Still Unanswered, Questions that Dr. Brown Continues to Avoid
A few weeks ago, I made a presentation entitled “Unanswered, Questions that Dr. Brown Has Failed to Address.” Dr. Brown responded with a video of his own entitled “Dr. Brown Answers Rabbi Blumenthal’s Questions.” As disappointed as I am with Dr. Brown’s video, I will thank him for engaging. By putting his thoughts on the table, the conversation which has stalled for 10 years can now proceed.
As I stated in my previous video, if you have read Dr. Brown’s 5 volumes of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus and you have read my written critique of his work, then you don’t need these video presentations. Each of the questions that I raise on the video deserves so much more than a few minutes. And in my writings I attempt to do justice to these questions by illuminating them from different angles. So if you have read Dr. Brown’s books and my written work then you have all the information you need to make an informed and educated decision. The purpose of my talk is to encourage you to study the matter more deeply and to learn. I encourage you to overcome your reluctance and read the relevant material, study and analyze.
In my previous video I shared a brief segment of my comprehensive critique of Dr. Brown’s 5 volume series, “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus.” I wanted to put these questions on the table and my primary goal was to demonstrate you that my critique of Dr. Brown presents a serious challenge to his writings.
So I only asked three questions, three basic questions. Dr. Brown took 28 minutes of your time. Did he give you the answers to these questions? I will repeat my questions and I want you to go back to his video and ask yourself, what are the answers? This is supposed to be about education, were you educated?
He filled his video with diversions and distractions and I have responded to those diversions and distractions in the format that we agreed upon 15 years ago. We agreed to answer the challenges that we present to each other in writing. For 15 years now, I have been keeping my end of the deal and I hope to be able to continue to do so. If you want responses to all of his distractions, go to my blog, you will find my responses. https://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com/2016/09/15/responding-to-dr-browns-distractions/
On this video I will repeat my questions. In case you haven’t understood them, and perhaps Dr. Brown did not understand them, I will try to articulate and clarify. Maybe this is my fault? Perhaps I was not clear.
So, to remind you, my three questions were about Dr. Brown’s reader’s guide to the Bible, the Jewish devotion to God and the contradictions that are inherent in Dr. Brown’s presentation of the Messianic prophecies.
Reader’s Guide to the Bible, Dr. Brown vs. God
Jews and Christians read the same Bible. And each of them comes out of this book with a completely different theology, world-views that are polar opposites. Only one of us can be reading this book right. The other one is misusing the text or should I say, abusing the text. One of us allows the text to speak for itself while the other tries to get the text to say something that it does not.
Both Jews and Christians acknowledge that Scripture has a structure to it. Some passages, some concepts are like the central pillars of a building or like the trunk of a tree, while other passages are like the bricks and paint of the building or like the branches and leaves of the tree. But the set of passages that Jews see as central to the narrative of Scripture is not the same set of passages that the Christian is pointing to. One of these two belief systems is looking to the Author of Scripture, to the literary context of the passage in order to make the determination as to whether a verse is indeed foundational and the other belief system is not. This belief system looks to its own theology in order to make that decision. If the verse says something that could be manipulated to be read as supportive of the theology that is being promoted then it becomes “foundational.”
So which is it? Which of these belief systems is looking to the context of Scripture and to the cues of the Author to determine the centrality of a given verse and which belief system is violating the intent of the Author to make this determination? Is it Judaism or is it Christianity?
Dr. Brown makes this very easy for us. Let us read his words. In The Case for Jesus, page 199, when Dr. Brown wants to highlight the priestly role of the Messiah he tells us that Zechariah 6 is “the most overt passage in the Bible where a human being is explicitly identified with a Messianic figure.”
Dr. Brown is telling us that the Divine Author is drawing our attention to this passage. According to Dr. Brown, identifying a human figure with the Messiah is the Author’s way of telling us, “I am about to present an important teaching about the Messiah.” It’s as if an arrow is pointing at this passage with the words “an important teaching about the Messiah” inscribed on its shaft. Fine and well.
But in volume 3 of Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus, page 172, Dr. Brown notices that this same passage in Zechariah tells us that this Messianic figure will build the Temple and that doesn’t fit his theology. So Dr. Brown tells us that this passage is found in only one book of the Hebrew Scriptures. The fact that this concept appears in one book is the Author’s way of telling you that this is not important. To use Dr. Brown’s own words “fringe at best” (Line of Fire February 7 2013, 33 minutes in).
But didn’t we have an arrow pointing to this verse telling us that this passage is going to be teaching us something important about the Messiah?
It is obvious that Dr. Brown is not looking to the context of the passage to tell him if the text is central or not. It is his theology that is telling him which texts to highlight and which texts to put into the background. And his non-Scriptural theology could get him to highlight and to minimize the very same text.
