Diminishing References & Dr. Brown’s Staggering Mistake – Part 2

Diminishing References & Dr. Brown’s Staggering Mistake – Part 2

Between May and July of 2017 I participated in an online debate in which I exchanged arguments with Dr. Brown about the Real Jewish Messiah. In the course of the debate Dr. Brown presented a calculation that was less than honest and when I called him out on it, he failed to realize his mistake. He has since acknowledged his mistake and he has retracted that particular argument.

However, Dr. Brown contends that his mistake was a “partial mistake in a minor argument” and that his “overall argument was actually strengthened.” I wrote an article in which I put forth my position that Dr. Brown’s mistake completely undermines his Scriptural argument and that his incredible inability to see his mistake for so long undermines his credibility as a teacher (https://judaismresources.net/2018/04/08/diminishing-references-and-dr-browns-staggering-mistake/ ). Since then, Dr. Brown has written a response to my article in which he maintains his position. In this article Dr. Brown argues that his Scriptural argument has not been undermined and that my critique of his inability to see his mistake is exaggerated (https://askdrbrown.org/library/how-rabbi-blumenthal-missed-forest-trees).

I appreciate that Dr. Brown took the time to articulate his position. It is only when we put out our arguments for all to evaluate that the truth can come to light. I have been waiting several years for Dr. Brown to present responses of substance so that our conversation can move toward some sort of conclusion. So I thank you Dr. Brown and I pray that you continue to contribute to this conversation so that our interaction can be meaningful and productive.

As I stated at the outset, this is a discussion about two separate matters; there is the matter of Scriptural interpretation and then we have a question of responsibility and credibility. And Dr. Brown has provided arguments to defend both, his position on Scripture and his personal credibility. Let us first analyze the Scriptural interpretations that Dr. Brown has presented.

Before we begin let us recap. The Scriptural discussion centers on Isaiah 52:13-53:12. This passage describes a servant who is suddenly exalted to the consternation of those who despised him. Dr. Brown insists that the text indicates that this servant is the Messiah. My position is that the text indicates that this servant is the righteous of Israel.

In his opening frame of the debate Dr. Brown presented what he sees as a textual indicator that this servant (of Isaiah 53) is the Messiah. Dr. Brown acknowledges that the only one identified as God’s servant by name in the relevant section of the book of Isaiah is national Israel. From Isaiah 40, where God’s servant was first introduced, Israel is called God’s servant several times. However, Dr. Brown argues that the opening verse in chapter 49 serves as a pivot and from that point onward the servant is no longer to be identified as national Israel but rather, he is a specific individual within the larger body of corporate Israel.

Dr. Brown pointed to two separate pieces of evidence to support this contention. He first pointed to the fact that the servant is not identified as national Israel after 48:20 (Dr. Brown refers to this argument as his “major argument”). The second piece of evidence that Dr. Brown presented is that the references to national Israel diminish from chapter 49 onward. Dr. Brown argued that this proves that the prophet’s focus has now (after the pivot of 49:1) shifted away from the nation and on to the individual servant within the nation (Dr. Brown calls this line of evidence his “secondary argument”).

In the course of the debate I addressed this “secondary argument.” I pointed out that if we follow Dr. Brown’s line of reasoning, the evidence actually supports my position and not his. When we calculate the total references to the nation it turns out that the prophet’s attention on the nation actually intensified in these chapters (49-52), and did not diminish as Dr. Brown would have us believe.

Dr. Brown insists that this mistake of his is minor in nature and does not affect his overall argument. How interesting! When he was under the impression that the national references diminish, Dr. Brown insisted that the diminishing references is a valid Scriptural indicator that the servant of Isaiah 53 is not national Israel. But when he realizes that the references actually increase, then suddenly the intensity of the references have no bearing on the identity of the servant. Why not? What changed? Is the evidence only valid when it works for the point that Dr. Brown is trying to make? Why is it that when the same evidence turns against Dr. Brown’s position, it becomes a minor, secondary and partial argument that can be ignored?

Throughout his article Dr. Brown keeps going back to what he calls his “major argument,” the fact that the prophet does not call national Israel by the name “servant” from 48:20. Dr. Brown sees this as evidence that from that point onward, the Lord’s servant in the book of Isaiah is no longer national Israel. Dr. Brown expresses shock that I did not address this argument in my video and he claims that the response I shared in my written article is “weak.” Throughout his article, Dr. Brown keeps on coming back to this “major argument” of his. Since I did take the time to write a refutation to what I saw as an unconvincing argument and after all this rhetoric I was hoping for a rebuttal of some substance to my refutation. It is toward the end of the article that Dr. Brown actually purports to address my refutation. He even cut and pasted the words from my article. But his response does not begin to touch what I wrote.

In my response I pointed out that Dr. Brown’s “major” argument is an edifice built on sand. Although it is true that the prophet does not use the actual word “servant” to describe Israel’s role in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53 but the prophet uses other words to indicate that Israel is God’s instrument to achieve His purpose on earth.

Now it is my turn to cut and paste Dr. Brown’s “response” to my argument.

“Once again, however, Rabbi Blumenthal’s arguments go far beyond the scriptural evidence, in the process ignoring these major points: 1) Israel was only in exile for its sins, as reiterated throughout the Tanakh and summarized above; 2) Isaiah has some of the strongest words of rebuke for the nation, beginning in chapter 1, and then frequently in 40-53 (again, as noted, above); and 3) Israel in exile cannot redeem itself; it needs a redeemer. And it is only with the help of this redeemer (the Messiah!) that Israel can fulfill its divinely-appointed mission. Isn’t this why traditional Jews pray daily for the coming of the Messiah? Do they imagine redemption without him? Do they think for a moment they will fulfill their destiny apart from him? So, yes, the prophet speaks of Israel’s role in 49-52:12, but since he has elsewhere described his people’s failure, it is clear that they only succeed through divine help – and that comes through the servant of the Lord, our Messiah. Once again, the biblical text refutes Rabbi Blumenthal’s position.”

