Not by your Righteousness
One of the central teachings of Protestant Christianity is that no man is justified through their own good deeds (Romans 3:20). At first glance it would seem that this sentiment expressed by Paul is an echo of Elihu’s declaration in the book of Job (35:7): “If you were righteous, what have you given Him, or what has He taken from your hand?” However, when we get beyond the superficial similarity, it becomes obvious that these two concepts are actually polar opposites.
Elihu is giving expression to the central theme of the Jewish Scriptures: that God alone is the absolute sovereign. As beings that were created by God, who are constantly sustained by God and who can only operate in the arena provided by God, we can never give to God that which does not already belong to Him. If a man were to live a perfectly righteous life, and die a martyr’s death for the glory of God, this man would still not have given God anything that he didn’t owe to God. David articulated the same concept: “For everything is from You and from Your hand we have given to You” (1Chronicles 29:14).
Judaism recognizes that God can owe man nothing. The fact that God allows us to serve Him and to follow His commandments is the greatest privilege that God granted to His creations. The fact that God counts our deeds for righteousness (Deuteronomy 6:25) is the ultimate expression of God’s benevolence and kindness towards His people. Elihu and David are encouraging us to trust in the loving-kindness of God – because outside of God’s kindness – nothing exists.
Paul does not encourage his audience to throw their trust upon the all-encompassing kindness of God. Paul encourages his listeners to rely on the righteousness that was manifest in a body of flesh and blood – the alleged righteousness of Jesus (Romans 5:19). Paul attempts to convince his audience that good deeds preformed by a physical body that was created by God, that was constantly sustained by God and that operated in an arena provided by God, could somehow purchase God’s favor.
Elihu already taught us that this teaching is essentially a denial of God’s absolute sovereignty. By definition, the Creator of all can owe His creations nothing.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal
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Q: How would you interpret this verse? … “blessed is the man to whom GOD does not impute his sins.” ?
“the life is in the blood; and by shedding of blood is atonement made.”
“there is NONE righteous; no not one.” [meaning: perfect righteousness in thought, word, and deed and motive]
let Scripture interpret Scripture
– God does not impute sin to someone who repents – Ezekiel 33:16
– blood of animals is to be used on the altar for atonement and it is not to be eaten – note Proverbs 15:8 – you must become righteous BEFORE you bring the blood sacrifice – Len – according to you – how will that happen?
– no human being is perfectly righteous – not even Jesus (Job 15:14, 25:4)
It’s sad that the Protestant interpretation treats Jesus as an antibiotic, and ignores the requirements for righteousness set down in the book, as well as clear admonitions against declaring oneself saved and or justified prematurely (Such as is discussed in 1 Corinthians or Hebrews.) Jesus’ words and parables (not too mention the whole Bible) make no sense if deeds don’t matter in relation to G-d. Generally, when Paul mentions works, works of Law, or that “if by works it can no more be grace, otherwise grace is no more grace,” its important to note the issue he was addressing. The answer surprises many people. Whenever Paul is talking about salvation by works, works of the law/Torah, or the “mutilators of the flesh, etc.,” He is generally always talking about other missionaries of Jesus believers (coming from the Church lead by James in Jerusalem) who were requiring full conversion to Judaism as the only way for gentiles to enter the Church, among those peoples they encountered. In fact, I don’t know of any polemic by Paul directly dealing in issues of practice, that is not directed at his fellow Jesus believers. Paul’s ethics as delineated in the New Testament, as well as in later Christian literature demonstrate that he and the Church tended to rely on the ethics for G-d fearing gentiles, as the basis for practice. (Acts 15.) In fact, as I recall, Rabbi Jacob Emden saw through his reading, that Paul sought Jews to stay Jewish, but not to make full converts of gentiles. Jewish believers were to stay Jewish, and gentiles non Jewish within the framework of the movement. (1 Corinthians 7:18)
Isn’t the proof in the pudding? Jews who converted to Christianity through the century until today drop observance of the law, intermarry, and eventually assimilate so thoroughly that within several generations they have no identifiably Jewish descendants.
Yes Dina, that is what happens sadly, but that occurrence is at least partially brought about by a reading of the text of the New Testament through the lens of replacement theology, which is wrong according to the Christian texts themselves. The Churches are working to remedy that, and Judaism and Christianity have had a better relationship in the last 10 years as a result, then in the last 2,000. Learning and accepting that Jesus and his earliest disciples were observant of the Torah, (a very pharisaic interpretation of it at that) is essential to a proper understanding of the text. The key is going to be mutual understanding and lots of learning, if the Church is going to learn anything. It is interesting though in light of the establishment of the state of Israel, that Christians have been receptive to that, and have been open to the possibility that their replacement interpretation was wrong. Many Jews who convert to Christianity end up coming back to Judaism the more they learn, and I would bet that the vast majority of gentile converts are former Christians. I find that the main reason that Christians don’t appreciate Judaism, is because they don’t know enough about it, aren’t exposed to it, and they also don’t get out of the interpretive bubble they were raised in, but Christianity as a religion is hardly alone in this phenomenon. Its also interesting, that both the Torah and the gospels make clear that the phenomenon of people leaving religion is anticipated. In my opinion, I would love to see more people going to Synagogue than only on the high holidays, and the same goes for Christians on their holidays. In college, I looked into the Noachide path, distancing myself from Christianity, but I found the same problems existed there, although the environment was very warm and righteous. My reasoning in maintaining the search, went something like this. As a Christian (with limited knowledge of my faith,) I did what most theists do, (assume my reading was the right one.) and see other people or religions as the other. I realized that if I converted, or became a noachide, I would effectively have the same issue vis my former community. Christians would now be the other, the bad guy. That didn’t work for me personally, as my family is Christian, and largely unitarian on one side. There are plenty of G-dly people in all denominations, and various faith paths. Its interesting that this site has so many articles about the Christian question and its relation to Idolatry, but Idolatry is far more devious and pervasive, than believing rightly or wrongly about the exact nature of G-d and our relationship with him. Idolatry is often about elevation of the self. (Our understanding is right, everyone else must be wrong.) I appreciate and respect Judaism’s commitment to the Torah, and the duty to it, but I feel that the “threat” that is Christianity, does not have to be a threat. We have a history that is shared, roots and practices that are shared, and its no coincidence at all, that there is only one people the Christians can ask about who there Jesus was.
Hi Concerned Reader,
I’m not sure you understood what I said when I wrote that Jews who convert to Christianity lose their identity as Jews, so I will try to clarify.
It has nothing to do with how the Christian scriptures are read and interpreted but with pragmatism. When a Jew converts to Christianity, there is no difference between him and a gentile Christian in terms of beliefs and practices. Such a Jew has no reason, therefore, to obey the Biblical injunction against intermarriage. It is intermarriage that causes Christians Jews to assimilate into gentile Christianity, thus losing their identity within a few generations.
Traditionally, Jews believe that the Biblical punishment of “karet,” being cut off from the Jewish people, means losing Jewish identity. We have watched with great sorrow this tragedy being enacted with Reform and Conservative and secular Jews, as well as Messianic Jews, who intermarry and assimilate at high rates. These large numbers of Jews are silently being lost to the nation of Israel.
As for the rest of what you wrote: Judaism does not see other religions as the other. We believe that God rewards the righteous of all nations, faiths, and races. Individual Jews may, but that is more due to the unfortunate human tendency to view anyone who is different as the other, rather than to religious belief. Here is what classical Jewish texts like the Talmud teach about gentiles:
“The righteous of all nations will have a share in the world of eternal bliss” (Tosefta Sanhedrin, XIII:2).
“If a pagan prays and evokes God’s name, Amen must be said” (Jerusalem, Berachos, 8).
“Antonius once asked Rabbi Judah the Prince, ‘Will I have a share in the world to come?’ To which the latter replied, ‘Yes.’ ‘But is it not written, “Nothing will remain in the house of Esau”?’ ‘True,’ Rabbi Judah answered, ‘but only if they do the deeds of Esau'” (Avodah Zarah 10b).
“No one can become a Kohen or Levite unless he is so born. But if anyone wishes to become a holy and religious man, he can do so even though he is a pagan. Kindness, holiness, and piety are not hereditary and are not the possession of an exclusive race or nation. Justice and piety are acquired through one’s own deeds” (Numbers Rabba, 8).
“Heaven and earth I call to be witnesses, be it non-Jew or Jew, man or woman, man-servant or maid-servant, according to the work of every human being does the holy spirit rest upon him” (Yalkut, Section 42).
“Whether Israelite or heathen, if he only executes a righteous deed, God will recompense him for it” (Tanna Devai Eliyahu, Section 13).
The question isn’t, “Who do I need to get along with most in my personal life?” but “What is the ultimate truth?”–and let the chips fall where they may.
Easy for me to say, I know, but having said that, we really are perfectly happy for people to remain in the faith they choose, so long as they leave us alone :).
Raised as a Christian, I know that if one wants to ask about who Jesus was (or is) they need to ask Christians, they need to study Christian texts (the NT or non-canonical Christian writings), and their history recorded by the earliest followers of Jesus, Christians. There is little, or no, history of a Jesus in Judaism or in Jewish writings. There is little reliable or authentic history of Jews or of Judea by the NT or other Christian writings before 66 c.e. (perhaps none, according to scholars who believe the gospels were all written in the mid-70’s c.e. and decades later, after the “destruction of the temple”). And none of the NT writings deal with Judea or the Jews during or after the war against the Jews. The NT shares quite a lot with its non-Jewish social, political, religious roots, practices, or history.
Christianity is very much a threat to Judaism and to Jews (although the Christian’s love may be sincere and not meant for harm). It, or they, have been a threat for over 1900 years and will continue to be, as long as Christians see Jews as “the other” who need Jesus or Yeshua or Christ or the Christian messiah. Jews are indeed an “other” because Judaism is a religion, a philosophy, a culture or whatever, other than a religion, etc., that is based on or that requires Jesus. Judaism or Jews were never a threat to me and I hope I was never a threat to Jews. I wish that this threat by Christians was not true, but it was true in the past & it still is true today. Christianity (or any faith based on Jesus) and Judaism are 2 different religions. Jews don’t need Jesus because they already have God without Jesus (frankly even non-religious Jews are better off without Jesus). Religious Jews are “married to God” and let no man try to bring them asunder.
Idolatry is primarily about the nature of God (or gods) and a person relationship to God (or gods or god-man). But I can see it as an “elevation of self” when I see how Christians believe they are right and how they expect Jews and others to elevate one man, one self, to that of God.
In Psalm 14 it shows that the fool believes and says in his heart that God does not care (or that there is no God), since there is no person who does good, nor does God punish these “evil doers”; that God does not answer the prayers of the Psalmist, “an upright one”, who is attacked by his enemies. But Psalms 14:5 states that these fools “… will be seized with fright, for God is present in the circle of the righteous.” Psalms 58:12 states that when God does act, then men, these fools and scoffers, will say, “There is, then, a reward for the righteous; there is, indeed, divine justice on earth.”
Proverbs 11:9-12, “The impious man destroys his neighbor through speech, but through their knowledge the righteous are rescued. When the righteous prosper the city exults; When the wicked perish there are shouts of joy. A city is built up by the blessing of the upright, but it is torn down by the speech of the wicked. He who speaks contemptuously of his fellowman is devoid of sense; A prudent man keeps his peace.” So, a whole city rejoices because of righteous ones (there was once and there will be again, a “City of Righteousness”).
So Romans believed that there were “none righteous” based on a couple of verses, taken out of context from the Hebrew Bible, that seem to support their “God is bond or crippled by the ‘devil'” philosophy. But if there were, or are, none righteous, then all were and are wicked. So what “unrighteous” person wrote a book of Proverbs for wicked people, so that they can compare themselves to some imaginary unwicked people? Why attempt such a futile task as trying to instruct unrighteous people to do the impossible and become more like some unattainable, unnatural, and unreal ideal? Who were the “unrighteous” biblical Prophets speaking to? And why? For what purpose?
Not counting references to the righteousness of God, there are several dozen verses in Proverbs that explicitly mention righteous men (or the righteous or the upright) and there are dozens of verses that do the same in Psalms and in several other books in the Bible. There are numerous descriptions of righteousness in people throughout the Tanakh. God does not agree with some fools who say that “none are righteous”. About the righteous the Tanakh explicitly mentions that God blesses them, vindicates them, seeks them out, rescues them, favors them and acts as their shield, cherishes their way. God loves their deeds (despite what some folks want to believe) and will allow these upright doers to “behold His face” for He will be present with them and His eyes are upon them, none are seen to be abandoned, yet although their misfortunes may appear to be many and the wicked attack them, The Lord “supports their arm” and won’t let them collapse, etc., etc., etc. Again, Psalm 58:12. These righteous are more than one, more than a dozen, more than you could count.
And what about these righteous? Well, they love righteousness, they rejoice, they sing to The Lord, their tongue speaks what is right, they utter wisdom, they are lifted up, they “bloom & thrive”, they flourish in their time, they are generous and keep giving, etc, etc., etc. They are not “none” and they are not imaginary.
But who might say “none are good”? Maybe someone who is comparing themselves or wicked you to God? Maybe someone in a temporary moment of despair. Maybe someone who is losing hope or who has lost hope and are “near the end of their rope”, because they are surrounded by real enemies or just imaginary ones (who, if we were in our normal state of mind, would be normal people, good people, or even our friends). If we were wicked, we might justify ourself by believing that all people are wicked and/or hypocrites. Or we are superior to those weak, pitiful, “do-gooders”. If we were self-righteous, then maybe none are good and somehow we would manage to exclude ourself, just as there are some humans who hate humans and humanity. False prophets and con-artists might minimize or even deny righteousness or the goodness of people, and might then diagnose the disease of “our sinful nature”, our “hopeless unworthiness”, etc, because as sellers of “snake-oil”, take it on faith, they’ve “bottled the cure”.
