Volume 4 versus Volume 5
Dr. Brown devoted the fifth volume of his series to invalidate the oral traditions of Judaism. One of the major criticisms voiced by Dr. Brown against these traditions focuses on the style and method of the Biblical interpretations found in the Talmud. Often enough, we will find that the Talmudic interpretations do not seem to conform to the plain meaning of the Scriptural text and Dr. Brown sees this as an inexcusable fault of traditional Judaism. With righteous indignation Dr. Brown declares: “Nothing can violate the plain sense of the text and carry any authority, otherwise the written word has no meaning and no authority” (vol. 5, page 53).
Let us note that all of the major theological principles of Judaism are explicitly spelled out in the Bible. The adherents of Judaism do not need to rely on anyone’s Scriptural interpretations when it comes to the fundamentals of the faith.
In the following paragraphs I will present the foundational Jewish beliefs concerning the key issues that stand between Judaism and Christianity (worship of God, atonement from sin, and the advent of the Messiah). I will also demonstrate how these beliefs are supported by the Biblical text.
Our devotion is directed to the God who spoke to us at Sinai and to Him alone. This core belief of Judaism is clearly stated in Exodus 20:1, 2. The passage records how God told the people: “I am the Lord your God who took you out of the land of Egypt from the house of bondage, you shall not recognize other gods before me”. This concept is repeated in Deuteronomy 4:35, where Moses reminds us: “You have been shown in order that you know that the Lord, He is the God there is none beside Him.”
Jews believe that God requires sincere repentance for the forgiveness of sin. This fundamental doctrine is plainly stated by the prophets. Isaiah taught: “Let the wicked one forsake his way and the iniquitous man his thoughts, let him return to the Lord and He will show him mercy, to our God for He is abundantly forgiving” (Isaiah 55:7). Ezekiel passes on the word of God: “As for the wicked one, if he repents from all his sins that he has committed, and he observes all My decrees and practices justice and righteousness, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he has committed will not be remembered against him…” (Ezekiel 18:21, 22).
All of Judaism’s core beliefs about the Messiah and the Messianic age are clearly expressed in the Jewish Scriptures.
The prophets spoke of the ingathering of the Jewish exile (Deuteronomy 30:3, Isaiah 11:12, 40:11, 43:5,6, 49:12,18,22, 60:4, 66:20, Jeremiah 3:18, 30:3, 31:7, 32:37, Ezekiel 11:17, 20:41, 34:13, 36:24, 37:21).
The prophets spoke of a Temple in Jerusalem (Isaiah 2:2, 60:7, Jeremiah 33:18, Ezekiel 37:26, 43:7, 44:15, Micah 4:1).
The Scripture tells us about a national return to Torah observance (Deuteronomy 30:8, Jeremiah 31:32, Ezekiel 11:20, 36:27, 37:24, 44:23,24).
The prophets taught us about universal peace (Isaiah 2:4, 65:25, Jeremiah 33:9,16, Ezekiel 34:25,28, 37:26, Hosea 2:20, Psalm 72:3).
And Israel looks forward to a world that is filled with the knowledge of God (Isaiah 11:9, 45:23, 54:13, 66:18,19,23, Jeremiah 3:17, 31:33, Ezekiel 38:23, Zephaniah 3:9, Zechariah 8:20‑23, 14:9,16).
The fundamentals of Judaism are explicitly spelled out in the Scriptures. It is only within the limited realm of practical observance of the Law of Moses that the rabbis applied the Talmudic method of Scriptural interpretation. In most cases, the rabbis applied these Scriptural interpretations only as a supplement to the plain meaning of the text, and not as a replacement for the plain meaning of the text. Furthermore, the theology that Dr. Brown is promoting has relegated Torah observance to practically nothing, in blatant violation of the plain meaning of the text. The historical record confirms that the Talmud embodies the only practicable form of obedience to the Law of Moses that is viable in the context of an eternal community. Dr. Brown brushes these considerations aside. Dr. Brown discredits the Talmud and her teachers because the Talmud contains Scriptural interpretations that are not in line with the plain contextual meaning of the Bible.
Let us turn back to Volume 4. It is here that Dr. Brown notices that the foundational texts of Christianity advocate a new belief system, a set of core beliefs that were hitherto unknown to the Jewish people. These writers teach that the Messianic era will incorporate a new election, an election of devotees of the Messiah. These writers preached that atonement for sin is achieved through loyalty to an individual. And the later generations of Christian teachers proclaimed belief in a trinity.
Not one of these foundational Christian concepts can be found in the Jewish Bible. (There are many scholars who believe that belief in the trinity cannot be found even in the Christian Scriptures, but that point is beyond the scope of this discussion.) The teachers of Christianity expected their Jewish audience to accept these radically new concepts on the basis of their own twisted Scriptural interpretations. These teachers did not stop there. They condemned everyone and anyone who did not accept their teachings to the eternal fires of hell.
Dr. Brown attempts to address this issue in his first section of Volume 4. Dr. Brown gives restrained expression to the Jewish objection: “The New Testament misquotes and misinterprets the Old Testament. At times it manufactures verses to suit its purposes” (page 3). Dr. Brown does not share with his readers the fact that all of the theological underpinnings of Christianity stand on these fanciful interpretations and on nothing else, but for a Christian, he said a lot.
As part of his response to this Jewish objection, Dr. Brown cites the Talmud. Dr. Brown demonstrates to his readers how the authors of the Talmud utilized a free-flowing method of Scriptural interpretation, and he tells us that the early Christian teachers were simply doing the same.
Dr. Brown does not tell his readers that the authors of the Talmud did not use these interpretative methods to establish the fundamentals of their faith. Neither does he tell his readers that in Volume 5 he will point to these same interpretative methods to condemn Judaism. And he certainly does not tell his readers how the same interpretative methods of the Talmud can serve to exonerate the teachers of Christianity, while they stand as a condemnation for the teachers of Judaism.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal