Who is the Messiah? – excerpt from Covenant Nation

Who is the Messiah?
Boyarin wraps up his arguments by telling his readers that the followers of Jesus did not “invent” the idea of a divine savior, but rather that they drew this idea from the well-springs of Jewish thought that was current in their times. Boyarin argues that the Jewish concept of Messiah as it was understood in the generations preceding Jesus included, or at least allowed for, a second divine figure that is to suffer and die (TJG, pg. 160). The followers of Jesus simply applied these ancient Jewish teachings to Jesus of Nazareth, but they did not invent these teachings.

Aside from the fact that Boyarin ignores the evidence of the Christain Scriptures which clearly indicate that Jesus’ followers did NOT expect Jesus to suffer and die, this after they had positively identified him as the Messiah, Boyarin has also missed the heart and soul of the Jewish concept of Messiah. Interestingly, he did not miss it entirely, he actually included one crumb of Judaism in his description of the Messiah – but he failed to follow up on that one authentic thought that made its way into his book.

Boyarin acknowledges that the Jewish understanding of the Messiah that preceded Jesus would have the Messiah redeem Israel from the “Seleucid and then Roman oppression” (TJG, pg. 160). What happened? Did Jesus do anything of the sort? How did the followers of Jesus identify him as the Messiah without him fulfilling this basic Messianic function?

This leads us to the next question; why were the Jewish people waiting for the Messiah? Was it just so that they could be redeemed from Roman oppression? Was this simply a nationalistic aspiration that was divorced from anything spiritual?

Of-course not! The Jewish people understood that they were called by the Almighty God to testify to the truth of His Oneness by following His Law and obeying His word. They recognized that they had fallen short of their calling, but they still remained loyal to the core of their standing as a chosen nation before God – they had not committed themselves in worship to another god (Psalm 44:21).

The Messianic hope in Judaism centers on Israel’s loyalty to God. Israel looks forward to the day when all of humanity will abandon the worship of idols and serve God together with Israel (Zephaniah 3:9). God alone will be exalted on that day (Isaiah 2:11,17). All will recognize that worship of anyone but the God of Israel is wrong and futile (45:14). And Israel’s loyalty to this truth will be rewarded (49:23).

Israel is waiting to hear one phrase: “Your God has reigned” (Isaiah 40:9; 52:7). In Israel’s God centered heart, this is all that is important. Israel’s human king, like David his ancestor, is not someone who eclipses God’s sovereignty, but is someone whose own humility before God is the catalyst to bring everyone’s heart in line with the truth of God’s sovereignty.

In a certain sense, Judaism views world history as a love story that takes place between herself and her Divine lover. The exodus from Egypt which culminated with the Sinai revelation was the wedding. When the Divine presence came to dwell in Solomon’s Temple, Israel understood that God had come to dwell with His beloved bride. When foreign oppressors trampled the Jewish people underfoot, Israel understood that the relationship between themselves and God was being challenged. But Israel looked forward to the Messianic era, when her relationship with God will shine as the light of the universe (Isaiah 60:2). The Messianic promise for Israel is God’s promise that He will forever remain Israel’s husband.

The Church took this concept and turned it on its head. Instead of a time when Israel is reunited with her Divine lover, the Church taught that the Messiah introduced a deep division and estrangement between Israel and God. Instead of honoring man’s focus on the Creator of heaven and earth, the Church’s version of the Messianic age introduces a new central focus for humanity; a focus on Jesus. Instead of celebrating God’s relationship with Israel, Christianity celebrates Jesus’ relationship with those who “believe in him”. The Church ripped out the heart and soul of Israel’s messianic vision; they ripped out the words “God” and “Israel” and put in their place; “Jesus” and “Church”. The fact that they used some Jewish ideas in constructing their theology does not make their theology “Jewish”. The Jewish concept of Messiah and the Christian concept of Messiah are polar opposites.

Did this happen in the first generation of Jesus’ Jewish followers? Probably not. According to the book of Acts (Ch. 21), the Jewish following of Jesus saw the worship in the Temple as central to their communal identity, even to the degree of bringing animal offerings for the forgiveness of sin. It is entirely possible that the Jewish disciples of Jesus hoped for a day when God alone is exalted and those who believe in Him are vindicated, with Jesus merely serving as an agent of God.

In Paul’s teachings we already see the shift in focus from God to Jesus and from Israel to “believers”. Paul never claims to have acquired his ideas from the wells-springs of Jewish thought as Boyarin would have us believe. Rather, Paul tells us that his theology was the product of his own personal visions. The Christian Scriptures themselves testify that Paul’s teachings did not go unopposed. It is clear that it was the original Jewish following of Jesus who opposed Paul’s anti-Jewish theology. Ultimately, Paul’s theology won out and Christianity became what it is today.

Boyarin’s attempt to rewrite Church history and to rewrite Jewish theology ignores the available evidence. But even more serious is Boyarin’s effort to portray Judaism as if it was a hodgepodge of conflicting ideas. Judaism is not a theology, it is a relationship. It is an eternal covenantal relationship between the Creator of heaven and earth and His beloved bride; Israel.

