V. 65. Page 238
Here Brown devotes one paragraph to one of the major Jewish objections against Christianity (- note: one paragraph out of a five volume series that spans almost 1500 pages! And this paragraph is not even placed in the section that purportedly deals with the Jewish objections of this category (- theological objections; idolatry)).
“I am aware, of-course, that traditional Jews point to God’s revelation at Sinai, as recounted by Moses in Deuteronomy 4:14-34, emphasizing that the people of Israel saw no form on Sinai – including that of a man or woman – and that they should not make an idol in any shape or form. Therefore, it is argued, we are violating the Sinai covenant by worshiping Yeshua as god, as if we were making a man into a god (or vice versa).”
Again, before getting to Brown’s response; a question is in order: Why when quoting Deuteronomy 4 does Brown stop at verse 34? Does he not realize the critical nature of verse 35 and its central place in this discussion? Verse 35 reads: “Unto you it was SHOWN in order that you know, that the Lord is God, THERE IS NONE ELSE BESIDE HIM.” In other words: whatever it si that we are to worship was shown to us at Sinai, and we are to worship NOTHING ELSE.
Now to Brown’s response. “But that is a crass misunderstanding of our faith. We do not worship a human form. The New Testament plainly states that “no one has ever seen God” (John 1:18a) describing Him as the One “who lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see” (I Tim. 6:16). In Yeshua, however, we recognize the fullness of God revealed, not in physical form or shape – how absurd! – but in spiritual reality, clothed in human flesh.”
A crass misunderstanding of Sinai and a mockery too. As if a nifty word-game can get around the prohibition against idolatry. This is actually the third lesson of Sinai that seems to have completely escaped Brown. Brown missed the idea that Sinai sealed a covenant between two living parties, Brown missed the idea theme that Sinai is the yardstick against which subsequent claims for prophecy are judged, and here Brown misses the idea that Sinai serves as the definitive teaching on the subject of idolatry (Exodus 20:19, Deuteronomy 4:15). Brown also has completely missed the concept of the Oral Law because it is here that the Scripture most explicitly testifies to the concept of the Oral Law.
Allow me to reiterate what we mean when we say Oral Law. When we say that we believe in the Oral Law we are saying that there is more to the commandments than what is written in the Five Books of Moses. The concept of the Oral Law maintains that the full scope of the commandment can only be grasped through the living testimony of Israel. Those, such as Brown, who dispute the authenticity of the Oral Law contend that everything that Israel needs to know about the Law is completely contained in the Five books of Moses.
When it comes to the Law that prohibits idolatry, the Torah clearly and unequivocally authenticates the position of the believers in the Oral Law. God chose to teach the prohibition against idolatry to the nation of Israel in a direct fashion. As opposed to the other commandments, where God taught them to Moses who then went and taught them to Israel, God Himself taught the nation of Israel the injunction against worshiping idols.
Now, according to Brown and his fellow deniers of the validity of the Oral Law, God should have recited some words or handed Israel a book – and nothing more. After all, if there is no Oral Law then everything must be contained in written words. But that is not what God did. He certainly did recite words and He also gave Israel a written record of those words in the form of the two tablets, but He did not stop there. In order to teach Israel who it is that they are to worship and who it is that they are not to worship God put Israel through a fiery experience which goes far beyond words. And the written words itself point to this fiery experience as the touchstone for the prohibition against idolatry (Exodus 20:19, Deuteronomy 4:15). Subsequent passages identify idols with the simple term: “that which I have not commanded” (Deuteronomy 17:3), or: “that which your fathers did not know” (Deuteronomy 13:7); implying that if we did not hear about it from our ancestors from Sinai, then it is an idol that is not deserving of our worship. If there is anywhere in scripture that we are taught that words alone do not adequately convey the underlying message of a commandment; it is here. And it is precisely here, in the realm of idolatry, that Christianity most emphatically rejects the living testimony of Israel.
How does the living testimony of Israel negate the claims of Christianity concerning the alleged divinity of Jesus? Simple! At Sinai we were shown towards whom it is that we are to direct our devotion. Anyone or anything that was not revealed to our ancestors at Sinai, is not deserving of our worship. No one ever claimed that our ancestors saw Jesus at Sinai. If God wanted us to direct our devotion to Jesus, He would have shown Jesus to us at Sinai. Since Jesus was not there at Sinai, worship of him is idolatry.
But what about those nifty word-games? What about the claim that Jesus is somehow one and the same as the God we encountered at Sinai?
The basic response is that if “a” is not equal to “b” then “b” cannot be equal to “a”. In other words, if worship of the God who revealed Himself to our ancestors at Sinai is not worship of Jesus, then worship of Jesus is not worship of the God who revealed Himself at Sinai. Its as simple as that.
To illuminate the matter from a different angle let us focus on the sin of idolatry. The sin of idolatry is not a philosophical abstract, it is a sin of the heart. The sin of idolatry is not committed when you use the wrong phrase – for example, according to Brown; the phrase: “the fullness of God revealed in physical form” would be “absurd” and presumably idolatrous, while the phrase: “the fullness of God revealed in spiritual reality clothed in human flesh” is perfectly fine. These word games have nothing to do with the sin of idolatry.
The sin of idolatry is perpetrated when one’s heart is committed in devotion to an entity other than the God of Israel. In order for one to commit their heart in devotion to someone or to something, there has to be a basis for that devotion, a motivation and a stimulus for that devotion. In the case of the God of Israel, the stimulus for the devotion is the awe one feels in the presence of the Master of all creation, who holds the existence of every being in His hand. Devotion to God is rooted in the understanding that every fiber of our existence belongs to Him because it was He who brought us into existence to begin with. Worship of God is inspired by the sense of gratitude that we feel for all of the kindness that He is constantly pouring upon us with love and mercy. Israel’s devotion to her God is rooted in the very fact that God is God. It is impossible to separate between Israel’s devotion and the concept of Creator, Master, and Sustainer of all existence – because Israel’s devotion is rooted in those very truths.
