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What Has Christianity Lost?

A New series exploring what David H. Stern calls "restoring the Jewishness of the Gospel."

by
Rhonda Robinson

Bio

November 18, 2013 - 2:30 pm
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emptyTomb

In blogging Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus I hoped the rabbi’s insights would bring the two faiths a little closer with a deeper understanding of one another. If successful, it would strengthen both Christian and Jewish faiths and in turn strengthen the fabric of American culture.

Whether that happened for his readers or mine, can only be answered within each individual. Only the One that searches the hearts of men, can know the collective good.

For me personally, it opened my eyes to some harsh realities. It inadvertently answered one question I had hidden in my heart for years, “Why do so many Jews hate, or at least mistrust, Christianity and by default Christians?” I get that we part ways at the cross, but why such a deep, unbridgeable divide?

Boteach presented the answer to my question from a historical Jewish perspective. His accounts of the antisemitism instituted in the name of Christianity left me deeply saddened and more aware of the barriers that divide us beyond theology.

In Kosher Jesus Boteach lays much of the blame at feet of unnamed “editors of the New Testament” which stripped Jesus of his Jewishness, and painted him as a traitor to his people. The author declares this misrepresentation is the worst character assassination in history. While Boteach believes Jesus should not be worshiped as the Son of God who died for our sin, but rather as a devout Jew, martyred while attempting to free his people from the cruelty of Roman rule.

I can honestly say, I deeply respect his point of view and appreciate his ability to open the door for discussion of a potentially explosive topic. As a rabbi, what Boteach brought to the table is an understanding of Jesus as a Jewish man.

Where Boteach fell short, however, was his lack of understanding of Christianity beyond the level of Wikipedia.

It’s not surprising that he holds very little, if any, credibility in the New Testament. His depiction of Paul, as being intellectually dishonest at the least and a mystic opportunist with an agenda at best, leaves no common ground for Christians.

In the end, Boteach left too many unanswered questions at least for Christians. That’s why I’m introducing a new series, exploring the Gospels, as they would have known it in the early church, through messianic Jewish eyes.

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All Comments   (22)
All Comments   (22)
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Tentative, first reading worries: You may, unintended, be entering into a sort of ahistoricism. Seeking to understand better the "jewish" context in which the Gospels take place is welcomed by me. I have become acutely aware of my limits which age will never let me begin to overcome. I cannot get to "jewish-ness" without knowing Hebrew, and very well. I must remain of necessity outside the metaphorical basis of the Hebrew language. Why mention this? The answer in part has to do with my worries of a possible A-historicism.

Christians from the beginning reflected upon the "data" presented by the Gospel (hi)stories. The conceptualization was realized, particularly in the Eastern Roman Empire, in the Greek language, then Latinized by Western Christian "intellectuals", viz., theologians (e.g., St. Augustine, often criticized by Orthodox theologians of today for lacking knowledge of Greek and, hence, falsifying specific problems central to Christian theology). The "jewish-ness" of the context of the Gospel (hi)stories, if (and only if) made central to understanding the "real" Christian message, must by its nature counter, exclude or push aside the Greco/Latin reflections upon the Gospel "data" which were interpreted (with the help of Constantine, still honored in Orthodox circles) into "facts" of Christian theology. For instance, notions like the "trinity" or the entitative ontological feature of "actual infinity" predicated to God may disappear and, hence, the "christian-ness" of Christianity with them. I await more precision relative to your evaluation of "jewish-ness" for the "essentia fidei" of Christianity.

Note: In the 1970s some "modernist" Catholics cast aside as foreign to Catholicism or Christianity per se the influence of Greek "essentialism" in theological discussion. You see, Greek influenced thought viewed the God of Christianity as "eternal", viz., non-changing, etc. No, so one claimed, "change" is the essence and, hence, "eternal" truths and morals are changeable. Voilà, Catholic Christian thought was modernized into what Bendict XVI called the "dictatorship of relativism". I mention this Catholic adventurge with "return-to-the-roots" without Greco/Latin thought as a danger, IF and only IF any historizing of Christianity becomes reductionist.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Rhonda, I've read this book, and I can't wait to see what insights you glean from it.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I very much look forward to the series. Thank you.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
...continuing (PART 2)...

But a large part of the intellectual development from that point forward was driven by refuting the idea that Christians were the same religion as Jews, or the idea that the Roman destruction of Jerusalem meant G_d's favor had been taken away from Jews, or that G_d had never existed anyway, or that Judaism was like any old cult that had a good run for awhile and then got stomped out.

