Why this rabbi wants Christians to know about Judaism and Jews to know about Jesus

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Rabbi Evan Moffic, author of "What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus." Photo courtesy of Abingdon Press

Rabbi Evan Moffic, author of "What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus." Photo courtesy of Abingdon Press

(RNS) Imagine a test on world religions that asks this question:

“Who founded Christianity?”

Jesus, right?

Wrong.

So writes Rabbi Evan Moffic, author of “What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus.”

Jesus lived, died and was resurrected as a Jew. His beliefs and practices, including his love of God and neighbor, were informed by his Jewish context.

Eventually, those teachings, and writings about Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, developed into Christianity. But many scholars do not believe Jesus saw his vocation as introducing a new religion.


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"What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus." Book cover photo courtesy of Abingdon Press

“What Every Christian Needs to Know About the Jewishness of Jesus.” Book cover photo courtesy of Abingdon Press

A Reform rabbi at Congregation Solel in Highland Park, Ill., Moffic thinks the study of the common roots of Judaism and Christianity can serve as a bridge between two faiths that have often misunderstood each other.

Moffic wants both Jews and Christians to see Jesus in a fresh way.

For too long, he writes, Christians have looked at Jesus simply as “a ticket to heaven,” and Jews have associated him with anti-Semitism.

He wants Christians and Jews to see Jesus as part of a living tradition less focused on theology and more concerned with living rightly in this world.

Moffic gives the example of Jesus’ famous “Our Father” prayer, which he says fits very well within the context of first-century Jewish life. The prayer isn’t so much a theological reflection as it is a call to action, he says.

When Jews prayed, at Jesus’ suggestion, for God’s will to be done, they were really confessing a partnership with God and his laws. They understood that “God’s will is done on earth through obedience to Torah.”

But of course, Jewish interpretations of Jesus, he writes, are “bound to rub up against Christian convictions about Jesus.” Especially when it comes to the Resurrection.

But as Moffic points out, the Christian belief in the Resurrection doesn’t need to isolate Jews from Christians. Some of Jesus’ early Jewish followers may have viewed the announcement that Jesus was raised from the dead as the beginning of the restoration of the Jewish people.


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So if the earliest followers of Jesus were Jewish, at which point did Christianity emerge as something distinct from Judaism?

Scholars don’t all agree.

One thing is clear: As the ranks of gentile Jesus followers began to swell, so did tensions with the original Jewish followers who understood Jesus differently.

The rest, as they say, is, tragically, history. From the Crusades to the pogroms, Jews were often persecuted and killed for their refusal to submit to Christian claims.

But virtually no New Testament scholar today will deny Jesus’ Jewishness. Beginning in the late 19th century, there was a push in Christian scholarship to contextualize Jesus within first-century Palestine.

This scholarship took off after the Holocaust, as more theologians explored the anti-Semitism that fueled the rise of the Third Reich.

Today, scholars such as Amy-Jill Levine, professor of New Testament and Jewish studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School, say Christians cannot understand the full meaning of Jesus’ life, without understanding the Jewish context that produced Jesus.

So Christians need to study Judaism — but what about Jews? Should they study Christianity?

Levine thinks so. “If we Jews want non-Jews to respect us, which means knowing more about us than something about ‘Fiddler on the Roof,’ then I think we should show that same respect to our Christian neighbors. That means learning what they believe, and how those beliefs are manifested in practice.”

It may be easier for Christians to study Judaism than it is for Jews to study Christianity because the Christian Bible includes the Hebrew Bible, though the books do not appear in the same order.

For Jews, the New Testament is difficult to tackle if only because the name suggests it is an improvement over the old.

But interfaith champions say dialogue between faiths doesn’t pretend that religious differences don’t exist.

“We do not sacrifice the particulars of our traditions on the altar of interfaith sensitivity,” said Levine. “We Jews and Christians are not going to agree on everything until the messiah comes. Or, if you prefer, comes back.”

The last century saw honorable attempts by Jewish scholars to re-examine Jesus.


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One such pioneering Jewish voice belonged to Rabbi Maurice Eisendrath, who, in 1963, encouraged the biennial convention of the Reform movement to update its views on Jesus. Despite the fact that Jews cannot accept him as Messiah, he argued, “there is room for improved understanding and openness to change in interpreting Jesus as a positive and prophetic spirit in the stream of the Jewish tradition.”

Like a lot of scholarship, this stayed for the most part confined to the halls of academia, and never really took off in lay Jewish communities, which remained sometimes vehemently opposed.

Moffic wants to change that.

“As people of faith,” he writes, “our challenge is to try not to undermine one another. It is not to prove our faith superior to every other. It is living and teaching our message of life and hope in a world filled with violence and indifference.”

Moffic thinks Rabbi Jesus can show Jews and Christians alike a way to do that.

