Tag Archives: history

Why Do the Jews Hate Jesus?

I know this is a rather controversial title for today’s “morning meditation,” but it came to me as I was reading through the Gospel of John and I thought I’d share what I’ve been pondering.

And He said to them, “What man is there among you who has a sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will he not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable then is a man than a sheep! So then, it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand!” He stretched it out, and it was restored to normal, like the other. But the Pharisees went out and conspired against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.

Matthew 12:11-14 (NASB)

“If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you.”

John 15:18-19

So why did the Jews hate Jesus (Yeshua)? Actually, that’s a misleading question since not all Jewish people hated Jesus. In fact, a lot of Jewish people during the “earthly ministry” of Jesus really liked him and thought he was a prophet and some even believed he was the Messiah.

When He had entered Jerusalem, all the city was stirred, saying, “Who is this?” And the crowds were saying, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee.”

Matthew 21:10-11

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them. When they sought to seize Him, they feared the people, because they considered Him to be a prophet.

Matthew 21:45-46

Some of the people therefore, when they heard these words, were saying, “This certainly is the Prophet.” Others were saying, “This is the Christ [Messiah].” Still others were saying, “Surely the Christ [Messiah] is not going to come from Galilee, is He? Has not the Scripture said that the Christ [Messiah] comes from the descendants of David, and from Bethlehem, the village where David was?” So a division occurred in the crowd because of Him. Some of them wanted to seize Him, but no one laid hands on Him.

John 7:40-44

As you can see, particularly from the last quote, opinions about who Jesus was were mixed, but clearly a lot of Jewish people thought well of Jesus and thought he was a prophet, a Holy Man from God. So not all the Jews hated Jesus. In fact, probably relatively few Jewish people actually hated Jesus, and most of those were invalid priests and corrupt Pharisees and scribes (though not all Pharisees and scribes were corrupt) who experienced the Master’s teachings as upsetting their own apple cart, so to speak.

ancient-rabbi-teachingThere were also probably a number of well-meaning Pharisees who opposed Jesus because they authentically disagreed with how Jesus interpreted the mitzvot, particularly the laws about Shabbat (see Matthew 12:1-7 for example). On the other hand, there were also Pharisees who were at least intrigued by if not devoted to Jesus (John 3:1-21, John 19:38-42).

But if this was true during the first earthly ministry of Jesus, what about after his death, resurrection, and ascension?

When the Gentiles heard this, they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord; and as many as had been appointed to eternal life believed. And the word of the Lord was being spread through the whole region. But the Jews incited the devout women of prominence and the leading men of the city, and instigated a persecution against Paul and Barnabas, and drove them out of their district. But they shook off the dust of their feet in protest against them and went to Iconium.

Acts 13:48-51

This is only one small example of how some Jewish populations, particularly synagogue leaders, opposed Paul’s teachings of Jesus being the Messiah. But remember earlier in this scenario, the born Jews and righteous converts couldn’t get enough of Paul’s teaching:

As Paul and Barnabas were going out, the people kept begging that these things might be spoken to them the next Sabbath. Now when the meeting of the synagogue had broken up, many of the Jews and of the God-fearing proselytes followed Paul and Barnabas, who, speaking to them, were urging them to continue in the grace of God.

Acts 13:42-43


The next Sabbath nearly the whole city assembled to hear the word of the Lord. But when the Jews saw the crowds, they were filled with jealousy and began contradicting the things spoken by Paul, and were blaspheming.

Acts 13:44-45

What happened? Well, crowds and crowds of Gentiles were consuming space within Jewish community, and unlike the Gentile God-fearers and converts, these Gentiles were straight up pagans who might well walk all over Jewish customs relative to kosher and ritual purity…and this guy Paul was the cause of it all.

So, get rid of Paul, get rid of the Gentiles, and the Jewish leadership once again retains control over their communal space. Of course eventually the teachings of Jesus as Messiah and the influx of Gentiles into Jewish community became so linked that many Jewish communities in the diaspora learned to reject both Jesus and the Gentiles out of hand.

Magnus Zetterholm
Magnus Zetterholm

In fact, according to my review of the works of Mark Nanos and Magnus Zetterholm, even within the early Messianic movement, there was quite a bit of confusion and disagreement about how or even if the Gentiles should be integrated into Jewish communal and social life. This ultimately led to a rather messy divorce between Jesus-believing Jews and Gentiles, and for a time, there were two parallel religions: Pharisaic Messianic Judaism and Gentile Christianity. Eventually the former dissolved and the latter attained prominence, first in the Roman Empire and then eventually throughout the world.

And the Church, for most of its history, never learned to “share and play nice” with the Jewish people and religious Judaism:

I had made up my mind to write no more either about the Jews or against them. But since I learned that these miserable and accursed people do not cease to lure to themselves even us, that is, the Christians, I have published this little book, so that I might be found among those who opposed such poisonous activities of the Jews who warned the Christians to be on their guard against them. I would not have believed that a Christian could be duped by the Jews into taking their exile and wretchedness upon himself. However, the devil is the god of the world, and wherever God’s word is absent he has an easy task, not only with the weak but also with the strong. May God help us. Amen.

-Martin Luther
Excerpt from Luther’s work entitled “The Jews & their Lies”
quoted at Jewish Virtual Library

Even mentioning a partial inventory of the history of enmity between Christianity and Judaism far exceeds the scope of this one, small article. To get the full flavor of how at least one Jewish source sees this history, visit the page on “Christianity” at Jewish Virtual Library. Also see the website for the “anti-missionary” group Jews for Judaism.

So do Jews hate Jesus? It might be more accurate to say that Jews resent the long history of abuse they’ve historically had to suffer at the hands of the Christian Church and various Christian nations. They also resent any attempt to convert Jews to Christianity because of the threat of the destruction of the Jewish people, not by violence in the modern era so much as by assimilation.

It’s never been as simple as “the Jews hate Jesus” or “the Jews killed Jesus”. The Bible tells a story of how certain groups within Judaism, corrupt groups or corrupt individuals, opposed Jesus either on religious, political, or financial grounds. On the other hand, much of the common populace in ancient Israel and not a few religious leaders supported him and believed him to be a prophet, with some few recognizing him as Messiah.

After the ascension and into Paul’s mission, the reasons for opposing Jesus changed and were largely based on the liberal inclusion of unconverted Gentiles into Jewish space as equal co-participants of religious and social community. This was something not easily accepted because of a misunderstanding as to just how a Gentile could participate in the New Covenant blessings as well as the general feeling that close association with Gentiles might render a Jew “unclean” in some sense (although there was little actually basis for this in Torah).

Unfortunately, this spilled back onto anything Paul had to say and teach about Jesus, so it took some dedication for Jewish audiences to overcome their concerns and accept what Paul taught, then accept discipleship under Jesus as Messiah.

The Gentiles, for their part, ate it up with a spoon, so to speak, at least at first, but as I mentioned above, eventually the attempt to meld the two communities became unsustainable and the “experiment” flew apart like autumn leaves in a strong wind.

Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein
Rabbi Isaac Lichtenstein

But it’s not all bad. The 19th century saw many Jewish luminaries who discovered the identity of the Messiah in Jesus, and more recently in history, the modern Messianic Jewish movement, represented by groups such as the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America (MJAA) and the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations (UMJC) have become increasingly active, attracting Jewish people to the Messiah within a wholly Jewish ethnic and religious context.