The reaction hit beliefs and practices. The Christians were big on the resurrection; Jews on the whole backtracked a bit from the first-century high-water point on that. Christians were big on asking dead Christians of note to pray for them; Jews minimized that even though Rachel's tomb is still a thing. Of course you couldn't do Kohenic (priestly sacrifices) Judaism without the Temple, so it became Rabbinic. (They'd had practice with that in the earlier exile, so this was just dusting off an alternative strain, so to speak.)

The Christians were kinda loose with the timing of messianic prophecy, saying that it's okay to "bring all the nations in" and "cleanse the Temple" and all that at Time X, but only at the end of the world to allow every Jew to eat from his own land and sit under his own tree in peace. Jews immediately discounted most of this and said, "It's got to be very literalistic or it doesn't count, and all, or nothing" ...and then others said, well, there were always many "anointed ones" anyhow, including Cyrus, so whaddaya.

And a big one was Holy Writ. The Christians came up with their add-ons; the Jews naturally chucked those, but also anything which smacked of too much Hellenic influence. The Greek translation of the scriptures ("septuagint"), which the diaspora Jews had greatly respected before, fell into disrepute, and the later writings in it (even Maccabees!) were frowned on. Nobody went full Sadducee and said "Moses, all of Moses, and nothing but the books of Moses," but Esther and Daniel nearly got cut, because of later provenance.

All I'm saying is this: Don't discount this reaction and separation, when you're trying to look for commonality.

You have to first reconstruct 1st-century Judaism, and maybe particular strains of it (like the Essene/Qumran communities and the Pharisees) and THEN draw your "look what we have in common!" comparisons.

If you draw your comparisons much after 100 A.D., you're drawing them between groups who're self-consciously saying "Hey, we're not them! And they're DEFINITELY not us!" and whose later belief development is influenced by that widening separation.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Christians were big on asking dead Christians of note to pray for them; "

No, not the 1st Century, or even the 2nd or 3rd. That superstition came MUCH later.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm afraid you're historically wrong about that.

Please consult such artifacts as the epitaph of Abercius, the shrines which cropped up around the tombs of the apostles and early martyrs, the funerary inscriptions of Atticus and Matronata Matrona, the Rylands Papyrus, Hermas' "The Shepherd," the writings of Clement of Alexandria and of Origen.

It was the practice of Christians from the Thomasites in southern India to the Tewahedos in Ethiopia and is retained in their liturgies. The Eastern Orthodox churches preserve it as an early tradition, with Cyril, Methodius, Cyprian of Carthage, and others considering it a practice already ancient (by their day) and commonplace. There's early testimony in the Martyrdom of Ignatius and Hippolytus of Rome.

And of course the best Protestant scholarship on the Communion of Saints, e.g. JND Kelly, gives the most common early understanding of that phrase as "the union of all believers, living or dead, in Christ, stressing their common life in Christ and their sharing of all the blessings of God." It's unexceptional that Christians hoped that the great "cloud of witnesses" which surrounded them and cheered them on were also praying for them.

I'm not sure who told you that wasn't early Christian practice, but it was, all over. And no surprise, as I mentioned before: 1st century Judaism had rules for when prayer at the tomb of a "saint" (e.g. Rachel) was appropriate and when it wasn't. It's even referenced in the Christian New Testament: Matthew 2:18 references Jeremiah 31:15, which depicts the (long dead) Rachel mourning and crying out to God for her (distant grand-) children, as they are taken into captive by the Assyrians.

Likewise the 1st century (or perhaps earlier) prayers for forgiveness (Selihot) recited before and after Rosh Hashana depict the angels as carrying the prayers of the living to the throne of G_d: "Usherers of mercy, usher in our [plea for] mercy, before the Master of mercy, You who cause prayer to be heard, may you cause our prayer to be heard before the Hearer of prayer...." This is echoed in the Christian Apocalypse of John, where prayers are depicted as incense being carried (or perhaps incense smoke being wafted) to the throne of G_d by angels. In that same book, Christians martyred by the Romans, in Heaven, beneath Heaven's altar, plead with G_d to avenge the blood of innocent Christians being martyred.

So, yes, the 1st century, because the earliest Christians were first-century Jews. And, yes, the 2nd and 3rd century Christians, because we have considerable evidence that they did so.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Wow! Such a mass of confusion! You are conflating later practices with early Christianity. The fact that some 4th Century person built a shrine to someone who lived in the 1st does not prove that 1st Century Christians prayed to that dead person!

Read the earlier Fathers - praying to dead people wasn't done. Praying FOR the departed didn't get started for a few centuries, and then, as more and more paganism was incorporated into the church, it morphed into praying TO them.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mark v,

Respectfully, this is my field. Those are the earliest Fathers who mention the topic at all. There are no "earlier" Fathers to consult on the matter. One cannot, of course, assume that because (for example) the Didache or Clement of Rome doesn't mention the topic, that they have no opinion about it. Rather, they are writing about other topics and so don't mention it: Clement's letter to the church at Corinth was on a church authority/discipline topic; the Didache, after the "two ways" treatise, concerns operational guidelines on things like baptisms and a eucharistic prayer.