(Brandon Ambrosino is an RNS correspondent)

  • I would encourage someone with a Jewish background to read the Gospel of John as a great starter for the New Testament, or “New Covenant” (Jeremiah 31:31). Some would suggest Mathew as it is very much written in a Jewish context. But John is also very popular and it even reads like the beginning of Torah. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”….(John 1:1) Indeed Judaism is the root of Christianity. Shalom

  • Pingback: Why this rabbi wants Christians to know about Judaism and Jews to know about Jesus | Christian News Agency()

  • Garson Abuita

    I’ve often thought of Jesus as one of the first Reform Jews, eschewing strict adherence to Jewish law in favor of following the broader spirit of the Torah. Of course this argument only goes so far, but it’s a useful way of looking at it, if only as a jumping-off point.

  • edward

    The prologue to John also sounds a lot like Proverbs 8:22-36. However I would not want Jewish people to read John for their introduction to Jesus. The book of John sounds very anti-Semetic until one understands the conflicts between first century Sadducees and Pharisees, local rulers and Roman overlords, and how Jesus was caught in the middle of their culture wars. When John speaks of the Jews being out to kill Jesus, he is speaking of certain factions, not the Jewish people as a whole; this only becomes clear when read within context.

  • Michael J. Cohn

    One thing that needs to be noted is the Gospels’ hostility toward Jews and Judaism. Read the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, Jesus’ insults toward the Pharisees, Jesus’ repeated references that the Jews murdered their own prophets and are blind to their own scriptures prophecies of Jesus. I agree that Jews should study the Gospels but they should not be whitewashed.

    I, for one, think that Christianity is a rejection of Torah and that what seems most likely to actually be Jesus’ message is essentially morally incoherent. Try explaining hell which Jesus refers to over and over.

  • Michael J. Cohn

    LA proved my point.

  • Ben in oakland

    It sounds very anti-Semitic, but it isn’t really. Yeah, right. We wouldn’t want to disturb that Christian belief in its own moral superiority, woukd we? This God-breathed text suffers from the same malaise that all of the other God-breathed texts suffer from– lack of clarity. To pretend that “the Jews” doesn’t mean THE JEWS, just a small subset, is to ignore what the words say clearly, the history of the Jewish heresy which eventually became Christianity, and 1900 years of vicious antisemitism traceable directly back to John and Acts.

  • yoh

    If one wants to encourage Jewish/Christian interfaith efforts, it is best not to engage in trying to find religious links. The perspectives of both religions are just fundamentally different. Plus Christians have a nasty habit of engaging in offensive rhetoric on the subject whether intentional or not.

    Better to just play nice with one another and find common goals..

  • John Hutchinson

    “He wants Christians and Jews to see Jesus as part of a living tradition less focused on theology and more concerned with living rightly in this world.”

    It may indeed be what Rabbi Moffic wants. However, this would be contrary to what Christian Scriptures itself declares. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Christianity is not merely a moral code by which to navigate daily life. That path has always led to a toxic moralism (re: Prohibition), whether in Christianity or any other religious stream. Christianity is ultimately understanding the truth and wisdom which underlies the ethics, but also every other aspect of existence. Christianity also declares that law and justice, while being a necessity, is an insufficient foundation for the beautiful life.

  • Michael Miranda

    I would suppose that if one reads the Neviim of Tanakh (Prophets of OT) through the same eyes, one will have to say that they are anti-semitic too. Note the harsh words of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc, spoken to the leadership of Israel. But they are not anti-semitic, are they? They simply were calling rebuke of breaking covenant with ADONAI and calling people to repent to avert judgment. Jesus Christ (Yeshua ha Mashiach in Hebrew) was the ultimate Jewish prophet calling the nation to repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Read Deut 18: 18-19, foretelling of this prophet;Isaiah 52:13-53:12, foretelling of this servant;Daniel 7:13-14, foretelling of this Mashiach.”Do not think that I have come to abolish Torah or the Neviim; I have not come to abolish them but to bring them to their fullness,” Yeshua said in Matthew 5:17. Re: “morally incoherent teaching,” try Matt 22:36-40, and ask honestly if any sage or rabbi can improve on it. Re: hell, read Daniel 12:1c-2; it’s a Jewish…

  • patrick

    “ He wants Christians and Jews to see Jesus as part of a living tradition less focused on theology and more concerned with living rightly in this world. “

    What’s missing here ? We have Christians and Jews – but not Muslims.

    Why is Rabbi Moffic wasting his time picking trivial low hanging fruit by talking about reconciling Jesus between Christians and Jews when Moffic should be reconciling Muslims with both.

    “….and more concerned with living rightly in this world. “

    Why doesn’t Moffic recruit the Pope, the Rebbes, the Sunni and Shia Imams and leaders of various other Religions and lead a heavy duty contingent of these “ apostles of peace “ to “ break bread “ with ISIS and do some real good where it is direly needed.

