Tag Archives: Shoah

Book Review of “Paul within Judaism: The State of the Questions”

I may not be inclined to agree with the late Christopher Hitchens that religion poisons everything, but in the case of Pauline studies it could, however, easily be argued that research discipline has indeed been negatively affected by Christian normative theology.

-Magnus Zetterholm
from the Introduction of his essay
“Paul within Judaism: The State of the Questions”
Paul within Judaism: Restoring the First-Century Context to the Apostle (Kindle Edition)

This is how Zetterholm begins his contribution to the Paul within Judaism book, and no doubt it could be a disturbing statement for many Christian scholars, Pastors, and laypeople within the Church. How can “Christian normative theology” negatively affect Pauline studies? At least that’s probably the question they’d ask.

But the common thread running through the different articles within this book is removing Paul from within that normative Christian theological paradigm and inserting him (or re-inserting him) into a first century Jewish context, the context in which the Apostle lived, taught, and wrote.

Zetterholm points out that it’s primarily Christians who study the New Testament (or Apostolic Scriptures as I prefer to think of them) using (naturally) a classic set of Christian traditions. This includes a body of traditions used to study the letters of Paul. But tradition isn’t always the best basis to perform scientific and historical research. Zetterholm suggests something called “methodological atheism” as the preferred method, which isn’t to necessarily divorce our faith from our scholarly endeavors, but to set aside our tradition-based biases and to examine the text on its own terms.

From a methodological point of view, the Christian ideological perspectives that continue to characterize much of the ostensibly historical work done in New Testament studies is problematic.

The original understanding possessed by the first Jewish and non-Jewish disciples of Yeshua (Jesus) was a specifically first century Jewish (and largely Pharisaic) perspective on the teachings of Paul and, of course, the earlier teachings of Messiah. However, during and certainly after the particularly gruesome divorce the Gentiles required from their Jewish mentors, the theological landscape within the newly minted non-Jewish religion known as “Christianity” was significantly altered from what came before it.

Anti-Jewish propaganda started promptly within early Christianity.

But beginning in the early second century we find harshly critical statements from non-Jewish followers of Jesus that seem to indicate that some form of division based on ethnicity has taken place.

Zetterholm quoted from Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch, and his Letter to the Magnesians (8:1) for emphasis:

“…not [to] be deceived by strange doctrines or antiquated myths, since they are worthless. For if we continue to live in accordance with Judaism, we admit that we have not received grace.”

Or the even more damning statement (from the same letter, 10:3):

…”utterly absurd [atopon estin] to profess Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism.”

What was born in the second century has had a lasting impact on how the Church views Christianity and Judaism today:

The binary ideas that Christianity has superseded Judaism and that Christian grace has replaced Jewish legalism, for example, appear to be essential aspects of most Christian theologies.

two-roads-joinMore than that, we have the fixed notion that Christianity and Judaism are wholly separate things with, at this point in history, nothing in common besides a distinct shared “ancestor,” that is, the Torah and the Prophets.

Zetterholm’s goal is:

…what we herein prefer to call Paul within Judaism perspectives–believe and share the assumption that the traditional perspectives on the relation between Judaism and Christianity are incorrect and need to be replaced by a historically more accurate view. It is Christian theology that must adjust…

As history progressed in those first few centuries after the death of Paul, “Christian propaganda” against the Jews and Judaism only increased and diversified. Along with that, Paul’s central focus was also purposefully changed:

While Paul’s problem seems to have been how to include the nations in the final salvation or how the categories “Jew” and “non-Jew” would be rescued from their respective constraints, the interest changes to the salvation of the individual.

This is precisely the matter I was attempting to address yesterday. I believe it’s possible that nearly two-thousand years of inadvertent and deliberate distortion and corruption of Biblical interpretation has resulted in not only a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul the Jew and Pharisee, but confusion about the nature of his mission to the Gentiles. As I read Zetterholm, I believe that Paul was not “preaching” about saving individual souls from Hell, but attempting to reconcile the nations with the blessings of the New Covenant and integration into Jewish religious and social community.

Even within the early Gentile Christian community, there was still a “tug of war” going on between the Jewish and Christian perception of many theological issues. Zetterholm cites the example of a monk named Pelagius who “appeared in Rome around 380…”:

Pelagius also denied any form of original sin that had so corrupted the human soul that it was impossible for one to choose to do what God commanded. Against this, Augustine claimed the opposite: humans can in no way please God, even choose to want to please God, and are…incapable of doing what God demands.

This fourth century Monk seemed to possess a decidedly Jewish perspective of “the fall” in Genesis, and yet it was Augustine’s opinion that became “Gospel,” so to speak, and is staunchly believed in the Church today. But if our faith had remained Jewish and retained Paul’s original teachings faithfully, what would we believe today?