So it’s pretty unfair to say that “the Jews hate Jesus” when after all, Jesus loved and loves his people, the sheep of his pasture.

“I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd.”

John 10:11-16

As you can see, in addition to his Jewish “sheep,” the Master has “other sheep” in another fold that he intends to bring to himself.

The situation appears to have been reversed, at least temporarily, since the shepherd’s flock seems to have a whole lot more Gentile sheep than Jewish at the moment. But that will change:

He will also restore the royal dynasty to the descendants of David. He will oversee the rebuilding of Jerusalem, including the Third Temple. He will gather the Jewish people to the Land of Israel.

-Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan
“All About the Messiah”

I don’t doubt there will be skeptics among both Jews and Christians as to the authenticity of Jesus as Messiah upon his return, but at least for the Jews, as they see him fulfilling prophesies such as the ones listed above, they will believe.

“I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn.”

Zechariah 12:10

Ultimately, as the Jewish exiles are all returned to their land and as their hearts are turned in teshuvah, the sins of the entire nation of Israel will be forgiven, and through their forgiveness, so too the rest of the people of the nations who have believed and remained faithful:

They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.”

Jeremiah 31:34

That last part I wrote about the Gentiles is a bit of a stretch, since the text regarding the New Covenant only mentioned the House of Judah and the House of Israel, but my rather exhaustive research into this covenant assures me that we sheep from another fold will also benefit from the blessings of redemption and the resurrection to come.

tallit-prayerSo the Jews don’t “hate” Jesus. They may be hesitant or even fear some of his disciples based on the history between Judaism and the Church, and they may mistakenly blame Jesus as well as Paul for that history, but Christians have taught Jews to read the Apostolic Scriptures in the same distorted and flawed manner for centuries, an interpretation so anti-semitic and so supersessionistic that it can no longer be separated from the real meaning of the text in most Christian minds.

If we want the Jews to stop “hating Jesus,” then we have to live lives that say we do truly love the people and nation that Jesus loves. That’s one of the roles of the Messianic Gentile, and I hope it will be a mission that the mainstream Church one day adopts.

Making Sense of the Messiah as the Keystone of Creation

Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord or of me His prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God, who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity, but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.

2 Timothy 1:8-11 (NASB)

Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.

1 John 4:15-18

I had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine last Sunday afternoon. Toward the end of our time together, he haltingly asked me something he obviously thought would offend me. I can’t recall his exact words, but he was wondering if I realized the centrality of Jesus as the Lord and Savior of my life. I guess he thought I was getting a little too lost in Judaism or in attempting to engage my faith through a sort of “Jewish lens”.

This lead to a rather lengthy and repetitive monologue on my part and I hope I made some sort of sense. In order to organize my thoughts better, I decided to write them out and share them in a more public venue.

One of the Jewish arguments against Jesus being the Messiah, especially as conceptualized by organized Christianity and as recorded (apparently) in the New Testament, is that Jesus appears to be a tremendous departure from anything that God had done before. I don’t mean that God did something new, but that He did something incredibly different, as if he switched from “plan A” to “plan B”.

There’s no real mention of a Messiah in the Tanakh (Old Testament) particularly as Christianity understands the role, and let’s face it: Jesus doesn’t even make an appearance until the last third of the Biblical narrative. If he’s so important, why didn’t he show up sooner?

Actually, some people think he did:

And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; now he was a priest of God Most High. He blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”

He gave him a tenth of all.

Genesis 14:18-20

Given the mention of Melchizedek in Hebrews 7, most Christians and many in Hebrew Roots and Messianic Judaism think that Melchizedek is the “pre-incarnate Jesus”. There are a number of other places where Christians exchange their “exegesis” of the Old Testament to “I see Jesus” in the Tanakh, in part to solve the “problem” of why Jesus didn’t put in an appearance before the end of Matthew 1.

D. Thomas Lancaster in his sermon on Melchizedek for the Holy Epistle to the Hebrews sermon series which I reviewed, does a good job at refuting the idea that Melchizedek was literally Yeshua (Jesus), but there are plenty of other occasions where some people believe Jesus “beamed” into early Biblical history like some sort of “Star Trek” character.

Gateway to EdenAfter all, who walked in the garden with Adam (Genesis 3:8), wrestled with Jacob (Genesis 32:22-31, and who was the angel God sent ahead of the Children of Israel (Exodus 23:20)?

Frankly, I think attempting to force scripture to have Jesus show up bodily before he’s actually born actually cheapens the miracle and significance of Messiah’s birth by woman and all that he accomplished in his physical, human experience.

But we have this problem of when Jesus appears. If he’s the cornerstone, how can you build the first two-thirds of the Bible without him? Or are we missing the point?

One of our biggest problems with understanding the Bible and the centrality of the Messiah is time. By definition, we are beings who live in linear time. We are born, we live, we die. We have yesterday, today, and tomorrow. That’s how we think. It’s difficult to imagine a universe without time, and we forget that when God created everything, He created time, too.

When I was a little kid, I tried to imagine what God’s “environment” must have been like before He created everything. I pictured an old man with a big white beard and long, shaggy white hair, dressed in a robe and sitting on a golden throne floating in infinite blackness. I thought of the universe as just stars and galaxies not imagining that it’s also space and time.

It’s difficult if not impossible for a human being to even perceive a sliver of God’s point of view. What does God see when He looks at the universe? Who knows? How can God exist outside of time? If time doesn’t pass for God at all, what is that like?

In my conversation on Sunday, I used a metaphor. I said that from God’s viewpoint, all of creation must be like a painting hung on a wall. In the painting is every event that has ever occurred and will ever would occur in our universe from start to finish. It’s like everything that has happened, is happening, and will happen across the entire line of history is all occurring inside that painting simultaneously. God can take in time, the universe, and everything at a glance.

Now imagine that in the very center of the painting is a stone archway. Now imagine that all of the other stones in the stone archway are balanced against a single, critical keystone. If this keystone were removed, the entire arch would collapse into rubble. When the keystone is in place, the other stones and the archway itself are completely immovable.

Guess who the keystone is?

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, is growing into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.

Ephesians 2:19-22 (emph. mine)

Granted, Paul is using the cornerstone metaphor in terms of the structure of the ekklesia or assembly of Messiah, but I think it still works (see also Psalm 118:22, Matthew 21:42, and Acts 4:11). I always wondered how you could build anything else in the redemptive plan of God across human history without first laying the cornerstone, or in the case of the previous metaphor I used, the keystone. Now I think I know, but the explanation is a little metaphysical.

Messiah is central to the plan of God because he’s always been central. He’s just not apparently central when we consider the appearance and work of Yeshua in linear time. This is also why Jewish objections to a first and second coming of Messiah and why Yeshua didn’t finish the work he started in the first advent don’t really matter. It’s because linear time doesn’t determine how and why Messiah is the lynchpin of God’s redemptive plan for humanity.

If it’s possible to use the word “before” in terms of a timeless God, then even before God created the universe, He knew the consequences of creating human beings with free will would result in the universe turning out the way it did. That is, God knew that giving human beings free will would lead to our disobeying Him with the result of changing the very nature of the universe from perfect to damaged.

CreationSo when God created the universe, He also created a plan for restoring it which means the very nature and character of the Messiah is built into creation, that everything rests on Messiah’s shoulders, so to speak, and that without the Messiah (for whatever reason) the universe can never be redeemed.

I know that’s dicey language to use in relation to God since nothing is impossible for Him, but God’s “solution” to the problem of human free will and its consequences is Messiah. It’s as if God created not just all of the universe all at once (well, in six “days”), but all of human history from beginning to end, and then placed that history upon the cornerstone, which is Messiah.

No, I can’t prove any of this from scripture beyond what I’ve already quoted, but it’s the only way I can make sense of God, the role of Messiah, and the narrative of the Bible including God’s plan for redeeming His creation.

Let me know if this makes sense to you.

Straightening the Road of the King

what-is-the-churchWhat is the “church?” Who belongs to the church? How is the church related to Judaism or is the church related to Judaism in the current age? These are the questions my Pastor and I discussed last Wednesday night. Sometimes, when we talk of these puzzling subjects, I have a difficult time conceptualizing my thoughts and feelings and articulating them while I’m with him in his office. So I ponder, and think, and occasionally, I draw (you’ll see what I mean as you scroll down while reading).

I think I’ve come up with a “vision” of Pastor’s understanding of the evolution of the church from its beginnings in Judaism as well as my own “vision.” I apologize to Pastor and to you in advance for any misunderstanding I have of his point of view. He recently pointed out to me how I didn’t have a correct understanding of his view of the “end times” (which I blogged about) and sometime soon, I’ll need to post a retraction (he told me he doesn’t find a retraction or correction necessary, but I find it necessary if I intend to be honest in my transactions with him and everyone else).

First things first. There are some areas we necessarily agree upon. God made a covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob involving promises relating to the Land of Israel, making their descendants very numerous, promises that they would be a blessing to all nations (through Messiah), and that circumcision would be the physical sign between God and the specific, biological descendants of Abraham and Isaac, and Jacob that their descendants would be the inheritors of these covenant promises.

The patriarchs came from Jacob and the twelve tribes of Israel came from the patriarchs. Moses led the twelve tribes out of slavery in Egypt and God redeemed them as His special people, as per the promises made to Abraham and his descendants. God then added to His promises at Sinai and gave the Torah, the teaching and instruction for righteous living to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. This also functions as the national constitution of Israel, and has multiple other purposes.

At this point in history, Gentiles can only join Israel as gerim, which isn’t exactly conversion. The idea is that a Gentile would do what the Israelites would do in terms of the mitzvot, but the Gentiles would never become Israelites in their generation. More like resident aliens. No one can convert to a tribe or a family clan. Only after the third generation, would the ger’s children have intermarried into tribal Israel and ultimately assimilate into the Israelites. This was the only path for a Gentile to join the covenant people of God.

After the Babylonian exile and a lot of history passed by, tribal and clan affiliations were all but lost. The Jewish religious authorities instituted what we understand as the ritual of conversion. Now, if a Gentile wants to join national Israel and the Jewish people, they must undergo a process supervised by Jewish religious authorities (in modern Orthodox Judaism, it is a group of three Rabbis who form a Beit Din). The men are circumcised and both men and women are “mikvahed” as the final act of conversion. They go down into the water as a Gentile and come up as a Jew. There is no multi-generational “delay” and the individual Gentile who desires to be Jewish can become Jewish and thereafter, they and all of their descendants are considered Jews.

stream1Then Jesus comes. At this point, there are born Jews and there are Jewish converts or proselytes to Judaism. Jesus doesn’t speak against the ritual of the proselytes and does not overturn this institution, even though it is not directly found in the Torah. Remember, Jesus wasn’t adverse to opposing Jewish traditions and he did overturn or object to other halachah of the scribes and Pharisees on occasion (Matthew 15:1-14 for example). We also see that Paul encountered Jewish proselytes (Acts 13:43 for instance) and he too never said a cross word about the Jewish converts or the practice of converting Gentiles to Judaism (though in Galatians, he spoke strongly against Gentiles converting to Judaism as the only way to be justified before God). Both Jesus and Paul were very direct about expressing their thoughts and feelings and if either one had a problem with the Jewish conversion process, they would have said so…but they never did.

But something new happened after the death and resurrection of Jesus.

And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:18-20 (NASB)

I wonder if the Jewish apostles truly understood the implications of Messiah’s words. Did they believe he wanted them to make converts of the Gentiles, “mikvahing” them into Judaism? All of the other streams of Judaism accepted Gentile converts, why should “the Way” be any different?

But it was and is.

While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who were listening to the message. All the circumcised believers who came with Peter were amazed, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they were hearing them speaking with tongues and exalting God. Then Peter answered, “Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we did, can he?” And he ordered them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ.

Acts 10:44-48 (NASB)

stream2Here we see our answer. Gentile believers, like the Jewish believers, received the Holy Spirit and were baptized by water without being circumcised and converting to Judaism! This was revolutionary. This was astounding. This had never, ever happened before. It was without compare. Paul perceived this vision clearly in his subsequent work with Gentiles, but it wasn’t until the matter was brought before the council of apostles and elders of the Way in Jerusalem that a formal, legal status was granted to the Gentiles entering into a wholly Jewish religious stream (see my Return to Jerusalem series for a detailed analysis of this process).

But it’s at Acts 2 that Pastor and I disagree. He believes that Pentecost is the “Birthday of the Church” and that sometime remarkable happened. Something remarkable did happen, but we don’t agree on exactly what it is. To the best of my ability to relate (and again, I apologize in advance if I mess any of this up), Pastor believes that an entirely new entity, “the Church” emerged from a Jewish religious stream and although it is made up of both Jewish and Gentile members, the members all form a single, uniform body of Messiah. At this point, the Torah is “fulfilled” and is no longer a set of commandments or obligations for the Jewish Christians. Jewish and Gentile Christians share a single set of obligations under the grace of Jesus Christ.

This effectively separates the Jewish members in the Church from larger Israel and the Jewish people. Pastor says that all Jews share in the covenant promises of God, particularly possession of the Land of Israel in perpetuity, but that only the Jewish Christians are saved.

My point of view is different.

I see the creation of the Body of Messiah (I’m not going to call it “the Church” in order to distinguish Pastor’s perspective from mine) as the natural and logical extension of everything that happened in Biblical and historical Judaism before it. The entire stream of history and prophesy for Israel pointed inevitably to the Jewish Messiah, so when Jesus came, it was the pinnacle, the focal point, the historical hinge upon which everything in Judaism was aimed at and upon which it turned.

But while it was revolutionary for Gentiles to be allowed to enter a stream of Judaism without converting to Judaism and being considered Jewish, their admittance wasn’t the end of the Jewish stream that accepted Jesus as Messiah as a Judaism, nor was it replaced by another religion or religious entity. It was a Judaism that had Gentiles admitted as equal members in relation to salvation and access to God, but it didn’t turn “the Way” or “Messianic Judaism” into “the Church.”

That happened unfortunately, after the Jewish/Gentile schism in the movement (and there’s a lot of history available to describe the details, so I won’t replicate it here) and in my opinion, the “Gentile Church” was born when the Gentile Church leadership agreed that it was no longer a Judaism and that Jews were not welcome unless they converted to Christianity!