Yedidah do you have a degree in biblical studies that empowers you to state definitively that Christianity has no relation to Judaism as you suggest? Not that you need one, but “scholars” are not always really great Scholars. It is absolutely true that Christianity has a background among diverse non Jewish cultures, it is a faith that missionizes, some contact with and influence from other cultures is absolutely inevitable. It was also made a state religion, where opposing Christian theologies were deemed just as much a threat as non Christian religions. Christianity has much repenting to do. Having personally gone through the New Testament excising verses mentioning Jesus, and merely leaving the ethics, (akin to Jefferson’s Bible) it appears that rules of conduct required in the text of Chritians are very much in line with second temple religious norms among G-d fearing gentiles. Also, Jesus’ arguments can be seen as arguments that fit within the context of halachic disputes during the second temple period. Much Christian literature seems to be literature written in dialogue and response to various surroundings and situations. You can see many strata, with many views expressed in a single text. It seems from your writing, that you have exposure to a Protestant reading of the NT? That’s definitely not the best, or earliest reading of the text that we posses. There are a great number of Christians and Christian texts that would agree with you that a faith only, none are righteous approach, is a wrong reading. There is a whole group within the Church (eastern orthodox) that reject Augustine’s theory on original sin, as well as Anselm’s substitution theory of the atonement. Denying righteousness is absolutely wrong, you are right,but not all Christians are people who hold that reading. Every group approaches their text with a hermeneutic and goggles that color their reading. We have to try hard to minimize that effect.
My arguments against the “none are righteous” idea was in response to an argument made by another commenter to the post. It is a belief held by many Christians, particularly in America, so I felt I needed to go into greater detail about some of the logical fallacies contained in that popular idea about righteous and sin that are an important part of the justification by many people for a belief in Jesus. Since there are so many different beliefs held by major or large groups in Christianity, it is almost impossible to address all invalid or all more valid reasons for faith in Jesus.
Since I was raised in a Protestant tradition and attended mainly Protestant churches, I am more acquainted with their major beliefs. That by no means means that I accept the major beliefs of Protestantism, nor that I read the NT with their “glasses”, nor that I am ignorant or that I am predjudiced against the major beliefs of Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy or other large division within Christianity. Quite the contrary. My usual approach is to counter the arguments that are made by others, whether I agree with them or not, since that helps with discernment of what is more likely to be true and which arguments are pure nonsense. Though it does not really matter (and is a distraction and is mostly irrelevant to the points made by the Rabbi in his post above about righteousness), I am not a Jew, I personally disagree with the concepts of “original sin”, the “trinity”, the “devil”, eternal punishment in “hell”, the idolatrous concept of “an ‘incarnation’ of God or a god in flesh or material”, a “divine son of God”, etc. I studied more hours over 20+ years on pre-500 c.e. Christianity than one would study on any subject for a college degree. For over 15 years, I have attended a fairly well known “Hebraic Roots” church that has good relationships with several Orthodox Rabbis, both locally and in Israel. I am not trying to claim any sort of authority in most religious subjects (because I am not), but I am far from ignorant. I don’t trust most scholars (or self-professed experts), and it is true as you say that most “’scholars’ are not always really great Scholars”, but most are better scholars than many lay persons, pastors, or non-scholars, many of whom rely on their “personal favorite not-so-great biased scholar”.
You brought up the Eastern Orthodox Church and there are a large number of problem areas within as well, just like Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. Too much to bring up now. There are internal divisions within the church, it tends to be mystical, it uses different non-biblical sources and traditions that do not go back to the apostles, etc.
Not much was “normative” in 2nd temple Judea or Judaism. Remember some Jews worshipped Ba’alim and some worshipped Zeus or human kings or emperors, like the Caesars. Some were greatly influenced by rule by Assyria, Babylon, the Greeks, and the Romans. So some general statements about Jewish roots of Christianity or a “Jewish” Jesus, means little or nothing. I can’t remember the name of the book, but a Catholic Priest and a Jew compared a number of parables from the gospels with Jewish midrash or tales. There are some similarities and there are so big differences between the 2. When I read the parables in the NT, I am often surprised by the ending which don’t seem right or doesn’t seem to make sense. Until I compared them with Jewish writings, I thought most NT parables and stories were typical of the beliefs by most Jews. There is a difference between Judaism (and most “inter-testamental writings) and Christian writings. The titles of some scholarly books that may help to explain some of these differences are “Hebrew thought compared with Greek”, “The Jews in the Greek Age”, “Judaic Logic”, “The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture”, “The Makers and Teachers of Judaism From the Fall of Jerusalem to the Death of Herod the Great”, and any number of books by Jacob Neusner, such as “The Talmud” and the “The Mishnah”. You can see the difference between “Pirke Avot” and any of the NT Gospels or letters. The are several books on why Jews don’t believe in Jesus, why they rejected him, etc. One very easy to read book is “A Rabbi Speaks with Jesus”, by Jacob Neusner.
That is “A Rabbi Talks With Jesus”, where a modern Rabbi imagines what he would say to Jesus if he were lived then and why he would disagree with Jesus on several main points made in the gospels.
Ive read a rabbi talks with Jesus. Its a good book. There is no doubt that Judaism has its reasons for rejecting Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, the arguments against Jesus as messiah present in the gospels, are the same as those in use today. Further, the predominate Jewish interpretations of Scripture still held today, can also be found in the New Testament itself used therein on occasion in the traditional Jewish fashion. Who, for example, is the servant of the L-rd? Is it Jesus? According to Mary, in Luke chapter 1, during her prayer called the magnificat, Israel is called the servant of the L-rd. Gamaliel in Acts is reported to have compared the situation and Jewish stance on the early Jesus movement to that of previous messianic movements, where the measuring rod he used to test for success or failure of said movement, was the death of the founder and a subsequent scattering of the messianic following. So, from my perspective, these arguments between Jews and Christians over interpretations are arguments that we do not need to have. Both of our traditions corroborate common interpretations present in both communities, that we both share, though we understand them differently. My singular issue has been with the tendency to utterly invalidate the Christian experience of G-d as worthless, or to treat the Christians’ faith as mere foolishness. When Christians call on their Jesus, they have in mind the G-d of Israel. By the hand of this religion, nearly all of the major polytheistic theologies and worldviews of antiquity disappeared. This is no small potatoes. True, Jews have their Judaism and they should keep it, but it is far from true to say that Christian faith is just empty. No offense is meant btw.
As another commenter mentioned or implied above, because of a belief in Judaism that there are righteous ones in non-Jewish nations and in non-Jewish belief systems, Christians do not have to defend themselves from Jews & Judaism. However, even in a church like mine with its participation with “Christians United with Israel”, “The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem”, and it’s good relations and friendship with Orthodox Rabbis locally and in Israel, Christians & Christianity is a very real threat to Jews and to Judaism. You can not wish that away. It is very real and the differences between Judaism and Christianity, of whatever denomination or church, is real. The major criticism of various beliefs in Christianity is from within Christianity and is among Christians. All Christians, from Catholic to Protestant to Mormons to Monophysites and Lutherans, Calvinists, Anglicans, and Orthodox, baptists, anabaptists, “legalistic messianics”, “grace messianics”, messianic Israel, or Netzarim. have more in common with each other; corroborate more with each other, than they do with Jews & Judaism. It is much more common for Christians to call other Christians fools, than for Jews to call Christians foolish. The division among Christians is extremely great and their outright hatred for their own “spiritual brothers and sisters” is great.
If Gamaliel was correct, the “true Jesus movement” died out, which explains the great “gap of silence” of almost 100 years, and the proliferation of all sorts of heretical movements in the early church. If you don’t accept this great gap in early Christian history and accept the gospels & all if the Pauline letters as literal history, then the diagnosis & the prognosis is worse. According to the most literal interpretation of NT text, heresy from the “one true way” occurred within less than 30 years. Believers believed things about Jesus that were completely opposite of that believed by other believers. They were teaching different Christs, different Jesuses; he came in the flesh vs. he was only non-material spirit. He was God and not a man vs. he was a man only and not God. He was humble, secretive, and mysterious in Mark, but very much a “king” (his expressiveness about his “divinity” might even be called vain & prideful) in John. BTW, in the earliest texts, “Mary’s” song in Luke was actually “Elizabeth’s” song. There is more than one servant in Luke 1 and 2 Lord’s (maybe 3?, I can’t remember now what Greek words were used here). But it would be quite strange, quite unbiblical, if the lord in the phrase “the mother of my Lord” meant God. Or messiah.
I detect a bit of sorrow in your tone over the fact that Jews believe that Christian worship is empty and worthless.
Jews believe that all gentiles who reach out to God in sincerity and who are morally righteous have a relationship with Him that is real, even if we believe they are misguided. This view applies equally to people of all faiths.
The only reason websites like this exist is because of Christian missionaries (not you, of course) who aggressively target Jews for conversion. This website aims to spread the truth of Judaism and correct misinformation spread by missionaries FOR OTHER JEWS. This is the Internet, however, so many gentile Christians stumble on this site and take umbrage at our views. If I may be pardoned for speaking on Rabbi Blumenthal’s behalf, that is not the intent of this site.
I will not deny that there is some hostility to Christian scripture (because of its anti-Jewish content and its practical impact on Jews therefore) and to Christianity (because of its near-2000-year horrific treatment of the Jews) that is absent from our relationship with non-Christian gentiles. The active proselytization of Jews exacerbates this relationship, because after 2000 years of pressure we want to be left alone, and even more, would appreciate respect for our religion. Other than that, hey, it’s nothing personal :).
I’m still wondering why you really care what 0.2% of the population thinks about your faith, which has the largest number of adherents in the world. Don’t you have bigger fish to fry? Muslims constitute 23% of the world population and is the fastest growing religion.
I mean all this respectfully.
I would also add that religious Jews do not see gentiles of any faith or no faith as the Other. Anyone who wants to be our friend is regarded with tremendous gratitude. The proof is in the pudding. Jews have never engaged in persecution of other peoples.
As Netanyahu said, if the Arabs would lay down their arms, there would be peace tomorrow. We wouldn’t take revenge by oppressing them.
How else could we form out MAS?
The point that you make about everyone approaching the text with their own glasses is important to remember. But if we believe that the Author is Divine wouldn’t it follow that He knows this? And then it should follow that the text was designed that the target audience would get the message because it was designed to be read with their glasses – and the question then is – who is the target audience?
Your right Yedidiah, the original Jewish movement almost entirely disintegrating is the best explanation for so many heresies in the early church, and yes Gamaliel was right. I saw rabbi Skobac’s video btw. 🙂 Another thing that I found of interest were some texts in both rabbinic literature as well as the New Testament against worship of angelic intermediaries. Paul says “do not be like those who delight in false humility and the worship of angels” Colossians 2:18. The only way to avoid this particular problem would be to stick to the ethics and avoid theological dispute which rightly or wrongly is essential to Christianity. I understand that Jews believe Christian and non Christian gentiles can live holy lives, I don’t dispute that even a bit. I also realize that Judaism is an entirely self sufficient belief system, it does not need anything but the Torah. I understand that.
Dina, my sorrow isn’t over a Jewish rejection of Christian claims. Believe me, the irony is not lost on me that many righteous Jews have been regarded as divine in some sense, by ancient pagan gentiles of the past as the Bible indicates. A careful reading of Genesis (the story of Jospeh, and the way Egyptians express honor towards him,) and Daniel reveals this. (Nebuchadnezzar offering incense to Daniel, could not be construed in any other way but in a religious context by an ancient polytheist.) The sadness comes from the fact, that Christians who are well read and learned in their faith, recognize the distinction in function, role, relationship, and meaning between Hashem, and Jesus. Many Christians place Jesus center stage, to the exclusion of any other connection to Hahsem, like placing the ocean inside a bottle, and this is Idolatry even by traditional Christian standards. If I may express the Christian dilemma another way. Whether Jesus was a false prophet sent to Israel by G-d to test them with some true prophecy but enticing to idolatry, or was a true prophet, or G-d in flesh, what have you, has been up to the interpretations of the events, by our communities. What nobody doubts however, on either side, is that through this man G-d did something, whatever that may mean, good or bad. Through this movement pagan antiquity fell to dust. Pagans who had not known the distinction between the natural and the divine in a biblical way, learned it. People who held a relativistic pluralistic notion of relation to the divine and ethics, and held no notion of covenant, learned one. In this sense, the Galilean Nazarene was a huge huge step forward, success or failure, towards a genuine biblical idea of G-d. I do not dispute the Jewish rejection of Jesus, I understand why, I even understand that if gentiles did not regard Jesus as G-d, there would be no great need for such distance between us, (as is true in the case concerning Islam.) I mean off course, you are allowed in a mosque, but not a Church, etc. The sorrow comes from the fact, that we ourselves understand these distinctions when we talk about Jesus. All of our classical literature, theological discussions, councils, etc. understand these distinctions, and we even respond when these notions or principles are violated. The sadness comes from a feeling that we have lesser knowledge, lesser experience, less commitment, less love, etc. Orthodox and Catholic Christians have realized the poor taste, wrongdoing, and incorrectness of Jewish evangelism, and many protestants are on the road to that realization. The issue of sadness arises, with regard to questions of sacred experience. When the Christian says Jesus is G-d, lord, etc. it does not mean to them, what the rabbis say it means to them. Right or wrong, and I can see why Jews see it as wrong very clearly, there is an insinuation that Christians persist in evil, despite intelligence, despite discernment, despite themselves. This gives me sadness. As the rabbi noted, atheism is worse than idolatry, and I might add, is far more compatible with idolatry, and not of necessity a separate thing. The Jewish focus on the mitzvot of Moses, and the experience of Sinai is very much like the Christian focus on Jesus and something like the transfiguration. It is not that Jesus is the only path to G-d, that G-d can’t work outside Jesus, but Jesus is essential to Christian identity and meaning as Moses is essential for Judaism. Even if Moses is not called divine, he is the only person to have spoken with G-d on the level that he did, and as such, was declared the bearer of G-d’s truth for all generations. In fact, if one comes to a realization of the truth of the commandments without also acknowledging Moses, he does not have the same degree of intimacy, same level of experience, as does a Jew today. (Exodus 6:3.) As I said, I get it. The irony of Christians calling Jesus G-d is soooooo understandable, and walks such a fine line. The decision though, was not taken lightly, or in order to advance idolatrous religion. That is the source of sadness. As I said, your view is not unprecedented, nor is it incorrect. The issue is the question of experience, for both sides.
Hi Concerned Reader,
If I heard you right, you are disappointed that Jews don’t appreciate that the Christian spiritual experience is deep and meaningful, as much the Jewish one. It saddens you that Jews perceive it as inferior despite the fact these people are intelligent, thoughtful, discerning.
The idea that Jews could see righteous and religiously educated Christians as persisting in evil troubles you.
Assuming I have understood you correctly, then let me say this:
If a woman falls in love with a man who is wrong for her, that does not mean her love isn’t real. It does not mean her emotion is less than if she had fallen in love with the right guy. Even if he’s the world’s biggest jerk, her love for him doesn’t make her a jerk.