    In fact – since the Pope represents “ the Prince of Peace “, he should manage that bread-braking solo.

    Rabbi Moffic’s book got him his irrevelant15 min of fame.

  • patrick

    @ Michael J. Cohn

    ” I, for one, think that Christianity is a rejection of Torah and that what seems most likely to actually be Jesus’ message is essentially morally incoherent. ”

    Christianity and Islam both reject the Torah. The Muslims and Jews reject the New Testament. The Christians and Jews reject the Koran.

    In so doing, they all proclaim their God to be the one-and-only supreme Deity. And if you don’t believe that, or believe differently – you are to be killed.

    And Mr Cohn – you speak of ” moral incoherence ” ? So does Mr Khamenei as well as Mr Bergoglio.

  • G Key

    One pastoral policy my parents taught me was deference to other people’s personal, spiritual, existential boundaries. What lies within is private; open-minded queries may be answered at the owner’s discretion, but unsolicited commentary is strictly forbidden. Faith, fundamentally, is subject to personal boundaries. Contradictory claims presume inequality, advocate trespass, and sanction cruelty; they profane other people’s beliefs.

    Why shouldn’t devout believers ask others what they believe, and why, and how those beliefs affect their lives, etc.; and then respectfully listen, and appreciate other people’s answers, savoring each one for what it is: a rare taste of another soul’s ambrosia?…

  • G Key

    …Why is this nectar-laden tree of life’s spiritual knowledge taboo? I believe this ban is a human device to institutionalize ignorance, demonize dissent, and ennoble enmity, driven by Man’s competitive worldview, and unctuously dedicated to God in Genesis 3.

    No matter how politely God’s prose is posed, its premise presents a prickly proposition: “Replace your worthless beliefs with mine or be damned.” Vice versa, that’s sacrilege. But some believers use it to invade other-believers’ private lives, lawful activities, and spiritual peace, while other believers (and other-believers) believe invasion is immoral. I believe that until the three true faiths fix their two true moralities, they should spread their one true words noninvasively, via mass media, open houses, multi-faith fairs, etc.

  • Susan

    The first step would have to be stop trying to convert Jews. That is not a valid form of discussion. The second step would be letting Jews define Judaism for ourselves.

    Garson, I am not Orthodox, but the Pharisees in the New Testament are no an accurate depiction of who the Pharisees really were. The Pharisees already believed that saving a life more important that Jewish law.

    “Christianity also declares that law and justice, while being a necessity, is an insufficient foundation for the beautiful life.”

    So does Judaism. The New Testament is a polemic to prove the moral superiority of Christianity. It gives you a very distorted picture of Judaism The old canard that Judaism is a religion of law while Christianity is a religion of love is classic anti-Judaism.

    John, so

  • Michael J. Cohn

    I would direct your attention to the Book of Jonah. When ” they returned from their evil ways” they were forgiven. No sacrifices, no special prayers, no conversion required.

  • Michael J. Cohn

    Matthew 22 is an interesting choice for moral coherence. It starts with the Parable of the Wedding Feast which condemns the Jews to mass murder due to their rejection of Jesus. While Jesus may love his neighbor, if the neighbor doesn’t believe that Jesus is God, he condemns him to eternity in Auschwitz. ie moral incoherence.

  • ed

    you can not fully understand the depth of the Parables of Jesus, without the knowledge of the Jewish faith and traditions of the world as it was 2000 years ago. our greatest resource to this understanding is knowledge of the Jewish Faith. I ask any Christian to ask a Jewish person who understands the Judaic Law, what is the meaning of the Prodical son.

  • Garson Abuita

    Michael Miranda– Deut. 18:18-19 and Daniel 7:13-14 foretell of prophets and messiahs, true. But only if you’ve already decided that Jesus is that person are they relevant. For that matter, Jesus or the Gospel writers could’ve read Daniel and referred to Jesus as the Son of Man. It doesn’t prove anything. [Isaiah 53 has been discussed often on RNS so in the interest of time I’ll won’t rehash it].
    You want an improvement on Matt. 22:36-40? Hillel, one of the first so-called Pharisees: “What is hateful to yourself, do not do to your fellow.” Hillel is said to have died in 10 CE in Jerusalem, btw..

  • Garson Abuita

    Susan, of course the Gospels used the Pharisees as a polemical device, falsely portraying them as concerned with the law at all costs, and not with people’s true needs. They would not have let someone starve on the Sabbath simply due to the prohibition on harvesting.
    Nonetheless, it can’t be denied that rabbinic Judaism is fascinated with the minutiae of law. Just today, my Talmud learning consisted of a discussion of whether an orphan daughter’s handiwork belongs to her, or to her brothers (her father’s inheritors). As opposed to what she finds — to whom do these belong?
    If Jesus can be viewed positively from a Jewish lens, it is as someone who spoke as the prophets did: that God desires mercy, not sacrifice. This is similar to Reform Judaism’s original (late 1800s) goal of only adhering to the “moral” and not “ritual” laws (an impossible distinction). I disagree with the jettisoning of the Torah that Christianity instituted, but I’m not so sure it’s what Jesus intended.

