Responding to Dr. Michael Brown’s Distractions
In my video response to Dr. Michael Brown’s presentation entitled “Dr. Brown ANSWERS Rabbi Blumenthal” ( https://youtu.be/IUIdgyhUfUE ) I focus on the subject at hand. I demonstrate how Dr. Brown did not answer the questions that I had raised (
). In this article I will respond to the various arguments that he brought up or to comments that he made that were unrelated to the questions that I had raised.
- Dr. Brown asks, if as I say, that his 5 volumes are so incredibly empty and inadequate, so why do I bother responding to them?
The answer is simple. Dr. Brown gives the impression that in his 5 volumes he fairly presents the Jewish position. Innocent readers, who are unfamiliar with the real Jewish position, can walk away from his books with the impression that Christianity is the world-view that is closer to the Biblical text than Judaism.
But his presentation of the Jewish position is completely off the mark. What I have done in my rebuttals is that I have attempted to accurately present the Jewish position. If I were assured that people would actually read through his 5 volumes and read my rebuttals, I would stop right there. I put all the issues on the table and I am satisfied to let these things stand.
So why don’t I ignore his writings? Because most people don’t read. And this fact allows Dr. Brown to use his writings deceptively. He is telling his audience, who will never read 1500 pages, that all the answers are there. They are not.
- Dr. Brown claims that in his 1500 pages he answered all of the objections that he was made aware of up until that point in time.
It is obvious to the Jewish reader that he missed some of the major objections. Whether this is his fault or not is irrelevant. His book doesn’t talk to the heart or to the intellect of a Jew who knows his or her heritage.
Furthermore, if he has to contradict himself in order to make his presentation, shouldn’t he realize that something is wrong? If he wrote with intellectual integrity then he shouldn’t be contradicting himself and if he did contradict himself he should appreciate that there are serious problems with his work.
But I have my own problems with his assertion. Back in 2001 I challenged Dr. Brown to include 3 objections in his then upcoming third volume (eventually that volume became volume 5). In 2008 I reminded him of this challenge and I sent it to him again. Here is the original challenge:
I will present you with a challenge. You are presently preparing the third volume of your book for publication. I did not see it, but I can tell you what it does not contain. I will list three objections to the Christian belief system which you were not planning to mention. Two of these objections lie at the heart of the Jewish resistance to any belief system aside from their own. Here they are.
1) The medium through which we learned that scripture is authentic is the testimony of our parents. These same people testified to us that there is a body of unwritten Mosaic law which is crucial in understanding how God wants us to live. If they lied about these unwritten traditions then why should we believe their testimony about scripture. (The Ibn Ezra articulates this argument in several places)
2) The one item which the Torah itself is most explicit and clear that we are to follow the testimony of our fathers, is the issue of “who are we to worship”. Scripture tells the witnesses of Sinai, “you should make it known to your children and children’s children”. It is obvious that God considered this a valid medium of transmitting information, that is the chain of parent to child. Once God explicitly designated a medium of transmitting information, we can be sure that He will ensure its preservation. Until today jews testify that God revealed Himself at Sinai as an absolute unity. All those who deviated from this tradition never claimed that with their worship they follow a tradition which goes back to Sinai. (This is the main point of the Jewish insistence on clinging to their belief system)
3) An honest reading of the NT will reveal that Jesus and his followers believed in, and observed the unwritten traditions which the Jews accepted as God given. (I hope to substantiate this at length later in this letter)
At the time, Dr. Brown responded by accepting my challenge and assuring me that he will address these arguments in his upcoming volume. But he did not. He devotes one paragraph, in an end-note (#131) to the first objection (- see our response in Supplement to Contra Brown, V16). He touches upon one limited aspect of the third of the three Jewish objections in the main body of the book (6.15 – see Supplement to Contra Brown, V69), but he completely ignored the second objection.
He subsequently told me that he couldn’t change the objections because they had already been prepared a decade before. Let us accept this answer. But this still leaves us with a question, when he does address the third objection, why does he skip so much of the evidence that I presented to substantiate that argument? Is he really addressing all the objections that were raised to him?
- Dr. Brown tells his audience that he sent me “responses” to my question. He then turns to the audience and tells them that I “know” that he has answers to my questions.