The mistake this woman made was to fall in love in the first place. Before allowing her emotions to take over, she should have gotten to know him on an intellectual level and then seen if he was safe for her to allow herself to develop feelings for him.
Now that she has gotten herself emotionally involved, she will rationalize away his every flaw.
The powerful spiritual and emotional experience, the experience of a connection to the divine, belongs to every religion. This does not make the religion true or noble or good. Nor does it make the religion false or unethical or evil.
We believe that Christianity is no more false than other religions; the spiritual experience of Christians feels every bit as real to them as it does to brilliant and religiously educated Muslims, Buddhists, and the rest.
The question always is, what is the truth? That’s all that matters. Even if it is unpleasant.
Having said that, you could not be further from the truth when you say that we believe Christians persist in evil by clinging to their beliefs. In fact, it is the other way around. I was raised in an Orthodox Jewish family, and my experience is typical: we didn’t talk about other religions; they were irrelevant; our attitude was always indifferent. When we learned Jewish History in school, although so much of our history involved our treatment at the hands of Christians, I can tell you, looking back, that the history teacher rarely mentioned the word “Christian.” They were goyim, gentiles. Obviously Christianity was mentioned, in the context of forced conversions, as when we studied the Inquisition. But really not much.
Jews don’t talk to each other about Christians. Our texts don’t talk about Christians. The truth is, much as Christians might think that we think about them, what really exists is massive indifference. In contrast, Christian scripture spends a lot of time discussing the Jews. Five percent of the verses of Christian scripture relate to the Jews, and they are all negative (and that is an understatement). I’ve not included the positive verses, the very few ones, in this five percent. Christians see fit to instruct each other about Judaism, of which they know nothing but the caricature painted in their scripture (you are a refreshing exception). As you know, this has had devastating consequences for the Jews. Yet the Talmud, which was redacted during a time when the systematic persecution of Jews was well under way, has nothing to say about Christians. In all its nearly 3,000 pages, three passages (three!) can be construed (can be construed!) as negative to Christians.
James Carroll notes this in his book, “Constantine’s Sword,” and admires the self-restraint of the rabbis. He’s wrong. It wasn’t self-restraint. It was indifference.
Why the indifference? Our concern is to study Torah and obey God, and that’s what we focus on. What other religions believe or don’t believe, practice or don’t practice, is really none of our business. Sure, it would be awesome if everyone on the planet came to know the one true God of Israel and appreciated the truth of His Torah, but that won’t happen until the Messiah comes, when the knowledge of God will fill the earth like the water covers the sea (Isaiah 11:9; Habakkuk 2:14).
So you don’t need to feel sad that we think you persist in evil, that your experience is lesser. You can rest assured that we don’t care :).
But, and this is a big but: the teachings of Christian scripture are not harmless. The exaltation of a human being in the way that Jesus is exalted is not a good thing. The teachings of original sin and the futility of works are not a good thing. Worst of all, the incitement of Jew hatred is truly evil.
That last one is one Christians I have spoken to refuse to confront. They refuse to see that Christian anti-Semitism is rooted in their own scripture. In fact, they get furious with me when I suggest it. They dismiss the persecutors of the Jews as not having been real Christians. This frightens me. I am not optimistic about the progress made in healing Christian-Jewish relations because as long as Christians don’t honestly confront their own scriptures, the danger exists that they will revert to the earlier interpretations.
I see this in conversations with Christians. The nicest ones I’ve spoken to (and you’re the only exception), if I talk to them long enough, what comes out is their belief that we are spiritually blind and that we practice a cold, legalistic religion more concerned with the letter of the law than the spirit. What becomes evident, if I talk to them long enough, is an underlying contempt for Judaism.
Your last paragraph is absolutely true. I have been shocked the way people talk. In fact, If I had not read it myself, I would not believe you. On the other hand since you would have told me, I would not have dis-believed you either.
But, and this is a big but: the teachings of Christian scripture are not harmless. The exaltation of a human being in the way that Jesus is exalted is not a good thing. The teachings of original sin and the futility of works are not a good thing. Worst of all, the incitement of Jew hatred is truly evil.
I have read Constantine’s sword, and yes Jew hatred, is 100% evil. The teaching of original sin and the futility of works, is a belief shared by many Christians, and not shared by many. The Eastern orthodox reject both notions, while the Catholics understand healing from original sin as connected to the sacraments/good works. This fact is extremely important. When a Catholic talks about hell, damnation, etc. If they know their religion, they know that they are just as much at risk as any non Catholic, because in Catholicism your actions do matter. In fact, I think if you talk to laypeople in most religions, many of them would be considered heretics by most religious leaders, just because they haven’t learned the proper route. The fact is, if you are in the US, you are dealing with primarily Protestant Christians who genuinely have very little knowledge of the other two major schools of thought in their own tradition. This as you know is a huge problem. This was my problem in fact, and its an extremely common problem. There are millions more Catholic Christians than protestant Christians who do not understand their faith as a type of NyQuil which one MUST take to fix an illness. As for the metaphor of an abusive spiritual relationship you brought up, the point I was trying to make was not the good or ill of the relationship, though that is a fair issue to raise, but that we all agree, that it was G-d himself who did something concerning it. G-d himself raised up Jesus. Both traditions agree, but in what way, and with what intent is where we disagree. The point was, it was G-d. Thus, we are not dealing with the actions or intent of another entity, but with something that G-d himself chose to bring about in the world. So in this scenario in your metaphor, the woman who prematurely fell in love without analyzing with this abusive lover, was sent on the date that caused the whole issue, by her husband himself. If we use your metaphor, there are deeper problems. I realize that Jews are indifferent to all other religions (except concerning the question of idolatry.) However, even rabbeinu Tam said that you couldn’t judge Christianity and Islam with the same standard as that of other religions because they were unprecedented movements. I do realize, that this in fact means that we may deserve a harsher treatment in regards to important religious questions, but then the question also arises, since we know the perspective you are trying to share, why do we disagree, and is there provision given for the unique situation that we find ourselves in in dialogue. To put it extremely simply, Christians are not predominately unitarian because of the issues that arise within the Christian book, and because of the ineffectiveness of a unitarian perspective in the eyes of polytheism. As I’ve maintained and illustrtated, there were many ancient very pagan people with unitarian (but not biblical) ideas.
Concerned Reader, all fair points.
To the first one, a major difference between Judaism and Christianity is this: There are thousands of Christianities. Most claim to have the truth, to be the only way; it is the rare denomination that says there are many paths up the mountain.
In Judaism, the only branch that claims to have the authentic practice of Judaism is Orthodox Judaism. The Reform and Conservative movements do not, for example, claim that they practice their religion the way Moses intended. In fact, they do not believe the Torah has a divine author. So we can rule them out in terms of the question of who has the truth. Within Orthodox Judaism many sects live in harmony–from Modern Orthodox to the hundreds (or whatever number) of branches of Hasidism–because while we may differ in customs and family traditions or on the very fine points of the law, we all agree on the basics. You won’t find Orthodox factions arguing with each other over the definition of idolatry or whether it is permitted to drive to shul on Shabbos (they might call it Shabbat, though). They might disagree about how long after eating meat it is permitted to eat cheese (a fine point of law), but they will all agree that there is a minimum wait time. They might dispute the exact time down to the minute that Shabbos is over (a fine point of law), but they will all agree that it’s the seventh day of the week.
So how do you know which Christianity is the right one, when Christians disagree over fundamental issues like the trinity, faith versus works, original sin, eternal damnation, and so on?
As to your point that God raised Jesus. Nothing that happens on this planet is outside of God’s control. He is the One Who decides history. I agree with you that Jesus was a conduit through which the idea of monotheism spread in Europe. What Christianity did for monotheism in Europe, Islam did the same for monotheism in the Middle East. So I would argue that Jesus was not unique in this way. God raised both Jesus and Mohammed to accomplish this. That is not to say that this was His only purpose. It might just as well be that He raised these two men to form religions that would sweep over entire continents also to punish His wayward firstborn whom He had exiled.
Furthermore, you cannot know that if Christianity had not been born, that the movement of gentile God fearers would not have grown and gained in influence. It could be argued (and I’m just thinking out loud here), that since Jews under Roman rule were not subjected to a systematic type of persecution–it was rather more sporadic–and since they were mostly a protected class, that their influence would have continued to grow. We see how much influence Jews exert when they are left alone to prosper. Who knows what could have been?
So we are left to speculate, and speculation is fun but ultimately proves nothing.
I will say again that to me the non-biblical monism of ancient cultures is irrelevant. Someone can have an incorrect notion of God and not be an idolater.
Concerned Reader, you missed the point of my analogy. I was just trying to show that a spiritual experience can feel just as deep and real if it’s experienced by a well-educated, righteous discerning individual in a false religion as in a true religion. This powerful type of experience belongs to just about every religion on the planet. Just like a woman can fall in love with a false man, these religions can be false. The spiritual experience is no indicator of truth.
I would argue that you can even be in the right religion, accept its truth, and not experience anything of the divine.
Therefore, my analogy doesn’t apply specifically to Christianity but to all religions, so trying to add the parallel that the woman was sent by husband on the date doesn’t work.
Concerned Reader wrote that “As the rabbi noted, atheism is worse than idolatry.” I understood the very opposite from what you wrote, and was wondering if you would clear that up.
I understood you to say that atheism is like a woman pretending her husband doesn’t exist. She doesn’t recognize any other man, either, so she has not committed adultery. Still, it’s a terrible marriage.
Idolatry is like a woman who knows her husband exists but has relations with another man. She has thus committed adultery, a worse violation of the marriage.
Therefore, I understood you to say that idolatry is worse than atheism.
Maybe we both misunderstood and you were saying something else entirely :).
Each of them has an evil that the other doesn’t have – but it is idolatry that the Torah is more concerned with
I have been studying weekly with Rabbi Blumenthal for many years and I am a Conservative Jew. The Conservative movement does believe in the divine authorship of the Torah and Tanakh. Please do not make general statements about the other branches of Judaism without having all the facts. Thank You.
David, to me, the truth is more important than my being right. If I am wrong, then so be it. As a Conservative Jew, you might be in a better position than I to assess whether the following articles are spreading lies about the Conservative movement.
I would love to get your thoughts on that.
I have seen these articles before. In the Conservative movement there are things going on that traditional Conservative Jews don’t like. The Rabbinic Assembly of the JTS is becoming much more liberal as many of our synagogues are also leaning that way. There are those of us that lean more to the right, more towards traditional Conservative Judaism. Most of the traditional synagogues do not use the new Tanakh from JTS. We prefer to use the Hetrz Chumash or Art Scroll. There certainly is some truth to what you have said but please don’t paint all Conservative Jews with this general comment of not believing in the divine nature of Tanakh. Thanks!
You are right to speak up for your belief in the Divine authorship of Tanakh. Having grown up myself in a largely conservative area, I find your comment interesting. I have known hundreds of conservative jews, even fairly observant ones, and I do not think that they believe that the text of the bible as we have it today is of Divine authorship. I am also not aware of any significant group of people in the conservative movement who feel that the mitzvot mentioned in the Torah, such as mikva use, are Divine and therefore obligatory, but would love to hear about them.
In fact, I am sure that you will agree with me when I say that the best way to define an orthodox jew is to say that she or he is a jew that believes in the divine authorship of the bible.
I see that you wrote that you learn with Rabbi Blumenthal. That is really great. He is certainly part of a community that shares your personal beliefs and can probably carry this conversation forward.
If this is what the Conservative leadership is preaching, then I think I can be excused for my comment. Please understand that a generalization is exactly that–a generalization. If I make the general statement that women cry more easily than men, it would be fair for me to assume that you know that I know that while there are exceptions, this statement applies to most people.
Therefore, I stand by my original statement, at least until I see new evidence that will change my perspective.
Also, I have to ask you a question. Many (if not most, if not all) Conservative Jews do not keep (or at least are very lax about) the commandments regarding kashrut, taharat hamishpacha, and Shabbat. So how can they believe the Torah is Hashem’s word?
The above is not a general statement. Those three practices are what define someone’s observance as Orthodox or not. That is, if you keep the laws of kashrut, taharat hamishpacha, and Shabbat, then you are Orthodox by definition.
My apologies to Rabbi Blumenthal for veering off topic.
David W., I agree with Yaakov, it’s awesome that you’re studying with Rabbi B. You couldn’t find a better teacher! I wish you lots of luck with your studies.
you cannot know that if Christianity had not been born, that the movement of gentile God fearers would not have grown and gained in influence.
G-d fearing gentiles did have influence Dina, Great influence before the Church existed. It is estimated that as much as 20% of the Roman empire was either Jewish, or G-d fearing. That said, while the Romans allowed Jews to Worship freely (because Judaism was the ancient tradition of the people,) G-d fearing gentiles were not permitted the same exemptions as born Jews were. While you may have been a G-d fearing gentile, you still had to pay taxes, tribute, and offer sacrifice to the Roman state and gods, including sacrifice to the emperor, adopted son of the previous deified emperor. Many G-d fearing gentiles were likely a part of many of the Alexandrian Synagogues, or Hellenistic Jewish congregations, such as the one at Dura Europos. This may be one reason (apart from the rise of Christianity entirely) why Greek translations of the Torah fell into disuse. Philo tells us about people who were total allegorists who stripped the Torah of the literal meaning(causing them to abandon observance of the Torah.) These people often blended Greek philosophy with Judaism, and so, were monists (they believed in oneness and in in corporeality,) but placed great emphasis on Greek values, norms, etc. Many of these people in their mixing of Greek philosophy, Judaism, and the allegorical reading method popularized by Philo, tried to answer complex questions about scripture, and to reconcile the Bible with the knowledge of the day. This lead to gnosticism, and the Two powers heresy, before Christianity even existed. Christianity came on the scene in this climate of diversity, and most of its doctrines are formulated to answer the issues raised by these various schools of thought. Take for example the Sadducee sect. They existed way before the Church, and rejected many things they thought were irrational, despite that the Bible taught them, and often represented a wealthy Hellenized aristocracy. This is not to say there weren’t variances among different sadducees, but nothing about the second temple period was set in stone. There may be 1000s of Protestant denominations, but the largest groups Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, and Anglican, all agree on the creeds, and the basics of Christian faith. For instance, while disagreeing on the meaning and exact nature of the fall of Adam, all Christians agree that Grace and Faith (in any religious system) are essential.
