Ambassadors and Prophets

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Ambassadors and Prophets

The jungle inhabitants were lost in confusion. Then an ambassador from the benevolent and wise king came and taught them some ways of civilization. Since that first ambassador from the king arrived in the jungle, many other ambassadors visited the jungle and its inhabitants. These ambassadors taught the jungle dwellers about the great king and his noble ways. And many of these ambassadors wrote books so that the wisdom of the king can be preserved for future generations.

At some point in time the jungle dwellers noticed something radically different about one of the ambassadors. All of the other ambassadors emphasized their message and kept their own personality in the background. When they read the books of the other ambassadors they walked away with a deeper understanding of the greatness of the king and of his kind and just ways. But this one ambassador’s book left them…

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Movies and Manifestations

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Movies and Manifestations

Two of your friends just returned from going to the movies. They claim to have watched the same movie but in different movie theaters. One of your friends goes on and on about the content of the movie that he saw. While the other friend just speaks about the movie theater. He speaks about the beauty of the building, the plush seats, the air-conditioning system and the popcorn, but nary a word about the content of the movie. You don’t know what they saw but it is clear that these two people had two different experiences.

The meaning of this parable should be obvious. No one has seen God. But the prophets of Scripture did experience various encounters with God. Moses heard the voice of God from the flames of the burning bush, Israel saw the glory of God in the cloud that accompanied the in the…

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Still Unanswered, Questions that Dr. Brown Continues to Avoid

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Still Unanswered, Questions that Dr. Brown Continues to Avoid

A few weeks ago, I made a presentation entitled “Unanswered, Questions that Dr. Brown Has Failed to Address.” Dr. Brown responded with a video of his own entitled “Dr. Brown Answers Rabbi Blumenthal’s Questions.” As disappointed as I am with Dr. Brown’s video, I will thank him for engaging. By putting his thoughts on the table, the conversation which has stalled for 10 years can now proceed.

As I stated in my previous video, if you have read Dr. Brown’s 5 volumes of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus and you have read my written critique of his work, then you don’t need these video presentations. Each of the questions that I raise on the video deserves so much more than a few minutes. And in my writings I attempt to do justice to these questions by illuminating them from different angles…

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Very Good

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Very Good

The creation narrative concludes with the words “and the Lord saw all that He created and behold it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). This phrase is interspersed throughout the entire chapter. But what does this mean? Does God need to look at what He created in order to know what it is? Did He not know before He created the world that it would be good so that He had to make sure that He got what He originally planned? Furthermore, what does the word “good” mean to God? Does it mean that the world looked nice? That it was functional? Are these qualities true “good”?

It is clear that when the Torah says that God saw that the world was good it means that He saw that the world will eventually bring forth the righteousness that He was hoping for. In other words; God believed in the…

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Miracles Happen Every Day

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Identifying the Teachers of the Law – excerpt from: The Council of My Nation

Identifying the Teachers of the Law

This brings us to the final function that Eternal Israel performs in relation to the Law, namely the identification of her leaders. The teachers of the Law serve as a crucial component in Israel’s relationship with the Law. These leaders are the arbitrators of the Law, and their judgment enables the nation to apply the Law to living situations. These leaders guide Eternal Israel in dispensing her duty in the realm of preservation of the Law. It is these leaders who set forth the Rabbinic enactments that serve to perpetuate the Law. And it is these leaders who direct the ongoing living discussion, preserving the authenticity of the discussion so that the inheritance of the congregation of Jacob (Deuteronomy 33:4) is passed on the way it was received.

The first body of arbitrators of the law was established by Moses (Exodus 18:25, Deuteronomy 1:15). Since then, the nation always had people to whom they can turn with their questions relating to the Law. The leaders of each generation recognize their responsibility to provide guidance for the next generation. The imperative to educate students who can shoulder the mantle of leadership is a major element in the lives of Israel’s leaders. The chain of leadership passes on from one generation to the next through the academies and study halls of Eternal Israel.

