1. Objections 5.1 thru 5.5
In these pages Brown attempts to explain the usage of the Jewish scriptures by the authors of the Christian Scriptures. In many cases these authors seem to be misquoting or misinterpreting the text of the Jewish Bible. The thrust of Brown’s response is that the authors of the Christian scriptures were using the midrashic method of interpreting scripture. Brown points out that: “Jewish interpretation and use of scripture in the first five-plus centuries of this era was much more free-flowing than our contemporary, historical-grammatical approach”. In other words, the authors of the Christian scriptures were not limited by grammar or context in their interpretations. They felt free to read the text according to their own spiritual insight, regardless of textual context. Brown feels that this is justified because the Rabbis do this too.
The fallacy of Brown’s argument is readily apparent. By using such “free-flowing” interpretation of scripture, anyone can “prove” anything. One can utilize the midrashic method by taking all the negative characters in the Jewish scriptures, and demonstrate how they “foreshadowed” the advent of Jesus. The midrashic method of reading scripture is only meaningful within a specific social context. Before I can accept anyone’s midrashic interpretations, I must be sure that these people embody the spirit of the scriptures. Before I accept anyone’s spiritual insights, I must be first assured that these men are holy and pure, and that their concept of spirituality is in line with the God of Israel. One cannot use the midrashic method of interpreting scripture in order to establish his or her own spiritual credibility. Anyone can do that. One’s spiritual credibility must be well established before he can expect anyone hear his midrashic discourses.
The fact that the authors of the Christian scriptures expected their free-flowing interpretations to serve as “proof” for their beliefs utterly discredits them. These authors condemned to eternal hell-fire, anyone who does not accept their imaginative renditions of scriptures. This alone is more than enough evidence to establish the fact that these people had no connection with the spirit of the Jewish prophets.
2. Objection 5.9
Brown addresses the question of the “virgin birth” of Jesus. How could anyone know if this event ever happened? Aside from Mary herself, no one could verify this event. This fundamental of the Christian faith stands of the testimony of one woman who has every reason in the world to lie – if she ever actually claimed a “virgin birth”.
3. Objection 5.11
Brown discusses the Jewish objection that argues that if Joseph was not Jesus’ biological father, then Jesus was not a descendant of David on his father’s side. This tells us that Jesus could not be the Jewish Messiah. According to the Jewish Scriptures, the Messiah must be a descendant of David from his father’s side.
Brown responds on behalf of Christianity: “Obviously, you don’t believe in the virgin birth, otherwise you would not be raising this objection.”
Here Brown tries to obfuscate the issue with irrelevant witticism. Of-course we do not believe in the virgin birth, but how does this relate to the objection at hand? Christians acknowledge that Jesus’ mother did not claim that her son’s father was a descendant of David. This simple fact disqualifies him from being the Jewish Messiah. The fact that Mary gave us a fantastic story concerning her son’s conception does nothing to change this basic fact. Unless a woman points to a man who is a descendant of Judah as her son’s father, then by Torah law, this child does not belong to the tribe of Judah. If no man from the House of David steps forth and claims to be the father of a given child, then this child has no claim to the Davidic throne.
4. Page 88
Brown argues that Jesus was a descendant of David from his mother’s side. He goes on to argue that when there are no male descendants, a female has the right of inheritance. We shall shortly demonstrate that the right of inheritance has no relationship to genealogy, but for now we will point out that his argument is utterly irrelevant. Who ever made the claim that Mary had no brothers? Furthermore, even if Mary had no brothers, it would still not give Jesus the claim to David’s throne because David had many male descendants. So Brown’s argument is not relevant to the case at hand.
In any case, the Biblical passage that Brown quotes to prove his point actually works against him. The passage in Numbers quoted by Brown (36:1-12) makes clear that even in a situation of a female inheritor, the genealogy follows the father. The entire thrust of the passage is that female inheritors must marry into their own tribe in order to keep the inheritance within the tribal possession. If the female inheritors would be able to pass their genealogical attributes to their children this would not be an issue. It is clear from this passage that although inheritance may sometimes go to a female descendant, tribal genealogy remains exclusively in the male line. (See Contra Brown for further information on this subject.)
5. Objection 5.15
Brown presents an objection to Christianity:
“When Jesus failed to fulfill the prophecies, his followers invented the myth of his substitutionary death, his resurrection, and finally his second coming, which, of course, they completely expected in his lifetime.”
Brown responds on behalf of Christianity:
“In order to make this claim, you virtually have to rewrite the entire New Testament, since a central theme of those writings, from their earliest strata on, is that Jesus had to go to the cross and suffer and die and then rise from the dead.”
Brown’s response does not begin to address the objection. The New Testament was written after the disappointed followers of Jesus had already developed a semi-coherent theology to explain the death of their leader. No one claims that any part of the New Testament was written while Jesus was alive. The fact that the New Testament claims that Jesus preached about his death is to be expected. At the same time, the authors of the New Testament admit that the disciples of Jesus did not expect him to die, and that they originally saw his death as a refutation to his Messianic claim (Luke 24:21).
Brown himself admits that the disciples of Jesus only understood his death as part of his Messianic mission after the crucifixion (page 107). So there is no question that Jesus did not teach about his death in a clear and explicit way. It was only after his death and after rumors of his resurrection began to circulate that his disciples came up with the story that he had already taught about his death during his lifetime, but that they had not properly understood his teaching at the time.
Brown goes on to argue: “Since this objection has no historical or textual support…”
How audacious! The Christian Scriptures provide all the necessary textual support for this objection. (The argument that there is no historical support for the objection is irrelevant. There is little if any historical support for the existence of Jesus. The entire point of the objection is that the Christian Scriptures themselves testify against the claims of Christianity.)
Let us summarize what the Christian Scriptures tell us about the progression of events in the community of Jesus’ disciples.
A) – While Jesus was alive, his disciples believed he was the Messiah, but did not expect him to die.
What we learn from this is that Jesus did not teach his disciples the Christian doctrine of the substitutionary death of the Messiah. If we assume that the disciples of Jesus were familiar with the Jewish Scriptures, then this fact teaches us that the disciples of Jesus read the entirety of the Jewish Scriptures, including Isaiah 53, Daniel 9, and Psalm 22 without seeing the concept of the substitutionary death of the Messiah. They obviously had a different interpretation of these passages. An interesting question to ponder is: On what basis did they understand that Jesus is the Messiah? This was before the crucifixion, so they didn’t have Isaiah 53, they didn’t have Daniel 9 or Psalm 22. They believed he was some type of divine being – but on what basis? And if these people were so credulous so as to accept these claims without a Biblical basis, then why should we trust anything these people tell us?
If we accept the alternative scenario; that the disciples of Jesus were ignorant of the Jewish Scriptures, then the fact that they accepted Jesus as the Messiah is meaningless. Their opinion would be worthless.
B) – At the point of the crucifixion, the disciples despaired of Jesus being the Messiah.
C) – At some point in time after the crucifixion, the disciples “came to understand” that this was the role of the Messiah all along.
This means that the crucifixion of their beloved leader caused them to reinterpret the Jewish Scriptures in a manner that they had not understood them until now. Not only were they reinterpreting the Jewish Scriptures, but they were also reinterpreting the message of Jesus. These were the people who were with Jesus throughout his entire teaching career – and they had never heard of the concept of the “substitutionary death of the Messiah”.
In analyzing this situation we are left with two options: 1) – Jesus really did teach about his substitutionary death, and the Jewish Scriptures are also quite clear on this subject – but for some odd reason – although the disciples had the evidence staring them in the face – they couldn’t understand this most foundational teaching of their beloved teacher. This begs the question: what other teachings of Jesus did his disciples misunderstand or simply “not get”?
Option 2) – Jesus never taught about the substitutionary death of the Messiah, and the Jewish Scriptures do not present any clear teaching on this matter – but with the unexpected death of their beloved leader – the disciples could not admit that their leader was a fraud – so their internal mental defense mechanism slowly came up with the theology of the substitutionary death of the Messiah – including some imaginative readings of both the Jewish Scriptures and of the teachings of their leader.
To help you with this analysis – please consider the following: From a historical perspective – how many followers of charismatic leaders had the courage and honesty to admit that the devotion they felt towards their leader was wrong when the facts didn’t turn out as expected?
Brown puts down 6 points that the proponents of this objection (that the theology of the Messiah’s death was invented as a result of Jesus’ death) must believe – and Brown takes the pains to point out how ludicrous he considers each of these 6 points to be.
The first point that Brown brings out, is that those who present this objection must posit that there are no biblical prophecies that point to the “Messiah’s suffering”. Brown argues that this would contradict the objection that some people raise against Christianity which posits that the disciples reconstructed Jesus’ life to fit those prophecies.
The flaws in Brown’s argument are readily apparent. Brown himself admits that while Jesus was alive, the disciples did not find any prophecies in the Jewish Bible that speak of the Messiah’s suffering. Brown acknowledges that it was only after Jesus’ death that the disciples “discovered” these “prophecies”. This means that one could read the Jewish Bible without an “anti-Jesus” bias and still fail to see anything about a suffering Messiah. It is only when one reads the Bible with a “pro-post-crucifixion-Jesus” bias that he or she will “see” the concept of a suffering Messiah. After the disciples began reconstructing their concept of the Messiah, it is entirely reasonable to assume that the same imaginations that saw a suffering Messiah where there was none to be seen, also wished events into existence in order to fit their new theology.
The second point that Brown makes in defense of Christianity is that the proponents of this objection (that the disciples invented the concept of the Messiah’s death out of thin air) would have to believe that Jesus never taught this foundational Christian doctrine. Brown considers this to be untenable because the gospels do record such teachings of Jesus.
Brown fails to consider the fact that all of the people that were with Jesus throughout his entire teaching career did not expect him to die. This tells us that Jesus did NOT teach about his suffering and death. He certainly didn’t teach it in an open and unambiguous way. After the disciples invented this myth and retrojected this concept into the mouth of Jesus, we are not surprised to find that the gospels report that Jesus taught this concept. But the disciple’s confusion at the time clearly indicates that Jesus did NOT teach his disciples about the supposed suffering of the Messiah.
The third argument that Brown advances focuses on the last supper. Brown points out that if the disciples invented the concept of the Messiah’s death, this would then mean that the last supper never took place, and that Jesus never spoke of his blood being shed to inaugurate a new covenant. Brown sees this as an impossible proposition because of the fact that the followers of Jesus had been practicing this ritual since his death.
The question that we must ask here is: at what point in time did the disciples come to understand that the last supper was a “foreshadowing” of Jesus’ death? According to the Christian’s own gospels, the disciples were in a state of confusion even after the crucifixion. They did not understand how their beloved leader could die. If, as Brown argues, Jesus had clearly taught about his impending redemptive death, then why would the disciples despair? Why the confusion? It is clear that Jesus did not provide his disciples with any clear teaching about his impending death. It was only with the passing of time that his disciples came to reinterpret his death and his last supper in a manner that would allow them to maintain their belief in their beloved leader.
Another detail worthy of consideration in relation to this argument is the fact that Paul claims that the concept of the last supper had been revealed to him personally by the dead Jesus (1Corinthians 11:23). This would seem to indicate that until Paul had received this “revelation”, the last supper was not “properly” understood by the followers of Jesus. The Christian Scriptures tell us that it was Paul, and not Jesus, who gave “prophetic” significance to the ritual of the last supper.
