A Look at a Rabbi’s Objection to the Resurrection of Jesus

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By Eric Chabot, CJFM Midwest Representative 

Dan Cohn-Sherbock, a well-known rabbi of Reform Judaism and Jewish theologian provides his own reasons for rejecting the resurrection of Jesus. He says:

"As a Jew and a rabbi, I could be convinced of Jesus’ resurrection, but I would set very high standards of what is required. It would not be enough to have a   subjective experience of Jesus. If I heard voices or had a visionary experience of Jesus, this would not be enough. Let me sketch the kind of experience that would be necessary. If Jesus appeared by hosts of angels trailing clouds of glory and   announcing all for His Messiah ship to see, this would be compelling. But it would have to take place in public domain. video cameras, shown on television, and announced in newspapers and magazines worldwide. Jesus appearance would have to be a global event, televised on CNN, and other forms of the world’s media. Further, if as a consequence of his arrival, all the prophecies   recorded in scripture were fulfilled; the ingathering of the exiles, the rebuilding of the Temple, the resurrection of all those who died, the advent of the days of the Messiah, final judgment-I would without a doubt embrace the Christian message and become a follower of the risen Christ." [1]

The comments by Rabbi Cohn-Sherbock demonstrate the attitude among many in the modern world today. He also raises some objections based on another traditional role of the Messiah in Judaism.  However, there isn’t one messianic expectation in Judaism. Also, whether certain passages are about the coming of the Messiah in the Jewish Scriptures will depend upon what the preconceived idea of the reader. What do they believe the Messiah is supposed to do? If a traditional Jewish person says the Messiah cannot suffer and die and rise from the dead, how would we expect them to interpret the Messianic passages?  It is obvious  Rabbi Cohn-Sherbock has unrealistic explications for the evidence for the resurrection. If we were to apply the same criteria that to the giving of the Torah at Mt. Sinai, we could never know that happened as well. After all, the giving of the Torah was not witnessed by multitudes (they saw Moses after he received it), photographed, recorded on video cameras, shown on television, and announced in newspapers and magazines worldwide.

Thus, while Jewish people like to boast of the thousands of witnesses that were at the Sinai event, both Christians and Messianic Jews can discuss the witnesses to the resurrection. However, in both cases, the testimony of the witnesses is imbedded in a written text. This means we must differentiate between direct and circumstantial evidence.

 Almost all historical inquiries, as well as cold case investigations are built on indirect or what is called “circumstantial evidence.” When we rely on circumstantial evidence, we can imagine a court scene where a series of coincidental circumstances are presented, none of which is in itself conclusive proof but all of which together, in the absence of any other evidence, can add up to a case ‘beyond reasonable doubt.’ For example, a husband is accused of murdering his wife by pushing her over a cliff, beneath which her body was found.  Like many trial scenes, no-one saw the husband push his wife over the cliff, so there was no eyewitness testimony and the case rested entirely on circumstantial evidence.In a court of law, both are considered viable and good. Furthermore, a large majority of science, history, and cold case investigations involve making inferences. Historians collect the data and draw conclusions that provide the best explanation that covers all the data in what is called “Inference to the most reasonable explanation” which never leads to absolute certainty or exhaustive knowledge. 

The demand for direct evidence is misguided from the start, because when it comes to antiquity, no one can interview or cross-examine eyewitnesses.  Since we can’t obtain direct evidence about the resurrection of Jesus nor for the giving of the Torah, we must build a circumstantial case for both events. Therefore, both Judaism and Christianity/Messianic Judaism are supported by circumstantial evidence.

1. G. D’ Costa, Resurrection Reconsidered (London: Oneworld. 1996), 198-199.


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