  • MaryLou Scherer

    Bring it the brisket !!

  • Alan

    Um, sure the people of Nineveh were forgiven – but that didn’t make them become Jews.
    Also, there was the whole fasting and mourning rituals which probably fall under ‘special prayers’…

  • Holly

    Christianity has often led to a toxic moralism and is totally unnecessary for living a good and beautiful life.

  • Michael J. Cohn

    That’s my point: conversion not required.

  • Susan

    Patrick, Jim Wallis has said that America’s original sin is racism, but Christianity’s original sin is antisemitism and anti-Judaism. This problem has not been solved yet. It didn’t go away because ISIS exists.

    Garson, I like what you said.

  • Jack

    Mark, besides Matthew, John’s Gospel also evidences a Jewish context. Clearly, its writer displays a rich and striking familiarity with the sights and sounds, people and places, of pre-70 AD Israel. He also knows his way around the Jerusalem Temple and about its various ceremonies and observances, especially in relation to Hebrew holidays, from Passover even to Hanukkah, which then was a very recent holiday commemorating events which took place less than two centuries earlier. He knows the distances between towns and cities in Judea and Galilee, and the main structures which he names and describes.

    And he gives us an “inside-baseball” peak at the goings-on among Jesus and the apostles, from the comical rivalry with the apostle Peter to the tactical decisions about when to cross from Galilee into Judea.

    John’s lone problem isn’t itself, but scholars mistranslating a Greek word, ioudaioi, as Jews rather than specifically Judeans.

  • Jack

    Ben, you’re wrong on this. It’s not your fault, because you’re accepting a 17-century-old mistranslation which may itself have arisen from anti-Semitism. It hinges around a lone word in the Greek text — ioudaioi — which appears about 70 times. Each time it was rendered “the Jews” as opposed to the correct translation, “the Judeans,” meaning Jews from Judea as opposed to Jews from Galilee, John’s home province.

    I can prove my assertion by pulling out sentences containing that word, substituting “the Judeans” for “the Jews” and then asking people at random to read the sentences both ways and decide which reads more naturally. With some sentences, it’s so obvious, I would get 100 out of 100 people to agree with me.

    One example: In John 7, it said that Jesus and his followers stayed for a time in Galilee, rather than crossing into Judea, for fear of the “ioudaioi.” It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that “ioudaioi” here means “Judeans.”

  • Jack

    To clarify, the word “ioudaioi”, like the Hebrew word, “yehudim,” either meant “Jews” or “Judeans.” The translators of John’s Gospel wrongly translated it all 70 times as “Jews” when in virtually all cases, the correct translation was “Judeans”, meaning Jews from Judea as opposed to Jews from the writer’s home province of Galilee. The way to prove it is to isolate sentences where the word appears and read the sentence both ways, one with “Jews” and the other with “Judeans.” Nearly every time, “Judeans” fits and “Jews” doesn’t.

  • Jack

    Mark, I responded by showing how John’s Gospel is itself very Hebraic, especially in its striking knowledge of the sights and sounds, people and places of pre-70 AD Israel, particularly the provinces of Judea and Galilee, including exact distances between towns and cities, and a meticulous knowledge of the Jerusalem Temple and its ceremonies. Most of that world, including the Temple, was wiped out by the Roman victory and slaughter of 70 AD, so the writer was clearly a first-century Jew (almost certainly from Galilee) who lived there before the destruction.

  • Jack

    I responded, Mark, but RNS failed to post what I had written.

  • Jack

    Edward, I will go farther. A simple replacement of “Jews” with “Judeans”, which for the mostly Galilean apostles of Jesus was simple short-hand for “the corrupt Roman-collaborating chief priests in Jerusalem whom most Jews of the time rightly despised,” solves the dilemma. All four gospels, including John, were written long before the faith became dejudaized and infused with anti-Semitism. At the time of their writing, the leaders were all Jews and it was still operating within the boundaries of the Jewish world as a sect making the controversial claim that their rabbi was the Messiah.

    What makes it read in an anti-Semitic way isn’t the original text but the mistranslation — Jews rather than Judeans — a mistranslation which may well have been itself motivated by anti-Semitism.

  • Jack

    Another failure to post, this time due to a glitch in the system, but in response, Garson, the pattern seems to be that Jesus sought to extend the ethical demands of the Torah every chance he had, but took a more relaxed view toward the ceremonies and traditions that grew up around the Torah across time, and even condemned those who sought to elevate those traditions and ceremonies to the level of the Torah itself.