The fourth argument that Brown presents as a refutation to this objection (that the concept of the death of the Messiah was a myth invented by the disciples after the death of Jesus) only serves to accentuate the lack of logical cohesion that permeates Brown’s arguments. Brown argues that if the objection is correct in its basic supposition that the disciples invented the theology of the suffering and death of the Messiah, then we would also have to accept the supposition that the resurrection never happened. That is like saying that if we are to accept the supposition that a specific person is guilty, we must be aware that we will also have to assume that he is not innocent.
The proponents of the argument that Jesus’ disciples concocted the concept of a suffering Messiah will certainly also believe that the resurrection never happened.
Brown explains to his readers why it is that he finds the belief that the resurrection never happened to be so preposterous. He claims that those who believe that the resurrection never happened will have to accept that: “the books of the New Testament… are 100 percent wrong 100 percent of the time about the most foundational element of their faith.”
This argument is fallacious from several angles. First and most obviously is that those who reject Islam or Judaism have to live with the fact that they believe that the books of these two world religions are 100 percent wrong 100 percent of the time about the most foundational elements of their faith. This is no problem for people who do not attribute too much validity to the foundational texts of these religions to begin with. But Christianity claims to accept the Jewish Bible. The Jewish Bible teaches that the foundational event of the belief system; the Sinai revelation, taught the Jewish people that to attribute deity to any inhabitant of heaven or earth is a violation of our relationship with God. Christianity rejects this teaching. This means that Christians have to accept that the Jewish Bible is 100 percent wrong 100 percent of the time about the most foundational element of the faith. Christianity does this at the same time that it pays lip-service to its reverence of the Jewish Bible.
A second point that we ought to consider is the question: who says that the alleged resurrection of Jesus was the most foundational element of the faith of Jesus’ disciples? Let us remember, these disciples were totally devoted to faith in Jesus long before the crucifixion. They were not even expecting him to die and be resurrected. So how can the resurrection have been so foundational to their faith?
The fifth argument that Brown advances against the objection that proposes that the disciples made up the theology of the suffering of Messiah after the death of Jesus focuses on the disciples activities after the death of Jesus. Proponents of the objection, argues Brown, will have to accept that: “Within days, all the disciples, without breaking ranks, overcame the shock and trauma of their masters ignominious death; quickly came up with this fabricated account; developed a whole new theology to support it – although until that time they had never once entertained the idea…”
This argument is just as hollow as the previous arguments. For starters, the fact that Brown finds it incredulous that the disciples had: “until that time never once entertained the idea” utterly discredits him. Brown himself acknowledges, and the Christian Scriptures teach, that up until the crucifixion of Jesus the disciples had no clue about the supposed sacrificial death of the Messiah. This sentence has no honest place in Brown’s argument.
Furthermore, how does Brown know that it only took days for the disciples to develop this theology together with the supporting mythology? The earliest dating for the Christian Scriptures places them decades after the death of Jesus. History is replete with the followers of failed movements coming up with new theologies and supporting mythical events to support them. A typical historical template would have the disciples sharing their inspired visions of their master, and with time these came to be interpreted as physical sightings. If there was some confusing physical event that the disciples seized upon in order to overcome their disappointment, this would have only accelerated the process. This could have been a report of a sighting or a report of an empty grave. Neither of these scenarios necessitates belief in an actual resurrection. It is common for people who suddenly lose a loved one to think they see him or her somewhere. The scenario of an empty grave is actually supported by the Christian Scriptures. According to the gospels, Jesus was buried hastily, close to nightfall, with few people attending the burial, and in a grave designated for another person. How difficult would it be to assume that the disciples were mistaken about the location of the grave? How difficult would it be to assume that the rightful owners of the grave removed Jesus’ body? In fact John presents this scenario as the first thought that came to Mary’s mind when she found an empty grave (John 20:2). Would the devoted followers of a charismatic leader need more “evidence” than that which any of these scenarios provide before believing a resurrection? History testifies that devoted followers of charismatic have a strong tendency to believe the most preposterous things about their leader provided that they support their devotion.
Finally, how does Brown know that there was no “breaking of ranks”? Matthew reports that there was an element of doubt about the resurrection in the mind of some of the disciples. How can Brown be confident that these disciples did not break rank with those who believed the resurrection in a literal sense?
The sixth and last argument presented by Brown points out that the proponents of the objection (that the disciples invented the suffering Messiah concept) would have to believe that: “On top of all this, they not only created the myth of a second coming but then misunderstood the myth they created, wrongly believing it would happen in their lifetime when, in fact they were fully aware that they made the whole thing up.”
Brown finishes his argument with: “If you believe this, I have an exclusive contract for you on the Brooklyn Bridge…”
Brown is in the process of trying to sell his readers the equivalent to a contract on the Brooklyn Bridge, and he yet accuses his critics of trying to sell the Brooklyn Bridge!
The disciples understood that Jesus will return in their lifetime based on words that Jesus spoke before the crucifixion. As it is with most Messianic pretenders, Jesus promised his following that they will merit to witness the age of Israel’s glory. Before the crucifixion, this was understood by Jesus’ followers to mean that he will soon assume the position of Israel’s Messiah. After the crucifixion, his disciples reinterpreted his message to mean that he will return from the dead to assume what they considered his rightful position. Is this chain of events so preposterous? It is the common template followed by the disappointed devotees of almost every failed Messiah.
6. Objections 5:16 and 5:17
Here Brown focuses on some of the misquotations and contradictions that are to be found in the Christian Scriptures. Brown’s responds by demonstrating that the Jewish Scriptures and the Jewish Rabbinic writings also contain discrepancies and seeming contradictions. Brown argues that whatever methods that the adherents of Judaism utilize to resolve the contradictions found in their sacred texts should be allowed for the resolution of the discrepancies found in the Christian texts.
Brown has failed to grasp the vast difference between the respective faith structures of Judaism and Christianity.
Judaism affirms that God established the basic foundations of Judaism in the hearts of the Jewish people. The Exodus and the Sinai revelation which were experienced by the nation as a collective unit, served to establish the basic truths of Judaism in the hearts and minds of the nation. The sacred books were presented to the nation in order that their message be assimilated by the people who will read these books in light of the foundational experiences.
As it is with any written work, and especially one as lengthy as the Jewish Scriptures, there will be questions and confusion. Judaism maintains that the Divine intent was that the judges of the Jewish people arbitrate in all situations where the Scriptural guidance is not clear. The foundational concepts of Judaism will never be affected by the intricacies of the text because they are not dependant on the text. They were established in the hearts of the people independent of any text.
Protestant Christianity, on the other hand prides itself that it does not rely upon humans for the foundation or for the transmission of their belief system. Protestants point to the texts of Scripture and declares that they only rely upon the word of God.
Without getting into the question as to who decided that these texts are indeed the word of God and upon what authority is this decision based, there are serious problems with the Protestant position. If indeed these texts are to serve as the foundation of the religion, and these texts are not meant for any specific audience (as opposed to the texts of Judaism which are meant for a specific target audience) – then who is to arbitrate when confusion arises? These confusions are not limited to peripheral issues in the Christian faith. The texts are unclear about some of the most essential issues of Christianity. This problem is severe enough when we limit our focus to the Christian Scriptures alone. But the confusions are multiplied exponentially when we throw the Jewish Scriptures into the mix.
The sacred texts of Christianity do not give clear direction on issues such as the alleged divinity of Jesus, on the position of the Law of Moses after the advent of Jesus, on the role of the Jewish people in the Messianic age and on many such issues that have divided the Protestant Church since its inception.
Since Protestant Christianity does not attribute any authority to body of human judges, there is no way that these conflicts can be effectively resolved except on a person by person basis. Each reader could resolve the confusions as he or she sees fit. This leaves Christianity with the unhappy proposition of having as many Christianity’s as there are adherents.
This is only where Christianity’s problems begin. When we consider the question of the trustworthiness or lack thereof of the sacred texts of Christianity the Protestant Christian can only point to the texts themselves. As opposed to Judaism where the testimony of the living nation augments the testimony of the texts and the testimony of the texts augments the testimony of the living people – Protestant Christianity only has a set of books upon which they could place their trust. How can we know if these texts were written by honest people? On what basis can we accept that the books of the Christian Scripture were authored by people who lived up to a high ethical and moral standard? Why should we judge the authors of the gospels in a favorable light if there is no outside evidence to support the thesis that these were honest and ethical people?
In the case of Judaism, we have the testimony of the nation concerning the moral and spiritual character of the Biblical authors. These men and women established their credentials in the hearts, minds, and memories of a nation appointed by God as His witnesses. If we find confusion in their writings, we have the testimony of the nation amongst whom these writers lived to reassure us that these authors were holy and trustworthy. The confirmation of a nation serves to counteract any questions that would arise from the body of the texts.
In the case of Christianity, on the other hand, the exact opposite is true. The Jewish people amongst whom these authors lived remember them in a negative light. Why should we trust these people? What is the justification to exert ourselves to straighten out the confusion that abounds in their writings? Where is the witness that will stand to counterbalance the contradictions found in the gospels?
7. Objection 5.18
In this objection Brown focuses on Matthew’s fantastic story of many dead people rising from their graves on the occasion of Jesus’ crucifixion and alleged resurrection. Brown addresses those who do not believe this account and responds by pointing to miracles recorded in the Jewish Scriptures and other sacred writings. Brown argues that no miracle is too difficult for an omnipotent God. The only question is: is if Matthew is a trustworthy reporter or not.
As we pointed out in the previous section, there is no reason to believe that Matthew was a trustworthy person. Furthermore, the fact that the other gospel writers said nothing of this extraordinary occurrence should raise some questions even for a Christian. But I think that there is a deeper question that Matthew’s account brings to light.
The entire faith of Christianity (I should say: post-crucifixion Christianity) is built upon the alleged resurrection of Jesus. The claim of Jesus’ resurrection is pointed to as a unique and unparalleled occurrence in the history of mankind. But according to Matthew, a resurrection is no big deal. Matthew claims that many people were resurrected. How then does Matthew know which of these resurrections was the central event and which served as backdrops? It is only the human interpretation of the events that separates one resurrection from the other. Matthew’s incredible account devaluates the resurrection claim. According to Matthew, the resurrection of the dead is not the unique occurrence that the Christian apologists assert it to be.
8. Objection 5.20
Here Brown revisits the charge that the Christian Scriptures are an anti-Semitic document. In response to this charge, he provides us with a synopsis of his arguments recorded in Volume 1. I have responded at length to his points in my critique of volume 1, I refer the reader to that article. I will however take this opportunity to reiterate one of the salient points.
Brown compares the Christian Scripture’s criticism of the Jewish people to the criticism uttered by the prophets in the Jewish Scriptures. This comparison reveals the moral bankruptcy of Brown’s belief system.
The criticism recorded in the Jewish Scriptures is internally directed. These books were written for the very people at whom the criticism was directed. These books were treasured and preserved by the very people who were criticized and castigated by the authors of these books. The Jewish people read these criticisms as words of rebuke and correction directed at them.
The criticism recorded in the Christian Scriptures is the moral opposite of the criticism recorded in the Jewish Scriptures. The Christian Scriptures direct their criticism at a people who stand outside the sphere of their readership. The intended audience of the Christian Scriptures, the followers of Jesus, read these harsh words as a character assassination of their theological opponents. Historically, the Christian Scripture “taught” mankind that the Jewish people are the devil incarnate and that Judaism is the religion of the devil. This concept is the invention of the Christian Scriptures. Even today, when this concept is losing popularity, still, the criticisms of the Pharisees recorded in the Christian Scriptures are utilized by Church theologians to paint a negative picture of Jews and Judaism.