I did understand your metaphor about gentile religions and the perceived truth of their experience being like a lover that is bad for someone. I understood fully. I was merely expanding on it, to illustrate that there is a difference we have to account for, which the standard you are using does not account for. You cannot compare Christianity, or Islam for that matter, to every other Gentile religion, simply because these other spiritual experiences do not have any relation to a biblical worldview or frame of reference as do Christianity and Islam. To clarify my paraphrase from rabbi B, I will post the relevant snippet below
“atheism is a completely erroneous belief and as beliefs go it is perhaps worse than idolatry from a biblical standpoint – but it is not idolatry. The term “idolatry” is only relevant in a situation of devotion to a beneficiary of God’s benevolence.”
Hi Concerned Reader,
If Christianity had never been, and let’s say Constantine became a God fearer rather than a Christian, he might have repealed those pesky laws that interfered with the ability of God fearers to practice true Biblical monotheism. There is no way to know how history might have turned out, given the considerable influence of Jews and God fearers.
But like I said, just my speculation, and as such, not really worth anything.
It is refreshing to read that someone knows something about the many Jews and “gentile God fearers” in the Roman Empire (outside of Judea or “Palestine”). You seem to know that “Sadducees” weren’t a monolithic group (with some totally devoted to and corrupted by Roman rule, while some were staunch, “Torah literalists”). Or that Pharisees also weren’t a monolithic group (perhaps you know about Shammai and Hillel, with perhaps some influence by the Assyrian and Babylonian, Hellenistic and Roman “experiences”). It is rare to find someone who knows about Hellenistic, Alexandrian Jews and Philo (and perhaps their part in the growth and possibly the birth of Christianity). Perhaps you might even know about Tiberius Alexander and Herod Agrippa, but also that many Jews refused or most objected to bowing down to or bringing a sacrifice or offering to Caesar. You might have heard that Philo and Josephus were quite influential in the evolution of the Church (and were most likely used as sources for some Christian writings), while Jews & Judaism virtually ignored them or have practically “disowned” them mainly for other reasons. You may have heard that Jews had reservation about texts like the book of Daniel or with religious texts written in the Greek language (some of these texts are found in Catholic bibles. Likewise, you should know that the Coptic and Syriac and the eastern and western Orthodox Churches have not always agreed on which writings were apostolic or canonical). You seem to know about pre-Christian Jewish “gnosticism” and the influence of Plato on Philo and his reinterpretation of Torah. You might be aware that some people also see a strong influence of stoicism and cynicism on Christian texts. You are probably aware of water baptismal cults (some that exalt “John the baptist”) in Babylon or present day Iraq. You probably know that some people can’t help, but see a very great similarity between NT texts and some Christian beliefs, with Zorastrianism, especially the “battle between good and evil”, not just on earth but in the “heavenlies”; Paul’s view on “principalities” and the idea of a war between the good god and the bad god, the “enemy”, the “devil”.
I am not saying that Judaism was not also influenced or shaped by ideas and beliefs of their neighbors or their own past, but Christianity’s influence by and connection to them is much more visible or more easily discerned, and very much more documented by the early Christian writers themselves. The Church’s broad and deep and specific disagreements with Jews and with Judaism is not purely a subjective matter, nor is it merely speculative, but it is a history that was recorded and maintained by Christians and the Church. It was not the history of Jesus and the church that I wanted to find when I first sought for a deeper understanding of Jesus and his world, but it is one that can not be ignored nor can it be “buried” or denied by Christian apologetics.
Bottom line. No matter what the history shows (no matter the source of influence or of the ideas), certain ideas are more “acceptable”, less contradictory, more “grounded in reality”. “Experience” means little, because it is often subjective, “self-willed, self-determined” (God is created in our image, our imagination). Someone else’s experience is not experienced by anyone else. It is not proof; their private “relationship with God” is not Truth, no matter how “emotionally moving” or mystical or mysterious it was. Now “revelation” can be something else (if it is not merely personal again); it can be a major pillar of faith. Bottom line; an “non-incarnated” God is greater that a god that was incarnated (one of the definition’s or states of an idol. And no matter how you describe that “being”, “person”, “spirit”, or state. And no matter how that state came about- by a biological birth or though some energy or “holy spirit overshadowing” or other process of “infusion or mixing of the divine and matter”). If or since, as some try to “prove”, that “God can do anything” and that what they think is “something that is included in the definition of anything”, then therefore it is “proven” that God did indeed do it the way some people believe something was done”. But God also can do something without lying or contradicting some previous biblical verses. God can do something in a simpler, less problematic, less “pagan” way, by doing it without a “human-divine son”. God can save without “blood” (and definitely without “human blood” in an unholy place, in an unholy manner, by unholy agents” who weren’t the ones “sacrificing” nor who were giving their “offering” to the God of Israel nor even to their pagan god, etc. God could also have provided us with better authors if the “Jesus myth”, with better witnesses, better testimonies, better plot lines and characters, better parables, better history or facts, less stereotyping and less hostility toward Pharisees or Jews in general, or better understanding of Jews and their rituals, faith, and beliefs, and more or at least equal criticism of the Romans., etc.
Hi Concerned Reader,
Based on your statement that “You cannot compare Christianity, or Islam for that matter, to every other Gentile religion, simply because these other spiritual experiences do not have any relation to a biblical worldview or frame of reference as do Christianity and Islam,” I am revising my analogy as follows.
The woman falls in love with another man, then uses her husband’s love letters to find statements that mean that he wants her to have this relationship. Not only does he want her to have this relationship, but she finds evidence in his pronouncements that by so doing she will deepen her relationship with her husband.
I don’t mean to offend; I just wanted to offer a parallel to your suggestion that the woman’s husband sent her on the date with the abusive lover.
I was not disagreeing with Rabbi B by the way. I do realize that since atheism is non belief, there is in a sense, no impetus in it to actually damage people who have faith, or their beliefs. It is very dangerous concerning idolatry though because it encourages human beings to trust in their own right arm. Take Buddhism for example. It is idolatrous, but it is not theistic as far as the Theravada school goes. Mahayana Buddhism, while it is theistic, has the ethical and spiritual relativism inherent to the non theistic school, but with more folk religion mixed in. What I mean is, Mahayana conception of divinity is naturalistic and spiritualistic. My point was, Idolatry grows exceedingly easily, even predominately in a climate where there is a vacuum (atheism or agnosticism) coupled with the natural human inclination for purpose and some sense of the desire to transcend the day to day.
This is over my head :).
This is why it is problematic conceptually to compare polytheism to biblical religion at all. Many cultures on earth have some conception of divinity, unity, transcendence purpose, etc. but with none of the connections or conclusions that the Bible comes to present at all.
Also this :).
Not having studied Comparative Religions but being convinced of the truth of the Bible, I learned my definition of idolatry from the Bible.
Well done Dina on the parallel lol 🙂 Yedidiah, yes I have heard of the Mandeans (those who revered John the Baptist), Stoic influences on Philo, etc. I have read Atwill’s Caesar’s Messiah (his hypothesis is completely lacking in evidence.) He weaves a creative tale out of Josephus and Philo to create his hypothesis, not unlike Barbera thiering’s unlikely hypothesis about pesher in the Dead Sea Scrolls as some sort of secret source of information about early Christianity. As a historian and a religious studies graduate, (not that that means anything,) don’t put much stock in those people, just my opinion. They are interested in getting published, not with scholarship. The hypothesis that Christianity arises from Zoroastrian sources was a common belief in the 1920s-30s, but the Dead Sea Scrolls have called those hypotheses sharply into question. I can see how Christianity is construed as polytheistic, but what I realized after actually studying polytheism in various forms, was that similarities were very much skin deep. Take incarnation as an example. Incarnation in a Hindu context, is a divinely realized human soul. Atman (the self) is Brahman (the unified one whole.) every human soul is thus an incarnation of a kind in this theology. A Christian does not believe this way. G-d created Adam from dust by his spirit/breath, so did he create Jesus’ human nature in the womb of Mary as light passing through a glass. There was no intercourse as Mormons teach, nor was their any vulgarity whatsoever. So while on the external it may look “pagan,” the belief carries with it biblical belief in the power of the one beyond creation to exercise lordship over creation. Granted, G-d does not have to use Christianity, the Christian contention is however that he did. To say that the rabbis avoided Philo like the plague, while true, insinuates that Philo did not draw on Judaism in his day as a primary source. Ben Sirach, the Dead Sea Scrolls, The Targumim, etc. all anticipate many of the teachings that Philo elaborated on. Nothing about the Second Temple period was monolithic, in any sense. I have no inclination to paint anything in black and white, as that would be too easy. Truth be told, if I had my way, everyone would have a degree in Comparative Religions and in History. We would not be so near inclined as we are to spew generalizations and infallible doctrines if we could approach these questions with this kind of knowledge. Some of you may ask why I do not just convert to Judaism, or follow just the Noachide laws, leaving Christianity behind. I will try to explain why. When I look at Judaism I see an extremely dedicated, devout, ancient, obedient, disciplined, and essential faith. A faith that sings to the world that belief is not enough. There are things humans must do, both for G-d, and for the sake of the world. This is a precious gift to the world, one which must be honored,and not diminished from. When I look at Christianity, I see a devout faith, not in a concept, not in abstraction, not in relativism, but in the deeply personal G-d, the G-d of all mankind, who answers prayers, can do anything, etc. the G-d of the miracles loved by the little child as it were. The sad thing is that this universality, this personality emphasis gives Christianity a superiority complex, which makes it drunk and blinds its true potential to transform the world. Christians get so hung up on the “gift” that they cannot give others the same gift. This is an idolatrous impulse in Christianity (albeit one that those who learn their faith can escape from.) I see devout Christians who cover the earth from corner to corner preaching the folly of polytheism, and giving their lives to see one more monotheist come to be. I see the Christian as Emily Litella (SNL Gilda Radner Reference,) ready to jump into the fray without the proper context to the situation, or the who what when where why. What is that context its missing? here comes the ironic part. Its Judaism. We need each other. Christians who do not know the value of the Torah become brazen, and the root truly bears them. The Torah gives all the knowledge of path of G-d, but leaves the Christian feeling that his service is an insult, despite his genuine love of G-d. And what’s more, Christianity paradoxically prepares the world for the level needed to appreciate the Torah, (even whilst not requiring its observance.) I mean, people can be ethical, but that is not adequate preparation for Judaism. You need G-d too. Its no accident that Jacob’s wrestling with the angel of Esau is the image evoked by both communities when describing our tense relationship with each other. I just wish we could get to the end of the tussle, so we can both see the merit, blessing, and purpose of said tussle. The angel accomplishes his mission, to the point where his identity and assertiveness is not central, and Jacob receives his due blessing. I see the Christian error in focusing on Jesus too much, but I also see the feeling of remorse by Christians that their labor is viewed as “just as good” as other religions.
Respectfully, you studied Comparative Religion and even took the time to get to know Orthodox Jews, attending their services, but you still don’t get Judaism. Only someone who truly doesn’t understand the personal and intimate relationship we have with Hashem can say that “When I look at Christianity,I see a…deeply personal G-d, the G-d of all mankind, who answers prayers, can do anything, etc. the G-d of the miracles loved by the little child as it were.” Having been raised in the Orthodox Jewish tradition, I was filled with amazement by your statement. We talk to Hashem all day; we believe with every fiber of our being that He is the God of all mankind who answers prayers. We believe, as the Talmud teaches, that man does not lift a finger without God so decreeing, that a blade of grass does not bend without God so decreeing. Everything, everything, everything that happens to us comes from Hashem. Everything. Every. Thing. With our mother’s milk (or formula:)) we hear tales about God’s guiding hand in our ordinary lives, of the miracles of His intervention, of how God loves and especially answers the prayers of little children.
It seems to me–and I say this, again, with respect, and with regret–that you have chosen your faith based on the version of God you like best (although your picture is not accurate) and not based on objective standards. In other words, you’ve chosen–forgive me for saying this–based on emotion rather than reason, it seems to me.
Do you believe in absolute truth?
I do. My own spiritual journey began when, as an adult, I asked myself if I were an observant Jew because I was raised that way or if could I defend my faith on rational grounds. I realized that if I could make a case for the Torah’s truth, then I don’t need to study a whole bunch of religions. If the Torah is true, then I could examine the claims of other religions in light of the Torah–which would eliminate every religion but Christianity and Islam.
Once I determined I could do that, even a cursory look at Christianity and Islam revealed that they could not even get off the ground (sorry, no offense meant).
And this realization filled me with greater sadness over the centuries-long disrespectful attitude of both faiths toward their parent religion.
You wrote: “The Torah gives all the knowledge of path of G-d, but leaves the Christian feeling that his service is an insult, despite his genuine love of G-d…I also see the feeling of remorse by Christians that their labor is viewed as ‘just as good’ as other religions.”
Concerned Reader, I would very much like to meet these Christians. You are the only one I’ve ever met to express such a sentiment, and I’ve spoken to many. In fact, the ones I’ve spoken to feel very much superior to Judaism, that we don’t understand our own Scripture properly. Like I said previously, it’s very much the other way around. Christians do not respect Judaism, even today; rather, they have contempt for it. As much as you yearn for our stamp of approval, I yearn for Christian appreciation and respect for the strength of the Jewish position.
In my case, it’s rather more dramatic. Zero point two percent of the world population approving of you to 33% approving of us. In the United States, where I live, 2.2% approving of you, 77% approving of us.
In a previous comment, I wrote about the indifference of Jews to other religions. Today, I was chatting with a friend of mine and I told her about this blog. She did not know what a gospel was, nor had she heard of the term trinity. I don’t talk to my friends about my activity on this blog because they simply don’t know anything about Christianity, would have no idea what I was talking about–I wouldn’t know where to start explaining.
I’ll finish with this. You wrote that we need each other. I know this is going to sound snide, but given past history, and given current attitudes, I wouldn’t mind taking a break from each other for a little while. Having said that, I hope other Christians nevertheless adopt your views. They are very much conducive to healing the tensions between us, I believe.
Concerned Reader, to clarify, I don’t mean taking a break from you personally; I meant Christians generally taking a break from their obsession with Jews.
only someone who truly doesn’t understand the personal and intimate relationship we have with Hashem can say that “When I look at Christianity,I see a…deeply personal G-d, the G-d of all mankind, who answers prayers, can do anything, etc. the G-d of the miracles loved by the little child as it were.”