If Pastor is right, then we have to consider the Jews in the Church as irrevocably separated from their Jewish brothers and sisters and perhaps even national Israel, since they no longer can identify with Israel, the Torah, and the connection the Torah provides a Jew with his nation and his God. If I’m right, then we have to consider the Body of Believers in Messiah as a Jewish stream, albeit a somewhat unique one because of such a large Gentile membership, that runs parallel to all other Jewish religious streams pointing toward the future and the eventual return of the King. We also have to admit that the Torah is not canceled and that Messianic Jews share an equal obligation to the mitzvot as all other Jewish people.

stream3Again, I sincerely apologize to my Pastor and to everyone reading this if I got his perspective on these matters wrong, in even the slightest detail. It is not my intention to misrepresent anyone, but it is my intention to draw a distinction between our two viewpoints.

Does it matter who is right? Is my purpose in the church, let alone the reason for my existence, simply to be right? As I’ve discovered (or re-discovered) recently, the answer is yes and no. No, it doesn’t matter if I personally am right. The world doesn’t depend on my one, small opinion. Statistics vary, but recent research indicates that there are anywhere between one and three-quarter million blogs to perhaps up to 164 million blogs in existence, and even the people compiling these numbers admit the list is incomplete. The number of individual blog posts goes into the billions and billions. Compared to all that, my one little blog can hardly matter, even in the human realm, let alone God’s. Any religious blogger who thinks they’re “all that and a bag of chips” can only make me laugh.

On the other hand, it’s vitally important to examine the question “who is the Church” and especially “what is the Church”. If “the Church” turns out to be a terribly misguided Judaism that has wildly deviated from its original course, then we require an exceptionally radical “course correction.” No, I’m not suggesting a revolution in the Church as such, where we strip away 100% of church culture as it has evolved over the past twenty centuries, but I am suggesting some form of change.

This is exactly the sort of process described by First Fruits of Zion (FFOZ) Founder and President Boaz Michael in his book Tent of David. The answer to the question of who and what “the Church” is has profound implications if we believe that the modern Messianic Jewish opinion is correct and that “the Church” was never intended to be a totally unique religious unit, disconnected forever from Israel, the Torah, and the Jewish people.

In my opinion, everything God did across human history was ultimately additive, no replacements or substitutions accepted. Abraham and God make a covenant, and as part of the conditions of that covenant, Isaac is added, then Jacob is added, then Jacob’s children are added as the patriarchs, and then their descendants, the Children of Israel are added, and they are made into a nation and the Torah is added, and possessing the Land of Israel is added, and all of the prophesies by all of the prophets pointing to the Messiah and the Kingdom of Heaven are added, and the birth of Messiah is added, and the death and resurrection of Messiah are added, and the Jewish religious stream that is identified by faith in Messiah is added, which includes the Gentiles entering this Jewish stream being recipients of the blessings of the covenant God made with Abraham…all in one, nice, neat, straight line across history as drawn on the canvas of time by God.

What we have now in the 21st century is something of a mess, but that’s what happens when God gives us a gift and then lets us play with it for 2,000 years. We’ve bent, folded, spindled, and mutilated it, but not beyond repair. Repair is what I think Messianic Judaism is all about. It’s tikkun olam or repairing the world with a Messianic twist. It’s a voice in the wilderness calling out to the synagogue and the church saying, “It’s time to take a fresh look at all this so we can clean the place up and get ready for the King’s return.”

The roadOne nice, neat, straight line from Abraham to Moshiach. Any bends in the road, any wrinkles in the asphalt, any potholes, any mudslides, any detours, have nothing to do with God and His intent. We’re the ones with the jack hammers and sledge hammers pounding away at that line, making it crooked and not straight. But we’re the ones who were charged with caring for the road, just as Adam was charged with caring for the Garden (and look how that one turned out).

I’m not in charge with being “right” but God did say that I’m supposed to take care of my little section of the road upon which the King will walk as he returns. I can’t fix it all, but I have to do something. He’s coming soon. I can’t just lie down on the job and call it good. He’s coming soon. I’ve got to do my best, with the help and by the will and grace of God, to make and keep my little piece of the road of the King straight.

For more about the relationship between Jewish and Gentile believers in the Body of Messiah, see Derek Leman’s short article, Citizens, Not Natives.

Did Ancient Christianity Perform Same-Sex Marriages?

SameSexNot since Boswell’s Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality (Univ. of Chicago Pr., 1981) have Christians of all creeds confronted a work that makes them look so closely at their notions of the relationship between the church and its gay and lesbian believers. Diligently researched and documented, this immensely scholarly work covers everything from the “paired” saints of Perpetua and Felicitas and Serge and Bacchus to lesbian transvestites in Albania. Examining evidence that the early church celebrated a same-sex nuptial liturgy, Boswell compares both Christian same-sex unions to Christian heterosexual unions and non-Christian same-sex unions to non-Christian heterosexual unions. Appendixes contain, among other things, translations and transcriptions of cited documents. Whether or not minds are changed on the matter will probably fall along sectarian lines, according to current attitudes on homosexuality. However, the work will provoke dialog. A groundbreaking book for academic, public, and theological libraries.

-Lee Arnold, Historical Society of Pennsylvania., Philadelphia
as quoted on Amazon.com’s description of John Boswell’s book
Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe

Recently on Facebook, someone referred to Boswell’s 1995 book and posted a link to a recent article commenting on this work called Gay marriage in the year 100 AD. I had no idea there was such a book in existence or that anyone had done any serious investigation on the status of same-sex marriages in different, ancient cultures. As a Christian who takes a more or less conservative interpretation on the Bible, I tend to believe that both the Old and New Testaments take a dim view of homosexual activities, at least between males (Lev. 18:22, Lev. 20:13, Rom. 1:26-27, 1 Cor. 6:9-11, 1 Tim. 1:8-11, Rev. 22:15-21). However, as I said in DOMA, Prop 8, and a Guy Named Moshe, Christians (I can’t speak from the Jewish standpoint) can only hold accountable other Christians, that is, those people who have voluntarily entered into a covenant relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ, to any prohibitions regarding homosexual activity.

Paul didn’t attempt to lead a social revolution in the ancient Roman empire, demanding that laws be changed for the general population in the diaspora nations ruled by Rome to become more consistent with the teachings of Christ. He was only concerned with taking the good news of Messiah to the Jews and Gentiles and then guiding the religious communities (churches) he founded into correct behavior based on the standards of God. That means, I’m not going to go off on some big harangue against “marriage equality” in the 21st century.

I don’t have a massive agenda about the LGBT community or same-sex marriage, but I do have an interest in any historical and cross-cultural data that could possibly establish that same-sex relationships might have been “normalized” among different people groups in the past. I can’t ignore the vast amount of (admittedly anecdotal) information regarding how gays describe their experience, nor the desire of same-sex couples to enter into legal relationships that reflect their emotional commitment. Although this is in contradiction to the tenets of my faith (as I understand them), I want to be fair and to listen to voices that aren’t always in accord with mine.