How is this a response to my argument? Again, to recap; Dr. Brown argued that although the prophet had identified Israel as God’s servant before chapter 49, once we reach chapter 49, the prophet no longer uses the term “servant” to speak of national Israel. The upshot of this argument is that the prophet no longer wants us to see the nation as God’s servant. My response was that this could not have been the prophet’s intention because he still describes Israel as accomplishing God’s purpose on earth in these same chapters (49-52). How are Dr. Brown’s words a response to my argument? His argument is rooted in Christian theology, not in the words of the prophet. Christian theology requires the servant of Isaiah 53 to be sinless, but the prophet said nothing about the supposed “sinlessness” of the servant. Dr. Brown’s “response” clearly demonstrates that his theology has nothing to do with the theology of the Jewish Scriptures.

This was Dr. Brown’s “defense” of his “major” argument. How empty. How sad.

Let us move on to another Scriptural argument that Dr. Brown has finally shared with us. You see, years ago (2007) I presented textual evidence that would have us identify the servant of Isaiah 53 as the nation of Israel. In Isaiah 52:10 we read how the arm of the Lord is revealed and all the ends of the earth see the salvation of our Lord. The context of this verse leaves us with no doubt that this revelation of the arm of the Lord was manifested for the sake of Israel. Merely a few verses later we read how the arm of the Lord is revealed upon the servant. A straightforward reading of the text would give us to understand that these two descriptions of the revelation of God’s arm are one and the same. It would then follow that the servant of Isaiah 53 is the same Israel upon who the arm of the Lord was revealed in verse 52:10. I got no answer from Dr. Brown to this question. I repeated this question in the course of the debate and still got no answer. Finally, after years of ignoring this piece of evidence, Dr. Brown addresses these verses. Amazingly, Dr. Brown does not acknowledge that the straightforward reading of these verses undermines his position. Instead, Dr. Brown presents these very same verses as if they would support his position. Let us see how he does this.

Dr. Brown acknowledges that in several passages throughout the book of Isaiah, the arm of the Lord is revealed on behalf of Israel (Isaiah 51:9; 52:10, 59:16 and 63:5). Yet when Dr. Brown reads Isaiah 53:1, where God’s arm is also described as being revealed, he sees something entirely different. Dr. Brown claims that the servant of Isaiah 53 is “directly connected” with the arm of the Lord as opposed to being the “object of God’s saving arm.”

This outrageous argument has no basis in the words of our prophets. The pronoun that Isaiah uses to associate God’s arm with the servant (“upon” or “for”) is the very same pronoun (in the feminine) that the prophet uses to associate God’s glory and God Himself with the people of Israel (Isaiah 60:1,2). Is this called a “direct connection” as opposed to “on behalf of”? There is no question that the revelation “upon” the servant is the very same revelation spoken of just a few verses earlier. The arm of the Lord is revealed on behalf of the servant to the consternation of her enemies. This theme is repeated throughout the Scriptures so many times (Isaiah 4:5, 18:3, 24:23, 40:5, 52:10, 60:2,19, 61:3, 62:1, Jeremiah 3:17, 33:9, Ezekiel 37:28, Micah 7:16, Zephaniah 3:20, Psalm 98:3, 102:17). How can Dr. Brown ignore all of this Scriptural evidence in the name of loyalty to Scripture?

Dr. Brown has built his case on the supposed contrast between the individual servant within the nation and the nation as a whole. He sees this contrast in two separate realms; guilt vs. righteousness and in the sense that the individual servant is God’s vehicle of redemption while the nation is the object of redemption.

I demonstrated the emptiness of the first of these two arguments in course of the debate. At no point does the Scriptural Narrator describe the individual servant as guiltless. Isaiah 53:9 which tells us that the servant was not violent and had no deception in his mouth is not a general statement about the spiritual state of the servant. Rather, this verse tells us that the servant is innocent of the crimes that his persecutors accuse him of. These are the crimes that the servant’s persecutors use to justify their cruelty toward the servant. The servant is not guiltless, he is innocent of the crimes that his persecutors accuse him of. He is not a child of the devil, he is not a murderer and a poisoner of wells. You don’t have to be sinless to be innocent of those crimes. Quoting Isaiah 53:9 to “prove” the sinlessness of the servant is wrenching Scripture out of context.

Another alleged “proof” to the sinlessness of the servant is the word “tzadik,” “righteous one,” that the prophet uses to describe the servant (Isaiah 53:11). In the course of the debate, I responded to this argument by pointing out that the nation as a whole is described by the same term in Isaiah 26:2. Dr. Brown responded to my argument with the claim that Isaiah 26:2 is talking about Israel in a futuristic setting, when they are cleansed from their sins and does not describe Israel in its present, exiled state.

Dr. Brown’s response is inaccurate and irrelevant. It is inaccurate because although Isaiah 26:2 is set in the future, but Israel is being praised for a loyalty to God that it maintained in its state of exile as indicated by the prophetic context (see 25:9 and 26:8). It is irrelevant because Isaiah 53:11 is also describing the servant in a futuristic role. Isaiah 53:11 is speaking of the future, Messianic era, the same time-frame described by Isaiah 26:2.

In his most recent article, Dr. Brown quoted Isaiah 51:13 to provide a basis for his supposed contrast between the individual servant and the nation. In this passage, God rebukes Israel for forgetting Him.

Dr. Brown could not have quoted a verse which more strongly refutes his position. Isaiah 51:13 does not serve to provide a contrast between the individual servant and the nation as a whole, instead it serves to compare them and to show how their characters are similar.