But Dr. Brown’s hypocrisy is only symptomatic of the 2000 year approach of the Church to the Jewish Scriptures. In order to get the Scriptures to point in the direction of Jesus the Church is forced to violate the Authorial intent and recreate the literary landscape of Scripture.
When it comes to the question of directing our worship the Church highlights texts such as Genesis 18, Exodus 24 and Numbers 12. But the Author of Scripture never associated these passages with the question of directing our worship. The Author had a lot to say about the question of directing worship and He knows how to tell you when He is going to present a teaching on the subject and he does NOT point to those passages. Instead he points to Deuteronomy 4, Exodus 20, Isaiah 44, Jeremiah 10 and to many similar passages as teachings on this question.
And guess what, these passages, presented by the Author of Scripture as teachings on directing worship is exactly where Judaism draws its theology from as it relates to this question. So which one of us is following the lead of the text and which one is attempting to get the text to follow our lead?
The same applies to the question of sin, guilt and repairing your relationship with God. From the Jewish standpoint, the central texts are Deuteronomy 30 and Ezekiel 33. Both of these are introduced by the Author of Scripture as answers to the question of sin, the former on a national level and the latter on an individual level. But from the Christian standpoint these texts are peripheral to the question of repairing our relationship with God. According to Christianity the central principle of atonement is that there is no remission of sin without the shedding of blood, a concept which appears nowhere in all of Scripture.
It is on this subject that Dr. Brown actually attempts to provide a partial answer to my question. He argues that since the word atonement appears in Scripture so many times in conjunction with the blood sacrifices, this then tells us how central and important these sacrifices are to the Author of Scripture.
You see, this is a valid point, this argument shows me that Dr. Brown agrees to the premise of my question. He is acknowledging that if the Author of Scripture wants to emphasize something, He repeats it dozens and dozens of times. What Dr. Brown is NOT sharing with his audience is the fact that I have addressed this argument at length in “You are My Witnesses” and in “Contra Brown.”
At this time I will share part of my answer with you.
So Dr. Brown is arguing for the importance and the centrality of the blood offerings described at length in the book of Leviticus. Does Dr. Brown hear what he is saying? Is he encouraging you to obey the Torah and bring the offerings that Moses commanded us to bring? When was the last time that Dr. Brown brought a goat to the Temple in Jerusalem to atone for his sins? Does he yearn to fulfill God’s commandments concerning the sacrifices as do the Jewish people? Of course not! He doesn’t care about the animal sacrifices that are described in the Torah.
But it gets even worse. Does he really believe God when He says that the animal sacrifices brought in the Temple have the power to atone? Or does he believe that Book of Hebrews which declares that the animal sacrifices never atoned to begin with (Hebrews 10:4)? Dr. Brown believes that the sacrifices described at length in Leviticus never really atoned for sin at all and that once Jesus came on the scene, they were discarded and done away with. Is this “acknowledging the centrality of the offerings”? I am sorry, this is just a mockery of God’s word.
Let’s put this whole question into perspective. How important is the Sabbath from the standpoint of a Christian? How does it compare to the “principle” that posits that there is no remission for sin without the shedding of blood? Now search the Jewish Bible, how many times do the prophets exhort our people to guard the Sabbath? Dozens of times. How many times does the Jewish Bible say that there is no remission for sin without the shedding of blood? Zero. Does God not know how to emphasize a point? Did he forget how to write?
Is the Christian looking to the Bible to tell what is important and what is peripheral? It is clear and obvious that Dr. Brown’s read on the Bible is produced by the theology he is trying to promote and that his theology is NOT produced by his read on the Bible.
So that was my first question. How could we ignore God’s reader’s guide to the Bible?
Idolatry, the Violation of a Relationship
Dr. Brown and the 2000 year old missionary campaign of the Church are not only trying to get us to believe a set of beliefs. The Church wants us to commit our hearts. The Church wants us to look at the life and death of Jesus and to get excited about what we see. The Church encourages our hearts to be overwhelmed by what we see and bend our hearts in devotion. It’s not just a matter of believing something with your head, the Church wants us to do something with our heart.
Judaism is also about our heart. Judaism is not just something that we believe with our heads, it is about something that we do with our hearts. Judaism is also about excitement, passion, joy and a deep satisfying relationship. We see God as the source of all goodness and righteousness and our hearts are drawn into complete devotion.
These are two different excitements and devotions. It is entirely possible to be excited about God, the Creator of heaven and earth and not commit oneself to Jesus. And it is completely possible to get excited and worship Jesus and not get excited about the Creator of heaven and earth.
The Church sees the heart of the Jew completely devoted to the One Creator of heaven and earth and the Church is not satisfied. It would have that heart also give devotion to Jesus. The Church would introduce to the Jew a new excitement, a new passion and a new relationship that the heart of the Jew never knew.