9. Page 153-154
Brown addresses the objection that Jesus falsely predicted his return in the lifetime of his disciples. Interestingly, Brown fails to mention a key text that bears directly upon this discussion, namely: John 21:23. In that text we learn that the very first generation of Jesus’ followers expected Jesus’ ultimate return in the lifetime of John and were subsequently disappointed when this “prediction” failed to materialize. Instead of criticizing his readers for not seeing the “obvious” meaning of Jesus’ words the redactor of the Gospel of John tells us that the precise wording of Jesus’ prediction was misunderstood by Jesus’ own disciples. This is not an accusation invented by the counter-missionaries in a biased effort to discredit Jesus, but rather Jesus’ own devoted followers were faced with this problem. It is not as Brown would have his readers believe that Jesus’ never predicted his immediate return and that it is only a gross misunderstanding of his words that would lead one to such a conclusion. In this text from the Book of John we see that this accusation surfaced in that first generation of Jesus’ followers. All we have as a response is the word of the anonymous redactor of the Book of John. His weak response is that Jesus did not mean what his followers thought he meant. It seems that they did not “discover” their mistake until the “prophecy” actually failed to materialize. This is the typical pattern of the false prophets. The predictions do not come true, but for the devotees – the gates of excuses never close.
Brown puts forth another argument in his attempt to defend Jesus against the charge of false prophecy. Brown argues that if Jesus really did present a prophecy that failed to materialize then why did the gospel writers preserve his mistake for posterity? (Brown actually uses this hollow argument to deflect several of the objections that are based on the Christian Scriptures.)
What Brown fails to realize is that even a liar cannot simply ignore the truth. When the facts are well known to the intended audience, the liar will have to acknowledge something of the truth or else he will have no credibility in the eyes of his audience. This text in John serves as a perfect example. The redactor of John would have much rather that no-one hear of this indictment against the credibility of Jesus. It is only because it was a well known fact to his audience that he found it necessary to present a response to the allegation.
10. Page 158
Brown makes the claim that it was only Jesus who predicted the destruction of the Second Temple. Brown fails to tell his readers that this prediction was proclaimed by Daniel (9:26) several centuries before Jesus. This was recognized by the Jewish leaders of the generations preceding the destruction as recorded in the Talmud (B. Yoma 39b, Nazir 32b).
11. Objection 5.26
Here Brown attempts to address the argument that it was Paul who invented Christianity as it is known today and not Jesus. Brown responds with the claim that Paul’s teachings are in complete harmony with the teachings of Jesus. Brown states: “The consistent testimony of the New Testament … affirms this point”. This statement is incredible.
A simple reading of Paul’s words reveals that Paul himself claimed to be the inventor of Christianity. Christians who want to believe that there was a smooth progression from the Jewish following of Jesus to the gentile following of Paul will find that there is no basis to their belief.
Let us allow Paul to speak for himself. “For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but [it came to me] through revelation of Jesus Christ.”(Galatians 1:11,12). Paul is telling us that the gospel that he preached was not taught to him by the disciples of Jesus. Paul is admitting that his gospel was revealed to him in a vision by the deceased Jesus. Paul takes his point a step further. “But from those who were reputed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth not man`s person)– they, I say, who were of repute imparted nothing to me: but contrariwise, when they saw that I had been intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with [the gospel] of the circumcision (for he that wrought for Peter unto the apostleship of the circumcision wrought for me also unto the Gentiles); and when they perceived the grace that was given unto me, James and Cephas and John, they who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hands of fellowship, that we should go unto the Gentiles, and they unto the circumcision; only [they would] that we should remember the poor; which very thing I was also zealous to do. But when Cephas came to Antioch, I resisted him to the face, because he stood condemned. For before that certain came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came, he drew back and separated himself, fearing them that were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that even Barnabas was carried away with their dissimulation.” (Galatians 2:6-13).
Let us understand what Paul is saying here. He is telling us that “those of repute” imparted nothing to him. Who are these people “of repute”? Paul tells us in verse 9 that these people of repute were James, Peter (Cephas) and John. In other words the disciples of Jesus taught Paul nothing.
Paul takes this a step further by drawing a distinct boundary between himself and the Jewish disciples of Jesus. He tells us that he and they were charged with two different missions. They (the Jewish disciples) were charged to minister to the Jewish people (“unto the circumcision”), while he (Paul) was charged to minister to the gentiles. This means that the teaching that Jesus imparted to his Jewish disciples in his lifetime was meant for the Jewish people, while the teaching that the deceased Jesus imparted to Paul was meant for the gentiles. What this implies is that the disciples of Jesus could teach Paul nothing because they were entrusted with a mission that was apart from his own.
Paul claims that the Jewish disciples of Jesus acknowledged this division in the gospel. He then criticizes Peter and the Jewish followers of Jesus for violating this accepted boundary. He tells us that Peter and other believers from Jerusalem were trying to influence the gentiles to follow the teachings that were meant for the Jews.
We can now understand the opening verses in the book of Galatians. “Paul, an apostle (not from men, neither through man, but through Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead),and all the brethren that are with me, unto the churches of Galatia: Grace to you and peace from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil world, according to the will of our God and Father: to whom [be] the glory for ever and ever. Amen. I marvel that ye are so quickly removing from him that called you in the grace of Christ unto a different gospel; which is not another [gospel] only there are some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. But though we, or an angel from heaven, should preach unto you any gospel other than that which we preached unto you, let him be anathema. As we have said before, so say I now again, if any man preacheth unto you any gospel other than that which ye received, let him be anathema.” (Galatians 1:1-9).
Paul is surprised that the gentile church of Galatia has so quickly abandoned his teachings. He is informing them that no man or angel has a right to disagree with him because his is the true teaching. Now who were these people that were trying to influence the people in Galatia to disobey Paul? It is clear that these would have been the Jewish disciples of Jesus, whom Paul accuses of duplicity (again – Paul claims that to his face they acknowledged that he had been appointed by the dead Jesus as an emissary to the gentiles, but behind his back they tried to influence the gentiles to follow their own version of the gospel. Remember, Paul accuses Peter; “…how compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews?” Galatians 2:14). Paul does not hide the fact that his teachings were considered false by people who were very influential in the early Church (1Corinthians 9:2, 2Corinthians 11:13).
It should be noted that the writings of the Christian scriptures as we have them today were redacted by the gentile followers of Paul. The original Hebrew (or Aramaic) version of Matthew was destroyed by the gentile followers of Paul. Still, even the Pauline redactors had a difficult job attributing Pauline Christianity to Jesus. In the three Synoptic Gospels there is perhaps one statement attributed to Jesus that is a clear Pauline teaching (Matthew 26:28, Mark 14:24, Luke 22:20). The origin of this statement is highly questionable. The last supper of Jesus is the onearea where Paul comments on Jesus’ lifetime activities. Paul explicitly states that he received this teaching directly from the dead Jesus (1Corinthians 11:23). The Pauline redactors of the gospels had what they considered a “reliable” source for this story. There is no reason to assume that there was any other source for this story. When this story is removed from the Synoptic Gospels, Jesus is no longer a Christian.
The book of Acts was written by a follower of Paul. It is clear that he was motivated to present a picture in which Paul and the Jewish followers of Jesus agreed on the fundamental issues. The story that the book of Acts relates is quite different than Paul’s version of the events.
When Paul speaks of his own conversion, he finds it important to tell us that “straightway I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me: but I went away into Arabia; and again I returned unto Damascus. Then after three years I went up toJerusalem to visit Cephas, and tarried with him fifteen days” (Galatians 1:16,17,18).
But when the book of Acts describes the same events we get an entirely different picture. No word is mentioned of a trip to Arabia. Paul spends time with the disciples in Damascus, then he preaches in Damascus. It is then told that he arrives in Jerusalem where the Christians were not convinced of the sincerity of Paul’s conversion to the degree that they were afraid of him. (This gives the impression that it was much less than three years between Paul’s conversion and his arrival in Jerusalem.) But Barnabas reassures the apostles and Paul was “with them going in and going out at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:28).
I am well aware that all of these contradictions can be reconciled by agile minds. But there is a deeper question to be asked. Why the differences? Why does Paul consider it of utmost importance to tell us of his trip to Arabia, of the three-year period that elapses before he comes to Jerusalem, and of the fact that he saw none of the apostles aside from Peter and James? Why does Paul start out his post-conversion story by telling us that “he conferred not with flesh and blood”? And why does the author of Acts regard these same facts to be so insignificant that the picture he paints leaves us with the opposite impression?
It is clear that the author of the book of Acts was motivated to present Paul’s preaching as a smooth progression from the preaching of the other apostles. Paul, on the other hand, was motivated to show that his preaching is from a source that is superior to the preaching of the other apostles. It was not important to Paul to show a smooth progression. It was enough for Paul to tell us of a begrudging acknowledgment of his preaching by the apostles who saw the live Jesus.
The story that Paul tells us in Galatians 2;7-9 is also roundly contradicted by the author of Acts. Paul claims that the leaders of the Jerusalem Church “saw that I had been intrusted with the gospel of the uncircumcision, even as Peter with [the gospel] of the circumcision”. Paul is claiming that these men recognized that the dead Jesus had spoken to him and authorized him to teach just as the live Jesus had spoken to Peter and authorized Peter to preach in his name.
The book of Acts tells us that no such acknowledgment ever took place. In chapter 15 of the book of Acts we are told that when a question arose concerning gentile observance of the Law, Peter and James speak and present their understanding of the matter. If, as Paul claimed, Peter and James truly acknowledged Paul’s apostleship, they should have simply said; Jesus appointed Paul as an apostle to the gentiles, let us obey him. According to the book of Acts, they did nothing of the sort. Furthermore, the book of Acts describes the last meeting between James and Paul, and again the issue of gentile observance comes up, and again James makes reference to the previous decision of the Jerusalem Church and says not a word about Paul’s apostleship (Acts 21:25).
Another revealing episode is described in chapter 21 of the book of Acts. Paul arrives in Jerusalem and is informed by James that “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of them that have believed; and they are all zealous for the law. and they have been informed concerning thee, that thou teachest all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children neither to walk after the customs.What is it therefore? They will certainly hear that thou art come.” (Acts 21:20-22).
According to James, all the Jewish Christians are zealous for the law. The word that James uses (zealous), implies ardor, enthusiasm, passion and excitement. Is this Pauline Christianity? Which Christian denomination encourages Jewish people to be “zealous for the law”?
According to James, it is not the Jerusalem Church that oversteps its boundaries by trying to influence the gentiles (as per Galatians 2:14), but it is Paul who is overstepping his boundaries in trying to influence the Jews. The author of the book of Acts gives us the impression that this was a false accusation that was not accepted by James, but he does acknowledge that all the Jewish believers believed this accusation.
The author of the book of Acts does not explicitly tell us how the members of the Jerusalem Church felt about this accusation. But from the little he says, we can understand that this was no friendly misunderstanding. The words “they will certainly hear that thou art come”, imply that the mere fact of Paul’s arrival in Jerusalem will stir up agitation amongst the Jewish Christians. This agitation was not something that could have been settled by James reassuring his following that this was an innocent misunderstanding, and that Paul was truly loyal to the law. The conflict was so deep that a verbal explanation on Paul’s part would also not put the issue to rest. It is clear that the Jewish Christians did not trust Paul’s words.
The only way James could end the conflict was by telling Paul; “Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men that have a vow on them; these take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges for them, that they may shave their heads: and all shall know that there is no truth in the things whereof they have been informed concerning thee; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, keeping the law.” (Acts 21:23,24).