There’s a tremendous surge of support in the modern, western world to equalize homosexual relationships with heterosexual relationships and liberal and progressive political, social, and media venues don’t seem to bat an eye. And yet, if gays, lesbians, bisexuals, and transsexuals are “born that way” and have always comprised a certain minority percentage of the general population world-wide, then you’d expect to see some sort of historical record of same-sex relationships, not as a social aberration, but as a recognized and accepted practice.

Supposedly, Boswell’s book establishes this record. If that were the end of it, I probably wouldn’t comment, since societies “normalize” all manner of behaviors and lifestyles that are contrary to the standards of God we see in the Bible, but Boswell takes it one step further (and it’s an important step). He believes that same-sex marriages were officially sanctioned and accepted in the Christian church as early as 100 CE and up through about 1000 CE.

That’s a pretty astonishing claim.

As you can imagine, when this information hit Facebook, it acted as a bold declaration that modern Christianity must now accept same-sex marriages because there was historic validation, and the ancient conditions that spawned these unions in past times were automatically and anachronistically accepted by the social media audience and applied to modern social imperatives.

Again, if this were just a matter of secular commentaries taking this stand, it would be one thing, but liberal religious people, including congregational leaders (not sure of the original Facebook poster’s exact clerical status), supporting Boswell’s book as an endorsement of “marriage equality” in the community of believers in Jesus is something else altogether.

I was curious just how “iron clad” Boswell’s research was and why it’s becoming such a big deal now (the book was published almost twenty years ago). Of course, in 1995, the idea of same-sex marriage was nowhere near being achieved as a social reality as it is in 2013, so that’s one reason and probably the biggest one. Even if one by one, the various States in our union make legal the marriage bond between same-sex partners, it’s seems important for liberal Christianity to also make it acceptable in the wider church body across the board.

But does Boswell’s research hold water?

Roman Archaeologist here, but this area isn’t my specific field. From my very limited knowledge (ie. a single book [:P]), homosexual relations between two male Roman citizens was frowned upon. It’s kind of interesting, actually.

This is because it was alright if a male Roman was the one doing the ‘penetration’, but it was illegal for a male citizen to be ‘penetrated’. So homosexual relations were fine only if the citizen was the ‘dominant’ one, and a non-citizen was on the ‘receiving-end’ so to speak. Homosexuality between citizens was essentially illegal and frowned upon. It seems to be more of a power/dominance thing, than a revulsion towards sodomy in all it’s forms. I’m not sure about gay-marriage in ancient Rome though – as far as I’m aware, Roman marriage was about producing children. Again, not my field so I can’t state it with certainty.

Abrahamic revulsion towards sodomy and homosexuality to me looks like it springs from a different source than Roman traditions. Greek homosexuality is also different from the Roman tradition – as much as we like lumping the two together, the Greeks considered the Romans to be barbarians. They were two different worlds really.

Edit: Ooops, that didn’t answer your question at all [:P] Just a hopefully interesting side blurb! I thought Abrahamic anti-gay sentiment came from the Old Testament though? As far as I’m aware, Christianity was just one of the many eastern cult religions swirling around at the time of the empire. I’ve always seen it as a fad religion that stuck and went mainstream in a major way. The Paleochristian period isn’t my field either though!

-ABF’s comment, Monday 3:58pm

boswellOK, ABF is only one person but he/she is at least familiar with the topic from the point of view of a Roman Archaeologist, so he/she has more information about this than almost every one else. I’m looking for one or more responses to Boswell’s position to either support it or refute it in as scientific and neutral manner as possible (good luck, right?) Almost everyone weighing in on this matter has strong personal feelings for or against “marriage equality,” so I’m forced to set aside 95% or more of the responses being provided in the various online venues commenting on the Boswell book.

I suppose I could just buy and read the book (used copies are cheap), but if Boswell has done bad research, how would I know? It’s not my area of expertise. But in the eighteen years since this book has been published, someone who knows what they’re talking about must have written something about it.

But this is not really a book of history, the author’s protestations to the contrary. Boswell insists that his purpose in writing the book is only “to reflect accurately” on what has happened in the past, but it is clear that the book has a contemporary social agenda. “Recognizing that many- -probably most–earlier Western societies institutionalized some form of romantic same-sex union gives us a much more accurate view of the immense variety of human romantic relationships and social responses to them than does the prudish pretense that such ‘unmentionable’ things never happened.” By claiming to discover a historical basis for “same-sex unions” within Christian tradition, Boswell wishes to legitimate the introduction of “gay-marriage” ceremonies in the contemporary Christian church. This gives the historical and philological discussions an immediacy, but also a poignancy. Underneath the argument there is a quiet plea for acceptance.

But the price Boswell exacts from sympathetic readers is high. To make his case he must impose on the texts meanings they cannot bear and wrench them out of their context in medieval Christian society. Only if one loads words and terms–for example, marriage, love– with overtones that are alien (and derived from contemporary Western speech), can one begin to envision what Boswell imagines. No doubt this is why there is so much throat clearing and redefinition in an introductory chapter titled “What’s in a Name?: The Vocabulary of Love and Marriage.”

-Robert L. Wilken
“Procrustean marriage beds”.., Vol. 121, Commonweal, 09-09-1994, pp 24.
quoted at fordham.edu

Robert L. Wilken is the William R. Kenan, Jr., Professor of the History of Christianity, University of Virginia, and the author, most recently (at the time his review was written), of The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History (Yale).

I realize this pits one “expert” against another and you just have to decide which one to believe, but it prevents Boswell’s book from scoring a “home run” on the field of marriage equality and the church. According to Wilken, Boswell’s entire argument hinges on the following:

The term “same-sex union” used in the title of this book is a translation of a Greek phrase (adelphopoiia) which if translated literally would be rendered “making into a brother” or “adopting as a brother.” The term is used in medieval Christian manuscripts written in Greek and Slavonic to identify an ecclesiastical rite.

Can we take “making into a brother” or “adopting as a brother” as equivalent to “marriage” between two men? That’s how Boswell is interpreting “adelphopoiia” but his interpretation isn’t the only one possible. Rather than copy and paste large sections of the Wilken article into this blog post, you can click the link I provided and read the review for yourself. In short though, Wilken states that Boswell’s interpretation is far from likely and reasonable.

I also found a much more recent commentary on Boswell’s book at the Roads From Emmaus blog. While the blogger doesn’t seem to have any special qualifications as a historian or linguist, he has done his research and provided links to a number of other criticisms of Boswell’s work that are available for your consideration.

I can’t say that the conclusions presented in Boswell’s book are invalid but I can say that there is enough of a reason based on some scholarly response to not accept said-conclusions out of hand, and such reflexive (knee-jerk) acceptance of the Boswell conclusions is exactly what is happening in online social networking (and this is worrisome since it substitutes fulfilling popular social agendas and emotion, for reason and scientific inquiry).

I present this not because I’m “homophobic,” but rather as a cautionary tale. As the saying goes, if something seems too good to be true, then it probably is. Just because one historian wrote a book that arrived at conclusions seemly fitting into modern social/sexual imperatives in our world does not necessarily make said-conclusions automatically accurate, correct, unquestionable, or “bulletproof.”

I don’t doubt Boswell was sincere (he passed away in 1994, prior to the publication of the book in question) although not unbiased (but as I’ve said, it would be difficult to find an unbiased opinion regarding “marriage equality”), but that doesn’t mean we should accept his position regarding the first thousand years of church history relative to homosexual marriage rites. Those unions, as Boswell’s critics state, are just as likely or more than likely describing a financial or other (non-sexual/non-marital) legal relationship between two men.