Many Christians, and I used to go to a church just like this, hold fast to the Reformation, to Martin Luther and those like him, who saw the corruption in the Catholic Church, and founded Protestantism as the solution. It would have been nice if they could also have corrected the many flaws that had crept into the Church’s theology and doctrine since the second century onward, but such was not the case. In fact:

During the Reformation, the already wide gap between Judaism and Christianity would widen even further and find new theological bases upon which to build. While the church had adopted a modified form of Augustinianism…Martin Luther returned to Augustine’s original doctrine of justification. Luther, however, developed several dialectical relations that would result in an even sharper contrast between Judaism and Christianity.

Luther
Martin Luther

In this aspect of theology, Luther and his peers reformed nothing. Actually, they took the misunderstanding of Paul’s teachings and amplified them.

Zetterholm referenced Luther’s infamous On the Jews and Their Lies, mentioning:

…that synagogues and Jewish schools should be burnt, rabbis should be forbidden to teach, and Jewish writings should be confiscated.

And from this, the 21st century Church has inherited:

Luther’s interpretation of Paul became established as an indisputable historical fact.

It’s small wonder that when questioning the traditional Christian view on Paul among Pastors and parishioners, it is as if you are questioning the existence of God. From Augustine to Luther, it has been the Church Fathers and Men of the Reformation who have manufactured how Christians understand Paul today, not Paul, not his Apostolic peers, not his Jewish and Gentile students, and not his original historic and cultural Jewish context.

During the nineteenth century the idea of a distinction between Judaism and Christianity was theologically well established. This dichotomy would eventually develop a kind of scientific legitimacy, predominantly within German scholarship.

I’m sure you see where this is going. With Holocaust Remembrance Day beginning this evening at sundown, the terrible legacy of Augustine, Luther, and so many others, reached its bloody climax in Shoah and the memory of six million Jewish deaths we continue to live with and must never forget.

Zetterholm didn’t make this point, at least not very strongly, but I felt it necessary to do so. No, it was not the intent of anyone, any Christian scholar or leader over the many long centuries to create the horrors of Hitler’s camps, but they were the inevitable result.

We can’t allow the possibility of another Holocaust to exist by allowing the traditional Christian misinterpretation of Paul to continue.

The solution is this:

Sanders did what Weber had done, but not so many after him–he reread the Jewish texts in order to see if he could find a religious pattern, common to all texts from 200 BCE to 200 CE.

This is what we should do. This is what the Church should do. Break from tradition and go back to the source material, reconstructing its meaning without twenty centuries of mistakes and disinformation getting in the way.

This revision of ancient Judaism changed the rules of the game quite significantly for New Testament scholars. It now seemed apparent that previous scholarship on Paul was based, not on an adequate description of ancient Judaism, but on a Christian caricature.

Paul the Christian Caricature.

The Jewish PaulNo, I can’t assign malice or any other ill intent upon modern Christians. Those who did create our traditions, some of them with malice, lived many centuries ago. With the passage of time, we’ve forgotten that these are the interpretations of men with a theological ax to grind, and we have forgotten that our understanding of “truth” and “fact” is in fact, a set of traditions, and that those traditions resulted from a hermeneutic that was specifically designed to remove every last vestige of Jewish learning and Jewish legitimacy from our devotion to the Jewish Messiah and the Jewish King of Kings, ruler of the Jewish nation Israel, and Son of the God of Israel.

Don’t worry, the article has a happy ending.

Zetterholm covered the “birth” of the new and even radical perspectives on Paul, citing Sanders, Dunn, Gaston and others. From them, he concludes:

The search for the historical Paul cannot be limited to finding a Paul who makes theological sense for the present-day church, but one who makes sense in a first-century context, before Augustine and Luther entered the scene.

Paul (must be) firmly rooted within Judaism.

A Paul within Judaism would not have taught that Jews and Gentiles in Messiah left their nationality and ethnicity behind and became a “third race,” a “one new man”. A Torah observant Paul within Judaism, still faithful to Judaism, faithful to the Temple, faithful to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, needs to be read within that context. His letters are the same, but the lens by which we view them creates a dramatically different perspective.

One thing to consider given what I just wrote, is that:

…all Paul’s authentic letters seem to be addressing non-Jews might give us a hermeneutical key. Is it possible that Paul only objected to non-Jews observing the Torah or to non-Jews becoming Jews and thus under Torah on the same terms as Jews?

Zetterholm goes on to state (and I’ve said this before as well) that there were different ideas on the table about how the Jewish disciples of the Master were supposed to integrate the new Gentile disciples. They ranged from a sort of open-arms acceptance of Gentiles coming into community with Jews to absolute rejection, the very idea of Gentiles in synagogues being loathsome.