  • Joseph

    The Gospel was never intended to break the world apart..I believe Jesus fulfilled Biblical Prophecy of the Jewish people,, to be a light to the nations.Through him the world came to know about the G-D of the Bible..And as accepted,, has grown as time goes on. Perhaps as the earlier stages of Christianity were into it’s development,, Human interaction and different values came to play, that perhaps started some disagreements among various members, and of course the break-off from Judaism with a new path to follow..Jesus was a reflection of G-D’s presence to the world..Through him we saw that G-D wanted to reach us with his presence…BLESS TO ALL….

  • Jack

    Michael, that is a serious misreading of the Gospels, based partly on a few demonstrably inaccurate translations of key words and phrases by scholars over the millennia, and partly on our natural bias in looking at them through 21st century eyes, with the intervening 18 centuries of theological Christian anti-Semitism, rather than through first-century Jewish eyes, ie through the eyes of Jews writing to primarily to other Jews of that century.

  • Jack

    There is room for dialogue but it takes people on each side who are sufficiently knowledgeable or are willing to learn about the other side.

  • Jack

    . It depends on what you mean by “Christianity,” Susan. If you mean the dejudaized system that emerged in the centuries following the first century, I agree. But if you mean the belief of the Gospels themselves, that wouldn’t make much sense, since all the main characters and teachers were Jews. At that point, it was a family dispute of Jew v. Jew over the question of whether a particular Jewish sect’s rabbi was or wasn’t the Messiah.

  • Susan

    Yes, all the main characters were Jews, but the Gospels were written much later. They were written centuries after Jesus had died.

  • Susan

    Joseph,, well no, Jesus does not fulfill Biblical prophecy. Unless you already believe in Jesus and read prophecy to find proof for you already held beliefs. The Messiah was supposed to bring about peace, love and understanding. That obviously hasn’t happened.

    “Christianity also declares that law and justice, while being a necessity, is an insufficient foundation for the beautiful life.”

    John Hutchinson, so does Judaism. The idea that Christianity is the religion of love and Judaism is the religion of law is classic anti-Judaism. It is just not true.

  • Joseph

    Susan,,, Jesus is Messiah Ben Joseph,,, the suffering servant..To be rejected by his own,,and embraced by the nations..Then Messiah Ben David the exalted King Ruler..This is all from ancient Judaism and Rabbis..Bless..

  • Ben in Oakland

    Jack? A mistranslation of god’s perfect, unmistakable, and holy words? 1700 years worth?

    Why, next you’ll be telling me that “sleep the sleep of a woman”, arsenoklitai, and malakoi are also mistranslations of words we don’t really know the meaning of, and have been translated as “homosexuals” and “homosexual perverts” and a host of other attacks on gay people…

    All to serve as a justification for 1900 years of prisons, murders, executions. Vilification, suicides, destroyed lives, destroyed families, and destroyed careers.

    I really cannot believe that god’s holy words could possibly be so misconstrued.

    btw, I think you just proved my point. The Jewish heresy that became Christianity had it in for its parent religion. So, Judeans became THE JEWS, and justified every single thing that happened, including the programs that drove my grandparents and great grandparents from Eastern Europe 140 years ago.

  • Garson Abuita

    Susan, even secular scholars agree that the four canonical gospels were completed around 110 CE, well within a century of Jesus’s death. The earliest manuscripts extant today, however, do date to centuries later.

  • Michael J. Cohn

    The Gospels are hostile the Jews as Jews. This is seen in the insults hurled at the Pharisees, accusations that the Jews murder their own prophets and in parables like the Parable of the Wicked Tenants and the Wedding Feast. These cannot be construed as hostility only toward Jews of a specific geographical region.

  • Michael J. Cohn

    Wouldn’t you think that it’s fair to say that the men writing the Gospels were not Jews other than perhaps genetically? They had rejected Torah and were developing a different religion which appears to be quite hostile to Torah and the Jewish intelligentsia teaching Torah, and the Jews in general.

  • Garson Abuita

    Jack, I agree that “ioudaioi” is a metonym — it doesn’t just literally mean people from Judea. However, John doesn’t just condemn the priests, it has Jesus condemning the Pharisees and portrays the common people as demanding his execution. It was from Judea that post-Temple Judaism emerged, with the Pharisees and Rabbinic Judaism. It’s the Judaism that survives today. The Gospel of John was written by someone who considered himself Jewish, writing to his fellow Jews, but that community’s separation from Judaism was well underway. No matter how ioudaioi is translated, much of John is still a polemic against “those other” practioners of Judaism.

  • Jack

    Ben, come on. I fully answered your post and now’s your moment either to be intellectually honest or double down on your initial mistake and look positively silly in the process.

    You and I know the history of Christendom is filled with anti-Semitism, which disgusts me as much as anybody walking this earth. But we’re talking about the original writer of John’s Gospel, and I refuse to blame an innocent man — the writer — for what happened long after he died, especially given that he was quite obviously Jewish himself and at the time, it was a family dispute among Jews about Jesus that had absolutely nothing to do with Gentiles who were not yet positioned to exercise influence on the new sect.

