The Resurrection of Jesus: Another Jewish Perspective
In 1978, Pinchas Lapide became the first Jewish scholar to publish a full-length book on Yeshua’s resurrection.1 In 1983, Wilhelm Linss translated it into English as The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective.2 While many Jewish scholars grant the historical veracity of Yeshua’s empty tomb,3 and that his disciples had experiences they were convinced was Yeshua appearing to them risen from the dead, Lapide went a step further.4 He concluded his study by claiming that the best explanation of the data from the earliest Jewish sources is that Yeshua’s resurrection was an event that occurred in history.5
The Historicity of Yeshua’s Resurrection
The primary text Lapide considers for Yeshua’s resurrection is 1 Corinthians 15:3–5:
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that [Messiah] died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve.6
Based on linguistic analysis, Lapide considers this text to be Jewish oral tradition that Paul received from the first witnesses of the risen Yeshua.7 Furthermore, he writes, “[this] formula of faith may be considered a statement of eyewitnesses for whom the experience of the resurrection became the turning point of their lives.”8
Lapide considers the hypothesis that these experiences resulted from subjective visions. However, in the end he finds this unpersuasive. After citing Talmudic examples of this “honest autosuggestion,”9 he notes that the subjective visions in these accounts never transform the life of those having such experiences. In contrast, the disciples’ lives were radically transformed as a result of their encounter with the risen Yeshua. He maintains:
When this scared band of the apostles which was just about to throw away everything in order to flee in despair to Galilee; when these peasants, shepherds, and fishermen, who betrayed and denied their master and then failed him miserably, suddenly could be changed overnight into a confident mission society, convinced of salvation and able to work with much more success after Easter than before Easter, then no such vision or hallucination is sufficient to explain such a revolutionary transformation.10
Furthermore, in reference to Yeshua’s corpse, Lapide notes that in each Gospel account, women discover that Yeshua’s tomb was empty. For Lapide, this is significant because in rabbinic literature women were considered untrustworthy witnesses.11 Therefore, he reasons that if the Gospel writers were inventing the empty tomb accounts, they would not have included women as the primary witnesses. He writes, “In a purely fictional narrative one would have avoided making women the crown witnesses of the resurrection since they were considered in rabbinic Judaism as incapable of giving valid testimony (compare Luke 24:11).”12
Before providing his explanation of the data, Lapide addresses an objection to the resurrection hypothesis posed by the second-century pagan polemicist Celsus and the eighteenth-century deistic philosopher Hermann Samuel Reimarus. They contend Yeshua’s resurrection is not believable because he did not appear publicly.13 From Lapide’s Jewish perspective, this is not a weighty objection. He responds:
In the same way all resurrections and resuscitations of which the Bible and rabbinical literature speak happen only in the presence of a few people who are personally concerned. Thus the small number of the witnesses of the resurrection of Jesus is not an obstacle to the Easter faith but, on the contrary, it speaks for the authenticity of that salvation experience in Jerusalem almost two millennia ago.14
For Lapide, the objections posed against Yeshua’s resurrection are not compelling and he concludes the results of his study by explaining how this evidence changed his mind:
In regard to the future resurrection of the dead, I am and remain a Pharisee. Concerning the resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday, I was for decades a Sadducee. I am no longer a Sadducee. . . . I accept the resurrection of Jesus not as an invention of the community of disciples, but as a historical event.15
Jewish scholars have evaluated this evidence since the early twentieth century, but of this group, the only scholar to affirm the event’s historicity is Pinchas Lapide, an Orthodox Jew.
The Meaning of Yeshua’s Resurrection
Lapide then addresses the theological significance of Yeshua’s resurrection. He maintains that this event does not indicate that Yeshua is Israel’s Messiah because Jewish messianic expectation does not include the Messiah’s resurrection.16 However, the spread of faith in Yeshua’s resurrection “has to be recognized as part of divine providence.”17 He supports his view by citing Maimonides who wrote, “All these matters which refer to Jesus of Nazareth . . . only served to make the way free for the King Messiah and to prepare the whole world for the worship of God with a united heart.”18 In other words, although Yeshua is not the Messiah, his resurrection prepared the way for the Messiah to come, by bringing gentiles to worship the God of Israel. The resurrection “must therefore belong to God’s plan of salvation.”19 This unique Jewish perspective is one that deserves consideration.
Another Jewish Perspective
There is another perspective on this paramount historical event that also relies on the work of Maimonides, a scholar whom Lapide considered “the greatest religious philosopher of Judaism.”20 In Maimonides’s view, Yeshua led people to believe that he was a prophet, the Messiah, and his interpretation of Torah was such that the commandments were abolished. As a result, he was justifiably executed as a false prophet21 and his resurrection never took place.22 However, given Maimonides’s exposition of Deuteronomy 13, if God did raise Yeshua from the dead, the reverse would be true. The resurrection would be (1) God’s validation of Yeshua’s messianic identity and (2) the pronouncement that he taught Israel to remain faithfully committed to Torah observance. Toward this end it is helpful to read Yeshua’s resurrection and related biblical data through Maimonides’s exposition of Deuteronomy 13.