The system of choosing Israel’s leaders is not a formalized process, it is a living process. Scripture informs us that even when Israel was enslaved in Egypt she possessed identifiable leaders (Exodus 3:16, 12:21). It is doubtful that as slaves under Pharaoh that the people had any formal election system. The straightforward reading of these passages implies that these leaders attained their position through a natural process. These were men who had earned the respect of their brethren and whom the society turned to for leadership. When Moses established a more formal system of leadership, he did not override the nation’s natural system of leadership, instead Moses appointed men who were already acknowledged by the nation as her leaders (Numbers 11:16, Deuteronomy 1:13).

From the times of Moses until today the leadership of Israel is chosen by a spontaneous and natural process. Within the parameters of any given community which lives the Law, some people will necessarily stand as examples to their peers. As the nation participates in the ongoing living discussion, proficiency in the Law stands as a very valuable commodity. Eventually, some people will gain the confidence and respect of society as representatives of the spirit of the Law, and as experts in understanding the Law. This process occurs on many different tiers. Someone with little or no background in study of the Law, will be incapable of determining the precise caliber of his friend’s Torah acumen, but he is certainly qualified to voice an opinion concerning his friend’s character. People with more Torah knowledge will be able to offer a limited evaluation as to the quality of Torah knowledge of their peers. Those proficient in Torah knowledge will be capable of gauging the abilities of their contemporaries with greater exactitude. Each segment of the population looks to the appraisals of those more proficient then themselves with much respect. The opinion of those who have already proven their mastery of the Law will certainly carry the most weight, but the nation will want to see for themselves.

As long as the nation remained in geographical proximity, and the living discussion was united and cohesive, certain individuals or groups of individuals were able to gain the collective respect of the nation as a whole. These men constituted the bodies of central leadership, and in these men resided the nation’s collective authority. The natural process worked in synchrony with a formal ordination process through which the mantle of Torah leadership passed from one generation to the next. It is only with such universal authority that decisions could be made on behalf of Eternal Israel. The establishment of the national holidays of Channuka and Purim was only possible when the nation was collectively united under one body of spiritual leadership. Central leadership was a necessity for the institution of the Rabbinic decrees. And it is only a body of leadership empowered by the nation as a whole, who has the authority to accept a book into the corpus of Jewish scripture.

As the nation dispersed, and the national living discussion fragmented into local circles of discussion, the power of the central leadership went into decline. The people still looked to a central body of leadership for the monthly and yearly decisions pertaining to the calendar, but that remained the only function of the central leadership. In fact, the last act of Eternal Israel’s contiguous assembly of central leadership was the arrangement of a permanent calendar. Before the Byzantine persecutions stamped out the last vestige of the nation’s high court, Hillel the Prince (not to be confused with Hillel the Elder, his ancestor), established the calendar we follow today.

The decline of the power of the central leadership was a slow process and did not move entirely downhill. Throughout the period of decline, the central leadership underwent two major peaks of resurgence. The brief respite from persecution that the nation experienced in the times of Rabbi Judah the Prince, and again in the times of Rav Ashi enabled the nation to reassert a measure of unified authority. During these two time periods (approximately 175 CE and 400 CE respectively) the leading scholars of each community were able to convene under the leadership of these two Torah giants. These conventions of scholars were recognized by the nation as incorporating the collective authority of Eternal Israel. With possession of this measure of power these two assemblies were able to ratify the Mishna and the Talmud as anchors and foundations for Eternal Israel’s ongoing living discussion.

Since then, each community identified their own leaders. With the passage of time, the various communities interacted with each other and learned to appreciate the leaders of localities other than their own. In this way the nation was able to come to a consensus in the evaluation of national leaders. In the lifetime of Rashi the Jews in Iraq might not have heard of him, and they certainly didn’t know enough about him to properly appreciate his contribution to the living discussion. As Rashi’s books spread, the collective Torah wisdom of the nation was able to come to a consensus in their evaluation of Rashi. The same living process repeats itself, and continues to repeat itself as the dispersed nation continuously calibrates her evaluation of various scholars and their written works. In this way, Eternal Israel continues to discharge her duty towards the Law by identifying the leaders who embody her spirit and who know her letter.