I can’t say unequivocally that Boswell’s conclusions are wrong, but there seems to be enough disagreement from credible sources to indicate that he may not have been right. In other words, barring further research, the jury is still out on whether or not we have a record of the ancient Christian church performing (romantic, love, sexual) marriage ceremonies between two men.

two-spirit-dualitySo far, Boswell is just about the only source for this type of information about the ancient church, so my hopes at finding a strongly substantiated history of the normalization of homosexuality cross-history and cross-cultural are fading. The only other book I was able to find was edited by Sue-Ellen Jacobs, Wesley Thomas, and Sabine Lang called Two-Spirit People: Native American Gender Identity, Sexuality, and Spirituality. It’s also not a “slam dunk” since the book is a series of scholarly essays describing the occurrence of “sexually ambiguous” members of native American peoples who held unique roles within their people groups, perhaps as shaman or other religious or mystic leaders. This was actually something suggested by sociobiologist E.O. Wilson back in the 1970s (I wrote a paper on some of his research when I was an undergrad). However, the phenomenon of “two-spirit people” is non-conclusive and in any case, has no bearing on the matter of marriage equality, especially within the Christian church.

I can only imagine the criticism I’m going to receive as a result of writing this and the various labels and names I’ll be called. I’m sorry, I really am. I’m not trying to hurt anyone and in fact, quite the opposite. As I said, as far as the secular world is concerned, Christianity and individual Christians (including me) don’t have the right to impose our covenant standards on the societies in which we live. However, I have to draw the line with people who call themselves believers and disciples in Messiah (Christ) and who choose to accept a single publication as rock-solid evidence that Christianity has accepted and endorsed same-sex marriage in the past and thus must be compelled to do so now.

The work of a single individual without corroborating scientific investigation and peer review is does not provide sufficient and compelling reasons for Christianity as an institution to change its current interpretation of the Biblical prohibitions regarding homosexual behavior, let alone to begin officiating over same-sex marriages across the board.

Addendum: After I wrote this blog, I came across an article at the Washington Post called Trading yarmulke for blond wig, Israeli Orthodox gay Jew becomes drag queen. I know it doesn’t have a direct application to the specifics of my missive, but it’s related enough that I thought it was important to share.

Jesus, Halakhah, and the Evolution of Judaism, Part 2

Who were the Jewish followers of Jesus?

The members of the Jesus sect were clearly religious Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. They could not have believed that Jesus was “god” and remained Jewish, as such a belief would have been complete idolatry in Jewish eyes and would have appeared closer to the Greco-Roman pagan beliefs where gods took on human form and had relations with humans.

At any rate, the Jesus sect, like numerous other sects in the Land of Israel, would certainly have died out even if its members had survived the revolts against Rome in the first and second centuries. (The Pharisees survived in part due to the vision of their leader, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai)

So where did all the Christians comes from? Indeed, where did Christianity come from?

For the answer, we must look at another colorful personality who appeared on the scene after the death of Jesus, and who is given the credit by virtually every historian of Christianity for spreading the message of Jesus worldwide, if not fashioning Christianity for the consumption of the pagan world.

He was a Jew—originally known as Saul—who became famous in Christianity as “Saint Paul.”

Rabbi Ken Shiro
“Seeds of Christianity”
#40 in the “Crash Course in Jewish History” series
Judaism Online: SimpleToRemember.com

Do religions evolve? That is, can we believe that it is reasonable and expected for any given religious structure to evolve over time in order to adapt to changes in the environment that affect the requirements of the religion’s followers? I asked that question in Part 1 of this series and it stands before me, taunting me, and perhaps even haunting me.

Among people of faith, Christians particularly tend to believe that the truths we possess about God and who we are in Christ are fixed, immutable, unchangeable information that exists and is applied universally in the same manner as when Jesus walked the earth.

That’s not actually true, of course. Over the past 2,000 or so, the Christian faith has metamorphosed tremendously. It’s extremely unlikely that the Apostle Paul, walking into a modern Baptist church, would recognize anything as familiar, even understanding that the church was for only Gentiles and that no observant Jews would be present. What would Paul make of Constantine? How would he perceive the ancient Holy Roman Catholic church? And what about Martin Luther and the reformation? How would Paul look at a 19th century American “fire and brimstone” preacher leading a tent revival meeting somewhere just outside of Tulsa, Oklahoma?

(If you want to get a sort of “snapshot” of the changes that Christianity has undergone over the long centuries, visit Wikipedia’s History of Christianity page)

Wait a minute. Doesn’t the title of this series say “the Evolution of Judaism?” Yes, it does. However, in trying to figure out how to write Part 2 of this series, it was easier for me to approach the evolutionary progression of Judaism by way of Christianity. After all Christianity started out as a small sect of Judaism and, through an extraordinary process, spread like wildfire through the Gentile diaspora world of the First and Second Centuries C.E. Since a large part of the audience for this series are both Jews who have come to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, and non-Jews who worship Jesus and yet, in some manner or fashion, are attracted to Judaism, my decision to access Judaism by accessing Christianity makes sense to me (though you may not agree).

While the changes that have occurred within Christianity and it’s somewhat fragmented nature in the early 21st century are undeniable, are these changes actual developmental or evolutionary stages that are required of this, or any religion, in order to survive? After all, like many species of plants and animals, over the long centuries many religions and faith groups have died out. They existed once, even flourished for a time, but are no more.

I can’t say that they ceased to exist because they failed to adapt, although that’s certainly an interesting thought. I can’t really find much (at least that’s readily available online) to support what I’m trying to say, but a site called TED.com (Technology, Entertainment, Design: a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading), presents the following questions:

Have religious belief systems evolved over time?

While many religious believers do not accept the theory of evolution in regards to the development of life, from a historical perspective it seems religious and spiritual belief systems themselves have evolved and developed over time.

From the earliest Venus figurines, cave paintings, early burial sites, naturel and ancestor spirits, polytheistic beliefs to the monotheistic, to deist and others.

Do the strongest survive? Do they adapt? Do they interbreed and influence each other? Do they go extinct? Is there some natural selection process that passes on religious ideas memes, and sees others become extinct?

What properties help a religion survive and thrive? Invisible gods perhaps. Evangelical rather than hereditary. Religions linked to economically and militarily strong cultures perhaps. Do religions have a symbiotic relationship with their host cultures – making them stronger and more united supporting development and progress and hence protecting the religion itself.

What are the greatest challenges to the survival of different religions today, and what will help them survive and thrive?

from “Do religions evolve?”

I could probably study for years and eventually write a paper trying to answer those questions. But maybe the seeds of the answer are found in Judaism:

“I think sometimes Christians read the Bible and think, ‘Oh, this is what Judaism is,’” he says. “Judaism is a living tradition that continues to grow and adapt and change well beyond the Biblical age.”

-Greg Johnson quoting
Rabbi Mike Uram, director of Penn Hillel
“Tracing the Talmud’s journey”

Rabbi Uram is describing the point that I’m trying to make: that religions, particularly Judaism, aren’t fixed and static entities with wholly unchanging rules, commandments, and practices that are frozen across history, geography, and culture. The Talmud and how it is studied and understood in Judaism helps us (well, it helps me) comprehend how religious structures can purposefully adapt and change over time and across sub-groups of the religion, in order to better serve the needs of each generation of followers.