If I may clarify Dina. I did not mean, nor do I feel that Judaism lacks these experiences or intimacy with hashem in any way. I meant my statements to put forward the position that Christians have this sense of intimacy also, perhaps I used too much rhetorical flourish, (a sad common occurrence.) My intent was not to say that Jews don’t have this experience, or intimacy, I know in fact they do. As for Christians in the U.S. where I also am located, the vast majority of them have little knowledge of anything beyond evangelical protestantism. I would go so far as to say that Protestantism will have more trouble with Judaism in the sense of service, because protestants broke from the broader tradition that believes in reward and punishment based on actions, salvation as a process, etc. so, I don’t doubt that Christians you have met are utterly ignorant of your tradition as well as much of their own.
Intimacy of Jewish service is not something I doubt even one bit. I apologize for broad sweeping statements that may have come across wrongly. How was your Shabbat btw?
In answer to your question of why I seem to think a working knowledge of other religions is necessary to Judge properly on these questions, as opposed to just looking to the Torah as the sole barometer and source of truth, I say this.
The Torah itself makes provision for, and accepts the existence of Jews and polytheistic Gentiles as separate entities, meant to coexist to some small degree as you know, as in the case of Jonah and the repentant ninevites. The Torah is meant for Jews, and the laws of the Ger/noachide are for sojourners and as a bridge for potential converts. As part of this understanding, the Torah says
Deuteronomy 4:19 “And beware not to lift up your eyes to heaven and see the sun and the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven, and be drawn away and worship them and serve them, those which the LORD your God has allotted to all the peoples under the whole heaven.
“alloted to the peoples under the whole heaven” Here, we have G-d expressing Jewish commitment to him alone, but also the leniency of shittuf allowed by Hashem to the gentiles. Elisha too follows this leniency in 1 Kings 5:17-19
17 “If you will not,” said Naaman, “please let me, your servant, be given as much earth as a pair of mules can carry, for your servant will never again make burnt offerings and sacrifices to any other god but the Lord. 18 But may the Lord forgive your servant for this one thing: When my master enters the temple of Rimmon to bow down and he is leaning on my arm and I have to bow there also—when I bow down in the temple of Rimmon, may the Lord forgive your servant for this.”
19 “Go in peace,” Elisha said.
So, we see from verses like these, that at least initially, the Torah as a revelation did not intend to upset the existence of world religions, merely to have Israel lead by example among polytheists, with the hope of establishing righteous converts through their example. The Torah does not envision the existence of other independently exisitng monotheistic nations until later in the prophets and the vision there of messianic redemption. Judaism after all is not a religion that seeks to change the faiths of the peoples. The prophetic messianic idea that developed is what brought clarity to the notion that G-d himself would purify the lips of the peoples, and that these peoples themselves would throw down their own idols and worship G-d. We are merely told in scripture that Hashem would cause this to happen, we are not told exactly how it would happen, except that the gentiles will see their error and destroy their idols. This is why I advocate studying and possessing knowledge of idolatry in its own terms for judgement, so that we peoples may actually throw idolatry aside accurately and for correct reasons, as the Bible says will happen. Not, to learn it, but to learn to avoid it. No longer will only Israel worship G-d, while the nations join idols to him, but these gentiles will see the falsity of their ancestral beliefs. In other words, those who know idols and idolatry, will freely leave them as lies and vanity. This seems to me to say that, even with their knowledge of their idols, they will see how Hahshem is different and unique. This, rightly or wrongly, is how Christians see themselves as authentic monotheists. We know G-d is one, beyond all, not bound by anything, even Jesus. Our beliefs are literally defined in opposition to idolatry that exists. While Christians may say G-d took on a form to redeem humanity, there is still only one omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, G-d.
Below are two articles on two common polytheistic religions and how their conceptions relate (or more accurately how they don’t) to Christianity.
As I’ve stated here and on other blogs, I was not raised trinitarian. But, upon learning what other religions actually taught, I saw that similarities between pagan myth and Christianity were really skin deep. Whole worldviews and assumptions about life, nature, how society is to function, how the world was made, definitions of what divinity is, etc. are different from common Jewish, Christian, and Muslim views. The three monotheistic religions are shaped more by each other than by any outside system, despite appearances. Again, I do not advocate that anyone should leave their religion. My hope is to spread what I’ve learned so that we can avoid misunderstandings, that’s all.
Hope all is well for everyone.
Hi Concerned Reader,
I am confused. As your explanation for remaining Christian, you offered a lovely description of Judaism followed by a description of the Christian version of God. When I told you that Jews see God the same way, you agreed. So what gives?
I ask you again, do you believe in absolute truth?
If the Torah is true, then any belief system that contradicts the Torah cannot be true. A cursory examination of any version of Christianity–from the Protestant versions you reject to the version you adhere to–reveals that its foundational doctrines contradict the Torah.
Much of the commentary above has little to do with Rabbi Blumenthal’s topic of this particular post on righteousness and how modern “Judaism” and modern “Protestant Christianity” generally differ on this issue. Maybe. But then again, not really, since one first needs an understanding on why there is this difference and how that difference came about. The issue of the topic of the post is on the difference and not on any real or perceived similarities. Certain ideas or “world views” or “concepts of God” and people’s basic relationship to God have brought about those differences. And those differences have evolved, changed over time, but certain ideas are basic to a group’s understanding of ideas or issues, such as righteous.
There is a lot of modern speculation and theories (such Atwill’s “Caesar’s Messiah” as was mentioned), but there are recorded & documented facts about what early Christians believed 1600 to 1900 or so years ago.
The exact sources or the degree of influences is not truly important (nor can that be definitively be known). But certain foundational ideas were accepted in those days and over time certain “truths” were solidified (more or less, to some degree). In 2014, choose from these belief systems presented to them today. But what is offered today is a result of history.
In Christianity, Paul & Jesus are important, while Moses and the God of Israel or of “the Jews”, is much less so. Outside of Christian writings, there is little or no evidence that either Paul or Jesus existed. Only indirectly (and often negatively) does that impact modern Judaism and it’s fundamental beliefs. Many Christians then (“before Constantine”, more or less) and most now require a Paul & his teachings. Some Christians then assumed, and a few now assume that a Paul existed, but they reject his specific teachings. Judaism exists now without Paul. Jesus? There were then many different Christianities (fewer now). Some believed Jesus had no or little connection to the Hebrew Bible or to the God of Israel. Some C’s then did not require that he was a man of “flesh & blood” and some rejected the idea that he actually was born or lived or that he died. Some of the early church fathers did not know in which century or in what generation or period of history that he was born in (maybe b.c.e., before Herod the eldest, or maybe near the time of the bar Kochba revolt (about 130 c.e.?). That wasn’t decided until later when gospels began to appear that greatly narrowed the period or time of his existence (but some still rejected that he was flesh & blood). Some Christians then required that Jesus was actually God (or at least divine) and most now require it. Judaism exists without Jesus (and actually must reject most concepts of a divine Jesus). Most Jews can not accept those types of ideas, no matter what they may or may not think about him (if they are confronted with the idea of Jesus). There can be righteousness without a divine man, in fact, the rejection of a divine man, or a man as God or God as man (whatever the configuration) is required if one intends to live a righteous life.
Because a person’s righteousness depends upon what right things the individual person does, or does not do and not upon what a person, who may or may not have existed once upon a time a long, long time ago, did or didn’t do.
Yedidiah, I don’t want to get into the did Jesus exist issue. If he did not exist, then there is no truly solid validation possible for anyone in the Bible, to the degree of certainty that you are looking for. I did not mean to get off topic on the post, I apologize. Below, is an Orthodox Christian article on the salvation of non Christians. True, it holds to the centrality of Christ, but that is to be expected from Christian sources.
The term “Orthodox”, from the Greek meaning “right, true, or straight” ‘belief, creeds, teachings, or opinions”, is problematic. For Orthodox Judaism, Hebrew terms might be more appropriate or perhaps the term “Orthopraxy” or “right practice” is more meaningful. Of course, “the right practices” and rituals are going to be based on what one believes “the right beliefs” are. The “ortho” does not mean the “earliest” nor even what we consider the “traditional”. For instance, Christian writings may be critical of the “old” (the so-called traditions of men ) in order to promote “the new”, while at the same time asserting that they have the “true, old, original beliefs’ and that the others (although they may “preach”or believe the orthodox) are hypocrites who don’t do the “right practices”. In the Christian writings there are a number of new-to-old comparisons (e.g., new wine shouldn’t be put in old bottles), which is an effort to put aside old ideas (whether they were “bad” or “good”) in order to promote a more universalist, syncretistic belief system (more acceptable to non-Jews, whether they were poor and oppressed or wealthy & elite). Some of those same arguments over 1800 years ago are still used today; Jews say they have the original & correct beliefs, while Christians will say that they agree with the “written” Torah, but will then disagree and say Jesus was the “true conservative who kept the original testament” while he also was the liberal reformer who revealed a new & better covenant. The may believe Jews (who don’t accept the old-new) are heirs of “hypocrisy” and “legalism” and are followers of a new man-made post-temple religion, “Rabbinic” Judaism. Most Christians can not objectively see their own hypocrisy (with several inherently doctrinal contradictions), their post-temple man-made religion (it’s history of many divisions organizational-wise), and it’s creedal & doctrinal legalism. Christians can see the faults of other Christians (who have other “orthodoxies), but until one stands slightly outside & feels no need to defend the orthodoxy, those problems of all Christianity are not easily recognizable.
Orthodox Christianity? There are several groups that call their group Orthodox (including some who feel they are so orthodox that they don’t need to proclaim that fact in their group’s name). Some call themselves the “one, true church”, the “Act’s church, the “true apostolic church”. Some say the represent the orthodox of the early church fathers, but the “truths” recorded by these fathers are varied and their writings (even in the NT itself) shows there were several different “Christianities”, different “orthodoxies”. Some “messianic” “Jews” believe that they are the heirs of the true Orthodoxy, they are the true followers of Jesus, because of the fallacious argument that “Jesus was a Jew” and they are “Jews” and they use more Hebrew or Aramaic names and words, more like Jesus & his disciples would use, than most Christians do (there is little or no evidence of any early non-Greek text or any written non-Greek source of the Christian writings. For the most part, most of the characters, Jews or Romans or others, in the gospels seem to speak the same language. Does that tell us something about the characters or about the authors, redactors, and early translators, or does it tell us more about the target audience?
There are several classes or types of arguments that Christians often make in pre-Jesus vs. post-Jesus discussions with Jews. Those arguments can be outlined or can be presented in a table format, but that can be discussed better with other issues and not just with the concept of righteousness presented in the above post. Almost all Christians make Jesus central to their theology & on that they can not compromise on, although that necessarily makes God ‘not central” to their theology (however God is defined). On the other hand, the centrality of God is something that Jews, who believe that the covenant was made by God, is something that they can not compromise on, no matter how others, no matter how “well intentioned” they are, attempt to redefine idolatry, monotheism (where God is not a person and has no “son” other than the metaphorical ones in the Tanach), or God or the God of Israel. Jews have a concept of “salvation” or redemption, so it matters little how orthodox or “non-orthodox” adjust their salvation plan to include that of non-Christians, especially those who are Jews. I have seen mutual respect and even admiration in interfaith meetings between Jews and Catholics. And I’ve seen the same often over years, between evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews (both seem to hold similar views of “Jews for Jesus” and for reform Jews). Those evangelical Christians must make a much, much greater effort to respect Jews than vice versa, but it is made much easier by the reality of the existence of the State of Israel and their “love” for Israel (today as friends – not mainly for political reasons or for other ulterior motives – and then someday as co-followers of Jesus). Those friendships can be real and sincere. But the Pastors will still work to convert ordinary Jews and they will “let Jesus show the Rabbis his light in his time”. A couple of Jews that I seen that converted to Christianity made me feel really sad (and even angry), but they must have seen some other light after a few months, since they aren’t in the church any longer. Wearing a wrist bracelet with a cross dangling from it to remind them every few minutes that “Jesus loves them” wasn’t enough to keep that love going. But some of the gentile believers too who were “on fire for the lord”, jumping and shouting and speaking “in tongues”, have eventually mellowed out and become disillusioned over time. And their “return to their Hebraic roots” isn’t enough to keep them excited. They might blame their nagging doubts on “the devil”, the “enemy” that attacks them so fiercely because he or it hates their faith so much; hates their righteousness. Their pastor told them that the “devil is a real person” (I say no, not a “person”, although some people are “devilish”). And they are told “not to give power to the devil”. The best way to do that is to believe there is no devil. No devil, then you can’t be attacked by a “devil”. You devote that time to God and to seeking to be right. Imagine no historical person as Jesus and Jesus has no power. Some people believe if you believe “the devil” and Jesus are imaginary then soon you will also believe God is imaginary and you will become an atheist. No it was the many untruths in Christianity than could have made me turn to atheism. Instead of giving power to a “devil”, you give power to God. Instead of focusing on “the son”, you got much more undivided time to give to “your Father”. Give up “childish” concepts of divinity and of God and you will have a more mature concept of God. For those who believe Jesus is God, test your theology and never say Jesus but instead say God or Father. When you talk of or think about the “human Jesus” but say God, on the one hand, you will begin to see that you are making God a “small god” and on the other hand, you feel you are dealing with a divided God, an absurd God. You will feel that that one “God” is a stumbling block to having a relationship with the “other” God, your Father. And never say Holy Spirit or son, say God or Father. Never say “son of God” unless you think of yourself as that son (or daughter or that child of God). When a footnote in the NT text tells you that some of the words were written or spoken by God or a person long before the speaker in the NT existed, don’t credit originality or extraordinary wisdom to the later speaker. If later actions or miracles are linked to those that occurred long before, praise the earlier deeds and those who did them, and see the later as imitation. Don’t see “fore-shadowings” when it appears more likely to be “after-shadowing” – when the light shines on an object or person, the shadow is behind; it come later. Just as we are later than what we value, what we value is later than what gave it value. Of course, some will say that it works the other way; the move is toward the future and the greatest is yet to come. So, what may or may not have occurred in the past (1900 years ago) is unimportant to us today, for it was only a temporary stepping-stone. The new-Adam, the new-Moses, the new-David is far in the future, for no one worthy of being “the messiah” has yet come, except for those people who are content with the little that they have found because it is more than what they had before. They no longer truly seek God, for their messiah already had one rehearsal and the future is just a re-hash. That rehearsal (the trailer, the bombardment of “commercials”) is only a “recipe” to ensure that the many are deceived and none are prepared for the “surprise ending”.
Instead of giving power to a “devil”, you give power to God. Instead of focusing on “the son”, you got much more undivided time to give to “your Father”. Give up “childish” concepts of divinity and of God and you will have a more mature concept of God.