But when an early father does mention asking for the intercession of the saints, they do so casually, offhandedly, as long-settled practice. That's the written record. One has to go later to find someone complaining about it. Probably Vigilantius is not the first, but he's the earliest who springs to mind. You may consult Jerome to find out his opinion of Vigilantius (but of course, that was Jerome's opinion of just about everyone!).

Anyway, the references I gave include some dated to the early 2nd century (e.g. Hermas, Hippolytus), throughout the 2nd century, and in the 3rd century. So, I'm afraid that disproves your statement that this practice "came MUCH later" than these centuries. It didn't.

One must be careful that one's own confessional apologetics don't require a wholesale rewrite of the early history, in contravention of the evidence...one doesn't want to wind up in J.M. Carroll "Trail of Blood" territory!
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
In Judaism angels are not human.

Also, they are not being prayed to any more than the postman in the Marvelettes song. They are in this case faceless mail delivery professionals being asked for a prompt and reliable service. That is very different from the Christian praying to saints, at least in the Orthodox and, iirc, Catholic tradition. There, notable dead humans are being personally asked for favors that they themselves would grant.

It's a difference between FedEx and Santa.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Mark v has it exactly right.

I should add that, in those Christian communions where asking the intercession of the saints was/is practiced, it is also thought of more like FedEx and not like Santa...at least, in the official teachings.

The model is taken to be that of a person asking another person to "pray for them"; except, that the second person happens to be extra-alive in Heaven, rather than less-alive on earth. And, of course, those in Heaven are taken to be righteous, and thus their prayers are thought more worthwhile than, say, those of your drinking-buddy from college.

That is the model, in the official teachings of such churches. It is an addendum to this -- thought somewhere between "quaint" and "dubious" by those in charge of promulgating the official teachings -- that popular devotions arise attributing special spheres of interest to different saints, often with little or no historical justification.

There is some minor Judaic antecedent for this, to be sure, in the matter of women praying at Rachel's tomb who are pregnant or wishing to conceive. Like the Christians, they do not of course think of Rachel as a sorceress who can conjour up children, but they rather plead that she should carry their prayers to G_d and feel that she, of all people, would have special concern in doing so.

But there's no doubt that the Catholic/Orthodox practice is very different in its trappings. While the "Postman not Santa" intent or understanding is the same, the one thing Judaism most strongly prohibits -- images -- is positively encouraged in the Catholic/Orthodox tradition.

The reason given is that, according to the Christians, G_d has become man. Yeshua is "the word (of G_d) incarnate" and thus the "unseen God made visible, the image (Gk: ikon) of G_d." This, in the Christian view, redeems all physical things, and human persons in particular, rendering them fit for depiction as a matter of remembrance, provided they are not worshiped.

The contended question among Christians, of course, is whether praying (to G_d) while asking ("praying") for the prayers of a saint, while kneeling (to G_d) in front of the icon of a saint...whether that all looks to the casual observer rather too much like praying to some decorated idol as a god!

That, of course, is forbidden by Catholic authorities and Orthodox authorities and any other ancient Christian communion. As a doctrinal matter, it is taken to be high sin to mistake creature for Creator.

Whether the individual Orthodox or Catholic kneeling beside an icon or statue winds up "crossing the line" and giving this human being the adoration due only to G_d is something Christians disagree about. Orthodox and Catholic Christians dismiss the idea as silly or slanderous. ("Of course we don't worship saints," they say; "do you see us offering the Liturgy, or sacrifices, to them?")

But the iconoclasts, and other Christian groups today, disagree: They would see women gathering at Rachel's tomb as either adoration of Rachel, or some kind of necromancy (speaking to the dead). Thus even when other Christian communions don't accuse Catholic/Orthodox of outright idolatry, they hold that their lack of tight discipline in this area makes it all too easy to mistake what they're doing for idolatry.

Consequently, while many Christians outside of Catholics and Orthodox agree on a theoretical basis that the saints and martyrs ("the great cloud of witnesses") are both aware of their goings-on on earth and praying on their behalf to G_d -- and while you'll often catch these Christians making sidelong comments to their own deceased parents or grandparents as if said ancestors could hear it -- nevertheless, they do not paint icons or compose written requests for the intercession of these ancestors or any other saints.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Angels are not human in Christianity, either, except to the masses of the Biblically illiterate. People do not become angels when they get to heaven, contra Frank Capra.