The Christian’s devotion to Jesus on the other hand is rooted in the admiration of a human character portrayed in the pages of the Gospels. It is rooted in an awe for his alleged righteousness, in a reverence towards his teachings, and in an appreciation for his sacrifice and suffering – all of which took place in a human body. All of this devotion has nothing to do with the claim that he is somehow divine. All of the feelings that a Christian bears in his or her heart towards Jesus are entirely possible without believing that Jesus is divine. The argument that Jesus is somehow one and the same as the God of Israel is not the root or the stimulus for the Christian’s devotion – rather it is the result of the Christian’s devotion. The words: “Jesus is the same as the God of Israel”, are simply a set of words that is appended to the Christian’s devotion to Jesus as a justification for the devotion, but in no way is this set of words an intrinsic and inseparable part of the devotion itself.
The awe that one experiences when contemplating the reality of the Master of all existence, the gratitude that one feels for the kindness of existence, and the submission that we feel towards the One who created us out of nothing – has nothing to do with the admiration that Christians feel towards the human character portrayed in the four Gospels. These are two different devotions rooted in two different sets of human emotions. One is the service of God and the other is idolatry.
I have read this over and over again. It couldn’t be said any clearer. thank you!
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal ,
Good day. Thank you for the eye opening post.
You wrote “Israel’s devotion to her God is rooted in the very fact that God is God. It is impossible to separate between Israel’s devotion and the concept of Creator, Master, and Sustainer of all existence – because Israel’s devotion is rooted in those very truths.”
In Exodus 20:1 God introduced Himself to the children of Israel by declaring ” I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery”. This was the first ( and only) event where God somewhat revealed Himself to a large group of people. This is etched into the memory of the nation and is commemorated every year.
My question-Why did God not introduce Himself as ” I am the Lord your God, your Creator, Master and sustainer of creation” to the children of Israel ?
The Torah is written following from the Sinai experience. If we are to refer to the Sinai experience as the benchmark, then should we place more weight on God’s saving act as the basis of worship over the fact that He is the Creator, Master and sustainer of existence?
Sharon S An excellent question – This question is attributed to Rabbi Yehudah Halevi (quoted by Ibn Ezra on Exodus 20:1). One classic answer is that the way we know that He created heaven and earth is through the events of the exodus – throughout the entire exodus we are told that the purpose of the miracles is to know that there is none like the Lord, that I am the Lord etc, (Exodus 6:7; 8:18; 9:14; 10:2 etc.) The exodus also reveals the special relationship between Israel and the Creator – Deuteronomy 4:34 – which leads into 4:35
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,
Good day. Thank you for your reply.
I hope you don’t mind if I ask further questions.
You wrote in your post “In the case of the God of Israel, the stimulus for the devotion is the awe one feels in the presence of the Master of all creation, who holds the existence of every being in His hand.”
a.Based on your reply to my query, is the saving act by the God of Israel the primary stimulus /vehicle behind the devotion of the children of Israel to Him? In other words, the children of Israel , then and now worship the God of Israel primarily because He delivered them from slavery in Egypt. The belief that the God of Israel is the Master of all creation naturally flows out of the sense of awe and gratitude from His saving act. Is my understanding correct?
b. If the answer in (a) is yes , is the stimulus for devotion one has /one should have towards the God of Israel primarily comes from the sense of awe and gratitude of being saved ? How can a non Jew who worships the God of Israel (as how He is revealed at Sinai) relate to this?
Sharon S I wouldn’t agree with your wording describing the relationship. I feel that it is more like the awe one feels in the presence of the Creator of all while realizing all the good that the Creator has done for us. I understand that a non-Jew can open their heart to t he same concept as it applies to them – the awe one feels in the presence of the Creator of all while realizing all the good that the Creator has done for them.
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,
Good day. Thank you for making clear the stimulus , or rather the right thinking that all (Jew and non Jew) should have behind their devotion to the God of Israel.
It seems from your reply that despite the events of the exodus , the stimulus behind the devotion is the “awe one feels in the presence of the Creator of all”. The exodus events , where God saved the children of Israel and the giving of the Torah, spectacular though these events may be, is not the cause of that devotion. Correct me if I’m wrong.
I hope you don’t mind if I put in this scenario.
The God of Israel , who saved the Children of Israel , is also the God of their ancestors- Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham came to know Creator of All through his own reasoning. The stimulus behind his devotion to God (as how he came to know Him) was , as you described – the “awe one feels in the presence of the Creator of all”. Abraham would have passed on this devotion to his descendants , including the generation that were enslaved in Egypt.
If , God forbid , the exodus event did not happen , would the children of Israel still be motivated to maintain their devotion to the God of Israel in the manner of Abraham their ancestor?
My apologies if this question offends. Thank you.
Sharon S I wouldn’t word it precisely that way – now that the exodus happened – then it becomes part of the cause of devotion – just as one who experienced a special gift from God, say the blessing of having a child, or the blessing of a special wisdom, would include that gratitude into their general gratitude towards God. To your question – If the exodus would not have happened the children of Abraham Isaac and Jacob would still be obligated to worship the God of their ancestors – i.e. the Creator of heaven and earth but perhaps they would have lost the perception – the events of the exodus seared this perception into their hearts. 1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,
Good day. Thank you for you patience in answering my queries. I now have a clear understanding on the nature behind the devotion to the God of Israel.