Yedidiah, I realize that Orthopraxy is more important in Judaism, though Judaism is certainly no less spiritually fruitful then Christianity as a result, and I would never say so, but the point I have tried to make is that the “more mature” concept of G-d, doesn’t necessitate the descriptions of G-d found in scripture. Maturity in G-dly actions doesn’t necessitate any belief in G-d at all, but only ethics, because when you focus on praxis predominately, you walk the tightrope between ethical monism and genuine theism as is plain to anyone who has read the theologians in Judaism or Christianity. Personally, I see the strength in Judaism’s approach, but when Christians focus on person, it avoids the tightrope leading to deism and agnosticism, that we find is so predominate in modern times. The key I have noticed to interpreting the NT, is by looking at ethics in the text first. In that sense, you can spot later interpolations very easily. As I’ve said, its not that I disagree with Judaism, its practices,or your commitment to it, its that keeping ethical monotheism doesn’t necessitate scripture or G-d at all. When you look at halachot dealing with Islam for example, . Muslims are regarded as monotheistic noachides, but they do not accept the Torah, Plato could be regarded as an ethical monotheist in the eyes of halacha despite actually being an active polytheist. Christians may have an intermediary in Jesus from the Jewish perspective, but they accept the Bible, and point their worship to the father. As I’ve mentioned, it is heresy in Christianity to say that only Jesus is G-d. As the article noted, non Christians can go to heaven without Jesus. Orthodox Christianity is important, because it represents a historic community with a chain of tradition. (Jews should not have a problem with this idea.)
I had wanted to add to my last comment a quote of Rabbi Blumenthal’s recent re-posting on fear and guilt, “Don’t let anyone tell you that the path of honesty will take you away from the God of truth.” There are some things within Christianity that many Christians will not be honest about or that they try to deny completely. There are some passages in the NT, that requires that needs to enter through narrow gates and walk down certain narrow pathways. Those NT verses suggest that “the salvation for all” is actually closed to the many and that apostasy from true way is easy. There is supposedly “only one way” and that is by focusing on the personhood of one man. And although a Jew can write a book called “The Personhood of God”, focusing on person is a tightrope that easily can lead to idolatry or to humanism. Platonists, Gnostics found the concept of a Christ easily to accept while the God of Israel, if not an evil god then at least God was the Demiurge. The Pauline letters & John show that type of influence & Matthew’s view might be easily rejected. And early docetic Christians found the concept of a flesh and blood Christ, the personhood of Jesus, abhorrent. Also there is the strong teaching in Christianity, based on a strong emphasis on it in the NT, on “grace” vs. “legalism”. But that “legalism” assumes a day-to-day interaction with your fellows and neighbors and a daily “walk with God”, a daily living under Grace one’s righteous living based on right actions based in right beliefs. That “legalism’ is a spiritual path and yet it is also the essence of a religion of ethics and a religion of reason. The interrelations of the laws of God with reason and ethics is examined by several Jewish philosophers, such as Maimonides and Hermann Cohen or even Philo (important to the formation of early Christianity orthodoxy).
Righteousness or believing and doing right things is not an exclusive domain for those who the orthodox faith and who “walk the walk” of orthopraxy. It avoids the preaching of the centrality of a man, who may not have even existed, who is supposed to be the “only” way. More liberal or modern Christianity allows for leniency and on universalistic salvation of all mankind, but that is not literal NT and not “true orthodoxy”.
There you go again saying Jesus may not have existed Yedidiah. Read this: http://www.amazon.com/Did-Jesus-Exist-Historical-Argument/dp/0062206443
No serious historian worth their salt can doubt the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, based on the simple fact that to do so would invalidate our knowledge of many other ancient persons. The Jesus myth theory lays great emphasis on the fact that the NT can’t be trusted as a source because it has miracle claims. The problem with this, is that most ancient writings have miracle claims. We have independent attestation of his existence, multiple sources, along with the ability to methodologically peel back layers of later Church interpretation.
Platonists and Gnostics didn’t conceive of G-d as personal, that was part the problem they had with the biblical notion of G-d, especially with the concept of commandments, to say nothing of splitting G-d into two or more beings, one for the perfect world of ideas, and another for the world of eternal evil matter. The demiurge is not a person so to speak, but an idea or archetypal image of the intellectual world in Platonic and gnostic conception, not unlike the Adam Kadmon of kabbalah. You are right that undue focus on person can lead to idolatry. Christianity does not dispute that as I’ve noted many times. Eastern Orthodoxy and Catholicism allow for this “modern leniency” you speak of, I posted an article on that in a previous post. The important point however, was that its not a modern leniency. Its an ancient Christian teaching, going back to at least the 2nd century, if not to a second temple equivalent of ethics for G-d fearers. In classical Christian teaching, it is up to G-d whom he declares righteous. I have been honest in my statements that Christian doctrine was formed in dialogue with other cultures and worldviews, and not in a vacuum. I am content with Judaism’s reading of scripture, I merely disagree on certain theological perspectives, and with the use of buzzwords like demigod that do not give an adequate or fair picture of how Christians see their sacred texts or traditions. If you were a Christian at one time and are not now, good for you. I don’t dispute one bit that Jews have fulfillment in their relationship with G-d. The issue is that all of Christianity is being painted with a very large and generalized brush, and Christians are being called idolaters, while many peoples who none would dispute were actual idolaters get off as halachcially monotheistic, because they fit with later medieval philosophical elaborations and axioms.
Nazareth may not have existed in 1st century c.e., since some of the 2nd century Christian fathers were unaware of its existence or where was was located. They even disputed were the word came from or what root it arose (Nazir, Netzer, etc). And yes, real historians (those not making assumptions and those who have no reason to either defend or to deny Jesus) do not have any clear evidence that either Jesus or Paul existed. The same can’t be denied for other historical personages, or if there was no clear evidence for them, it wouldn’t matter one way or another. If course many people will deny “miracles”, but that wouldn’t erase other evidence. Most people 2000 years ago did not deny miracles or supernatural phenomena (if fact natural occurrences, by most modern standards, might have been unexplainable & therefore considered by ancients as miracles). But those miracles or ordinary historical occurrences were not recorded or not considered worthy of recording or the records were not considered to be worthy of preserved (or just got lost for any number of good reasons). Jesus may not have existed based on the lack of evidence of such a person in the writings of early Christian writers. People may disagree with the concept of gods or God or Christ or Jesus as held by Platonists, Christian Gnostics, Docetists Christians or other “heretical Christians” who may not have agreed with a “personal god” concept, but they did believe in a Jesus or a Christ. Early Christian writers recorded and preserved evidence of those “heretics” and their beliefs. Those writers also recorded the arguments with pagan philosophers where the paganism of early Christianity was not denied. So don’t deny the lack of historical evidence on the one hand and at the same time try to deny what unsavory evidence was recorded and preserved. An adequate and fair picture of early Christianity should not be invented nor should much of it be denied because it embarrasses us. Denying truth or covering it up with lies is not Godly,
“Don’t let anyone tell you that the path of honesty will take you away from the God of truth.” Be honest.
Those writers also recorded the arguments with pagan philosophers where the paganism of early Christianity was not denied.
I assume you are referring to Contra Celsus and other polemics against paganism and philosophy written by Church fathers where parallels were discussed. Ever heard of rhetoric? Rhetoric is often used in polemic to defend from attack, whether in the form of an acquiescence of a seeming parallel or more readily making an opponent look bad. Christian acquiescence to some similarity with Paganism was defensive posturing, and polemical in nature, never an acceptance of polytheistic beliefs. To read it any other way is a distortion plain and simple. You are right about the existence of Nazareth being uncertain, as well as the etymology of the name. I am not denying truth, or covering up lies, and I don’t appreciate the insinuation. I posted a book by a scholar with credentials to speak on the question of Jesus’ existence. If gentile Church fathers 50 to 100 years later did not know where Jesus’ town was in Israel, or its proper etymology, does this make its existence untrue? Tell me, where is Mount Sinai actually located? There are numerous sites traditionally attributed to be the real Sinai, but we don’t actually know. This does not mean it doesn’t or didn’t exist! I am not afraid or embarrassed, nor am I attacking your Judaism, why do you find it necessary to insinuate that I am?
I in particular have no Judaism, so I can only view it as an outsider. And I do not remember writing that I was not a Christian nor that I was no longer a Christian. My studies were/are mostly in Christian apologetics because of my interest in early Christianity and its writings as I was preparing for ministry and as I sought to know “all I could about the “real, historical” Jesus. I have no desire to “disprove” Jesus (if he even existed as a person), but I also can not defend the belief that others should accept his historicity by denying that which is embarrassing to believers, nor can I promote beliefs or “things” as facts when there is a lack of evidence for those “facts” or when they are based on naive assumptions or pure speculation. That is not saying that one can’t have beliefs. Those types of arguments are often used by Christians against Judaism or “Rabbinic Judaism” or the Oral Torah.
An argument comparing Sinai to lack of evidence of a Nazareth is rather weak. Many important people and deeds were written about by Jews, Romans, and many non-Jews in the 1st to the 4th century c.e., but none hint of a historical Jesus (Josephus wrote about quite a few Jesus’es, but none that most Christian would accept as “their Jesus” until Eusebius “discovered a few sentences that aren’t worth taking serious (most likely not even authentic). Some Christian fathers supposedly living within 50-90 miles of Nazareth and some supposedly within 100-150 years of his death searched for key locations mentioned in the gospels and could not find them. They could find no Jews in the Galilee who heard of Jesus. According to the Talmud, Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, who founded a school of halakha in the city of Yavne/Jamnia (later the Sanhedrin located there), lived in a village before the destruction near the proposed site of the hometown of Jesus) on the edge of the city of Sepphoris, yet he wrote nothing positive or neutral or negative about Jesus, which is quite strange. Earlier Christian accounts of Jesus and the apostles are late and contradictory and often (heretical based on whose rhetoric or whose definition of apostolic or orthodox teachings one accepts).
How does one determine whose rhetoric is eloquent or understated and whose is hyperbolic and “hot air”? Was paganism (not always polytheistic and some beliefs and teachings were accepted and even followed by some Christians) all just an imitation of Jesus after Jesus, as some believe or was paganism just a tool of the devil to “preempt”Jesus to confuse or contaminate, as some believe? Or as some polemicize, there was a progression of religious beliefs from the primitive animism to Judaism then to Christianity? With Christianity being a growth in maturity and finally a full flowering of the religious consciousness and understanding?
Hopefully, we can discuss tomorrow evening, Tertullian and Origen and Marcion and what or who came before them. And different ideas examined or hypotheses (not apologetics, mere rhetoric) put forth about the historical or mythical Jesus, by credible historians and scholars.
… by credible scholars within the last 150-200 years.
I’ve been reading your comments on this blog for some time now, and it seems to me that you argue pretty consistently for Judaism and against Christianity. I hope you don’t mind my asking you a question–I can’t restrain my curiosity! I ask you, meaning this respectfully, why are you a Christian?
Sorry for being so nosy, and please disregard if you don’t wish to respond.
No problem. I know it does seem strange. It is not so much about “arguing” for or against something, nor about either pushing or defending my personal beliefs. It is about learning. And the main purpose of this particular blog is about keeping Jews Jewish, which I support (no matter whose “camp” I am in or not in). I believe I can add some value here, since I have knowledge in some subjects or issues or texts that others may lack when they come “under attack”. I have a different (abnormal?) perspective, since I have had different experiences with different people of different beliefs for more years than many other posters (I am assuming).
I am a Christian for the same reason the vast majority of Christians are; because I was raised in a Christian environment. My community is split between Catholics and Southern Baptist or other more mainstream Protestants. Many are more “secular” (get baptized, confirmed – become a member – married, & buried by the Church, attend church a couple times a year, and celebrate at least the main holidays of Easter and Christmas), some – Saturday sinners, Sunday saints – are more religious and go to church or mass each week, and then a few are “fanatics”. I was more of the “spiritual type” and not the “churchy type”, but I kept connecting with the more religious type until I met a real, evangelical “fanatic”. Ironically it was in that church that I was introduced to Jews and Judaism mainly in preparation for a trip or “pilgrimage” to Israel. I had very few contacts with Jews before then, but I never had any negative feelings toward Judaism or Jews. In fact, my countless hours of watching Public TV documentaries on World War II and on the “Holocaust”, created much empathy for all Jews. Perhaps the question should be “why am I still a Christian?”. I won’t answer that now.
I did not intend such a wordy response. Alongside my studies of Christianity and the “Jewish Jesus”, I also started reading a few books on Judaism. In particular, one book by a Jew on how Judaism differed from both Christianity and Islam, pretty much redirected or refocused my studies. With each chapter of that book, I began to see that my beliefs were naturally more inline with Judaism than with Christianity. I have read much online and have bought many books, both Christian and Jewish, and I learn more about the Bible, more about God from articles or books written by Jews, whether they are Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, or Reconstructionist. Judaism is more spiritually enriching; Christian books largely are propagandistic or evangelical, emotive, apologetic, and often quite dull or inane (spread out but shallow).
Long ago while just casually reading the NT, or as a teen studying for confirmation -to become a full member of the church- I would find many problems with the Christian texts. There is a disconnect when you read parts of the NT and compare it to the “OT”, but you don’t know enough to wonder why. If you read parts of the gospels of Mark or Matthew for instance, and then flip over to perhaps, John’s gospel to see what he has to say, you will most likely feel a disconnect, feel that there is a contradiction, but you “know” there can’t be according to what you been told by the pastor and others. Many Churches have bible study services or classes for their members, but rarely are the classes really in-depth and they often are tightly directed or controlled, but you accept & understand that when the Bible is quite complex & time to study is limited. But you find that is often the case at many seminaries training future pastors. You get taught what is orthodox at that seminary or church or denomination. Don’t ask questions and accept the “truth”. But even in some seminaries, the contradictions in the NT and textual problems are so great, that someone once joked (or criticized) that seminaries were producing more atheists than pastors. I personally found that the more I searched for the historical Jesus, the less Jesus I found. The more I tried to know what Jesus taught, the more I found there is no real reason to maintain faith in the traditional or “orthodox” Jesus. I see little reason for a non-Christian or a Jew to become a Christian. Are there any “good” reasons (beside a stubborn spouse?) for a Christian to stay a Christian? Not for most people, but that is their call.