There is also ample evidence indicating that many non-Jews were attracted to Judaism and imitated a Jewish life style, probably as a result of interaction with Jews who believed that also non-Jews would benefit from observing the Torah.

Or at least some of the Torah. Zetterholm considers the existence of some “non-Jews who could be regarded as partly Torah observant” in ancient times. This may have implications on modern “Messianic Gentiles” and what sort of praxis we might maintain as an expression of our faith.

But that creates what Zetterholm calls a “complex social situation” between Jews obligated to the mitzvot and Gentiles taking on at least some of the commandments as a matter of preference and a natural consequence of being part of Jewish community, sharing a common table.

The problem this young movement had to overcome was how to incorporate non-Jews, not only to find ways of socializing safely with non-Jews, but how to include non-Jews in the eschatological people of God. Paul evidently believed that non-Jews should remain non-Jewish, and that they should not observe Torah, which possibly meant that they should not base their relation to the God of Israel on the Torah but on Jesus-the-Messiah.

messianic judaism for the nationsYesterday, I quoted from a sizable block of Colossians 1 in which Paul emphasized the centrality of the Messiah specifically for the Gentile. Given Zetterholm, Paul’s meaning takes on additional dimension.

However, he also cited the Didache which includes an injunction for the Gentile disciple to voluntarily take on as much of the Torah as possible or reasonable, yet remaining a Gentile.

I maintain that this all speaks to the nature of Jewish and Gentile relationships in the Messianic Jewish and Hebrew Roots movements today, as does the following:

It is quite natural and most likely that the process of self-definition was complicated and led to harsh conflicts.

Unfortunately, those conflicts ultimately resulted in Gentiles and Jews taking different trajectories in their expression of Yeshua-faith and finally the invention of Christianity, which split from its Jewish predecessors entirely.

While Paul believed that he represented the perfection of Judaism, the church quite swiftly became a religious movement opposed to the practice of Judaism.

Even those modern Christians who express a love for the Jewish people and for Israel continue to oppose the practice of Judaism, both in normative Judaism and for Jews in Messiah.

I’ll continue with my reviews soon.

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Hitler’s Final Solution, the Oral Torah, and its Meaning to Christianity

These are the statutes and the judgments and the teachings (Toros- plural of Torah) that HASHEM gave between Himself and the Children of Israel at Sinai through the hand of Moshe.

Vayikra (Leviticus) 26:46

Toros: One (Torah) Written and one (Torah) Oral. This informs that both were given to Moshe at Sinai.

-Rashi

This is a critical and oft underappreciated nugget of information. Not one Mitzvah in the entire Torah is capable of being carried into action given only the parameters provided in the text. There are almost 30,000 details that comprise phylacteries and 5,000 in the ubiquitous mezuzah with little information to guide to their uniform completion. What’s called “killing”? When does life begin? When does it end? What one person calls “family planning” another may legitimately define as “murder!”

The Torah cries out for explanation. There must, by definition, have been a concomitant corpus of information that accompanied the giving of the laws and that is what we call the “Oral Torah”. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch uses the analogy that the Written Torah is like the notes to a scientific lecture. Every jot and squiggle has significance. If properly understood it can awaken the actual lecture. The notes remain useless to someone who has not heard the lecture from the Master. Therefore in the Oral Torah is the sum of the lecture while the Written Torah is merely a shorthand record. Without an Oral Torah that book the whole world holds in such high esteem, the Bible is rendered in-actionable. It becomes a frozen document that cannot be lived. Unfortunately, so many over the ages have become lost due to a failure to appreciate this single point and its significance for our very survival as a people.

When my wife and I were engaged, at the party there was a cousin of hers that has written voluminously about the holocaust. He himself survived, somehow, seven concentration camps. One of the Rabbis encouraged him to speak. He claimed to be unprepared and not a good English speaker. He spoke amazingly well.

-Rabbi Label Lam
“Understand it Very Well” (2007)
Torah.org

Rabbi Lam got my attention when he wrote, ”Not one Mitzvah in the entire Torah is capable of being carried into action given only the parameters provided in the text.” Most of what I hear about the Oral Torah from Evangelical Christians is that it’s all a bunch of made up rules and cannot be considered the valid Word of God. Many in the Christian Hebrew Roots world say the same thing, believing it is possible to observe the mitzvot based on the Written Torah alone.

And yet Rabbi Lam says this is impossible.

Moses received the Torah from [G-d at] Sinai and gave it over to Joshua. Joshua gave it over to the Elders, the Elders to the Prophets, and the Prophets gave it over to the Men of the Great Assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] would always say these three things: Be cautious in judgment. Establish many pupils. And make a safety fence around the Torah.

-Pirkei Avot 1:1

Talmudic RabbisOrthodox Judaism generally believes that the Oral Torah was handed down in an unbroken chain as described above. Given the history of Israel’s exiles, that seems difficult to believe.