It is very interesting to note that he asked me not to share those “responses” with anyone. His response consists of about 14 pages in response to one question that I raised in Contra Brown. So to speak of this paper as if it contains “responses” in the plural is misleading and false.
Furthermore, the argument contained in this paper that he shared with me completely ignores the other arguments that I put forth in Contra Brown but instead focused on the words that I wrote to explain that one question as if that was all I wrote.
So I have no hesitation to say that I believe that Dr. Brown has no answers to my questions and the paper that he sent me only confirms my belief. If I would have written that paper I would also be embarrassed to share it with the public.
- Dr. Brown tells his audience about a written debate that he was about to have with 4 counter-missionary activists. He complains that I shut that debate down. He wants to know why I did that, what do I have to hide?
This debate was going to take place after Dr. Brown reneged on his agreement to engage in a written debate with me. It was obvious to one and all that Dr. Brown is willing to have a written debate with these well-meaning, but amateur activists only because of their inexperience. My challenge to engage him in a written debate still stands. It is 15 years old. What does he have to hide?
- Dr. Brown claims that he responds to the Jewish objection based on Deuteronomy 4. He tells his audience that although Deuteronomy 4 emphasizes that the Jewish people saw no from but Numbers 12 and Exodus 24 teach us that God does have a form.
This is no response to the objection based on Deuteronomy 4. In Supplement to Contra Brown points V 62 thru 65 I demonstrate how Dr. Brown has completely missed the Jewish objection. For the sake of brevity I will share one paragraph from that section of my work:
Brown has missed the point of Sinai, which is actually the central point of the entire Scripture. It’s not about a book, it is about a covenant between two living parties; between the living God, and between His bride, Israel. Just because you are holding a copy of a description of the wedding ceremony doesn’t make you the bride. And if you make it your life’s mission to declare to one and all that the witnesses that God commissioned at Sinai are liars, then how can you turn around and claim the heritage of Sinai for yourself? (Just to remind the readers; in Volume 2, Brown contended that Israel’s rejection of the trinity is not based on what they learned at Sinai, as Israel claims, but is rather: “a gut-level negative reaction to anything Christian” (Page 7).)
I will make the full segment of my writing available in a separate article entitled Post Script to Responding to Distractions – https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2016/09/18/post-script-for-responding-to-distractions/ .
- Dr. Brown tells the audience that he addressed the Jewish objection based on Deuteronomy 30 in volume 5 objection 6.10
Deuteronomy 30 poses several challenges to the Christian position. The point I was making in my video presentation is that Deuteronomy 30 is a foundational text as it relates to Israel repairing her national relationship with God. It clearly precludes the Christian theology that asserts that there is no remission for sin without a blood offering. Dr. Brown does NOT address this challenge to his position in objection 6.10 or anywhere else in his 5 volumes.
He does address the challenge that Deuteronomy 30 poses to his position as it relates to the centrality of Torah observance. I share with you here what I wrote in “The Elephant and the Suit” in response to Dr. Brown’s treatment of Deuteronomy 30 in objection 6.10.
Let us leave no stone unturned. Let us examine the one paragraph that Dr. Brown did devote to this Scriptural passage in 6.10 of vol. 5 (page 223). In this paragraph Dr. Brown tells us that there is a divergence of views amongst followers of Jesus. Some understand that the obedience to the Torah that this passage speaks of is a reference to obedience and faith in Jesus. In endnote # 343 Dr. Brown informs us that other followers of Jesus believe that this Scriptural prophecy will never be fulfilled because of Israel’s failures.
Both of these positions are openly refuted by the text. Moses told the people that they will return to obey God, “according to all that I (Moses) command you (Eternal Israel) today”. These words were spoken by Moses more than 1000 years before Jesus was born. Moses made it clear that he expected the last generation of Jews to look back to him (Moses) as their ultimate teacher, and that he expected them to follow his commandments as they were understood on the day he presented them to Israel. These words of Moses clearly preclude the Christian belief that Jesus is the ultimate teacher, and that the teachings of Jesus are somehow superior to the teachings of Moses.
