A Letter from the Past – Still Looking Forward

Dr. Brown

Here is my response to your post # 358

I believe that with this response of yours – a great breakthrough was achieved in our interaction – vindicating the usefulness of such interaction. I will explain this statement as I proceed to respond to your points one by one.

In my previous post (on this topic) I put our disagreements into two categories: Messianic expectations and interpretation of Isaiah 53.

On the issue of Messianic expectation

I demonstrated how you apply a double standard in your interpretation of Messianic prophecy. When it comes to the Jewish expectation of a rebuilt Temple and restored sacrifices you measure them by the number of times these concepts are mentioned in Scripture (according to your count, they are few), You measure them by the fact that in some of these prophecies, no Messianic figure is mentioned, and you measure them by the fact that there seems to be a problem with the timing of some of the prophecies (the context would indicate a fulfillment at a time that does not coincide with the Jewish interpretation).

On the basis of these measuring sticks – you downplay these prophecies and conclude that they could perhaps be fulfilled in a symbolic sense and not necessarily in a literal sense.

I pointed out that had you applied these same “measuring sticks” to the prophecies which are interpreted by Christians as prediction for Messiah’s miracles – then we could even more quickly conclude that the Messiah does not necessarily need to preform miracles in a literal sense.

But you insist that the miracles must be literal. You go on to pass judgment against Maimonides who insists on a literal fulfillment of the Temple prophecies while maintaining that the miracle prophecies need not be understood literally.

But using your own standards of interpretation – Maimonides is right.

How do you explain this? You say – Well Jesus already told us that this is the interpretation!

This then is the breakthrough. We have come to an agreement, it seems, that without FIRST accepting Jesus as an authority – the Jewish Bible does NOT encourage belief in Jesus.

If you need Jesus to tell you that your biblical interpretation is correct – then you should have said so in your book. You open your five volumes setting the standard for this discussion: “What does the Bible say?” But now you are admitting that according to that standard – Jesus is NOT the Messiah. The only way you can come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah – is by first accepting him as the Messiah and then accepting his Biblical interpretations.

It is my position that the moral position for someone who does not believe in Jesus is to examine his claims in light of the Biblical texts. Until his claims are vindicated –– it would be going against God to accept his claims. We must therefore first read the Jewish Bible – without belief in Jesus – and then examine his claims in light of the truth we have learned from God’’s word. The fact that you need to quote Jesus to defend your position underscores the fact that your position is not rooted in the words of the Jewish Bible.

You claim that the reason you pointed out the relatively small number of passages predicting the future Temple is because traditional Judaism puts the future Temple on the same plane as world peace as a Messianic requirement. You conclude that Scripture does not bear this out.

I suggest that you turn to page 178 of your volume 3 and you will see that you were not contrasting the hope for the Temple with the hope for peace (which you yourself minimize on page 70 of volume 1) – but you were contrasting the hope for a future Temple with the alleged miracles of the Messiah. This being the case – my citation of the number of passages is completely relevant.

In another paragraph you accuse me of creating a strawman (you generously add – “probably unintentional”) by presenting it as an issue of “either or”. With this accusation you have created a strawman of your own (probably unintentionally). In my opening statements which you yourself copied in the beginning of your own response – I presented the two opposing positions – not as “either or”, but rather with the one requiring miracles as an absolute necessity while relegating the temple to a possibility – as opposed to the other which has the Temple as the absolute requirement and the miracles remain a possibility.

You skip over some of my points because you see no relevance to them. I am sure that the readers of this conversation (including myself) will want to know your response to two of my questions that you seem to deem “irrelevant”. 1) Do you believe that the number of verses supporting a specific doctrinal position is a valid standard by which to judge the Scriptural basis of a given position? And if yes, then why, throughout your five volumes, do you never apply this standard to the arguments of the Church? (i.e the virgin birth etc) 2) How is it that in your interview with Stroebel Zechariah 6 is magnified as “the most overt passage in the Bible where a human being is identified with a Messianic figure” – and on page 172 of volume 3 you downplay this very same prophecy because it appears in only one book of the Bible. Isn’t that being inconsistent in your own line of reasoning?