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Yisroel C. Blumenthal

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6 Responses to Who is the Messiah? – excerpt from Covenant Nation

  1. Paul was in many ways Stephen’s child. How do you object to the Jewishness of the theology in Stephen’s speech, rooted as it is in the Tenach – which is at the heart of the theology of Paul.
    Notice Stephen’s repeated but discrete reference to the repudiation of Joseph by his brethren, for prior rule amongst the Gentiles, the uncircumcised rejection of Moses and other prophetic testimony, and the manifestation of God who appeared at Sinai as the Angel of the Lord, the Word of God, the exact Similitude of His image, the preincarnate Son, without whom it is possible to either see or know HaShem.

    • charles soper if you are so taken in with Stephen’s speech why then do you reject the testimony of the witness that God appointed to bring His truth to the world?

      1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

  2. Sharon S says:

    Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

    Good day. Hope it is not too late to wish a Happy New Year 5782 to you and the Jewish community.

    I understand that the Jewish community, at this time this comment is posted, commenced the new cycle of Torah readings with the book of Genesis. The book of Genesis begins with God creating the heavens and the earth. It also describes God initially having a close relationship with the first humans , Adam and Eve, before they were ejected from the Garden. The focus of the first 11 chapters of Genesis is on humanity in general before the focus shifts to Abraham ,the ancestor of the Jewish people. The focus of the Jewish scriptures , from Genesis 11 and beyond , is the love story between God and Israel.

    My question , why did the Torah starts with creation and God’s close relationship with our first parents? Since the Jewish Scriptures is a love story between God and Israel, why didn’t the Torah start with the Exodus narratives , i.e God rescuing His Bride from Egypt?

    Apologies if this question is out of topic. However appreciate if you can share any thoughts from the Rabbinical perspective, if any.

    In my opinion , the Jewish Scriptures does not adequately provide clear solutions to the downward spiraling of humanity which is described from Genesis 3 to 11 , and whether humanity is able to dwell again in Eden with God as described in Genesis 1 & 2. We do see in the Tanakh that God dwells in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple within the nation of Israel, but this dwelling is restricted to a certain place and within one nation. To me , the narrative doesn’t seem complete.

    Revelation 21:3 , the final book of the New Testament canon ,provides a clearer promise that the ideal relationship between God and humanity, described in Genesis 1 & 2 will be restored-“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God”.

    I admit I am looking at this from the eyes of a non Jew. Your comments will be much appreciated.

    Thank you.

    • Sharon S The are several passages in Tanach describing all of mankind serving God together in the Messianic era – one example is Isaiah 56:7 where the Temple is described as a house of prayer for all the nations. So although Tanach is a book about the love story between God and Israel it has a message of hope for all mankind. The first Rashi addresses your question (why the Torah does not begin in Exodus) – my understanding of his answer is that the beginning of the Torah teaches us how to be human beings – the Torah is only properly contained in a person who lives up to his/her calling as a human. A friend of mine pointed out that the first two human stories of the Torah (the sin in the garden and the murder of Abel) teach us that God does not expect perfection – in both of these two situations God opened the conversation with the sinners in a benign way – they could have said – we did wrong we made a mistake – and they didn’t – in both stories the sinners tried to avoid admitting guilt – and they got into trouble. Had they admitted – the stories imply that God would have accepted their repentance. So the lesson is – God doesn’t expect perfection and we shouldn’t either.

      1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >

      • Sharon S says:

        Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,

        Good day. Thank you for sharing your friend’s interpretation of the human stories in Genesis 3 & 4. It is certainly different from interpretations I learn in my religious tradition-where the focus is more on the sin commited rather than the proper response when confronted with sin/temptation .

        I do agree that the outcome of these stories will not be as tragic had Adam ,Eve and Cain admitted their guilt (and thereby repent). I do not intend to undermine the power of repentance ,however the fact remains that both Adam and Eve had disobeyed God when they ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As such Adam and Eve still had to face the consequences of their sin, even if they repent ( I don’t think Adam and Eve will continue living in the Garden)

        Thank you for posting the video -The Literary Context of Jewish Scriptures  . I understand that the Author of Scripture has incorporated literary tools in the Jewish Scriptures for the reader to know its message with certainty. As a reader, I am puzzled as to why the Author of Scripture started the Scripture with the story of creation and humanity when the main body of Scripture is about God and Israel.

        If these narratives are important, then the reader will continue reading hoping to see the issues with humanity in Genesis 1 to 11 resolved at the end of the canon of Jewish Scriptures- i.e the downward spiral we see at the beginning of Scripture is reversed. Humanity will again dwell with God in the Garden of Eden like how it is meant to be. Unfortunately I am not able to see these promises clearly in the Jewish Scriptures. The story seem incomplete.

        Perhaps the Author of Scripture intended for the narratives of Genesis 1 to 11 to be  understood as an introduction and that these stories has no bearing on the main message. Either way, it is confusing that these narratives are placed at the very beginning of the Torah.

        I admit that I am raised with a Christian worldview. The Christian focus is on Genesis, particularly Genesis 3. However I am also a reader who likes to jump from the first chapter to the last chapter of a book, hoping to see the issues I read in the first chapter will somehow be resolved in the last chapter. I tend to skip the main body of the text, so my approach may not be right. Perhaps I brought this into my reading of Jewish scriptures.

        Perhaps you can advise .Thank you

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