The author of the book of Acts would have us believe that this action on Paul’s part would serve as a declaration of Paul’s true beliefs. Paul’s participation in the Temple rites, would demonstrate to one and all that he was truly loyal to the law of Moses. This explanation fits with the inclination of the author of Acts to minimize the conflict between Paul and the Jerusalem Church. But this explanation is highly unlikely. If this conflict could not be settled through a verbal declaration on Paul’s part, why would a public performance put the accusations to rest? If the Jewish Christians suspected Paul of lying with his mouth, why would they be so naive to think that he could he not lie with his actions?
The more likely explanation is that the Jewish Christians of Jerusalem could not care less what it was that Paul believed in his heart. What they wanted with this public demonstration was an act of repudiation of his teaching. They wanted to make clear, that in the presence of the disciples of Jesus, Paul did not have the backbone to stand for his own principles. This was not to be a demonstration of loyalty, it was to stand as a public renunciation of Pauline Christianity.
Whether you believe that this activity on the part of Paul was to serve as a demonstration of loyalty, or you feel as I do, that this was a forced retraction, there are several questions that the author of Acts leaves unanswered. Of all the activities proscribed by the law of Moses, why did James choose a Temple rite for this public presentation? If the only purpose of this demonstration was to reassure the Jewish Christians that Paul was loyal to the law, a public act of observance of any point in the law would have served. Furthermore, we must ask ourselves, why was this particular Temple rite chosen by James? Why did it have to be a Nazirite offering? Why would a simple burnt offering not have served the same purpose? It is clear that nothing less than a Nazirite offering on the part of Paul would satisfy the Jerusalem Christians. Why not?
The answer is staring us in the face. A Nazirite offering includes a sacrifice that is offered for the explicit purpose of the expiation of sin (Numbers 6:14). Paul’s central teaching is that the only valid method of expiating sin is through the blood of Jesus. The Jewish Christians did not accept this teaching. They believed that the Law of Moses provided for the expiation of sin through various methods including the offering of animals in the Temple for this purpose. When Paul would participate in this rite, he would be publicly repudiating his own teaching on the matter.
Some Christians have argued that these offerings on the part of the Jewish Christians would not serve as a repudiation of Pauline Christianity. These offerings were understood to be pointing back to the sacrifice of Jesus. This explanation fails for several reasons. First, the offerings were to be processed by the non-Christian Temple establishment. The priests who processed the offerings would have understood them as Moses explains: that these offerings themselves atoned for sin. The concept that the sacrifices no longer atoned stands as a polar opposite of the soul and spirit of the Temple establishment. The idea of handing offerings to these people as an expression of loyalty to Christian doctrine is flatly ridiculous.
The second reason that this Christian explanation does not work is because this act was meant as a public demonstration. Paul was not given an opportunity to explain his actions. He was simply to go into the Temple and participate in this offering for the expiation of sin. James trusted that the onlookers would fully understand the message that is inherent in these actions. How would the Jerusalem crowds have understood this message? There is no question that these people would have read the message of Paul’s actions as an affirmation of the efficacy of the Temple sacrifices. No one ever taught these people a different understanding of the sacrifices. The entire concept of “sacrifices pointing back to Jesus” was invented recently under polemical pressure. This concept is not mentioned anywhere in the Christian scriptures or in the writings of any Christian theologian until recently. We can be sure that this concept was not popular currency in the Jerusalem Church of James.
Finally, this explanation (the sacrifices pointed back to Jesus) fails to explain why the members of the Jerusalem Church saw in this act of Paul a declaration of loyalty to the principles they held so dear. Why would this act stand as a symbol of their zeal for the Law?
Let us summarize what we have learned. Paul claimed that no living person taught him anything. He claimed that the teachings that Jesus imparted during his lifetime were meant for the Jews, while the teachings that Paul learned in his visions were meant for the gentiles. Paul accuses the Jewish followers of Jesus for failing to respect this division and attempting to influence the gentiles. Paul tells us that there were people who were very influential in the Church who preached a different gospel than his own. Despite the fact that Paul’s disciples redacted the synoptic gospels, it is still difficult to find a clear Pauline statement attributed to Jesus in these books. The book of Acts makes clear that the Jerusalem Church never acknowledged Paul’s claim to prophecy. The book of Acts also makes clear that there were deep differences between Paul and the members of the Jerusalem Church. (There is more to discuss here, such as the tone and the emphasis of the book of James, the fact that the Jewish disciples of Jesus were shocked by his death, and the fact that the Church of James was allowed to flourish in Pharisaic Jerusalem, but the discussion has already become too lengthy.)
We have an abundance of evidence that Paul, and not Jesus, was the inventor of Christianity. How does Brown deal with this accusation? In the thirteen pages that Brown devoted to this subject, there are only a few sentences that deal with the issues we raised here. On page 201 Brown tells us that Paul was “recognized as a key player by the other key leaders in Acts 15”. Brown does not explain how the description of the author of Acts contradicts Paul’s own version of the event. Brown also does not tell us that the episode as described in Acts makes clear that the leaders of the Jerusalem Church did NOT accept Paul’s claim to prophecy.
Brown tells us that Paul “dispelled any doubts about his teachings and personal practices in Acts 21” (page 201). This is quite a bizarre statement. The story in Acts 21 reveals the deep friction that existed between all of the Jewish believers and Paul. The Jerusalem Church saw the core of their differences in the Temple offerings. And Brown is satisfied with the pat assurance that Paul “dispelled any doubts”?! Why was there this deep distrust between Paul and the Jerusalem Church? Why were the members of the Jerusalem Church busy with Temple offerings after the crucifixion of Jesus? Why could Paul not reassure the Jewish believers with a simple speech? Why did James and Peter not reassure their own followers? Why did Paul have to do it? Why were the members of the Jerusalem Church so zealous for the Law of Moses? Brown does not seem to have answers for these questions.
Brown tells us that Paul “passed on what he received”. Brown does not make clear to his readership that when Paul says the word “received” he does not mean that he received the teaching from the Jewish disciples of Jesus, but rather, that he personally received these teachings in visions from the dead Jesus.
Brown tells us that “with the exception of some heretical groups (like the Ebionites), Paul’s teachings were received by the second generation of believers, including men who were disciples of the original apostles (such as Polycarp).” I find this sentence quite astounding. Brown tells us nothing about the deep opposition to Paul from within the Church in his own lifetime. This opposition came straight from Jerusalem, the place where Jesus lived and taught. Instead Brown is satisfied to pass on to his readers a piece of Christian mythology. None of the original Hebrew and Aramaic writings of the Jewish disciples of Jesus and their subsequent followings survived the blind fury of the Gentile Churches established by Paul. All of the writings we have from the early Christians were either written or redacted by the gentile followers of Paul. The writings of the early Church fathers tell us precious little about the life and teachings of the Jewish disciples of Jesus. There is one association that Brown and other fundamentalist Christians seize upon. Polycarp! It is claimed that Polycarp was a disciple of John. Polycarp died approximately in the year 160 C.E. If he ever saw John, it could only have been at a time that he was a small boy and John was an old man. Polycarp does not quote John. He does not tell us anything about the life and teachings of John. The entire claim of Polycarp’s discipleship of John, is at best, an exaggeration of a brief sighting in his youth.
If you are a Christian, I beg of you, please absorb what you have just read. The accusation that Paul invented Christianity has deep foundations in the Christian scriptures and in the history of the early Church. Dr. Brown, who is a very capable person (and I do not mean this sarcastically), could not provide a defense against this accusation aside from four hollow sentences. So what is the basis of your faith?
12. Objection 5.28
The four word objection: “Jesus abolished the Law”, is the subject of this 32 page dissertation by Brown. After the lengthy dissertation, Brown himself still does not observe the Law. Many Jewish followers of Jesus do not even pretend to observe the Law. The doublespeak of a politician may confuse some people while he is on the campaign trail. But after the politician has been in office for 2000 years, his performance or lack thereof will speak louder than a 32 page dissertation. The fact remains that for the past 2000 years, the vast majority of Jews who followed Jesus abandoned their obedience to the Law. This fact cannot be explained away.
13. Page 205
Brown quotes Jesus as saying: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets”.
What the historical Jesus said or meant is not the subject of this discussion. What interests us here is the Jesus that lives in the minds and hearts of Christians. Perhaps the historical Jesus intended that his followers remain loyal to the Law. It is also entirely possible that the first several generations of his Jewish followers were indeed obedient to the Law. But the fact remains that over the centuries, Jews who joined Jesus gave up their observance of the Law of Moses. So the historical Jesus may not have meant to abolish the Law, but the Jesus of Christianity certainly did.
On the basis of Jesus’ statement quoted above, Brown comes to the conclusion (page 206) that: “any interpretation of his (Jesus’) words that effectively abolishes the Torah must be rejected”.
My question to Brown is: how do you measure or define the concept: “effectively abolish the Torah”? Is non-observance not enough? Do YOU advocate that Jews observe the Mosaic Law?
14. Page 207
Brown argues that Jesus presents himself – as the sole authoritative interpreter of the Jewish Scriptures.
One question that this strange statement brings to mind is: Who is the authoritative interpreter of Jesus’ words and teachings? On whose authority should we accept this interpretation of his words?
Another question that comes to mind is: who was interpreting the Torah before Jesus arrived on the scene? By what authority were these people interpreting the Torah? And who took this authority away from the Judges of Israel authorized by the Law of Moses as interpreters? And if this is not an effective abolishment of the Law then what is? Imagine if one were to present themselves up as the sole interpreter of the Constitution of the United States, ignoring the Supreme Court. Would this not be an effective abolishment of the Constitution?
15. Page 209
Brown tells us that the disciples of Jesus found strength in the loss of the Temple rather than weakness. He goes on to say that the followers of Jesus have no spiritual lack with the destruction of the Temple and actually come to a richer spiritual experience without the Temple.
I find this statement quite revealing. The God of Israel dwelt in that Temple. He promised that when He returns, He will take His residence up in that same Temple (Ezekiel 37:28). If someone finds “strength” in the Temple’s absence, and comes into a “richer spiritual experience” without the dwelling place of God – we can be sure that this “spiritual experience” has nothing to do with the God of Israel.
In the context of this particular discussion (“did Jesus abolish the Law?”), Brown could not have made a stronger point for the position he is trying to refute. One of the premises that stands behind so much of Scripture’s Law, narratives, and prophecies is the concept: that through the Temple, Israel and the world come into a richer spiritual experience. To state that the loss of the Temple brought strength while at the same time contending that Jesus did not abolish the Law, is the epitome of self-contradiction.
16. Page 209
Brown tells us that those Jews who did not follow Jesus were terribly traumatized with the destruction of the Temple. According to Brown, the disciples of Jesus were better equipped to handle the Temple’s destruction because Jesus had predicted this destruction and because they already had a replacement for the Temple in Jesus – a replacement that according to Brown actually surpasses the Temple.
Brown does not seem to notice that those Jews who did not follow Jesus were better equipped to handle Jesus’ death. They were not traumatized by that event at all. The event of Jesus death did not require them to invent an entirely new theology that was unknown to them up until that point. But those who chose to follow Jesus were terribly traumatized by the death of their leader. That event was so traumatic that they were forced to redefine their concept of Messiah in ways that they had never dreamed possible.