Just as God entrusted Israel with the task of identifying the arbitrators of the Law, so did He charge Israel with the duty of recognizing His prophets. The process of authenticating the verity of a prophet is legislated by the Law (Deuteronomy 13:2-6, 18:18-22). The nation, under the guidance of her arbitrators of the Law would be required to determine the legitimacy of any claim to prophecy. This process was far from smooth. More often than not, God appointed the prophet to deliver stinging words of rebuke. The harshest criticisms were frequently directed at the most powerful people in the society. There was a tremendous motivation to silence the prophet or to dispute his validity. In most cases the rulers of Israel absorbed the censure of the prophets without moving to silence them (1Samuel 3:18, 13:13,14, 15:24,28, 2Samuel 12:7-10, 1Kings 20:42, 21:27, 2Kings 20:17, Jeremiah 26:18,19, Haggai 1:12, 2Chronicles 12:5,6 19:2, 20:37). In some cases the rulers persecuted the prophets (1Kings 12:4, 18:4, Jeremiah 20:2, 26:21,22, 29:25, 36:26, 2Chronicles 16:10, 24:21). The general society of the nation was also upbraided by the prophets on a regular basis. In many cases the populace recognized the prophet’s authority to administer the reproach (Judges. 2:1-5, 10:11-16, 1Samuel 12:19, Jeremiah 26:17, 38:11, 2 Chronicles 28:9-5) while in other situations they actively opposed the prophet (Jeremiah 11:19, 18:18, 26:11, 38:4). The hostility towards the prophets was generally instigated by corrupt arbitrators of the Law, and by men who had falsely laid claim to prophecy (Jeremiah 6:14, 8:8-11,14:13, 23:13,14, 26:8, 27:14, 28:1-4, 29:8,9,21, Ezekiel 13:1-16, Amos 7:10-13). In the confusion generated by the heat of the immediate situation many elements in society fought the prophets tooth and nail. But as the dust settled and time went on, the voice of those loyal to God was eventually heard and embraced. The people were able to sort out the genuine prophets from the frauds and to distinguish between the corrupt leaders and those who truly represented God’s Law. That is how we have scripture today.

Although we no longer have prophets to lead us we still have leaders who guide the nation in matters of the spirit. In many situations these men are the same leaders who arbitrate the Law, but in some situations the spiritual leaders did not make a particular mark as arbitrators of the Law. These leaders rebuked, encouraged, and provided guidance in our general relationship with God. As with the prophets before them, some of these teachers encountered opposition amongst various elements of the population. And as with the prophets before them, with the passage of time, the nation came to appreciate the greatness of these holy men.

 

 

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Sufficient

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

True prayer is a service of the heart. Saying words and singing songs can only be true prayer if these activities are an expression of a heart that sees itself as beholden to God in submission and thanks. Prayer is all about acknowledging that every iota of existence, especially my own existence, belongs exclusively and absolutely to God. Prayer is gratitude and awe. Gratitude for the gift of existence that is underserved. And the awe is the awe of one who is utterly helpless standing in the presence of the Master of all.

Prayer is worship and the worship of the Jew is a heart that allows itself to be drawn to the majesty and wonder of the Creator of all.

The Christian Scriptures claim that Jesus prayed. Was this lip service? Was Jesus’ prayer a mere recital of words that do not flow from a heart that is bent…

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Thou Shalt Not Murder

1000 Verses - a project of Judaism Resources

Thou Shalt Not Murder
Is this injunction limited to the actual act of terminating a human life? or is this commandment a heading for a general concept?

The nation to whom this commandment was addressed understands that both are true. There is one specific action that is directly addressed in this commandment, and there is also an additional layer of meaning that lies beneath the surface. And we do not need to wander far to find this additional meaning.

The commandments are a reflection of the conscience that we as human beings are blessed with and by using this understanding we can easily see a much broader application to this commandment, an application that goes far beyond restraining ourselves from murder.
If murder is terrible, then wouldn’t it follow that saving a life is wonderful? And why stop at “saving” a life which is threatened with death? Supporting life, cultivating…

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Saved by the Blood

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Was Jesus a Pharisee? – Excerpt from Supplement to Contra Brown

V. 69. Objection 6.15

 

It is here that Brown addresses the third of my challenges to him: “An honest reading of the NT will reveal that Jesus and his followers believed in, and observed the unwritten traditions which the Jews accepted as God‑given.”