Even the written Torah was lost for a great deal of time and when it was found (2 Kings 22:8-13), King Josiah ”tore his clothes” because ”great is the wrath of the Lord that burns against us, because our fathers have not listened to the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” If the words of the Torah had been lost even though written, how much more so can it be true that the original Oral Torah given to Moses could have been forgotten?

But that doesn’t mean Oral history didn’t accompany the written Torah in some matter or fashion across the many centuries. The Oral tradition just might not have survived intact from its earliest inception. That is, what Judaism understands to be Oral Torah now may not be entirely traceable back over three-thousand years.

I’ve repeatedly suggested that the “Jerusalem letter” we saw crafted in Acts 15 as a set of instructions for new Gentile disciples of Jesus, had to have been accompanied by oral instructions because the “four essentials” of the letter are so barren. It’s quite possible that the Didache is the documentation of the original oral instructions for the Gentile disciples, so oral information being transmitted across time to explain written instruction isn’t foreign to early Christian tradition.

Just recently, I said I thought later Christian commentary was a refactoring of the original Jewish understanding of the scriptures, and my statements were inspired by comments made by New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado on his blog, including this paragraph:

But I suspect that if Paul were asked whether Jesus was the “second person of the Trinity,” he would likely have responded with a quizzical look, and asked for some explanation of what it meant! Were the patristic texts and creedal statements saying something beyond or distinguishable from what the NT texts say? Certainly. Does that invalidate those later creedal discussions and formulations? Well, if you recognize the necessity of the continuing theological task (of intelligently attempting to articulate Christian faith meaningfully in terms appropriate and understandable in particular times and cultures), then probably you’ll see the classic creedal statements as an appropriate such effort. (emph. mine)

-Hurtado, Jesus, “Pre-existence,” etc: Responding to Questions

Rabbi Label Lam
Rabbi Label Lam

Put all together, we can paint a picture of an Oral set of instructions accompanying the written Torah, perhaps changing over time to respond to the differing demands and requirements of ”particular times and cultures.” If Judaism is guilty of this process, so indeed is Christianity. We just don’t talk about it.

I’m including the rest of the quote from Rabbi Lam’s article because it includes important points from history, and we ignore history at our own peril.

First he looked out at a room filled with newly observant Jews and wondered aloud, “Where do you people come from?” He then quoted the Talmudic principle, “Torah returns to those who have hosted it.” He explained, “If you are sitting here today then it’s probably because you have some great ancestors who were willing to and did give blood to keep this Torah alive.” He went on to talk about my wife’s and his illustrious family tree.

Then he said that had he known he was going to speak he would have brought with him a document he held in his hands that morning that answered a question that had been nagging him for almost four decades. “We all know Hitler’s “final solution” for European Jewry. What was his global scheme? Where was his plan to eliminate the rest of world Jewry?” He then paraphrased what he had learned from that document. Here is a printed transcript with a partial English translation:

“This document transmits a memorandum dispatched by I.A Eckhardt from the chief of the German Occupation Power. It is an order dated October 25, 1940 from das Reichssicherheitshauptamt-the central office of the German Security Forces to the Nazi district governors in occupied Poland, instructing them not to grant exit visas to Ostjuden- Jews from Eastern Europe. The reason behind this order is clearly spelled out: the fear that because of their “Othodoxen einstellung” their orthodoxy, these Ostjuden would provide “die Rabbiner und Talmudleher” – the Rabbis and the teachers of the Talmud, who would create “die geistige Erneuerung” the spiritual regeneration of the Jews in America and throughout the world.”

The Oral Torah is essential for our existence as a people. It is our most vital organ and instrument for survival. Without it we are immediately lost. It makes sense that those who plan our demise understand it very well!

Even the reprehensible Nazis understood the power of the Talmud and Rabbinic rulings and traditions to save the Jewish people, particularly in the face of certain disaster. We see here that beyond the extermination of the six million Jewish victims of the Third Reich, the Nazis had plans to prevent the rest of world Jewry from learning of the so-called “final solution,” for fear that the Jews in America wouldn’t be easy targets if prepared (assuming the Reich was victorious in conquering the world, which, Baruch Hashem, they were not).

Holocaust survivor David Faber
Holocaust survivor David Faber

Oral Torah, which was eventually recorded in writing and then adapted repeatedly as circumstances required, was responsible for Jewish survival during a two-thousand year history where the world was continually trying to destroy them. For this reason alone, we should be thankful for the Jewish adherence to Talmud, but as I’ve already stated, in many ways, Christianity in its various forms including Protestantism, has a parallel set of “oral law” upon which it relies to define Biblical application across the changing historical and cultural landscape.