In any case, as traumatic as the loss of the Temple was for the Jewish people who did not follow Jesus but remained loyal to the God who dwelled in that Temple – they never had to change their theology. First of all, contrary to Brown’s assertions, God had warned them about this impending destruction (Daniel 9:26). Second, this was not the first time that such an event had struck Israel. After the destruction of the First Temple, God promised His people that while they are in exile, He Himself will serve as their miniature sanctuary (Ezekiel 11:16). And finally, God promised us that He will rebuild the Temple and dwell amongst His people again (Ezekiel 37:28). This hope in God’s word has kept us going through these dark centuries, and gave us the strength to resist those who claim to offer us a “better path”.
17. Page 210
Brown reminds his readers of the Christological interpretation of the Jewish holidays that he presented in Volume 1. I refer the readers to my comments on this interpretation in my critique of Vol. 1. I will add here that it is obvious that Brown does not take these Biblical holidays too seriously. He incorrectly calls the second day of Passover by the name “Firstfruits”. The name “Firstfruits” is one of the Biblical names of Pentecost (Numbers 28:26). The offering presented on the second day of Passover was indeed a “firstfruits” offering, but the DAY is never referred to as “Firstfruits”. If Brown would indeed care about God’s festivals, he would get their names straight.
18. Page 210
Brown argues here that the Rabbis also changed the Law. Based on changing circumstances, the Law had to be applied differently in every generation.
How is does this constitute a change in the Law? If the original Law contained a method through which the judges of each generation could apply the Law to their particular situation, then the original Law never changed. We still follow the directives of the original Law which provide us with a methodology to deal with ever-changing circumstances.
But nowhere does the original Law provide for the “revisions” introduced by Christianity. Nowhere does the Law state that when the Messiah comes the Law will take on a different meaning and a different focus. No-one ever made a claim that these were provisions of the original Law that was handed by Moses to the Jewish people.
19. Page 211
Brown talks of the rabbinic additions to the Law in the form of rabbinical institutions. What Brown fails to tell his readers is that the concept of rabbinic institutions has its roots in the Bible. The prophets tell us that the religious leadership introduced a series of fasts as well as the holiday of Purim as an addition to the Law of Moses (Zechariah 8:19, Esther 9:31).
20. Page 212
Brown “explains” to his readers how the rabbis “changed” the Biblical commandment of fringes/tassels (“tzitzis” – Numbers 15:38, Deuteronomy 22:12). Brown describes the style of ancient garments and that the tassel that was to be affixed to the garment was to be a certain shade of blue. Brown then points out that over time the style of the garments has changed and that this particular blue is no longer obtainable. Jews today wear a “tallit” with white tassels in fulfillment this Biblical injunction. In addition Rabbinic tradition dictates that the tassels be affixed to the garment with a series of knots that is not mentioned in the Scripture at all.
Brown then presents a hypothetical Jew who rediscovers the ancient style of garment together with the specific shade of blue and recreates the original fringes worn by Moses’ contemporaries. Without the knots as dictated by Rabbinic tradition and without the white tassels. Brown charges that contemporary Rabbinic Judaism would condemn this Jew for violating the Torah. Thus Brown charges that Rabbinic Judaism has effectively changed the Law of Moses.
Brown’s presentation is seriously flawed. First of all, the Torah does not specify that a specific garment be worn. Any garment that consists of four ends (Deuteronomy 22:12) would be required to have tassels affixed to them. Whether a person wears an ancient style garment or a more conventional “tallit”, he has fulfilled the Biblical injunction when he affixes tassels to the four corners of the garment.
Second, the blue thread that Brown speaks of was a requirement in addition to another thread (not necessarily white – but not necessarily blue either). The commandment in Deuteronomy says nothing about a blue thread and the passage in Numbers tells us to place the blue thread in addition to, or on top of the original fringes. It is obvious that the commandment includes a tassel of unspecified color plus a blue thread. So when the particular blue became unavailable, the Jewish people continued wearing the white threads in fulfillment of the basic injunction. In modern times Jewish scholars are attempting to rediscover the original blue so that they can fulfill all aspects of the commandment. But in the meantime we fulfill those aspects that are possible for us to fulfill.
Brown’s discussion about the knots is also off the mark. The rabbis recognize that the Torah does not say anything about knots. It is for this reason that the specific number of knots is not considered a Torah law (Biblical) but rather a custom. As long as the fringes are firmly affixed to the garment and they consist of a “braided” section (as per Deuteronomy 22:12) and a tassel section (as per Numbers 15:38), then the basic Biblical commandment has been fulfilled. An individual who fulfills the basic requirements of the Biblical commandment without conforming to the customs related to the commandment has fulfilled the commandment. But by neglecting the custom, this individual stands apart form the larger Jewish community. He has not fulfilled the commandment as a member of Eternal Israel but rather as a lone individual. If this individual was unable to fulfill the customs associated with the commandment, then his actions will not be seen by the Jewish community in a negative light. But if this individual openly chooses to disregard the national custom, he will be seen as one who does not recognize the sanctity of the community and as one who fails to see the spiritual advantage of standing together as a part of the Eternal community of Israel.
21. Page 214
Brown condemns the decision of the rabbis to discontinue the capital punishments dictated by the Bible once crime became rampant. It is interesting to note that the spiritual reasoning behind this decision is echoed in the Christian Scriptures (John 8:7). In that case, I am sure that Brown is bowled over by the depth of the spiritual insight “revealed” by Jesus, but when the rabbis say the same thing, Brown sees a misapplication of Scripture.
There are two fundamental differences between the statement of Jesus and the position of the rabbis. First of all, Jesus had no authority as a judge of God’s Law. The community of Eternal Israel does not recognize Jesus as any authority for the Law that was entrusted to them (Deuteronomy 33:4). The rabbis on the other hand were and are the judges recognized by the chosen people to arbitrate and to apply God’s Law.
The second difference between the position of the rabbis and that of Jesus, relates to their attitude towards the Law of Moses. The Christian Scriptures make a point of presenting the Law of Moses as simplistic and inadequate (Matthew 5:21). Jesus is portrayed as the one who presents the sophisticated and refined Law. The rabbis on the other hand highlighted the perfection of God’s Law. They were careful to demonstrate how their spiritual insight was drawn from the Scriptures, and that all they were doing was to apply God’s perfect Law as was their responsibility.
22. Page 214
Brown cites the example of the “prozbul” through which the rabbis circumvent the law of annulment of debts in the sabbatical year. Brown quotes a critique of this rabbinical institution from Gruber.
Had Brown bothered to research the sources that Gruber quotes, he would have found that the rabbis were not “circumventing” a Torah Law. In fact the Talmud (b. Gittin 36a) presents this very question: “How can a rabbinical institution counteract a Biblical Law?” The answer provided by the Talmud makes it clear that the rabbis did not “simply annul” the Torah Law as Brown and Gruber charge. The institution of the “prozbul” actually annulled another rabbinic institution. Brown may disagree with the reasoning of the rabbis, but to portray the rabbis as if they consciously annulled a Torah Law is simple slander with no basis in fact.
23. Page 215
Brown acknowledges that the written Torah standing on its own is inadequate to sustain the ongoing life of a people. The question that must then be asked is: How then did God, who presented the Law to Israel, expect it to be observed by all generations of Jews? (Numbers 15:37-41). If His Law is perfect, as Scripture attests (Psalm 19:8), then He would have had to provide, as an integral component of the original Law, some method of dealing with the ever-changing life of a nation. The only viable claim to possession of such a method is the claim of Rabbinic Judaism. There is no competing claim.
24. Page 215
Brown claims that Yeshua presented a “better way”, a method of observing God’s Law that is superior to the method presented by Rabbinic Judaism.
The test of history invalidates Brown’s claim. Yeshua’s way brought the Crusades, Inquisition and the perpetration of the holocaust unto his followers. Is this the “better way”?
Brown argues that “real” Christians love Jews, and I do not doubt that many Christians today sincerely do love the Jewish people. My question is as follows: Do the Christians today love the Jews more than Jesus and his apostles?
Most Christians would argue that Jesus was the epitome of love, and that their own love is only a mirror of Jesus’ love for Israel. If this premise is true (and I highly doubt it) then how can modern Christians be sure that their own grandchildren will not be killing Jews? If Jesus and Paul, who loved Israel more than modern Christians, and presumably who could see into the future with greater prophetic clarity than modern Christians, could not ensure that such atrocities will not be committed in their name – how then could modern day Christians be guaranteed that their own descendants will not commit atrocities in their name? And if you tell me that precautions are being taken that these atrocities not be repeated, then why could Jesus and Paul not take these same precautions?
25. Page 216
In this section Brown takes a page out of Jesus’ book, and paints Judaism and her teachers in a negative light.
When Jesus presented his moral teachings to his audience, it was not enough for him to encourage his followers to aim for a higher moral standard. It was important for him to claim that his teaching was original, and that the teachers who preceded him failed to understand some basic moral insights. By doing so, Matthew’s Jesus set the stage for the subsequent teaching of John’s Jesus that the Jews are children of the devil. Eventually, the European people came to believe that the Jewish people are so intimately connected with evil that they fail to appreciate some of the most basic principles of morality.
Brown too is not satisfied to present Jesus’ moral teachings. He finds the need to paint a fictitious portrait of Judaism as a legalistic belief system with only the dimmest understanding of morality.
Brown points to Jesus teaching against anger as a “deeper” understanding of the Law. The fact is that Jesus taught the Jewish people nothing that they did not already know. The rabbis taught against anger, making sure to point to the Scriptural source for their teaching (b. Nedarim 22b, based on Ecclesiastes 7:9).
Brown points to Jesus’ teaching against lustful thoughts as another example of an “exclusive” moral insight of Jesus. The Rabbis also taught against lustful thoughts, making sure to attribute the moral insight to Scripture (b. Eruvin 18b, based on Proverbs 11:21, see also Job 31:1).
Jesus’ teaching “let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no”, is also cited by Brown as an example of Jesus’ moral superiority over the teachers of Rabbinic Judaism. The problem with Brown’s assertion is that the Talmud records precisely the same teaching, again pointing to a Scriptural source for this concept (b. Bava Metzia 49a, based on Leviticus 19:36, see also Leviticus 19:11, Proverbs 12:22).
The famous teaching of “turning the other cheek”, which Brown interprets as “not seeking retaliation”, is explicitly stated in the Torah – Leviticus 19:18.
The philosophy of “loving your enemies”, is also echoed in Rabbinic literature (b. Bava Metzia 32b, based on Exodus 23:5, see also Leviticus 19:17).
Brown speaks of Jesus’ advice to perform acts of righteousness in secret as another example of Jesus’ “original” insights. Again, this is a well known Rabbinic teaching based on Scripture (b. Succah 49b, based on Micah 6:8).
The teaching “forgive others so that we may be forgiven” is also not a “Jesus original” as Brown seems to assume. The Talmud presents the same teaching (b. Rosh Hashana 17a, based on Micah 7:18).
Jesus’ warning not to store up treasures on earth is found in the Talmud as well (b. Bava Batra 11a, with various Scriptural quotations including Isaiah 3:10).
The warnings against greed and love of money are also found in the Rabbinic writings (Avot 4:21, Kohelet Raba 1), and these concepts are found in the books of Scripture especially in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes (e.g. Proverbs 15:27, Ecclesiastes 2:11).
The concept of trusting on our Father’s goodness is a prevalent theme in both the Rabbinic writings and in the Jewish Scriptures (e.g. Jeremiah 17:7, Psalm 55:23).
Jesus’ teaching against being judgmental, and his encouragement for self-examination are also paralleled in the Rabbinic sources (b. Bava Kama 93a, Bava Batra 60b based on Zephaniah 2:1).