I might add that some Christians may come to this blog because they are curious, or want to learn, or they are taught to “plant a seed called Jesus or Yeshua” in the mind or heart of a Jew. But, perhaps you have felt the extreme arrogance of some of these Christians (including ex-Jews)(often they are highly insulted if you call them “Christian”). Those that act like bullies (even if their words are all polite and “loving”). I’ve seen & heard these types often and I know where they are coming from. Since there are so many Christian beliefs on so many different subjects, often one doesn’t know what their argument is or how to properly respond or reply to them until they have posted several comments (are the Catholic or Protestant of several different types; if you assume they are Trinitarian, they instead think of themselves as “Unitarian”; Jesus is pagan but Yeshua is definitely not, although both speak the exact same words and do the same things; etc). Those differences can be subtle and your response or reply to them fails, because you are speaking to those others (those “heretics” or those who aren’t “real” Christians) and you aren’t “speaking to them”. They may push fallacious arguments that may go unchallenged and thereby plant their “seed” to explore more of their gospel to some Jew out there. Or the ex-Jew sees no good reason to return.
Thanks, that’s very interesting! I appreciate your taking the time to explain it all.
Yedidiah, We must not forget that there are moderate Christians who have no interest in converting anybody, aren’t insecure in their beliefs, who do have an accepted normative liturgy, praxis, beliefs, and general way of life. Many Christians just want to learn as you said, but they are also interested in the perceived truth of their faith just as anyone is about their own faith. Many are also afraid of threats made by the clergy of punishment, and this hinders them from stepping outside. If there is anything I hope people have learned from my comments, it is that these texts and traditions are diverse, multiform, and cannot be painted with one brush. There is no need for the questionable motives, fallacies in logic, etc. that you seem to indicate. If I may ask respectfully, what denomination of Christian are you? I don’t understand how or why you are a Christian if you doubt the existence of the founder? It seems like you have an exclusive interest in the ethical teachings of Jesus, which is awesome, but it seems to me like Judaism would be a better option for you in light of this. If you feel that most Christians use deceit, or have questionable motives such as “planting a seed called Jesus,” then it seems shaky for you to want to affiliate with them if this is your perception of Christians.
Just a thought
Also, just another thing to think about. You seem troubled (and reasonably so) about the contradictions found in the texts of the different NT books. Any New Testament scholar (as opposed to pastor) will tell you that except for the accepted letters of Paul, New Testament books are pseudonymous compositions, ranging from ancient Greek biographies with midrashic coloring (in the case of the synoptics) to things like miniature catechisms, about how the Church should behave and function, told through stories. These facts should not trouble you, not because questions are bad or wrong, but because this is how these types of literature were written in the ancient world. If you subject other traditions’ stories of legendary or fantastic characters and events to a modern hermeneutic of suspicion as you do, you will find the same kinds of problems, or contradictions if you will. When you mentioned that many Church fathers did not mention Nazareth, or even Jesus the person directly, as evidence of a doubt of his existence, it is because you are requiring of these ancient sources a type of evidence that the authors did not seek to write about. Ancient history is not interested in the day to day life of the people it seeks to portray as histories are today. rather ancient histories seek to chronicle the person’s achievements and deeds, that are of note for the audience. Historiography helps us to understand this. Whenever we have a historical document, (apart from diaries and letters, etc.) we have an author’s interpretation of events, a focus on what he considered important. So, it is difficult to judge any ancient sources looking for what a modern person would consider “evidence.” These sources will never meet that standard, especially not biblical literature. Check out Ehrman’s book on the question of Jesus’ existence, and also the book below. These books will show some of the things that can happen when a hermeneutic of suspicion runs amok, and also a balanced approach on how historians treat ancient history. None of this is easy, nor simple, it is as you say, a learning experience.
(here is an interesting example of a scholarly hermeneutic of suspicion taken towards rabbinic sources.)
You may not be the most careful reader. You start saying pretty much the same things that I have said. The Tanach and the Christian writings are both libraries or collections of various types of writings, letters, songs, plays, poems, etc. And of course they are ancient literature and they can be read simply as literature, as one reads ancient Homer or more modern Melville or even some futuristic science fiction (in fact, Genesis and certain other “books” or portions of books are examples of some of the best writings in human history). So stop imagining that I am participating in some “suspicion” or in some “modern hermeneutics any more than you are. You don’t think like many people did 2000 years ago and you don’t believe most things that many followers of Jesus did 1900 years ago. And of course, you know that most Christians don’t read Biblical texts as mere literature. Some believe their modern beliefs are solely based on scripture, some believe the NT is the infallible, inerrant word of God (although they often may not live that faith). Some say they take the Bible literally and others say certain verse are to be taken metaphorically, but different people may not agree which is to be read literally and which metaphorically. That can depend on different denominations or pastors or scholars or individuals. Many Christians read the texts of the Tanach different that Jews or Judaiam does. In fact, the same verses can be translated theologically differently. Over 1600 years ago (in ancient, not modern times), Christians believed different (quite contradictory) things about Jesus, they wrote quite contradictory things about Jesus, different groups accepted different books about Jesus as apostolic or authentic and rejected others as blasphemous or heretical, etc.
It is hard to deny that Christian writers were not trying to provide evidence, witnesses, testimonies about Jesus. They were clearly promoting their version of Jesus. If one can’t tell the difference between John and the “synoptic gospels” or between Mark and Matthew or between Matthew and Luke, one must be merely skimming or glancing over the pages. They aren’t seriously engaging with the text. Stop pretending that this due to some modern hermeneutics. They indeed were trying to show the existence of Jesus to those who hadn’t heard of Jesus. The text is used for that purpose today. There is a whole host of authors today, apologists, trying to explain that the contradictions that many people see aren’t contradictions. And often they are not at all successful or convincing. And I wonder where they got the ability to read ancient texts historically correct. These types of discussions took place 1900 years ago, and before and after Constantine, and with Arianists, with Docetist Christians, with Gnostic Christians, Marcionites, Ebionites, and on and on. The book of Didache gives us one glimpse (outside of the so-called early church fathers) of a slightly different community of Christians who had to deal with roving, itenerant preachers, eventually termed as “Christ hustlers”. How did they know who was a true evangelist and who made up stories? There was Tatian’s Diatessaron, one of the earliest attempts to combine all the textual material of various gospels (some believe our current 4) into a single coherent narrative of Jesus’s life and death. There were other later attempts.
The NT doesn’t pretend to be mere literature and few people take it to be such. Modern people with modern ideas read it all the time and many accept it as correct, despite their “modern hermeneutics”. So are they all wrong? And if all aren’t wrong, if they disagree with each other, which or who is right? In some modern denominations, there are strong believers in the truth of the NT and in Jesus, yet they don’t take the NT literally; they believe the miracles are to be taken metaphorically. One persons miracle is another person’s parable. Some early or ancient Christians (2nd century c.e.) believed all the “Old Testament” was allegory. The stories were to taken metaphorically (so that evidence for Jesus shows up not just in quotes in the gospels, but on almost every page of the OT). We see some of this in the epistle of Barnabas accepted by some early Christians as scripture (which shows up with “The Shepherd of Hermas” after the NT in the Codex Sinaiticus).
Yedidiah, I don’t think you understood my use of the term hermeneutic of suspicion. It is a term denoting a particular approach to sources. I wasn’t trying to disparage your approach, or you personally, merely noting that you are using a very skeptical approach. you are right, I do this as well. I am sorry if I insulted you, that wasn’t my intention. It seemed from some of your comments that you had a more polemical attitude towards Christian literature than Jewish literature. However, the same problems are inherent in both traditions, as you seem to be aware. Maybe I misunderstood. Hermeneutic of suspicion is not an insult to be directed at you, it is a statement about a common scholarly approach. Yes I am aware of various diverse theologies in early Christianities, the synoptic problem, diverse canons, Q, etc. For the record, the reason I accept Jesus as a historical individual has little to do with any of the Christian material. It is because what we can know for certain about Jesus (and so achieve scholarly consensus on) is not remarkable, nor is it tied to a miracle claim. Jesus’ existence is verifiable without appeals to the Christian texts or traditions, church fathers, canons, didache, didascalia, etc. Roman and Jewish writers mention him within 100 years of his death. As far as ancient sources go, that is extremely good attestation, and its really early considering we don’t have other ancient sources that are so close in proximity to the original events. The events historians know about, namely, Jesus’ birth, small following, and death by crucifixion, are attested by many non interested impartial parties. (namely the Romans.) This is what serves as solid bases for his existence, not an appeal to the Church. My appeals to Church literature are with the full knowledge that those sources are meant to teach the Christian faithful, not merely to describe the historical Jesus. I am aware that each gospel paints Jesus with the theology and concerns of their particular living community and situations. You are right in saying that I am agreeing with much of what you have said. It just seemed to me, that your statements had an ere of polemic. I apologize for the misunderstanding. BTW, yes, I am reading carefully.
Sometimes in debate or learning, the bringing forth of facts or ideas to be considered that are new or that are often neglected or dismissed with prejudice will appear to be polemical and are just aggressive or contentious argumentation. Instead the friction or contention may originate in a person’s resistance to those ideas that may threaten them or their previous held beliefs. Also what may appear as contentious may not be an attack, but, if one is not careful, it may become a defensive response to strong resistance to or attack on the new or alternative ideas that were presented for consideration. In that case, what appears as polemic argumentation may instead be apologetic argumentation. What appears as a skeptical approach may instead be a call for open-mindedness of the ones who are most resistant to an examination of their unfounded pre-suppositions or assumptions or unwillingness to question themselves.
Suspicion is an assumption of doubt or misgiving prior to the facts being known. It is a belief of guilt, falsehood, error, undesirableness, etc., with little or no proof. That of course will “color” ones interpretation of text. But if the belief that there is error, falsehood, undesirable values or unacceptable beliefs AFTER the examination of the text, after comparison of that individual text with other texts making similar claims that is another thing. I presented rather strong arguments that my claims were not predjudiced by my prior beliefs. They were instead conclusions that disagreed with my prior assumptions and beliefs. Now after the “trial” where some (not perhaps all) evidence for and against a claim has been made, one may still suspect. We could suspect guilt or we might suspect not-guilty (hopefully innocence was assumed prior to the arguments.). We also might take a “scientific method” approach, where one attempts to disprove the hypothesis.
Your claim of “extremely good” attestation of many non-interested impartial parties is without sufficient support. Your evidence is lacking and/or can be largely discounted by not only impartial parties but by Christian scholars and historians. Unless you have new evidence that I & many others am unaware of, it is still possible for me to say that Jesus may not have existed as a person highly similar to that shown in the gospels and perhaps not even a person known to dozens or a few hundred in his lifetime.
We might also ask, that if these Christian sources were wrong about their beliefs about the person (or non-personage) of Jesus and their contradictory interpretations of what he said or did, then can these impartial “sources” be not only wrong but more so? Those outside sources if they existed or if they were not corrupted, provide us with little or no info about Jesus or early Christianity.
I think that based on the historical evidence we can say that we know at least this much: there was such a man who claimed to be the Messiah and was executed by the Romans for a political crime. That’s all that can be said with any degree of certainty.
The point Yedidiah, is that the position that Jesus didn’t exist goes against scholarly consensus, and much of the data presented in favor of the Jesus myth theory is demonstrably false, and lacks consistency. http://ehrmanblog.org/did-jesus-exist-the-birth-of-a-divine-man/ read Ehrman’s posts on his blog. When we compare the evidence for Jesus to evidence for someone like Plato, it is not exaggeration to say that comparatively attestation is very good. I don’t need a definition of suspicion Yedidiah. Anything is possible to say, it doesn’t mean you have evidence. The burden of proof is on those who say he did not exist to demonstrate to the majority of scholars that indeed he did not. Nowhere am I arguing that the gospel picture of Jesus is entirely historical, where did you get that impression? The argument I made in favor of his historicity was based on the exact opposite. We Do Not need to consult Christian witnesses partial to Christian claims for validation of the fact that Jesus exists. This is important to good historical inquiry. You are right that we can’t validate Christian claims, but that doesn’t mean the man wasn’t real.
Plato is irrelevant in a discussion about Jesus existence (except for those who want to draw philosophical connections from Plato to cynics or Gnostics and Philo to Jesus). Books ascribed to Plato are real (someone wrote them even if a person named Plato didn’t exist and he was just a figurehead). Plato is not worshipped. And if the image of Jesus is subtracted from until he is a mere man like millions of others who existed or if he is nothing or just a figurehead, historicity is important. But there are those who put no faith in a man, no matter if he existed, since God is their focus.
I didn’t say you were arguing that the “gospel picture of Jesus was entirely historical (but many claim that). Jesus MAY not have existed is not a claim of certainty. May is not a same as did. But the burden of proof is on those who make extraordinary claims. And it is not wise to accept as true what there may be good reason to believe is not true. And there are those scholars who do challenge the perceived consensus, including Ehrman himself that you have mentioned. There has been several serious attempts to search for the historical Jesus from about the 18th century (Bultmann and others) to the late 20th century Jesus Seminar and others to today. An atheist Richard Carrier has also just come out with a book (1st volume) on historical research using Jesus as an example entitled “Proving History: Bayes’s Theorem and the Quest for the Historical Jesus”. There is no consensus that comes from that (no flat earth?). There are a number of theories by credible scholars of who or what Jesus was (his different & “changing” faces). If there was a consensus and there was no controversy about the existence of Jesus, why did Bart D. Ehrman write a book to supposedly “settle the issue once and for all”, as one advertisement reads? Ehrman also wrote against the “consensus of scholars” with books such as “Forgery and Counter Forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics”, “Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why”, and “Jesus Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible”, among others. Many dismiss Ehrman as a revisionist, an agnostic, an atheist, as a quake out to make money, or as other not so nice terms. I like some of his writings, but there are other writers of equal or greater stature or merit who I also may read.
Several very critical book reviews of Ehrman’s “Exists” have challenged Ehrman and he has not settled the controversy, but instead has shown there is no strong consensus about Jesus in several areas. Several (if not most?) professors at conservative evangelical schools disagree with Ehrman and maintain that the NT is reliable and that the changes made by scribes over the years are trivial. But, Ehrman contends, that their views do not represent the consensus among scholars using historians’ techniques to analyze the texts.
He has been compelled to acknowledge that the very existence of Jesus is “one of the most pressing questions in the history of religion” and deserving of investigation”. Why study something if there is a consensus & all is settled? Ehrman also agrees that “given the scarcity of historical sources, it is generally difficult for any scholar to construct a portrait of Jesus that can be considered historically valid beyond the basic elements of his life”. But, those basic elements are also in question; it shouldn’t be difficult nor does one have to construct theories about Jesus, such as Jesus the Hellenistic hero, or Jesus the Cynic or Stoic, or Jesus the revolutionary, or Jesus the wisdom sage, or Jesus the Pharisee, or Jesus the heavenly Christ myth, or God, or Jesus the man of the indefinite past myth, or the man of the spirit, or the prophet of social change, or the apocalyptic prophet, or savior or messenger (although he could be several of those at the same time or he could have been none).