I hope you don’t mind if I ask a final question.Does the exodus events invalidate or affirm Abraham’s legacy ?
Sharon S It affirms it – Abraham taught of One God who loves kindness and at the exodus God intervened into nature on behalf of the downtrodden victims, punishing the persecutors while demonstrating His Oneness by demonstrating His total mastery over all of nature 1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
‘At Sinai we were shown towards whom it is that we are to direct our devotion.’
I couldn’t agree more.
As to the oral law, the problem is that often in Israel’s history the law has been so deeply corrupted that it is absolutely necessary to check what is claimed as tradition by the written law. This is what King Josiah did, 2 Ki.22.11. Any oral tradition especially one as deeply corrupted by Hellenism as Maimonides may well itself be idolatrous, 2 Ki.18.4. That is precisely why we learn about this oral command properly only from the written law, and it alone fully and safely validates and expounds it, Deut.4.2.
You have also completely misanalysed the worship of Messiah.
‘All of the feelings that a Christian bears in his or her heart towards Jesus are entirely possible without believing that Jesus is divine. The argument that Jesus is somehow one and the same as the God of Israel is not the root or the stimulus for the Christian’s devotion.’
When Thomas saw the risen Yehoshua, and said, ‘My Lord and My God’. This was not a slip of the tongue or an expression of excessive admiration for His virtue. No sinner could ever trust a mere creature for redemption from sin, that was the heart of Athanasius’ argument for Deity, for it is also Isaiah’s, Isa.45.22.
As a well trained Jew, he perceived the full reality of what Yehoshua had said before in Hebrew in the Temple to be validated by the resurrection:
‘לְפָנֶי אַבְרָהָם הָיָה אֲנִי אֶהְיֶה’
cpsoper Question – If a trinitarian Christian would choose to believe that Jesus was only a great teacher and not divine – would he/she need to develop a different love in their heart for Jesus as a great human being – or will the attraction that they had for Jesus when they believed him to be divine remain in their heart?
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,
Good day. My apologies for jumping in your conversation with Charles.
You raise a thought provoking question, which can only be answered by an ex trinitarian . The trinitarian believer is just not able to see Jesus as any less divine. Perhaps Charles is not dodging your question, he is not able to answer the question.
To answer your question- Even though I no longer worship Jesus, I am not able to see him as just a great teacher either. The Christian Scriptures and my religious tradition does not allow me to just see Jesus as just that. Jesus , as how he is described in the Gospels, acted in the very character of the God of Israel. CS Lewis wrote “You can shut him (Jesus) up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to” (Mere Christianity).
Sharon S This still does not answer my question – you are presenting a justification as to why one would avoid answering my question. I have a hard time accepting this justification but I won’t go there now – I’ll just say that my question is not answered. To clarify – if you have a person that goes from believing Jesus was divine to believing that Jesus was the greatest and holiest human being that ever lived – will that person need to develop a new attraction in his/her heart for the human Jesus?
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal ,
To answer your question, it is not possible for an ex trinitarian to go from believing that Jesus is divine to believe Jesus was the greatest and holiest human being that ever lived.
This person is not able to develop a new attraction in his/her heart for the human Jesus. Instead he/she will ” shut him (Jesus) up for a fool, spit at him and kill him as a demon “. As for me, I avoid Jesus completely.
I hope this answers your question
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,
My apologies, I admit there is an error in my previous reply to you.
To answer your question, it is possible for an ex trinitarian christian who converts to Islam or other absolute monotheistic traditions, to go from believing that Jesus is divine to believe Jesus was the greatest and holiest human being that ever lived.
I remembered having watched testimonies of ex christians who reverted to Islam . These ex Christians do not seem develop a new attraction in their hearts to the human Jesus. Instead they seem to have a healthier perception of Jesus than when they were christian.
The way Jesus is regarded in these traditions play an important role as well. Jesus is regarded as the Messiah in Islam. So it is possible for an ex christian who reverted to Islam to have a healthier perception of Jesus. I do admit that my perception of Jesus was not affected as much when I was exploring Islam , even though I started to doubt his divinity during that time
However how many ex Christians who converted to Judaism/ pursuing Noahide path will talk to you about Jesus as a human in glowing terms? That is something to consider.
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal ,
I realize I have been rude to you in my recent comments on this discussion . My sincere apologies .
If you don’t mind, I would like to suggest a question for Charles, or any Trinitarian ( or even Unitarian) Christians out there to consider as per below:
If a trinitarian ( or Unitarian) Christian choose to believe in the living testimony of Israel -of the absolutely and infinitely One Master of all creation ,who lovingly brought him/her into existence ,who holds the existence of every being in His hand, and who saved Israel from her enemies – Is it sufficient for this person to believe that the Master who lovingly created him/her, as per the testimony of Israel, is the same One who is able to save ?
Sharon S First of all – I do not see rudeness in your questions. Second – I did not understand this recent question. The testimony of Israel is that the God who created all is the One who saves – these are not two separate beliefs. Also it is not sufficient to believe, one must accept His sovereignty.
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Shalom Rabbi Blumenthal,
To be honest , I was not happy with your question to me. You assume that it is possible for one to go from believing that Jesus was divine to believing that Jesus was a great human being/teacher . This is possible in the Christian-Islamic context as I have pointed out. However , the Christian Scriptures have stated clearly that Jesus came FIRST for the Jewish people . The Gospel brings salvation FIRST to the Jew, then to the Gentile. If Jesus is not the Messiah for the Jewish people, then he is not the Messiah for anyone. If the Jewish community does not see Jesus as a great teacher or even a person who merit to be mentioned in its tradition , similar to how he is positively portrayed in the Quran and Islamic tradition , how can anyone see Jesus as a great and holy human being? Hence I was rude in my initial reply to your query. My apologies for that.