Isaiah 49:4, which describes the feelings and fears of the individual servant (as Dr. Brown acknowledges) gives expression to the same despair that is described in 51:13. In both of these passages, God’s servant fails to see the cosmic magnitude and scope of his mission. This failure to understand the far-reaching effects of his role in God’s plan causes the servant to despair. And in both cases, the servant is encouraged with the fact that they are God’s agent and that their role in His plan will have universal ramifications. Yet the servant of 49:4 is the individual within the nation while the servant of 51:13 is the nation as whole. The passage that Dr. Brown quoted serves to merge the characters of the individual servant and the nation, not to set them against each other as Dr. Brown would have us believe.

This brings us to the second realm of contrast between the individual and the nation presented by Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown alleges that the individual is the vehicle of God’s redemption while the nation is the object of God’s redemption and not his vehicle.

I also addressed this argument in the course of the debate but it seems to have escaped Dr. Brown’s attention.

Allow me to recap the argument up until this point. Isaiah speaks of a servant of God. This servant is sometimes explicitly identified as the nation of Israel but in some passages the servant seems to be an individual within the nation. Dr. Brown claims that these are two entities are opposites of each other and are portrayed as such by the prophetic narrative. Dr. Brown argues that the prophet focuses on the nation’s role as God’s servant up until the end of chapter 48. But in chapter 49, it is the individual who is God’s servant and not the nation. According to Dr. Brown, the intense focus on the individual servant in chapters 49 and 50 are the prophet’s method of telling us that Isaiah 52:13-53:12 is talking of the individual servant.

But if we follow Dr. Brown’s method of Scriptural interpretation then the evidence leads us to the opposite conclusion. You see, if 49:1 is a pivot, turning our attention to the individual servant, then 51:1 must be a pivot as well, turning our attention directly back to the nation. In the entirety of chapters 51 and 52, there is not one mention of the individual servant. Moreover, throughout these two chapters, the prophet goes out of his way to ascribe to the nation the qualities and the role of the individual servant. It is difficult to find two such chapters in all of Scripture that describe Israel in these glowing terms.

The opening verse of chapter 51 speaks to Israel, describing them as pursuers of justice and seekers of God. In his most recent article Dr. Brown claimed that this verse speaks of the righteous of Israel and I agree with him in a sense, but the words “righteous of Israel” has one connotation for the Christian and an entirely different connotation for the student of Scripture. In the Christian mind, the righteous of Israel are a small group of individuals who stand apart from the nation and are hardly identified as part of the nation. In sharp contrast to this Christian perspective, the prophet sees these righteous as the nation. (As I explained in the course of the debate, when I say that Isaiah 53 is talking of the nation, I refer to the righteous of Israel who the prophet calls; “nation.”) 53:7 speaks of those who know justice, the nation with My (God’s) Law in their hearts. The “knowers of justice” are the nation, not a group who stands in contrast to the nation.

Dr. Brown provided a few Scriptural references to establish what he sees as the Scriptural contrasts between the individual servant and the nation as a whole. Let us study these references and listen to the words of the prophet.

“Chapter 49 opens with explicit individual language “Coastlands, listen to me; distant peoples, pay attention. The LORD called me before I was born. He named me while I was in my mother’s womb.””

This would hardly be the metaphor that the prophet would use to set the individual servant apart from national Israel. After all, national Israel is also described as having been commissioned from the womb and called by name, and this in individual language (43:1; 44:2,24, see also 41:9; 43:21; 44:21; 48:12). These metaphors help us see the individual servant as one with the nation, not as a figure that stands in contrast to the nation.

The rest of Dr. Brown’s Scriptural references are supposed to establish the premise that the individual servant is the vehicle of redemption while national Israel is the object of redemption. To use Dr. Brown’s words; “there is not the slightest hint that the nation is the agent of redemption.” Dr. Brown made this statement concerning the limited segment of 49:11-26, but this is the portrait he attempts to paint of national Israel in a general sense.

Dr. Brown could not be more wrong and the very same chapters that he would have us focus on refute his contention in the strongest terms.

Before we set out on our journey to demonstrate the emptiness of Dr. Brown’s position let us note that the individual servant is only the agent of God’s redemption because he carries God’s word. It is God’s word that accomplishes His purpose on earth (Isaiah 55:11; Jeremiah 1:9 and 10). It is the individual servant’s mouth that is God’s weapon (49:2). It is the individual servant’s words in 49:9 that redeems the captives and there is a graphic depiction of the individual servant’s unusual ability to communicate in 51:4. The servant accomplishes God’s purpose because he bears God’s word.

Throughout these chapters of Isaiah (40-52) national Israel is depicted as one who bears God’s word to accomplish His purpose on earth, but nowhere is this more pronounced than in chapters 51 and 52, the chapters that set the stage for Isaiah 53.

In these very chapters, God addresses the nation; “I have placed My words in your mouth and with the shade of My hand have I covered you, to plant the heavens and to establish the earth and to declare to Zion; “You are My people!”” (51:16). Are these words cutting Israel out of an active role in God’s redemptive plan? No, the entire thrust of this prophetic promise is that Israel is instrumental in God’s redemptive plan. Note also the similarity to Isaiah 49:2, where the individual servant is also protected by the shade of God’s hand. Israel is described as a nation with God’s Law in their heart (51:6), and it is this very Law that brings light to the nations (51:4). Israel is described as the “armor bearers of the Lord” (52:11). The armor bearer is one who carries the weapons of the primary warrior into battle and God’s weapon is His word, as we have seen, the very thing that was placed in Israel’s mouth. What more could the prophet have said to tell us that Israel plays an active role in God’s plan for redemption?