The Deuteronomy 13 Test
Deuteronomy 13:2–6 reads as follows:
If there should stand up in your midst a prophet or a dreamer of a dream, and he will produce to you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder comes about, of which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us follow gods of others that you did not know and we shall worship them!’—do not hearken to the words of that prophet or to that dreamer of a dream, for Hashem, your God, is testing you to know whether you love Hashem, your God, with all your heart and with all your soul. Hashem, your God, shall you follow and Him shall you fear; His commandments shall you observe and to His voice shall you hearken; Him shall you serve and to Him shall you cleave. And that prophet and that dreamer of a dream shall be put to death, for he had spoken perversion against Hashem, your God . . . . [Y]ou shall destroy the evil from your midst.23
This passage provides the criteria for Israel to distinguish between true or false prophets. If someone claiming to be a prophet produces a sign or wonder, but tells Israel to “follow gods of others,” he is a false prophet and, according to Deuteronomy 13:6, “shall be put to death.” Why would a false prophet perform signs and wonders? The false prophet does this in an attempt to legitimate his prophetic status in the eyes of the people because this is how God validates true prophets.
A key example is found in Exodus 14. Moses leads Israel to the Red Sea, while the Egyptian army pursues them from behind. God commands Moses, “lift up your staff and stretch out your arm over the sea and split it; and the Children of Israel shall come into the midst of the sea on dry land. And—behold!—I shall strengthen the heart of Egypt and they will come after them; and I will be glorified through Pharaoh and through his entire army” (Exod 14:16–17). Moses obeys and the Red Sea splits, allowing Israel to travel through it on dry ground. After they all cross, the Egyptians attempt to cross as well, and the water comes down, destroying the Egyptian army. Consequently, “Israel saw the great work that the Lord did against the Egyptians. So the people feared the Lord and believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses” (Exod 14:31). God validates Moses as a true prophet through signs and wonders.
Deuteronomy 34:10–12 summarizes this point well:
Never again has there arisen in Israel a prophet like Moses, whom Hashem had known face to face, as evidenced by all the signs and wonders that Hashem sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his couriers and all his land, and by all the strong hand and awesome power that Moses performed before the eyes of all Israel.24
The evidence for Moses’ status as a true prophet was “all the signs and wonders that Hashem sent him to perform.” How then can Israel distinguish between true and false prophets if they both produce miracles? This is where Maimonides’s exposition of Deuteronomy 13 is essential. In Mishneh Torah, Maimonides wrote:
If a prophet bids us worship idols even on a single occasion, we are not to listen to him. And though he performs great signs and wonders, if he says that the Almighty commanded him that an idol should be worshipped this day only or this hour only . . . [s]ince he seeks to discredit the teaching of Moses, we know for certain that he is a false prophet; and whatever he did, was done by secret arts and with the aid of witchcraft.25
According to Maimonides, it is crucial to understand the connection between miracles and the teachings of those claiming to be true prophets. If one claims to be a prophet, but attempts “to discredit the teaching of Moses” then Israel can be assured that his miracle “was done by secret arts and with the aid of witchcraft.” For Maimonides, the key issue is the source of power of the miracle. Similarly, in his Letter to Yemen, he wrote:
[We] are enjoined to yield obedience to one who asserts that he is a prophet provided he can substantiate his claims by miracle or proofs, although there is a possibility that he is an impostor. However, if the would-be-prophet teaches tenets that negate the doctrines of Moses, then we must repudiate him.26
For Maimonides, the Torah’s guide to identify true prophets is to determine whether God is the source of the miracle’s power. This can be done by evaluating their view of the Torah. If they “negate the doctrines of Moses” then Israel can know that the source of the power of their miracle came from “secret arts and with the aid of witchcraft.” However, if the miracle they perform was through the power of God, this indicates that they are true prophets and Israel should obey them.
An example of the Deuteronomy 13 test being put into action is found in 1 Kings 18. Elijah sets up a test to demonstrate that he is a true prophet and Israel’s God is the one true God. On Mount Carmel, Elijah challenges the 450 prophets of Ba’al to put a bull on an altar of their choice and place wood under it. He says, “You shall call out in the name of your gods and I shall call out in the Name of Hashem, and whichever God responds with fire, He is the [true] God” (1 Kings 18:24). These 450 prophets call on their god for hours, but there is no response. When it is Elijah’s turn, he builds both an altar and a trench. He lays the offering on the wood and has four jars of water poured over the offering three times so that the trench fills with water. Elijah then asks God to answer him, demonstrating that, “You are God in Israel and I am Your servant and that it is by Your word that I have done all these things” (1 Kings 18:36). As a result, fire falls from heaven and consumed not only the offering but also “the wood, and the stones, and the earth; and it licked up the water in the trench.” At the sight of this, all the people “fell on their faces and exclaimed, ‘Hashem—He is the God! Hashem—He is the God!’” (1 Kings 18:38–39).