I countered your argument concerning the timing of the predictions concerning the Temple – by pointing out that the predictions of Messiah’s miracles are also tied in by the prophets to a specific time – which precludes applying these predictions to Jesus.

You respond with the argument that “Messiah” (and I presume you mean “Jesus”) came working these very miracles.

This response is completely circular. You are in effect saying – believe in Jesus because he fulfilled this prophecy – but when I point out that according to a contextual reading of the prophecy he did not fulfil the prophecy – you tell me – but Jesus said he did! – so why should I accept his interpretation?

Your next argument is “that there is nothing in the context of, say, Isaiah 61 that precludes the Messianic interpretation” – I assume that you mean to assert that there is nothing in the context of Isaiah 61 that precludes your application of this passage to Jesus. I may have misunderstood you and if I did please clarify – but if I understood you correctly then your assertion is patently false. Isaiah 61 speaks of a “day of revenge” – which you acknowledge was not yet fulfilled. If a 2000 year interlude in middle of a sentence, without any textual justification, is “sound Biblical interpretation” for you – I guess I will have to be the one to inform you – that others will not be satisfied.

When I present my question about your double standard (asking the question if a given prophecy is symbolic or literal) – you go back to “the Messiah has already come”. Are you saying that it is OK for you to use a double standard because you “know” you are right?

The point I made about symbolic language was that as far as I could see, Scripture never uses a specific type of sheep as a metaphor. I did not say that it is not theoretically possible – my point was that this would be unusual – weakening the symbolic interpretation. You response does not address my point.

In response to my summary which asks a simple question – if we are going to apply a certain standard for the Jewish expectations of the Messiah – that we should do the same for the Christian expectations – you respond with:

“Of course we should, and that’s why we look at David as the proto-type (priestly King) and that’’s why we pay attention to the time line (expected before the destruction of the Second Temple), and that’’s why we then allow the Messiah’’s first coming to shed light on the meaning of the passages. All very clear, thank God!”

How is this clear? You take a Jewish argument and (mis)apply a certain standard of interpretation. You do this with one Jewish argument – ignoring the sum total of the Jewish arguments. So why are you reluctant to apply this same standard to the Christian arguments? Is it because you have other arguments to support your position? But when I will point to the inherent weaknesses of those arguments – you will run back to this one! What kind of response is that?

In any case – here is the response to the two arguments that you present. – Looking to David as a prototype is the last thing you want to do. It is hard to imagine a character that is more thoroughly antithetical to David than Jesus. David consistently stresses his own utter dependance on God – highlighting his sins – opening his heart to all of mankind expressing his complete humility towards God. How does this compare to a “mystery-man” who claims to be sinless and deserving of worship himself?

In response to your second argument – about the timing (Messiah had to come before the destruction of the Second Temple) – which you refer to Haggai 2, Malachi 3 and Daniel 9. I don’t see how you can apply these prophecies to Jesus. How could a prediction for a glorification of the Temple (predicted by Haggai) be fulfilled by one who claimed to be a replacement of the Temple?. How could a prediction of the restoration of the Levitical priesthood (predicted by Malachi) be fulfilled by one who claimed to do away with the Levitical priesthood?. And how could a prediction (by Daniel) about an anointed one cut off with the destruction of the city claim to be fulfilled by someone who died more than five weeks of years (in Daniel’s terms) before the destruction of the city?

Interpretation of Isaiah 53

I asked you if 53:9 could apply to Israel – you respond with a question “why in the world am I limiting the discussion to one verse when we have the whole chapter”. The answer to your question is because chapters are made up of verses – one verse at a time. If you refuse to discuss “one verse” – because you claim that the rest of the chapter bears out your position – then we will have a hard time discussing the matter. When I point to any one verse – you will run to the “rest of the chapter” – and when I point out that your arguments in those other verses don’t pan out – you will always be able to say – “ah! but look at the rest of the chapter”.