    I explained fully how through a mistranslation of a single Greek word, long after the writer’s death, John’s Gospel took on an anti-Semitic cast. And I invited you or anyone to take any verse with the word in it, try each translation, and see which works.

  • Jack

    Yes, Garson, Jesus condemned the Pharisees. But like the Hebrew prophets, he wasn’t criticizing the office of leadership but the leaders holding the office. Thus Jesus said the Pharisees sat “in the seat of Moses.” This was a nod to the “office” and its interpretive function. It also appears he didn’t criticize the body of tradition built up around the Scriptures. He did criticize the misuse of Scripture. Yet some scholars believe he was criticizing mostly the House of Shammai, which tended to be more strict and legalistic, over that of Hillel. One reason Jesus’ criticisms seem so foreign to observant Jews today is that while Shammai’s school died with the rebellion against Rome, Hillel’s school lived on and is the precursor today’s Judaism.

    As for “ioudaioi”, like the Hebrew (yehudim), it meant either Jews or Judeans….Jews generally or Jews from Judea. The way to tell which is to try both ways in a given sentence and see which fits.

  • Jack

    As RNS allows little space, here’s a followup post….The apostles, most of them Galilean Jews, sometimes used “ioudaioi” in the Gospels as short-hand for the leadership of the time in Jerusalem, the seat of Judea. Paul appears to have picked up on this habit as seen in one of his letters to the Thessalonians. The King James Version doesn’t get it, but the New King James Version gets it completely. Tellingly the hate sites across the internet go with the KJV.

    By all accounts, starting with the Talmud, the house of Caiaphas which ran the Temple and priesthood in authority in Jerusalem, was financially corrupt as well as pro-Roman, and were hated by most Jerusalemites as well as by other Judeans and by Galileans. The high priest was as much a lackey of Rome as the Roman governor and both were despised as oppressors and for good reason.

    AS for the timing of the separation, it’s a matter of debate. Over time, it keeps getting pushed back.

  • Joseph

    Completely not TRUE

  • Ben in oakland

    You did indeed answer it, Jack, but that wasn’t my point. It’s not whatever the original words say, it is the use that those words are put to by people with political, social, dominionist, and religious and agendas.

    It’s very much like the sodom story, which has been put to much the same uses. As written, it is clearly one of those oldest stories in the bible, so old that God walks to Abraham’s house and has dinner with him, and doesn’t know that Sarah is hiding behind the door. But of course, that is when he was a mere Midianite Storm God, and not omnipotent.

    The sodom story is not about homosexuality, as understood in their time or in ours. It is about rape, about inhospitality to strangers.

    Im not interested in blaming anyone long after they died, unless they were clearly responsible. Hitler comes to mind, not John. As you know, I’m interested in using people the bible as a weapon against other people. In this case, heresy attacking its parent faith.

  • Jack

    As with other revealed religions, such as Judaism and Islam, the initial question isn’t whether it’s necessary for “living a good life” but whether its core historical assertions are true. If they are, they can’t be brushed aside anymore than you can brush aside gravity. (You can, but you bear the consequences of doing so) If they are not, then nothing else about them is relevant, either. You can certainly develop an ethical system that keeps you from being a social menace without any particular reference to any religion.

  • Jack

    Garson is correct. Old myths sometimes take a very long time to die, and the myth that the Gospels were written centuries later was refuted almost 90 years ago by a number of archeological discoveries, including the discovery of a manuscript fragment from John’s Gospel, which was dated around 110 CE. That means that in all likelihood, this final Gospel among the four was completed and circulated within the first century, and thus the three earlier ones had to have been as well.

    But even absent such discoveries, the internal evidence within each of the four gospels strongly suggests a first-century CE origin.

  • Jack

    Actually, Michael, we’re not so sure anymore that the first generation — ie the apostles and other disciples — did in fact reject the Torah. Even in the case of Paul, who clearly taught that Gentiles did not have to obey the Torah, it appears increasingly clear that he, a Jew, continued to live an observant life even after he had his “road to Damascus” change concerning Jesus. A careful reading of the New Testament Book of Acts, for example, reveals that Paul took observance in his own life as a given….and that neither he nor the writer seemed to think it was anything other than normal for him.

  • Jack

    Susan and Joseph, this is complex, which is why both sides have been arguing for 20 centuries.

    Joseph, you are correct about the Messiah ben Yosef and Messiah ben David traditions…..two messiahs according to one strand of thinking among some of the rabbis – one messiah who suffers and dies for the people, the other of whom comes as a victorious king who reigns from Jerusalem over the earth.