I only ask that the Evangelical Church “come clean” and admit that we have our own oral traditions that were eventually written down and upon which we continue to depend to define our faith. Just don’t let our traditions diminish the Jewish people and national Israel in any sense, or we might find ourselves “on the wrong side of God.”

Yom HaShoah in Church

Passover this year was not a festival of freedom for Alisa Flatow of West Orange, New Jersey. The Brandies junior was rendered brain dead by a piece of shrapnel on April 9, when a Palestinian suicide bomber drove his van of explosives into a busload of Israelis near Kfar Darom in the Gaza Strip.

-Ismar Schorsch
“To Love Our Neighbor is Not Enough,” pg 413, May 6, 1995
Commentary on Torah Portion Kedoshim
Canon Without Closure: Torah Commentaries

No one is ever to say, “I am too old to worry about the welfare of the next generation.”

-Schrorsch
“The Ethic of Stewardship,” pg 417, May 10, 1997

In short, holiness is a matter of deeds, not words.

-ibid
“What is Holiness?” pg 419, April 23, 1994

You may be wondering what all of these quotes have to do with Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Memorial Day. I’m sure Schorsch’s commentaries on Parashah Kedoshim were unassociated with any thought of Shoah, but with the commemoration beginning tonight (Sunday, April 27th) at sunset, Schorsch’s articles on holiness are refactored in my mind into a memorial for the dead and a cry to the living.

I’m writing this before attending church on Sunday morning. I can’t get away from the counterpoint of Christianity’s history relative to the Jewish people and however unmeaning, the Church’s contribution to Hitler’s ghastly atrocities.

I commented several weeks ago on my decision not to attend Easter…uh, Resurrection Day services at church because of how it affected my wife last year. It seems somewhat ironic that I should select Yom HaShoah as my opportunity to return to corporate Christian worship. I hope it’s not a mistake.

My recent reflections on Purim including its meaning for the Church and sadly finding the Spirit of Haman in the Church, point to the relevancy of certain Jewish observances to Christians, especially as a point of education and elucidation.

ShoahIf any body needs to be reminded of Shoah and how the screams of six-million murdered Jews continue to echo down the dark tunnel of history and into our present, it is the Church.

I don’t say this as a way of blaming current Christianity for the Holocaust or any of the other atrocities that have been committed against the Jewish people and Judaism over the past two-thousand years or so, but as a cautionary tale and a reminder that we don’t have to return to the sins of the past. As I’ve said before, Evangelicals are abandoning support of Israel and the Jewish people in droves. The stage is being set in Europe and America for a resurgence of anti-Semitism and Jew hatred.

How soon we forget.

Which is why we must not only remember but we must teach. We must remind ourselves of the horrors of the past and we must educate the next generation that the return of the Spirit of Amalek is only a heartbeat away.

So my church attendance today will also be a silent reminder, or maybe a not so silent reminder, to my fellow Christians of what this day means to them…to us.

I have a t-shirt. I can’t recall the name of the company that produced it. I bought it many years ago, at the approach of Yom HaShoah, along with the others in the congregation I used to attend. The company making it wanted to sell six million of them, one for each victim. I don’ t know if it worked out that way. I hope it did. I want to represent one of six million. I want to be a reminder of one Jewish soul who died needlessly because of evil men and Christian indifference.

This commemorative t-shirt cries out that Shoah must never happen again. I wear it every year at this time, which is usually during the weekdays at work, as a witness. Only one person has ever asked me what it meant. He seemed surprised when I told him.

RemembranceI normally go to church dressed in “business casual” clothing, but dress pants are hardly suitable attire with a black t-shirt, so I’m “dressing down” for church today. I’m also dressing up, so to speak, and by “up” I mean elevation, both informational and spiritual. My clothing will be a badge of warning and of purpose. We must all do something today and tomorrow (and always) to remind the world around us of what they’ve forgotten, and to tell the news in the world around us to those who have never been told before.

My friend Dan Hennessy is, among other things, a “Holocaust educator, author, and activist.” He has a motto for his teaching which I like.

Education is resistance. Join the resistance.

Rather makes you feel like a freedom fighter when you say it out loud. But that’s who we are when we speak of Shoah, when we tell others what Yom HaShoah means, not just as a piece of history, and not just as something meaningful to Jewish people, but as a vital reminder to the Church” that we, as disciples of the Jewish Messiah, have a responsibility and a duty to the Jewish people, to Israel, and to God, never to forget and never to let our children forget. We must never let the world forget about the day when the world went mad.

Dan’s research and teaching led him to write a book: Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust. I’m fortunate enough to own a copy which I reviewed last year. At less than one hundred pages, it can be read in just an hour or two and serves as a perfect devotional for the remembrance of Shoah.

What do you do on Yom HaShoah?