The fact of the matter is that there is no individual in the history of mankind that is more thoroughly eliminated from being a possible subject of this passage (Isaiah 53) as is Jesus from Nazareth. The entire thrust of the passage is that when the arm of the Lord is revealed upon the servant – the world will be shocked. If there is anyone that this cannot be – it is Jesus. So there is the “rest of the chapter” for you.

Getting back to this one verse – 53:9 – you are saying that it cannot be corporate Israel. So are you saying that the Jews when the Jews were butchered because of the accusations that they murdered Christian children and because they had stolen the world’s wealth through deception – that they were indeed guilty of these charges?

You claim that when I speak of Israel’s guilt compared to the guilt of the nations I have introduced a “new category”. I gave you 9 Scriptural references – and you call this a “new category”!? Let us take the first one on the list – Isaiah 26:2; where Israel is praised as the righteous nation who kept her faithfulness. It is obvious that Israel is singled out from amongst the nations for this praise. They are being praised not for something new that is given to them but for the faithfulness towards God that they maintained throughout the exile. (Contrast this with the exaltation of the Messiah described in chapter 11 which will be for new qualities that will be granted to him at that time – not for qualities that he possessed before then.)

In 49:23 Israel is rewarded for having hoped to God – from the context it is obvious that the nations do not share in this reward. The concept is reiterated again and again throughout the book of Isaiah – all those who worship idols will be shamed when everyone sees that the God who Israel trusted in is the true God. Israel will be exalted to the eyes of the nations for maintaining this trust in God throughout the exile – something that no nation will share with them.

When the nations will see the exaltation of God (and Jesus will have no part in this exaltation) they will realize that their worship of Jesus was idolatry. They will realize that Israel’s rejection of Jesus was her greatest virtue. They will realize that all the material blessing that they were blessed with came about because the Jewish people prayed to God for the prosperity of the countries they inhabited – and not because of their own prayers to Jesus.

This brings us to your arguments against my interpretation as to how Israel brought healing to the nations. You quote Jeremiah 51:9 which actually proves my point – the healing of the nation is not some spiritual gift – but material blessing here on earth. History vindicates my interpretation because countries that allowed the Jews to live amongst them – prospered – while those that expelled them – declined. As for Babylon; Jeremiah wasn’t making a joke in 29:7. The Jewish prayers helped the Babylonians until their time came. No one said the healing was permanent.

You argue that my interpretation which has the servant render the many righteous – as a future prophecy, contradicts my interpretation which has the servant’s healing of the nation to be past. I would urge you to pay attention to the words of the prophet. The healing is described as something that happened in the past (nirpah) while the servant rendering the many righteous is presented as a future prediction (yatzdik).

You created a new category when you decided that the servant had to be sinless on the basis of your symbolic interpretation of the requirement that the animal guilt offering be free of physical blemish. I responded that the servant being human and not animal has no such requirement. I presented an example from the guilt offering of the Philistines.

You respond that the requirement for the Philistines would be different than the requirements for Israel. It seems that you forgot another Scriptural passage – Leviticus 22:25 – which explicitly applies the requirements of presenting non-blemished animals for the Gentiles as well as the Israelites. – By the way – do you believe the servant only suffers for Israel – or do you believe he suffers for all of mankind?

You discount my interpretation which has the servant guilty of his own sins – because then the assessment of his enemies would have been accurate – he was suffering for his own sins, while the prophet makes it clear that he was suffering for the sins of others.

You have misunderstood the thrust of Isaiah 53. Those who had denigrated the servant had been looking at the fact that the servant is the only one suffering as an indication that they themselves are more righteous then the servant – or that the servant is more evil than themselves (I see this fulfilled in the consistent Christian assertion that the holocaust “proves” that Israel’s rejection of Jesus is the greatest sin.) When the servant is vindicated – they will see that he had been bearing the burden for everybody – as described in Psalm 88, and that actually the servant had been the one who was fulfilling God’s mission on earth for the benefit of all mankind.

