COLUMN: Seeking to avoid a repeat of another Roman-style catastrophe, an apparently hopelessly divided nation struggling with a new type of zealotry called Haredi, finds itself with its Zionist dream threatened by grave internal turmoil and seeking a solution with seemingly little or no options left.
In a recent article, “There Must be a Middle Ground,” posted on September 10, 2009, in the Israeli online daily, The Jerusalem Post, the veteran Israeli journalist, Eliezer Whartman, reported on the current religious riots erupting in Israel that are pitting Jew against Jew. Raising an alarm to the Jewish public, Whartman warns of Israel’s “Zionist dream” being destroyed from within, for which he blames Orthodox Judaism. See, for example, the following from Whartman:
“A GRAVE danger to the state comes from the Orthodox camp. I deliberately lump all Orthodox factions together: the medieval Orthodox, the territorial Orthodox and the so-called ‘modern Orthodox,’ for they are destroying the Zionist dream from within. They all have one common denominator: intolerance.”
Whartman went on to express the following as a kind of summary of what he reports: “We Jews have a penchant for suicide. While the Romans were beating at the gates of Jerusalem [a reference to the devastating Jewish-Roman wars between 66 and 73 A.D. that caused the Jews to lose their homeland before regaining it again at the end of World War II], the various factions within the city were at each others’ throats, a model of the free-floating hostility that marks our people today.”
Specifically, it is the repeated violent demonstrations conducted by the ultra-orthodox “Haredi” faction of Orthodox Judaism that seems to have prompted Whartman to write the article he did. Whartman makes this evident at the outset when he refers to “the current furor caused by the violent haredi demonstrations.” More will be said below on the Haredi.
In this essay, I comment on this religious turbulence erupting in Israel, as reported by Whartman and focused similarly as Whartman’s reporting is on Orthodox Judaism and its ultra-orthodox Haredi faction. But, in addition, I also comment on what in my opinion is the relation this Israeli turmoil has to the following topics: (1) Orthodox Judaism, Moses’ Messiah, and Jesus (2) the actual cause and meaning of Jewish sufferings from Roman times to the present, (3) the interpretation of Torah Law, the Jewish religious law explained below, (4) the evolution of Judaism, (5) the Judaism and Jewishness of Christianity and its Gentile corruption, (6) Christianity as “Final Stage” in the evolution of Judaism, and (7) on the critical reasons why believing Jews need boldly to retake and reassert control of Christianity and lead it, seeing it was the Jews who founded the religion in the first place, seeing the mess Gentiles have made of it, and seeing that it may be Israel’s only indisputably Torah-lawful, moral, just, peaceful, and effective alternative to self-destruction and to a looming Roman-style disaster which promises to be far worst than the original.
In this essay, I move under the assumption that of the three main versions of Jewish religion that exist today, it was Orthodox Judaism that prevailed as the major or dominant version of Judaism from the time of Jesus until the Enlightenment period of European History in the eighteenth century. It was not until after the beginning of the Enlightenment period that the other two major versions of Judaism, Reformed and Conservative Judaism, came into being.
I do realize that in addition to Orthodox Judaism, there were two other important Jewish factions in existence at the time of Jesus: the Sadducees and the Essenes. But the influence of these two factions was not at all as important and dominant in Jewish religious life and government as that of the ancestors of modern Orthodox Judaism. In Jesus’ these Orthodox ancestors were known as the “Pharisees.” The Pharisees were therefore the chief representatives, or those who “wore the mantle,” of Orthodox Judaism in Jesus’ time.
In this essay, the following topics will be discussed:
Obviously, the reader can pick and choose which of the following topics to read. But be advised that each succeeding topic builds on preceding material in a logical order. So unless this logical order is followed, an adequate understanding of any part of this essay cannot be guaranteed.
1. ISRAEL, ORTHODOX JUDAISM, AND MOSES’ MESSIAH
2. THE CURRENT RELIGIOUS CHAOS IN THE STATE OF ISRAEL
3. JESUS AND MOSES’ MESSIAH
Jesus Predicts the Roman Destruction of Jerusalem and Its Temple
Jesus’ crucifixion and the Roman Cataclysm
4. JOSEPHUS DOCUMENTS THE FULFILLMENT OF JESUS’ PROPHECIES
From Josephus concerning Jerusalem and its Temple
From Josephus concerning the misery of Jerusalem’s inhabitants
The desolate sufferings of the Jews and its relenting
5. JEWISH SUFFERINGS: THE HUMAN FACTOR
Maimonides and Jesus
Maimonides on the essence of God’s being
6. JEWISH SUFFERINGS: THE DIVINE FACTOR
Blessings promised conditioned on the Jews’ obedience
Curses warned in the case of intolerable Jewish disobedience
7. THE PORTENTOUS PLOT AGAINST MESSIAH
Jesus and Socrates
The Orthodox Jewish Plot to Arrange Messiah’s Death
“Cooking up” the plot
8. INTERPRETING TORAH LAW: ORTHODOX JUDAISM vs. MESSIAH
The Jewish Christian Apostle Paul
The letter and intent of the law
9. THE TORAH LEGAL BASIS OF MESSIAH’S ATONEMENT
10. A SIMPLE, LAWFUL WAY EMERGES TO COMPLY WITH TORAH LAW
The “evolution” of Judaism
The Judaism and Jewishness of Christianity
Is there “racism” involved in Jewish preeminence?
The “curse” and “bondage” of the law
Torah law and the “law of sin”
11. REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY
The Jews’ Irreplaceable Mission
12. “FINAL STAGE” JUDAISM AND ITS UNITY OF JEWS AND GENTILES
13. JEWISH CHRISTIANITY, JUDAISM, AND THE GENTILES
Paul’s Idea of “The Church” and Its Lost Jewish Leadership
The Gentile corruption of Jewish Christianity
Instituting a Jewish leadership of Christianity
1. ISRAEL, ORTHODOX JUDAISM, AND MOSES’ MESSIAH
Since the advent of modernity with the Enlightenment period of European history, Judaism, which represents both the historic center of gravity and religion for Jewish religious Israel, has evolved into a deeply splintered movement which in Israel is currently in the process of imploding as violent confrontations of Jew against Jew are erupting. Has Israel run out of options to save itself from destruction from within and a deja vu repeat of its Roman defeat?
I say this because, in my opinion, it was not the Romans who defeated Israel. Rather, it was Israel who doomed and defeated itself chiefly through the foolish acts of a then dominant Orthodox Judaism (or Phariseeism) of Roman times and its ultra-orthodox faction of reckless, apocalyptic-minded Zealots, who were the ancient version of the Haredi. Expecting in vain that an apocalyptic Messiah would miraculously and suddenly appear and come to Israel’s rescue as the nation rebelled against its Roman rule, these misguided dreamers threw prudence and caution to the wind as we shall see below and disaster fell on them; tragically, it also fell on the entire Jewish nation which they took with them. This is obviously at least part of what Whartman had in mind when he said, “We Jews have a penchant for suicide.”
The “Messiah” who had already arrived just before the cataclysm hit and who had performed many empirically verified miracles to prove the authenticity of his claims might have rescued them. He wanted to save and protect Israel; he said so…following were his words, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling. Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!'” (From Jesus at Matthew 23:37-39 NASB).
Very quickly after this, a profound spiritual desolation came upon Israel, and, in the midst of this desolation, the Roman disaster hit with the devastating fury of a high category tornado where all hell broke loose with a killing and mayhem that left hundreds of thousands of Jews slaughtered and fleeing for their lives, leaving their ancient homeland behind.
It was indeed too late then to look for a rescuing apocalyptic Messiah. By the time the Roman army arrived bent on thoroughly wrecking the ancient Jewish nation once and for all, no one could give Jesus “the faker” a chance at least as a last desperate measure when all else was failing to achieve the secure peace and freedom Israel sought, and to avoid this nation’s utter destruction.
By this time, the Orthodox Jewish leadership of Jesus’ days had already ignominiously rejected this “Messiah” as an impostor. He had also already been betrayed and turned over to the Romans, who then proceeded to put him to death in the trashy company of thieving scoundrels who went down with him. As a consequence, the Orthodox Jewish leadership and the whole Jewish nation, which was dragged along, reaped the whirlwind of a catastrophic destruction of extremely far-reaching consequences.
Just before his murder by the Romans, this Messiah had already predicted his coming murder-execution, thus proving, by this and other fulfillments of his prophesies, that he was indeed just another unfortunate Jewish prophet violently treated and rejected by his own people, who at that time were being led by an intolerant and self-righteous, Orthodox Jewish leadership. Following is this Messiah’s prophecy of his own death:
“When Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them as they were walking along, ‘See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man [a term Jesus uses to refer to himself] will be handed over to the [Orthodox] high priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death. Then they will hand him over to the gentiles to be mocked, whipped, and crucified, but on the third day he will be raised'” (Matthew 20:17-19).
Blinded by hateful animosity, the Orthodox leadership was not able to see the true value of what this Messiah’s apparent humanity actually embraced. As a prophet who is given no honor in his own country, it took the whole Gentile world to see and fully appreciate in this Messiah what the Orthodox Jewish leadership disgracefully and shamefully could not. Instead, through the blindness caused by irrational hatred, the Orthodox leadership in utter injustice and abysmal perversity turned this Messiah over to the Romans, though he was a man who had committed no crime, who then proceeded to murder this Messiah by nailing him to a cross, just as he had already predicted would happen.
Hence, in vain do the current Orthodox children of the ancient Orthodox Messiah-betrayers look for another Messiah more to their liking to vindicate and rescue them. As it is, these intolerant, self-righteous people missed out on the only Messiah they will ever get from God, having treated him as something worse than trash.
Analogous to how Negroes in America were dehumanized by its Founders and the Jews themselves were considered likewise by the German Nazis so as to easily heap upon them inhumane treatment without pain of conscience, so Jesus has been virtually “de-Judeaized” by modern Orthodox Judaism and turned into a debased “not one of us” so as to justify the treatment he received from their ancient fathers and the treatment they still give him: as the fathers were, so the children now relentlessly continue to emulate and to be.
Yet not a single Orthodox or any other Jew living today can correctly or justly claim to be more of a Jew than Jesus was. In Jesus’ time, the Jewish genealogical records were still in existence; they were not lost as they are today. Thus Jesus and his kin had a sure way of knowing what their ancestry was. Jesus was of the tribe of Judah and was born within the royal lineage of King David; he was, in other words, a “son” of David.
On the other hand, with the genealogical records now lost, not a single Jew today, or any Jew who will ever come into being in the future, can ever know where they came from insofar as tribal lineage is concerned. Hence, no Jew can now or in the future ever claim in truth that they are more Jewish than Jesus, who, on the contrary, knew where he came from and about his royal Davidic pedigree.
In vain therefore do modern Orthodox Jews look for a Messiah other than Jesus. If Jesus was not the true Moses’ Messiah, then there never will be a Messiah for Israel, and Jews who wait for him wait in futility. Following, from the Torah, is Moses’ prophecy concerning his Messiah; notice particularly, in the middle of the prophecy, Moses’ words of warning from God, “whoever will not listen to My words which [Messiah] shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him [or, “I myself will hold accountable”]:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him…The Lord said to me…’I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him [or, “I myself will hold accountable” (NRSV)].’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:15, 17-19, 21-22 NASB).
Merely on the basis of genealogical qualifications alone, not to mention many other qualifications that Messiah had to fulfill to prove his authenticity, Jesus superbly fulfilled them all. With respect to genealogy, according to the Tanakh (the Jewish Bible), Messiah had to fulfill at least the following genealogical qualifications:
Messiah, also referred to as “Shiloh” in the Torah, has to descend from the ancient Jewish tribe of Judah and must be in the royal Davidic line as offspring of King David. See, for example, the following from the Torah and the Nevi’im (or, in Hebrew, “the prophets”):
Genesis 49:10 NASB – “The [royal, ruling] scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet until Shiloh comes, and to him shall be the obedience of the peoples.”
Jeremiah 23:5 NASB – “‘Behold, the days are coming,’ declares the LORD, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch [or offspring]; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land.”
Any so-called messiah who would now appear to the Jews could never prove his Judaic or Davidic ancestry from the Hebrew genealogical records simply because those genealogical records no longer exist. If Orthodox dreamers today are betting on a miracle that will suddenly make the old genealogical records reappear, don’t hold your breath because the Hebrew God never promised the fulfillment of wishful thinking; if it’s not found in the Tanakh, don’t count on it!
The Jewish genealogical records have been irretrievably lost through the centuries-long persecution the Jews endured since the time those records existed. In hindsight, it all makes sense now as to why the records disappeared. Since Moses’ Messiah has already arrived, the records are no longer needed. Hence, the Almighty Hebrew God saw to it that those records be destroyed and forever gone. Those records were important, but only “until Shiloh comes,” as cited above from the Torah. The fact that the records are no longer in existence should tell every living Jew today that “Shiloh” Messiah must have already come and that Shiloh, Moses’ Messiah, is Jesus.
While the genealogical records no longer exist, they existed in Jesus’ time. Jesus’ contemporaries therefore had access to them and could research them. Following is what one of these contemporaries said about the genealogy of Jesus:
“This is a record of the birth of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham fathered Isaac, Isaac fathered Jacob, and Jacob fathered Judah [from whom King David descended]” (Matthew 1:1-2 ISV).
Now deja vu, as in Roman and Jesus’ times, the Jewish nation once again finds itself in a Roman-style crossroads and dilemma, besieged by implacable enemies pounding violently at its doors, while hopelessly divided internally in the process of imploding with a new brand of destructive Zealotry called Haredi Judaism (more on this below).
However, there are two critical factors now present in Israel that were not present in Roman and Jesus’ time which may or may not prove decisive in Israel’s favor: (1) Orthodox Judaism is no longer the exclusive and totally dominating version of Judaism in Israel and, (2) as Whartman confirms, there is a significant and sizeable faction of Jews who do not share the intolerance, self-righteous dogmatism, and violent irrationality that appears to characterize Orthodox Judaism today, just as it did in Jesus’ time.
The claims of Jesus the Jew to be Moses’ Messiah were soundly thrown out by the Orthodox leadership of his time. But just before being murdered by the Romans, this same Jesus said two significant things, one of them a lament for the self-defeating Orthodox rejection, cited above, and the other, a solemn prophetic warning of what was to come upon the Jewish nation as a result of his rejection. The subsequent fulfillment of this prophecy proved once again the authenticity of Jesus as being Moses’ Messiah. Following was his prophecy:
“As [Jesus] came near and saw [Jerusalem] the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another [in Mt. 24:2, this is specifically tied to Temple destruction]; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God'” (Luke 19:41-44 NRSV).
Again, blinded by their intolerant and hateful anger toward Moses’ Messiah, although the Orthodox leadership of Jesus’ time knew or should have known better, this leadership would not even give heed to Moses’ warning, noted above, which he gave the Jews telling them what would happen if they disobeyed his and God’s Messiah:
“It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which [Messiah] shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him [or, ‘I myself will hold accountable’ (NRSV)].”
What both Moses and Jesus equally warned and predicted, quickly followed Jesus’ Roman murder. It was an event that came to hound Jewish existence for almost twenty centuries thereafter. It all began with the Roman defeat of the Jews and the loss of everything vital they had at the time as a nation.
In a real sense, this event in my opinion continues to hound the people of modern Israel as it becomes more and more obvious that the Almighty and Just God of the Jews continues to deny modern Israel the final, secure and enduring peace on earth it so ardently aspires to attain. Apparently, this God awaits some other major event to come upon the Jewish nation before he will relent.
If someone seriously wanted to hear my opinion as to what I think this major event might be, I would tell them that I believe the Almighty and Just God of the Jews is waiting for Israel to undo the horrible wrong that the ancient leadership of Orthodox Judaism did to Jesus as Moses’ Messiah. In the process of doing this, I also believe that Jews must take back their rightful ownership of the Christianity they founded and lost to the Gentiles who, once it fell into their hands and control after Israel’s Roman defeat, went on to corrupt it after a Gentile pagan image and transform it into an instrument of anti-Semitism.
How can this major event I suggest reverse the fortunes of Israel now in crisis? My view and opinion is as follows: There are three major religions in the world today–Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and only within Islam do you find the most deadly hostility against Israel. But I believe radical Muslims are not greater than the Almighty Hebrew God. Hence, if they have the power to continue to harass and to humiliate Israel, it can only be because this God gives them the power to do so.
Why so? Because I believe that this Hebrew Just God, who always requires restitution for unjust deeds done, will not relent on Israel and will continue to bring humiliation on this nation through his use of radical Islam and other international factors until the wrong done to his and Moses’ Messiah Jesus by the ancient Orthodox leadership is justly undone.
In the Tanakh, there is clear precedent plainly demonstrating that the Hebrew God can and has used Israel’s enemies to humiliate the Jewish nation and to withhold his deliverance from them because of an evil that Israel would not renounce and put away. A most relevant example of this that comes to mind is an event that took place in the time of Gideon, as recorded in Chapter 6 of the book of Judges, when the Lord God used the people of Midian to harass and humiliate Israel until the evil they were clinging to be put away.
In their fling with idolatry, Israel had erected an altar to the pagan god Baal to which they tenaciously clung to and refused to destroy, even though the Jewish God had made it clear to them that he was highly displeased with that. Finally, it took a man named Gideon, who received a call from God, to resolve this impasse by force. Though it would anger those Jews who would protest and resist this action, Gideon nonetheless tore down the pagan altar. Hence, it took Gideon’s bold action to change Israel’s dismal fortunes; it was not until the idolatrous evil was put away that Israel was rescued from its humiliation. Following are brief excerpts from the Tanakh of this event:
“Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD [by setting up their worship altar to Baal]; and [as a consequence thereof] the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. The power of Midian prevailed against Israel…So Israel was brought very low [in humiliation] because of Midian…[Why? Because, as God answered and said to Israel] ‘you have not obeyed Me'” (Judges 6:1-2, 6, 10 NASB).
In this sense, just as the Hebrew God withheld deliverance and victory from Israel in the time of Gideon, because of an evil they would not voluntarily put away, radical Muslims are now in my opinion being used in the service of God Almighty to achieve his purpose of compelling Israel do the justice it has neglected for many centuries and for which, as a result, Israel continues to suffer the cursed consequences. Once this justice is done, as I see it, Israel’s fortunes will be dramatically reversed. But, undoubtedly, this will take boldness and a keen perception of the problem to accomplish. Accordingly, this essay presentation is set forth with the expectation that, here, the fundamental problem and critical issues involved will be made clear.
As it stands now, while Great Britain can make restitution for unjustly castrating the homosexual war hero Alan Turing, Israel has yet to make just restitution for the evil of the Orthodox betrayal of Moses’ Messiah. To Israel, Moses’ Messiah is apparently something worse than a homosexual; even homosexuals are not treated today as Israel has treated God’s and Moses’ Messiah Jesus.
So can you blame the Just Jewish God for taking his sweet time to help Israel? It appears that this Jewish God, who hates injustice and does not forget it, even for centuries, until it is put away, is choosing instead to allow Israeli Jews to continue to stew in their own self-imposed humiliations and sufferings until a light comes on in their collective minds and they suddenly catch on to what it was that really went wrong in Roman Palestine twenty centuries ago.
2. THE CURRENT RELIGIOUS CHAOS IN THE STATE OF ISRAEL
In the minds of most Gentiles living in all parts of the world outside the modern state of Israel, it is generally assumed that Israeli Jews today are a homogenous group of people bound together in unity by their common religion of Judaism and the common enemies they face. This assumption, which I as a Gentile Christian had held in the past, began to break down several years ago. It finally reached complete dissolution after reading Whartman’s article cited above.