Consistent with Deuteronomy 13, Elijah provides a sign to justify his status as a true prophet and bring Israel back to worship the true God. The Talmud provides more insight to why Elijah asked God twice to answer him: “The first answer . . . was the request that fire descend from the heavens, while the second answer . . . was the request that Israel should accept complete faith in God and not say that the fire descending from the heavens was an act of sorcery.”27 Rabbi Obadiah Sforno wrote, “the heavenly fire descending and consuming [Elijah’s] offering on the rebuilt altar, as well as the water in the surrounding moat, proved that he had acted with G’d’s approval.”28 Both of these explanations are consistent with Maimonides’s understanding of Deuteronomy 13. God validates Elijah as a true prophet by providing a miraculous sign: fire from heaven.
Further rabbinic support of Maimonides’s position comes from Rabbi Bachya ben Asher in his Torah commentary. He asserts, “A person is not accepted as a genuine prophet before he has performed some miracle.”29 Rabbi Joseph Albo explains, “The veracity of a prophet is proved either when he truly foretells the future in all particulars, or when he performs miracles. If a prophecy is verified in this way, the Torah specifically commands us to obey the prophet.”30 If a person claims to be a prophet and God is the source of power of his miracle, Israel is commanded to recognize that person as a true prophet.
Yeshua’s Messianic Claim
In Matthew 12, Yeshua cures a demoniac who was blind and mute and in response, the crowds ask, “Can this be the Son of David?” (Matt 12:23). Scribes and Pharisees approach Yeshua and ask him to perform a sign to prove his messianic identity.31 Yeshua responds, “no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth” (Matt 12:39–40). In this statement, Yeshua affirms his messianic identity as “the Son of Man,” and he goes on to explain that the sign to prove his identity will be comparable to Jonah’s experience in the belly of the fish.
In Matthew 16, when Yeshua brings his disciples to Caesarea Philippi, he asks, “who do you say that I am?” (Matt 16:15). Peter responds identifying him as the Messiah. Yeshua affirms Peter’s answer and explains, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven” (Matt 16:17).32 Matthew recounts Yeshua’s explanation of the sign of Jonah, saying “[f]rom that time on, Yeshua began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.”33 By teaching this to his disciples, Yeshua clarifies the sign of Jonah as his death and resurrection. According to Yeshua, God revealed the knowledge to Peter that Yeshua was the Messiah. It is bold enough to accept the title, but to add to this, Yeshua claims that this revelation came from God himself. According to Deuteronomy 18:20, “But the prophet who willfully shall speak a word in My Name, that which I have not commanded him to speak . . . that prophet shall die.” If Yeshua was not the Messiah as he claimed, then according to the Torah, he was a false prophet and deserved to die.
The Sanhedrin did not accept Yeshua as the Messiah of Israel, and Mark 14:61-62 recounts Yeshua’s trial: “Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ And Jesus said, ‘I am; and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” In this response, Yeshua affirms his messianic identity and quotes Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 for further clarification. Daniel 7:13-14 reads as follows:
I was watching in the night visions and behold! with the clouds of heaven, one like a man came; he came up to the One of Ancient Days, and they him brought before Him. He was given dominion, honor and kingship, so that peoples, nations and languages would serve him; his dominion would be an everlasting dominion that would never pass, and his kingship would never be destroyed.
In this passage, Daniel has a vision where he sees a man riding on the clouds of heaven. This is significant because, in the Tanakh, this is something only a God does.34 According to J.A. Emerton, “The act of coming with the clouds suggests a theophany of [Hashem] himself. If Dan. vii. 13 does not refer to a divine being, then it is the only exception out of about seventy passages in the O[ld] T[estament].”35 For example, Isaiah 19:1, “Behold, Hashem is riding a swift cloud and coming to Egypt; the Egyptian false gods will tremble before Him, and the heart of Egypt will melt within it.” Of the man described in Daniel 7, the text says, “all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.” The word translated “serve” comes from the Aramaic root p˘elach. Every time this word is used in Daniel, it describes a service done exclusively to divine beings.36 The text continues: “His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will never pass away, and His kingdom is one that will not be destroyed.” This man who rides on the clouds of heaven as only God does, is served in the way only divine beings are served and is in possession of God’s everlasting kingdom. This is the one Yeshua claims to be.
In Mark 14:62, Yeshua states that he will be “seated at the right hand of the Power.” The term “Power” is a circumlocution for God’s name.37 Yeshua claims that he will share God’s glory by sitting at God’s right hand on his throne. It is important to understand this in light of Isaiah 42:8, “I am Hashem; that is My Name; I shall not give My glory to another, nor my praise to graven idols.”