An alternative interpretation of this phrase (“armor bearers of the Lord”) would read; “bearers of the vessels of the Lord.” This interpretation also highlights Israel’s role as an entity that plays an active role in God’s plan. This phrase is a reflection of the Levites role as bearers of God’s sanctuary in the wilderness as described in Numbers 4. The center of this activity involved the bearing of the Ark of the Covenant which contained the tablets of Law, God’s word. Again, the prophet portrays Israel as an active participant in God’s plan for redemption and not just as the passive recipient of that redemption. And this, in the very same chapters where Dr. Brown would have us believe that the prophet is pointing in the very opposite direction.

The two lines of Scriptural argumentation that Dr. Brown presented in his effort to identify the servant of Isaiah 53 both point to the nation and not to the individual servant. The references to the nation do not diminish in the chapters leading to Isaiah 53, they intensify, and Israel’s active role in God’s plan is emphasized in those same chapters, not repudiated, as Dr. Brown contends.

In my recent article (and in the course of the debate) I pointed out that the Divine Author did not directly identify the servant of Isaiah 53, this tells us that the name of the servant is not a critical component to the message of the prophet. Dr. Brown graced my argument with a response of his own, that again, does not touch my argument. Allow me to cut and paste Dr. Brown’s words:

“Ironically, Rabbi Blumenthal ignores the fact that: 1) the Divine Author draws our attention to the servant in Isaiah 52:13 (“Behold My servant”!); 2) the Divine Author opens chapter 53 by asking who has believed the report about this servant; 3) a famous midrash explicitly identifies the servant with the Messiah in 52:13 (Midrash Tanchuma, which speaks of the Messiah being more exalted than Abraham, Moses, or even the ministering angels!); and 4) a number of rabbinic commentaries on Isaiah 53, until this day, understand the passage Messianically (most recently, with reference to the Lubavitcher Rebbe). Shall all of them be castigated for their interpretations?”

Did I say that the Author did not draw attention to the servant? I did not. I did say that the Author did not identify the servant. It is important for the Author to tell us that this He is talking about someone who is subservient and obedient to God. But the message will still come across without us knowing who this individual is. And yes, the chapter opens with the question; “who has believed our report?” This tells us of the astonishment that will be brought about through the exaltation of the servant. But again, the servant is not identified.

Ironically, if we follow the lead of the two points that Dr. Brown raises, we will again end up with the nation and not with the Christian Jesus. Christian theology sees Jesus as one who is co-equal to God, not a servant of God. Jesus demands that the worship that is appropriate for God be directed to himself, hardly a servant of God. And when the prophet asks; “who has believed our report?” he is echoing the report described in 48:20 where Jacob is described as God’s servant.

The final two points that Dr. Brown raises (the midrash and the rabbinic commentaries) underscore my own argument. If Dr. Brown would have a clear Scriptural argument he would have no need to appeal to rabbinic commentary.

Dr. Brown made the claim that my refutation to his diminishing references argument actually strengthened his position instead of weakening it. Dr. Brown launches into a lengthy mathematical argument in his attempt to substantiate this claim of his.

The long and short of Dr. Brown’s mathematical argument is that although the author’s focus on the nation increases in chapters 49-52 (over and against 40-48), but the increase of focus on the individual servant increases even more. Dr. Brown acknowledges that the total focus on the nation in 49-52 is still greater than the focus on the individual in these same chapters. His argument is that the rate of increase of the focus on the servant is more steep and pronounced than the rate of increase of focus on the nation.

How does this argument help his position? After everything is said and done, the prophetic focus on the nation is still stronger than the focus on the individual servant. If the emphasis of the prophet in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53 will determine the identity of the servant in Isaiah 53 as Dr. Brown argues, we will still end up with the nation and not with the individual servant. And if you recognize 51:1 as a pivot, since there is not even one reference to the individual servant from that point onward, and the focus on the nation intensifies in an extreme way, then Dr. Brown’s entire line of argumentation roundly refutes his own position.

But even without considering the refutation to his argument, Dr. Brown’s claim that his argument has been strengthened has never been substantiated. Wouldn’t his argument work better if the focus on the nation actually decreased in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53 as Dr. Brown had originally claimed? The notion that his argument has been “strengthened” makes no sense even when we view the text through Dr. Brown’s cloudy lenses.

But perhaps Dr. Brown did not mean to claim that his position has been strengthened from the point in time before he understood my refutation until the time he made his final calculation? Perhaps all Dr. Brown meant to tell us was that his first assessment of his position after he understood my refutation was weaker than the assessment of his position that he arrived at as our conversation progressed. Perhaps this is all he meant, but then he should have made this clear. His words are irresponsible and misleading.

And this brings us to the question of Dr. Brown’s credibility as a teacher. More than a year after he originally presented a faulty argument, Dr. Brown is still unabashedly telling us that it is not his responsibility to correct his mistake. It is my responsibility to do the math for Dr. Brown because it is “my” refutation.

To recap; Dr. Brown presented a mathematical argument that makes a claim about the focus of the prophet. When all of the factors are considered, this claim is demonstrably false. Dr. Brown acknowledges this. So how is it my responsibility to correct this mistake? It was Dr. Brown’s responsibility not to make the mistake in the first place and if he had discovered the mistake without my help, it would have been his responsibility to share the correction with the audience that he has misled with his mistake.

It seems that Dr. Brown does not realize this. What does this tell you about his sense of responsibility to represent the truth?

Dr. Brown now claims that he fully understood my point all along but “needed” my full count in order to assess the “strength of my argument.” Did I read this right? Dr. Brown knew that his argument was wrong for over a year but he was still defending it because I didn’t give him the exact count?! Is he not capable of counting on his own? Since when does he consult with me to give him Scriptural calculations?

Dr. Brown complains when I tell the audience that he didn’t understand my argument. To quote: “While he condescendingly claims that his argument was “beyond my grasp,” the reality is I fully understood the point he was trying to make but needed his full count in order to assess the strength of his argument.”

It was not I who “condescendingly claims” that he didn’t grasp my argument. It was Dr. Brown who acknowledged that he “didn’t fully follow my point,” he didn’t “get it completely.” These are his very words in his apology video (https://judaismresources.net/2018/03/13/dr-brown-apologizes/) at about the 5:40 mark. So now he tells us that he did “fully understand” my point. So which is it? Did he fail to grasp the point? Or did he “fully understand” it?

In his recent article Dr. Brown tells us that my “refutation” to his argument is “flawed in several fundamental ways.” He goes on to list three ways in which my argument is “flawed.” First, he tells us that I failed to consider his “major argument.” Second, I failed to ask the question: “why was a second servant necessary?” And third, I failed to give the full count of references in the various sections of Isaiah.

Dr. Brown is attempting to conflate arguments in order to deflect attention from the subject under discussion. This is a tactic he uses throughout his writings. He made a mistake, I exposed it. He now complains that I didn’t address different arguments. How does this make my expose of his mistake “flawed”?

In this same article Dr. Brown quotes my words out of their original context. After presenting his lengthy mathematical argument, he tells his audience: “Sadly, Rabbi Blumenthal chose to respond to this evidence with rhetoric, writing…” going on to provide a quote from my article. In this section of my article I point out that for over a year Dr. Brown did not realize that Isaiah 51 and 52 contain not one reference to the individual servant and are intensely focused on national Israel. Had he realized this obvious Scriptural truth there is no way he could have maintained his position which posits that the prophet’s focus shifts away from the nation in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53. Dr. Brown’s failure to realize this obvious Scriptural truth makes his criticism of traditional Jews as incapable of reading Scripture ring very hollow. This was the quote from my article that Dr. Brown is complaining about.

But the quote from my article was not in “response” to any Scriptural evidence presented by Dr. Brown. I was discussing Dr. Brown’s inability to see his own mistake.

Yet another tactic that Dr. Brown uses in this article is the repetition of arguments to which I have already responded to. Dr. Brown asks; if the Oral Law is so important, why then are there no references to in the pages of Scripture?

I responded to this question in “The Council of My Nation” (2007 -https://judaismresources.net/the-council-of-my-nation/ ) and further elaborated in “Supplement to Contra Brown” (2011 -https://judaismresources.net/supplement-to-contra-brown/ ). If Dr. Brown has a response to my arguments, let him share them with us. Repeating his original arguments verbatim, as if I never addressed them does nothing to further our conversation.

Dr. Brown complains that I “largely ignored” his argument about the Messiah as a priestly king.

I addressed this argument in “Contra Brown” (2007 – https://judaismresources.net/contra-brown/), in my debate with him and in subsequent articles. If he is not satisfied with my response, then I ask him to please share his arguments with the public. Simply repeating his old argument will not lead to greater understanding.

Furthermore, it is he who has ignored my argument about Israel as a priestly nation. In the very chapters that lead up to Isaiah 53, the prophet reflects Israel’s priestly role. Jerusalem is described as adorning her raiment of glory (Isaiah 52:1) which parallels the Scriptural description of the vestments of the Aaronic high-priest (Exodus 28:2). Holiness and purity are ascribed to Jerusalem in these passages (52:1,11), the same qualities associated with the priesthood (Leviticus 21 and 22). If the quality of priesthood is the sign of the servant of Isaiah 53, as Dr. Brown argues, then it is national Israel that that the prophet is pointing to in the chapters leading up to Isaiah 53.

Dr. Brown has not responded to this argument. Instead, he accuses me of ignoring arguments that I took the time and effort to address.

In a final display of irresponsibility, Dr. Brown accuses me of ignoring “the many rabbinic texts that speak of a Messiah son of Joseph.”

I have not ignored these texts. Dr. Brown did not bring up the concept of Messiah son of Joseph so why should I have mentioned him? In fact it is Dr. Brown who is ignoring the Scriptural evidence that points to a savior from the tribe of Joseph. The closing verses in Obadiah speak of saviors in plural terminology and ascribe an active role to the tribe of Joseph in the redemption process. It is Dr. Brown who is ignoring this Scriptural testimony and not I.

Let my conclude by summarizing what we have learned when Dr. Brown has finally put some more of his cards on the table. We learned that that the very lines of Scriptural argumentation proposed by Dr. Brown actually refute Dr. Brown’s own position and do not support it. We learned that Dr. Brown is not aware of his responsibility to correct a misleading argument that he shared with an unsuspecting audience. We have seen how Dr. Brown conflates his arguments in order to hide the emptiness of each individual argument. Dr. Brown showed us how he quotes my words out of context in an effort to attack me. We learned that Dr. Brown has not abandoned his tactic of repeating arguments that have already been addressed as if no one said a word in response.

This is what we have learned. What we have now unlearned is that what Dr. Brown said in his apology video may not be entirely true. In his apology video Dr. Brown explained his year-long inability to see his own mistake as “I didn’t follow fully.” In his recent article Dr. Brown tells us that he “fully understood” my point. So which is it? Did Dr. Brown not realize that he made a mistake from October 2016 until November 2017? Or was he fully aware that he made a mistake, but was still defending his dishonest argument because I didn’t give him every last bit of my Scriptural calculations?

Posted in Response to Dr. Brown Line of Fire | 6 Comments

Response to Gil Torres

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Response to Gil Torres

http://roundrockministry.blogspot.com/2012/06/christianity-unmasked.html#comment-form

It has come to my attention that one Gil Torres has taken exception to my article entitled “Christianity Unmasked”. In an article of his own Torres attempts to respond to a number of points that I raise in the aforementioned article. I would like to thank Mr. Torres for giving me the opportunity and the context to bring greater clarity to these important issues.