    Susan, the presence of this thought among some of the rabbis in the Talmud is striking and points to a view that there is a suffering-and-dying aspect to Messianic prophecies in the Bible that cannot be willed or wished away. It suggests, for example, that Isaiah 53 has sometimes been applied to a messianic individual and not only to the people as a whole. There’s no other explanation for the existence of the Messiah ben Yosef tradition.

    But Joseph, to be fair, that is but one view among the rabbis, who held many different views about the messiah.

  • Jack

    Of course, the two-messiahs teaching raises the intriguing question of whether there is in actuality one messiah who fulfills both missions — suffering or dying for the people and also reigning as king. But logically, the only way one person can do both is not to stay dead once he dies. He has to come back or he can’t reign as king, too.

    And that’s what presumably scares the dickens out of Susan, and probably excites Joseph.

    Obviously, I believe it’s one messiah who does both, but I have enough friends on both sides of the fence (and some who prefer sitting on the fence) to understand and appreciate people on both/all sides pretty well.

    I think the bottom line is what the author of the article said in the first place — if Jews would learn more about the Jesus issue and begin to reclaim Jesus in their own way and Christians learn more about their Jewish roots and what they owe the Jewish people, it wouldn’t be such a bad thing on either end.

  • Joseph

    True Jack,,however,, today Rabbis still recognize this as Prophecy to occur..I believe Jesus was sent by G-D and is Messiah Ben Joseph, and will return as Messiah Ben David……Bless

  • Jack

    Susan, I agree that the NT depiction of the Pharisees diverges from the actual observant Jewish life as practiced in the 20 centuries that followed.

    But there might be an intriguing explanation for the divergence.

    The dominant school of the Pharisees in the first century was the House of Shammai, a very strict, legalistic school that conformed to Gospel depiction of the Pharisees.

    The second school, that of Hillel, was different. This can be seen in a tale about a man who asked Shammai and Hillel to teach him Torah while standing on one foot. Shammai threw him out. But Hillel replied that “what is hateful to me I will not do to another; all the rest is commentary.”

    The House of Shammai was wiped out by the Roman conquest of 70 because it sided with the rebellion, but Hillel’s school which wisely counseled against it, lived on and helped form the Judaism of the next 20 centuries.

  • Jack

    Interestingly enough, the reason that most Orthodox rabbis in the 19th and early 20th centuries were against Zionism, the restoration of a Jewish commonwealth, was precisely because they were the spiritual descendants of the Hillel Pharisees who survived the first century by opposing the suicidal rebellion against Rome. IN the centuries that followed, they had developed a teaching that forbade Jews to re-establish sovereignty in Israel because they feared another bloodbath would result at the hands of the enemies of the Jews. So they stuck in the condition that they Jews couldn’t go back and re-establish sovereignty until the Messiah came and personally escorted them back. This was a doctrine with no biblical support, but the motive, again, was based on the historical memory of a terrible bloodbath that they were seeking to avoid for the sake of Jewish survival.

    Today, the modern Orthodox have fortunately found a way of jettisoning that view.

  • Michael J. Cohn

    I would argue that if the Jewish Scriptures were not historically true, their wisdom would not be diminished. If the Gospels are not historically true, they lose all meaning.

  • Jack

    Garson, it appears that Jesus did not intend to jettison the Torah, and it also appears that Paul’s statements on the Torah were primarily directed against the erroneous view of some, though not most, that Gentiles were required to keep the Torah in order to be right with God.

  • Jack

    I do, too, Joseph. I just wanted to be sure that neither of us was implying that all or even most of the rabbis necessarily buy into the two-messiahs view. My sense is that it’s one of many views presented over time in rabbinic literature about the messiah.

    Obviously I believe it’s the most striking one because it plainly refutes the notion that Christians came up with the view all by their lonesome that Isaiah 53 refers to an individual as opposed to or besides the nation. But I don’t want to claim more than is warranted by the facts.

    But again, you are right to point to the significance of the two-messiahs teaching. It is significant because of what it implies.

  • Jack

    Agreed, Susan, on the artificial distinction some people make between Christianity and Judaism, and “Old” vs. “New” Testament, on the matter of love and law. True biblical teaching is that love and law are not opposed, but go together. God’s covenant at Sinai is a covenant of grace as much as law. The preamble, as many scholars have noted, cites God’s love and graciousness toward the people, and Sinai flows out of that pre-existent love.

  • Jack

    I partly agree, Michael, because the Hebrew Scriptures focus on law and ethics. But still, if neither the Hebrew Bible nor the New Testament are historically true, we need neither to form an ethical system. We don’t need the Bible to tell us that murder or bearing false witness is wrong. That’s the point atheists make all of the time, and they are quite right on that score.

    The biblical distinctive is not ethics or morality per se, but specific claims about God and what He did and is doing. Strip away that distinctive and you’ve ultimately gutted Judaism as well as Christianity as something truly and permanently unique. In Judaism’s case, that is considerably less obvious, but it still is what it is and there’s no escaping it.