Finally, Yeshua begins his answer to the question of whether he is the Messiah by saying “I am.” According to Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarin, Yeshua makes the identical statement that God makes to Moses in Exodus 3:14. Boyarin explains, “The high priest of the Jews could hardly be expected to miss this allusion. Yeshua claims to be the Son of Man, and indeed God himself. A statement such as that is not merely true or false; it is truth or blasphemy.”38 In Yeshua’s response to the high priest, he claims that he is the Messiah who will come with the clouds of heaven and share God’s glory by sitting on his throne. Yeshua equates his identity as the Messiah as the incarnate God of Israel.
Mark 14:63–64 records the Sanhedrin’s response, “And the high priest tore his garments and said, ‘What further witnesses do we need? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?’ And they all condemned him as deserving death.” The Sanhedrin reject Yeshua’s claim and rule that he should be executed. In the eyes of the Sanhedrin, Yeshua is a false prophet.
An Objection from Lapide
Lapide argues that Yeshua did not claim to be the Messiah.39 In his survey of potential messianic claims, Lapide addresses Mark’s account of Yeshua’s trial. While recognizing Yeshua’s affirmative answer: “I am,” Lapide views Yeshua’s follow up statement (“you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven”) as contradicting his initial answer. For Lapide, the fact that Yeshua speaks of the coming Son of Man (the Messiah) in the third person, indicates that he is not referring to himself.40 Lapide reasons:
[T]he two statements of Mark seem to be self-contradictory to Jewish ears, “I am; and you will see the Son of man. . . .” (Mark 14:62). If the Son of man (as Messiah) is still to come, then Jesus cannot be the Messiah. And if Jesus already is the Messiah, there is no necessity of a future savior who is still to come.41
Lapide cites Yeshua’s responses in Matthew 26:64 (“You have said so”) and Luke 22:70 (“You say that I am”) as evasive answers that fit more in line with Yeshua’s follow up statement, predicting the coming Son of Man.42 In light of these two texts, and the contradictory answer in Mark 14, Yeshua did not claim to be the Messiah, according to Lapide.
If Lapide is right that Yeshua is not referring to himself as the Son of Man, but only quotes Daniel 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 as a way to say this figure is coming in the future, why did the high priest charge Yeshua with blasphemy when he asked Yeshua about his identity? Jewish scholar David Flusser examines the same account in Luke 22, and observes, “In the end, however, the conviction prevailed that he himself was the coming Son of Man. Otherwise, Jesus’ answer to the high priest makes no sense.”43 Flusser’s reading is more persuasive because it accounts for the high priest’s reaction to Yeshua’s answer. Yeshua is convicted because he claims to be the Messiah, the Son of Man.
This reading makes sense in light of the way Yeshua refers to himself before he heals a paralytic man in Mark 2:5-12:
When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some teachers of the law were sitting there, thinking to themselves, “Why does this fellow talk like that? He’s blaspheming! Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Immediately Jesus knew in his spirit that this was what they were thinking in their hearts, and he said to them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to this paralyzed man, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’? But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” —he said to the paralytic — “I say to you, rise, take up your pallet and go home.” And he rose, and immediately took up the pallet and went out before them all; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”44
Mark notes that “teachers of the law” consider Yeshua’s claim to forgive the man’s sins as blasphemous because it is something only God can do. Within this context, Yeshua heals the man as a way to support his claim “that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.” Boyarin explains, “The objection of the Scribes, calling Jesus’ act of forgiveness ‘blasphemy’ is predicated on their assumption that Jesus is claiming divinity through this action.”45 Yeshua identifies himself as the Son of Man in the third person just as he does in Mark 14 and Luke 22 in his trial before the Sanhedrin. Yeshua claims to be the Divine Messiah.
According to the New Testament accounts, the Sanhedrin request Pontius Pilate to have Yeshua executed and as a result, he is sent to be crucified.46 Through the available means, the Sanhedrin fulfill their duty of executing Yeshua as a false prophet according to Deuteronomy 13:5, 18:20, and m. Sanhedrin 11:5.
God Raised Yeshua from the Dead
According to Maimonides, Israel must obey a prophet provided he (or she) can provide a sign or wonder from God. The sign Yeshua prophesied to prove his messianic identity is his resurrection from the dead. According to Lapide, 1 Corinthians 15:3–7, “the oldest testimony of the resurrection of Jesus . . . in a midrash-like manner . . . [expresses that] God has intervened, against all appearance and in spite of all unbelief, and revealed his power to save.”47 The New Testament’s message is consistent: God raised Jesus from the dead.48 It is a claim that must be understood within its Jewish context.