My recent question is addressed to Christians and to myself. If one thinks through logically , it takes a Divine person , not just a mere creature , to save all of mankind from sin. The resurrection of Jesus seem to affirm his divinity. The Christian devotion to Jesus is rooted in the admiration of a Divine person who saves mankind from sin. In my opinion , because of this , Christians , even someone who no longer worship Jesus like myself, have the perception that the God who created all is not the One who saves. This is the main issue that I see in the conversation between you and Charles. The challenge is to believe that the One who lovingly created us, as per the testimony of Israel, is the same One who is able to save .Hence my question. Please correct me if I am wrong.
I fully accept your statement that it is not enough to believe , one must accept God’s sovereignty.
Sharon S My question was hypothetical – I wasn’t attempting to describe a practical situation. My point was, that should such a transition occur, i.e. someone who believes that a given person is divine changes to believing that that same person is not divine, that the attraction toward the person would not change – this would then prove that the attraction at the root of the worship is an attraction to a finite being. Your question (now that I am beginning to understand it) brings out an important point. That those who believe in the Christian world-view need to subtract the ability to save from what they call the “Father” and that once one realizes that the same Father who could create could also save, cleanse and forgive then they no longer hold to the Christian world-view. Thank you for illuminating this point
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Seger, a gentleman I know recently informed me of a conversation he had with two men. Each claimed to be the incarnation of God. He was quite flustered after the conversation, and he asked me for advice concerning whom he should worship. Uncertain myself, I submit the matter to those here who have keener insight and are willing to give us counsel. I present the conversation here as he remembered it, only altering the names of the two claimants to divinity.
Primo. Good morning; your name is Seger, is it not?
Seger. Indeed, it is. Do I know you, sir?
Primo. No, but I know you, for you see, I am God incarnated, and I have come to both receive your worship and grant you salvation.
Seger. Am I to worship you, then? A mere man.
Primo. I see your confusion. You have not been yet granted spiritual eyes and are only able to see this crude matter of which my body is composed. But, this is not my essence. My essence is that of the divinity.
Seger. Hmm… that is a remarkable claim. But I have heard that God impressed upon the Jewish people that they should not associate Him with anything in the realm of creation by presenting them no image when He spoke to them.
Primo. And have you not also heard that God appeared to Moses, that Moses saw His similitude? Indeed, Moses met with God in the Tent of Meeting many times.
Primo. Yes, indeed. And do you know who that similitude was?
Primo. It was I! Yes, I was the one meeting in secret with Moses.
Seger. Oh my. Were you really?
Primo. Yes, my friend. So you see, the only true worship of God will include worship of me. If you leave me out of your worship, you will be performing the grossest act of idolatry, as it says in—
Secundo. Hail, my friends! I bring you good news, for I have come to receive your worship and bring you salvation.
Seger. What, you too?
Primo. Do not listen to this man, for he is a fraud and an impostor.
Secundo. Do you not recognize me? Worry not, for soon I shall grant you the faith necessary for belief in me. You need only accept what I tell you now, that I am the similitude of God who met many a time with my servant, Moses.
Seger. But, Primo here makes the same claim.
Secundo. Ridiculous! I would remember him. Worship me, for Primo is a deceiver.
Seger. How am I to choose between the two of you?
Primo. I can tell you Moses favorite food!
Secundo. Well, I can tell you his favorite color!
Primo. Oh! the times Moses and I used to have! Most people do not realize that he was quite the joker.
Secundo. Just like Abraham, whom I met with on the plains of Mamre.
Primo. Now just stop that! You were not there!
Secundo. No, you were not there!
Seger. Pardon me. Am I to worship both of you?
Secundo. Of course not. If you worship a mere man, which is what Primo is, then you will have committed idolatry, and I am afraid I will have to send you to hell.
Primo. On the contrary, if you worship him, I shall have to send you to hell. And him for being the seducer that he is.
Seger. And if I do not worship the one of you that met with Moses in the tent?
Primo and Secundo. (In unison.) You go to hell.
Seger. I do not suppose either of you has a picture of you meeting with Moses, so I can know it is you.
Primo. No, no, no. This was long before cameras.
Secundo. And I told him not to make an image of me.
Seger. That does make it hard to recognize you, then, doesn’t it?
Secundo. Tough cookies. Better choose quickly. You never know when you might die.
Primo. Although, I do, of course. Know when you will die, that is.
Secundo. And so do I! I just can’t tell you.
This is the unfortunate position Seger has found himself in. He does not wish to worship the wrong similitude, but how can he identify him? I could not tell him what he should do, for I was as confused as he. If anyone can help my friend, please do.
True faith in Messiah is faith in Him as Saviour from sin. If one cases to believe in His full Deity, like for example a Jehovah’s Witness, He is but an idol, a god and then the 1st command is breached.
If Athanasius had framed the Nicene question more carefully, he would have simply asked, ‘is Jesus HaShem?’ Modern days Arians, JWs, always say no. But יַהְוֶה was seen at Sinai.
Charles/cpsoper Since you dodged the question I assume that you know that the answer to my question is “That the same attraction for the man exists in the heart of the one who believes he was divine as the one who believes he was not” – That being the case – how do you fail to see that the theological excuse of divinity doesn’t change the fact that the worshiper is attracted to a man who existed inside of God’s world? And God makes a point that we saw no image at Sinai when establishing our direction of worship Deuteronomy 4:9
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Affection & attraction alone saves noone, just as Cain or Balaam’s passionate dialogue with God only highlighted their unbelief, so Judas bitterly regretted his betrayal. You have placed the cart before the horse. It is faith in God’s word that delivers, faith that acts, Hab.2.4, Deut.30.14.