 

It is important to note that this discussion is not relevant from the stand-point of the Jew. Whether Jesus did or did not repudiate the Oral Law has no bearing on the Jews acceptance of the Oral Law. Furthermore, since the Jew sees no reason to trust the editors of the Christian Scriptures, the Jew is in no way convinced that the Christian Scriptures present an accurate portrait of Jesus and his disciples. Nonetheless, the Christian Scriptures as we have them today still contain strong evidence that Jesus and his Jewish disciples accepted the validity of the Oral Law. This, despite the fact that by the time the Christian Scriptures were being edited, the Church found itself in an intense conflict with the Pharisees – the bearers of the oral traditions. The editors of the Christian Scriptures were no friends of the Pharisees and their negative feelings towards them pervade their writings; still and all, they could not hide the fact that Jesus himself was a Pharisee.

 

Brown limits the challenge to Jesus’ directive quoted in Matthew 23:2,3: “The teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”

 

The fact is that there is more evidence in the Christian Scriptures that support the argument that Jesus believed in the Oral Law, and Brown does touch on some of it throughout his response to this objection, but he does not share with his readers the full scope of the argument or of the evidence that has been brought forth to support it.

 

Before we get to all of the textual evidence that supports the contention that Jesus himself observed and believed in the Oral law, let us summarize Brown’s response to the quote from Matthew 23.

 

Brown begins by acknowledging that certain Christian scholars, such as Dr. John Fischer, recognize that Jesus “even accepted Pharisaic extensions”; meaning that Jesus accepted both the Written and Oral Laws, including even rabbinic injunctions that were appended to the Law by the Pharisees. Brown lists the tithing of herbs (Matt. 23:23), the recitation of grace at meals (Mark 6:41; 8:6), blessings over wine and the recitation of Hallel at the Passover seder (Mark 14:22-23,26).

 

Brown however, argues that this interpretation of Jesus’ words must be wrong. Brown attempts to demonstrate that Jesus teaching was directly opposed to the teachings of the Pharisees in so many different situations, that his words in Matthew 23; (“do everything they tell you to do”) cannot be taken literally.     

 

Therefore, Brown concludes, Jesus must have been speaking sarcastically, or what Jesus meant is that his disciples should obey the Pharisees insofar as they accurately represent Moses, or Jesus was only instructing his disciples to obey the Pharisees up until the time when “the kingdom would be taken from them”, which Brown associates with the destruction of the Temple. Brown offers yet a fourth interpretation of Jesus’ words, namely that the directive only applied to matters of local legal disputes, and finally, Brown offers us a variant reading of Matthew 23 as proposed by Nehemiah Gordon in which Jesus instructs his disciples NOT to obey the Pharisees.

 

Brown asserts that at least one of these interpretations must be correct because throughout the Christian Scriptures, we find Jesus in conflict with the Pharisees. On this basis, Brown negates the straightforward meaning of Jesus’ words.

 

As for Brown’s five interpretations; the first and the last don’t deserve a refutation (if Jesus meant this sarcastically, what else did he mean sarcastically? And Gordon’s variant reading is not found in any ancient manuscript). The second and third interpretations do not negate the point that Jesus accepted the Oral Law. In the context of Pharisee Judaism, the idea of “accurately representing Moses” would include the interpretations of the Oral Law. If Jesus meant to negate the authenticity of the Oral Law, he should have referred to the Sadducees, who were closer to Brown’s idea of ignoring the traditional interpretations and sticking to the Written word alone. As for the third interpretation, where Jesus has his disciples obey the Pharisees until the time that “the kingdom is taken from them”, this would still indicate that as far as the Law of Moses is concerned, the Pharisee approach is the one to be followed, and not the Protestant approach of “Sola Scriptura”. Brown’s fourth interpretation which limits Jesus’ directive to obey the Pharisees to areas of local legal disputes, also does not negate the argument that Jesus accepted the authority and the authenticity of the Oral Law. The Torah provides legislation on all matters of disputes that arise between man and man. The Law of Moses requires that each of these disputes be settled in a specific way. If Jesus believed, as Brown does, that the Pharisees possessed a completely crooked and inaccurate understanding of the Law of Moses, why would he submit his disciples to their authority? Why would he not send his disciples to the Sadducees, who were closer to Brown’s “Sola Scriptura” approach to Scripture?