The second position that Dr. Brown attributes to followers of Jesus is also invalidated by the Biblical text. The passage opens with words: “And it shall be that all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse…” The curse that Moses is referring to is the curse that God warned would befall Israel should they fail to obey His voice. How then can one make the claim that on account of Israel’s failure to obey God, this Scriptural prophecy will never be fulfilled? This same prophecy clearly predicts Israel’s failure to obey and tells us how, after our failure, we will ultimately return to God. It is clear that God took our failures into consideration when He encouraged us with these words, and God’s promises are irrevocable.
The two Christian explanations that Dr. Brown offers his readers are clearly refuted by the words of this passage. Dr. Brown does not even begin to provide a textual justification for the Christian interpretation of Deuteronomy 30.
According to Dr. Brown’s own standard, the real question is: What do the Hebrew Scriptures teach? This passage in Deuteronomy clearly teaches that Israel’s repentance is the precursor of the Messianic age, this passage teaches that repentance is efficacious while Israel is still in exile, and this passage clearly teaches that the Law of Moses, as Moses taught it, is going to be observed in the Messianic era. Each of these issues is central to the debate between Judaism and Christianity. Why then does Dr. Brown fail to address this key passage in his comprehensive work?
- Dr. Brown takes issue with my assertion that he deals with Ezekiel 33 in a backhanded way. He claims that he deals with this passage “head on.”
I will take the liberty to explain what I meant when I said that he deals with this Scriptural passage in a backhanded way and I will again do this by quoting what I have written on this subject in Supplement to Contra Brown:
Brown tries to repudiate the message of Ezekiel 18, and 33. The prophet clearly speaks of atonement for sin through repentance and repentance alone. The first technique that Brown uses to nullify God’s word is that he puts the Jewish argument into a straightjacket. He has the Jews arguing that Ezekiel was only referring to a situation where the Temple is destroyed.
Once the Jewish argument is safely locked up, Brown launches his counter-attack. He argues that once the Temple was rebuilt the prophet’s words would be meaningless. He makes the point that Ezekiel’s contemporaries looked forward to the restoration of the sacrificial system. He also informs us that Ezekiel himself prophetically predicted a restoration of the sacrificial system. Brown argues that according to the Jewish reading of Ezekiel, which posits that all one needs is repentance then all of the other commandments such as Sabbath and Passover would be of no importance.
Finally, Brown argues, that the interpretation of Ezekiel 18 and 33 which teaches that repentance is all that is necessary for atonement from sin was unknown to the Talmudic and medieval Jewish Rabbis. It is only an argument created under polemical pressure from Christianity. He “proves” this preposterous premise by pointing out that this text was not used in the Jewish-Christian debate for the last 1900 years.
Every one of Brown’s arguments is fallacious. The prophet clearly says that with repentance all sins are forgiven. Repentance means a change of attitude. Repentance means returning to obedience from rebellion. Someone who repents, by definition, accepts upon himself or herself all that God has commanded. This includes the Sabbath as well as the blood offerings spoken of by Moses. As long as one has sincerely accepted all that God has commanded, he has repented. If for whatever reason, it was impossible for the person to fulfill the Law practically, the repentance still stands. A long as the person accepted upon himself or herself to be obedient to God he or she has repented and is forgiven. For example; a man repents on Sunday. The Sabbath is still 6 days away. He has not fulfilled the Sabbath yet. Will God forgive? Similarly, if one accepts the validity of every word in the Torah, including the commandments about the sacrifices, he has repented. The fact that he cannot practically fulfill the sacrificial offerings does not nullify his repentance and he will be forgiven. On the other hand if one refuses to accept the validity of Moses’ words, and claims that the sacrifices were replaced, then he or she has not repented. God’s words through Ezekiel retain their eternal meaning. Repentance alone effects atonement. The fact that the people were looking forward to the Temple does not mean that repentance does not work. Repentance means yearning to fulfill every one of God’s commandments, even those commandments which we cannot practically fulfill.
The fact that the Rabbis did not use these passages in the polemical debates of the middle ages is because the Catholics who they debated did not bring up the issue of atonement. But in non-polemical settings the Rabbis certainly did quote Ezekiel 18 and 33 to prove that repentance works. These include the Talmud (Yoma 82b, Kiddushin 40b), the Midrash (Tanchuma Vayeitzei 22) and the Yom Kippur liturgy.