Only God Can Raise the Dead
In Judaism, God alone has the power to raise the dead. The Jerusalem Talmud explains this principle clearly, by stating that “only the Holy One, praise to Him, can resurrect the dead, as it is written: The Eternal kills and gives life, brings down to the pit and lifts up [1 Samuel 2:6].”49 Another passage from the Tanakh that is understood in Judaism to reveal God alone has the power to raise the dead is Deuteronomy 32:39: “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me; I kill, and I make alive.” During the middle ages, members of the Tosafot, a school of Torah and Talmudic interpretation produced the Torah commentary Daat Zkenim, In this text they interpreted Deuteronomy 32:39 to mean “ ‘there is no other deity beside Me, I cause death, and I resurrect (exclusively).’ I alone possess this power, and only I am able to resurrect the dead.”50
Another clear expression of the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead is found in the Amidah declaring, “You are mighty forever, O Lord, You revive the dead.” It then raises the question, “Who is like You, Master of mighty deeds? Who can be compared to You, O King Who causes death and restores life, and causes Your salvation to sprout? . . . You are faithful to restore the dead to life. Blessed are You, O Lord, Who brings life to the dead.”51 This prayer asks if anyone can be compared to God, meaning: who else can raise the dead? The answer is that there is none other. Jeremiah 10:6 states, “There is none like You, O Hashem! You are great and Your Name is great in might.” Throughout history, Jewish thinkers have continually echoed the powerful Amidah prayer declaring God’s exclusive power to raise the dead to life.
As Maimonides points out, if the prophet “seeks to discredit the teaching of Moses, we know for certain that he is a false prophet; and whatever he did, was done by secret arts and with the aid of witchcraft.”52 This means the verification of the power behind the miracle would be necessary for many miracles; however, the resurrection is unique because the power behind the miracle is already known: God alone can raise the dead.
How is God Testing Israel?
Within this discussion, Deuteronomy 13:4 deserves attention. It indicates that when false prophets produce a sign or wonder, “Hashem, your God, is testing you.” In Maimonides’s view, the source of the power for the false prophet is not God, but “secret arts and with the aid of witchcraft.”53 So what is the test? Within this framework, Abraham Ibn Ezra provides the most coherent answer. He wrote that it is a “test in that [God] let him be, and did not kill him.”54 Similarly, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher wrote, “The reason why Hashem allows such a person to perform a miracle, or to correctly foretell an unlikely future event, is to put your faith in Him to a test, to see if you will use such people to try and foretell future events for you, thus subverting your absolute faith in Him.”55 Jeffrey Tigay in The JPS Torah Commentary understands the meaning of verse four as God “allowing the sign to come true.”56 God allows false prophets to produce signs and wonders, but he is not the source of power of those false prophets.
Support for Maimonides’s position can be found in Deuteronomy 18:20–22, which asks and answers the question how one can know if someone claiming to be a prophet is, in fact, a false prophet:
But the prophet who willfully shall speak a word in My Name, that which I have not commanded him to speak or who shall speak in the name of the gods of others—that prophet shall die. When you say in your heart, “How can we know the word that Hashem has not spoken?” If the prophet will speak in the Name of Hashem and that thing will not occur and not come about—that is the word that Hashem has not spoken; with willfulness has the prophet spoken it, you should not fear him.
In Deuteronomy 18, God speaks to Moses and tells him that Israel can know that one claiming to be a prophet is a false prophet when his prophecy does not come to pass. This leads to the following observation: God would not fulfill the prophecy of a false prophet, and therefore would not validate the claim of a false prophet. God may allow false prophets to perform signs and wonders, but he would not be the source of their power. In line with this kind of reasoning, the Babylonian Talmud records Rabbi Akiva’s stance on the issue of whether God would back up the claims of a false prophet by providing a miracle: “Heaven forfend that the Holy One, Blessed be He, would stop the sun for those who violate His will. A false prophet could never perform an actual miracle.”57
The Meaning of Yeshua’s Resurrection
Yeshua claims that God revealed he was the Messiah. He claims that his identity as the Messiah meant that he was, in fact, the God of Israel who would ride on the clouds of heaven, be served in a way that is only due to God, and he would sit on God’s throne. The sign Yeshua claims he would provide to prove his messianic identity was his resurrection from the dead shortly after his execution. The Sanhedrin considered his claim to be blasphemous and sent him to be crucified by Rome. If the signs and wonders Yeshua produced while he was alive was a test, once he was killed, the test was over. A dead false prophet cannot produce a sign or wonder, let alone resurrect himself. As seen in Tanakh and rabbinic literature, only God can raise the dead and God would not validate the claim of a false prophet. Hence, what conclusion can be drawn from God raising Yeshua from the dead?
Returning to Maimonides:
If a prophet bids us worship idols even on a single occasion, we are not to listen to him. And though he performs great signs and wonders . . . [and] says that the Almighty commanded him that an idol should be worshipped this day only or this hour only . . . [s]ince he seeks to discredit the teaching of Moses, we know for certain that he is a false prophet; and whatever he did, was done by secret arts and with the aid of witchcraft.58
If Israel wants to know the power behind the miracle of the prophet in question, they have to investigate whether the prophet teaches that “an idol should be worshipped” or “seeks to discredit the teaching of Moses.” The power behind Yeshua’s miracle is known in Judaism, “There is none who raises the dead except for the Holy One.”59 Therefore, because God raised him from the dead, Israel can know that Yeshua did not command them to follow other gods or teach against the Torah.