 

When we us examine the areas of conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees as recorded in the Christian Scriptures, it will become clear that Jesus was NOT disputing the Oral Law as it was passed down from Moses. On some occasions he was disputing some rabbinic enactments, which are different from the Oral Law as an interpretation of the Law of Moses. Even in his disputes with these enactments, Jesus limits himself to those enactments which were disputed within the circle of Pharisees themselves, or to those enactments that were in the process of being instituted. On the other hand, on every occasion, we see that Jesus accepted the Pharisee interpretation and the Pharisee application of the Law of Moses. This helps us understand why some of Jesus’s disciples identified themselves as Pharisees (Acts 15:5 – a comparison with Galatians 2:11,12,14 will reveal that Peter himself was one of these Pharisees). It is obvious that they understood Jesus’ directive to obey the Pharisees in its most straightforward sense – obey the Pharisees!

 

Brown refers to the rebuke of the Pharisees that follows Jesus’ directive to obey them (Matthew 23:5-39. Brown points out that Jesus refers to the Pharisees as “blind men” and “blind guides”, which seems to indicate that they are not leading the people properly. Brown points to Matthew 15:14 where Jesus tells his disciples: Leave them, they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into the pit.” How then could Jesus’ original directive to obey the Pharisees be taken literally? – asks Brown.

 

This argument is refuted by Matthew’s Jesus himself. Jesus clearly says: “they do not practice what they preach”, or according to the King James: “for they say, and do not”. In other words, Jesus was arguing that as men who are supposed to lead by example, they are blind guides, but their words are true and authoritative. (As for Jesus’ words in the context of Matthew 15:14, see below.)

 

Brown points to Matthew 23 verse 4 where Jesus describes the Pharisees as people who: “put burdens on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.”  Brown argues that the way the Pharisees put burdens on people’s shoulders was through their teachings, so how then can Jesus be instructing his disciples to submit to these same teachings?

 

This rebuke of Jesus can be understood in a way that does not conflict in any way with his clear directive to obey the Pharisees who sit in Moses’ seat. We must put these words into their historical context. The Pharisee leadership in the time of Jesus were in the process of setting down rabbinical enactments. These were new decrees that were meant as a “fence” to the Law of Moses. One such decree, which was still in the process of being accepted in Jesus’ day was the enactment of hand-washing (- see below). It was these new decrees that Jesus was deriding as “burdens” that his contemporaries were placing upon people’s shoulders. He was not referring to teachings that his contemporaries were handing down from previous generations. This is obvious from the wording he uses. He throws out a personal accusation against the contemporary Pharisee leadership; it is these people who he accuses of placing the burdens, he is not referring to leaders from previous generations and neither is he referring to teachings that these people are passing on in the name of Moses.

 

Brown reminds his readers of the dispute that Jesus has with the Pharisees concerning the hand-washing decree as recorded in Matthew 15 and Mark 7. Here is an area where Jesus clearly rejects a Pharisee teaching. In light of this conflict how can we understand his instruction to obey the Pharisees?

 

The answer is to this question is quite simple. The hand-washing decree was never presented as an interpretation of the Law of Moses. It was a rabbinic decree that, at first, was not accepted by all. It is only the contemporaries of Jesus who gave this decree its full legal force (B. Talmud Shabbos 14b). So Jesus was not disputing an interpretation that the Pharisees were passing down from Moses, he was not even disputing an ancient tradition. Jesus was taking issue with a new decree that had a history of uncertainty surrounding it. This hardly constitutes a repudiation of the Oral Law; certainly not one which would force us to reinterpret the straightforward meaning of Jesus’ clear directive as quoted in Matthew 23.