In his article, Whartman revealed several incompatible and significant divisions that exist between religious Jews themselves and between certain Jewish religious groups, particularly those who are classified under the overall label as “Orthodox,” and non-religious (or secular) Jews.
Based on what Whartman reports on religion among Israeli Jews, it turns out that the state of Israel has become somewhat of a Jewish boiling pot with dissimilar and apparently hopelessly conflicting ingredients seething against each other. This Jewish mixture breaks down to the following four differing groups: Orthodox Judaism, Reformed Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Secular Jews. Following are the general positions taken by each group:
On one extreme, there is the right-wing Orthodox Jews, which includes an extremely puritanical and militant sub-group referred to as the Haredi (or ultra-orthodox). Generally, the Orthodox seek to live a life that makes every possible human effort to follow the letter of ancient Jewish Torah Law (whose varied meaning is explained in a main topic below) that was transmitted by God through Moses, who was the ancient and revered leader of the Jews. At its most conservative level, the Orthodox make the claim that they are the true Jews in the sense that their way of believing and living out Jewish religion can be traced down in unbroken continuity to the time God gave his law through Moses.
On the opposite extreme, there are the left-wing Reformed Jews who first came into existence after the Enlightenment period of European history in the eighteenth century. Along with the Reformed Jews on the left, are the Secular Jews. The Secular Jews are Jews who are generally turned off from Jewish religion or religion of any sort. I put them on the political left, but this may be an inaccurate generalization since who can know where politically each secular Jew stands, or for that matter, Reformed Jews as well.
In any case, in the middle of right and left, are the Conservative (or moderate) Jews who seem to have come to existence after the Reformed Jews in an effort to establish an accommodating middle ground or compromise between the right and left wings of Judaism.
The main concern that Whartman, a Conservative Jew, expresses is his fear of the danger that the survival and integrity of the state of Israel faces with the religious violence that is currently so often erupting, and the heated disagreements now among Jews of different views who do not seem to be able to reach a peaceful accommodation with each other. Whartman focuses especially on what is taking place between the Orthodox and other Jewish groups in Israel. To Whartman, it is as if Israel is destroying itself from within.
As we have already noted, the Haredi come under the general classification of Orthodox Judaism except that they differentiate themselves from Orthodox Jews generally as being the most orthodox of the Orthodox. As such, the Haredi are the most conservative and reactionary group of Jews you can find anywhere.
In other words, the Haredi are the most puritanical Jewish fundamentalists when it comes to living out what they consider to be an authentic Jewish life based on Jewish Torah law. So much is this the case that they even deny the Jewishness of other Jews who are not as puritanically fundamentalist as they are.
In their austerity of life, the Haredi are reminiscent of the Christian Amish who try hard not to absorb anything of modernity into their culture. This is why a characteristic practice among the Haderi is to avoid such “culturally corrupting” things as secular newspapers, films, and television. As far as dress is concerned, the Haredi stand out, as do the Christian Amish, by many of the men having beards and dressing in dark suits and large black hats. As for Haredi women, they use extreme modesty in their dress, exposing as little skin as possible without reaching the super-extremes that highly conservative Muslim women do.
The Haredi are also very ritualistic when it comes to religious practices. You can see this, for example, as they bend the upper body forward and back repeatedly in seemingly obsessive, ritualistic fashion in front of the remnant of the ancient Jewish Temple Western (or Wailing) Wall in Jerusalem, and as they stand there mouthing their repetitive prayers. It was this sort of thing that Messiah Jesus referred to as hypocrisy. This became clear when he said:
“When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners [in the case of the Haredi, in front of the Western Wall] so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full [i.e., meaningless prayers]. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you. And when you are praying, do not use meaningless repetition as the Gentiles [and the Haredi] do, for they suppose that they will be heard for their many words. So do not be like them; for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him” (Matthew 6:5-8 NASB).
Why was this which Jesus condemned representative of hypocrisy in his assessment? Simply because Jesus knew, as every other devout and knowledgeable Jew knows, that the Tanakh affirms that “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20 NASB).
Hence, for Jesus, any attempt to show everyone around how morally superior one is merely by the superficiality of how one dresses or by “put-on” pious talk or behavior, is sheer hypocrisy pure and simple. Again, for “there is not a righteous man on earth who continually does good and who never sins.” Hence, this state of being in Jesus’ mind calls for humility in every human being without exception rather than empty, superficial, and revolting displays of self-righteousness. See, for example, the following words of Jesus on this subject:
“[Jesus] told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The [Orthodox] Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:9-14 NASB).
We now turn to see why Jesus’ claim to be Moses’ Messiah was a valid claim all along but the intolerant and hateful Orthodox leaders of his time could not see it, just as their descendants cannot see it today.
3. JESUS AND MOSES’ MESSIAH
As we have seen, Moses prophesied to the Jews about someone who would eventually arise from among them and be a leader to them as Moses was in rescuing and leading the Jews out of their ancient Egyptian slavery. Both for readers’ convenience and emphasis, I again cite Moses’ prophecy of a future Messiah that the Jews were to obey with all of them as a nation being held accountable in the case of disobedience:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him…The Lord said to me…’I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him [or, “I myself will hold accountable” (NRSV)].’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ “When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:15, 17-19, 21-22 NASB).
We note very clearly in these words of Moses that a cardinal test in determining the truth or falsity of a prophet, in this case Moses’ Prophet-Messiah, is whether or not such a prophet’s predictions “come about or come true.” We have already seen how Jesus indeed made prophesies concerning his own death, the Jews’ Roman defeat, and concerning the Jews’ subsequent sufferings that were dramatically fulfilled, just as Jesus said they would. Jesus thereby established his claim as Messiah in accordance with Moses’ validating criterion.
Jesus Predicts the Roman Destruction of Jerusalem and Its Temple
We have already seen how before he was murdered by the Romans, before the Roman destruction against the Jews took place, and after Jesus was rejected with finality by the Orthodox Jewish leadership which had plotted his death, Jesus prophesied (or predicted) in anguish the spiritual desolation that suddenly came upon his Jewish nation as a result of his rejection. Jesus’ sorrow and anguish was not unlike that of the “weeping prophet” Jeremiah who had to prophesy bad news about the state and future of his people.
Jesus, also sorrowful, went on to predict how, in the midst of his nation’s spiritual desolation, the devastating Roman attack would come upon the Jewish people, against Jerusalem and against its Great Holy Temple. All this came to pass exactly as Jesus had predicted. After his Roman murder, his predictions (or prophesies) did not fail.
In the midst of all the deadly plotting intrigue that was taking place against him, and in the midst of Jesus’ unwavering love for his Jewish people and for their well-being, and with this being countered relentlessly by the obstinate disbelief, hatred and evil plotting of the Orthodox Jewish leadership who wished him dead, Jesus was, as a result, being overcome with profound grief and despair. Seeing prophetically the gruesome dark clouds that were gathering for the future of his beloved people, Jesus expressed his anguished despair and predictions concerning his people’s future and that of their Temple.
Yet as forlorn as the words of Jesus were, he nevertheless blended into his sad words the prophetic vision that Israel will get a second chance to reconsider who Jesus really was and that, at that time, his beloved Jewish people will finally recognize him for who he really was, most certainly not the impostor they now believe he is. It will be a time when they will finally exclaim of him, as Jesus said, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Mark 23:-39 NASB).
Jesus’ crucifixion and the Roman Cataclysm
Assuming that Christ was about 30 or early 30´s when crucified, the Roman defeat of the Jewish rebellion came only about three and a half decades after his crucifixion, a relatively brief span of time in the context of thousands of years of human history that have passed since then. Given this, if we were to look at a timeline of these related events, we would see the following:
About 30 to 36 A.D. – Jesus was executed by the Romans through crucifixion.
66 A.D. – The “Great Jewish Revolt” against the Romans begins in the area we now know as Palestine, which was then a part of the Roman Empire.
70 A.D. – In the Roman counter-attack against the Jewish rebellion, Jerusalem falls to the Roman general, Titus, and his forces. As Jerusalem falls into Roman control, the Romans then proceed to burn and destroy the city and kill many of the city dwellers. The Great Jewish Temple within the city is also burned and destroyed and all its sacred furnishings pillaged and taken away as plunder by the Romans. One of the main walls of this ruined temple, referred to as the “Western (or Wailing) Wall,” still stands in modern-day Jerusalem at the temple’s original site of destruction. Prior to and during their destruction of the Jewish nation and its lands and buildings, the Romans capture and put under enslavement thousands of Jews, and the dispersion of hundreds of thousands of others to other parts of the world has begun.
73 A.D. – The last bastion of Jewish resistance at Massada, held by Jewish Zealots, is overtaken and defeated by the Romans who find upon storming the bastion that virtually all the inhabitants have committed suicide rather than to face the humiliation of enslavement and defeat by a pagan army.
4. JOSEPHUS DOCUMENTS THE FULFILLMENT OF JESUS’ PROPHECIES
The fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning the siege and destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple and the subsequent desolation and misery of the Jews is described as follows by the Jewish historian Josephus (37-94 A.D.) who personally witnessed the destruction:
From Josephus concerning Jerusalem and its Temple
The following account comes from Josephus’ “The Wars of the Jews” (Bk. VII:Ch. 1:1):
“Now as soon as the [Roman] army had no more people to slay or to plunder, because there remained none to be the objects of their fury (for they would not have spared any, had there remained any other work to be done), [Titus] Caesar [the Roman general] gave orders that they should now demolish the entire city and Temple, but should leave as many of the towers standing as they were of the greatest eminence; that is, Phasaelus, and Hippicus, and Mariamne; and so much of the wall enclosed the city on the west side.
“This wall was spared, in order to afford a camp for such as were to lie in garrison [in the Upper City], as were the towers [the three forts] also spared, in order to demonstrate to posterity what kind of city it was, and how well fortified, which the Roman valor had subdued; but for all the rest of the wall [surrounding Jerusalem], it was so thoroughly laid even with the ground by those that dug it up to the foundation, that there was left nothing to make those that came thither believe it [Jerusalem] had ever been inhabited. This was the end which Jerusalem came to by the madness of those that were for innovations; a city otherwise of great magnificence, and of mighty fame among all mankind.
The following account comes from Josephus’ “The Wars of the Jews” (Bk. VI:Ch. 1:1):
“THUS did the miseries of Jerusalem grow worse and worse every day, and the seditious were still more irritated by the calamities they were under, even while the famine preyed upon themselves, after it had preyed upon the people. And indeed the multitude of carcasses that lay in heaps one upon another was a horrible sight, and produced a pestilential stench, which was a hindrance to those that would make sallies out of the city, and fight the enemy: but as those were to go in battle-array, who had been already used to ten thousand murders, and must tread upon those dead bodies as they marched along, so were not they terrified, nor did they pity men as they marched over them; nor did they deem this affront offered to the deceased to be any ill omen to themselves; but as they had their right hands already polluted with the murders of their own countrymen, and in that condition ran out to fight with foreigners, they seem to me to have cast a reproach upon God himself, as if he were too slow in punishing them; for the war was not now gone on with as if they had any hope of victory; for they gloried after a brutish manner in that despair of deliverance they were already in.
“And now the Romans, although they were greatly distressed in getting together their materials, raised their banks in one and twenty days, after they had cut down all the trees that were in the country that adjoined to the city, and that for ninety furlongs round about, as I have already related.
“And truly the very view itself of the country was a melancholy thing; for those places which were before adorned with trees and pleasant gardens were now become a desolate country every way, and its trees were all cut down: nor could any foreigner that had formerly seen Judea and the most beautiful suburbs of the city, and now saw it as a desert, but lament and mourn sadly at so great a change: for the war had laid all the signs of beauty quite waste: nor if any one that had known the place before, had come on a sudden to it now, would he have known it again; but though he were at the city itself, yet would he have inquired for it notwithstanding.”
From Josephus concerning the misery of Jerusalem’s inhabitants
The following account comes from Josephus’ “The Wars of the Jews” (Bk. VI:Ch.3:3):
“Now of those that perished by famine in the city, the number was prodigious, and the miseries they underwent were unspeakable; for if so much as the shadow of any kind of food did any where appear, a war was commenced presently, and the dearest friends fell a fighting one with another about it, snatching from each other the most miserable supports of life. Nor would men believe that those who were dying had no food, but the robbers would search them when they were expiring, lest any one should have concealed food in their bosoms, and counterfeited dying; nay, these robbers gaped for want, and ran about stumbling and staggering along like mad dogs, and reeling against the doors of the houses like drunken men; they would also, in the great distress they were in, rush into the very same houses two or three times in one and the same day.
“Moreover, their hunger was so intolerable, that it obliged them to chew every thing, while they gathered such things as the most sordid animals would not touch, and endured to eat them; nor did they at length abstain from girdles and shoes; and the very leather which belonged to their shields they pulled off and gnawed: the very wisps of old hay became food to some; and some gathered up fibres, and sold a very small weight of them for four Attic [drachmae].
“But why do I describe the shameless impudence that the famine brought on men in their eating inanimate things, while I am going to relate a matter of fact, the like to which no history relates, either among the Greeks or Barbarians? It is horrible to speak of it, and incredible when heard. I had indeed willingly omitted this calamity of ours, that I might not seem to deliver what is so portentous to posterity, but that I have innumerable witnesses to it in my own age; and besides, my country would have had little reason to thank me for suppressing the miseries that she underwent at this time.”
Given these accounts by Josephus of the fulfillment of Jesus’ predictions, if Jesus’ was not Moses’ Messiah, why was Jesus’ predictions of the curses that came upon the Jewish nation “come about or come true,” thus fulfilling the Mosaic Messianic test, as opposed to the untrue predictions of a false prophet? Remember that Moses also gave God’s warning that “whoever will not listen to My words which [Messiah] shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him [or, “I myself will hold accountable” (NRSV)].
The desolate sufferings of the Jews and its relenting
Since their great defeat and dispersion by the Romans from their ancient homeland in what is now the state of Israel, following quickly as it did after the Roman murder of Jesus, the Jews wandered all over the world, suffering great desolation and homelessness up to the Great Holocaust under the German Nazis. It was here finally, after this second great cataclysm next to that of the Roman, that things for the Jews began turning for the better. But up to this point in Jewish history, no other civilized and quite advanced, literate people has endured as a nation for so long such non-stop opprobrium.
After their great Roman defeat and devastation, Titus the Roman general (a pagan, not a Christian) is reported by historians to have referred to the vanquished Jews as “a people forsaken by their own God.” In saying what he did about the Jews, Titus was actually revealing a Gentile attitude that in time transformed itself into a most devastating anti-Semitism which was to pervade not only throughout the culture of the conquering Romans but throughout all of the Gentile lands in which the Jews wandered homeless. Such was a wandering that lasted all the centuries transpiring from the Roman murder of Christ up to the German Holocaust, that is, over nineteen centuries without a country the Jews could call their own.
It is as if the Hebrew God was finally moved to profound compassion and finally ended what appeared to be a severe punishing history of his chosen people, whom he quickly set up again in the ancient land they had lost to the Romans, though even now, as mentioned above, Israel is not yet completely out of trouble as their God withholds total deliverance. This in itself raises a question of causation: “Why should the Almighty Hebrew God leave his dear chosen people to suffer so brutally for over nineteen centuries?”
5. JEWISH SUFFERINGS: THE HUMAN FACTOR
Having now raised the question as to why would the Almighty God of the Jews have allowed his dear people to suffer so profoundly for so long (for over nineteen centuries) without protecting them or bringing it all to a quick halt? We could approach the answer to this question by looking strictly at the human factor, leaving out completely any possible divine involvement. In other words, we could answer our question of causality simply by asserting that it was human perversity alone that is to blame for the centuries of horrible Jewish suffering and that the Almighty had absolutely nothing to do with it.
While this approach is in fact justifiable in itself in that humans were by all means directly culpable and responsible for the evil they perpetrated against the Jews, this approach fails to explain why the Jewish Almighty God simply stood by and allowed his dearly beloved people to suffer horribly under human perversity all the nineteen-plus centuries they endured this.
Either the proud atheists are correct that such a Hebrew God never did and never has existed, or that such a God does indeed exist but human perversity has a greater power to overrule his will and wreak havoc against his people when and where they choose.
But as to God’s existence, the Jews know better than ignorant atheists because the Jews are the historic eyewitnesses to the empirical reality of this God. The Jews were there as a nation when this God empirically appeared and revealed himself to Moses. They were there also when this God empirically opened the Red Sea in the Jews’ exodus from Egypt. They were there as well when this God empirically performed outstanding miracles through the work of his prophets. So as far as the Jews as a nation are concerned, the issue of whether or not God exists is moot; God does indeed exist, the rant of ignorant atheists notwithstanding.
As to human perversity and the power of the Hebrew Almighty, the historic view of the Jews concerning this God is that there is no power in heaven, earth or hell that is greater than that of the Almighty Jewish God, who incidentally happens to be the God of Christians as well. This, the fact that the Hebrew God is perceived as all-powerful, is precisely why such a God is referred to as “the Almighty.”
1. So how can it be said, in conflict with this Jewish view of the Almighty, that human perversity against the Jews was more powerful than that of the will of the Hebrew God to protect his dearly beloved people for the huge number of centuries that they suffered unprotected? None of this makes any sense at all when one seeks to view the circumstances from the Jew’s own perspective and historic beliefs.
2. Furthermore, why would the Hebrew God have allowed uncircumcised pagans to invade, pillage, plunder and destroy the Great, Holy Temple that was consecrated to him? It was HIS HOUSE, dedicated to his worship and to the vital task of priestly sin atonement ritual.
3. Why also would this God have allowed the destruction of the only Torah-sanctioned means of shed blood atonement required to be conducted by the Jewish Aaronic priesthood to expiate for the sins of his people. See Leviticus 4:32-35:
“If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he is to bring a female without defect. He is to lay his hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the lamb of the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar on top of the offerings made to the Lord by fire. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the sin he has committed, and he will be forgiven.”
Some in Conservative Judaism have correctly observed that, in the absence of Torah-sanctioned atonement to be conducted by priestly descendants of Aaron, certain Jews since Roman times have been forced to improvise to make up for this loss. This, for example, has involved the institution of an order of Aaronic “priests replacements,” called “kohanim.” In principle at least, these kohanim are to be considered direct descendants of the Aaronic priests who officiated in Temple animal sacrifices.
But in fact, as Conservative Jews have also noted in honest realism, with the Temple gone and with “the frequent persecutions and expulsions of Jews throughout history” having wiped out all records of genealogy, no so-called “kohanim” today has any authentically verifiable way of showing direct descent or ancestry from the Aaronic priests. It is all a façade to make things appear like this can justifiably make up for something vital that was irretrievably lost and that is nonetheless still strictly demanded by Torah law. Hence, Conservative Jews have come to look upon the institution of kohanim as “doubtful at best.”
4. In addition, and making matters even worse, why would the Almighty Hebrew God have allowed, while his dear people were away suffering in all parts of the world, for Muslims to arise and build their “Dome of the Rock” (completed in 691 A.D.) right on top of the earthen platform where their destroyed Temple stood. This now poses a seemingly insurmountable political problem if some Jews now want to rebuild the lost Temple on the same site where the old one stood. Orthodox Judaism in its typical wishful thinking probably hopes of course that the Almighty might perform a miracle that will wipe out this problem. But, in any case, the real and more basic question remains, “Why did God allowed the problem to come into existence in the first place?”
Clearly then, as a result of the Roman destruction, the Jews not only lost their Temple and their land, which they now so painfully seek to re-claim, but they also lost their legitimate, Torah-approved means of sin atonement, their genealogy records and their Aaronic priesthood as well.