In Mark 12, a scribe asks Yeshua, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Yeshua responds:
“The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:28–31)
Yeshua by no means teaches that “an idol should be worshipped” or seeks “to discredit the teaching of Moses.” He upholds the Torah, recites the Shema, affirms that God alone is to be worshiped, and in line with Rabbi Hillel cites Leviticus 19:18, affirming love to be the substance of the Torah.60 The resurrection is not only God’s validation of Yeshua’s messianic identity; it is God’s pronouncement that Yeshua held Jews responsible for observing Torah.
If Yeshua was wrong about his messianic identity, if he falsely prophesied his resurrection, if he led Israel to serve other gods, if he taught against Torah, his execution was Israel’s necessary and proper fulfillment of Deuteronomy 13:6. In Deuteronomy 13, God tests Israel by allowing the false prophet to perform signs and wonders, but he is not the source of power for his miracles. When the false prophet is executed, the test is over. Dead false prophets stay dead. If God were to raise Yeshua from the dead (as a false prophet), it would undermine the test he gave Israel to reliably judge whether one is a false prophet.
An Objection from Pinchas Lapide
Lapide argues that Israel will recognize the identity of the Messiah when the 11 necessary messianic prophecies are fulfilled. These include:
1. The conversion of all Gentiles (Zechariah 8:23)
2. The pilgrimage of the nations to Jerusalem (Zechariah 14:16)
3. The end of all idolatry (Zechariah 13:2)
4. The revelation of God’s worldwide kingdom (Zechariah 14:9)
5. The end of proselytism (Jeremiah 31:34)
6. Concord among all believers (Zephaniah 3:9)
7. The establishment of Jerusalem as the center of a global ecumene (Isaiah 2:2-3)
8. The threefold covenant between Israel and its neighbors (Isaiah 19:24)
9. The end of torment for all animals (Hosea 2:18)
10. The reunification of Israel under God (Ezekiel 37:21ff)
11. The messianic kingdom of peace (Isaiah 11:6-9)61
Thus, according to Lapide, Jews should not recognize Yeshua as the Messiah because his arrival was not accompanied by the fulfillment of these prophecies.62 However, Lapide does concede:
I am happily prepared to wait until the [Messiah] comes, and if he should show himself to be Jesus of Nazareth, I cannot imagine that even a single Jew who believes in God would have the least thing against that. We trust in the salvific action of God blindly and without question. Should the coming one be Jesus, he would be precisely as welcome to us as any other whom God would designate as the redeemer of the world.63
Lapide’s response helps clarify the objective of this article. When Yeshua’s resurrection is read through Maimonides’s exposition of Deuteronomy 13, God raising Yeshua from the dead would be God identifying him as the Messiah, “the redeemer of the world.” And if Lapide is right that Jewish people “trust in the salvific action of God blindly and without question” we should trust God’s declaration of Yeshua being the Messiah by raising him from the dead. With this divine approval, there is good reason to believe that the 11 prophecies will be fulfilled when Yeshua returns.
Lapide’s book The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective is fascinating, insightful, and should be widely read. When an Orthodox Jewish scholar says that Yeshua rose from the dead, it is worth examining how he came to this conclusion. In the end, for Lapide, the resurrection was no sign of Yeshua’s messianic identity. As argued in this article, however, Maimonides’s exposition is the key to making the connection. If Yeshua claimed to be the Messiah and his predicted sign came to pass (God resurrecting him shortly after his death), then Yeshua’s resurrection serves as God’s validation of his messianic identity. Finally, the theological significance of this event would show that Yeshua taught Israel to remain faithfully committed to Torah observance. In this framework, Messianic Jews are vindicated because of Yeshua’s resurrection.
Jonathan William is a Master of Theological Studies student at Duke University with a focus in New Testament. He is the co-director of “Bible History” (youtube.com/biblehistory) and “Two Messianic Jews” (youtube.com/twomessianicjews). “Bible History” is a YouTube channel that presents biblical scholarship on the Jewishness of the New Testament and “Two Messianic Jews” is a YouTube channel and podcast where Jonathan and a colleague discuss questions and objections Messianic Jews commonly hear.
1 Pinchas Lapide, Auferstehung: Ein. Jüdisches Glaubenserlebnis (Stuttgart: Calwer, 1978); see David Mishkin, Jewish Scholarship on the Resurrection of Jesus (Eugene: Pickwick, 2017), 7.
2 Pinchas Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus: A Jewish Perspective, trans. Wilhelm C. Linss (Eugene: Augsburg, 1983).