You can learn more than I could possibly insert into this brief missive. You can read the story of a Holocaust survivor and put a living, human face on the Holocaust. You can watch video reminders of the past so you may strengthen your resolve that the past does not also have to be the future for the Jews. You can realize that Shoah is continually lived out in Jewish experience today and in the history of modern Israel.

The Holocaust did not end in 1945 when the Allies liberated the Jewish survivors from the Nazi killing centers and concentration camps. Still shadowing the world’s moral, political, and religious life are the consequences of what happened, and did not happen, in the period of 1933 to May 1945 in predominantly Christian Europe.

-Daniel Hennessy
“Educational Activism,” pg 82
Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust

I quoted Ismar Schorsch above in saying that we are not “too old to worry about the welfare of the next generation” and “holiness is a matter of deeds, not words.”

Yesterday’s Torah Portion Kedoshim includes the following:

Hashem spoke to Moses saying: Speak to the entire assembly of the Children of Israel and say to them: You shall be holy, for holy am I, Hashem, your God.

Leviticus 19:1-2 (Stone Edition Chumash)

These words, or something similar, are not foreign to Christians:

Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matthew 5:48 (NASB)

Remembering Shoah and teaching others to remember is an act of Holiness and perfection. It is honoring God, for God asks each of us to love kindness and to do justice (Micah 6:8).

candle shoahToday, I will stand in the sanctuary among other Gentile Christians as a witness. Pastor Randy, who lived in Israel for fifteen years, is on vacation this week so he won’t be leading services. Pastor Bill will be giving a sermon on David and Goliath (I Samuel 17) and my Sunday school class will be teaching on Ephesians 2. Nothing wrong with any of those lessons.

But given what is on my heart as I write this, I can think of something better to teach in church today. I pray that there’s someone who will listen.

This year, Yom HaShoah begins on Sunday, April 27th at sundown and ends on Monday, April 28th at sundown. If you can teach someone about Shoah then teach. If you know little or nothing of Shoah, then learn.

Prologue to the Irony of Galatians

The Irony of GalatiansFinally, I want to acknowledge the victims of certain interpretations of Paul’s voice, especially those who have suffered the Shoah. Their suffering cannot be separated from the prejudices resulting from those interpretations any more than it can be wholly attributed to them. To them I dedicate the effort represented in this book.

-Mark D. Nanos
from the Acknowledgments, pg ix
The Irony of Galatians: Paul’s Letter in First-Century Context

Such a strange way to end a series of acknowledgments for a book. The author usually thanks his/her publisher, editor, spouse, and whoever else contributed to or who were sometimes inconvenienced by the author’s writing of the book. Occasionally, religious people will thank God, their congregation, and so forth, in addition to the “usual suspects.” Having written a few books myself (though not in the religious studies space), I know the author’s side of composing acknowledgments.

That said, I normally blow past the acknowledgment page quickly when I get a new book in my hands, but something told me to slow down a bit before getting to the “meat” of the content. What we have here is a suggestion that the traditional way Paul has been understood by Christian interpreters has, in some manner or fashion, contributed to the injury of the Jewish people, including the most glaring injury in recent history, the Holocaust. There have been two injustices committed by the “consensus view” of Paul which includes his letter to the Galatians: a gross misunderstanding of Paul himself and his missives to various First Century churches, and as a result of that misunderstanding, a terrible injustice to Jewish people across the last nearly two-thousand years of history.

That’s a heavy burden to place upon collective Christianity, but it’s not a burden that is undeserved, nor is it one that cannot be lightened. What is needed is a fresh reading of Paul from a First Century Jewish context.

While Nanos states in the book’s Prologue that he attempts to make no direct comparison between the Paul of Galatians and how Nanos depicted Paul in his previous book The Mystery of Romans, I don’t doubt that I’ll be making the comparison anyway, considering my several recent reviews of that work. After all, we are talking about the same human being, and unless Paul received a “personality transplant” between writing one letter and the next, he should be transmitting the same basic understanding of the role of Jews and Gentiles in the Jewish religious stream once known as “the Way.

Because the prevailing interpretations have probed Paul’s text without sufficient appreciation of the powerful role of ironic inversion at work, at the formal as well as functional level, the interpretation of the apostle’s scathing rhetoric has exaggerated and, regardless of other plans, continues to accentuate the differences that are imagined to separate Christian and Jewish identity, behavior, and even intentions toward God and neighbor. The legacy of this perception of the Jewish other has proven often tragic for the Jewish people, at least in a world that has been often dominated by those who look to Paul to shape reality, and for others, as a foil to justify their twisted construal of what is right.