Hence, this is why I say that all these losses the Jews have endured can be explained as to causality only if Jesus was actually Moses’ Messiah and the Orthodox Jewish leaders who were responsible for his rejection by the Jewish nation were then also responsible for that nation’s subsequent sufferings according to the solemn warning Moses issued concerning Jewish disobedience with respect to the words and commandments of his and God’s Messiah.
Now, I do realize that any consideration of Jesus as Moses’ Messiah invariably brings up the issue of Jesus’ claim to deity incarnate in the human Jesus. Here Maimonides’ theology with respect to the being of God proves useful, although in an ironic way. Maimonides was an outstanding Orthodox Jewish sage and theologian of the twelfth century. So we begin now to consider the relevant aspects of Maimonides in reference to Jesus and to his claims to deity.
Maimonides and Jesus
What inspired me most about Whartman’s article was his admirable candor and humility as a Jew in recognizing and publicly disclosing that there is indeed a stereotypical downside in the national character of his own people when he said, “We Jews have a penchant for suicide.” In another page of this site, I have written on the positive aspects of the Jews as the biblical God’s chosen people to be his witnesses. But here, as Whartman observes and confirms, we see at least one negative aspect that generally characterizes Jewish life in Israel.
But I would dare to suggest that there is more than one negative aspect that may characterize Jewish life anywhere. However, what I have in mind is not necessarily something natural (or inherently inborn) to any Jew as if it was a matter of the genetics of a race. These aspects instead are the result of a frailty common to all humans that, in the case of the Jews, can lead some Jews to feel qualitatively superior to all other races.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Jews are a most unique race of people. The Jews, of course, are themselves aware of this. As a matter of fact, it is precisely because of the Jews being constantly very much aware of this that such an awareness can easily lead, out of human frailty, to a spiritual and moral downfall among some Jews, not necessarily all of course. That is, it can lead to a state of arrogant pride that can cause some Jews generally to consider themselves so special above all other races that they are driven rationally to attempt to justify even the most extreme wrong choices they stubbornly cling to rather than to confess that a grievous error may have been made.
Why? Because there is the fear that making such an admission is tantamount to acknowledging that being a Jew is not as special a thing as arrogance had led proud Jews to believe. For such Jews, admitting that they’re just as subject to making wrong or woefully mistaken choices and to sin as any other human being is simply unbearable and must be avoided at all costs.
In other words, being unique as a race presents the strongest possible temptation for some Jews to become filled with arrogant pride. Such arrogance then leads to a self-blinding syndrome that causes these Jews to believe they can do no wrong, or be foolish in any way, and that God cannot possibly be displeased with them. If something goes horribly wrong, then it cannot be their fault; something or some one else must necessarily bear the blame.
For example, seeking to evade responsibility by passing it on to someone else, it was Maimonides, the proud and outstanding Orthodox Jewish sage, who in what is now doctrinaire fashion among Orthodox Jews, said of Jesus, “this one [Jesus] caused [nations] to destroy Israel by sword, and to scatter their remnant, and to humiliate them.” Notice that Maimonides says nothing of the ultra-orthodox Jewish Zealots (the ancient version of the modern Haredi) who were central in instigating the Jewish wars against the Romans who defeated them. This is a fact that many well-informed Jews now acknowledge.
The Zealots were so wild, crazy, and dogmatic (as are the modern Haredi) that they would not even accept a reasonable Roman offer of peace and amnesty in return for ceasing hostilities. In the worst and totally dumb miscalculation, these ultra-Orthodox Zealots even destroyed the stockpile of food the Jews had in the besieged Jerusalem in order to make the Jerusalem inhabitants more desperate to fight and achieve a victory over the Romans as the only way they would have to get hunger relief. How dumb and crazy can you get? The consequence of this stupid act of the Zealots was a barbaric famine, as Josephus recorded, that ensued where the Jerusalem inhabitants were even trying to eat inedible substances like leather to relieve their hunger.
But no, the proud Orthodox Maimonides could not bring himself to admit something as negative as this about the Zealots, his own Orthodox kind, even as blameworthy as they were for the horrible consequences that befell the Jews during and after the Roman defeat. So instead, in typical Orthodox fashion, Maimonides conveniently targets Jesus as the scapegoat for the Roman disaster and for all the subsequent adversity that came upon the Jewish nation lasting almost twenty centuries before the biblical God began to relent and have mercy on them.
Orthodox Jews, above all other Jews from the time of Jesus, have considered Jesus a faker, pretender, and impostor. But in doing so, Orthodox Jews like Maimonides give more credit to Jesus than Jesus deserves if indeed Jesus was only a faker, pretender, or impostor. On the other hand, if Jesus was actually Moses’ prophesied Messiah, then what the ultra-orthodox Zealots brought upon the Jewish nation has a divine punitive element, as well as one of human frailty, because Moses warned of divine judgment for disobedience of Messiah’s commands.
Furthermore, this same Maimonides said that Jesus could not have been the true Jewish Messiah because “all of the prophets spoke that the Messiah redeems Israel, and saves them, and gathers their banished ones, and strengthens their commandments.” But, according to Maimonides, since Jesus did not do all these things prior to his murder, Jesus could not have been the true Messiah.
But who’s to say that Messiah’s itinerary as to when and how he should fulfill all that the prophets said of him has to be according to the presuppositions or mere wishes of those who wait for him. If God is Sovereign and Messiah is to be obeyed by all his followers, shall the followers then tell God’s Messiah how and when he must fulfill everything the prophets said he would? The thought is utterly ridiculous.
As for Jesus failing to strengthen Torah commandments, this is a charge that is totally without substance to back it up. In fact, Jesus interpreted Torah commandments to be far stricter in their requirements than any Orthodox sage like Maimonides apparently realized, even to the point of these commandments demanding nothing short of a perfection that only Messiah Jesus could fulfill. See, for example, the following excerpts from Jesus’ sayings:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the [Orthodox] Pharisees and the [Orthodox] teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
At this point, Jesus went on to express that obedience to Torah commandments does not just include overt behavior, such as actually committing adultery; it includes as well not having a desire in your thoughts to do so. This is because thoughts are a form of moral behavior. Indeed, it is in thought or thinking that overt (or outward) behavior begins. As such, thoughts have inescapable moral aspects, and God knows what is in every human’s secret thoughts and/or feelings. Hence obedience to Torah law must be with a perfect mind no less than with perfect deeds, as well as morally perfect speech that comes out of one’s mouth. Following, according to Jesus, are examples of how stringent Torah commandments are:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’ [literally, “good for nothing” in Aramaic], is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
All these passages cited from Jesus are found in Matthew 5:17-48 NIV.
Given the words of Jesus as cited above, we can now say, “So much for Maimonides’ ridiculous accusations against Jesus that he failed to strengthen the Jews’ commandments.” According to Jesus, those commandments demand nothing less than the perfection which God himself possesses: “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Now, let’s see if any Orthodox Jew can match this in living out his or her life according to the letter of Torah law.
In addition, Maimonides, who vehemently denied the authenticity of Jesus’ claim to divinity or to be Moses’ Messiah, actually said things which make evident that the reasons he gave for his denial are not sufficiently compelling. In fact, it can be shown that those reasons in fact leave a logical opening that makes Jesus’ claim to divinity probably authentic. With this in mind, we now proceed to examine Maimonides’ theological reasoning on the nature of God’s essence.
Maimonides on the essence of God’s being
Maimonides in his Orthodox Jewish theology believed that no one can know what the actual essence of God is. So he devised a form of theology called “apophatic theology” where you can only make negative assertions about God’s nature. In other words, you can only say in describing God what he is not, rather than what he is.
For example, Maimonides would not say, “God is one.” He would say instead, “God is not multiple” (or, “a plurality”). However, it is significant to note that Maimonides here only said that God is not multiple. In other words, he never said, “God is not a complexity.” Obviously, Maimonides could not say “God is not a complexity,” first of all, because while the Tanakh refers to God as being one, the Tanakh never and nowhere says that God in this “oneness” cannot be a complexity. Secondly, Maimonides could not say “God is not a complexity” because he would then not remain consistent with his negative theological approach which says that no one can know what the actual essence of God is. This opens a valid logical thought.
The fact that Maimonides’ logic tells him that “no one can know the actual essence of God” invariably suggests that God’s essence in the mind of Maimonides must be quite complex and beyond any human comprehension, assumption, or presupposition so that no one can define for sure (or positively) just what God’s essence is.
Thus, if God’s essence in the mind of Maimonides is as complex and beyond any human comprehension, assumption, or presupposition, then what reasonable or logical basis would any Orthodox Jew or any one else have to assume or deny, following Maimonides’ logic, that the complexity of a trinity of three persons in one essence cannot be the nature of God’s essence, or to conclude, on this very same basis, that Jesus must have been a liar when he claimed he was equal to God?
On the other hand, if Jesus met all the Tanakh and prophetic requirements to validate his authenticity as Moses’ Messiah and if, as Moses’ Messiah, Jesus authoritatively and positively said, as he actually did, that he was God incarnate and the Son of this Father God, then we either have to go into a life of denial, denying that Jesus actually fulfilled what he actually fulfilled to validate himself as Moses’ Messiah or to conclude that God’s oneness of essence must not be the simplistic, monolithic singularity that Orthodox Judaism historically and simple-mindedly has assumed and fancied this to be.
In other words, our conclusion then must be that God’s singularity must indeed be a complex one or a complexity, which would ironically be in line with what Maimonides believed in the first place about the nature of God’s essence being highly complex. Although because of his prejudicial view of Jesus and the principles of his negative theology, Maimonides was incapable even to begin to consider how Jesus could factor into the complexity he saw in the singularity of God’s essence.
But that’s not all; there are at least two Tanakh precedents that make reference to God manifested in human forms (see, for example, Jacob “wrestling” with God at Genesis 32:24-30 and a “child” that is to be born and to be called the “Mighty God” and the “Everlasting Father” at Isaiah 9:6).
6. JEWISH SUFFERINGS: THE DIVINE FACTOR
Believing that the Jews are truly God’s covenant people through the irrevocable covenant God made with the Jewish patriarchs, some Christians cannot see that it makes much biblical sense that the Most High God of the Jews would have allowed his people to suffer so profoundly for so very long without protecting them. For those who assume this view, the Roman general Titus’ reference to the defeated Jews as “a people forsaken by their own God” is an understandable assessment, at least one based purely on the surface of things as they appeared at the time.
On the surface, it did appear as if the protective hand of the Jewish God over Israel had been withdrawn so that the Romans and Nazis could, without any impediment, go about slaughtering and butchering God’s dear and beloved covenant people. But this did not make sense if God so loved his people and they had done nothing so horribly wrong as to deserve the atrocious treatment they endured non-stop for centuries, and they’re still not “out of the woods.”
Actually, there have even been a good number of Jews who lost their faith and turned to atheism or agnosticism because of this lack of sense in Jewish sufferings if God so loves the Jews. The logic also appears to receive strong support from the blessings and awful curses that are promised to the Jews in their Scriptures, specifically the Torah, respectively in the case of obedience or in the case of extreme disobedience (see Deuteronomy 28).
The Torah blessings promised in exchange for obedience are everything that a sovereign, undefeatable nation could hope for. On the other hand, the curses to be expected as a consequence of extreme disobedience resonate very closely with all the horrible things the Jews went through after the Roman murder of Jesus and up to the Nazi Holocaust. See, for example, the following relevant excerpts from the Deuteronomy 28 blessings and curses promised:
Blessings promised conditioned on the Jews’ obedience
“Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth. All these blessings will come upon you and overtake you if you obey the LORD your God:…The LORD shall cause your enemies who rise up against you to be defeated before you; they will come out against you one way and will flee before you seven ways. The LORD will command the blessing upon you in your barns and in all that you put your hand to, and He will bless you in the land which the LORD your God gives you. The LORD will establish you as a holy people to Himself, as He swore to you, if you keep the commandments of the LORD your God and walk in His ways. So all the peoples of the earth will see that you are called by the name of the LORD, and they will be afraid of you…The LORD will make you the head and not the tail, and you only will be above, and you will not be underneath, if you listen to the commandments of the LORD your God.”
Most certainly, this is not at all what the Jews got, beginning with their Roman defeat all the way through the next nineteen-plus centuries. Instead, they got the following Torah curses:
Curses warned of in the case of intolerable Jewish disobedience
“But it shall come about, if you do not obey the LORD your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today, that all these curses will come upon you and overtake you:…The LORD will send upon you curses, confusion, and rebuke, in all you undertake to do, until you are destroyed and until you perish quickly, on account of the evil of your deeds, because you have forsaken Me…The LORD shall cause you to be defeated before your enemies; you will go out one way against them, but you will flee seven ways before them, and you will be an example of terror to all the kingdoms of the earth…
“Your carcasses will be food to all birds of the sky and to the beasts of the earth, and there will be no one to frighten them away…and you will grope at noon, as the blind man gropes in darkness, and you will not prosper in your ways; but you shall only be oppressed and robbed continually, with none to save you…and you will never be anything but oppressed and crushed continually…You shall become a horror, a proverb, and a taunt among all the people where the Lord drives you…
“So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the Lord your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you…They shall become a sign and a wonder on you and your descendants forever…therefore you shall serve your enemies whom the Lord will send against you, in hunger, in thirst, in nakedness, and in the lack of all things; and He will put an iron yoke on your neck until He has destroyed you…Then you shall eat the offspring of your own body, the flesh of your sons and of your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, during the siege and the distress by which your enemy will oppress you…
“It shall come about that as the Lord delighted over you to prosper you, and multiply you, so the Lord will delight over you to make you perish and destroy you…Moreover, the Lord will scatter you among all peoples, from one end of the earth to the other end of the earth…Among those nations you shall find no rest, and there will be no resting place for the sole of your foot; but there the Lord will give you a trembling heart, failing of eyes, and despair of soul. So your life shall hang in doubt before you; and you will be in dread night and day, and shall have no assurance of your life.”
Given these Torah blessings and curses promised, if the Jews as a people had fulfilled their obedience to God at the time of Jesus, as was expected by the Torah, and the Orthodox Jewish leaders did absolutely nothing wrong that would warrant God’s extreme displeasure with the Jewish nation as a whole when their Orthodox leadership arranged to have the Romans execute and thus murder Jesus, who warned what would result from his rejection, why did the Jews lose their homeland in the first place, a homeland which was incontestably theirs at the time, and then receive the most extreme and most deadly Torah curses, rather than the blessings? To despairing Jews who threw away their faith, this made no sense at all.
So we return once again to the warning Moses gave the Jews as to what would happen if they failed to recognize his and God’s Messiah and obey his words because Jesus as Moses’ Messiah is absolutely and positively the only thing that makes any sense at all as to why the Jews suffered as they did and why they are still not secure and safely out of harm’s way: “It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which [Messiah] shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him [or, “I myself will hold accountable” (NRSV)].’
7. THE PORTENTOUS PLOT AGAINST MESSIAH
To help the reader understand what Jesus was up against in the Jewish religious environment of his time, it is important to gather an idea of how fiercely strict and fundamentalist was the Orthodox Judaism that confronted him. From what Whartman reports, this does not seem to have changed at all in today’s Orthodox Judaism.
“The Sanhedrin” is the ancient name of the Jewish governing body that existed in Jesus’ time. Under Roman rule, the Sanhedrin was given a good measure of autonomy to govern the civic and religious affairs of the Jews. Judging from recorded dialogue in the confrontations Jesus had with Jewish Sanhedrin leaders, this seems to further confirm that Jewish religious life, or the nature of the Judaism that predominated then, was very strongly along the lines of what today is known as Orthodox Judaism. As already noted, this brand of Judaism exists today in contrast with the two other major versions of Judaism, Reformed and Conservative.
Although it surely must be offensive to say this, though giving anyone offense here is not my intention, yet I consider it nevertheless true in my humble opinion, that Orthodox Judaism, particularly the Haredi version, in its own peculiar way at least comes close to being the Jewish version of fundamentalist Muslims who take their so-called “Sharia Islamic Law” extremely serious. It is these Muslim fundamentalists, like what we find in Iran, Saudi Arabia and among the Taliban who cut peoples’ hands for thievery and stone women for adultery in seeking to carry out their strict and literal following of the letter of Sharia Law.
In a similar or parallel manner, Orthodox Judaism is also legalistically and punctiliously oppressive on its adherents. I say this because Orthodox Jews seem forever to be obsessively and meticulously struggling to abide by whatever they interpret the letter of Torah Law to painstakingly command and impose on them in all the areas of life. We have already noted the oppressive perfectionism in thought, word, and deed this involves.
It was precisely this oppressive, “orthodox,” painstaking, meticulous and legalistic perfectionism demanded by Torah law that, as we shall se below, Jesus as Moses’ Messiah, sought lawfully, without destroying or undermining the integrity of Torah law, to remove from the back of Jews, and it is for this reason that he was finally betrayed to the Romans and murdered.
In Israel, because the Orthodox Haredi see themselves outnumbered by non-Orthodox Jews around them and in government, this has led to a mind-set among the Haredi of perceived threat from and suspicion toward other Jews. In recent news, Haredi Jews went out on a rowdy demonstration in Jerusalem because one of their own, a Haredi mother, had been arrested for allegedly starving her son. The news media referred to this as a struggle of Jew against Jew.
In another incident, a relatively recent TIME magazine article (June 6, 2008) posted online, reporting on a persecution of Messianic Jews (Jews who believe in and follow Jesus) in Israel, brought to remembrance the fact of how deep is the hatred that Orthodox Jews still carry toward Christianity and toward Jesus Christ himself as Christianity’s founder, particularly in reference to Holocaust responsibility.
These Christ and Christianity hating Jews know, through direct or indirect information received, of instances where some Nazi guards identified themselves as Christians while in the process of carrying out their atrocities. Consequently, on this basis as well as on the basis of the fact that Jewish persecution leading up to the Holocaust took place in the midst of a so-called “Christian” culture, they blame Christianity and Christ its founder for the Holocaust.
As a Christian myself, I find this dreadful, while, at the same time, I remain persuaded that a true and authentic Christianity, at least the Jew-loving kind I describe below, could not possibly have caused or be blamed for the Nazi Holocaust.
Simply because some have committed horrible crimes and at the same time have identified themselves as Christians, Jews, or Muslims does not necessarily mean that one is thereby justified to hold the entire religion and its members, everywhere they exist or in whatever form, responsible for the crime. This raises the question of whether Jews themselves are capable of such blind-headed, irrational or indiscriminate persecution.
Recent events have shown that “religious” people, whether Christians or Muslims, but not at all excluding Jews, can do murderous things in the name of their god. For example, in the TIME article above-mentioned, a young son of a Jewish Messianic couple in Israel was said to have been bombed by a booby trap dropped off at the couple’s home; the incident seems to have been tied, according to the TIME report, to well-known Orthodox Jewish persecution against the Messianics.
History knows too well of how brutally the Jews have been persecuted in the past by Gentiles. Here we have a case of murderous persecution of Jew against Jew simply over what certain other Jews freely have chosen to believe. Clearly then, being a Jew, even a meticulous Orthodox one, is not an automatic guarantee that such a person will act or be godly or can do no wrong.
In any case, as a consequence of their meticulous and punctilious attempt to follow the literal letter of Torah Law and its interpretations, Orthodox Jews are extremely uncompromising and intolerant in their religious attitudes and ways, believing fiercely that all other Jews fall short of the mark of what it means to be a Jew. This is precisely what characterized the Jewish religious environment and Jewish leadership that Jesus had to deal with and confront. With what seemed to these people as Jesus’ radical and liberal take on Torah Law, it is understandable that Jesus met the fate that he did at the hands of the Orthodox leadership of his time.