They are the same in the New Testament and Old - a separate class of beings created by God to serve Him in various ways. They are not to be worshiped. In fact, the NT specifically condemns worshiping angels.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
(PART 1)

One thing it's important to recall is that modern Judaism is not First-Century Judaism.

That's no criticism. It shouldn't be First-Century Judaism.

When G_d gives revelation to human beings, they learn certain facts about Him.

They go on to derive further conclusions on the basis of these facts: For of course, when you know something is true, and you know that another something is true, you can often combine them together as premises for a third truth.

And thus the religion deepens over time. So modern Judaism SHOULDN'T be First-Century Judaism.

But you also have to account for how Judaism developed in reaction to Jesus of Nazareth and the Romans flattening the Temple and Jerusalem and banning the Jews from Judea. You have to see it from the point-of-view of a first-century Jew who did not embrace Yeshua.

First Antiochus Epiphanes desecrates the Temple, but there's a revolt and Hellenization is reversed. Yay team. Unfortunately, they depended on the Romans for help: Not so smart a move; the Romans take over and put an Edomite up as a faux-king and tyrant. (I suspect Jews of the era preferred to abbreviate this as "f**king tyrant." But I digress.)

Then there are a bunch of prospective messiah guys all pretending to be somebody until they get whacked. And one of the ones who gets whacked most definitively somehow has so many Jews convinced he's the real deal that they're still talking about him a quarter-century after the whacking. In the synagogues. Which is disruptive and annoying. There's not a Jew in Judea who doesn't know one or two people who're into Yeshua. Imagine the uproar if a tenth of the Orthodox in New York all suddenly went Hindu, claimed it was real Judaism, and talked about it in the synagogues.

And then the Temple gets razed and the Jews kicked out of Judea, which gets re-named "Palestina" (land of the Philistines!) as an insult to the Jews.

This is a disaster, a calamity. Before this, every male Jew went up three times a year or more to the Temple; the sacrifices and the temple services were the religion and the culture and the politics and everything else.

Imagine America after D.C., New York, L.A., Silicon Valley, and every historic site are all turned into smoking holes you can't even go to, and football, baseball, big houses, starting businesses, owning guns, and driving cars are all successfully outlawed. And nobody can go to church. Ever. Oh, and America gets re-named Sovieta or Alqaedia, or something like that.

Now here's my point: First century Judaism ENDED at that moment. Because every form of Judaism in the 2nd century was strongly colored by reaction to all that disaster.

I'm not saying it was entirely reaction. Of course it wasn't. So don't say I'm saying that.

...continued...
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excellent explanation!
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
It looks like Dr. Stern should not have been granted Israeli citizenship.
Their Law of Return expressly prohibits his "aliyah":
"except for a person who has been a Jew and has voluntarily changed his religion".
That would describe Dr. Stern's case, would it not?

That the so called "Messianic Judaism" is not Judaism at all, but another religion, has been rightly affirmed by the Israeli Supreme Court, according to the Law of Return's wiki page.
41 weeks ago
41 weeks ago Link To Comment
Neither is it Christianity.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Not sure why you'd say that. Are you merely asserting that it's heterodox in some fashion?

And if so, are you saying it's heterodox enough to fall outside of Christianity proper, and belongs under the heading of "quasi-Christian sects" a la Mormonism, Christadelphianism, Jehovah Witness, et cetera?

I think you'd need to make a case for all that.

And, I think you'd need first to make a case for there being only one thing called Messianic Judaism. My impression is that, having no central living source for doctrinal authority, the Messianics have a lot of variation. Saying that "Messianic Judaism" is all one thing is like saying that "Protestantism" is all one thing.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think you'd need first to make a case for there being only one thing called Messianic Judaism"

Yes, good point.

As to making the case against Messianic Judaism not being Christianity, please refer to the books of Hebrews and Galatians for starters. Then, with that foundation, compare the practices of MJ with them.

I'm emphatically not saying that MJs are not Christians, but rather, that what they practice is not what Christians ought to be practicing. They are playing in the shadows, instead of living in the light.

40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thanks for mentioning this. Whenever faced with Christians who profess not to understand why Jews aren't drawn to Christianity (over and above the historic-persecution issue), I explain it thus: The Mormons are your Christians. How do you feel about their extensive reworking of your religion?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I think that's a good analogy.

I frankly don't get Christians who don't get why Jews find Christianity offensive. The Book spells it out pretty clearly.
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
I am not an expert on Christianity, but if they believe in Jesus as a messiah and a son of G-d, wouldn't that automatically make them Christians?

I know why I don't like them, but why would Christians reject them? :)
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hmmm. I'm not clear on who the "they" are in your comment. Can you clarify?
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Messianic Jews."
40 weeks ago
40 weeks ago Link To Comment
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