-Nanos, Prologue, pg 2

This reads more like an indictment than, as Nanos puts it, a project that “represents a revised and expanded version of (his) Ph.D. dissertation…in 2000.” There’s a sense that Nanos has more invested in this project than simply a serious and scholarly re-investigation into the traditional interpretation of Paul relative to ancient and modern Christian and Jewish relationships and identities.

No interpretation is independent of context, that realized or assumed for the original author and audience, and that of the interpreter him-or herself. I am a product of many factors, not the least the long shadow of the Holocaust, which claimed so many Jewish people, my people, as well as exposure to critical tools now available to the interpreter.

ibid, pg 4

PaulNanos goes on in the Prologue to compare the “Consensus View” which he states has “not changed that significantly in the history of Christian interpretation” to his perspective which he calls “The Irony of Galatians,” characterizing Paul’s letter as an “ironic rebuke”. He challenges the consensus view of Paul as Law-free and in opposition to Jewish Law (Torah) and religiously obedient Jews, which is an interpretation of Paul’s message in Galatians that has been “undeniably colored by the interpreter’s understanding” rather than “producing a disinterested portrait” of the subjects of the letter, “considering their identity, motives, messages, or methods on their own terms.”

Of course, we have to consider that Nanos, in partially attributing Shoah and the murder of six million of his people to the traditional interpretation of Paul renders him less than completely objective, but then again as Nanos has already alluded, no one fails to bring something to the table when interpreting the Bible. In the book’s Prologue, Nanos leaves it up to the reader to determine if he has “constructed a probable context for interpretation of Paul’s voice…”

I know a fellow who is quite an erudite scholar and it is his opinion that more often than not, a book’s prologue may contain enough of the contents of the book itself to tell the entire story, sort of how some movie trailers give away most or all of the story of the films they are advertising. This may also be true of Nanos’ “Irony,” but not having cracked even the first page of the first chapter yet (as I write this), I’ll have to wait and see.

On the other hand, Nanos does reveal that he considers the “influencers” to also be Galatians and Jews who have a certain responsibility to initiate the Gentiles in the Galatian synagogues into their entry into Judaism. If these influencers were like those Jewish people we encounter in Acts 15:1-2, we may be seeing a heavy bias in the non-believing and believing Jewish communities in the days of Paul toward the proselyte ritual as the only means by which a Gentile may enter “the Way.” That makes Paul’s Galatian letter, according to Nanos, an “ironic rebuke” to the Gentile readers and an intra and inter-Jewish communal dispute between Paul and the Jewish influencers.

As I read in Nanos’ “Romans” book, he continues to depict Paul as Torah-observant, which only makes sense, given that Paul wrote that a Gentile being circumcised and converting to Judaism is obligated to the full yoke of Torah (Galatians 5:3). Being Jewish then, by definition, would mean that Paul considered himself as obligated to said “full yoke” of Torah in the same manner as his fellow believing and unbelieving Jews.

Paul is himself an example of status and observance, and his message in this letter does not abrogate the identity or observance of Torah for Jewish people (i.e. Israelites) in the least but is instead predicated upon their continued validity for himself and other Jewish members of this movement.

-Nanos, pg 9

The remainder of the prologue covered a summary of each of the three parts of the book and what the reader can expect to discover. What remains are the detailed arguments presented by the author, which I have yet to experience.

For the “Romans” book, I reviewed the material almost chapter by chapter in some cases, and I have a tendency to write book reviews in parts, often before I’ve completed my reading of the entire work. I don’t know if I’ll do that here since such an analysis takes a fair amount of time. On the other hand, it’s difficult in just a few sentences, to impart complex ideas and descriptions accurately when presented in a “book-length” form. Also, as much as I report for the sake of my audience, I write these blogs to process my own experience as I encounter new thoughts and concepts, so the level of detail in which I engage is sometimes more for me, the writer and learner, than it is for you the reader. Of course, my benefit is also your benefit as long as you don’t mind having to consume the output of my internal dialogue.

Mark NanosSince I’ve liberated myself from having to produce daily morning meditations, I can’t say when the next installment of my review on “Irony” will be written, but know, compulsive blogger that I am, that it will appear before too long. Galatians is one of my Biblical “pet peeves” along with the traditional Christian interpretation of Paul as either suffering from multiple personality disorder or as a liar and hypocrite.

I’m searching for an interpretation of Paul’s letters that renders him sane, internally consistent, consistent relative to his personal history as an observant Jewish Pharisee, and as a living expression of generations of Torah-observant Jews who came before him, worshiping the God of his fathers, obeying the Torah, and honoring the Temple, all within the context of a zealous faith in the Jewish Messiah. No other Paul makes sense, and a Paul (as the Christian consensus view defines him) who is mentally ill, a duplicitous liar, or a two-faced hypocrite makes the apostle completely disingenuous and an unreliable author of the majority of the canonized New Testament.

So much for the Christian faith if the consensus view is true.