Jesus and Socrates
It appears useful for me to begin this segment by drawing attention to the comparison some have made between the life and death of Socrates and that of Jesus. In his “City of God,” Book VIII, Ch. 3, Augustine (354-430 A.D.) briefly described the life and death of Socrates as follows:
“There is no doubt about the remarkable charm and the shrewd urbanity with which [Socrates] examined and exposed the ignorant stupidity of those who fancied they possessed some knowledge about ethical questions…The result was that [Socrates] aroused a great deal of enmity, and was condemned to death on a trumped-up charge. But the same Athenian community which had publicly condemned him later honored him with official mourning. The public indignation was so turned against his two accusers that one of them fell victim to the violence of the mob, while the other only escaped a similar fate by a voluntary and perpetual exile.”
Comparing what happened to Socrates with what happened to Jesus, a few clear similarities seem to emerge, particularly Jesus’ unrelenting exposure of hypocrisy in the Jewish Sanhedrin Orthodox leadership and the enmity it aroused in this scant, but powerful, Jewish minority which in the end led to his betrayal to and murder-execution by the Romans.
We will soon discover, based on reports by those who were contemporaries to Jesus, that, in his time, a large number of Jews were pro-Jesus, at least up to the point that Jesus was arrested by the Jewish authorities and then betrayed over and executed by the Romans. Once this happened, all but his most ardent supporters gave up on Jesus as a pitiful loser at best or a faker at worst.
This thoughtless crowd had no inkling whatsoever that the very death of Jesus, which they could see only as a defeat was actually Jesus’ deliberate laying of the necessary foundation upon which he knew would arise the most revolutionary spiritual liberation meant for the Jews first and the transformation of Judaism, and secondarily for the Gentiles. Thus Jesus knew all along about his approaching violent death; in fact, as we have seen, he predicted it, describing it in detail.
Hence, Jesus’ death did not come to Jesus as a surprise or shock. Having already predicted this, turning in a direction other than to die as he did was therefore not an option for Jesus. Though he was pained at the thought of the violence and humiliation he must endure, he nevertheless inched ever forward, courageously, meekly and deliberately, to meet the “death hour” appointed by his Hebrew God as a predestined fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. See Isaiah 53:4-9 NRSV:
“We accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed…the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all…like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By a perversion of justice he was taken away…although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”
Of course Jesus did not open his mouth to complain; his destiny, the one central reason why he was born, had finally arrived and he drank this “cup of sorrow” to the fullest until he could only utter the final words that he did, “It is finished” (John 19:30). When his “work of dying” for the sins of his Jewish people was thus completed, he then expired; the rest is history.
In any case, while Jesus still enjoyed the support of a large number of Jews, the Orthodox Pharisaical leaders on the other hand, the very same people who, along with the chief priests, ultimately plotted Jesus’ death, were incensed against Jesus for relentlessly exposing their abysmal hypocrisy in front of Jesus’ adoring Jewish crowds.
Had Jewish society at this point been a democracy, as we know this in our time, and a poll had been taken, it would have become obvious that Jesus was politically poised not only to be elected President or Prime Minister of Israel but that he would have been virtually considered “King” of Israel by a majority of Jews.
This overwhelming popularity of Jesus among the Jews of his time, at least while he was free and alive, was made clear when the embittered Pharisee leadership saw huge crowds of Jews thronging around Jesus during and after he had raised his beloved dead Lazarus to life. See, for example, the following report from “John’s Gospel”:
John 11:41-44 NRSV: “[Standing in front of Lazarus’ cave-tomb, with the stone seal already removed from the opening], Jesus looked upward and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here [a crowd of very curious Jewish onlookers], so that they may believe that you sent me.’ When he had said this, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped up in a cloth. Jesus said to [the crowd], ‘Unbind him and let him go.'”
John 12:9-11 NRSV: “When the great crowd of the Jews learned that [Jesus] was [in Bethany, Lazarus’ home town, for the Passover feast], they came not only because of Jesus but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the [Jewish] chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well, since it was on account of him [being raised from the dead by Jesus] that many of the Jews were deserting [the Orthodox Judaism of Jesus’ time] and were believing in Jesus.”
John 12:12-13; 17-19 NRSV: “The next day the great crowd [of Jews] that had come to the [Passover] festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him [to bless and praise him]…So the crowd [of Jews] that had been with [Jesus] when he called Lazarus out of the tomb and raised him from the dead continued to testify [of this]. It was also because they heard that [Jesus] had performed this sign that the crowd went to meet him. The [Orthodox] Pharisees then said to one another, ‘You see, you can do nothing [to stop this]. Look, the world [of Jews] has gone after him.'”
Why was it said in John’s Gospel report cited above that “the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death as well?” In the same Gospel report we find the answer. We will soon see how John had previously reported that before Lazarus drew their “fatal attention,” the Jewish Orthodox leadership had already plotted the death of Jesus himself. Ostensibly, the reason the leadership gave for this was that they feared that the runaway and rising popularity of Jesus among the Jews might eventually attract the adverse attention of Roman Empire authorities who would then threaten to destroy the Temple and the Jewish nation.
So, according to John’s Gospel, the Jewish leadership decided that it was much more expedient that one man (Jesus) should be put to death than that the whole Jewish nation be destroyed. But, according to John’s Gospel account, it turned out that this was actually a convenient pretext cooked up to “silence” Jesus’ persistent humiliating exposure of the leadership’s hypocrisy.
There was no sign at all that the Roman authorities had any fear of who Jesus was, what he was doing, or how popular he was. As far as the Romans seemed to be concerned, the “Jesus phenomenon” was strictly a Jewish religious matter and, thus, an event that was of no vital concern to and did not at all threaten Roman rule.
Unlike the Jewish “Zealots” who openly advocated violence against Rome and who, for that reason, eventually did get Roman political and military attention, Jesus’ message of peace, love and non-violence posed no military or political threat to Rome. In the end, however, the Jewish nation was led to follow the Zealots’ leading, to the destruction of their Great Jerusalem and Temple as a consequence, rather than the non-violent, peaceful option that Jesus offered.
So, to reiterate the important point already noted, the real reason why the Jewish leadership wanted to get rid of Jesus, permanently, was not because of a Roman threat but because they could not stand the public humiliation he was heaping on them. From the leadership’s point of view, it had become clear that, for this, Jesus had to be stopped and silenced somehow.
Added to this was jealousy; Jesus’ continually rising popularity among the Jews together with his “new,” seemingly radical, interpretation of what Torah Law and Old Testament Judaism really was about, was undermining and calling into question the presumed biblical and theological authority, and the moral integrity of the established Orthodox leadership of the Jewish nation. Understandably, the leadership viewed this as an intolerable, radical attack and affront against their exalted institution as a body of “official” teachers of Torah Law.
The Orthodox Plot to Arrange Messiah’s Death
It has been said that it takes years to build a huge forest but only the careless and thoughtless handling of a single match stick and seconds to start a conflagration that quickly brings the entire forest to ashes. In an analogous way, the same can be said of the Orthodox Jewish plot to kill Jesus. Having one man put to death can seem insignificant in the minds of homicidal criminals. “What is the life of one human being,” the homicidal mind will think, “among so many”? But in targeting the one man Jesus and arranging for his homicide, the consequences, as we have seen, became horribly catastrophic for the Jews, the effects of which lasted for over nineteen centuries and, in Israel at least, it is not yet finished.
It was not just any Jewish mind who plotted the death of Jesus; it took a particular kind. It arose from what we now recognize as the intolerant mentality of fundamentalist Orthodox Judaism. In plotting the death of Jesus, the Orthodox leadership of the Sanhedrin carelessly thought that eliminating Jesus would end once and for all the local commotion he was stirring among the Jews of his time. It was to be what we today would call a “slam dunk” deal and all would settle peacefully after the deed was accomplished. The plotters had absolutely no inkling or clue whatsoever what a portentous event they were cooking up and about to unleash, with “nuclear” repercussions that would fall on the head of their own Jewish nation.
Even now, as Israel seeks to find lasting peace in a land they lost after the Roman murder of Christ, there is a continued, centuries-old life of denial among Orthodox Jews with respect to the ineradicable stain that the foolish Orthodox leadership of Jesus’ time forged as an inseparable part of the history of their nation. It is the stain of innocent blood in the hands of this ancient Orthodox leadership that ever follows the Jewish people like an ominous specter (the “curse of Jesus”) that simply will not forever go away but in various forms keeps raising its head from time to time.
But to refocus on the main theme at this point, based on the account of John, a Jewish apostle and contemporary of Jesus, we will now look at what was the substance of the Orthodox plot against Jesus and how it arose.
“Cooking up” the plot
Following from, and according to, John’s Gospel report is more detail on how the Orthodox Jewish leadership, to fulfill their real wish to silence Jesus’ denunciations, went about disingenuously to rationalize and justify their plan to see Jesus put to death:
John 11:47-50, 53: “The chief [Orthodox] priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the [ruling] council, and said, ‘What are we to do? This man is performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and destroy both our holy place and our nation.’ But one of them [in the council], Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, ‘You know nothing at all! You do not understand that it is better for you to have one man die for the people than to have the whole nation destroyed’…So from that day on they planned to put him to death.”
We thus see most clearly that it was not the Jewish people or nation who were or are responsible for the murder-death of Jesus. It was the Orthodox Jewish leadership of Jesus’ time who handed him over, one of their own race, of the tribe of Judah and the royal line of King David, to pagan, Gentile Romans for his murder-execution. According to John’s Gospel report, it was the Orthodox Jewish leadership of Jesus’ time who therefore bear ultimate responsibility for the death of Jesus; the Romans were simply the ones who did the dirty deed of his murder-execution.
In the end, of course, we know that the Romans not only destroyed Jesus to appease the jealous, hateful clamor of the Orthodox leadership, but ultimately both the Temple and the Jewish nation were destroyed as well. So at least in this respect of what ostensibly the Orthodox Jewish leadership was trying to avoid, Jesus was put to death in vain.
Yet in all this we see yet another parallel between Jesus and Socrates. As rising enmity against him among supposedly wise community leaders eventually led to the fatal, unjust plotting and execution of Socrates, so it was with Jesus and the presumed wise, Orthodox Jewish priests and Pharisaic leaders of his time.
8. INTERPRETING TORAH LAW: ORTHODOX JUDAISM vs. MESSIAH
I said in the beginning that Judaism represents both the historic center of gravity and religion for Jewish religious Israel. Actually, this is true not only for religious Jews in Israel but for religious Jews anywhere who adhere to Judaism. Following this, I will now add and turn my focus to what is the most basic element to Judaism, namely, what was referred to above as “Jewish Torah Law.” Jewish Torah Law is the strongest single pillar to Judaism, it is what defines Judaism virtually in all that it stands for.
I need to spend time explaining at least the bare essentials of Jewish Torah Law because understanding the concept of this law is critical to understanding not only currently ongoing disagreements among Jews themselves, but also disagreements between Christianity and Judaism. By the way, the word “Torah” itself means in Hebrew, “instruction” or “learning”.
According to the online “Jewish Virtual Library,” Torah can refer to that section in the “Tanakh,” the Jewish Bible, that consists of the “five books of Moses” where the text of Torah Law itself and its original history can be found. Christians refer to the Jewish Bible as the “Old Testament. The five books of Moses begin with the book Genesis and end with the book Deuteronomy. But for the Jews, apart from their Torah Written Law found in the books of Moses, there is what the Jews call “Oral Law,” which represent, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, “legal commentary on the [Tanakh] Torah, explaining how its  commandments are to be carried out.”
This Oral Law, however, has been set down in authoritative writing such as in the Jewish book called the Talmud. So, in the end, the Jewish concept of Torah is made to include not only the books of Moses, but also the entire body of written Oral Law. This whole body of written law, needless to say, makes the whole of Torah Law a highly complex legalistic system, and this, essentially, is what Judaism, at least in Orthodox Judaism, is about, a highly exacting, rigorous, complex, and demanding legalistic system and religion all in one. Personally, as a non-purist Gentile, I have chosen to make things easy for myself by simply referring to this comprehensive body of written, Jewish religious law as “Torah Law” generally, or specifically, as “biblical Torah law” when referring particularly to the Written Law found in the books of Moses.
Judaism first of all affirms the belief in the existence of the biblical God, whose existence the Jews confirm as empirical eyewitnesses. Judaism sees this God, among other things, as a God of law and a Law-giver. Thus, in his dealings with humanity, this God does not deal arbitrarily, though he is autocratic. Instead, God deals with humanity based on steady, stable, and ever-consistent law and legal principles which he has established in writing.
According to Judaism, the laws God gave to humanity through the Jews are essential principles or commands with respect to human existence that have to be upheld, observed, obeyed, honored and cannot be ignored without consequences resulting in various forms and degrees of adversity.
Biblical Torah Law, for example, first of all embodies the well-known biblical “Ten Commandments” governing the moral behavior of humans in reference to God and in reference to each other. One of these commandments, for example, is the one concerning the observance or keeping of the Sabbath over which the Orthodox Haredi in Israel are raising such a big ruckus.
But also, biblical Torah Law includes very meticulous ritualistic commands given to the Jews to observe. A failure to observe such ritualistic commands, as well as the moral commandments, represents an act of culpable disobedience that must be atoned for in order to be forgiven. The ritualistic commands take up, in great micromanagement detail, a multitude of life circumstances, including the most private and personal things one can imagine.
For example, suppose that a male Jew was in bed sleeping having an erotic dream. Suddenly, the dream becomes a “wet dream” (also called, in more formal terms, a “nocturnal emission”) when semen involuntarily comes out of the man’s penis, getting his underwear and legs wet from the secretion. It so happens that biblical Torah Law has a provision for what it commands has to be done when this occurs. The provision given by Torah Law is as follows:
Deuteronomy 23:10-13 NASB: “If there is among you any man who is unclean because of a nocturnal emission [or “wet dream”], then he must go outside the camp; he may not reenter the camp. But it shall be when evening approaches, he shall bathe himself with water, and at sundown he may reenter the camp. You shall also have a place outside the camp and go out there, and you shall have a spade among your tools, and it shall be when you sit down outside, you shall dig with it and shall turn to cover up your excrement.”
Notice that there are two important aspects to provisions such as this in Torah law: First of all, the provision involves a ritual or ritualistic action that must be performed; these are precise, micromanagement-like, detailed acts to be carried out. Secondly, the words “must,” as in “he must go outside the camp,” and “shall,” as in the repeated “you shall,” indicate that the ritual or ritualistic acts that Torah law calls for is not a matter of individual discretion but legal commands that “must” and “shall” be obeyed.
It appears that Orthodox Judaism takes the position that the ritualistic aspects of Torah law are just as legally binding as the moral commandments and must therefore be included in any interpretation and compliance with Torah law. It is important to keep this in mind because, as we will quickly see, this is a major if not the major point of contention that is causing violent confrontations of Jew against Jew in Israel. The whole thing seems to boil down to a heated debate between contending versions of Judaism seeking to resolve the issue of whether the ritual or ritualistic aspects in Torah law can be ignored.
Opposing the rigid or inflexible Orthodox position that ritual aspects of Torah law cannot be ignored and set aside are Jewish opinions that deny this Orthodox interpretation. It appears that, at least Conservative Judaism, believes that the ritual aspects of Torah law can indeed be disregarded and set aside, and that only the moral commandments, such as “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” or “You shall not commit adultery” need to be emphasized as legally binding.
For example, as a Conservative [or moderate] Jew, seeking to defend being religious as opposed to being secular, Whartman seems to favor this approach of ignoring the ritualistic aspects in any interpretation of Torah law. On this basis, Whartman proceeds as follows to critique the method that Orthodox Judaism uses:
“To a considerable degree secularism in Israel came about because of a revulsion for the Orthodox interpretation of Judaism, which in the old countries, as in Israel, stressed ritual and not the binding moral code of Judaism. Orthodox leaders here, because of their intolerance and failure to exemplify what Judaism should stand for [i.e., the binding moral code of Judaism], have produced generations of newcomers and sabras [i.e., those born in Israel] estranged from religion, who are unaware that there are other versions of it. They [the secularists or those “estranged from religion”] threw the baby out with the bathwater.”
But it seems to me that the problem which Conservative Jews like Whartman face, at least on this point, is that Torah law, as we have seen, does not separate itself conveniently between the ritual (or ritualistic) and the moral commandments. On the contrary, Torah law is inseparably composed of both aspects. Consequently, the Orthodox in my opinion appear to have the stronger argument here with respect to the interpretation of biblical Torah law.
On the other hand, this does not mean that the Orthodox themselves are without difficulty in their interpretation method, as legally correct as this may be. Why? Because such an interpretation, which seeks meticulously to follow and observe the strict letter of the law in both its moral and ritual commandments, leads to a perfectionism that is virtually impossible for anyone to fulfill regardless of how sincere and devout they may be.
I have already shown that, contrary to Maimonides’ accusation that he was soft in the interpretation of Torah law, Jesus actually interpreted Torah law as demanding a perfection equal to that of God himself, which of course no ordinary human being could ever live up to. But one does not have to rely on Jesus’ words to find the truth of Jesus’ assertion. Torah law itself makes it inherently obvious that this is the case.
For example, once you set yourself to obey even one ritualistic ordinance or statute in biblical Torah law because you believe the ritualistic aspect of the statute is legally binding, you automatically make yourself liable to obey and fulfill the ritualistic aspects of the whole set of statutes in the entire law where ritualistic commands are found.
This is true because to affirm that the ritualistic aspect of one statute, such as the one cited above on nocturnal emissions, is legally binding, is automatically to affirm that the ritualistic aspects in all the statutes of the whole law are just as legally binding and must be obeyed as well. Not only that, but to say that all the ritualistic aspects of the entire law are legally binding is automatically to affirm that the moral commandments are also legally binding and must therefore be perfectly obeyed also.
This is true because Torah law, though composed of differing moral and ritual elements, is nonetheless one indivisible whole that does not allow for a person to pick and choose what statute, or aspect, or extent of any given statute he or she will obey, and what part or aspect of the entire law he or she can disregard. Because Torah law in its unity does not expressly allow for the disregard of even the most minute aspect of its statutes, all in its perfect, total moral and ritual requirements are legally binding.
Hence, this leads us to see the significance of Jesus’ words as Moses’ Messiah when he said, as cited above, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished [or fulfilled]. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”
Moreover, for the same reason of the unity of Torah law, to fail to comply with even one statutory aspect or requirement is to fail to comply with Torah law as a whole. Hence, the Jewish Christian Apostle James made the following relevant observation on this topic when he said, “Whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For the one who said, ‘Never commit adultery,’ also said, ‘Never murder.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but you murder, you become a violator of the law [in the wholeness or unity that it is]” (James 2:10-11 ISV).
The single excerpt from Torah law cited above concerning the ritual one must perform in case of nocturnal emission is only one tiny example of a multitude of very detailed micromanaging of all human behavior that Torah Law gets into. Given this, and given that Torah law also consists of the moral commands that are equally binding as is the ritual, you can now perhaps imagine how virtually impossible it would be for anyone at all, regardless of how sincere and devout they are, to be able to say, “I am quite good because every single moment of my conscious life I have perfectly and completely obeyed and complied with every single detail of every single moral and ritualistic command that Torah Law demands I must perform, down to its most minute requirements.”
Anyone who said this would either have to be a dumb fool or a lying hypocrite. Yet this is what self-righteous Orthodox Jews try to pull off, seeking to pass themselves off as the most righteous of all Jews for abiding so well by Torah Law, and certainly far better than any Gentile possibly ever could. For example, on one occasion, one apparent Orthodox Jew approached Jesus and asked a question related to this topic. Here’s the account of how the incident developed:
“Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ the man inquired. Jesus replied, ‘Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth” (Matthew 19:16-22 NIV).