3 Schalom Ben-Chorin, Brother Jesus: The Nazarene Through Jewish Eyes, trans. Jared S. Klein and Max Reinhart (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 2001), 186-87; Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew: A Historian’s Reading of the Gospels (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 41; Yehezkel Kaufmann, Christianity and Judaism: Two Covenants (Jerusalem: Magnus, 1988), 133; Joseph Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching, trans. Herbert Danby (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1925), 357; Abram Leon Sachar, A History of the Jews, 5th ed. (New York: Knopf, 1968), 134; Solomon Grayzel, A History of the Jews from the Babylonian Exile to the End of World War II (Philadelphia: JPS, 1947), 135; Gaalyahu Cornfield, The Historical Jesus: A Scholarly View of the Man and His World (New York: Macmillan, 1982), 187; Jon D. Levenson and Kevin J. Madigan, Resurrection: The Power of God For Christians and Jews (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008), 1; Hugh Schonfield, The Passover Plot (London: Hutchinson, 1965), 174.
4 Kaufmann, Christianity and Judaism, 133; Vermes, Jesus the Jew, 41; Schonfield, The Passover Plot, 179; Claude G. Montefiore, The Synoptic Gospels (London: Macmillan, 1909), 383. 383; Paula Fredriksen, Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity (New York: Knopf, 1999), 264; Alan F. Segal, Life after Death (New York: Random House, 2004), 996; Sachar, A History of the Jews, 134; Ellis Rivkin, What Crucified Jesus? Messianism, Pharisaism, and the Development of Christianity (New York: UAHC Press, 1997), 69; Michael J. Cook, Modern Jews Engage the New Testament: Enhancing Jewish Well-Being in a Christian Environment (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights, 2008), 158; Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, 359.
5 Lapide writes, “The resurrection of Jesus on Easter Sunday and his appearances in the following days were purely Jewish faith experiences. Not one Gentile saw him after Good Friday. Everything that the Gentile church heard about the resurrection came only from Jewish sources because he appeared after Easter Sunday as the Risen One exclusively to Jews.” (Lapide, The Resurrection of Jesus, 123; cf. 144.)
6 All citations of New Testament passages are from the RSV.
7 Lapide, Resurrection, 98–99. This analysis includes: 1. Vocabulary, sentence structure, and diction are clearly un-Pauline. 2. The parallelism of the three individual statements is biblically formulated. 3. The threefold “and that” characterizes the Aramaic and Mishnaic Hebrew way of narration. 4. The “divine passive” of “being raised” paraphrases God’s action of salvation in order not to mention to God, in accordance with the Jewish fear of the name. 5. The Aramaic form of the name “Cephas,” not Simon, as Luke gives it in the parallel passage 24:34, sounds more original. 6. The double reference “in accordance with the scriptures” supports twice in three lines both the death and the resurrection of Jesus—as it probably corresponded with the faithfulness of the early church to the Hebrew Bible. 7. “The twelve” as a closed group of the first witnesses includes also Judas—this both agrees with the consciousness of Jesus to be sent to all of Israel and contradicts the supposed suicide of Judas (Matt. 27:5). 8. Finally, the statement, which in its basic features is repeated almost in all later reports of the resurrection, narrates the course of four events which were understood as salvation bearing: He died for our sins . . . was buried . . . was raised . . . and appeared.
8 Lapide, Resurrection, 99.
9 Lapide, Resurrection, 124.
10 Lapide, Resurrection, 125.
11 Lapide, Resurrection, 95. Examples include: Numbers Rabbah 10; Yalkhut Shimoni I, 82, and b. Rosh Ha-Shanah 22a. Lapide, Resurrection, 96.
12 Lapide, Resurrection, 95.
13 Lapide, Resurrection, 116–17.
14 Lapide, Resurrection, 120.
15 Lapide, Resurrection, 125, back cover.
16 Lapide, Resurrection, 152–53.
17 Lapide, Resurrection, 143.
18 Maimonides, Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Melakhim XI, 4), in Lapide, Resurrection, 142.
19 Lapide, Resurrection, 142.
20 Lapide, Resurrection, 120–21.
21 Maimonides, Iggerot HaRambam, Iggeret Teiman, 10; Mishneh Torah, Kings and Wars, 11:6.
22 Maimonides, Iggerot HaRambam, Iggeret Teiman, 13.
23 All references from the Tanakh come from Tanach: Stone Edition (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2011).
24 Emphasis added.
25 Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Foundations of the Torah, 9:5. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Foundations_of_the_Torah.9.5?ven=The_Mishneh_Torah_by_Maimonides._trans._by_Moses_Hyamson,_1937-1949&lang=bi (accessed 3/1/20).
26 Maimonides, Iggerot HaRambam, Iggeret Teiman, 11. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Iggerot_HaRambam%2C_Iggeret_Teiman.11?lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en (accessed 3/1/20).
27 b. Berakhot 6b. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Berakhot.6b.27?ven=William_Davidson_Edition_-_English&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en (accessed 3/1/20).
28 Ovadiah ben Jacob Sforno, Sforno on Deuteronomy, 18:22:1. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Sforno_on_Deuteronomy.18.22.1?ven=Eliyahu_Munk,_HaChut_Hameshulash&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en (accessed 3/1/20).
29 Rabbeinu Bahya, Shemot, 7:9. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Rabbeinu_Bahya%2C_Shemot.7.9.1?ven=Torah_Commentary_by_Rabbi_Bachya_ben_Asher,_trans._Eliyahu_Munk,_1998.&lang=bi (accessed 3/1/20).