I can only take Paul seriously if I can find another way to hear his voice. I believe I have found that sane and reliable Pauline voice. Now I want to see how that voice speaks in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

Remembrance and Repentance: A Book Review

shoahBone wet
I watch
as Council members
under rifle
dig obediently
and the earth opens up
to swallow my rabbi
and his sons.

Mach schnell! I hear in my nightmare…

and as I turn to leave,
I notice that the earth still moves
where they buried my heart.

-Lois E. Olena from her poem “Behind the Monastery”
quoted from The New Anti-Semitism

Daniel Hennessy’s new book Remembrance and Repentance: The Call to Remember and Memorialize the Holocaust is generously sprinkled with such “Holocaust poetry.” This one particularly spoke to me as I imagined the love of the Rabbi and his sons buried and still moving within Olena’s heart as their dead bodies were roughly interned in a shallow grave.

Hennessy’s book is written to speak to all of our hearts, especially the Christian heart. His book begins by juxtaposing the betrayal and murder of Jesus with Christian indifference to and even tacit approval of the death of millions of Jews at Nazi hands.

In the Gospel account, we hear the good news of redemption that Jesus rose according to the Scriptures. In the book of Acts, we see Peter — who at the moment of his betrayal was no doubt one of the most miserable human beings on earth — eventually lifted up out of the grip of despair, rising to become an apostle and dynamic leader, a fisher of men used powerfully by God at the very onset of the Messianic movement.

As for the indifferent Christian European world that stood outside the circle of doom, eyes to the ground, during the Holocaust era, it is as if Jesus alive and seated at the right hand of the Father, is looking straight into our eyes today, grieved by the ongoing Silence and indifference associated with the twentieth-century betrayal of his people. Unlike Peter, we as Christians have not yet been restored to fullest spiritual character.

-Hennessy, pp 16-17

That’s a most scathing indictment of today’s Christian church and Hennessy doesn’t let up on the comparison between the ancient betrayal of Jesus and the modern betrayal of his people Israel by Gentile Christianity. According to Hennessy, Peter stood outside the “circle of light” (pg 17) of the fire he warmed himself by as he wept bitterly, and so do we in the church who are beginning to forget the Holocaust and our part in it. As the last aging Jewish victims of the Nazi Holocaust fade and die, so does our own remembrance and even our own conscience.

Perhaps the circle is light, the light in our hearts, is what is diminishing in our world and when it finally grows dark and cold, what horrors will spring forth from the blackest night?

There’s hope, but only if we choose to remember and act righteously in the cause of justice.

This year, Yom HaShoah or Holocaust Memorial Day was on Sunday, April 7th, so you may be wondering why I’m reviewing this book now. On a practical level, it was because I didn’t receive this book until last week. On a more important level, perhaps the most important level, it is because we do not dare to reserve our remembrance to a single day. When we limit our memory and our caring to just one twenty-four hour period, once it’s over, we can safely tuck away our guilt and our desire to see justice done back in its dusty, cardboard box, and shove it back on the top shelf of some forgotten closet or on a rack in our garage until next year, just like our Christmas ornaments.

But if we choose to read, to experience, to remember Shoah each and every day, then each and every day, we can allow the fire of righteous indignation to burn within us, we can ignite the flames of justice, and burn on the pyre of our own responsibility, lest we ever let ourselves and especially our children, forget.

R-and-RDan does an excellent job in this short book (less than 100 pages) of reminding Christianity that it was not just the Nazis who were guilty of atrocities. They were only the outgrowth of anti-Jewish history. It was our own nearly two-thousand years of church supersessionism that formed the massive foundation upon which rested Hitler, his camps, his ovens, and his bloody legacy.

And if there are Christians who do not feel responsible for the past and perhaps the future persecution, torture, and execution of Jewish people and of Israel, lest we forget, we have a High Priest in the Heavenly Court, a King sitting at the right hand of the Father, who watches and waits and who will judge and the Earth. He will also judge us for what have done and what we failed to do.

And the Lord turned and looked at Peter. And Peter remembered the saying of the Lord, how he had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

Luke 22:61-62

Jesus watches still. He looks into our eyes. And at his gaze, we also should remember the Lord, and remember his people, and remember Israel, and we should weep for the dead and their children and grandchildren. We in the church can either say “Never again” and cradle the children, the descendents of those who were once herded into cattle cars and driven into ovens, or we can use our own hands to do the herding and the pushing of these Jewish children into some future Shoah.

That is, until Messiah returns to judge us for who we are and what good or horrible things we have done.

I believe with complete faith in the coming of the Messiah, and even though he may delay, every day I eagerly anticipate that he will come.

-The twelfth of Rambam’s Thirteen Principles of Faith

Moshiach is coming. Let him move in your heart.

148 days.