  • Jack

    Sorry I missed your post, Ben, but I see it now. Like you, I am deeply opposed to Christian dominionism. The difference is that you define the word more broadly than I do, but we’re on the same team regarding at least the narrower definition. I believe that the view that Biblical law should replace the Constitution is horribly dangerous and theologically wrong and as long as I have air in my lungs, I will speak out against it.

    But if by dominionism you mean the view that Christians have a right like everyone else to advocate for their moral and ethical beliefs in the public square, then no, I certainly do not oppose that view. The Constitution does not distinguish between religious and secular expression in public life. The First Amendment protects both and discriminates against neither.

    Put another way, every law legislates morality, but legislating theology would be a frontal assault on the Constitution.

  • Joseph

    Christianity is not Idolotry…We honor the messsge that Jesus taught to honor G-D

  • Susan

    I’m not scared, I just don’t buy it. Even if there is a suffering servant Messiah, it still could not be Jesus.

    Bart Ehrman has written a book called Jesus Before the Gospels which about the oral tradition that had developed around Jesus.

  • Joseph

    Susan who suffered in our time for faith,, more than Jesus..There is fulfillment here

  • Garson Abuita

    True Jack, the first generation of Jewish disciples, i.e. the Jerusalem church, may have kept the Torah, at least for Jews, as opposed to Gentiles. But they were also developing a different religion. The Talmud records the head of the Sanhedrin, sometime after 80 CE when he took the helm, as asking a subordinate to develop an anti-heretic prayer. This prayer against “minim,” Jewish heretics, is still recited three times a day.

  • Joseph

    This web-site is supposed to Bridge Gaps not to divide..To learn from one another , only to relate.. Not to change or convert each other……………………..

  • This is a good discussion which I believe will bear good fruit. What is true of The Holy Scriptures, weather from law the prophets the writings or the new covenant, is that they must be read in faith in order for the reader to receive a benefit. If our reading is not mixed with faith then we are merely reading words on a page. When reading the scriptures one will find himself either reading words written by men or experience themselves reading the very Word of God. This is the work of The Holy Spirit. This is NOT the experience of everyone. It is God who enlightens us to the meaning of His revelation. He does this by His Spirit who is the author of all scripture. Though it is written by men, these men were moved by the Spirit of the Living God to write what is there. Ask God to show you before you read if you are reading merely words of men or the very Word of God. Shalom

  • Chuck

    I thoroughly enjoy intellectual banter involving world view or faith positions as much as the next person, so thank you Ben, thank you Jack, and the rest. As a God fearing Christ loving individual saved by The Almighty’s mercy. I’d like point out that both John and Matthew, all apostles for that matter, were writing or being inspired by Jesus Christ. With that stated I’d challenge anyone to closely study the subject closer and perhaps take the messenger as such. Moreover as a Christian I can say very clearly that there is no inkling of anything other than love toward God’s chosen, descendants of the law-children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… So I have yet to meet anyone who claims Christ abides in their heart, that does NOT have a complete heart of love towards the holy land and its people anywhere. Simply stated antisemitism doesn’t fit with Christian belief/teaching in any way shape or form. If found otherwise question the individual(s) not christianity, for that open…

  • Chuck

    I thoroughly enjoy intellectual banter involving world view or faith positions as much as the next person, so thank you Ben, thank you Jack, and the rest. As a God fearing Christ loving individual saved by The Almighty’s mercy. I’d like point out that both John and Matthew, all apostles for that matter, were writing or being inspired by Jesus Christ. With that stated I’d challenge anyone to closely study the subject/source and perhaps take the messenger as such. Moreover as a Christian I can say very clearly that there is no inkling of anything other than love toward God’s chosen, descendants of the law-children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob… So I have yet to meet anyone who claims Christ abides in their heart, that does NOT have a complete heart of love towards the holy land and its people anywhere. Simply stated antisemitism doesn’t fit with Christian belief/teaching in any way shape or form. If found otherwise question the individual(s) not christianity, for that open the book.

  • Michael J. Cohn

    So explain 1800 years of Christian institutional and personal persecution of Jews from the Parable of the Wicked Tenants to St. Chrisostum, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Martin Luther all the way to the Holocaust being committed in the heart of Christian Europe.

  • kkk

    Kimberry

  • Joseph

    What Jesus did for the world was to shape the minds of humanity and bring forth the knowledge of G-D to the world..This way everyone has the same focus on the G-D of creation,where there is no difference in anybody..Thereafter people follow their own path

  • Michael J. Cohn

    Except that those who do not believe in him are already condemned. Hence my March 2 remark..

  • Jennifer Metternich

    This is true it wasn’t a new religion it was a new way of relating to the Father. The first time Gad was addressed as Abba. And a new way of obtaining favor and grace; it was called FAITH. He taught mainly from the book of Deuteronomy but gave new meaning to the law; Its called the Sermon on the Mount.