Does Dr. Brown’s response to Ezekiel 33 deserve the title “backhanded”? You be the judge.
- Dr. Brown argues that I contradict myself. At times I say that a working knowledge of the Bible will help a person see through the arguments of the Christian missionary. Dr. Brown sees this as a contradiction to what I state in my video presentation where I tell the audience that one does not need to be educated to see through the missionary arguments, you just need to love God.
This is no contradiction. You could be an atheist, but if you have studied the Bible you will see right through the arguments of people like Dr. Brown. And you could be an ignoramus, but if you love God with all your heart, then a Christian missionary who is trying to get you to direct devotion to Jesus cannot begin a conversation with you. It would be like trying to propose a prospective mate to a person who is happily married. It is not either intellect or love. You could use both to refute the arguments of the missionary. Each one of them standing on its own is more than enough negate the claims of the Church.
- Dr. Brown claims that at the end of volume 3 he sets forth a logical and systematic way of identifying Messianic prophecies.
Really? Let me again share my critique of his appendix to volume 3 (from Supplement to Contra Brown). The first statement that Dr. Brown makes in this “logical and systematic” study guide is that; “Messianic prophecies are not clearly identified as such.”
This is amazing. Brown believes that the main purpose of the Jewish Bible is to predict the advent of the Messiah, yet the prophecies are not clearly identified?! And on what basis can he make such a preposterous statement? The prophets gave us a clear hope for Israel’s future. There are many prophecies in the Jewish Bible which clearly talk of the Messianic era, and of the Messiah. These include but are not limited to Numbers 24:14-19, Deuteronomy 4:30, 30:1-10, 32:43, Jeremiah 3:14-18, 16:14,15,19, 23:3-5, 30:3,7-11,16-25, 31:1-39, 32:37-44, 33:6-26, 46:27,28,50:4,5,19,20, Ezekiel 11;17-20, 17:22-24, 20:40-44, 28:24-26, 34:9-16,22-31, 36:6-16,22-38,37:1-28,38:1-48:35, Isaiah 1:26, 2:2-4, 4:2-6, 10:33-12:6, 24:21-25:9, 30:26, 34:1, 40:1-11,41:10-20, 43:5-10, 44:1-5 49:8-26, 51:11,22-52:12, 54:1-55:5, 56:7, 60:1-63:9, 65:17-25, 66:10-24, Hosea 2:1-3,16-25, Joel 3;1-5, 4:1-21, Amos 9:11-15, Obadiah 1;17-21, Micah 4:1-7, 5:1-13, 7:8-20, Zephaniah 3;9-20, Zechariah 2:9, 8:2-8, 14:3-21, Malachi 3:4,16-24, Psalms 51:20,21, 69:36,37, 98:1-3, 102:14-23, 126:1-6, Daniel 2;44, 7:18,22,27, 12:2,3,
Can anyone question the fact that these prophecies are the hope and promise of Israel’s glorious future? How can Brown say that messianic prophecies are not clearly identified? More important is the question; Why does Brown say that the messianic prophecies are not clearly identified? The obvious answer to this question is that Brown never seems to have approached scripture with an open mind. It seems that he never asked himself; What would a Jew before Jesus’ times have believed about the Messianic era? What would scripture have taught him about the Messiah? Who and what does God encourage us to hope for? Had Brown asked himself these basic questions, he would have realized that the scriptures are very clear on these issues. The problem is that Brown started the other way. He first came to believe in Jesus. He then looked back into the Jewish scriptures and tried to understand Jesus’ claim that the prophets predicted his coming. Things tend to get quite murky if you read the book that way. When Brown tells us that Messianic prophecies are not clearly identified as such, he is admitting that the preconceived notions of Christianity cannot be readily seen in the Bible.
- Dr. Brown ends his video with an invitation to debate me. He says that this will put “the issues on the table.
This is a distraction. If my critique of his book is valid, let him address it. If it is not, let him ignore it. To tell us that my critique is valid but he won’t share his answers with the public unless I engage him in a public debate for the sake of “putting issues on the table” is simply ridiculous.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal