A Jew looks at Jesus
Did Jesus arise bodily from the grave on the first Easter? "I would not exclude such a resurrection as within the range of possibility," says a visiting professor of New Testament studies at West Germany's Gottingen University. Nothing surprising in that, except for the fact that the scholar in question is Pinchas Lapide, an Orthodox Jew. Over the centuries Judaism has considered Jesus to be no more than a great teacher.
Even by Jewish standards, Lapide, 56, a former chairman of the applied linguistics department at Israel's Bar-Han University, is not as heretical a Jew as he seems. He flatly denies that Jesus, resurrected or not, was either the Messiah of Israel or the divine Son of God, the major points of faith over which Jews and Christians fell into disagreement and outright hostility in the first centuries A.D. (Jews refer to these as centuries C.E., for Common Era). "I do accept the fact that he is the Saviour of the Gentile church. I do not think that his being the Saviour of the church and not being the Messiah of Israel is necessarily a contradiction."
Lapide's highly unorthodox view, presented last year in the German-language book ResurrectionA Jewish Faith Experience, seeks to bridge the gap created by nearly two millenniums of antagonism. His argument draws upon the views of a number of medieval rabbis who believed that the Christian church must somehow be part of God's plan. If the two religions both derive from the same God, says Lapide, Christianity could not be founded upon a lie. And since it "stands or falls" with the Easter story, Lapide concludes that the church was "born out of an act of the will of God, which all the New Testament authors call the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead."
Two centuries before Jesus was born, Lapide points out, Judaism began believing in a future, generalized resurrection of believers, which became a tenet of Orthodoxy. In addition, the Jewish tradition includes six accounts of God reawakening the dead, three of them in the Old Testament (I Kings 17: 22, II Kings 4: 35 and 13: 21). Lapide sees no religious reason why Jesus could not have been the seventh "dead Jew revived by the will of God," although the New Testament describes Jesus' resurrected body as having a changed nature.
The Jewish resurrective tradition, he contends, provided the basis for the Christian Apostles' faith. "This certainty of the future rising of the dead and the possible reawakening by God of some dead before the end of days was the precondition for their hope against hope that their beloved teacher and master had not been abandoned by the God of Israel." However Easter is interpreted, says Lapide, "one thing is certain: since all the witnesses of the resurrected Jesus were sons and daughters of Israel, since, moreover, he appeared only in the land of Israel, his Resurrection was a Jewish affair which must therefore be judged by Jewish standards if we are to gauge its authenticity."