As you know well, HaShem Himself appeared as a man ‘inside of God’s world’ to Abraham, Jacob and perhaps also to Isaac. He is also explicit that Moses did see the true Similitude, Num.12.8 and this represents true, perceptive worship.
Charles/cpsoper Affection and attraction may save no one but they can be idolatry and your continuous dodging of teh question is an answer itsef And if you are pointing to an image for worship than you are fighting with God – Deuteronomy 4:9
1000 Verses – a project of Judaism Resources wrote: >
Dear Yisroel, in denying the Divine Similitude, you lose the heart of Shema’.
Divine Unity is not solitary. אֶחָד not יָחִיד
By continuing to dodge the question you are continuing to confirm that your worship is idolatry – not that we needed confirmation.
You might find this article helpful
Thank you for the comments you have posted in response to R’ Blumenthal’s article here. They serve well to illustrate a source of the deviation of Christianity from Torah. One element that underlies your comments is a lack of appreciation for the public nature of the Sinai revelation. This is a problem endemic to the Church, that it has never given due consideration to the Sinai revelation. Because of this, your comments—though I do not claim you intend this—serve to diminish the Torah, reducing it to the status of man-made religion.
Man-made religions rely all upon private revelation and unverifiable claims. If a man sits down under a tree and meditates, stands up and claims that during his meditation he achieved enlightenment and experienced perfect bliss; the bystander has no means whereby to test his claim. His acceptance of this guru will be on purely subjective grounds. Or, if a prophet should claim that an angel brought him some golden plates upon which are written the word of God—albeit in an ancient and lost language—but he no longer has the plates, keeping only the translation; one cannot know whether or not the prophet was indeed visited by an angel or whether or not he did at one time have in his possession the golden plates or even whether or not the plates were properly translated. If one accepts the prophet, this too will be on purely subjective grounds. I can multiply examples of claims by all manner of man-made religions—religions that you, yourself, will acknowledge to be of human origin—but let us not be tedious.
The Torah stands apart from these religions. The Torah rests upon objective grounds. The revelation at Sinai leaves no question that the Torah is of divine origin. An entire people heard God speak, and they did not have to determine for themselves whether or not they would believe the claim of Moses that he heard God speak. They knew for an absolute fact that God spoke and that Moses was his prophet. None was expected to accept Moses’ claim to prophecy without proof. None was to accept his prophecy on arbitrary and subjective grounds.
The Torah refers us to this distinction between it and all those man-made religions, drawing attention to the unique quality of the Sinai revelation:
“For ask now about former ages, long before your own, ever since the day that God created human beings on the earth; ask from one end of heaven to the other: has anything so great as this ever happened or has its like ever been heard of? Has any people ever heard the voice of a god speaking out of a fire, as you have heard, and lived? Or has any god ever attempted to go and take a nation for himself from the midst of another nation, by trials, by signs and wonders, by war, by a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, and by terrifying displays of power, as the Lord your God did for you in Egypt before your very eyes? To you it was shown so that you would acknowledge that the Lord is God; there is no other besides him.” (Deuteronomy 4:32-35)
Nor does the Torah expect the prophets that would follow Moses to be accepted without evidence of their claims. As you will recall, in Deuteronomy 18 the Torah tells us that the prophet must prove himself. His claims must be substantiated. If he disproves himself by failing in a prediction or in being unable to produce a miracle, then he is to be killed for speaking in the name of God, claiming an authority for himself that he did not have.
Christians do not take the Sinai revelation seriously, because Christianity rests on baseless claims, itself, like all man-made religions, claims that cannot be verified. It requires prospective adherents to accepts its claims on subjective grounds, just as all the other man-made religions: “Jesus said unto [Thomas], ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29). Christianity declares it a virtue to believe in its god with insufficient proof, making belief in that god the prerequisite for eternal life and threatening disbelief with eternal damnation. Your own comments reflect this threat, as you redefine idolatry to include not believing in the divinity of this one particular human being, a divinity which cannot be verified.
As I have written many times, the proofs meant to establish the claims of Jesus (or those made on his behalf, anyway) are of a private nature. The verse quoted in the paragraph above illustrates the private nature of the resurrection, that so-called irrefutable proof of Jesus’ claims. Other proofs of Jesus’ claims were similarly only privately fulfilled, contrasting them to the Sinai revelation. The supposed virgin birth is an unverifiable claim, by which I mean it was unverifiable and unverified at the time. The claim that Jesus was born in Bethlehem is an unverifiable claim. Even Jesus’ genealogy is a matter of great doubt—according to you, the official records of his genealogy were destroyed along with the temple. Again, I need not multiply examples. It is clear that Christianity is juxtaposed to the Torah, relying upon subjective acceptance of unverifiable claims as all man-made religions do. It does not properly scrutinize the claims of its prophets, subjecting them to objective tests of observable fact as commanded in Deuteronomy 18.
In your writing, here, you have reduced Torah to the level of man-made religions. While the Torah appeals to what was experienced by the nation, you appeal to a private revelation given to Moses alone, rather, to the Christian assertion that this was Jesus. Putting aside the absurdity of you claiming that Jesus was in a private revelation to which you were not a party, you have attempted to establish a standard for understanding Torah which is, in fact, a repudiation of Torah. Nowhere does the Torah urge the Jewish people to worship the similitude or to recognize him when he came again. How could it? They had no experience of him.
