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R. L. Solberg  

Rabbi Singer on the Resurrection

In preparation for my debate with Rabbi Tovia Singer, I studied his books Let’s Get Biblical, volumes 1 and 2. In particular I was interested in his take on the Resurrection of Jesus. Singer and I both agree with the apostle Paul that “if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is futile and your faith is empty” (1 Cor 15:14). But, other than that, our views on the Resurrection are diametrically opposed. In his books, Singer gives three main lines of argument in opposition to the resurrection of Yeshua and, to be honest, none of them are very strong. In fact, they all share the same flaw. Let me show you what I mean.

Pre-existing Legend

Rabbi Singer first argues that the notion of Jesus being resurrected is borrowed from pre-existing legends. He writes,

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.

Rabbi Singer, Let’s Get Biblical vol. 2, p. 214.

Singer does not mention which legends or religions he is referring to, nor does he draw comparisons. I presume it is the list of usual suspects: Osiris, Tammuz, Adonis, Attis, Dionysus, etc. If so, the resurrection of Jesus exists in an entirely different category. But let’s set that aside for a moment. Singer’s contention is that Christianity is just one of many religions that have served up their own version of a pre-existing legend. The problem with this line of argument is that the Torah is guilty of the exact same thing. For example,

  • The ancient Babylonian creation story called The Enuma Elish bears a striking resemblance to the Creation account in Genesis, and it predates the writing of the Torah.
  • The Epic of Gilgamesh, a Mesopotamian poem that also predates the Torah, offers a narrative of a global flood eerily similar to what Noah experienced.
  • The Hammurabi Code, a law code established by the Babylonian King Hammurabi prior to Mount Sinai, bears a striking resemblance to the Ten Commandments.

What’s my point? If pre-existing legend is a legitimate reason to reject the Resurrection, should we also reject the stories in the Torah about creation, the flood, and the giving of the Law? Despite similar legends, Singer has no problem believing the Torah stories. (And, for the record, I believe them, too.) But we can’t reject the Resurrection based on alleged competing legends and at the same time accept the Torah despite competing legends. That’s a double standard.

Extra-Biblical Evidence

Rabbi Singer also rejects the Resurrection based on a lack of extra-biblical evidence.

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.

Rabbi Singer, Let’s Get Biblical vol. 2, pp. 214-215

Do you know what other historical event contains a shocking lack of extra-biblical evidence? The Exodus. The Egyptian historical record doesn’t mention the plagues or the loss of almost their entire population of slaves. We’ve not found Egyptian chariot wheels or skeletons at the bottom of any sea. And we’ve not discovered archaeological evidence of hundreds of thousands of Israelites wandering in the wilderness. So, to paraphrase Rabbi Singer:

Aside from the accounts in the New Testament Torah, 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 Exodus. The entire claim hangs exclusively on the Torah New Testament texts.

Paraphrase of Rabbi Singer’s quote

If a lack of extra-biblical evidence is a legitimate reason for rejecting the Resurrection, we must also reject the Exodus on the same basis. But Singer doesn’t do that, and that’s another double standard.

Bias

Lastly, Rabbi Singer argues from the bias of the authors of the New Testament.

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 an individual examining the case for the resurrection, you should not be swayed by conjecture or hearsay, but demand clear proof.

Rabbi Singer, Let’s Get Biblical vol. 2, p. 215

Singer’s argument brings up two issues. First, has he ever demanded clear proof for the Exodus? Or the events at Mount Sinai and the giving of the Law? Or even the historical existence of Abraham? It seems evident that Singer accepts all of these things as true based solely on their appearance in the Hebrew Bible. And, for the record, that is the same reason that I accept those things as true. I’m not arguing against the inspired nature of the Tanakh. I believe it is sacred Scripture. What I’m arguing against is the use of a double standard in an attempt to disprove the Resurrection.

This brings us to the second problem with this argument. The Tanakh was written by Israelites. In it, they portray themselves as God’s Chosen People, set aside by Him as a holy nation. That’s what they wrote about themselves, which undoubtedly falls under the definition of biased testimony. So, again, we can’t reject the Resurrection based on the writers’ bias and, at the same time, accept the Torah’s claims despite the writers’ bias. That’s another double standard.