(At this point, one might ask: How did Jesus provide an example for self-examination? By teaching that he could do no wrong, his followers could not fathom why he died such an ignominious death. In sharp contrast to Jesus, when two of the Pharisee leaders were being executed by the Romans they provided an incredible example for self-examination. One said to the other: “in an instant you will be together with the righteous, why then do you cry?” The response was: “I am crying because we are dying like those who have murdered and violated the Sabbath.” The former comforted his companion: “perhaps you were eating or sleeping and a woman came to ask you a question concerning the Law and your students turned her away. Does not the verse say “if you oppress them (the widow and the orphan) I will smite you by the sword?” It is these people who Jesus slandered when he taught the world that the Pharisees ignore the commandment of caring for the widow and the orphan (Matthew 23:14).)
Brown concludes that traditional Jews might find these concepts: “profound but vague”. Brown warns that traditional Jews will need “some level of reorientation” to implement these moral teachings (page 217). I find this simply amazing. Brown seems to be under the impression that no traditional Jew ever heard of these concepts. Just to get an idea as to how skewed Brown’s view of reality actually is, please consider the following. A Messianic teacher decided to try to implement Jesus’ moral teachings. He created a website that focuses on the ethical and moral teachings of Jesus and he elaborates and expands on each one. He draws most of his sources from rabbinic literature! (Here is the link to his site – http://rivertonmussar.org/)
Brown seems to be locked into an “either or” world view. Either one follows a religious legal code, or one follows a moral code. The Scriptures teach and the respective histories of the Church and the Synagogue confirm that it is “both or neither”.
26. Pages 218-226
Here Brown presents his readers with a negative portrait of the Rabbinic understanding of the Sabbath. Brown supplies his readers with a sampling of the complexity of the Rabbinic understanding of the Sabbath laws. He quotes from Rabbinical sources which state that proper observance of the Sabbath will not be possible without a dedication to studying the laws pertaining to the Sabbath. He then concludes this segment of his presentation with the words: “Yeshua’s way is better! No wonder the prophet Isaiah declared that “the coastlands shall await his teaching”.”
Again, Brown’s is out of touch with both Scriptural truth and with historical reality. God promised that the Sabbath will stand as an eternal sign between Himself and the Jewish people, a sign that will endure for all generations (Exodus 31:12-17). No community aside from the rabbinic community has been continuously observing the Sabbath since Sinai. The Christian community was not satisfied with their non-observance of God’s holy day, they went ahead and developed a hatred for the Sabbath, and this aversion to the Sabbath abides until today in some Christian circles and is reflected in some Christian writings. God’s sign does not seem to talk to these Christians.
In contrast to the burdensome and frustrating observance described by Brown, observance of the Rabbinical Sabbath is one of the most spiritually exhilarating experiences. Brown himself has gone on record warning Jewish Christians not to join Rabbinical Jews for the Sabbath because it might lure them away from belief in Jesus. One second! Isn’t the Rabbinical Sabbath supposed to be an oppressive experience? Why doesn’t Brown encourage these doubters to try the Jewish Sabbath and see that Yeshua’s way is the “better way”?
God never said that observing His holy law will require no exertion. Yes, you must dedicate yourself to study and to observance, but through this dedication, and only through this dedication, will you experience the sanctification that God granted His holy nation.
In conclusion, I will share a childhood memory. A certain elderly man was a frequent guest at my parent’s Sabbath table. I recall walking home from the Friday night services together with this elderly Jew and my father. This old man talked with my father about his youth. He was from Poland. His parents or grandparents had left Judaism back in Europe and he had grown up as a secular Jew without much knowledge of Judaism. It was only in his old age that he returned to His Father and began observing His Law. He told my father that now that he has come to know Judaism, he has a problem understanding his parents and grandparents. “How did they throw away the Sabbath?” he asked. He could not fathom how one would part with the blessed peacefulness and the holy rest of God’s Sabbath as observed in Rabbinic Judaism.
27. Pages 218-230
Throughout Brown’s attack on the Rabbinic understanding of the Sabbath the recurring refrain is: “is this what the Lord intended?” Brown expects his readers to come to the conclusion that the Rabbinic observance of the Sabbath is not the observance that God intended when He presented this commandment to His people.
If one’s understanding of spirituality in general and of the Sabbath in particular has been acquired from the literature and the general milieu of the modern Western world, then Brown’s argument will find a listening ear. But if one’s understanding of spirituality and of Sabbath is rooted in the Jewish Bible and in the environment of ancient Israel, then Brown’s argument is meaningless.
The Western world does not consider a procedure, in which people follow a detailed set of physical instructions, to be a rich spiritual experience. But the Jewish Scriptures teach us otherwise. Some of the pivotal narratives in Scripture teach us that man’s obedience to a series of detailed physical instructions bring man into a closer relationship with God. This is a feature in the episode of Noah’s ark. One of the central lessons integral to that account is the fact that God chose to renew life on this planet through Noah’s ark; an ark that was built according to a specific set of instructions. The entire Tabernacle narrative has the Jewish nation obediently following a detailed set of instructions and that this obedience was favored by God to the degree that He came to dwell amongst this nation. Scripture makes it clear that man’s obedience to intricate instructions is an important feature of the relationship between man and His Creator.
The historical record clearly indicates that every community of Jews in ancient Israel understood that the work that God prohibited on the Sabbath consists of a set of prohibitions that proscribe many minor physical activities. Some of these communities (such as the Qumran community represented in the Dead Sea Scroll literature) actually took a stricter view than Rabbinical Judaism in this area. The concept of Sabbath espoused by Protestant Christians, which is limited and confined to an indistinct “spiritual rest”, was unknown in ancient Israel. In ancient Israel the Sabbath was understood to be a spiritual rest that is amplified and supported by a defined set of rules prohibiting certain actions.
The Christian Scriptures themselves confirm the truth that the Biblical prohibition from work on the Sabbath applies to minor physical activities. Brown himself half-heartedly acknowledges this point when he tells us: “Now, it is more than likely, that Yeshua himself lived within the framework of SOME of these laws…” (page 226). In other words, Brown recognizes that Jesus himself observed the Sabbath according to the Rabbinic understanding of God’s holy day. Brown attempts to modify his admission with the argument that it was only “some” of the laws that Jesus observed, and with the myth the Rabbinic understanding of the Sabbath was not yet fully developed. But after everything is said and done, Brown is admitting that Jesus observed the Sabbath by refraining from minor physical activities.
The authors of the Christian Scripture clearly acknowledge this. In all of the Sabbath controversies that Jesus has with his opponents, not once does he disagree with the definition of “prohibited work” that his opponents espoused. His argument with them is that for the purpose of healing the Law of Sabbath is moved aside. But never does he argue that his opponent’s understanding of the Sabbath law is erroneous.
This means that mixing dirt and spittle is prohibited on the Sabbath (John 9:14), carrying a mat is prohibited in the Sabbath (John 5:10), and picking kernels of grain is prohibited on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1). These minor physical activities would hardly constitute a violation of the Sabbath according to the philosophy espoused by Brown. Yet Jesus never denies that these activities ought to be prohibited on the Sabbath, barring extenuating circumstances.
The Christian Scriptures actually take this one step further. They have Jesus quoting a detail of Rabbinic Sabbath law to prove a point. In John 7:22 Jesus bases his argument on the Rabbinic law which would generally prohibit an incision to the flesh on the Sabbath, yet permits it in the situation of circumcision. According to Brown’s understanding, why should a cut to the flesh be prohibited to begin with? And once it is determined that it is indeed prohibited, how can we know that for the sake of circumcision it is permitted?
It is clear from the Christian Scriptures that the Rabbinic understanding of the Sabbath was common knowledge in Jesus’ days, and that Jesus never disputed this conception of the Sabbath. Brown’s attack on the Rabbinical Sabbath is but a poor attempt to rewrite history.
28. Pages 226 – 229
Brown is in his lecturing mode again. He sets forth some of the “key teachings and principles” of the Sabbath as “revealed” by Jesus. These are presented as original teachings of Jesus that are unknown in Rabbinical Judaism. (Brown describes these principles as a “clear contrast” to the Rabbinical understanding of the Sabbath.)
Brown tells us that the Sabbath was meant to be a day of liberation from bondage. Brown points to the Sabbath healings of Jesus as an example of the Sabbath liberation, because they provided deliverance for people who were in critical need. He contrasts these healings with the complex and rigid observance of the Sabbath that is found in Rabbinic Judaism. The impression that the authors of the Christians Scriptures give us of the Rabbinic Sabbath is one in which the pressing needs of individuals, specifically the weakest in society, are not met. Brown echoes this slanted description.
Let us turn the camera to the Rabbinic Sabbath so maligned and denigrated by the followers of Jesus. We will begin with the matter of healing the sick.
A child growing up observing the Sabbath in a Rabbinical community will know that the Sabbath means so much to his or her parents and teachers. All work is set aside, no business is transacted, no matter what financial loss might be incurred. Stories abound about Jews who made great sacrifices in order to be able to keep God’s Sabbath. The atmosphere is one in which it is unthinkable to answer a telephone, to use an electronic device, or to drive a car. Imagine a child who grew up with this concept of Sabbath as a part of the very fabric of his or her life. This child is now in the synagogue where everyone is silently and solemnly listening to the reading of the Torah. Suddenly a telephone rings. One of the honored members of the congregation answers the phone as he quickly makes his way to the door. He hops into his car and zooms off, siren blaring. What happened! Someone’s life was in danger – and this volunteer medic was responding to the emergency.
Could you think of a better way to inculcate a child with the value of a human life? Is it a coincidence that it is precisely the communities of Rabbinic Jews who form their own volunteer ambulance teams because they find the response time of the general ambulance squads to be inadequate in light of their understanding of the value of the human life?
As much as we value the Sabbath, and we value it tremendously, we still recognize that human life is greater. When a religious Christian community goes further than the Rabbinic community to instill in their children a value for human life, we will be ready to hear a lecture from Jesus and from Brown on this subject.
In the sense of tending to the needs of the weakest in society, the Rabbinic Sabbath is a shining light. As a general rule, the officers of Rabbinical communities, be they synagogue administrators, community volunteers or religious leaders, make it their business to ensure that every Jew has a place to eat for the Sabbath. Many families will consider their Sabbath table incomplete if there is no guest present with whom to share their home. This goes much further than providing an indigent individual or a stranger with some food. By participating in a family meal, the outsider is given the opportunity to share their heart with those present at the table. It is through the Rabbinical observance of the Sabbath that the Jewish Community learns of the concerns of her most needy. Not in official bureaucratic reports. But in heart to heart talks that involve every member of the community including the little children. It is not merely a matter of discovering the concerns of these people, but that these people become a participating part of the community at the level of the community’s most important unit; the family.
For Brown to echo the slander of the Christian Scriptures in accusing the Rabbinic community of disregarding those in critical need in the context of observance of the Sabbath, is to ignore 2000 years of the history of the Jewish community.
Let us also address the issue of “liberation from bondage”. Brown declares that the Sabbath that Jesus offers his followers liberates from bondage in “clear contrast” to the Sabbath observed by the Rabbinical community.
Those who observe God’s Sabbath in the context of Rabbinic Judaism will have a hard time identifying with Brown’s sentiment. Could there be a greater liberation from bondage than a day in which the work-week is not allowed to intrude? No telephone, no computer, no mail, no boss, no business, no store, no employees, no buying, no selling, no radio or television – a complete disengagement from anything and everything that pulls one away from the true purpose of life. The Sabbath is a day for interacting with God, with His holy Torah, and with His chosen people. The sense of freedom generated by the observance of the Sabbath touches and envelops every member of the community, from the small child, to the laborer, to the merchant, to the down-and-out and to the homemaker. Pontificating about the Sabbath is one thing. Living it is quite another.