When that great day comes – and everyone sees that God alone is King – then those who trusted in Him will be vindicated to the eyes of all the nations who placed their trust in other entities. Everything will pale into insignificance when the nations realize how the worship that they considered the highest virtue – was actually the greatest abomination before God. All of Israel’s sins are between her and God. As for the nations – they will call Israel “the righteous nation” – and they will realize that Israel’s loyalty to God was the most precious thing that God had on this earth (26:2). They will realize that God’s purpose here on earth was accomplished through those loyal to Him – and that those who hoped to God bore the burden for everyone else. I imagine also – that when God’s glory is revealed and the mask of confusion is removed from the face of the nations – then Christians will realize that nations who revere books that slander their theological opponents have something to learn from a nation that reveres a book that highlights their own faults (Zechariah 8:23).

I look forward to your response.

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Thank You

Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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28 Responses to A Letter from the Past – Still Looking Forward

  1. May I make this point please: The historical Jesus of the NT was a shema-reciting Jew (Mk 12:29). Obviously, then, he did not believe in the Trinity. Why does the Church claiming to follow him abandon his creed for a strange Trinitarian creed, which no Jew ought ever to accept (I write as author and Christian prof.)

    • Annelise says:

      Because they think he was God incarnate, yet it is clear that he prayed and considered himself subservient to the Father. So they think there must be a visible relationship in God. It is a case of reading Torah according to their beliefs rather than holding Torah and seeing how huge, unexpected, and for no reason acceptable their claims are in light of it.

    • Anthony
      Thanks for your comment – I wonder the same thing. I can suggest an answer – perhaps these people (Trinitarians) are primarily focused on exalting Jesus – it is that aspect of his message that they latched on to – the Trinity is just the justification that they came up for this exaltation.
      May I ask you as a Unitarian if you also believe that people’s devotion ought to be directed toward Jesus?

    • C.S says:

      Anthony, I I am not sure if you noticed it, but I wrote to you in a previous post that you commented on regarding being a Christian and a Unitarian. Whilst, I definitely view Unitrarian Christians much more favourably than Trinitrarians, and see it as a big improvement or development amongst Christians like yourself, I still find it difficult to resolve the issues between the Tanakh and the New Testament simply by claiming that you are a Unitarian but still believe in Jesus. Rabbi Blumenthal asked if you direct your worship towards Jesus or not? Which is one of the many questions that we Jews would be interested to know. As a professor, I would assume that you have some more reasonable approaches to this whole subject than many that we encounter, who seem to assert their beliefs as truths based on blind faith, an emotional feeling they experience and choosing to interpret scripture however they see fit so that it in some strange unconvincing way supports their beliefs. I reposted my response from the other post below. I look forward to hearing your response on these issues.

      B’shalom

      Anthony,

      You say you are a Christian, who believes that Jesus never claimed to be God or divine, he was a Unitarian and taught a Unitarian message. I agree that there are plenty of passages in the Christian bible to suggest that this is true. I also would regard those verses as most likely words that Jesus actually said because they are consistent with the teachings of the Torah.

      Verses such as “no one comes to the father but through me” or his giving his disciples bread and wine and telling them that this is his body and blood… to Jews would be absolutely abhorrent today and in the first century. These verses I find are so contrary to the teachings of the Torah that it is very hard to fathom that if Jesus and his disciples were Torah observant Jews, which we have good reason to believe that they were, that he would have said such things.

      So, the question is, if Jesus was not divine, but you say you believe he is the Messiah, how are you defining the Messiah? Do you believe that the Messiahs role was to come and die to atone for the sins of humanity? As Christians claim. Or do you subscribe to the Jewish view of the Messiah? If you believe in the Jewish concept of the Messiah, how do you explain the unfulfilled prophesies? If you believe Jesus was a man, but his role was to die to atone for our sins, how do you reconcile that, with the Torahs contradictory teaching that one person cannot suffer or die to atone for the sins of another. This is what the incident of the Golden Calf illustrated. Moses pleas with G-d to let him suffer for their sins. G-d tells Moses that it doesn’t work like that, each person is responsible for his own actions and must be punished for his/her sins.