It happens often when a Christian seeks a convert, the Christian will claim that only the holy spirit can move someone’s heart to accept the Christian message. (Perhaps you will note the similarity between this and the appeal to a burning in the bosom that is supposed to occur at hearing the message of another man-made religion.) From where does this arise? It is not an idea found in the Torah. The Torah never tells the Jewish people that upon hearing the message of a prophet, they should look inwardly to determine the truth of the message or the validity of the prophet. It does not tell them that the holy spirit will impress upon them a feeling that the message is true. The Torah refers them in Deuteronomy 13 to the knowledge already granted the people and in Deuteronomy 18 to observable facts. It arises because the paucity of proof for Christianity. If a prophet cannot substantiate his claims objectively, he must introduce subjective grounds for the acceptance of his prophecy. He must pressure the prospective adherent with promise of reward and threat of punishment for lack of belief. He must appeal to a “sense” of the truth. The Church tries to grant legitimacy to this methodology by claiming that such a “sense” is given by a divine spirit.
Similarly, we see that the Church is host to a great number of false prophets, by which I do not refer to those that Christians consider heretics but those that are numbered among the faithful. Because the Church is a man-made religion, it cannot abide by the standards of prophecy outlined in Deuteronomy. If it did, either a good many Christians would be—perhaps not killed—ostracized, or they would not attempt to issue prophecy. But, I have heard, as I am sure you have, Christians claim that the harsher penalties of the Torah are not applicable to them under the grace of the Church era. The false prophecies are to be shaken off as minor mistakes. The prophet simply confused his own thinking with enlightenment from the holy spirit, but he will endeavor not to repeat the error. (Of course, if he could mistake his own inner voice for the holy spirit’s, it seems that we cannot trust his sense that Jesus is the Messiah or divine.) Of course, the Church is forced to tolerate false prophets as its earliest prophets proved false, Paul having claimed that Jesus would return within the lifetimes of those to whom he wrote in Corinth and Jesus having claimed that the resurrection would be a sign (but having not been publicly performed could not serve as a sign. I refer you again to Deuteronomy 18).
If the Church had properly reflected upon the significance of the Sinai revelation, it would have saved itself millennia of self-deception. The juxtaposition of public revelation to private revelation would reveal to the Church just how weak its claims were, in no way superior to the prophets and gurus that arise the world over. Charles, I know it is not your intent, but when you introduce subjectivity into your determination of the truth of the Torah, you corrupt it. You reduce it to another man-made religion. While the Torah will withstand such an assault, you cannot know what damage you have done to those whom you have caused to misconceive it, to lower it in their esteem.
Always appreciate your insights mate.
That’s very kind of you to say.
“Man-made religions rely all upon private revelation and unverifiable claims.”
Jim, with respect, All 3 monotheistic religions lack a source outside of themselves and their own tradition to independently verify any of their major THEOLOGICAL claims. IE they are ALL unverifiable.
The best thing Judaism has going for it is the archaeological presence of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel per the Merneptah stelle, village sites, Synagogues, other archeological finds such as at Qumran with decently old copies of the books, and TO ME THE MOST IMPRESSIVE is the historical presence of a host of different religious communities attesting to the presence of biblical laws being lived out in those communities in various forms.
IE (Jews, Samaritans, Dead Sea Sectarians, Jewish Christians, etc.) all of these communities provide verification of observance of, and BELIEF IN, various unique biblical laws in the area.
You can compare and contrast the religious observances in those various groups and see that today’s Jewish Orthodox practices are consistent with ancient practices that came before without relying on the testimony of just one group. Various different groups who observed the laws differently from each other, still have areas of overlap in their practice, so the practices are ancient.
As an example, do you as a reader disagree with Jewish oral tradition or the Talmud? Then why on earth are the tenets of this unique oral tradition peppered all over these other communities that claim to be unique and distinct from rabbinic tradition?
As Judah ha Levi pointed out in the Kuzari If one is already Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, the Sinai story is the baseline tenet of the faith. You cant be a member of any of these communities and doubt the biblical narrative without damaging your own book’s or tradition’s credibility.
This is what gives it some weight. Various communities believe the core story, and even maintain certain core practice even in the midst of profound disagreement with one another.
That is close to “independent verification” but not quite.
That said, there is no means outside of the scripture’s single claim of a national revelation to truly independently verify the exodus or the Sinai revelation, not for lack of trying.
We don’t even know which Pharoah was actually the one attested to by the Exodus story because the book doesn’t say. Its very hard to root the exodus in history, because we cant yet anchor it reliably.
The best thing the Christians have going for them are extra biblical references to the existence and death of their founder Jesus, preserved in a way that is not theologically flattering or helpful to their faith or their main claims.
IE just because Jesus existed and was Crucified under pilate doesn’t mean he was the messiah, divine, or any other Christian theological claim. He could have just been some guy.
The Quran likewise doesn’t have a source outside of its community transmission to verify it.
Hi Concerned Reader,
If you have time can you please contact me on email@example.com
Hello Concerned Reader,
Thank you for your contribution to this conversation. It appears to me that you have moved into a different topic, discussing documentary sources. This is a worthwhile topic, but before we discuss it, I would like to understand where you stand on the matter of the unverifiability of private revelation, precisely because it is private, which verification is a separate topic from the multiplicity or singularity of documentary sources.
Charles claims that Jesus appeared to Moses in private meetings, calling Jesus the similitude of God. This claim cannot be verified precisely because, if it happened, only Moses knew it. And only he would have been able to identify Jesus as that similitude when Jesus lived in Judea over a millennium later—but Moses was dead. In this conversation, I made an earlier comment about a fictional friend of mine, named Seger, who was approached by two different men each of whom claimed to be the Similitude of God who met with Moses, by which comment I intended to show that any such claim cannot be substantiated and one has no grounds to accept one claimant over another.