29. Page 228
Another Spiritual principle that Brown finds in the Sabbath set forth by Jesus, is the concept that Sabbath is “a time of true spiritual rest”. Brown goes on to explain that through Jesus “the burden of sin is lifted from our shoulder, the sense of guilt removed, the need to strive to somehow be accepted by the Father”. This concept is presented as a “clear contrast” to the Sabbath of Rabbinical Judaism.
In clear contrast to Brown’s depiction of Rabbinical Judaism, Jews who believe in God and believe in His Torah as preserved through His chosen nation, do not walk around with a “burden of sin” or with a “sense of guilt”. God promised us that He forgives us when we repent (Isaiah 55:7, Ezekiel 33:11) and we take God on His word. Both the Scriptures and the Rabbinic traditions associate observance of the Sabbath with the repentance process and with a right relationship with God (Isaiah 56:2, 58:13, b. Shabbat 119b).
Brown speaks of a “need to strive to somehow be accepted by the Father”. This concept too has no place in Judaism. Our relationship with God is as children to a Father (Deuteronomy 14:1). Children are always accepted by their Father. Our striving before our Father is not for the sake of “somehow being accepted”, but rather, by obeying God’s instructions we partake of His holy goodness. The Jewish Bible never speaks of observance of God’s Law as a burden. The fact that God gives us the opportunity to observe His Law is a sign of our closeness to Him and of His love for us (Deuteronomy 26:18). The Sabbath is not a time to put aside observance of God’s commandments. The exact opposite is true. The Sabbath is a time when we have time to enhance our relationship with God by allowing the holiness of His Law and of His commandments to permeate our beings.
Yes, the Sabbath is a time of true spiritual rest. It is a time when our spiritual side is not burdened with combating the negative influences that attempt to lure us away from a real relationship with God. The Sabbath is a time when we could devote our energies to that which our spirits yearn for – a taste of God’s holiness (Exodus 31:13).
30. Page 229
Yet another “spiritual” principle propounded by Brown is that: “The Son of Man (meaning the Messiah) is Lord of the Sabbath.”
Here, Brown sees Jesus’ pronouncement that places his own person above God’s holy Law as a “deep spiritual principle” that was revealed by Jesus.
God’s Torah teaches us the exact opposite. The Law includes a set of instructions as to how to deal with a claimant to prophecy (Deuteronomy 13:2-6, 18:18-22). This clearly implies that God’s Law, as applied by the judges authorized by God to adjudicate His Law, stands above any claim to prophecy. God demands that we place our obedience to Him through the Law above any obedience demanded by a claimant to prophecy. No miracle should turn us from obedience to God’s Law.
31. Page 229
Brown concludes his dissertation on the spiritual principles of the Sabbath with: “these are just some of the Sabbath principles presented by Yeshua, the main point being: The approach that is based on human tradition and endless legal expansion does NOT define the real meaning of the Sabbath and is NOT what God intended. Rather. Following the Torah principles set forth by the Messiah brings full meaning to the day…”
If we focus on what God teaches us about the Sabbath in the Jewish Scriptures it will become obvious that not only did the followers of Jesus do away with God’s Sabbath (something that they never tried to hide), but that the belief system built around Jesus is the very antithesis of God’s Sabbath. It was through the Sabbath that God empowered and encourages the Jewish people to reject the claims of this self-proclaimed god-man.
The Sabbath is the sign that God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-11, 31:12-17).
The one truth that is the underlying principle of the Jewish Scriptures is the fact that God is God and everything else are but His creations. This truth is stated explicitly in the first verse of the Bible, and is the implicit message of every verse that follows. This foundational truth: that God is the One Master of all, was made known to the Jewish people through the miracles of the exodus and through the Sinai revelation (Deuteronomy 4:35). God’s absolute sovereignty is brought home to the hearts of the Jewish people through the observance of Sabbath, and the Jewish people testify this truth to the world through the observance of Sabbath.
The heart of the Jew’s calling before God is that we stand as witnesses to the ultimate truth: the fact that God alone is Lord (Isaiah 44:8), and it is through observance of the Sabbath that the Jew dispenses his calling before God. It is for this reason that the Sabbath is the covenantal sign between God and His people, and it is for this reason that commandment to observe the Sabbath is situated together with the commandment against idolatry and the injunction to honor our parents (Exodus 20:1-12, Leviticus 19:3-4).
The commandment against idolatry is based on our understanding that God is the only one deserving of our devotion to the exclusion of everyone and everything else. The commandment to honor our parents reminds us, as does the Sabbath, that our own existence is not an intrinsic truth but rather a gift that God chose to grant us through the medium of our parents.
God granted man control of all of creation (Genesis 1:28, Psalm 8:7). With the mastery of the earth placed in his hands, it is very easy for man to forget that he is a servant and fall into the illusion of thinking that he is master. By relinquishing control of the world once a week, the Jew reminds himself and testifies to all who care to hear, that we are not the masters, but rather, that we are all servants of the One Master.
Observance of the Sabbath gave the Jew an unambiguous and explicit perspective of reality. When the Jew encounters a rock, a plant an animal, a fellow human or an angel – the Sabbath tells the Jew – this form of existence is not your master – it is a creation of your God just as you are. While the populations around them were enslaved to the beliefs that they are subservient to forces of nature or to people who were born into a higher station in life – the Sabbath set the Jew free. The truth of the Sabbath gave the Jew the clarity to see through the intimidating posture of those who claimed to be the masters of men. The Sabbath reminded the Jew that there is but One Master, and that all are equally subservient to Him.
When the Christian missionaries presented Jesus as “man’s lord” (page 229), the nations who did not know the message of the Sabbath were taken in. They accepted this false teaching and believed themselves to be under the mastery of this Jesus.
The Jew, however, who had absorbed the message of Sabbath was enabled by the Sabbath to identify this teaching for what it is – a call to idolatry. The Sabbath taught the Jew that no-one but the One Creator of heaven and earth can lay claim to the title of: Master. When any one inhabitant of God’s creation claims to be the master – the Sabbath tells us – he is but a servant like ourselves.
The Sabbath is the very antithesis of Christianity. It is no wonder then that the followers of Jesus developed such a hatred and scorn for God’s holy day. As for us, we will walk in the light of God’s holy Sabbath until the darkness of Christianity is dispelled and all flesh will recognize that God alone is king (Zechariah 14:9).
32. Pages 230-236
Brown argues that the Law must have changed. He points to the fact that many of the commandments cannot be observed while Israel is in exile. Many of these commandments that cannot be observed in our exiled state are set forth as observances that apply forever, for all generations. Brown’s argument then is that something must have changed. According to Brown, Rabbinic Judaism was also forced to institute changes to the Law because of our inability to perform all of the commandments. He claims that Rabbinic Judaism has changed the Law through the Talmud and the ensuing works of rabbinic scholarship.
The fact is that every commandment of the Law stands forever (Numbers 15:37-41). The fact that the circumstances change do not affect the eternal nature of the Law. The original Law provides direction on how to deal with changing circumstances. But the Law itself never changes.
Rabbinic Judaism treasures every one of God’s holy laws. Those which we are able to keep in our present exiled state together with those that we look forward to observing when the ultimate redemption comes. We study the intricate details of all of the laws and we are influenced by the Godly wisdom inherent in every nuance of God’s commandments.
The basic answer that Brown has provided for the original objection: “Jesus abolished the Law”, is: “You (Rabbinic Judaism) also changed the Law”. This answer is simply false.
33. Page 267
Brown reviews his arguments from volume 2 against one of the primary Jewish objections. The Jewish objection runs as follows: “According to the Law (Deuteronomy 13,) Jesus was a false prophet, because he taught us to follow other gods (namely, the trinity, including the god Jesus), gods our fathers have never known or worshipped. This makes all his miracles utterly meaningless.”
Brown responds to this objection with the claim that everything that Jesus did was for the glory of the Father. Brown argues that Jesus points people to the God of Israel.
If this were true, then Brown and other Christian missionaries would not attempt to convert Jews to their faith. If the entire goal of Jesus is to point people to the God of Israel, then people who already worship the God of Israel do not need him. Brown and the Christian missionaries are not happy with a heart that is completely and totally devoted to the God of Israel. They want the adoration, love and reverence that is devoted to the God of Israel to be redirected towards Jesus.
Jesus does not point people TO the God of Israel. Jesus points people AWAY from the God of Israel.
34. Page 268
Brown claims that Jesus fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah 61:1-3.
I find this statement mind-boggling.
Let us examine the verses.
“The spirit of the Master the God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring tidings to the humbled, He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for captives and release from bondage for the imprisoned. To proclaim a year of favor unto the Lord and a day of revenge for our God, to comfort all mourners. To bring about for the mourners of Zion, to give them splendor instead of ashes, oil of joy in stead of mourning, a cloak of praise instead of a dim spirit, they will be called “elms of righteousness, the planting of the Lord in which to glory” (Isaiah 61:1-3).”
We will note that only a few verses before these, Isaiah promised the Jewish people: “Never again will your sun set, and your moon will not be withdrawn, for the Lord will be unto you an eternal light, and the days of your mourning will be ended. Your nation will be all righteous, they will inherit the land forever, a shoot of my planting, My handiwork in which to glory (Isaiah 60:20,21)”.
It is clear beyond doubt that the planting of the Lord in which to glory of 60:21 is the same planting of 61:3. It is also clear beyond doubt that the mourners that are comforted in 61:2 are the mourners of 60:20. These are those who mourn for Zion. May I please remind you that Brown exults in the fact that the followers of Jesus came into a “richer spiritual experience” with the destruction of Zion (page 209). These people are NOT the mourners of Zion. To exult with the destruction of Zion and to then turn around and seek compensation as the “mourners of Zion” is asking for a bit too much, even for Brown.
35. Pages 268-269
Brown attacks Rabbinic Judaism again. He “informs” his readers about “the great contrast between Rabbinic Judaism and the New Covenant Faith”. Brown points to the closing verses in Deuteronomy which speak of Moses unsurpassed greatness. He then contrasts the Christian reading of these verses with what he presents as the Rabbinical reading of these verses. Brown claims that in light of Jesus alleged miracles, Christians are entitled to believe that Jesus was greater than Moses. We will deal with this nonscriptural assertion shortly. For now we will move on to Brown’s presentation of the Rabbinic reading of these verses in Deuteronomy.
I quote; “What does Rabbinic Judaism say about these verses in Deuteronomy 34? Remarkably, there is a saying that goes, “From Moses to Moses there was none like Moses” – referring to none other than Moses Maimonides…”
I find this argument incredible. For starters, Maimonides himself, gave expression to one of the foundations of the Jewish faith by stating that Moses is the greatest prophet, greater than all who preceded him and greater than all who will follow him. No Jew ever believed that Maimonides was greater than or even equal in stature to Moses. The saying: “From Moses to Moses there arose none like Moses” was never presented as an interpretation of the passage in Deuteronomy, or of any other Scriptural passage for that matter. The saying originates from the period of mourning that followed the passing of Maimonides as an exaggeration generated by the grief of the moment that was never meant in a literal sense, and until Brown put this saying in his book, was never understood in a literal sense.
In “great contrast” to Judaism, Christianity completely fails to appreciate the greatness of Moses, and believes that Jesus was greater than him. Christianity’s failure to understand Moses’ stature is not a peripheral mistake. It is not simply a matter of misunderstanding these verses in Deuteronomy. It is a failure to understand the foundations of the faith structure of the Jewish Scriptures.