What’s Good for the Goose…

As Grandpa Solberg used to say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander.” And when it comes to the Resurrection, I understand Rabbi Singer doesn’t want to believe it’s true. But he hasn’t provided any arguments against it that don’t also cut against his own Scripture, the Jewish Bible. The flaw shared by all of Singer’s arguments against the Resurrection is that they’re based on a double standard. So I remain wholly convinced that the God of Israel raised Jesus from the dead, validating him as a true prophet and the promised Jewish Messiah and God incarnate.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

1 Peter 1:3

2 thoughts on “Rabbi Singer on the Resurrection

  1. Barry Jones

    I don’t understand why you find Jesus’ resurrection significant. I can tell from modern Christianity and from the NT that if I become interested in Jesus, there is a greater than 51% chance that I will get suckered into a “cult”. Doesn’t it make more sense for skeptics to limit their sins to just the sin of unbelief, and to avoid adding “heresy” to their account?

    Sure, you can say God will surely reveal doctrinal truth to his sincere followers, but that logically requires a presupposition that all Christians who end up interpreting the bible differently than you do, were therefore not sincere.

    If you refuse to say most of today’s Christians are insincere, then how DO you explain the fact that millions of equally sincere seekers of Christ disagree on how to interpret a bible verse?

    In other words, how do YOU explain the fact that another Christian who is equally as sincere and saved as you, disagrees with your interpretation of a bible verse?

    You won’t like the hypothesis that God has different strokes for different folks, but aside from that, I’m not seeing what’s so unreasonable with that hypothesis. If you reject it, it would seem you are forced to either admit God may want certain sincere Christ-seekers to interpret the bible incorrectly….or you are forced to insist that those Christ seekers who adopt what you consider to be “heresy” were never sincere toward God in the first place.

    The last hypothesis makes sense enough, but it’s also horrifically bigoted and makes your own interpretations of the bible a judge on whether some other Christ-seeker is sincere or insincere.

    Can skeptics be reasonable to conclude that after 2,000 years, the NT’s message is locked in fatal ambiguity, a thing that would justify today’s skeptic to characterize the whole business as unprofitably convoluted and not worth one’s time in taking seriously?

    1. R. L. Solberg

      Great to hear from you again, Barry!

      “I don’t understand why you find Jesus’ resurrection significant.”
      “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain. We are even found to be misrepresenting God, because we testified about God that he raised Christ, whom he did not raise if it is true that the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:14-19)

      “Doesn’t it make more sense for skeptics to limit their sins to just the sin of unbelief, and to avoid adding ‘heresy’ to their account?”
      First, I reject the presupposition that skeptics have the ability to limit themselves to just one sin. Second, unbelief is heretical. Third, the approach you suggested prioritizes “fear of heresy” over faith, which is, as the kids like to say, back-asswards.

      “How do YOU explain the fact that another Christian who is equally as sincere and saved as you, disagrees with your interpretation of a bible verse?”
      First, how in the world would one know if another Christian “is equally as sincere and saved” as they are? Second, that is not my job as a follower of Jesus. It’s not a competition. God knows their heart, and I trust God. Thus, third, I feel no need to explain it. I harbor no expectation that everyone else in the world who follows Jesus must think exactly as I do. In fact, I expect Heaven will be full of people I disagree with on one issue or another. God does not call us to uniformity of thought, but unity of spirit and love in Him. There is tremendous freedom in Christ.

      “Can skeptics be reasonable to conclude that after 2,000 years, the NT’s message is locked in fatal ambiguity, a thing that would justify today’s skeptic to characterize the whole business as unprofitably convoluted and not worth one’s time in taking seriously?”
      No, that is an irrational conclusion.

      If I may offer a closing thought. The belief system behind your questions—which I believe you refer to as “skepticism”—seems to me a fear-based worldview that breeds a lukewarm, noncommittal, crowdsourcing approach to the truth. If we spend our whole life avoiding a decision out of fear of getting it wrong, we have let fear make the decision for us. It’s a weak and cowardly approach. In the famous words of the rock band Rush, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.” If you are after a 100% lack of doubt before you accept Christianity as true, you are on a fool’s errand, my friend. On the other hand, if you’re on a genuine quest for the truth, then I applaud you and wish you Godspeed. If, on the third hand, you’re using skepticism as a stick with which to beat believers in Jesus, my heart breaks for you. Because that would mean you’re spending a large percentage of your precious life pursuing destruction and discord rather than love, peace, and goodness.

      Blessings,
      Rob

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