      See here for more on the last point http://www.whatjewsbelieve.org/explanation1.html

    • blasater says:

      Hi Anthony– Jesus didnt teach the trinity but he certainly didnt help the cause of Hashem by asking to be glorified with Hashem. Surely he must of known the words of G-d through Isaiah that G-d shares his glory with no one. So, if he said such a thing, he sowed the seeds of what would become trinitarian doctrine.

      • Annelise says:

        It is one thing to incorporate the words of an old message into a new message. It’s another thing to have those words at the forefront of your mind when testing the new claim. ‘The Creator, who spoke to us in the wilderness, we will only worship Him.’ A Christian believes their message is, according to their theology, not out of harmony with this creed. They accepted it along with the rest of their theology as a package deal. But the practising Jew has the creed of worshiping God ALONE in their heart as the starting point…and it will take much more than just a ‘proper’ explanation of the trinity or ‘complex unity’ claims to convince them to open their worship to someone.

        • Annelise says:

          … to convince them that someone or other really is the God who, absolutely alone, deserves to be given our worship.

          • Annelise, Thanks for the comment and sorry for the long wait. My whole point to Buzzard and I hear this common argument from others is that the Shema speaks on God’s nature and repudiates the Trinity. My argument in the article is that the creed only teaches Monotheism, that there is only ONE God and doesn’t speak of God’s eternal nature, if he is one or three persons.

            Buzzard and others assume it is teaching unitarianism when it does nothing of the sort.

            But as to convince you of worshipping Jesus or Yeshua, yes, it will take more than defining the Trinity and I would need to show if it is proper.

          • Annelise says:

            You’re right about the argument that the Shema in its phrasing argues against the trinity.. But I think it does so in its meaning in context. If you’d like to keep on discussing I am always open to hear what you think; Rabbi Yisroel can testify that even if I seem to come back quick with an answer now, many of these questions I have pondered over way too deeply and painstakingly (I grew up Christian and don’t think I have Jewish background).

            Blessings.

  2. Annelise says:

    Very meaningful insights, especially about what people need to inject into the process in order to see J and their following of him in Tanach. It isn’t clear and it isn’t a better reading.

    • Annelise says:

      When someone has heard a verse interpreted one way hundreds of times, and has feelings of faithfulness to God coming from that reading, those two subjective things alone are enough to make them feel an unfamiliar reading is a stretch…

  3. Dina says:

    An airtight argument. I would love to see how Dr. Brown responds to this. Where can we read the earlier correspondence?

    Thanks,
    Dina

      • Dina says:

        I read Dr. Brown’s testimony and I was very disappointed. From the hints that June the Jewess has been dropping about heavenly visitations, I was expecting Brown to write that Jesus appeared to him, complete with halo and choir of angels singing in the background.

        His testimony is not at all incredible or miraculous. The only part that is impossible to believe is that his parents were racing around in their car looking for him in the middle of the night and nearly hit him. If someone told you your teenager was wandering the streets at one in the morning high on drugs, would you drive at high speed to find him, or would you drive slowly, peering anxiously from side to side as you drove?

        But of course, I would take the memory of someone who was admittedly high on drugs at the time with many grains of salt.

      • Dina says:

        I’ve been reading the comments on the Line of Fire. I haven’t counted how many times in response to your arguments Dr. Brown says something like, “You’re spiritually blind so I”ll just pray for you,” but it’s maddening. What he’s essentially saying is that he doesn’t have to consider your arguments and then present a counter-argument or clarify his position, since the only reason you’re not getting it is that you’re spiritually blind. It’s an intellectually lazy response.

        Furthermore, it’s smug, superior, self-righteous, and condescending. Ugh.

  4. Seeker of truth says:

    Again putting brown and Christian arguments to shame amazing stuff rabbi thank God I found this website

  5. blasater says:

    Michael Brown has written: “The idea that the Messiah is divine is an Old Testament concept,” although I do not necessarily believe that idea was self-evident to our people prior to Yeshua’s coming into the world.”

    So, I am glad you asked him again, “Do you believe that the number of verses supporting a specific doctrinal position is a valid standard by which to judge the Scriptural basis of a given position?”

    Because Brown clearly admits that the idea of a divine messiah was not self-evident. In others words, a lack of verses with declaration by G-d that this was anticipated for the future.