The moral lesson of Jesus’ words here is that however great one’s achievements are in the extent one is able to keep all the Torah commandments, both ritual and moral, one can never reach the ever elusive God’s perfection that the commandments require. It is for this reason that the Jewish Christian Apostle Paul said,
“Are we [Jews] better than they [Gentiles]? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin; as it is written [see Psalms 14:1-3], ‘There is none righteous, not even one’…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of [the perfection] of God” (Romans 3:9-10, 23 NASB). Also, to repeat from Jesus, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” because this is what Torah law essentially commands. Such a law makes absolutely no expressly stated provision for partial obedience.
Furthermore, obedience, as we noted Jesus had pointed out, does not just include overt behavior such as not actually committing adultery, it includes also not having a desire in your thoughts to do so. Hence, obedience to Torah law must include having one’s thought life morally perfect no less than the performance of perfect deeds and morally perfect speech that comes out of one’s mouth.
The holy prophet Isaiah, therefore, realizing how utterly impossible it is for any human being to comply with this absolute perfectionism of thought, word, and deed required every single moment of life for every single statute of Torah law, agreed that however many righteous deeds we accumulate and perform, none of them quantitatively and/or qualitatively can reach the level of the righteous requirements of the perfectionistic Torah Law. Thus, in a very concise way, Isaiah simply confesses this profound human inadequacy as follows, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6 AKJ).
In view of the above, the righteousness that Orthodox Judaism believes it holds above all other Jews is nothing less than a hypocritical sham. Hence, Jesus said, as cited above, “Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the [Orthodox] Pharisees and the [Orthodox] teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
The Jewish Christian Apostle Paul
In passing, and because of his importance as second next to Jesus in founding what became known as Christianity after his lifetime, it seems important that the reader learn at least something basic about who was the Jewish Christian Apostle Paul.
At one point, in one of his several instructional letters, Paul brought up the issue about those who would try to impress others by bringing up their supposedly exemplary Jewishness or Jewish background. With respect to this, Paul went on to say that if any one he knew believed they had reason to boast about this, which he referred to as “putting confidence in the flesh,” he said he had more reason than any to do so. In saying what he did, Paul conveniently provided us with a brief account of his background. Following is how he expressed it:
“If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Philippians 3:4-6 NIV).
Paul, in other words, was pointing out that he was no ordinary Jew. His Torah compliance began, as any typical Jewish child, with circumcision on the eight day of his life, thus thoroughly placing him immediately as a full member of the Jewish nation at the very beginning of his very young life. Unlike any Jew today, Paul knew what Jewish tribe he came from, the tribe of Benjamin, thus unquestionably establishing him totally as a Hebrew of Hebrews.
With regard to Torah law, Paul’s background included being a Pharisee, who as we have noted were one of the most conservative (or Orthodox) Jewish factions in Paul’s days, upholding and honoring as they did the Jewish legal traditions far more faithfully than any other group of Jews of their time. As a Pharisee, being as conservative (or Orthodox) in his Judaism as he was, it is understandable that Paul as a Pharisee was filled with profound hostility and hate for Christians Jews and their movement, which Pharisees viewed as a dangerous Jewish sect that must be suppressed as much as possible.
Paul the Pharisee was therefore the embodiment of the most hateful, inflexible, and intolerant of any Orthodox Jew you could ever meet. So, at all times traveling with “deputies,” it was this Paul the Pharisee who led persecuting posses in search of Christians to arrest, bring to trial and have them condemned and stoned to death for committing Torah capital offenses. Following is how this kind of Jewish persecution of Christians by Paul is found described in the New Testament. It should be noted that at the time these Jewish persecutions of Christians were going on, Paul’s name was its Jewish version of “Saul;” this is how he was known at the time:
“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting [Stephen, a Christian Jew,] to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the [Jewish Christian] church in Jerusalem, and they [Christians Jews] were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Some devout men buried Stephen, and made loud lamentation over him. But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (Acts 8:1-3 NASB).
In pointing this out about his past hateful acts, Paul in effect serves notice on those who might think that his Jewishness was questionable. As it is today among Orthodox Jews who hate Christianity deeply and who may in this way flash about their “badge of honor” of how unquestionably Jewish they are because of this hate, you could not find a more Orthodox “Jewish” man than the Orthodox, Christian-hating Saul who wanted to put to death and thereby exterminate as many Christians as he could.
As for Paul’s zeal for Torah compliance, no one could boast of being more compliant than Paul as the zealous Pharisee that he was. How then could this man, who was the embodiment of Orthodox hatred for Christians Jews, suddenly get converted to Christianity? Well, it took a miracle. Obviously, it seems that this is the only way it could have ever happened.
One day, while traveling to the city of Damascus in the process of making administrative arrangements that would clear the way for him to apprehend, prosecute, and bring the death sentence on more Christians, Paul was suddenly struck by an intense flash of light that temporarily blinded him. At the same time this happened, he heard Jesus speaking to him, ordering him to halt his persecution of Christians and telling him instead what he must do. His companion deputies traveling with him saw Paul fall to the ground, his becoming blind, and heard the conversation, but did not witness anything else of the event.
In any case, it was this extraordinary experience that brought Paul’s hateful madness as an Orthodox Pharisee to a sudden halt; it made a true believer out of him of that which only moments before he was seeking to destroy (see Acts 9:1-9 for this account).
After his miraculous conversion to Messiah Jesus, Saul’s name changed to Paul and, next to Jesus, Paul went on to become the most important Jewish founding leader of Christianity; his intellect and grasp of what Christianity really represented was unsurpassed by any Christian in his lifetime. He also became the predominant author of the Christian New Testament.
The letter and intent of the law
In modern political regimes, such as the United States, that rule on the principle of law, it is generally the case that all law promulgation and implementing has two essential aspects: (1) the tangible letter of the law which expressly sets forth in writing what the law requires and (2) the intangible “spirit” or intent of the law which is ascertained through searching the law’s legislative history. As we shall see below, the same is true of Torah law; there is the letter of it, but there is also the spirit or intent of the law as well.
I have said that Orthodox Jews seek to live a life that makes every possible human effort to follow the letter of ancient Jewish Torah Law. I said this to emphasize that this is the approach to compliance with Torah law that Orthodox Judaism stresses and is historically known for. If there is any emphasis at all on the spirit or intent of the law among Orthodox leaders, it is obviously scarce or non-existent since this is not what seems to exemplify their public expressions and behavior.
The Jewish Christian Apostle Paul raised this issue of the letter and the spirit of the law with respect to Torah Law when he wrote the following, emphasizing the intangible spirit (or intent) of the law as being of more essential importance than the letter of the law:
Romans 2:28-29 NASB: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh. But he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that which is of the heart, by the Spirit [of the law], not by the letter; and his praise is not from men, but from God.”
Romans 7:6 NASB: “But now we have been released from the Law [that is, from the perfectionism that the letter of the law demands, an issue further discussed in Topics 9 and 10 below], having died to that by which we were bound [that is, the letter of the law’s demand for utter perfection in compliance], so that we serve in newness of the Spirit [of the law] and not in oldness of the letter [of the law].”
2 Corinthians 3:5-6 NASB: “Our adequacy is from God, who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter [of the law] but of the Spirit; for the letter kills [through the perfectionistic compliance it demands], but the Spirit gives life.”
As he engaged in the confrontations he did with the Orthodox leaders of his time over the issue of interpreting Torah law, Jesus already knew about a Torah-legal new way that was coming legally to transcend (or get around) the perfectionism that the letter of Torah law demanded. But with this new way not having yet arrived, Jesus chose to meet and engage the Orthodox leaders on their own level, that is, at the level of the letter of Torah law. In doing so, he demonstrated why this approach is flawed.
Jesus was going to show the Orthodox leaders how it is that human nature is such that, if it is justice one seeks to attain, it cannot be attained simply by applying stiffly the letter of the law alone. In addition, there was an intangible element that had to be factored in. Though not explicit in the letter of Torah law, this intangible factor, said Jesus, is nonetheless implicit and inherent in the letter of Torah law. We will quickly see how Jesus proceeded dramatically to demonstrate to the Orthodox leaders the truth of this assertion.
The emphasis of Orthodox Judaism, as I have pointed out, has historically been on the letter of the law only. In other words, for any life circumstance that Torah law claims jurisdiction, the question Orthodox Judaism asks is, “What does the law say? Whatever the letter of the law says, that is what applies in any given case.”
Jesus, on the other hand, opposed this stiff approach and apparently affirmed that Torah law needs to be interpreted as having the two fundamental aspects of the letter and its spirit or intent, with both equally valid. The spirit or intent, according to Jesus, is essentially the intangible attitude of love for God and neighbor that Jesus viewed as being implicitly inherent in Torah law and as such morally binding as well as the letter. Hence, in any interpretation of Torah law, according to Jesus, both aspects have to be taken into account.
Jesus furthermore seems to have affirmed that of the two aspects of the law, the intent of the law is the greater or weightier aspect, determining the law’s interpretation. In expressing himself in this manner, Jesus as Moses’ Messiah and as the Jew and Teacher that he was, made obvious that this was his approach to the interpretation of Judaism and biblical Torah law.
In Jesus’ mind, the written law had been given with the intent of benefiting and enriching human life and avoiding human abuse, rather than to oppress humanity. This understanding was to be the controlling overall factor in any interpretation of the God-given commandments such as the keeping of the Sabbath. Jesus also seems to have viewed love, the intangible intent of the law, as something that could manifest itself in other intangible qualities such as justice, mercy and faithfulness.
For example, following are Jesus’ words affirming love as the fundamental meaning behind all biblical law: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).
Loving God ensures a blessed and inwardly tranquil life; loving one’s neighbor maximizes the likelihood that we will not abuse our neighbor and that our neighbor will be at peace with us. If we do this, according to Jesus, we will have essentially fulfilled the law and all that the godly prophets advised.
Granted that even when humans factor in love as the intent of the law, they will still not attain perfection in legal compliance; our inborn narcissism always prevents perfect inward purity. On the other hand, given the limitations we as humans have, a failure to factor in, even imperfectly, the intangible intent of love in the interpretation of Torah law will minimize the likelihood that true justice, as God intended, can be attained.
For Jesus, in other words, LOVE is the essential key or concept for properly understanding the meaning and intent of Torah law. So in the final analysis, according to Jesus, interpreting Torah law is not so much an issue of asking the Orthodox question, as important as this is in its proper place or context, “Have you followed, or are you following, the strict letter of the law?” But rather, “Is what you are doing the loving thing to do in the eyes of God Almighty?”
The Jewish Christian Apostle Paul seconded Jesus’ motion when he wrote the following about the nature of godly love, which does not appear to characterize typical Orthodox Jew behavior, much less the behavior of the ultra-orthodox:
Romans 13:9-10 NIV: “The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
I Corinthians 13:1-13 NIV: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
“Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
As for the intangible modes, such as justice, mercy and faithfulness, in which a loving heart can manifest itself, Jesus in effect affirms this in the following account of one of his encounters with Orthodox leaders who interpret the letter of the law only and neglect its loving intent:
“Woe to you, [Orthodox] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin [seeking meticulously to live out the letter of the law], and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Mathew 23:23-24 NASB).
Obviously, according to Jesus in this example, the problem with the Orthodox approach is that this approach stiffly and inflexibly insists only on what the letter of Torah law says, neglecting the law’s implicit intent. This is no surprise since Orthodox Judaism is not particularly famous for exhibiting an abundance of healthy love. On the contrary, for Orthodox Judaism, it is intolerance and inflexible harshness of spirit. See for example, the following:
John 8:3-11 ISV: “The [Orthodox] scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery. After setting her before them [i.e., before Jesus and a multitude of Jewish followers hearing him teach], they said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, this woman has been caught in the very act of adultery. Now in the [written] law [according to the letter of it], Moses commanded us to stone such women to death. What do you say?’ They said this to test him, so that they might have a charge against him. But Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.
“When they persisted in questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, ‘Let the person among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.’ Then he bent down again and continued writing on the ground. When they heard this, they went away one by one, beginning with the oldest, and he was left alone with the woman standing there.
“Then Jesus stood up and said to her, ‘Dear lady, where are your accusers? Hasn’t anyone condemned you? She said, ‘No one, sir.’ Then Jesus said, ‘I don’t condemn you, either. Go home, and from now on do not sin any more.'”
It is noteworthy, as shown in this incident, that Jesus never said to the accusers that they should not stone the woman or dispute the actual letter of the law so as to undermine this necessary and essential aspect of the law. He merely shows in dramatic fashion how it is that the written law can, in at least certain occasions, take in more than just the letter of it; it also takes in its overall intent.
One huge problematical issue that the puritanical fundamentalism of the Haderi are raising against Israeli authorities is the unruly demonstrations they conduct protesting work done in the Sabbath and the intolerance they show for having to co-exist with other Jews who do not share their purist and legalistic, religious persuasions concerning this.
In Torah law, the Sabbath, a reference to the day we Gentiles know as “Saturday,” is supposed to be a day of rest when, according to the letter of the law, no work is to be performed. The Haredi, being the adamant Orthodox purists that they are, are continually raising a big stink in Israel about following this commandment strictly according to the letter with no variations allowed under any circumstance. They will even resort to violent demonstrations if need be if they can’t have their way otherwise. They do this in attempts to force everyone they can in Israel to abide by the strict letter of the law.
Here again, Jesus radically challenged this Orthodox interpretation. He did so not only on the meaning of the Sabbath but on the then existing Orthodox interpretation of Torah Law as to the letter, without taking into account godly love as the central spirit or intent of the letter of the law. In the following biblical excerpts from Jesus’ verbal battles with Orthodox Judaism, we see Jesus interpretative method pitted against that of the Orthodox leaders of his time. Here, Jesus expresses his challenge to Orthodox interpretation while at the same time he is shown lambasting Orthodox leadership hypocrisy and integrity:
Luke 13:10-17 NASB: “And [Jesus] was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And there was a woman who for eighteen years had had a sickness caused by a spirit; and she was bent double, and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, ‘Woman, you are freed from your sickness.’ And He laid His hands on her; and immediately she was made erect again and began glorifying God. But the synagogue [Orthodox] official, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, began saying to the crowd in response, ‘There are six days in which work should be done; so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day.’ But [Jesus] answered him and said, You hypocrites, does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him? And this woman, a daughter of Abraham as she is, whom Satan has bound for eighteen long years, should she not have been released from this bond on the Sabbath day?’ As He said this, all His opponents were being humiliated; and the entire [Jewish] crowd was rejoicing over all the glorious things being done by Him.”
Mark 2:27 NASB: “One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The [Orthodox] Pharisees said to him, ‘Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?’
“He answered, ‘Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.’ Then he said to them, ‘The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.'”
Matthew 23:1-36 NASB: “Then Jesus spoke to the crowds and to His disciples, saying: ‘The [Orthodox] scribes and the [Orthodox] Pharisees [leaders] have seated themselves in the chair of Moses; therefore all that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them. They tie up heavy [legalistic] burdens and lay them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger.
“‘But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men.
“‘But woe to you, [Orthodox] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
“‘Woe to you, [Orthodox] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing; but whoever swears by the gold of the temple is obligated.’ You fools and blind men! Which is more important, the gold or the temple that sanctified the gold? And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing, but whoever swears by the offering on it, he is obligated.’
“‘You blind men, which is more important, the offering, or the altar that sanctifies the offering? Therefore, whoever swears by the altar, swears both by the altar and by everything on it. And whoever swears by the temple, swears both by the temple and by Him who dwells within it. And whoever swears by heaven, swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.
“‘Woe to you, [Orthodox] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish [Jesus’ symbolic reference to the Orthodox leadership’s outward appearance and behavior], but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence. You blind [Orthodox] Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.
“‘Woe to you, [Orthodox] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
“‘Woe to you, [Orthodox] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
“‘Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes; some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city, so that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar [see II Chron. 24:20-21; Ezra 5:1]. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.'”
9. THE TORAH-LEGAL BASIS OF MESSIAH’S ATONEMENT
I said above that Jesus already knew about a Torah-legal new way that was coming legally to transcend (or get around) the perfectionism in thought, word, and deed which Torah law demanded. I also said that with this new way not having yet arrived, Jesus chose to meet and engage the Orthodox leaders on their own level, that is, at the level of the letter of Torah law so as to show why Torah interpretation strictly at this level alone is flawed.
With this in mind, we are now ready to see the Torah-legal basis of the new way that Jesus, as Moses’ Messiah, saw was coming. This was to be a way based on Torah legal precedent and principle in which this Messiah would be the one to atone for the sins of his Jewish people and thereby remove, not Torah law itself, but the perfectionism aspect that this law required and demanded. The first Torah legal principle legitimizing Messiah’s atonement for the sins of his Jewish people is the principle of atonement itself which is found in the following statutes:
Leviticus 17:11 NRSV: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the [shed] blood that makes atonement”
Leviticus 4:32-35 NIV: “If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he is to bring a female without defect. He is to lay his hand on its head and slaughter it for a sin offering at the place where the burnt offering is slaughtered. Then the priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger and put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering and pour out the rest of the blood at the base of the altar. He shall remove all the fat, just as the fat is removed from the lamb of the fellowship offering, and the priest shall burn it on the altar on top of the offerings made to the Lord by fire. In this way the priest will make atonement for him for the sin he has committed, and he will be forgiven.”
From these two statutes we notice that for sin atonement, Torah law requires (1) a sin-bearer; an unblemished living creature in this case, (2) the shed blood of this unblemished sin-bearer, and (3) the offending sinner placing his or her hand on the head of the sin-bearer. Thus by this act of placing the hand on the sin-bearer’s head, the offending sinner in effect visibly declares faith that his or her guilt of sin is being transferred to the sin-bearer and declares faith as well in the efficacy of the sin-bearer’s atoning sacrifice.
For those Jews who say they don’t believe in someone paying for the guilt of sin that belongs to someone else, here we a case embedded in Torah law that contradicts such a sentiment. It shows the Jewish legitimacy of another living being absorbing unto itself (1) the guilt and punishment that was due to someone else, (2) was therefore not the guilt of the sin-bearer and, thus, (3) the sin-bearer did not deserve the punishment, and finally (4) the sin-bearer’s blood is nevertheless shed for the sins of another by being slaughtered on account of it.
Some may respond and say, “Oh but this is different. In this case it is not a human being absorbing someone else’s guilt and paying for it; it is an animal.” But by what legitimate authority is this logic justified that says it is not O.K. for one’s guilt to be given to another human being who will voluntarily pay the penalty for this, but it is O.K. to give it to a dumb animal who really has no clue of what’s going on, therefore making an issue of volunteering irrelevant, with the animal totally unaware that the doom of death awaits it?
As it is, we will quickly see that the Tanakh affirms that the principle of a human sin-bearer who will knowingly and voluntarily bear the punishment that is due to others is a legitimate principle.
In any case, at least with the sacrificial animal sin-bearer ordinance cited above, one key aspect of the ordinance is the legal ability given to an innocent sin-bearer to take upon itself the guilt of someone else’s sin. The sinner actually and personally placing his or her hand on the sin-bearer’s head is thus legally counted as the uncleanness of sin belonging to the sinner being transferred to the sin-bearer.
But to go on with our main theme at this point, the second Torah legal principle legitimizing Messiah’s atonement for the sins of his covenant people is found in Isaiah’s prophetic utterance confirming from the Tanakh that Messiah was ordained of God and predestined to be an unblemished sin-bearer to be slaughtered for the transgressions of his Jewish people. As a prophetic utterance from God, this one from Isaiah has the force of law:
Isaiah 53:5-9 AKJ: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was on him; and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he opens not his mouth….for the transgression of my people was he stricken…he had done no violence, neither was any deceit in his mouth.”