 

There is another conflict that Jesus has with the Pharisees that Brown does not mention directly; this encounter is found in Matthew 15:5,6 and Mark 7:10-12. In these texts Jesus is criticizing a practice wherein one would consecrate his possessions so as to avoid having to honor his parents. The problem with this account is that there is no historical record of any Jewish leader presenting such an opinion. According to every opinion in Jewish law, honoring one’s parents is one of the foremost commandments, and no leader on record ever encouraged his followers to consecrate their possessions in order to avoid honoring one’s parents. In a situation where one went ahead and actually consecrated his or her possessions to the Temple treasury, those possessions would be assumed by the Temple treasury and in effect, this person would no longer be able to honor his or her parents because of a lack of means to do so. But this person would have utilized a Biblical Law (Leviticus 27:14, Numbers 30:3), and not an oral tradition, in order to avoid fulfilling the commandment to honor parents. So Jesus’s rebuke of the Pharisees for exalting their tradition above the commandment of God is not readily understood in light of what we know of the Pharisee teaching on the subject.

 

The most likely interpretation of these texts would have Jesus in conflict with a select group of Pharisees and not with the entire movement. Since this rebuke of Jesus is placed together with his arguments against the hand-washing decree, it follows that this was a recent innovation of some Pharisees that Jesus was criticizing. From the historical records, it seems that the opinion that Jesus was criticizing, never gained any level of popular support.

 

Brown goes on to the violations of the Sabbath that the gospels attribute to Jesus and his disciples. Brown tells his readers: “…the New Testament authors not only record these instances where Jesus’ disciples differed with the Pharisaic tradition, but at other times, they record instances where Jesus himself violated some of these traditions…”

 

Brown sees these Sabbath violations as an example of Jesus’ repudiation of the Oral Law. Let us examine these texts more closely. Mark 2 and Matthew 12 record an instance where Jesus’ disciples plucked some grain as they walked through the fields. The Pharisees challenged Jesus: “why do they on the Sabbath that which is not lawful?” According to Brown’s hypothesis which has Jesus repudiating the Oral Law, Jesus should have told these Pharisees that this activity is NOT prohibited on the Sabbath under any circumstance. Would Brown hesitate to pluck something off a tree to eat on the Sabbath? But this is not what Jesus answered. Jesus launches into a speech about David’s eating from the show-bread which was forbidden to him and about the priests violating the Sabbath in the service in the Temple. These two are examples of an activity that violates the Law, but is permitted due to extenuating circumstances. By providing these comparisons, Jesus affirms his acceptance of the Pharisaic definition of prohibited activity on the Sabbath. His only difference with the Pharisees was whether the prohibition was relevant in that specific situation.

 

In the book of John, Jesus justifies his Sabbath violation with the following argument: “If a man on the sabbath day receive circumcision, that the law of Moses should not be broken; are ye angry at me, because I have made a man every whit whole on the sabbath day?” (John 7:23). Again, Jesus does not argue that the activities that he did should not be defined as “work” that is forbidden on the Sabbath. Jesus fully accepts that his activities fall under the definition of forbidden “work”. He argues instead that his activities should be permitted because they are done for the purpose of healing.

 

Furthermore, the entire weight of Jesus’ argument rests on the assumption that the Oral Law is true. Without the Oral Law how would we know that the act of circumcision is considered a forbidden activity on the Sabbath? And after we accept that premise, then where in the Written Torah does it say that the act of circumcision may indeed be preformed on the Sabbath? The fact that Jesus accepted these two axioms (that circumcision falls under the category of prohibited “work”, and that for the sake of fulfilling the commandment, this act is permitted on the Sabbath), and the fact that he based his argument on these two axioms, tells us loud and clear that Jesus accepted the Oral law, and that he expected his audience to accept it as well.

 

The fact that Jesus observed the Pharisaic calendar, the fact that he observed many Pharisee teachings such as the blessings on wine and bread, and the order of the Passover seder (as Brown acknowledges), the fact that his disciples observed the times of prayer instituted by the Pharisees (Acts 3:1), and the fact that many of Jesus’ disciples identified themselves as Pharisees long after Jesus had died – testifies clearly that Jesus did not repudiate the Oral Law. When he instructed his followers to obey the Pharisees because they sit in Moses’ seat, his immediate disciples did not think that he meant it sarcastically.

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