Torres labels the belief of Judaism in the Creator of heaven and earth and Israel’s loyalty to her God with the term: “unbelief”. The usage of such terminology distorts the essence of the discussion. By labeling the Jewish position that refuses to attribute divinity to Jesus as “unbelief”, the discussion is cast in the mold of a discussion as to whether we do believe or do not believe in the supposed divinity of Jesus. This is false. The discussion does not…

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You Are My Witnesses 3

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Diminishing References and Dr. Brown’s Staggering Mistake

Diminishing References and Dr. Brown’s Staggering Mistake

Between May and July of 2017 I participated in an online debate in which I exchanged arguments with Dr. Michael Brown on the subject of the “Real Jewish Messiah.” In the course of the debate Dr. Brown presented an argument that I exposed as faulty. In the context of the debate itself, Dr. Brown failed to realize the weight of my argument but subsequently, after an exchange of e-mails, Dr. Brown accepted my argument and publicly acknowledged his mistake.

However, while Dr. Brown acknowledged his mistake, he makes the claim that it is of minor significance and that on the whole, his position has been strengthened. I disagree with Dr. Brown’s assessment. I believe that Dr. Brown’s mistake is extremely significant, it affects the very core of Dr. Brown’s argument and that Dr. Brown’s incredible inability to see his mistake completely undermines all of his arguments. Please allow me to elaborate and substantiate my position.

This was a debate about the Real Jewish Messiah. What is the role and function of the Jewish Messiah according to the Jewish Scriptures?

At the outset of the debate Dr. Brown acknowledged that the role assigned to the Messiah by traditional Judaism is an accurate rendition of Scripture. Dr. Brown acknowledged that the Messiah is to regather the Jewish exiles, build the Temple of the Lord, establish God’s kingdom on the earth, and usher in an era of peace and the universal knowledge of the Lord. As the debate progressed, Dr. Brown further acknowledged that the Messiah is to validate the message of the Jewish people and that he is to continue the legacy of King David. Dr. Brown accepts that all of these Jewish expectations are rooted in the words of the Jewish prophets.

However, Dr. Brown argued that this is only one part of the Messiah’s role. According to Dr. Brown, Judaism has overlooked the Scriptural testimony concerning an additional role of the Messiah. Dr. Brown claims that the Jewish prophets taught that the Messiah is first to come and die as a vicarious atonement after being rejected by his people and only then return to fulfill the Messianic role assigned to him by traditional Judaism.

If Dr. Brown would stop here, then the debate between Judaism and Christianity would be a minor disagreement. If the missionary claim would be limited to the notion that before the Messiah fulfills the role assigned to him by traditional Judaism he first needs to perform another function, the difference between Judaism and Christianity would not be so sharp. In fact there are some traditions within Judaism that portray the Messiah as one who suffers in a redemptive sense before he appears as a glorious king. (It should be noted that these traditions do not portray the Messiah as dying.) If the debate would be limited to the question of the atoning role of the Messiah there would be no practical ramifications to the disagreement.

However, Christianity goes far beyond assigning an additional role to the Messiah. The missionary claim is that all of humanity needs to put its faith in this redemptive sacrifice of the Messiah, and they need to do it now. According to Dr. Brown, faith in God without faith in the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus is inadequate and incomplete. Judaism cannot accept this claim. The foundational claim of Judaism is that faith in God is sufficient and complete and does not need to be supplemented with any other faith. (Let it be noted that Christianity elevates this faith in their Messiah to the level of faith in the divine, and as such it cannot be compared to faith in God’s Law, faith in God’s prophets or faith in God’s appointed witnesses which are not faith in the divine.)

This then is an argument with deep and far-reaching practical ramifications and the ramifications are relevant to me and to you here and now. Do you need to put your faith in the redeeming sacrifice of a dying Messiah as Christianity claims? Or is faith in God sufficient without this faith in a vicarious atonement?

On what foundation does Christianity rest this claim? Why should we believe the claim of the Church that requires man to put his or her faith in this sacrificial Messiah?

To answer this question Dr. Brown points to Isaiah 53. Isaiah 53 portrays the servant of God as one who bears the sins of those who despise him and describes the ultimate vindication of this servant. Dr. Brown and missionary Christianity point to this passage in the Jewish Scripture to support their claim for faith in a dying Messiah.

This passage is a far cry from what the Christian requires to establish a Scriptural foundation for the doctrine of faith in a dying Messiah. The passage says nothing about faith in the suffering servant, the key component which sets the Christian doctrine apart from Judaism. And the passage does not identify the servant of the Lord. There is no clear identifying statement that tells us that this passage speaks of the son of David.

In our debate, Dr. Brown did not seriously address the first of these two problems (i.e. the failure of the prophet to teach the need for faith in the servant). But Dr. Brown did spend some time in an attempt to address the second problem, the identification of the servant. It is in this context that Dr. Brown presented his “diminishing references” argument. This argument was one element of a larger rationale in which Dr. Brown attempts to “prove” that the servant of Isaiah 53 is the Messiah.

Before we address Dr. Brown’s rationale for identifying the servant as Messiah let us point out that the Divine Author could have easily saved us this trouble. The Author could have identified the Messiah by name. Throughout Scripture, the Messiah is most positively identified by the name “David,” (i.e. Ezekiel 37:24) or “descendant of David” (i.e. Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15). If the salvation of mankind hinges upon us recognizing that this passage speaks of the Messiah, the Author should have done a better job. The fact that that the Author did not clearly identify the servant tells us that it is not all that important for us to know just who the servant is. The true message of the prophet rings clear without us knowing the identity of the servant.

Despite the fact that the Author did not identify the servant by name, Dr. Brown claims that he knows that the servant is the Messiah. Dr. Brown acknowledges that earlier in the book of Isaiah the title “servant” belongs to the nation. However, Dr. Brown points out that there is an individual within the nation who also bears this title. In Isaiah 49:5-6, the servant is sent on a mission to Israel so it is clear that the servant in this instance is not the nation as a whole. Dr. Brown argues that it is the Messiah. But the text does not make this clear. This individual can be the prophet or the righteous community within the large body of the nation.

But let us put this question aside and move forward with Dr. Brown’s argument and I quote: /“If we examine the evidence carefully, we will see that the references to the servant as a people actually end with Isa 48:20, while the references to the servant as an individual come into clearest focus beginning with Isaiah chapter 49 and continuing through the end of chapter 53. Accordingly, in chs. 40-48, when the greater focus is on the servant as a nation, the term “Israel” occurs 34x and “Jacob” 19x, whereas in chs. 49-53, where the greater focus is on the servant as an individual, “Israel” occurs 6x (5 in ch. 49) and “Jacob” 3x (all in ch. 49). So, by the time Isaiah 52:13 is reached, the spotlight is on a person, not a people, although the person is certainly connected to his people.” /

Dr. Brown is making two separate arguments. First he is claiming that from chapter 49 onward, the servant is no longer identified as Israel in the national sense but rather it refers to an individual. His second argument contends that it is not merely the word “servant” that is not associated with national Israel from chapter 49, but that the prophet’s attention in general has shifted from the nation to the individual.

I did not directly address the first of Dr. Brown’s two arguments (that the word “servant” no longer refers to the nation after chapter 49) in the context of the debate, instead I focused on his second argument, which is the subject of this particular discussion. I will take the liberty to digress now and address Dr. Brown’s first argument.

It is true that the word “servant” is not explicitly associated with national Israel in chapters 49 thru 52 of the book of Isaiah. However, the prophet makes it clear in these same chapters that the community of Israel is God’s servant and accomplishes His purpose on earth. The prophet tells us that God placed His word in Israel’s mouth in order to plant the heavens and establish the earth (51:16). It is clear that Israel is God’s instrument to achieve God’s purpose. In these chapters Israel is referred to as the nation with God’s Law in their heart (51:7). Israel is described as pursuers of justice and seekers of God (51:1) hardly terms the prophet would use if he was trying to deemphasize national Israel’s role in God’s redemptive plan. And finally, Israel is given the title “armor bearers of the Lord” (52:11). An armor bearer is someone who helps the primary warrior as he goes to battle (e.g. 1Samuel 14:1). It is clear that the prophet wants us to see national Israel as one who plays an active role in God’s plan as we approach Isaiah 53. Dr. Brown’s contention that once we reach chapter 49, the prophet no longer wants us to see national Israel as God’s servant is refuted by the text.

Let us now approach Dr. Brown’s second argument, the argument of diminishing references. This is where Dr. Brown is not simply wrong (as he is in all of his missionary arguments) but where he made a staggering mistake. Dr. Brown made the claim that within the set of Isaiah 40 thru 53, the opening of chapter 49 serves as a pivot. While in chapters 40 thru 48 the prophet’s primary attention was focused on national Israel, from chapter 49 thru 53 the focus has become the individual servant within Israel and not national Israel. Dr. Brown based this argument on the fact that the words “Israel” and “Jacob” appear fewer times in chapters 49 thru 52 than they do in chapters 40 thru 48.

However, Dr. Brown failed to consider the fact that the prophet has other ways to refer to national Israel. “My nation,” “Zion,” “Jerusalem,” and “armor bearers of the Lord,” are just a few of the references to the people of Israel aside from the words “Israel” and “Jacob.” Then we have various pronouns that the prophet uses in a way that make it clear that he is referring to the nation. Plural pronouns or female pronouns are clear references to Israel as a national entity and not to the individual within the nation who is invariably described in masculine and singular terms.

When we consider all of the different ways that the prophet uses to refer to the nation and when we consider the proportion of national references to total of verses it becomes clear that the prophet did not shift his attention away from the nation after chapter 49, instead his attention upon the nation intensified. The ratio of clear and unmistakable references to the nation in proportion to number of verses actually increases from chapter 49 onward and does not decrease as Dr. Brown’s argument would suggest.

Once Dr. Brown understood this calculation (this took place on November 15 2017), he retracted his argument. In his apology video he explains that this argument was not his own, he had read it in the work of another Christian missionary. Furthermore, he argues that when I presented the refutation to his argument, all I said was that there are over 150 references to national Israel in chapters 49 thru 52. I did not follow this up by explaining that the proportion of national references increase in these chapters over and against the preceding chapters. The fact that I did not present the punch-line to my refutation prevented him from fully grasping my argument.

I find this amazing. What is there to grasp? How sophisticated do you have to be before you realize that an argument about the focus of the author can only be measured in proportion to the amount of sentences he uses? How knowledgeable do you have to be before you realize that “Zion” or “My nation” are references to Israel as a nation? And if this concept was beyond the grasp of Dr. Brown, then how did he figure out that the individual servant is the Messiah? The Messiah is not mentioned by name in this entire section of Isaiah (40-53). How is it that when it comes to national Israel, Dr. Brown cannot see anything unless the prophet spells it out by name but when it comes to the Messiah, Dr. Brown demands that we see every imaginary shadow?

But it goes much further than this. Dr. Brown has condescendingly described traditional Jews as incapable of reading Scripture for what it actually says. He has told us that the traditional Jews cannot see the true meaning of Scripture because they read the Scriptures in the context of rabbinic commentary. But we now see that Dr. Brown cannot see the text of the Scripture because he is desperately trying to establish a case for Jesus. Isaiah 51 and 52 contain not one explicit reference to the individual servant within the nation (whoever he may be). At the same time, these two chapters (Isaiah 51 and 52) are intensely focused on national Israel. If someone fails to realize this obvious Scriptural truth how then can they turn around and claim to be especially attuned to the word of the prophet? How can this same person preach to people about reading Scripture honestly?

For the record, Dr. Brown presented this faulty “diminishing references” argument before we debated (in a lecture he presented in New York). I wrote an article in which I refuted this argument in October of 2016. He read this article (and commented to me on certain details of this article) but clearly failed to grasp my refutation to his argument. He presented the same argument in his opening video of our debate in May of 2017 and he heard my refutation again in June of that same year. I explained my refutation several times in articles that were posted publicly and in personal communications. It was not until November of 2017 when Dr. Brown finally realized that his argument was faulty.

In his apology video (March 2018), Dr. Brown still seems to feel that I was at fault for not making my refutation clear enough. He tells the audience that I did not tell him how I was counting. How outrageous! This was an argument that he brought to the table. It was he who made a claim about the focus of the prophet. It is his responsibility to make sure that the argument works. If he is made aware of facts that he was not consciously aware of when he presented his argument, it is incumbent upon him to recalculate and see if his argument still works. My counting is irrelevant, this was his argument and it is his responsibility to count. The fact that Dr. Brown fails to realize that it is his responsibility to make sure that his arguments are honest and true tells us that we cannot rely on his arguments.

I will close this article with one final appeal to the lover of God’s word. The Author of Scripture put the vindication of Israel’s testimony at the center of the Messianic vision. The ultimate moment in human history is described as humanity attaining knowledge of God (Deuteronomy 32:39; Isaiah 11:9; 40:5; 45:6; 49:26; Ezekiel 36:26; 37:28; 38:23; Zechariah 14:9). The prophets tell us that when this happens it will come as a vindication of Israel’s testimony a validation of her hope and the answer to her prayer (Isaiah 25:9; 43;9,10; 44:8; 49:23; Psalm 102:18). The prophets did not speak about this in riddles or secrets. They said this openly and clearly. They said this so clearly, that those who ridicule Israel’s testimony are forced to acknowledge that this is the message of the Scripture. Israel’s testimony has very few enemies that are more vocal than Dr. Brown’s community and the teachers of this community are forced by the clear word of God to acknowledge that the Messiah will vindicate Israel’s message.

Dr. Brown attempts to deflect this open refutation to his position by claiming that the trust of Israel that will be vindicated will be the trust that we attain when we accept his Messiah. This deflection is no more than the thinnest of smokescreens. The entire point of these prophecies that I quoted is that the hope that Israel had while in exile, while suffering, while being ridiculed by people like Dr. Brown, will be vindicated. The prayer that Israel prayed through the ages is the prayer that is answered with the revelation of God’s glory. Dr. Brown’s argument is the very argument that the prophets set out to refute with their ringing pronouncements.

But I would like to draw your attention to another one of Dr. Brown’s deflections. Dr. Brown claims that my focus on the vindication of Israel’s trust in God is irrelevant to the discussion about the real Jewish Messiah. Did you hear that? What else could Dr. Brown tell you that he is attempting to silence the word of God on the issue of the Messiah? The prophets of God made it clear that the validation of Israel’s hope stands at the center of the Messianic vision. And Dr. Brown would have you look away. He would have you focus on what he sees as central to the concept of Messiah and ignore what the prophets of God made clear.

I appeal to you. Please allow yourself to be moved by the word of God. Absorb the clarity that the prophets imparted to us. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted by the words of a man who has dramatically demonstrated that his bias has him directing people’s hearts away from the word of God.

Posted in Response to Dr. Brown Line of Fire | 12 Comments

Childishly Easy – An Open Response to Charles

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Childishly Easy – An Open Response to Charles

This article is in response to Charles Soper’s comments:

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/excerpt-from-a-written-debate-with-dr-brown-3/#comment-15693

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/excerpt-from-a-written-debate-with-dr-brown-3/#comment-15735

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2014/11/09/excerpt-from-a-written-debate-with-dr-brown-3/#comment-15897

Charles

You define the “watershed” between us as a debate about God’s nature. Your assessment has no basis in reality. At no point in the Bible is idolatry defined as an incorrect belief about God’s nature. Idolatry is not about beliefs, it is about worship.

The Bible is very clear when it comes to worship. The Bible reports that God did not rely on a book to teach His people who it is that they ought to worship. The Bible also reports that God did not rely on a prophet to teach His people who it is that they ought to worship. The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God did not rely on these two mediums (the book and the prophet) to teach His people who it is that…

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PASSOVER HIJACKING AND HIJINKS – by R’ Michael Skobac

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

PASSOVER HIJACKING AND HIJINKS – by R’ Michael Skobac

Each year, numerous missionary churches and Messianic congregations co-opt the holiday of Passover, claiming that it proclaims a Christian message. The Christian bible compares Jesus to the Paschal lamb (John 1:29) and insists that he died as a sacrifice to atone for the sins of the world (I Cor. 15:3, I John 2:2).

In truth, this deceptive spin totally distorts the actual meaning of Passover.

The exodus of the children of Israel from their long bondage in Egypt 3300 years ago was preceded by ten awesome plagues that God visited upon our oppressors. The last of these plagues was the slaying of the Egyptian first born. God instructed the Israelites to place the blood of a lamb on their doorposts and lintels of their houses. The Angel of Death passed over the houses marked in this way as it went about…

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Silencing the Prophets – a Response to David

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Silencing the Prophets – a Response to David

David

Thanks again for taking the time to contribute to this discussion. I recognize that you are not happy with my habit of making new posts out of my responses to your comments, but this blog is my responsibility and I need to do things the way I understand. The purpose of this blog is to give people a forum to argue things out respectfully because such arguments ultimately lead to clarity. I have a responsibility to manage this blog in a way that I believe most effectively brings clarity to the discussion.

This post is in response to the following comments

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19549

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19574

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19638

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19667

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19668

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19696

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19699

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19700

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19718

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19721

https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2015/06/19/representative-idolatry-response-to-david/#comment-19735

This discussion is about Trinitarian Christianity. It is you who are trying to whitewash that form of idolatry by saying that the Scriptures never explicitly prohibit this form…

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