30 Joseph Albo, Sefer HaIkkarim, 18:9. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Sefer_HaIkkarim%2C_Maamar_1.18.9?ven=Sefer_Ha- ikkarim,_Jewish_Publication_Society_of_America,_1929&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en (accessed 3/1/20).
31 Aaron Gale, “The Gospel According to Matthew,” in The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 2nd ed., eds. Amy-Jill Levine and Marc Zvi Brettler; (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 34.
32 Other examples of Jesus predicting his death and resurrection in the Gospels includes Matthew 16:21; 17:9, 22–23; 20:18–19; Mark 8:31, 9:31; Luke 9:22; 18:31–33; John 2:19–21
33 Matthew 16:21.
34 Daniel Boyarin, The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (New York: The New Press, 2012), 40.
35 J.A. Emerton, “The Origin of the Son of Man Imagery,” Journal of Theological Studies 9 (1958): 231–32, quoted in Boyarin, Jewish Gospels, 40.
36 Daniel 3:12, 14, 17, 18, 28; 6:16, 20; 7:27
37 G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2007), 234.
38 Boyarin, Jewish Gospels, 138.
39 Pinchas Lapide, Jesus in Two Perspectives: A Jewish-Christian Dialog / Pinchas Lapide and Ulrich Luz, trans. Lawrence W. Denef (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1985), 27–56.
40 Lapide, Jesus in Two Perspectives, 42–43.
41 Lapide, Jesus in Two Perspectives, 43.
42 Lapide, Jesus in Two Perspectives, 42–43.
43 David Flusser in collaboration with R. Steven Notely, Jesus (Jerusalem: Magnes, 2001), 131–32.
44 Emphasis added.
45 Boyarin, Jewish Gospels, 58.
46 Mark 15:1–15; Matthew 27:11–26; Luke 23:1–24; John 18:28, 19:1–16
47 Lapide, Resurrection, 109, emphasis added.
48 Acts 2:24; 2:32; 4:10; 5:30; 13:28–30; 17:31; Galatians 1:1; Romans 10:9
49 y. Sanhedrin 10:2, The Jerusalem Talmud: Fourth Order: Neziqin Tractates Sanhedrin, Makkot, and Horaiot, trans. Heinrich W. Guggenheimer (Berlin: Gruyter, 2010), 371.
50 Tosephot, Daat Zkenim on Deuteronomy 32:39. Sefaria. [online] Available at:
https://www.sefaria.org/Daat_Zkenim_on_Deuteronomy.32.39.2?ven=Daat_Zekenim_translated_by_Rb._Eliyahu_Munk&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en (accessed 3/1/20).
51 Siddur Ashkenaz, Weekday, Shacharit, Amidah, Patriarchs. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Siddur_Ashkenaz%2C_Weekday%2C_Shacharit%2C_Amidah%2C_Divine_Might.5?ven=Sefaria_Community_Translation&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=bi (accessed 3/6/20).
52 Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Foundations of the Torah, 9:5. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Mishneh_Torah%2C_Foundations_of_the_Torah.9.5?ven=The_Mishneh_Torah_by_Maimonides._trans._by_Moses_Hyamson,_1937-1949&lang=bi (accessed 3/6/20).
53 Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Foundations of the Torah 8:3.
54 Ibn Ezra, Ibn Ezra on Deuteronomy, 13:4:1. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Deuteronomy.13.4?lang=en&with=Ibn%20Ezra&lang2=en (accessed 3/13/20).
55 Jacob Ben Asher, Tur HaAroch, Deuteronomy, 13:4:1, trans. Rabbi Eliyahu Munk. Sefaria. [online] Available at:
https://www.sefaria.org/Tur_HaAroch%2C_Deuteronomy.13.4.1?ven=Tur_on_the_Torah,_trans._Eliyahu_Munk&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en (accessed 3/6/20).
56 Jeffrey H. Tigay, Deuteronomy, The JPS Torah Commentary (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1996), 130.
57 b. Sanhedrin 90a. Sefaria. [online] Available at: https://www.sefaria.org/Sanhedrin.90a.11?ven=William_Davidson_Edition_-_English&lang=bi&with=all&lang2=en (accessed 3/8/20).
58 Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Foundations of the Torah, 9:5.
59 y. Sanhedrin 10:2 (29b)
60 Matthias Henze, Mind the Gap: How the Jewish Writings between the Old and New Testament Help Us Understand Jesus (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017), 139; cf. Amy-Jill Levine, The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus (New York: HarperOne, 2006), 23.
61 Lapide, Jesus in Two Perspectives, 51–53.
62 Lapide, Jesus in Two Perspectives, 54–55.
63 Pinchas Lapide and Jürgen Moltmann, Jewish Monotheism and Christian Trinitarian Doctrine: A Dialogue, trans. Leonard Swidler (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1981), 79.