So I ask; what are we missing when we sense God’s endless love in every breath we take? What excitement, passion and satisfaction does devotion to Jesus have to offer to us?
Dr. Brown claims that he answered my question in objection 6.8.
I don’t know how you could answer a question without acknowledging the existence of the question. Throughout Dr. Brown’s 5 volumes he never once acknowledges that it is love for God that prevents a Jew from committing to Jesus, but let us see what he says in objection 6.8.
In that section of his book, Dr. Brown tells us about the benefits that we stand to gain if we follow Jesus. But my question has nothing to do with benefits and kickbacks, not even spiritual benefits. Love is not about benefits. Love doesn’t calculate, asking; what do I stand to gain? Love finds joy and satisfaction in the relationship itself.
So here is my question. What joy, what excitement, what passion and what satisfaction are we missing in our relationship with the One Creator of heaven and earth?
Messianic Prophecies, Dr. Brown vs. Dr. Brown
On page 182 of volume 2 (in his series, “Answering Jewish Objections”) Dr. Brown speaks about the prophecies that would indicate a restoration of the sacrificial system in the Messianic era. He tells us that “out of all the prophets whose words were recorded in Scripture, four others (aside from Ezekiel) make mention of future sacrifices.” He goes on to say that the references to future sacrifices in the books of Isaiah, Zechariah and Malachi take up a total of three verses. He concludes with the words, and I quote; “These are hardly major subjects in these prophetic books.”
Dr. Brown goes on to offer the possibility of a non-literal interpretation of these passages.
Yet in volume 3, when he notes that Maimonides states that the Messiah does not necessarily have to perform miracles he passes judgment on Maimonides and he tells us that Maimonides’ interpretation of Scripture was “no doubt” motivated by the need to “rule out” Jesus as the Messiah. Why? Because Maimonides puts forth the possibility that the Messiah does not necessarily need to perform miracles.
Why are the alleged miracles of the Messiah so important to Dr. Brown? You see, Jesus tells the Jews that if they would have believed Moses they would believe him (John 5:46). This was before the crucifixion, before the alleged resurrection and before he even rode on a donkey. So which prophecies did he fulfill up until that time? None! Unless you believe that the prophets said that the Messiah must perform miracles and you also believe that Jesus did perform those miracles. So these miracles are critical for Dr. Brown. Dr. Brown absolutely needs Maimonides to be wrong.
But there are a grand total of three verses that could be misconstrued to read as if the Messiah must perform miracles. They appear in only one book of the prophets.
So according to Dr. Brown’s own standard, Maimonides is completely justified to offer a non-literal interpretation of Messiah’s miracles. And the fact of the matter is that the context of those 3 verses in Isaiah makes it clear that they are not talking of literal miracles.
Furthermore, in order to minimize the restoration of the sacrifices in the Messianic era Dr. Brown makes a point of counting how many times in Scripture this concept appears. But he missed 4 prophecies (Isaiah 56:7, 60:7, Ezekiel 20:40,41, Malachi 3:3,4). His count is completely off!
How does Dr. Brown explain this? The prophecies that speak of the restoration of the sacrifices take up more than double the space than do the prophecies that speak of Messiah’s miracles even according to Dr. Brown’s interpretation and even according to Dr. Brown’s sloppy count. So why is it OK for him to reinterpret the restoration of the sacrifices and allow for a non-literal interpretation but for the miracles of the Messiah, he makes no such allowance? Why the double standard?
And my question is quite simple. If Jesus is the Messiah of the Jewish Scriptures than why does Dr. Brown have to tie his argument in the knot of self-contradiction when he tries to make a case for Jesus?
All I asked was three questions. Dr. Brown responded with a 28 minute video entitled “Dr. Brown Answers Rabbi Blumenthal.” But he does not answer my questions.
Please, try to understand my questions and ask yourself if they deserve answers. If you agree that these questions are indeed valid and that they deserve to be answered I encourage you to go back to Dr. Brown’s video and see if he answered them. This is not about me, this is not about Dr. Brown, this is about you. Did his video give you answers or did they not?
And to Dr. Brown my message is simple. If you have any clarity or insight to add to this discussion, please share it with us. Answers that you carry around in your head or that are found on papers that the public may not see benefit no one. You owe it, not to me, but to the public to share your answers.
I sincerely believe that such a discussion can lead to greater clarity and will benefit the public. I have put all the clarity that I am able to muster up until this point on the table for everyone to read and see. Questions from people like you have forced me to study more deeply. These challenges have allowed me to achieve greater clarity and have forced me to articulate the position of Judaism more clearly for myself and for others. So again, if you have something to add to this discussion, please take the time and share it with us.
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Yisroel C. Blumenthal