PogromNaturally, I can’t say that all changes across Christianity and Judaism have always been beneficial and productive. Certainly the schism between the church and the synagogue that occurred in the early centuries of the common era has resulted in tremendous harm to the Jewish people. The church is guilty of a long list of crimes against the Jews, including the pogroms, the inquisitions, the burning of synagogues, the destruction of Torah scrolls and volumes of Talmud, and quite horribly, the wholesale slaughter of Jewish men, women, and children. All committed in the name of Christ.

But all of that is rapidly (relative to the speed of history) changing. There is more interfaith cooperation between many Christians and religious Jews. It is common to find Christians supporting Israel and Jewish Israeli causes. If the church is currently evolving, it definitely does seem beneficial in terms of its current viewpoint toward Judaism.

The dark side of suggesting that religions evolve is that such change may be at the cost of the enduring truths of the Bible and the will of God. Such change may be solely for the purpose of fitting in with the surrounding culture, while throwing principles, morals, and ethics under a bus.

I can’t say that hasn’t happened in either Christianity or Judaism.

But I can’t say that all change is bad, either. It seems, especially in the case of Judaism, that a fine balance must take place between adapting to environmental changes and protecting the inner core of the faith. I believe that, more than anything, that is exactly the function of the Talmud in Judaism. In spite of overwhelmingly hostile attempts to eradicate Judaism and exterminate anything that might appear distinctively Jewish (including the people), not only do Jews remain in the world today, but a significant portion of the practices established in the Torah 3,300 years ago continue to be performed in some manner.

Jewish men still wear fringes on their clothing. The Shabbat rest is still observed. Prayers are still offered while facing Jerusalem. Meats are still slaughtered in the customary fashion, and prepared in accordance to the traditions. Men still daven in minyans and their prayers are spoken in Hebrew and Aramaic.

Why am I writing this? I live in the world today, so why should I be concerned about whether or not the church has evolved? The church is what it is today and I live in today, so why does it matter? Here’s what I said in Part 1 that’s relevant to these questions.

Now that we’ve seen evidence that it is reasonable to believe Jesus could have accepted Pharisaic authority to establish ancient halakhah and that he not only upheld portions of that halakhah but practiced it as well, (see the full text of Rabbinowitz for details) Part 2 (although I’m not sure when I’ll write it) will examine the “reasonableness” of Christianity and Judaism evolving or developing from ancient to modern forms. After examining that point, we shall try to see if it is even possible for a returning Jewish Messiah King to accept the halakhah that will exist on the day of his return to Jerusalem.

I have no way to really prove that religions evolve or develop forward in time in a productive and beneficial manner. There are hints that how Talmud and tradition is applied in Judaism is both adaptive and stabilizing, and that this is what has enabled religious Judaism and Jews as a people to be preserved throughout their history.

But what does God think about it all?

I have no idea and I don’t believe anyone can know.

But we can speculate (and speculate and speculate, the blogosphere is full of speculation). In Part 1, I presented some information that seems to support how Jesus upheld the authority of the Pharisees (and the larger structure of religious Judaism) to establish and apply halakhah, and how Jesus even advised his Jewish disciples to follow the halakhah of the Pharisees.

But the Rabbinowitz paper (PDF) also said that the authority of the Pharisees was destined to pass away. Eventually, it would no longer be valid. So what would replace it, not just among the small sect of Jewish “Nazarenes” who followed Jesus, but for all of Judaism in its various divisions, both during the life of Jesus and well beyond?

If Jesus established a distinctive halakhah for his Jewish disciples, it died with the passing of ancient “Messianic Judaism”. The Gentile church moved far, far away from anything even remotely Jewish, so they wouldn’t have carried his halakhah forward, and the descendants of the Jews who were disciples of Jesus fell away in only a few centuries or less. After that, only a Judaism that did not recognize Jesus as Messiah remained to establish law, interpretation, tradition, and halakhah for the Jewish people.

the-teacher2All we have of the teachings of Jesus are what is recorded in the Gospels. The early days of the First Century church are seen mainly through the eyes of Paul and a small group of other disciples. We aren’t even sure of who really wrote most of the New Testament, but if there was a “halakhah of Jesus” that deviated from the halakhah established by Second Temple period normative Judaism, only tiny bits and pieces survived in what became canonized into our Bibles.

I’m not proposing any answers today. I just need to throw some large, sweeping concepts out into the open, because I can see them better there than inside the swirling maelstrom of my thoughts.

Ultimately, the questions are:

  • Do religions naturally evolve in productive ways, both to preserve the core faith and to adapt to external changes in history, geography, and culture?
  • Can we see and trace the evolutionary mechanisms and stages in order to differentiate between productive, expected changes and developmental dead ends?
  • Has Christianity evolved in a productive manner and can we identify the benefits (local or global) of that evolutionary process today in the church?
  • Has Judaism evolved in a productive manner and can we identify the benefits (local or global) of that evolutionary process today in the synagogue?
  • At the coming/return of the Messiah (your specific viewpoint on this depends on whether you’re a normative Jew, Messianic, or a Christian), how might the Messiah view and judge Christianity and Judaism relative to how they have changed in the past 2,000 years?

I guess I should have added one last question: “Do I have a prayer of even beginning to answer those questions in a meaningful way?

Probably not, but as I’m fond of saying, this blog is more about chronicling whatever I’m thinking about at any given point in time than actually doling out satisfying answers to complicated questions.

That said, Part 3 of this series, which will be tomorrow’s “morning meditation,” takes an extremely interesting direction, leveraging the opinions of a particular and well-known (in some circles) “One Torah” scholar who believes that Mishnah and “Divine authority” have nothing to do with each other.

The Unmixing Bowl

Many MKs opened their mailboxes on Monday morning and were appalled to find a New Testament inside, sent to them by a messianic organization.

The Bible Society in Israel, a messianic Judaism institution for research, publication and dissemination of holy books, sent a “Book of Testaments,” which combines the Tanach and New Testament in one, leather-bound volume, published with references in Hebrew for the first time.

While the sect incorporates elements of religious Jewish practice, it holds that Jesus is the Messiah.

MK Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) sent a letter of complaint to Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, writing that “it cannot be that missionary materials can be distributed in the Knesset.”

“Texts that were used to persecute and harass [Jews] cannot be distributed through the front door of the State of Israel,” Hotovely fumed.

Christian Allies Caucus chairman MK David Rotem (Yisrael Beytenu) said the mailing is “not missionary work, but an act of foolishness.”

Shas MK Nissim Ze’ev did not receive a package, but said the society had crossed the line between free speech and proselytizing.

-Lahav Harkov
“Missionaries in the Knesset?”
The Jerusalem Post

Sending a bunch of “Christian Bibles” to all the Jewish members of the Knesset was, depending on the reaction you expected, predictably a bad idea. At best (as you read in the quote from the article), it would be seen as “foolishness.” At worst, it would be taken as Christians proselytizing Jews, which is deeply offensive. Think of how many Jews were tortured and even murdered by the church in the past thousand years in attempts to force Jews to convert to Christianity. So, do you think sticking a Christian Bible under the noses of a group of Jews is a good idea?