Josephus wrote about several men named Jesus (a common name). One for a while, daily ran naked through the streets of Jerusalem shouting “repent for the end is near”. And another had his right arm cut off by his own disciples (because his hand or arm sinned?), although he, or another Jesus (?) was later one of the leaders of the revolutionaries in Jerusalem before the destruction of the temple along with his rival named John (of Gischala). Jesus & John, models for the NT? What other non-Christian writings speak of Jesus? He seems not to have impressed anyone in comparison to Apollonius of Tyana or other magicians, sorcerers, etc. I didn’t say he wasn’t “real”.
Who has forgotten or doesn’t know that there are moderate Christians who have no interest in converting anybody and aren’t insecure in their beliefs (mostly)? Not me. But there are others who are “problems” to others. And I know there is also diversity within the “Orthodox” church, but what is orthodox and just what is “accepted normative liturgy, praxis, beliefs, and general way of life”? I know what that is in the Catholic, the Lutheran, the United Church of Christ, Southern Baptist, some independent Bible, and other churches where I have relatives or in-laws who are lay teachers or preachers in those churches. I know a few leaders or pastors in charismatic, evangelical, and a “prosperity” churches or a “mega-church”. I know someone who was in a church (when it was small they called it a cult) that is known by a few state Governors and a former US President, and is known internationally as well. A highly respected pastor and church. I seen error in that church long ago and finally after over 20 years of membership in that church that they helped build up, my friend with several family members & acquaintances also finally “seen the light” & left deeply hurt and in anger. To a Assembly of God mega-church, of all places. So I believe I have observed what you wrote of; “afraid of threats made by the clergy of punishment, and this hinders them from stepping outside.” You misunderstand me greatly though if you think that I think that most believers or followers are not sincere or have ill or wrong motives.
Perhaps you misunderstood me when I said that Christians want to plant a seed. They sincerely do want to. That is their misson. They feel they are commanded to by Jesus. And they do it with love and out of love. But it is NOT love. The more seed is spread (in some one else’s garden) the more the seed is seen as a weed seed. Their sincerity comes into question when they doubt the sincerity of belief or the depth of the belief of Jews who already love God. That also includes the sincerity of people who reject having faith in a Jesus. Some people just don’t get why Jesus just does not measure up to the expectations by others of a messiah. They somehow, in the back of their mind, must believe a God without a Jesus is an “incomplete God” or that the original view of God (without a Jesus) was a mistake by God? Why are so many Christians bothering Jews, who believe in God (to the same degree as Christians, no matter how secular or how little or how much those Christians believe) to tell them to believe in God? Makes no sense if one has discernment, one has love, one had respect for other Godly people.
Yes, so you agree with me in several places, for instance, when you wrote “that texts and traditions are diverse, multiform, and cannot be painted with one brush.” (Well, perhaps one brush will do, if you clean it as needed?). But there are reasons for that diversity of text and traditions and many deny it or are blissfully ignorant of it, so often are not seeking any truth. I am not troubled, but I am not unconcerned for others.
There are fallacies in logic, so why ignore them if they occur in the NT or in the creed of Churches? If diversity is ok, why do many churches think that it is a problem? If it is not ok, why isn’t there any major effort to fix the problem? If diversity is ok, why ask about a “denomination”? Some say Jesus never intended to “found a religion” (there is one book called “Jesus Against Christianity” & others of similar arguments). Some say Paul was the real founder of Christianity. And there were Christians of all types in the earliest years. Some believed Jesus was only a man like Ezekiel, etc. Some believed Jesus was not flesh & blood, but only a spirit who looked like a man. Some believe that Jesus, according to verses in some Pauline letters, was only a spirit in the sky who never visited the earth and the “human Jesus” was a myth, a lie told by the “Judaizers”. Some believe Paul was an enemy of Jesus and the church of his followers (actually there is no evidence someone like Paul even existed and then perhaps the “”7 authentic letters of Paul” are also by anonymous authors). I need to find the quote by Augustine that most of the NT letters were forgeries by bishops of different factions trying to promote their beliefs. Maybe Augustine was mistaken, but he seems to have been more trustworthy than Eusebius. I am not troubled, but my caution is directed to others.
I don’t know what one means by “seems like you have an exclusive interest in the ethical teachings of Jesus, which is awesome?” His teachings were mainly not original and some were already believed & some not that acceptable. And I don’t know where one gets the absurd idea that I may feel that MOST Christians use deceit or have questionable motives, just because deceit by Christian writers or leaders is possible. Or because some ignorance, by quite a few Christians, of the history of the Church and of Christian texts, is something to be of great concern by those who are truth seekers. The words “if” and “may” are not words to be afraid of; they do not mean “is definitely” or “certainly”. They could or they could not and the wise person wants to know which is the truth. Not because of what they believed yesterday, no matter how sincere they believed. It is not just in the “end times” that many are deceived. When so many problems exist in the text, or when a “devil” says “don’t worry, don’t question”, or when we were warned of “false prophets” who perform wondrous works, then being troubled by the text invites questions, worry when any unknown or popular voice says “don’t question, accept me on faith”, and don’t be too impressed with testimony of deeds (too good to be true?) and listen to what the prophets says and compare it with what is reasonable, logical, what was true in the past, and where it you might lead if you follow & can’t turn back if you were wrong. Doubt is not the enemy when it warns you and acts as your savior. I am not troubled for myself, but I feel compassion and concern for those who can’t be troubled to “think twice” before going along with smooth words “too good to be true”. It is good that those times are rare. Some feel that peace and beauty on Shabbat. It is bad that for some those times are rare.
I said nothing about proving Christian claims, only that he existed. I assume you take the same stance on the Exodus? As in, something may have happened, but we lack evidence, and can’t prove it?
Back to square one. There are some people who believe (or who see no physical evidence) that the Exodus occurred. Who is speaking to those people? If it did or if it not occur, Jews have their answers and Christians have theirs. But, if it was a myth, Christianity only compounds the problem a few times over, since one first must accept faith in a man according to Christian claims and sources (and not on any assumed or questionable evidence of Jesus from later non-Christian sources ). What was taught (or is being taught today) is more important than who may have taught what.
Rabbi Blumenthal begins this post by comparing one “of the central teachings of Protestant Christianity” (or the NT), “that no man is justified through their own good deeds (Romans 3:20)”. He continues, “Elihu is giving expression to the central theme of the Jewish Scriptures: that God alone is the absolute sovereign. As beings that were created by God, who are constantly sustained by God and who can only operate in the arena provided by God, we can never give to God that which does not already belong to Him. If a man were to live a perfectly righteous life, and die a martyr’s death for the glory of God, this man would still not have given God anything that he didn’t owe to God.”
Christian claims appear to disagree with that since our focus is not on God alone, but to a “created man” (from a womb), who is not worthy of worship or exaltation above other men, no matter how perfectly righteous we assume such a man might have been and even if he died as a martyr for the glory of God.
The crucial point here Yedidiah is that the Rabbi’s article addresses Protestant Christianity, not the other two (larger,) more consistent branches of Christianity. Paul is not saying deeds are not necessary to be saved, far from it, merely that being Jewish doesn’t automatically save someone. Paul says that in the role one is called, he should remain, whether Jew or Gentile. Paul taught noachide laws (or at least the second temple equivalent of them) and so do later Christians. If that is the case, how do we say he doesn’t care about deeds? This is the protestant problem. Protestants ignore so many plain verses, and oh so much Church history to treat Jesus like a vaccine. I am absolutely comfortable (from a Christian perspective) with saying, the righteous of all nations has a share in the world to come, just as Jews are.
I try to avoid the distraction (or straw man) of “denominationalism” (Protestant vs Roman Catholic vs Eastern Orthodox, etc and vice versa) because there are certain principles or fundamentals within Christianity despite its diversity (Unitarian vs trinitarian, etc types of arguments). And writers like Paul were not protestant or orthodox, etc. So, I seek out early Christian commentators as much as possible to gain additional insight or as comparisons to my own reading. Augustine of Hippo and John Chrysostom wrote on Romans 3. I feel many Protestants would have little objection to Chrysostom’s commentary.
But the problems of Romans 3 is which Paul’s assumptions, part of which is the “none is righteous” belief. Paul tries to make his case based on a number of quotes mainly from the Psalms (14.1-3; 53.1-3; 5.9;140.3; and 36.1) and Isaiah 59.7-8. But if we look closer at the verses in Psalms, it is not about the “sin of all humans”, but it is about the wicked, evil-doer enemies vs. “the righteous” person or people or “generation of righteous. The evil doers are enemies, boastful persecutors, violent men who plan evil things and stir up wars continually against the righteous. Not your average “sinner”. Isaiah verses serve Paul better, but even here there are the faithful & penitent who confess their sins and rather than distancing themselves from their neighbor’s sins, they acknowledge that they share culpability. Here the “sinners”, evil doers, both foreign and domestic who are unrepentant, are defeated.
The source of salvation in Romans 3:24 is in faith in one martyred man, Christ Jesus (one of countless thousands of Jews who were crucified by the Romans or became martyrs for freedom from oppression, from evil, violent men). The word “redemption” is a translation of the Greek word apolytrosis, which refers to buying slaves in the marketplace in order to set them free. This is not a “substitute paying the penalty of sin”, but with delivering one from bondage. That does not necessarily mean that the buyer was or had to be a martyr or that they sacrificed their life to gain another’s freedom. And these “slaves of sin” are not free from sin as the “slaves of slave master men” were free from the source of their oppression. And who were the sellers of these slaves that were redeemed? Who is the slave master who was willing to sell their slave, presumably at a profit? At least one parable by Jesus makes it seem that God is a cruel taskmaster, slave master?
As I was reading commentary on Romans 3, it almost seemed to me that Paul was talking about faith in Jesus as a new type of “circumcision”. Just as the Hebrews were taken from out of slavery from Egypt. But faith was not put in Moses and Law was given. According to some of these early commentators, Christians were not free from the law (“of Moses”. They weren’t seen as “Noachides”). Anyhow what Paul seen as error with Jews is applicable to the error with followers of Jesus (some not free from the slavery of “Egypt/sin”, easily sliding into idolatry, boastful of “their gift or grace”, etc).
I try to avoid the distraction (or straw man) of “denominationalism” (Protestant vs Roman Catholic vs Eastern Orthodox, etc and vice versa) because there are certain principles or fundamentals within Christianity despite its diversity
you mean distractions Such as the hermeneutic approach, interpretation, and meaning of these core principles which are extremely different among these groups? Highlighting the different denominations is hardly a straw man, when these denominations understand the same concepts in very importantly different ways. Original sin does not mean to the orthodox what it means to the Catholics, and everything from the death of Jesus, to its purpose, is understood differently as a result!
“An Orthodox Christian View of Non-Christian Religions” on the goarch.org site is mainly intended for its audience/members, but it is a “major challenge” not without cause. The site states that “A major challenge for Orthodox Christians is to articulate theologically correct approaches to people of other religions.” This is similar to the ecumenical efforts of some Protestant churches and as I mentioned earlier there are monthly local interfaith meeting between Jews and the Catholic Church. There are also efforts by the RCC to speak with “Orthodox” churches to bring about unity.
In another article (& this one) on the goarch.org site, strongly emphasizes the common beliefs held by major church groups. According to the above article, “This view holds firmly to the centrality of Christ, a doctrine which is not negotiable…”. The non-negotiable doctrine of other religious groups is that there is a minimization or a complete lack of Jesus, as a “Christ” or whatever, as part of their belief system. Whatever Christ means to any individual, or group, it is central to that Christian or Christian group. Without some of those major tenets of Christianity, there would be no Christianity.
So we both are arguing similarities at times and dissimilarities at times. I seem to see less connection to Judaism then you seem to see and I seem to see greater diversity between very early Christian groups than you seem to want to acknowledge. I see that diversity at the very root of the Christ idea. That is why the above article mentions the centrality of their view of Christ.
No, Yedidiah, I don’t underestimate the diversity, not at all. I’ve studied a lot about diverse early Christianities, and my own upbringing is reflective of that diversity in Christian belief and practice. I am not under any false delusions about some hidden unity between all Christians, I merely realized that Orthodoxy had an important purpose in clarification of identity and of many beliefs, and was not just some power grabbing organization as is often assumed. These early diverse communities were forming their identities in the early days, so yes, you had Ebionites, Nazarenes, Arians, Gnostics, Docetics, etc. You can see these diversities of belief reflected in the texts themselves. I’ve read and even posted some of those articles you posted, and Ive also got a book on the Orthodox Christian position vis heterodox Christians, and non Christians. Its important to remember, that right or wrong, the centrality of Christ needs to be interpreted in the way the Church interprets it. Christians believe that Jesus’ person reveals Hahsem. Since that is the case, what is “centrality of Christ” really saying in light of this? If Jesus is G-d, then it is not inconsistent for the orthodox Christians to believe in the centrality of Christ, while simultaneously believing that sincerely good people outside of Christian context can be saved, (nonetheless through Christ,) even whilst they are practicing a different faith. Christians struggle to find the proper place for non Christians as all religious groups do for those who are not members in their religion. Even the noachide laws are not just some arbitrary universal sense of morality, but a good noachide needs to fit within a certain established halachic framework of belief and behavior, as defined by the rabbis. IE noachide as a term is sometimes applied to all gentiles, but that doesn’t mean that all gentiles are G-d fearing noachides, or truly fit within the role and designation of noachide. There are in fact, gentiles that could be called marginally noachide, and then. there are the pious of the nations who truly deserve the title of noachide who will have a share in Olam Haba. So, in fact, both Judaism and Christianity have a strain of universalism , that is nontheless tempered by their unique communal religious identities.
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What is Rabbi Yeshua’s teaching on this?
Rabbi Yeshua said:
“Would any one of you say to your slave who comes in from the field after plowing or shepherding sheep, ‘Come at once and sit down for a meal’?
Won’t the master instead say to him, ‘Get my dinner ready, and make yourself ready to serve me while I eat and drink. Then you may eat and drink’?
He won’t thank the slave because he did what he was told, will he?
So you too, when you have done everything you were commanded to do, should say, ‘We are slaves undeserving of special praise; we have only done what was our duty.'”
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