I point out in the comment to which you have responded that not only is such a claim unable to be substantiated but most claims of prophecy—on the grounds that they are private events—are unsubstantiated—both unverified and unverifiable—at the time when they happen. If, for example, I told you that God spoke to me last night in a dream, you might or might not believe me, but you could not test the claim. You cannot know what I dreamt last night or, assuming I did have a dream, whether it was of terrestrial or celestial origin, i.e. whether or not the dream was a product of my mind or divine message.
Many of the Christian claims are of this nature. I reïterate a few of them: The claim that Mary was a virgin at the time of conception was unverified at the time. That Jesus was born in Bethlehem was a secret event, unknown at the time, unverified and unverifiable during his lifetime. That Jesus left Egypt as a child, unverified and unverifiable at the time. Even if these events happened as described in the New Testament—i.e. even if they were true—one could not know that they happened. At the time of their happening one could not know that they happened. At the time of their being related to others one could not know that they happened.
The most significant of Christian claims regarding Jesus is that he was resurrected from the dead. If this happened, only a few people saw him according to the accounts given by the gospels. At the time when Jesus’ resurrection was announced—again, according to the Christian account—Jesus was no longer present on the earth; he had floated up into the sky to be with God. Anybody being informed of the resurrection at that time could not investigate the matter. He could not meet with the risen Jesus; he could not put his hand in Jesus’ side, nor put his fingers in the holes in Jesus’ hands. He is to believe without seeing, not because this is an event long in the past, but because the claim is presented to him without evidence at the time when the claim is first made.
Can we agree this far? If we place ourselves in the time of the claims of the Christian scriptures, before worrying about the problems that come with being removed from an event by centuries, do you agree that Christian claims were unverified and unverifiable at the time?
Moreover, can you agree that Charles’ method for accepting Christian claims is antithetical to that established by the Torah? The Torah requires that a sign or wonder be fulfilled. What I mean is, if a claimant to prophecy promises a sign or a wonder, its fulfillment must be observable. Private fulfillments are not sufficient to establish a prophet. (Whether or not you believe the Torah lives up to this standard is a separate question to be deferred for the moment as it is not relevant to the question at hand.) Charles, in accepting unverified claims to prophecy—again, unverified at the time—deviates from the Torah’s teaching to the point of accepting prophecy by the opposite standard of that established by the Torah. Do you agree on this point?
In relation to this, I would like to say by way of side note that Christian and Muslim acceptance of the Torah gives no greater weight to the Torah than their lack of acceptance. Their acceptance does not approach independent verification, not even a little bit. The reason for this is because they do not accept the Torah on proper grounds. They do not give due consideration to the Sinai Revelation, nor apply the standards of prophecy given by the Torah to their own “prophets.” Dr. Michael Brown once said, if I recall correctly, that counter-missionaries destroy people’s faith in the Jewish scriptures when they undermine belief in Jesus, because Christians believe in the Jewish scriptures because Jesus affirmed them. If they stopped believing in Jesus, they would stop believing Torah. These are insufficient grounds for believing in Torah and are antithetical to the Torah’s own standard of evidence, and therefore they give no greater weight to the Torah.
Before we move on to documentary sources, are we agreed thus far? Do we agree that the Christian claims at the time they were made were private events, unverified and unverifiable? And do we agree that they are not accepted according to the Torah’s standard for accepting a prophet?
I would say we are on the same ground vis your points about a private revelation, but I would apply your same points as being true in terms of a “public” or “national” revelation, because only one source actually makes this claim internally, and anyone (just like one claiming to be the similitude of God) would have no external means to test the claim in like manner.
“”The claim that Mary was a virgin at the time of conception was unverified at the time. (not only unverifiable at the time Jim in the sense that “only Mary would know,” but also in the words of the chronicler Luke, the one making the claim. The 1st source that claims this virgin birth doctrine contradicts itself in the same account, in the midst of the author making this claim.
Luke 3:23 “When He began His ministry, Jesus Himself was about thirty years old, being, AS WAS COMMONLY HELD, the son of Joseph, the son of Eli,) IE the author of Luke is saying ” Hello, as I the author am writing this, Jesus is commonly believed by others to be Joseph’s son.”
We also have Saul of Tarsus (a separate author’s source inside the Christian community) writing before Luke’s gospel was even written, that Jesus was “a son of David according to the flesh,” as well as attestation by later orthodox Christian writers, of sects that taught that Jesus was fully human of natural birth, as well as chronicling that he had relatives.
These other later Christian groups had doctrinal incentive to hide the fact that people thought Jesus was “just a human,” and yet the evidence remains, even in the sources.
That Jesus was born in Bethlehem was a secret event, unknown at the time, unverified and unverifiable during his lifetime.””
Unverifiable during his lifetime yes, and one (such as yourself) also does not place implicit trust in the chain of transmission of his Christian followers, for several reasons.
1. They already believe that which they are chronicling ( they have internal bias and an inability to critically examine their own claims)
2. They have groups within their ranks that disagree with each other over core premises
3. No external verification from a group outside of the Christian community gives credence to the unique Christian claims, such as a ressurection.
I agree with this, which Is why I wrote “Its very hard to root the exodus in history, because we cant yet anchor it reliably.”
We cannot independently anchor a moment in time that provides evidence of any biblical claims.
“verification is a separate topic from the multiplicity or singularity of documentary sources.”
Not if you are making a claim about something actually happening or not.
That is not how history works. History works on the examination of primary sources, secondary sources, empirical evidence, relies partially the chain of transmission, but crucially relies on multiple attestation because of the kinds of internal issues that I pointed out above.