Now we may disagree as to whether this prophetic utterance was made in reference to Messiah, but at least here the human sin-bearer principle, whether Messiah or another human, is clearly confirmed as legitimate in Jewish law. Hence, if Messiah were to claim that his mission was to be a sin-bearer for his people’s sin, such a claim just by itself would not provide sufficient legal grounds to deny the authenticity of the one who made it since the principle of a human sin-bearer has already been established in Isaiah as a legitimate principle in Jewish law.
As it is, Jesus as Moses’ Messiah, and as one unblemished by sin, did in fact make such a claim: “Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant….just as the Son of Man [i.e., Jesus] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom [in sin atonement] for many” (Matthew 20:26-28 NASB).
The third Torah legal principle legitimizing Messiah’s atonement for the sins of his covenant people involves the way Jesus, as Moses’ Messiah and innocent sin-bearer, voluntarily took a transfer unto himself the guilt, not only of his beloved Jewish people, but of all humanity who would trust in his accomplishment. See the following:
John 3:16 AKJ: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
Jesus as Moses’ Messiah accomplished what he did by knowingly and voluntarily allowing himself to become accursed of God through being taken and hung on a wooden cross fashioned from a tree. See the following applicable Torah-legitimizing statute:
Deuteronomy 21:22-23: “If a man has committed a sin worthy of death and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his corpse shall not hang all night on the tree, but you shall surely bury him on the same day (for he who is hanged is accursed of God), so that you do not defile your land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
We have already noted above that because of the inseparable unity of the law, to be guilty of one offense in the law is to be guilty of offending the entire law. So here, the very fact that he was hung on a “tree” not through his own decision but the decisions of others, technically made Jesus guilty of the whole law. Yet this guilt was not inherently his own; it was the guilt of others that he voluntarily took on as a human sin-bearer.
Because the guilt Jesus as Moses’ Messiah was atoning for was not inherently his own but that of a frail, weak, and sinful humanity, and because of his claim to divinity, which we have already discussed above, Jesus as the Messiah sin-bearer that he is, was therefore able to withstand the entire severe punishment that the law could give. He thereby, on behalf of those who in faith would place their trust in the legal efficacy of his grand achievement, was able to exhaust in its entirety all of the punitive power the law could exert on him.
Following is the way Paul succinctly expressed this: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by [voluntarily] becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree'” (Galatians 3:13 NIV).
10. A SIMPLE, LAWFUL WAY EMERGES TO COMPLY WITH TORAH LAW
Hence, it was on the lawful basis of this Torah-legal manner of atoning for the sins of his people Israel that, in continuity with historic Judaism and its laws, without undermining them, Jesus as Moses’ Messiah was about to introduce a totally new approach that he lawfully secured through his life, work, and death. Through this achievement of Jesus as Moses’ Messiah, Jews could now easily comply (just through simple faith or simple believing plus a loving heart for God and neighbor that God himself gives them) with every Torah commandment or requirement there is. Clearly, then, this new approach was not to be construed as a break with historic Judaism, but instead as an evolutionary improvement that emerged within and in continuity with historic Judaism while thoroughly maintaining the full integrity of all its laws. That there has indeed been evolution in Judaism is an issue we can now consider.
The “evolution” of Judaism
When one considers that the simple, uncomplicated “Judaism” practiced by Abraham, the Father of the Jewish race, evolved into the intricate legal system of Written Law given by the biblical God and set down in writing through Moses, 613 separate statutes or laws, according to the Jewish Virtual Library, which came also to include the writing and incorporation, as part of Jewish law, of extensive Oral Law that passed through succeeding generations, it does not appear difficult to see that the Jews’ religion called Judaism has experienced evolution to some degree and in different ways since the time of Abraham.
In any case, given that Jesus was indeed Moses’ Messiah who, according to Moses’ prophecy, was to be like Moses in bringing “words” from God that were equivalent to commands or commandments that God’s people were to be held responsible to obey, itself suggests that such a Messiah would bring evolutionary change to Judaism. See again from Moses:
“The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him…The Lord said to me…’I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him [or, “I myself will hold accountable” (NRSV)].’
Given the above, the next question to be considered is how did the original founders of Christianity, who were all Jews living fully engaged as members in the mainstream of historic Judaism, view what they were building in relation to the evolving stream of this historic Judaism. We turn now to explore how this question is answered. We begin by considering the intentions of the original Jewish founders of Christianity.
The Judaism and Jewishness of Christianity
Jews are Christianity’s natural leaders for the simple reason that Jews were Christianity’s exclusive founders. As to whether God’s covenant with the Jews was an everlasting covenant, unwaveringly faithful to their historic and ancient Jewish faith, Christianity’s Jewish founders never gave an inch in the belief that such a covenant was indeed everlasting.
In fact, the writings of Christianity’s founders make it absolutely clear that they considered what they were establishing to be nothing less than the culmination of Judaism’s historic quest (or mission) to be a blessing to the world. The corrupt idea that crept in after their lifetime, namely, that Christianity had replaced Judaism was therefore something alien to the minds of Christianity’s founders.
So for these Jewish founders, what became known as “Christianity” after they had passed on, was most definitely not intended as a Gentile religion. Rather, they saw the movement they founded as something that never left Judaism and the Jewish tradition in the first place. Their movement was something they viewed instead as the grand finale of Judaism’s evolution, as noted above, from the simple practice that the chief Jewish patriarch Abraham followed, to the complex legalistic system of Moses’ time and following, reaching a climactic stage in the “Fulfilled” or “Final Stage” Judaism that Christianity’s Jewish founders believed was accomplished through the life and work of Jesus, whom they considered and recognized to be the authentic Moses’ Messiah.
In any case, for the reasons given above about the Jewishness of New Testament Christianity, while Gentiles have always been allowed to share in Christianity, Christianity was never intended by its founders to be a Gentile religion; it was a Jewish religion from the start. Hence, there could never have been for Christianity’s founders such a thing as a “Gentile Christianity”; this could only be a contradiction in their thinking.
As such, from its very beginning, Jews have been the lawful “owners” of Christianity. Hence, Jews have every legal right to claim Christianity as theirs since their believing ancestors never relinquished this ownership. It was actually not until after much debate and dispute among the Jewish founders of Christianity that the Gentiles were finally allowed into the “Jewish” Christian fold, with the Jews still holding on to the leadership of the Church.
Is there “racism” involved in Jewish preeminence?
Not only were the Jews exclusively the ones who originated Christianity. They were also the ones who first provided Christianity’s leadership and its practical and doctrinal control and guidance. Moreover, the originators of New Testament Christianity, including Jesus himself, considered members of their own Jewish race as “first-class” citizens and the Gentiles only “second class.”
For example, that Jesus did what he did for his own Jewish race first, and only second for the Gentiles, is made clear from his own words which we find in Matthew 15:22-28. These words from Jesus are undoubtedly offensive to some but they are very forthright and typical with Jesus, whose piercing and uncompromisingly political incorrect Jewish mouth only death could shut:
“A Canaanite woman [a Gentile] came out and began to cry out [to Jesus], saying, ‘Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.’ But [Jesus] did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, ‘Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us.’ But He answered and said, ‘I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.’ But she came and began to bow down before him, saying, ‘Lord, help me!’ And He answered and said, ‘It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs.’ But she said, ‘Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.’ Then Jesus said to her, ‘O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish.’ And her daughter was healed at once” (NASB).
See also from Jesus at John 4:19-22 ISV:
“[A Gentile Samaritan] woman said to [Jesus], “Sir, I see that you are a prophet! Our ancestors worshiped on this mountain. But you Jews say that the place where people should worship is in Jerusalem.” Jesus said to her, “Believe me, dear lady, the hour is coming when you Samaritans will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You don’t know what you’re worshiping. We Jews [as opposed to you Gentiles] know what we’re worshiping, because salvation comes from the Jews.”
Next to Judaism, of the two other world’s great religions, Islam and Christianity, New Testament Christianity is the only one that views itself as a movement in evolutionary continuity with Judaism and that recognizes, as Jesus himself asserted and affirmed, that one’s personal salvation before the biblical God comes from, through, or out of the Jews and their Judaism.
See also from Paul at Romans 1:16 ISV, concerning the biblical preeminence of the Jews:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel [of Jesus Christ], because it is God’s power for the salvation of everyone who believes, of the Jew first and of the Greek [or Gentile second] as well.”
Also from Paul is the following at Romans 15:26-27 NIV:
“For [the Gentile Christians of] Macedonia and Achaia were pleased to make a contribution for the poor among the [Jews] in Jerusalem. They were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to [those Jews]. For if the Gentiles have shared in the Jews’ spiritual blessings, they owe it to the Jews to share with them their material blessings.
Again, also from Paul at Romans 3:1-4 ISV:
“What advantage, then, does the Jew have [over Gentiles], or what value is there in circumcision [or being a Jew]? There are all kinds of advantages! First of all, the Jews have been entrusted with the utterances of God. What if some of the Jews were unfaithful? Their unfaithfulness cannot cancel God’s faithfulness, can it? Of course not! God is true [or faithful], even if everyone else is a liar.”
Finally from Paul at Romans 9:3-5 ISV:
“[M]y brothers, my own people, who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To the Israelites belong the patriarchs, and from them, [Jesus] the Messiah descended.”
In the face of this biblical evidence, here’s the question that should immediately arise in the mind of any bright modern-thinking individual: “Isn’t this raising of a whole class of people to the special status of first class above all others who are labeled second class simply on the basis of their biological ethnicity nothing but stark naked racism?” You bet it is!
There’s no doubt about it that at least on the basis of modern-day thinking and human standards, uplifting the status of one race of people as “first class” above others who are categorized as “second class” is racism. So yes, the Bible, along with the biblical God behind it, are thus racist, that is, on the basis of modern-day thinking or human standards. In a previous article posted in this site on feminism, I have also shown how on the basis of modern thinking, the biblical God is also sexist and has never apologized for it.
However, at least for the sake of accurate reporting, it should be noted that not all Jews are counted by the Bible or its God as this God’s preeminent, chosen people simply because they are ethnically Jewish. On the contrary, this prerogative is extended only to believing and obedient Jews. The Bible refers to such Jews as “the remnant.” See for example the following:
In the Jews’ most sacred writing, the Torah, we read at Numbers, Chapter 16, about a rebellion of certain Jews against the leadership rule of Moses who was God’s chosen man in ancient times to lead the Jews out of Egypt where they had been enslaved.
The chapter begins with these words: “Korah son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and certain Reubenites-Dathan and Abiram, sons of Eliab, and On son of Peleth-became insolent and rose up against Moses. With them were 250 Israelite men, well-known community leaders who had been appointed members of the council. They came as a group to oppose Moses and Aaron and said to them, ‘You have gone too far!'”
After some negotiation back and forth trying to reach a peaceful resolution, but to no avail, with the rebel Jews still holding their ground, the Lord God spoke in wrathful terms against these Jews who opposed Moses’ rule and said the following stern words to Moses and his brother Aaron: “Separate yourselves from this assembly [of rebels] so I can put an end to them at once.”
The end result was that all those Jews who rebelled and persisted in their disobedience were wiped out by the wrath of the Almighty, including their wives, children and all their possessions. This is part of the history of the Jews of which they as a nation have been the empirical eyewitnesses. The event is described in Numbers 16 as follows:
“So [the non-rebel Jews] moved away from the [rebel] tents of Korah, Dathan and Abiram. Dathan and Abiram had come out and were standing with their wives, children and little ones at the entrances to their tents.
“Then Moses said, ‘This is how you will know that the LORD has sent me to do all these things and that it was not my idea: If these men die a natural death and experience only what usually happens to men, then the LORD has not sent me. But if the LORD brings about something totally new, and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them, with everything that belongs to them, and they go down alive into the grave, then you will know that these men have treated the LORD with contempt.’
“As soon as [Moses] finished saying all this, the ground under [the rebels] split apart and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them, with their households and all Korah’s men and all their possessions. They went down alive into the grave, with everything they owned; the earth closed over them, and they perished and were gone [or separated] from the community. At their cries, all the Israelites around them fled, shouting, ‘The earth is going to swallow us too!'”
Hence, we see that not all Jews are God’s preeminent chosen people, it is only a remnant consisting of Jews who continue steadfast in their godly faith and are obedient to God’s will. In biblical history, many Jews perished and disappeared who were not of this remnant. They perished because of gross and persistent disobedience. It was for this reason, for example, that ancient Israel lost ten whole tribes of its original twelve when Israel’s ancient kingdom was destroyed by the Assyrians and all the Jews belonging to the ten tribes were then enslaved and exiled by the same power. These Jews subsequently disappeared from Jewish and human history generally.
It is in reflection of all this that the Jewish prophet Isaiah cries out, “Though your people, O Israel, be like the sand by the sea, only a remnant will return [that is, be saved from a loss of their inclusion in Israel]” (Isaiah 10:22 NIV).
In any case, racism or not, as long as I, as one believing Gentile, have equal opportunity next to God-obedient and God-believing Jews to draw just as much blessing from God’s covenant with Abraham (which I do, there’s no segregation here), I find no vital reason to complain about being considered second class in the Bible next to such believing Jews. Furthermore, who’s to say that the biblical God can’t be racist if he wants to, that is, as modern human standards determine?
Since the biblical God is a sovereign, autocratic God, he can do anything he wants, including going against the grain of modern day human standards if he so chooses, and no one can stop him or say to him prevailingly, “You can’t do that!” See Daniel 4:34-35 NRSV: “For his sovereignty is an everlasting sovereignty, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does what he wills with the host of heaven and the inhabitants of earth. There is no one who can stay his hand or say to him [prevailingly], ‘What are you doing?'”
Hence, if God out of his sovereign will chose autocratically to elevate the Jews above all the worlds’ nations, his decision to do so cannot be thwarted and overturned. Any modern human standard that would accuse God of being racist for doing this is then totally meaningless and irrelevant. Bear in mind that uplifting Jews as a nation to preeminence does not mean that the biblical God will allow Jews in general to get away with anything they want.
In fact, as we have already observed in great length, the Jews as a whole, unlike any other race of humans, have been severely punished in history for the longest time, centuries in fact, when they have lowered their national character to levels the biblical God would simply not tolerate. Hence, with the privileged prerogatives that the biblical God has given the Jews has also come high and lofty moral responsibilities, even though the set-up is still racist, that is, on the basis of modern-day human standards.
Furthermore, the Jews being uplifted to preeminence absolutely does not present a valid reason for chauvinistic, arrogant pride among the Jews. On the contrary, such a privilege demands the utmost humility and gratefulness. The Tanakh is very specific on this when it asserts that “a person’s pride will bring humiliation, but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor” (Proverbs 29:23 NRSV). This moral principle is just as valid for the Jews as a nation as it is for the Gentiles, and for any woman as it is for any man.
It needs to be understood that there was a specific reason why the biblical God uplifted the Jews as he did. In other words, it was not based simply on a pure random, thoughtless, or arbitrary whim on the part of God. God’s decision to do what he did with the Jews was based, as it were, on a specific plan or design that he had; it was to choose (or elect) only one human ethnic group exclusively, through whom (1) he would empirically reveal himself and (2) deal with and make his will known to the rest of humanity, instead of doing all this directly with each human being or race separately. I suppose one can surmise that this economy appears to have been the most suitable to the Almighty.
As such, the Jews are and have been the biblical God’s exclusively chosen witnesses or exclusive “agents of blessings from God” to the rest of humanity from the beginning of human history. It is this biblical fact that makes the Jews stand out as first class in God’s will; all other ethnic groups are second.
But this doesn’t mean that the biblical God considers all other races outside the Jews qualitatively inferior to the Jews. No, this is not the case. Such is not the case because both Jews and Gentiles equally share the same ultimate human ancestry that goes back to the first created humans, Adam and Eve. Because of this, there is no way that it can be said that on this purely human level, the Jews are a superior race; they are most definitely not. As equally human, the Gentiles have the same human abilities, the same human needs, and the same human faults that Jews possess.
Moreover, God did not utterly forget the Gentiles and their need of him when he chose the Jews to be his exclusive agents and witnesses. It is just that this God in his autocratic sovereignty ordained (or arranged) things in such a way that all the blessings he would extend to all the Gentile nations (or races) of the world, he would do so exclusively only through the Jews. This is made evident when God told Abraham, the great Jewish patriarch, “through your [chosen Jewish] offspring all nations on earth will be blessed” (Genesis 22:18 NIV).
Furthermore, even in the case of wrongdoing or in spite of it, and being punished for this, the biblical God continues to make the Jews exclusively first class. Why? Because according to the Bible, the Jews’ status of exclusivity (or being exclusively first class) is based on a covenant (or contract) which the law-giving and law-keeping God made with the Jews. Secondly, because the contract was made unending (that is, “in perpetuity”).
As such, because God’s contract with the Jews is perpetual, it can never be abrogated or in any way perish, since God, as faithful and just as he is, is “contractually-bound” to forever uphold and honor the terms of his contract with the Jews. Thus, however many times he may need to punish the Jews, in the end God will always have mercy and bring them back to a state of reconciliation, as the prophet Jeremiah affirmed:
“This is what the LORD says: Suppose I hadn’t made an arrangement with day and night or made laws for heaven and earth. Then I would reject the descendants of Jacob and of my servant David. I would not let any of David’s descendants rule the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. However [or, contrary to this], I will [instead] restore their fortunes and love them [or, ‘have mercy on them’]” (Jeremiah 33:25-26 GWT).
Under his contract with the Jews, God can punish the Jews for wrongdoing because this was made a part of the contractual terms God established with them, as we have observed above in the Torah blessings and curses promised:
Deuteronomy 28:1, 15 NASB: “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the Lord your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth” [this affirms the Jews’ contractual status of ethnic exclusivity or exclusively ethnic first class]…”But it shall come about, if you do not obey the Lord your God, to observe to do all His commandments and His statutes with which I charge you today [here is the Jews’ contractual obligation], that…curses will come upon you and overtake you” [here is the penalty in the event the Jews’ fail to keep their contractual obligation].
The “curse” and “bondage” of the law
Given the above, where we have shown that the original founders of Christianity were all Jews living fully engaged as members in the mainstream of historic Judaism, we noted they never once viewed the movement they were founding as something outside the bounds of historic Judaism and the Jewish tradition in the first place. Instead, as we have noted, they saw what they were building as the grand finale of Judaism’s evolution from the simple practice that the chief Jewish patriarch Abraham followed, to the complex legalistic system of Moses’ time and following, reaching a climactic stage in the “Fulfilled” or “Final Stage” Judaism that was accomplished through the life and work of Jesus, whom they considered and recognized to be the authentic Moses’ Messiah.
For Christianity’s Jewish founders, who in their religious life were living under the jurisdiction of Torah law, included in this culmination of the evolution of Judaism was a final, easy new way, that had emerged with the work of Christ concerning how Jews could now lawfully fulfill and/or comply with the perfectionistic demands of Torah law.
Before the atoning work of Christ, and because Torah law came from God, no devout Jew could say that Torah Law is no good simply because it is so painstakingly demanding and virtually inhuman that no human being could possibly abide by it, that is, in the total perfection it requires and legally binds us to achieve. On the other hand, one cannot in all truth keep back the thought that, as such, Torah law is a curse on humans, or at least that there is a curse to Torah law in that it forces humans to toil away incessantly seeking to comply with the law while never able to reach the level of perfect compliance technically required.
Furthermore, it is precisely this “forced labor” that all are legally bound incessantly to perform while never achieving the expected goal of perfect compliance, and never being able to escape this, that made the “curse” of Torah law also a form of bondage (or slavery). The curse of Torah law then represents both the unattainable perfectionism it demands and the fact that no one is able to get out of the grip of its legal claim on human beings.
As a matter of fact, the Jewish Christian Apostle Paul actually did refer to this “curse” and “slavery” of the law which he saw Jesus as having justly, lawfully, and righteously resolved and removed through his life and death. As such, Paul saw Jesus as the greatest liberator of human conscience ever, causing him to share the following words of relief and admonition with others who had placed complete confidence in what Jesus Torah-lawfully accomplished to deliver humanity from the curse and slavery of the law, see Galatians 1:1-6 NASB:
“It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery [which is found in trying to follow the letter of the law]. Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision [in an effort to follow the letter of the law as a replacement for trust in Christ’s liberating atonement], Christ will be of no benefit to you.
[HERE’S AN IMPORTANT COMMENTARY AND DISCLAIMER – Notice here that we’re NOT talking about a liberation from the law in both of its essential aspects of its letter, and of its intent, which is the love for God and neighbor. Instead, the liberation referred to is a liberation from the perfectionistic demands of this law as a whole, but especially the perfectionism that the letter of the law demands.
Hence, the essential message of Messiah Jesus is that his atonement put aside the perfectionism that the law demands. After Messiah’s fulfillment (or perfect compliance with the law) in his lifetime and after his atonement was completed, the Jews’ behavior before God and his law is therefore no longer to be based on an issue of whether, or to what extent, they are living up to the strict letter of the law. Instead, it is on whether they, as inwardly transformed people through a new spirit of love having come to dwell within them, have the love of God in their hearts, the intangible intent of the law, and are applying this in their relations to both God and neighbor.
Reading and studying to know what the letter of the law says is still essential and all-important, but only insofar as it assists us generally to know from God what is expressly good and what is expressly bad. In this manner, the love we extend will not be something based on whatever we fancy is good, but instead something based on a firm knowledge of what is both healthy and morally good through the knowledge of the law.
Even the ritualistic aspects of the law can still teach us after Messiah’s atonement. Although because of this atonement, Jews are no longer bound to the ritualism of the commandments, the ritualism can at least in some cases teach us the importance of hygienic practices. After all, we all know that a life that is lived healthily has its unavoidable rituals in such things as daily bathing, brushing our teeth, cleaning our living environment, cooking meals, and so on and on.
Now with respect to the “Sabbath” issue, knowing that the law essentially says that it is good for people not to be abused or to abuse themselves through a deprivation of rest from their labors, the letter of the law at least teaches us that people need lovingly to have or be given at least one day of the week off (not necessarily Saturday) to rest from their labors. On the other hand, because of the liberty from the perfectionistic demands of the law that Messiah’s atonement achieved, as a matter of love for our neighbor, no one should be made to feel guilty if because of utter necessity, some people may have to perform work on their normal day off].
Paul goes on to end his sharing and admonition as follows:
“And I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, that he is under obligation to keep the whole [Torah] Law [because as we have seen, to keep one statute in an effort to comply with what the letter of the law strictly and with perfection demands, is to automatically bind oneself to the obligation of keeping the letter of the whole Torah law perfectly]. You have [then] been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by [the strict keeping of the letter of Torah] law; you have fallen from grace.
“For we through the Spirit [which is also the intent of the law], by faith [in Christ and not through the works of the letter of the law], are waiting for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but [only] faith working through love [the specific quality that represents the spirit and intent of the law].”
[ADDITIONAL COMMENTARY: In other words, having now been liberated from the curse and slavery of the perfectionism in the law through Messiah Jesus’s atonement, we now do not concern ourselves dysfunctionally or obsessively with the minute details of what the letter of the law says. We instead proceed to do God’s will based on an inner attitude of love for God and our neighbor, the spirit and intent of the law, with our conscience undisturbed over issues of how perfect we perform. This is not only with respect to the letter of the law but also with respect to our performance in the fervent and sincere love from and of God that comes to fill our hearts.
This becomes possible since Messiah has already atoned for all our imperfections once and for all. See the following: “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus [as Moses’ Messiah] once for all. [Before the Temple was destroyed by the Romans] Every priest stands daily ministering and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins; but [Messiah Jesus], having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until his enemies be made a footstool for his feet. For by one offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Hebrews 10:10-14 NASB.].
Torah law and the “law of sin”
It seems to me that there are people who have such a liking for legal stuff that they get quite enthused by anything having to do with issues of law and legality. Based on observations of such individuals I’ve encountered, these people it appears would be surprised if they were told of a law that was not given with the assumption that anyone could comply with it perfectly but was given instead to educate or tutor people as to what lawful good behavior is and, at the same time, to make it evident how lawless they basically are, or as Paul put it,
“[Because no one can comply with the perfection the law requires] No one will [or can] be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the [letter of the] law; rather, through the [letter of the] law we become conscious of sin” (Romans 3:20 NIV). In other words, one of the purposes of the law was to show how short of the mark expected and required by the law we as humans fall.
Paul also went on to explain the educative nature and purpose of Torah law. In its educative or “pedagogical” aspect he said of Torah law, “[Before the coming of Messiah] we were kept in custody under the law…the law [became or was] our tutor” (Galatians 3:23-24 NASB).
In other words, just like a parent or school teacher exercises authority over children, Torah law, particularly in its written (or “letter”) aspect, was given to tell us expressly and specifically what we must learn and do for our own good. We have already learned that the word “torah” means “instruction” or “learning.” But once we learn that we cannot perfectly comply with all that the letter of Torah law tells us we must, we come to learn, not that Torah law is bad, but that there’s something wrong with us humans that keeps us (or disables us) from achieving the perfect compliance required by the law every moment that we live.
Consequently, Paul seeks to tell us that this human inability to comply with Torah law as it perfectly requires, makes evident that under a Judaism legalistic economy based strictly on Torah law-keeping as to its letter, there was a major weakness begging for improvement or change. The weakness was that regardless of how hard Jews struggled to keep or fulfill Torah Law, they kept coming short of the moral perfection this Law demanded. People still kept on sinning; they could not stop. This was evident from the fact that Jews had to keep a continual supply of unblemished (“innocent”) flock of animals for sacrificial slaughtering as atonement for their repeated sinning.
According to Paul, the Mosaic Law in itself was good; there was nothing wrong with it; it came from God, the creator of all good things. As such, there was no need to change or abrogate such a Law. The real problem, he said, was that the Jews, as all other human beings, carried within them an innate weakness or proneness to sin against what Torah Law perfectly required. Paul referred to this innate weakness or flaw, inherent in all humans by heredity, as “the law [or principle] of sin” in the flesh (see Romans 7:23). Freud’s concept of a dark, instinctual “id” is a close approximation. Freud was an ardent admirer of Paul, whose writings he had studied and to an extent also plagiarized.
Paul’s concept of a “law of sin in the flesh” as being the reason why Torah law could not be fulfilled perfectly by anyone, and that, because of this, the problem begged resolution, appears to suggest that the propensity to sin is rooted in a hereditary genetic flaw that wages war against the human spirit’s effort to “be good” (see Romans 5:12 KJ: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men [inherited through sexual procreation], for that all have sinned.”
See also from Paul at Romans 7:12, 14, 23 NRSV: “So [Torah Law] is holy, and the commandment is holy and just and good…For we know that the law is spiritual; but I am of the flesh…[In the presence of Torah law, which “is holy and just and good”] I see in my [fleshly or bodily] members another law …making me captive to the law of sin that dwells [or is inherent] in my [bodily] members.”
This point is so important to this presentation, it needs to be repeated: Because Torah law, good as it is in itself, could never be fulfilled in its perfect requirements due to the weakness or flaw “in the flesh” possessed by every human being, the shedding of atoning blood of sacrificial animals on the altar was continually required to cover for this perpetual weakness. Without such “shedding of blood,” as we have seen, there was no remission of sin (Lev. 17:11 NRSV: “For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the [shed] blood that makes atonement”).
This, prior to Messiah Jesus, was the cumbersome human burden, as well as the dreadful burden on innocent animals, which Torah law imposed. In other words, this was the weighty “curse” of the law which was begging for change into something more humane.
To get over this major dilemma under a Judaism legalistic economy based strictly on Torah law-keeping as to the letter, Paul explained that Messiah’s eternal and infinite atonement, through the shedding of his own atoning blood to cover the Jews’ inability to “keep the law” as the law perfectly required, was therefore the means God used, quite Torah-legal and lawful, to liberate his people from this burden or curse of the law. It was in this context that John’s Gospel exclaimed, “Behold, the Lamb of God [Messiah Jesus] who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NASB).
With Messiah having perfectly fulfilled Torah law requirements for all those who would place their faith in him, God was then able, righteously so, to work out a transition from a legalistic Judaism economy, based on oppressively meticulous law-keeping, to one based on mercy and grace.
In the light of all this, we can now understand what Jesus had in mind when he said in John 8:36 NASB, “If the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed;” also in Matthew 5:17 NIV: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Again, we see here very clearly that there is no break from an ongoing continuity with Torah law or a Judaism legalistic economy or of an abrogation thereof, only a fulfillment of this by Messiah’s atoning work which resulted in a transformation of Judaism itself.
Hence, Messiah Jesus, equally as Paul, was saying that historic Judaism was not in any need whatsoever to be repealed (or even replaced by a Gentile controlled Christianity); it was instead only in need to be “fulfilled,” which meant that the one weakness Judaism’s legalistic economy had, specifically the inability of Jews to reach the utter perfection Torah Law required, was begging to be rectified and it took Messiah’s atonement to fulfill this need. In saying, “I have not come to abolish [the old economy] but to fulfill [it],” Messiah Jesus was saying that the new Judaism economy based on God’s mercy and grace through Messiah was “new” only in the sense that it was no longer the old legalistic form of Judaism; it was instead the old Judaism form into the new liberated form transformed.
In other words, a momentous revolution had taken place within historic or classic Judaism. Messiah’s fulfillment of the sin-atonement need inherent in classic, legalistic Judaism, ushered in a transformed, perfected or completed version of Judaism that stood by faith and God’s mercy and grace alone. This was a state of being made possible only because of Messiah’s atoning sacrifice for all who would place their faith in him.
Now we can understand why God allowing the Romans to destroy the Great Sacred Temple in Jerusalem makes perfect sense; Jesus as Moses’ Messiah replaced the need for the destroyed Temple. See, for example, in Jesus’ words to this effect:
“[Jesus said] ‘Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.’ The Jews [who questioned Jesus’ actions] then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But [Jesus] was speaking of the temple of his body [which he knew would be crucified]. So when He was raised from the dead, His disciples remembered that He said this; and they believed the Scripture and the word which Jesus had spoken” (John 2:19-22 NASB).
As we prepare to go into the next topic of discussion, it is important to note that the transition of legalistic Judaism into a liberated Judaism through Christ was not at all accomplished by any Gentile individual or group. It was all the work of Jews, beginning with the Jewish Old Testament matrix out of which Messiah emerged, to Messiah himself who laid the liberating foundation, to the first Christians who were all Jews, and, finally, to the first church leadership which was also all made up of Jews; Christianity at its root, nature, and inception was, in other words, all a Jewish thing.
Consequently, any biblical, personal salvation that any Gentile Christian can speak about is not Gentile in origin. Instead, as the Jewish Jesus has pointed out, “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22); no other race or ethnic group has provided it. Thus, it should now be clear why I have referred to the “Judaism and Jewishness” of Christianity.
11. REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY
Prior to the Jewish-Roman wars, Jewish Christianity’s original center of power was in Jerusalem. After Rome defeated the Jews, the original Jewish leadership of Christianity disappeared from history and Christianity’s center of power then moved from Jewish Jerusalem to pagan Rome. Eventually, a second competing center of power for Christianity, next to that which already existed and continued to exist in Latin-speaking Rome, emerged in Greek-speaking Constantinople (now Muslim Istanbul), partly as an end-result of Emperor Diocletian having split the Roman Empire, in 285 A.D., into Eastern and Western branches.
This historic change of Christian leadership, from Jews to Gentiles, and of Christianity’s centers of power from Jewish Jerusalem to Gentile cities first began to emerge very quickly after the end, in 73 A.D., of the Jewish-Roman conflict. The cultural preponderance of anti-Semitism that already existed in the Roman empire, tragically infected the minds of the early so-called Gentile “Christian Fathers.” This state of mind led these Gentile Christians to assume a colossal misunderstanding with respect to just what the true nature of New Testament Christianity was.
Essentially, these Gentile Christians were Roman intellectuals, such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Tertullian, who had taken over the philosophic and theological leadership of Christianity once the original Jewish leaders had disappeared from the scene after the Roman conquest, enslavement, and dispersion of the Jews. It is here where the corrupt Christian doctrine called “replacement theology” first began.
The controversy at issue under this topic of replacement theology is whether a proper biblical understanding, even a New Testament biblical understanding, can possibly lead to the conclusion that the Christian Church (i.e., Christianity or the world of Christians everywhere) has replaced Judaism and Israel as God’s chosen people.
From the very beginning, quickly after the Jews were defeated by the Romans and dispersed to all parts of the world, the notion arose among Gentile Christian theologians that the days of the Jews as God’s chosen people, and of Judaism their religion, had come and gone. It all began when, after the Roman defeat, the dispersed and vanquished Jews came to be considered by Roman society along the lines of the words expressed by their victorious general Titus, already cited above, “a people forsaken by their own God.”
Surely, it was thought, now that the Jews have been left utterly desolate in their defeat, and their God never intervened to save them from such a fate, this God must have turned his back on his ancient people and is now looking to Christianity, a religion that arose from the Jews and Judaism, to replace both Israel and its Judaism.
This particular notion of “replacement” eventually developed in sophistication and ultimately became what is now commonly referred to as “replacement theology.” A fancier name for this theological doctrine is “supersessionism,” a word that is derived from the word “supersede” as its root. We shall soon see from the New Testament itself, that this notion of replacement, which is now institutionalized in certain Christian traditions, is and always has been an utterly corrupt teaching.
The very fact that Roman Christians knew that their Christianity came from the Jews and that virtually the entire New Testament on which Christianity is based was authored by Jews, should have, at least on these grounds, elicited great respect and pity on the hapless Jews who suffered in their midst.
Instead, blinded by their corrupt thoughts that God had forsaken his chosen people and that they deserved to be punished as they were because “they killed Christ,” or so they thought, these early Gentile Christians set the evil precedent within Christian culture of feeling justified in hating and persecuting the Jews. This resulted in a “we against them” mentality among Christian Gentiles who seemed to have come to the belief that, with the Jews vanquished by the Romans, they, the Gentiles, were now in charge of this thing called Christianity; that God was exclusively on their side; and that the Jews were totally forsaken by their God, just exactly as Titus the Roman general had said.
Never mind that Christ was a Jew; that the first leadership of the Church had all been Jewish; and that the whole thing called Christianity came out of Jewish and not Gentile culture.
It was this arrogant, triumphalist attitude against the Jews and anything Jewish, which existed among the early Gentile Christian Church Fathers, that seems to have provided the strongest motivation that lead to the corrupt development among these early Gentile Christians of replacement theology or “supersessionism.” Since then, this haughty attitude against Judaism has tragically trickled down through the ages by way of the teachings of major Gentile thinkers like Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin and others.
These people failed to see that it was not the Jews as a people and a nation who were responsible for the Roman murder of Christ. It was instead the Orthodox Jewish leadership of Jesus time who plotted secretly to have him killed and who finally succeeded in convincing the Romans under Pontius Pilate to carry out the evil deed for them. The Orthodox Jewish leadership came to hate Jesus, as Socrates was hated by Greek leaders, for making these Orthodox leaders look like fools and for relentlessly and scathingly exposing their abysmal religious hypocrisy.
Now I have been aware for many years of the existence of supersessionism among certain Christian groups [for example, Roman Catholicism, Lutherans and Reformed (i.e., Calvinist) Churches]. But up until very recently, I had no idea this controversy existed to the significant extent that it does among some Christians themselves (for not all Christians believe in supersessionism) and between Christians and Jews. Nor was I aware of the extent to which this doctrine is at the root of a great deal of misunderstanding between Christians and Jews.
In addition, I had long suspected that this doctrine of supersessionism was responsible to a very significant extent for the anti-Semitism that was widely prevalent in so-called “Christian” Europe from the time of the Roman conquest and worldwide dispersion of the Jews to the time the Jews suffered their Holocaust in Nazi Germany, including the time they endured severe persecutions in other parts of Western Europe in recent history.
So it came as no surprise for me to discover in my research that some historians have actually expressed the belief that supersessionism has been one of the roots of anti-Semitism in Western society. Now that I know what the doctrine is all about and the reasons why I have found supersessionism to be a corrupt teaching, I reject the doctrine and I expect here to state my reasons why.
Just think of it, supersessionism implies that the Jews and their Judaism represent a relic of the past that is totally devoid of any true biblical significance. In his own particular way and for his own particular reasons, Sigmund Freud, a Jew himself, believed this. According to his biographer, Earnest Jones, Freud considered Judaism a “fossil.” In any case, supersessionism also seems to imply that the Jews are obstinately hanging on to their Judaism not knowing and/or not caring that, in the eyes of their own God, their time has come and gone. Thus, it is not difficult at all to see why Jews would get fighting mad when the topic of supersessionism is raised.
The Jew’s Irreplaceable Mission
In Part 8 of my atheism series, I have already shown how, according to the words of the prophet Isaiah, the Jews were chosen by the biblical God as his witness to proclaim the reality of his existence and to tell the world who and what kind of God he is and what is his will for his human creatures. This commission the Jews received from the biblical God is irrevocable and it was given to the Jews only.
Taking this for granted as being the truth of things, the Jews, at least in this extremely important mission, have God’s support in unbroken continuity apart from, and regardless of, either the coming into being and/or existence of Christianity or the Christian Church, or of whatever these two things represent.
Thus, we can say that on this basis alone of the Jewish people as witnesses to the reality of God, Christianity or the Church has not superseded or replaced Israel or the Jews as we know them today. They have not been “fired” or have been dismissed from God’s ongoing need and use of them as his earthly witness. Presumably then, this will go on unchanged as long as human history lasts. But there are more reasons why we can say that supersessionism is an incorrect point of view among Christians. These reasons will be addressed below when we discuss the nature of Christianity’s concept of “The Church.”
So what about the Christian Church? We have already referred to Christianity as being, according to its Jewish founders, the final stage in the evolution of Judaism. The question now to be considered is what is Christianity’s concept of the “Church.” We now turn to explore this subject.
12. “FINAL STAGE” JUDAISM AND ITS UNITY OF JEWS AND GENTILES
We have already seen that as an exclusive creation by Jews fully engaged as members of historic Judaism, Christianity was intended first and foremost for the Jews. Only secondarily were believing Gentiles to be “grafted in” as an alien or exotic tree branch is grafted into a natural one (see from Paul the Jewish founder in Romans 11:17 NASB: “You [Gentiles], being a wild olive [branch], were grafted in among them [the Jews] and became partaker with them of the rich root of the olive tree [symbolic of Judaism or Israel]”).
It was in this manner that Gentile believers were perceived by Jewish Christianity as being absorbed, assimilated (or united as one) into the Abrahamic, Judaic mainstream, or the mainstream of historic Judaism in its now final stage. This “grafting in” of believing Gentiles was also seen by Christianity’s Jewish founders as the fulfillment of a promise that the Hebrew God made to their father Abraham. This promise, already noted, was that through Abraham’s Jewish offspring all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
Thus, since the time of Abraham, there has always been a prophetic destiny for Judaism waiting to be fulfilled. It is a destiny which foresaw believing Gentiles eventually being allowed, in a final stage of Judaism, to “join forces,” as it were, with believing Jews to partake jointly with Jews in the blessings of Abraham and his Jewish offspring. This explains at least in part why there are so many Christian individuals and groups seeking to help the Jews everywhere. It is because of the spiritual and/or biblical kinship and kinship-obligation they feel toward the Jews.
