have been chronologically impossible for both accounts to have occurred. In fact, the crucial elements of the crucifixion story presented in these two Gospel narratives are so manifestly contradictory that even liberal Christians, who allow for the occasional mistakes that appear in the New Testament, should become alarmed by these conflicting stories.
This brief study will probe several unreconcilable contradictions of the resurrection chronology,
as they are conveyed by Matthew and John. The following discrepancies have been selected because they cannot be harmonized or explained by tired arguments such as “each Gospel writer is giving us his own personal perspective.” Such a defense is untenable because these conflicting Gospel narratives are so utterly irreconcilable that no explanation can account for the stark differences between them.
Matthew presents us with a post-resurrection story where an angel who had just rolled away the stone from the tomb’s entrance greets Mary Madeline and “the other Mary.” After revealing to both women the empty place where Jesus’ body once laid, the angel informs them that Jesus had already risen from the dead. The angel then instructs both Marys that they are to tell the disciples that Jesus had gone before them to the Galilee to meet them.
After the Sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb. And suddenly there was a great earthquake; for 2 an angel of the Lord, descending from heaven, came and rolled back the stone and sat on it. 3 His appearance was like lightning, and his clothing white as snow. 4 For fear of him the guards shook and became like dead men. 5 But the angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. 6 He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. 7 Then go quickly and tell his disciples, ‘He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.’ This is my message for you.”
If that encounter wasn’t convincing enough for the two women, Matthew claims that after leaving the tomb, both Marys unexpectedly encounter the resurrected Jesus himself, whom they both worship. Jesus then essentially repeats the angel’s instructions, and sends both women to inform the disciples that they are to go to the Galilee to meet Jesus.
So they left the tomb quickly with fear and great joy, and ran to tell his disciples.9Suddenly Jesus met them and said, “Greetings!” And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshiped him. 10Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Like Matthew’s account, John’s resurrection narrative also contains the story of an empty tomb. That is, however, where the similarities between the first and fourth Gospel come to an end. In John’s version of the first Easter morning, when Mary Magdalene arrives alone at Jesus’ tomb, there is no angel to greet her with information about Jesus’ whereabouts, or instructions about a rendezvous in the Galilee, as we find in Matthew’s account (Matthew 28:5-7). On the contrary, in John’s story, after Mary finds the empty tomb, she concludes that someone had removed the body from the grave. Mary certainly had no reason to believe otherwise. She therefore quickly runs back to the disciples and reports,
“They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him!”
This account in the Book of John could not have occurred in Matthew’s post-resurrection narrative. How could Mary have not known that Jesus’ body was not laid anywhere? In Matthew’s story, the angel had already revealed to her that Jesus rose from the dead and had gone to the Galilee. It would have been preposterous for her to think that someone had moved the body when the angels had already informed her that Jesus’ resurrection had occurred.
Moreover, if the angel’s instructions to her were not convincing enough, Matthew claims that Mary also met the resurrected Jesus himself immediately after leaving the tomb (Matthew 28:9) – and all this transpires before Mary ever sees the disciples! Why then in John’s Gospel is Mary clueless as to where Jesus’ body was moved, when according to Matthew, the angel at the tomb and Jesus himself had already informed Mary that Jesus rose from the dead?
Further contradicting Matthew’s post-resurrection account, John’s story lacks the Roman guards whom Matthew places at the tomb to prevent anyone from removing Jesus’ body. How could John’s Mary have thought that someone removed the body, when according to Matthew, Roman soldiers were placed at the tomb for the specific purpose of preventing just such an occurrence? Obviously, the author of the fourth Gospel has no need for Roman guards at the tomb, so in John’s crucifixion account they simply do not exist.
This Gospel problem of the missing Roman soldiers in the Book of John raises another important issue. Missionaries often contend that it would have been impossible for anyone to have surreptitiously removed Jesus’ corpse from the tomb because there were guards posted at the tomb who would have prevented such an occurrence. Therefore, they argue, without any possibility for the body to have been quietly whisked away, the only other logical conclusion is that Jesus must have truly arisen from the dead.
The argument completely collapses in John’s account because according to the fourth Gospel, this is precisely what Mary thought had occured. Mary clearly didn’t feel as though the scenario of Jesus’ body being removed was unlikely. In fact, according to John, that was her only logical conclusion. Clearly, Matthew’s guards didn’t dissuade John’s Mary from concluding that someone had taken Jesus’ body because Roman guards do not exist in John’s story.