“In relation to this, I would like to say by way of side note that Christian and Muslim acceptance of the Torah gives no greater weight to the Torah than their lack of acceptance. Their acceptance does not approach independent verification, not even a little bit.”
Absolutely right. I was just being charitable, noting that their communities acceptance of values and rituals that are similar to yours shows that they are ancient rituals.
You are right it is nowhere close to Independent verification of anything.
Jim, I enjoy what you wrote about Seger, Primo, and Secundo, that’s very clever and makes your point well.
The issue I always run into with this, even if what you are saying is literally right, (I think it is) its that the Tanakh itself presents you with this Sager problem. Its why Charles insists he cannot get over the concept.
Its 100% true that hashem says “you saw no form do not make for yourself an idol, the image of any shape.”
But the scripture itself puts the primo/secundo dilemma right before the reader both BEFORE and AFTER the Sinai revelation in situations like the Burning Bush, and in Judges 6.
We can say “the lord has no similitude, any time you see passages like Judges 6 its just an angel.”
ok, fine. We now have a situation plainly in the text where a clearly CREATED angel says per the text “and the lord said, Am I not sending you?”
A heavenly angel is being used by Hashem as a kind of sock puppet. Now, we may say, “pay no attention to the sock” only the message.
However, scripture points out that Gideon gives attention to the sock, more than to the Puppeteer and there is no reaction given. Its as if God is saying “I see him speaking to the sock, but its cool, I will let it slide.”
News! We know what is in Deuteronomy 4. Gideon Knew!
What happens if one ignores the sock? Something like what happens to Bilam when he ignores the warnings of his donkey that saw the angel in the road.
If you asked Moses. “When did God 1st speak to you?” Would he not recount the story of the burning bush just out of necessity and accuracy? Even though he has the Sinai revelation to describe Hashem from here on out, if you just asked him to describe his 1st encounter, he will plainly say “this one time, God himself spoke to me through this Bush that was not consumed by fire like a normal Bush.”
If Moses takes the time to explain, “well, it was actually God speaking through a messenger angel, that isn’t him, but it spoke directly to me as though it was him, etc. confusion is present, even within the ranks of faithful people.
The whole situation with Elisha Ben Abuyyah and his seeing of the angel as a 2nd power, just emerges out of a situation where often in the Hebrew Bible, the sock is treated with undue attention, both DURING and AFTER SINAI even though the book says “hey man, don’t do that!”
The crazy thing to me, the New Testament attempts to mitigate this exact problem and takes a clear as hell stance on this issue in a way that even the Tanakh does not, in super explicit language WITH AN EXAMPLE.
This NT text hurts Charles’ case worse than Deuteronomy 4, because he is saying “but the Tanakh clearly says “Moses saw the divine similitude.”
The Tanakh does say that Moses saw that, and it does present one with difficult situations where its like God is playing musical chairs with angelic beings.
I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I had heard and seen them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who had been showing them to me. But he said to me, “Don’t do that! I am a fellow servant with you and with your fellow prophets and with all who keep the words of this scroll. Worship God!”
You notice, in passages like Judges 6 this kind of statement taken from Revelation 22 above is not found. Hashem didn’t bother to reiterate.
This isn’t even a modern issue either. Contrary to what the rabbis say, about “there is no confusion, and never has been” When Elijah finds Jews worshiping both Baal and Hashem, and asks “how long will you waver between two opinions?
Why on earth after Sinai would there ever be two opinions at all? Isn’t Deuteronomy 4 super clear? Sure seems like it.
Well, sure. But Tanakh itself puts that situation in front of you, of “its God, but kinda sorta not.”
you see Baal in Canaanite theology is just one of El’s 70 offspring. Who is El if not Hashem? After all, El is one of Hashem’s names!
Sure, El just means “mighty one” but if you were a Jew, and heard the name “El” you would say, “Ah, Hashem. Right.”
Now, someone could look at Judges 6, and other verses, where this clearly angelic creature is acting like God, and try to explain it, with “that’s an emanation!” “That’s a mere vision!” “That’s Baal!” “That’s Jesus!” etc. but its the content of the book itself that feeds and gives rise to the question.
Even whilst offering a solution in Deuteronomy 4, it never reiterates that during these encounters.
You came up with Segar, and with Primo, but even if you called someone who claimed to be the “similitude” Bob, the fact is that its the Tanakh that puts this situation of a random dude speaking as God down, and doesn’t answer the clear issue of conflict with Deuteronomy 4.
Almost as if the book has different authors who had a different theology, but that is another discussion.
I am sorry that I have not yet responded to your comments. I have been busy with other things. I hope to answer you in the next few days, but I did not wish you to think that I was ignoring you. Sorry for the delay.
Hi, Rabbi Blumenthal. I hope you are doing well. I am just emailing to say that when Dr. Brown says that God revealed himself but just clothed himself in human flesh and that is just a word game and I gree. But isn’t that what the entire concept of neshmaha is based off of? That our soul is a part of Hashem?
God forbid! We are not “part of Hashem” The idea that our soul is a “chelek Eloka Mima’al” – “a section of God above” is not meant to be taken literally in the sense that we are part of God. The intent is that our souls are one with God’s will. Our soul’s deepest desire is in line with God’s will.
Also, as for the concept in general that the Torah exists forever, somebody asked that orginally Hashem intended for the Torah ro be Midas HaDin but then saw that we wouldn’t be able to survive so changed it to Midas HaRachamim, so too here Hashem’s intial plan was for the Torah to be foreveer an then he changed it?
It does not say that the Torah was intended to be Midas Hadin. It says that Hashem first wanted to create the world with Midas Hadin. Here too, the concept is that Hashem’s original thought is part of the building process – it is not a “mistake.”