For this reason, when the true nature of New Testament Christianity is seen and valued in the way its Jewish founders intended, a firm desire for alliance with and a heart-felt feeling of affinity and indebtedness toward the Jews on the part of Christians becomes inevitable. Such a feeling is unique to Christianity alone and is absent in Islam, notwithstanding the fact that Islam arose from a people descended from Abraham, as were the Jews.
That there has been both a realized and foreseen evolution, change and stages in Judaism since the time of Abraham is a theme we have already addressed. So it will now suffice to say that it was the fulfilled or “final stage” in the evolution of Judaism from the time of Abraham, that the Jewish founders of Christianity saw as having already come into existence from the time of Messiah Jesus onward. This Jewishness and Judaism in and of Christianity is therefore a truth that appears either too little known or not frequently acknowledged.
Unfortunately, the word “Christianity” to label the “Christian” religion has after many centuries of its existence become heavily weighted down with Gentile connotations, including a number of which are heavily distasteful to some Jews. But we need to keep in mind that the word “Christianity” to label the “Christian” religion is a word that never appears in the recorded vocabulary of Christianity’s Jewish founders. In other words, the label “Christianity” is not found recorded in the New Testament. The label instead has obviously evolved outside New Testament language.
It is true that New Testament language records that the followers of Messiah Jesus were first called “Christians” by others (see Acts 11:26). These so-called “Christians” also seem to have subsequently accepted this label (see Acts 26:28; 1 Peter 4:16). Yet the label “Christian” in itself simply means “a follower of Christ” and the word “Christ” is derived from the Greek word “Christos,” meaning “the Anointed Messiah.” The label “Christian” is therefore not indicative of a Gentile concept; it is thoroughly Jewish. For this reason, it is not surprising that the Jewish followers of Christ, along with their Gentile brothers, did not appear to have objected to being called the “followers of the Anointed Messiah,” whom they believed was Jesus.
It took the Roman, cataclysmic, history changing event that profoundly and enduringly impacted the Jews and their history for complete control of Christianity to fall into Gentile hands by default. Prior to this, as already indicated, the total doctrinal and practical control and guidance of Christianity was exclusively held by Jews, whose center of power was in Jerusalem and who looked to the Hebrew Bible (the Tanakh) as their sole religious authority.
Because Christianity came out from the Jews and their Judaism, we find that New Testament Christianity is pervasively steeped in the Jewish ethos and, for this reason, it is only the well-informed and believing Jewish soul who can best and most naturally understand and appreciate Christianity in its original Jewish intent and establishment. By “its original Jewish intent and establishment” I am referring to the way the nature of Jewish Christianity is found set forth and directly and exclusively defined in the actual language of the New Testament.
Christianity began with Jesus Christ, who was a practicing Jew immersed in the same historic Judaism that all other Jews of his time shared. To be sure, there are some who will dispute this. Their logic is basically as follows: Had Jesus been truly a devoted follower of historic Judaism, he would not have gotten in the trouble he did with the Jewish leadership and authorities of his time or have founded a new religion.
This logic, however, first of all assumes that the historic Judaism of Jesus’ time had already reached a complete state of fulfillment, with no further development needed.
Secondly, this logic assumes that the religion that came out of Jesus and his Jewish disciples was “a new religion” and not in any possible way an improvement or fulfillment, not separate from, or against, but in continuity with the evolution or development of historic Old Testament Judaism.
Thirdly, this logic assumes that Jesus’ scathing attacks on the religious practices of the Jewish leaders of his time, which got him into fatal trouble leading to his crucifixion, was an attack on historic Judaism.
Fourthly and finally, this logic assumes that Jesus was really not in fact who he claimed to be; he was an impostor it is believed.
1. As for the first assumption, it is an incontrovertible fact that, since the time of Moses, the Supreme Jewish Leader and Prophet, the Jews have been looking for their Jewish Messiah yet to come. Because of its importance in directly addressing this and the other three assumptions noted above, Moses’ prophecy concerning the Messiah needs to be shown again, and here it is:
“The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your countrymen, you shall listen to him…The LORD said to me…’I will raise up a prophet from among their countrymen like you, and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. It shall come about that whoever will not listen to My words which he shall speak in My name, I Myself will require it of him [or, “I myself will hold accountable” (NRSV)].’ You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the LORD has not spoken?’ “When a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him” (Deuteronomy 18:15, 17-19, 21-22 NASB).
The first assumption that Judaism in Jesus’ time had already reached finality is baseless given the fact that the Messiah the Jews were looking for before Jesus’ time had not yet arrived to give them new revelations from their God and thus take Judaism to a new stage in its development. Remember, Moses prophesied that God said of this Messiah that he, God, will put his “words in his mouth, and [that] he shall speak to [his people the Jews] all that I command him.”
So, until this looked for Moses’ Messiah appeared, the Judaism of Jesus’ time could not have been seen as already finally fulfilled, with no further development needed. Given that Jesus was Moses’ Messiah, then this Messiah would have the authority to tell his people of any changes in Judaism that he was about to institute. In that case, the Orthodox Jewish leadership had the duty not to oppose this Messiah as some Jews had opposed the leadership of Moses and were destroyed for doing so.
As to the second assumption that Christianity was a new religion totally separate from historic Judaism is also baseless given that no one has yet shown compelling and clearly decisive textual evidence proving that Christianity was intended by its Jewish founders to be a religion separate from and discontinuous from historic Judaism. On the contrary, we will soon see that there is clear, compelling, and decisive textual evidence proving just the opposite.
As to the third assumption, it is also baseless, given that Jesus’ attacks on the religious practices of the Jewish leaders of his time were not attacks on Judaism itself but attacks on the hypocrisy of the Orthodox Jewish leaders in the way they thought they were living up to the demands of the letter of Torah law.
As to the fourth and final assumption, it is patently false as well on the basis of the historical facts already shown which compellingly support the view that if Jesus was not Moses’ Messiah, then this Messiah will never come and those who wait for a Messiah outside of Jesus are waiting in vain.
13. JEWISH CHRISTIANITY, JUDAISM, AND THE GENTILES
There have always been a few Gentiles who have joined Judaism, the Jewish religion. But there never was and there never has been the overwhelming and dramatic influx of Gentiles that emerged once Jewish Christianity was first founded. Hence, at least in this sense of massive Gentile influx, with the advent of Jewish Christianity, a final stage in the evolutionary development of Judaism appears to have been reached within Abrahamic, Judaic history. This spectacular influx of Gentiles from all nations into a Jewish creation became so enormous, that Jewish Christianity was eventually overrun with Gentiles to the point that they quickly immensely outnumbered the Jewish founders and members of the religion.
Never in the history of Judaism has there been a Jewish creation so successful in drawing Gentile converts as the Jewish creation of Christianity. The relatively few Gentile proselytes which from year to year have trickled into conventional Judaism is virtually nothing in comparison. With the emergence of Jewish Christianity, it seemed as if the flood gates had been opened, with the whole Gentile world swarming in like a powerful flood to receive the blessings of Abraham and his offspring.
What the Hebrew prophets had predicted, was thus being fulfilled beyond anything human expectation was capable of contemplating. Thousands of years before this spectacle emerged, the Hebrew prophets had already predicted the event. See for example the following from the Tanakh:
Isaiah 11:10 NIV – “In that day the Root of Jesse [a reference to Jesus, Moses’ Messiah, who was one of the last to be able to trace his genealogical lineage] will stand as a banner [or flag as a gathering point] for the peoples; the [Gentile] nations will rally to him.”
Zechariah 2:11 – “Many [Gentile] nations will join themselves to the Lord in that [future] day and will become my people.”
Isaiah 49:6 NASB – “I will also make you [i.e., the Messiah] a light of the [Gentile] nations so that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
Deuteronomy 32:43 NASB – “Rejoice, O [Gentile] nations with his people [Israel].”
Only Jewish Christianity has made this spectacular, prophetic and glorious brotherhood of Jews and Gentiles possible.
Paul’s Idea of “The Church” and Its Lost Jewish Leadership
As I pointed out above, the first Christians and Christ himself were all Jews.
Using the analogy of an olive tree, with Old Testament Israel as the natural tree, I also pointed out that Paul referred to the Gentiles who were coming into the Jewish Christian fold as the “wild” olive tree that was being “grafted” into the natural (see Romans 11:17). Together, believing Jews and Gentile brothers formed what Christianity’s Jewish founders called “The Church.” The word “church” comes from the Greek word “ekklesia,” which essentially means or indicates “a called out assembly of people.”
Thus, the Church was viewed by its Jewish founders as a unity or union of Jews and Gentiles who were called out from the world for a specific purpose. This purpose included that of the Church being the God-chosen vehicle through which the promise made to Abraham would be fulfilled, that is, that through his seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed.
Since the “Church” and “Christianity” are equivalent concepts, and we have already noted that Christianity was seen as the final stage in the evolution of Judaism, we can now in consistency say that in the view of Christianity’s founders, the Church also equally represented the final stage in the evolution of Judaism and, as such, also the new “Final Stage” Judaism and the new “Commonwealth of Israel” made up of an unbreakable unity or union of believing Jews and Gentiles.
In Ephesians 2:12, 19-20, for example, Paul refers to the foundation of the Church as the “Commonwealth of Israel” and to the Gentiles grafted into this commonwealth as formerly “aliens” of that commonwealth, “strangers [as well] to the [Old Testament] covenants of promise [held by Israel], having no hope and without God in the world.” But, having been grafted in to form between the two, Jews and Gentiles, a new body of people called “The Church,” the Gentiles grafted in are thereby “no longer strangers and aliens [from the commonwealth of Israel], but…[fellow] citizens with the [Jewish] saints and also members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the [Jewish] apostles and prophets, with Christ [the glorious Moses’ Messiah] himself as the cornerstone.”
Thus, according to Paul, the Church is indisputably Jewish or Judaistic at its foundation. It is definitely not Gentile and it is definitely not a replacement or abrogation of historic Judaism; it is instead a new, final, and transformed, and vastly improved version of Judaism.
In this sense, we might say that the Church became corrupted in a theological evolution that saw the loss of its Jewish leadership after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. The Protestant Reformation then became the first major step in a counter-evolution process that presumably under God’s providential direction is leading up to the restoration of the lost Jewish leadership.
This is at least one of the major reasons, I believe, that God brought the Jews back to their ancient land: to establish the Jewish political state that will act in representation of the whole Jewish people in relation to its reconciliation with God’s and Moses’ Messiah Jesus. The Church, of course, can never regain the original Jewish leadership it had while Paul and the other original Apostles were still alive. But that does not matter because as long as there are Jews anywhere, Jewish leadership is possible.
In any case, even if an actual, living Jewish leadership was not possible, a Jewish leadership of the Church can still be recognized as being present with the Church at all times. What I am referring to is that the now Gentile-dominated Christian Church can and needs to get over its Gentile assumptions as to the true nature of the Church. It has, in other words, to reach a point when it can say, like Paul did, that in continuity with Old Testament Israel, the Church is the new spiritual “commonwealth” of Israel and the new transformed Judaism.
As such, the Church is not a new Gentile creation of Popes, Martin Luther, John Wesley, Baptist theologians, and so on and on. It is in this manner that the Church will recognize that it has and has had a Jewish leadership all along throughout its history.
The Christian Church further has to recognize, as Paul recognized, that such a Church is rooted not just on a Jewish Christ and the written teachings of his Jewish Apostles. This has to include as well a recognition that the Church is rooted in the writings of the Old Testament Jewish prophets from Genesis to Malachi (again, see Paul: “no longer strangers and aliens [from the commonwealth of Israel], but…[fellow] citizens with the [Jewish] saints and also members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the [Jewish] apostles and prophets, with Christ [or “Messiah”] Jesus himself as the cornerstone.”
This, at the very least, is one way to “restore” the lost Jewish leadership. Such a Jew-loving body actually, deliberately, and explicitly recognizes Jewishness as its foundation and leadership. It also rejects the supersessionism or replacement theology that was noted above.
Now, as to those who instigated and perpetrated the Nazi Holocaust, if there were any German Nazi guards or officers involved here who claimed to be Christians “doing the will of God” by exterminating Jews, there is no possible way that Paul’s brand of Jew-loving Christianity could justly be blamed for this, based on how such a Jewish Christianity, as we have seen, is defined by Paul.
And since Paul’s Christianity was presumably Christ’s Christianity as well, we have no choice but to conclude that is utterly unjust to vent indiscriminate Jewish hatred against either Paul or Jesus Christ or against Christianity. The brutish people who killed Jews in the name of some rogue and counterfeit form of authentic Christianity had to be deluded barbarians; they could certainly not have been Christians, again, as Paul and Christ defined authentic Christianity.
The Gentile corruption of Jewish Christianity
Sadly, Jewish Christianity did in fact become pervasively corrupted by the enormous influx of Gentiles. But the Gentile corruption that entered into Christianity did not happen because its Jewish founders could not prevent the entrance of corruption or control Christianity’s dramatic spread and growth worldwide. Again, as already noted, it happened instead because of the Roman catastrophic defeat of the Jewish rebellions that took place between 66 and 73 A.D. This is what brought about the loss of Christianity’s rightful and original Jewish leadership and along with this its Gentile corruption.
Without its original Jewish leadership to guide Christianity and to maintain its Judaic purity, keeping it thus in a straight Judaistic path, Christianity’s Jewish purity was understandably lost as well.
Once Christianity’s original Jewish leadership was lost, Gentile Christians took complete control of Jewish Christianity and began to make a mess of it. While under Gentile control, this Christianity began to evolve adversely as corrupt theological concepts and practices were introduced and institutionalized. These were concepts and practices that were utterly alien to the form and intent of its original Jewish founders. Consider for example the following low-lights of Gentile corruptions:
The Gentile corruption and bastardization of Jewish Christianity included, among other things, such innovations as the anti-Semitic view that Christianity had replaced Judaism and Israel; the institution of an all-authoritative Supreme “Pontiff,” which reflected the strong influence of Roman political organization, revolving as it did around an all-powerful Caesar; an elaborate priesthood and priestly rituals; the gross idolatrous practice of fashioning graven images and the bowing, kissing and worship of them; and a multitude of “canonized patron saints” each with a “specialty,” emulating the polytheism of ancient Rome with its pagan priesthoods and its many gods, with each of these gods having a life specialty or responsibility of their own so well-documented by Augustine (354-430 A.D.) in his “City of God” (see Bk. IV:8).
It was the pervasive Gentile corruption of Jewish Christianity and the transforming of it into an anti-Semitic instrument, which was contrary to everything its original Jewish founders and leaders could have ever intended or even imagined for their creation, that eventually became at least partly responsible for the persecution and suffering of the Jews within a bastardized Christian culture, from Roman to modern times. In my opinion, had Christianity’s original Jewish leadership not been lost, the history of the West, of Christianity overall, and of the Jews, from their Roman defeat onward, would not have included all the sufferings the Jews endured, including the German Holocaust.
This is exactly why the idea of a Jewish reclamation of Christianity’s leadership is so important and nothing to be lightly brushed aside, dismissed or ridiculed. It is thus not only important to the peace of the Jews as a people and nation, both in Israel and the world over, but also to world peace, with the world now so divided among three contending main religious cultures, that of Islam, of Judaism and of Christianity.
A bastardized Christianity, in turn, bred various reform-minded movements within itself bringing on irresolvable disputes that in the end caused a now Gentile-dominated Jewish Christianity to break apart into contending groups, beginning with the breakup of Eastern and Western Christianity and going on to further breakups involved in the Protestant Reformation. This is not to mention the cults, such as, for example, Mormonism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Christian Science, and a host of fringe groups. All these sects arose in disagreement with each other and all claiming to be the true Christianity with all other groups branded as fakes.
This is why I say, to put it briefly, that the Gentiles have made a mess of original Jewish Christianity. This is also why I would say that believing Jews, the spiritual descendants of the original owners of Christianity, need boldly to reassert, on behalf of their spiritual ancestors, their New Testament-based, just and rightful ownership of Christianity, to retake and lead it. Christianity and the world needs this for the cause of peace, including the peace of Israel.
Instituting a Jewish leadership of Christianity
How can this be done? To begin with, it is my opinion that agreement must be reached that, in the issue of Christianity’s loss of Jewish leadership, what has gone wrong historically can and should be corrected and be made right again. Beyond this, a fresh Jewish-led start is needed somewhere, one that will nullify or set aside what has gone wrong.
This “fresh start” would involve a process of boldly re-asserting a biblical (New Testament-based) Jewish leadership and its denouncing and marginalizing of Gentile Christian corruption wherever it may exist. All this of course must proceed and be done in a spirit of careful humility, yet a humility that is nonetheless committed to a steadfast, righteous firmness in the conviction that a Jewish reclamation of Christianity’s leadership is the right and just thing to do for un-doing what went wrong historically.
The process must also proceed in league and close communication with any and all elements within Gentile Christian groups who long ago already denounced and put aside many of the gross corruptions referred to above. Hence, in my opinion, not all of or in Gentile Christianity is corrupt; a great deal of it, especially among evangelicals, is even pro-Jewish as well as pro-Israel. Because of their respect for the language of the New Testament as supreme authority, which is pro-Israel, these groups in my opinion would be most accepting of and welcome a biblical or New Testament-based Jewish leadership seeing that this is the leadership structure that the New Testament presupposes, assumes, and “commands.”
In passing, I will add that although it may not necessarily be, and it probably is not the final solution, the rise of the modern Messianic Judaism movement (which consists of Jews who follow Jesus) might at least be a first step in the correct direction. One thing that in my opinion appears lacking in Messianic Judaism is that in their overwhelming desire to remain within the non-Christian Jewish mainstream, any meaningful movement on their part to unify with sound Christian Gentile groups who would respect and accept a New Testament-based Jewish-Christian leadership is pre-empted.
It is true that the New Testament does say that among those united in Christ, “there is neither Jew nor Greek [or Gentile], there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28 NASB).
But, obviously, this cannot mean that one’s actual ethnic (or even cultural) identity, any more than one’s gender, necessarily has to change in order to experience the oneness or unity that is in Christ. Instead, this passage has to refer to the “spiritual unity” in Christ that ideally should transcend all ethnic, cultural and gender distinctions that actually exist.
The call for Jewish leadership of Christianity is also a way of asserting that, in the absence of actual and literal ethnic Jews as leaders, all Christians at the very least need to expressly recognize and accept that their religion should be and is still being lead by New Testament writings whose root source were the actual and literal ethnic Jews who authored these writings and, through them, founded Christianity in the first place. True and authentic Christianity is then a religion that stands and is based on pure Jewish authority.
Hence, while the actual existence of living Christian ethnic Jews as leaders would be the ideal, it is not an utter necessity. But leadership qualifications for ethnic Jews as leaders of Christianity would of course not simply be based on the fact of their Jewish ethnicity. A faith commitment to Jesus as Moses’ Messiah is the starting point. This would be followed by worthiness of character and New Testament Christian understanding to best approximate or model the standing and preeminence of the original New Testament Jewish leadership.
Finally, but not least in importance, is the need there is for an education process. This process, at the very least, would involve the learning of correct information about what were the actual views of the Jewish founders concerning the nature of the Christianity they were seeking to establish before history seemed to have tragically taken them away prematurely.