    The incredible thing, is that Brown must rest on circular reasoning to make up for the lack of information in Tanakh that would make the case for him. Like I was mentioning the other day, even the NT has not one verse by G-d Himself declaring Jesus is “Yahweh”…not one. Only a “voice” from the clouds saying this is my son. (How do we know that was G-d? It could have been Hasatan testing our resolve per Deut 13).

    All we have in the NT is the words of men…claiming divinity for the Nazarene…Zero verses from Tanakh and Zero in the NT from G-d Himself.

  6. Annelise says:

    … to convince them that someone or other really is the God who absolutely alone deserves our worship.

  7. Sure Annelise, I wouldn’t mind the discussion at all. I am saying my comment here because for some reason the reply button is missing.

    • Annelise says:

      Sometimes that happens on a long thread. You just go up to the reply button of the post above the indented ones you’re replying to 🙂

      I have a question that could help us stand closer in discussion regarding the Hebrew scriptures. What do you see as the main things that the written Torah and books of the prophets say will define a righteous, God-fearing Jew? And also, what warnings are emphasised for them to be careful about?

      It’s a joy to talk with you, as your sincerity and respectfulness come across clear. Be well.

      • It’s a joy speaking with you and Yisroel on this blog and elsewhere, it certainly has been of great benefit and I try to be gracious to him and other Jews in my writings. Interestingly I have learned more about Rabbinic Judaism through my interactions and rely on Brown less and less believe it or not and try and defend Christ for myself.

        As to what makes a righteous God fearing Jew. Well, don’t you believe that a Jew is one who keeps the Torah and the prophets warn against witchcraft, idolatry and immorality and tell the people to stay away from that stuff?

        Lastly, thanks for the advice of linking on another thread.

        • Annelise says:

          I agree with you about the emphases and warnings. The Torah describes the righteous as those who keep to the commandments given through Moshe, even if in exile; who have them on their hearts, study and discuss them diligently, and teach them to their children. They are very, very careful not to commit false worship or trust in powers other than Hashem. They listen to the testimony of the nation about Sinai, and to their judges and prophets.

          The prophets describe the righteous as those who look after the needy with justice and keep both the specifics and the spirit of the Torah with sincerity. They warn mostly against idolatry/immorality and hypocrisy.

          Given that these are the main emphases and warnings, how could a Torah observant Jew in our day and age know that they were cut off from God for not recognising ahead of time the promised king, who will comfort the righteous and punish the rebellious?

          Isn’t it the Torah observant who should be able to recognise their prophets and coronate their king? If they are keeping the actions and heart of the whole law then it seems like they are His witnesses in the earth. From their perspective, there is no pointer given to recognise an incarnation, no way given by Torah to test it, no warning against ignoring it… but an infinite cost in being wrong about such a thing. This is the kind of realisation that made me take a second look at the way the Jews I was talking with didn’t accept what I was asking them to do when I was a Christian.

          • Annelise says:

            -When I say keeping the whole law, I mean, what they are able to during this exile (just like in the previous one). This fits with Deuteronomy 30.
            -I also don’t see what evidence there is in Tanach for the Christian beliefs or idea about how the redemption will take place. The ‘historicity of the resurrection’ and the seeming sincerity of New Testament letters, some of which (like some of Paul’s) are clearly written early, stands out more to me. But none of that matches what one would need to accept that a man is to be worshiped or that the observant Jewish community of today is ‘cut off’. Nor do the Christian experiences of God, which I think are largely real and which once had me accepting the specifics of believe that were tagged on to it, outweigh the experience known of Him in the Jewish community.

            That’s just to contextualise what I meant about the infinite cost in being wrong about it… the constant warnings in Torah… and the flimsy ‘evidence’ against the view of the observant community that doesn’t buy it, in their love and loyalty.

            Blessings.

          • Annelise says:

            PPS I really commend you for making a clear and to the point answer to that, without bringing in extraneous ideas! It is rare in this forum and I think it denotes honesty, though that is between you and God to know that 🙂

          • Dina says:

            Beautifully said, Annelise!

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