To further compound the problem of the conflicting resurrection accounts, John’s Gospel continues to unfold with Mary returning to the tomb a second time, only to find two angels sitting inside the tomb. Mary is still unaware of any resurrection as she complains to the angels that someone had removed Jesus’ corps. As far as John’s Mary is concerned, the only explanation for the missing body was that someone must have removed it, and she was determined to locate it.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb; and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying12 , one at the head and the other at the feet. 13They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” She said to them, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Although in Matthew’s account the angel emphatically tells Mary about the resurrection (Matthew 28:5-7), in John’s Gospel the angels do not mention that anyone rose from the dead. The angels only ask Mary, “Woman, why are you weeping?” Mary responds by inquiring whether the angels removed Jesus’ body. Then, Mary turns and sees Jesus standing before her, but mistakes him for the gardener. Mary is still completely unaware of any resurrection, and therefore asks the “gardener” if he was the one who carried away Jesus’ body. It is only then that Mary realizes that she was speaking to the resurrected Jesus.
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus. 15 Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? For whom are you looking?” Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away.” 16 Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to him in Hebrew, “Rabbouni!” which means Teacher.
It is at this final juncture of the narrative that the accounts of Matthew and John become hopelessly irreconcilable. The question every missionary must answer is the following: When Mary met Jesus for the first time after the resurrection, had the angel(s) already informed her that Jesus had arisen from the dead? According to Matthew, the angels did inform Mary of the resurrection, but in John’s account they did not. As we survey the divergent New Testament accounts of the resurrection, we are not just looking at contradictory versions, we are simply gazing at two entirely different stories.
Christian apologists frequently argue that the inconsistent resurrection accounts are analogous to a traffic accident viewed by four different witnesses – each who sees it conveys a distinct perspective.
This might be a tenable idea if the evangelists were actually on the scene and watched the story unfold as the women approached the tomb. Yet, this was not the case. Not only were the Gospel writers not eyewitnesses, they didn’t even write their accounts of the story until at least 40-70 years after it allegedly took place. Moreover, inconsistencies in the resurrection narratives, e.g. date, time, and place cannot be dismissed as differences in perspective.
Philo of Alexandria (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.), a renowned philosopher and a contemporary of Jesus, wrote extensively about his time. Yet, nowhere in his entire corpus of works does Philo mention a word about Jesus or his alleged resurrection. Josephus’ silence on this matter is deafening as well. Consequently, the only information we have of this 2,000-year-old tale is the New Testament. However, the moment our finger begins to navigate its verses, we are confronted and appalled by the plethora of glaring irreconcilable inconsistencies. Every element of the resurrection narrative is recklessly contradicted by another.
There is, however, a more significant issue here – the source. When a number of people in different places and at different times write a description of an event that occurred in the significant past – whether a year ago, a decade ago, or a half a century ago – we expect many contradictions. Why would we anticipate conflicting accounts? Because humans are fallible, and are therefore likely to make all sorts of errors for a variety of reasons. Accordingly, when we read descriptions of what transpired during a historical event, such as the assassination of JFK, disparities will inevitably exist among the accounts. Therefore, when various individuals witness a traffic accident and then attempt to clearly transmit the information they saw, errors will be made. This is what we expect from imperfect humans!
The Church, however, does not make this claim. Its authors and those who promoted the Christian religion claim that its content was divinely inspired, i.e. every word is from God! Christendom insists that the authors of the Christian Bible were inspired by the Holy Ghost. With this assertion, we must hold the Gospels to an entirely different standard of accuracy – that of perfection. Well over a half century passed from the time that Paul wrote his first letters until the last words of the Book of Revelations were penned. Moreover, these books were written from one end of the Roman Empire to the other. Thus, if we are to assume they were written by mere mortals, without Heavenly inspiration, mistakes and inconsistencies are expected. God, however, is inerrant.
There is another significant difference between conflicting accounts of a traffic accident and contradictory stories of the resurrection narratives. The testimonies of a traffic accident are believable because they are likely to have occurred, and make sense in our world. The resurrection story, on the other hand, is a biological and scientific impossibility. Thus, the only reason for believing the numerous fantastic claims of miraculous occurrences in the New Testament – defying all natural laws – is the believer’s total reliance on the credibility of the divine author. Since the stunning contradictions clearly establish the human origins of the resurrection stories, we can no more accept their testimony than we can that of the Book of Mormon. Moreover, the resurrection story is a self-serving rationalization to account for a messianic failure.
I know that many frantic attempts have been made to explain away some of the countless inconsistencies that exist in the four canonical Gospels. These answers, however, are so plainly contrived that even a perfunctory examination of these rationalizations cast serious doubt on the claim that they were divinely inspired. God doesn’t suffer from human fallibility and certainly wouldn’t present such a garbled account of what Christians consider the most crucial event in world history.
Best regards for a happy Passover.
Very truly yours,
Rabbi Tovia Singer