Anything that even hints of Christian “missionary work” among the Jews is going to trigger a hostile response. Even my attempt at discussing this issue on Facebook drew several passionate responses. After all, Judaism and Christianity are completely incompatible religions and lifestyles.

Or are they?

I’ve started reading Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels, which has drawn its own “passionate responses” in the Amazon reviews section for the book. The fact that Boyarin is a Jewish educator and the Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley hasn’t helped calm the obvious emotional commentary this topic inspires from both Christians and Jews. After all, what Jew, let alone a noted and respected Talmudic scholar, would approach the Christian New Testament with anything but disdain?

I’m barely past the Introduction of the book, but while it is a short work at 224 pages, so far, it is extremely dense with content.

If there is one thing that Christians know about their religion, it is that it is not Judaism. If there is one thing that Jews know about their religion, it is that it is not Christianity. If there is one thing that both groups know about this double not, it is that Christians believe in the Trinity and the incarnation of Christ (the Greek word for Messiah) and that Jews don’t, that Jews keep kosher and Christian don’t.

If only things were this simple.

…The question was not “Is a divine Messiah coming?” but only “Is this carpenter from Nazareth the One we are expecting?” Not surprisingly, some Jews said yes and some said no. Today, we call the first group Christians and the second group Jews, but it was not like that then, not at all.

-Daniel Boyarin
from the Introduction of his book
The Jewish Gospels

Boyarin is suggesting the unthinkable to both Jewish and Christian readers. He’s suggesting that at one point, what we now call Christianity was a form of Judaism, and it was accepted among the different forms or sects of Judaism that existed in the late Second Temple period in Roman occupied “Palestine.” Rabbi Shmuley Boteach tried to reintegrate Christianity into its original Jewish framework in his recent book Kosher Jesus, but it wasn’t well received, either by Jewish audiences (and particularly the Chabad) or by Christians. In my opinion, not having even started Chapter 1 in Boyarin’s book yet, I think he does a much better job than Rabbi Boteach. Although Boyarin is hardly accepting of Jesus as the Messiah, he seems to be able to communicate that a non-trivial number of first century Jews could see that the son of a carpenter from Nazareth might possibly be the Moshiach. Many groups of Jews were divided on this issue in those days, but that’s not particularly unusual according to Boyarin.

Some believed that in order to be a kosher Jew you had to believe in a single divine figure and any other belief was simply idol worship. Others believed that God had a divine deputy or emissary or even a son, exalted above all the angels, who functioned as an intermediary between God and the world in creation, revelation, and redemption. Many Jews believed that redemption was going to be effected by a human being, an actual hidden scion of the house of David–an Anastasia–who at a certain point would take up the scepter and the sword, defeat Israel’s enemies, and return her to her former glory. Others believed that the redemption was going to be effected by that same second divine figure mentioned above and not a human being at all. And still others believed that these two were one and the same, that the Messiah of David would be the divine Redeemer. As I said, a complicated affair.

I would love to see Boyarin’s research from exclusively Jewish sources that supports his understanding of these different factions of Jews, some of whom held beliefs that so mirrored a Christian’s vision of Jesus as divine and as God’s son. You don’t typically hear that sort of viewpoint from Jewish scholars and sages, particularly in modern times.

In other parts of the book’s introduction, Boyarin indicates that he sees the final crystallization of Christ occurring in the church in the late 4th century, specifically at the Council of Nicaea, where the last few nails were driven into the coffin of “Jewish Christianity.” Prior to this, Boyarin believes there were groups of Jews who continued to honor Jesus as the Messiah and the sent one of the God of Jacob; that faith in Jesus was not inconsistent with being a halakhic Jew. In fact, quoting a letter of St. Jerome (347-420 CE) written to St. Augustine of Hippo, Boyarin thinks there where a few small “Christian Jewish” sects that survived into the early 5th century.

In our own day there exists a sect among the Jews throughout all the synagogues of the East, which is called the sect of the Minei, and is even now condemned by the Pharisees. The adherents to this sect are known commonly as Nazarenes; they believe in Christ the Son of God, born of the Virgin Mary; and they say that He who suffered under Pontius Pilate and rose again, is the same as the one in whom we believe. But while they desire to be both Jews and Christians, they are neither one nor the other.

Boyarin points out that sadly, Jerome was unable to reconcile Christianity and Judaism, even at this early stage in the history of the church, and yet these “minim” (sectarians) and “Notzrim” (Nazarenes) were Jewish people who lived halachically Jewish lives, keeping kosher, observing the Shabbat, and performing the other mitzvot according to the Torah of Moses…and lifting up this carpenter from Nazareth as the Messiah, who came once and will come again.

Anyone familiar with Christianity’s history and how it is intertwined (rather tragically) with the history of post-Second Temple Judaism, knows something of how the schism between Gentile Christians and diaspora Jews was formed, widened, and eventually ruptured across the pages of the Bible and the Talmud in a bloody, awful mess.

My wife and daughter (sometimes with the “help” of my three-year old grandson Landon) are avid bakers. They have their specialized tools and devices to assist them in their craft, much as an expert carpenter has his coveted power tools. A great deal is made of the mixing bowl and the various mechanisms and peripheral elements that stir delicious substances together, this way and that, in order to produce the correct result that is fit for baking (but first, fit for sampling, at least if it’s cookie dough, by the small “helper” in the kitchen…and occasionally by grandpa).

History has provided for us the converse; an “unmixing bowl” of something that was once an acceptable and perhaps even integral ingredient in the “dough” of ancient Judaism. The portions of that “dough” which eventually became Christianity are now as popular among the descendants of Jacob as a bowl of flour on the kitchen table of a Jewish home during Passover week.

And so, when a “Christian Bible” was sent to each of the Jewish MKs in Jerusalem a few days ago, all the wheels fell off the cart, so to speak, and the stories and letters telling the tales of the man who many Jews once believed was the Messiah is now treated as an object of scorn and insult.

And ultimately trashed.

But there are a few, very few Jews who are re-examining the mixing bowl to see if there is anything left over at the bottom or clinging to the rim, that may serve as a reminder of the “Maggid of Natzaret;” the one who may have been much more than a small town carpenter turned itinerant teacher, or a failed revolutionary who came to a bad end. What if the story of Jesus Christ is really a Jewish story? Could such a thing be possible? Can a modern Jewish Talmudic scholar breach the separating wall between Christianity and Judaism and find this man, or more than a man, waiting in the shadows?

That’s what I’m going to find out as I continue to read Boyarin’s book.

For in discovering the Jewish story of the Jewish Jesus, we may all find out who we really are as people created in His image. And by finding our own face in the mirror, we can find his face, and we can take ownership of the reality of the Lord, Savior, and Messiah, who was sent not just for Israel, but for the entire world.

You need to take ownership of those things important in life—the charity you give, the kind deeds you do, the Torah you learn and teach.

You can’t just say, “This is G‑d’s business, He has to take care of it.” It has to hurt when it doesn’t work out; you have to dance with joy when it does.

That is why G‑d created the “I”—so that we would do these things as owners, not just as workers.

-Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“My Thing”
Based on letters and talks of the Rebbe
Rabbi M. M. Schneerson