The faith of the Jewish Scriptures stands on one concept: honesty and credibility. The more credible the concept, the more weight it is given in the theology of Judaism.
All of the miracles of the exodus, the miracles of the wilderness, and the Sinai revelation established the credibility of the two foundational concepts in Judaism: that God is the only true power, and that Moses is His prophet. These miracles are so great because they are so credible, because they go so far in satisfying our sensitivity to truth, our sense of honesty. These were events that were collectively experienced. These events had a tremendous practical impact on the lives of two great nations.
The concept of credibility is the very thrust of these verses in Deuteronomy. The Scripture emphasize that the miracles that were performed through Moses impacted Pharaoh and ALL of his servants and ALL of his land. The Scripture emphasizes that the miracles were done to the eyes of ALL of Israel.
How could these miracles compare to the faith healings of Jesus that only impacted the lives of individuals, were only witnessed by individuals, and were only worked with people who already believed in him (Matthew 13:58)? When we consider the credibility of Jesus’ miracles and/or the lack thereof, Jesus doesn’t even remotely approach Joshua, let alone Moses.
Brown’s pointing to these verses in Deuteronomy as an example of Christianity’s faithfulness to the spirit of Scripture is astounding. The fact that this is coming from a Jew who has been denied his rightful heritage, is heartbreaking.
36. Objection 5.32
“Observance of the Sabbath has been the hallmark of the Jewish people, separating us from other nations and identifying us with the covenant of God. Since Christianity changed the Sabbath, Christianity is obviously not for the Jewish people.”
Brown responds to this Jewish objection by pointing out that the gentile Church, who changed the day of rest from Saturday to Sunday, was not following Jesus. Jesus himself did not teach that the day of rest be changed. Brown therefore argues that one can believe in Jesus and still observe the Sabbath.
The question that Brown does not address is: Why did the later Church change the day of rest? Why did the gentile Church develop such a negative view of this covenantal sign? Is it merely a coincidence that those who deified a human chose to abandon the commandment that serves as a reminder that everything, including Jesus, are but God’s creations?
There is another message of the Sabbath that is antithetical to Christianity. The Sabbath serves as a testimony that God sanctifies Israel (Exodus 31:13). The Sabbath confirms that Israel was chosen by God to serve as His witness nation. Their role is to testify to the world that everything that exists is but a creation of God.
Christianity rejects this message of the Sabbath as well. Christianity denies Israel’s role as God’s witnesses. If they would have any respect for the message of the Sabbath they would pay heed to the witnesses that the Sabbath authenticates.
If a Jew accepts the doctrines of Christianity, he or she will have to turn their backs on the Sabbath. Yes, they can continue observing the Sabbath, but it will be a dead observance.
37. Objection 5.33
“Jesus abolished the dietary laws.”
In the course of his response to this Jewish objection, Brown contends that “no food can make you spiritually impure”. God disagrees. The Jewish Bible makes it quite clear that certain forbidden foods DO have the power to defile a person (Leviticus 11:43,44, 20:25).
38. Page 273
Brown tells us that the Jewish disciples of Jesus generally did obey the dietary laws, but he adds the following modifying statement: “However, because they understood the spiritual principles the Messiah was teaching, they would be willing to live in an environment where they ate nonkosher food in order to teach Gentiles about the One true God. Doesn’t this seem right to you?
There are several problems with this statement. First of all, why would one have to eat nonkosher food in order to teach Gentiles? Second, if they preached the trinity, they were not teaching about the One true God. Third, why the appeal to the audience? As one who believes in the Bible, Brown should point to the Bible for moral guidance, and not to public opinion.
In any case, if this was the calculation of Jesus’ Jewish disciples, they were wrong. Perhaps it was difficult for them to see their mistake 2000 years ago, but what amazes me is that Brown still doesn’t see their mistake.
By putting their mission to encourage belief in Jesus above the Law of God, they effectively cut themselves off from the covenant community. In a few generations the Jewish disciples of Jesus disappeared as a distinct community. They brought no blessing to the Gentiles either. Christianity brought the Gentile world an intense hatred of the Jewish people and a corrupt theology, even according to Brown’s understanding of the Bible. If the Gentile nations would not have encountered Jesus’ disciples they would never have committed the crimes of the Crusades, the Inquisition or the holocaust
The moral of the story is that there can be no spiritual gain by violating God’s Law.
39. Page 282
Brown quotes various rabbinical sources that seem to indicate that the commandments, specifically the dietary commandments, will not be relevant in the “age to come”. Brown would have his readers believe that these rabbis believed that the dietary laws will be abolished in the Messianic age.
It is in place to note that the community that accepts these sources as authoritative do not understand these sources in the way that Brown is interpreting them. The rabbis understood that as long as we are on this physical earth, God’s commandments are all relevant.
Furthermore, the Bible makes it clear that the commandments will be observed during the Messianic age (Deuteronomy 30:8, Ezekiel 37:24). Brown does not quote any Biblical source to support his contention (that the Law is abrogated in the Messianic era). Instead he points to the words of men who considered Brown’s belief system to be idolatry. In the beginning of Volume 1 of this series Brown states that: “The real question is: What do the Hebrew Scriptures teach?” We encourage Dr. Brown to stick to the standard that he has set for himself.
40. Objection 5.34
“If the death of Jesus really inaugurated the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah the prophet, then why hasn’t it been fulfilled?”
Brown summarizes his response with the following words: “In short, the new covenant was established two thousand years ago in incipient form and it continues to advance to its ultimate fulfillment.”
Brown bases his reasoning on the fact that a simple reading of Jeremiah (as well as some of the other prophecies in the Jewish Bible) would seem to indicate that the return from the Babylonian exile would usher in the ultimate Messianic era. Since this did not happen, Brown contends that there was a partial fulfillment with the return from Babylon while the full fulfillment is yet to come.
To quote Brown again: “Jeremiah (much like Ezekiel) expected that the return of the exiles from Babylon would be so glorious that it would be followed by the transformation of the nation – through the inauguration of the new covenant (see also Ezekiel 36:24-32) and the reign of the Messiah – leading ultimately to the transformation of the world. Were Jeremiah and Ezekiel false prophets? God forbid! Rather, what they prophesied did happen only not in the expected measure or scope. In other words, in the same way that the return of the exiles did happen, but not in the expected measure or scope, and in the same way the prophesied rebuilding of the Temple did take place, but not with the expected glory (see esp. Ezekiel 40-48, and cf. vol.2, 3.17), in the very same way the Messiah did come and inaugurate the new covenant – just as was prophesied! – but not with the expected glory or scope.”
There are three critical flaws in Brown’s interpretation of the new covenant spoken of by Jeremiah.
The first flaw is that the Scriptural problem that Brown addresses with his interpretation was already addressed in the book of Daniel (ch. 9). Daniel expected that all of the prophecies of comfort will come to fruition at the close of the Babylonian exile. God sent an angel to inform him that this was not to be. The nation will have to undergo a preliminary purging process of 490 years before the final purging process can begin. Only with the close of the 490 years, the destruction of the city and the Temple and a lengthy refining process will it be time for the final redemption (Daniel 9:24-27, 11:31-35, 12;1-3). Daniel uses the exact same phraseology that Jeremiah uses to introduce the new covenant prophecies to let us know that he is talking of the same end-time event (Daniel 12:1 – Jeremiah 30:7).
According to the simple reading of Scripture, any prophecies of comfort that are not explicitly associated with the return from the Babylonian exile, do not apply to that return, but rather to the future, final return, as explained in the book of Daniel.
The second flaw with Brown’s interpretation is internal inconsistency. There are many features of the new covenant prophecies, and if we accept the interpretation that requires a partial fulfillment with the return of the Babylonian exile, we will realize that all of these were fulfilled soon after the return, and in direct relation to the return. Why then should we assume that the new covenant aspect of the prophecy is separated from the rest of the predictions by several centuries, and unrelated to the return in any way? How would this comfort those who returned from the exile?
For the record: The new covenant prophecy of Jeremiah 31 is also described in Deuteronomy 30:1-10, Jeremiah 3;14-18, 32:36-44, 33:1-26, Ezekiel 11:17-20, 34:20-31, 36:1-38, 37:15-28, (see also Hosea 2:16-22, Jeremiah 50:4,5).
Some of the central features of these prophecies are:
Return of the exiles – Jeremiah 31:7,22 – Deuteronomy 30:3, Jeremiah 3:14, 32:37, 33:7, Ezekiel 11:17, 34:13, 36:24, 37:21.
The planting of Israel in their land – Jeremiah 31:26 – 32:41, Ezekiel 34:29.
A great blessing of abundance – Jeremiah 31:11,24 – Deuteronomy 30:9, Jeremiah 33:9, Ezekiel 34:27, 36:35.
The joy of God in bestowing the blessing – Jeremiah 31:27 – Deuteronomy 30:9, Jeremiah 32:41.
Affirmation of the unique position of Israel as God’s nation – Jeremiah 31:35 – Jeremiah 3:17, 32:38, Ezekiel 34:30, 36:28, 37:28,
Unity amongst the tribes of Israel – Jeremiah 31:30 – Jeremiah 32:39, 33:7, Ezekiel 34:23, 37:15-20.
The beauty and glory of Israel and her land – Jeremiah 33:9, Ezekiel 37:36.
Peace and security – Jeremiah 31:39 – Jeremiah 32:37, 33:6, Ezekiel 34:25, 37:26.
Israel’s repentance – Jeremiah 31:18 – Deuteronomy 30:2, Jeremiah 3:14.
All of these are directly related to the return from Babylon (if we are to assume a partial fulfillment). So why should we assume that the new covenant stands as an unrelated event? The fact is that the Scripture itself describes a partial fulfillment of the new covenant at the time of the return from Babylon. In Haggai 2:5, God declares that His spirit stands in our midst (compare with Ezekiel 26:27). This declaration was proclaimed to the generation that returned from the Babylonian captivity, centuries before the inception of Christianity.
The Talmud relates that the urge to worship idols was purged from Israel during that generation. In fact, in the prophetic books (Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Ezra, Nehemiah) that address the generation who returned from Babylon we find no criticism of Israel for worshipping idols. This stands in stark contrast to the generations which preceded the return from Babylon. Since the return from Babylon, idolatry has not been a Jewish vice. If there had to be a partial fulfillment of the new covenant with the return from Babylon, this would be the Scriptural explanation.
The third critical flaw with Brown’s interpretation is that he turned the new covenant on its ear. The prophet describes the new covenant as something that is unique to the Jewish people. It will set them apart from other nations (Jeremiah 31:32 – and THEY shall be to Me for a nation). According to Brown, the new covenant joins the Gentiles with the Jewish people. The prophets describe the new covenant as a positive development in the history of Israel. Brown’s version of the new covenant ushered in a period of darkness for Israel (in the sense of persecution), and for the Gentiles (in the sense of crooked theology, and the guilt of persecution). The prophets describe the new covenant as something that is impossible to disobey. Brown’s version of the new covenant is easily disobeyed. (Those Christians who claim that followers of Jesus who leave the following: “never really believed”, just reveal their own pettiness. While these followers were part of the following, no one identified any fault in their loyalty.) Finally, the prophets describe the new covenant as a time when it will no longer be necessary to teach the knowledge of God amongst the people of Israel. According to Brown, the new covenant launched the most intense missionary campaign that the world has ever seen.
A straightforward reading of the new covenant prophecies in context reveals that the advent of Christianity is the polar opposite of the new covenant promised by the Jewish prophets.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal