Sunday, January 31, 2016

A rabbi asks a priest a question... part 4

Continued from last week...

There were four principle sects of Israel at the time of Christ. The Sadducees, who were the political elite dominated the temple priesthood. They accepted only the first five books of the Bible, the books of Moses, called the Torah in Hebrew, the Pentateuch in Greek. There were also the Pharisees, who included all of Israel in the strict observance of the law, not just priestly elite. They were not clergy, but a political/religious party which was considered populist and liberal at the time. The Pharisees accepted the oral tradition in which the Talmud finds its roots. According to Josephus, the Jewish historian, there were only about 6,000 of them at the time of the Second Temple. The movement was large enough to have sub-movements within it, such as the schools of Shammai and Hillel, the former considered conservative, the latter liberal. In the Gospels we see some Pharisees opposing Jesus, and some protecting Him and the early Christian movement. There were the Zealots, radical separatist nationalists who we would call terrorists. There was also a group called the Herodians, about whom we know almost nothing. It is doubtful that they were a religious sect, so much as Hellenized (Greek-ified) Jews who were partisans of the Herodian monarchy. 

Finally, were the puritan baptizer groups, the most well-known of whom are the Essenes. Essenes seem to have been a faction led by priestly families. They had turned their backs on Judean institutions, believing that the Temple, the priesthood and the monarchy were corrupt. They followed their own calendar and their own rituals. For instance, they celebrated a Passover that did not include the sacrifice of a lamb in the temple. They had a whole body of apocalyptic literature that included a coming messiah and the reestablishment of the Davidic kingdom and the purification of the temple. It seems they expected two messiahs, a royal Davidic messiah and a priestly messiah from the tribe of Levi.

It is interesting to note the two-messiah expectation of the Essenes, in light of a similar expectation in Talmud of the Davidic royal messiah and the Josephite, suffering servant messiah. The “messiahs” would gather in the dispersed Israelites, as mentioned earlier, purify the temple, restore the priesthood and re-establish the Davidic monarchy, among other expectations, such as renewing the manna in the wilderness and bringing victory over the enemies of Israel and the establishment of universal peace. It is interesting to notice the use of the word Yehuda (Juda) is similar to its use in the Gospel of St. John.  John seems to disparage the Jews, though we would call him Jewish. The Damascus scroll speaks just as disparagingly of the princes and house of Judah, though by our standards they were Jews.
To this list of four, was added a fifth; the Nozri, or Nazarenes, followers of the self-proclaimed rabbi, Yeshua ben Yosef from Galilee who claimed both divine and Davidic descent. You probably call him Jesus of Nazareth. 

He had a meteoric rise and a meteoric fall. He appeared with His twelve students, mirroring the council of twelve mentioned in the Qumran documents. His preaching, sometimes apocalyptic sometimes practical seems to have included elements of both Essene and Pharisee theology. The gullible believed He had miraculous, healing powers. He talked about His plan to destroy and renew the temple, thus declaring Himself the messiah. When He paraded into Jerusalem and the crowds hailed Him as messiah, and then caused a riot in the temple, it was just too much. 

The Romans could tolerate just about anything, so long as you paid your taxes and did not riot. The Sadducees, who controlled the temple at the time, realized He had to go, if they were going to maintain the profitable status quo. Jesus was arrested by the temple guard, handed over to the Sadducees who in turn handed Him over to the Romans for crucifixion. This was an act abhorrent to Pharisees. The blasphemer was to be stoned according to the Torah, and even those Pharisees who wanted Jesus executed would never have turned a fellow Israelite over to a foreign authority for execution, but the Sadducees were in a bind. They had to prove He was not the messiah. How better than to have Him crucified, law or no law. After all, the book of Leviticus says “Cursed is he who dies hanging on a tree.” (Deuteronomy 21: 23) The Roman method of execution, a form of hanging, would prove this Jesus to be cursed, and thus not the messiah. That would end the nonsense. But it didn’t.
There is a passage in Josephus’ Jewish Antiquities, called the Flavian Testimony in which Josephus claims Jesus is the risen messiah. This was largely thought to have been completely added by Christians. Josephus never became a Christian as far as we know, and would not have claimed that Jesus was the messiah risen from the dead.  However, in 1971, an Arabic version of the Flavian testimony was discovered. It was from the 10th century “Book of the Title" by Agapius, the Arab bishop of Hierapolis, a source completely independent of Latin versions of Josephus. It confirms that the Flavian Testimony probably was original to Josephus, but in a neutral, non-Christian version.

 “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.”
With the exception of the possibility of Jesus’ messiahship, there is nothing exceptional or non-historical about this passage. His disciples did report Him risen. Just a few years after Jesus’ death, Saul of Tarsus, who claimed to be a Pharisee, also claimed to have seen Jesus on the road to Damascus. Saul was a late convert to Christianity, having his Damascus road conversion probably 3 to 5 years after the death of Jesus. Twenty years later he is telling the Corinthian church that “…if the Messiah has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” (1 Cor. 15:17) The Agapius version of the Flavian Testimony is quite correct. They claimed He had risen from the dead and they filled Jerusalem with this nonsense. 

The problem was the tomb. The tomb was apparently empty and in plain sight. Jesus was not crucified and buried “on a hill far away” as the old song goes. He was crucified and buried in a quarry right next to the main western gate of downtown Jerusalem, the Gennath gate. It was directly beneath a grand bridge and entrance to the temple, marked today by Wilson’s arch, now a location of prayer for Jews. This bridge went from the upper city to the central western entrance to the temple mount. It was a convenient short cut from Jerusalem’s fashionable western hill to the temple, a great time-saver for the priestly class. The combination of the lower and upper roads would have made it the equivalent of an expressway interchange. 

The Romans didn’t waste a perfectly good crucifixion by hiding it on a hill far away. The wanted it where everyone could see it. Jesus was buried in a tomb adjacent to the execution site, and when that tomb turned up empty, it caused a stir. There it was: an empty tomb and perhaps some strangely singed burial cloths. The body must have been stolen. People don’t just rise from the dead, or so the Sadducees claimed. The frenzy just would not die down. Jesus’ followers kept claiming they had seen him repeatedly over the course of a month or so.  Things were getting out of hand, despite the best efforts of Annas, the high priest, and his family and the rest of the Sadducees party. Then disaster struck: Shavuot, when a new fifth faction was born!  

Next week: The Shavuot disaster

Sunday, January 24, 2016

A rabbi asks a priest a question... part 3

Continued from Last Week…
One of the saddest days of the Jewish year is Tisha b’Av, a day of fasting and mourning. It is the ninth day of the Jewish month of Av, usually occurring in late July or early August by modem reckoning. Among the five calamities that took place on this fateful day, was the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple, not once but twice on that same sad anniversary - first by the Babylonians and then by the Romans.
The Temple which housed the Ark of the Covenant was the place of sacrifice and God’s house on earth. It was first built by King Solomon in 832 BC and was destroyed by the Babylonians 587 years before the birth of Jesus, though rabbinic sources dispute this precise dating. The temple was rebuilt upon the return of the exiles of Judah in 516 before the birth of Jesus. It was remade and expanded by King Herod the Great just before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth and was perhaps the most wonderful building of the Greco-Roman world. It was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 after Jesus’ birth.
Remember that the northern tribes of the Israel were deported from the Promised Land by the Assyrians in 732 BC. They lost their ethnic and religious identity during the exile, probably becoming part of the mid-eastern communities in which they lived. The southern tribes suffered a similar fate when the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, Simeon as well as the Levites and priests among them were deported by the Babylonians in 587 BC when the southern kingdom of Juda and its temple were destroyed. The southern tribes, the largest of which was the tribe of Judah were able to maintain their ethnic and religious identity. They longed for Jerusalem and its temple and returned to the land after 70 years of exile. However, not all returned to the land. A substantial part of the exiled tribe of Judah remained in Babylon where they had built a thriving community.
They were a changed people after 70 years in that great cosmopolitan city, Babylon. They had exchanged their native language for the common language of the Middle East, Aramaic - a close relative of the Hebrew language of their ancestors, and more significantly, after two generations of exile, they had learned how to be Israelites without a temple. The temple had been the undisputed center of the Israelite religion since the exodus from Egypt. Sacrifice and the rituals of life happened there. The temple was so important that when the northern and southern tribes split, the kings of the north established a temple lest the norther tribes return to their old Jerusalem alliances.
Temple worship had been everything for the Judah and Israel. Now there was an addition to the life of Israel: the synagogue. From now on the synagogue would be the center for Jewish life outside the Holy land, and even within the borders of the holy land. Rituals of cleansing, and sacrifice slowly took second place to the moral and ethical content of the Torah, the Jewish law. In short, Judaism became a form of the Israelite religion that didn’t need a temple. 
There was a period of perhaps 500 years in which temple rituals and the vibrant life of prayer and study that is still the orthodox Jewish synagogue functioned side by side. The synagogue opened up the religion of Israel up in way that had previously been unthinkable. People not from the tribe of Levi could now have a ritual function within the religious community. Some scholars maintain that the more extreme strictures of Jewish law applied only to the priestly class and those going up to the temple in Jerusalem, though Orthodox Judaism would strongly disagree with this. However, if this is true, then it would seem that a new school of thought encouraged the common man, the non-priest to enter into the ritual life of Israel, by participating in the rules that had formerly applied only to religious elite. This, I emphasize, is merely theory, and not acceptable to modern Jewish orthodoxy.  
Certainly the dietary restrictions of kosher law seem universal during this period and before. An Israelite archaeological site is always easy to denote by its lack of pig bones, but the prohibitions of certain types of clothing and certain types of labor and some health conditions may only have applied to participation in temple ritual. Now the common man could become part of elite by following the laws of the temple, whether or not the temple was accessible to him. They would be a people set apart in the same way they had been set apart when they had gone up to the temple. 
The scribes, authorities on the law, and the sages who developed Israelite thought and ethics in the course of these centuries eventually produced a theological/political party called the Pharisees, a Hebrew word meaning, “the separate ones.” The rabbi replaced the priest in the everyday life of the common Israelite, and the synagogue came to replace the temple, when the temple was no more. The religion of Israel had become rabbinic Phariseeism, or as it is usually known: Judaism.
Next week: The end of the temple and the beginning of Christianity.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

A rabbi asks a priest a question... part 2

Continued from last week...

Before answering your questions, I would like to take a look at the Greco-Judeo-Roman world which produced Jesus of Nazareth, Paul of Tarsus, Akiva ben Joseph and the Rabban Gamaliel. We, Jew and Gentile alike, look at that world through the smoke of two thousand years of mutual distrust. I suspect however, that the distrust didn’t really begin to accelerate until at least a hundred years after the death and (we Christians maintain) resurrection of Jesus. I have already said that I suspect the word “Jew” was not used in exactly the same way at the time of the Second Temple as it is now.

Today, “Jewish” denotes both a religion and an ethnicity. One can be a Jew and be devout or completely without religion. Hitler tried to eliminate a people, an ethnicity, from the face of the earth. It didn’t matter to him that a person called a Jew might be completely irreligious. His warped racial theories killed untold numbers of people who thought of themselves as Germans or French or Russians or Poles.  They might have been complete materialists, but Hitler and many Europeans at the time said, a Jew is a Jew, no matter what he believes or does not believe.

One could and can stop being a Christian. One could not then, and for the most part cannot now, stop being a Jew. The Jew is somehow “other” than the particular nation of people among whom he lives. This otherness in relation to Christian Europe took centuries to develop. That distinction is rooted at least a thousand years before the time of Jesus and Gamaliel, and probably a good deal earlier than that. It finds its roots in the desert of Sinai, in a covenant that both Christians and Jews believe God made on the Holy Mountain with a group of escaped slaves from Egypt, most of whomwere descendants of a man named Jacob.

I needn’t tell you Rabbi the story of your own heritage, but allow me to explain this story - at least from my perspective - to those who might not understand. Jews and Christians alike believe 4,000 years ago, more or less, the Creator of all things spoke to a man, Abram, telling him to leave his home and journey west where he would receive a land and become a great nation and the father of many nations. Abram obeyed the Almighty and his name was changed to Abraham. In the land of Canaan, he became the father of Isaac, who in turn became the father of Jacob.

Abraham and Isaac had other sons, but the inheritor of the promise was Jacob. After a night of wrestling with an angel, this Jacob was renamed Israel, a name which means “a man who contends with God.” Through him new nation was born. He was the father of twelve sons, among whom were Joseph and Judah and Levi. From Judah descended the tribe of Judah and the two great kings of Israel, David and Solomon. Moses and Aaron descended from Levi, the tribe of priests and Levites, who are still counted among the Jews of our times. This family went down into Egypt perhaps 3,800 years ago to escape famine. There they became a great nation, a people called the Hebrews, a nation called Israel.

God delivered them from slavery through a series of miracles and led them out of slavery and into the desert of Sinai where at His holy mountain He established His covenant with them. He would be their God and they would be His people, holy and unique among the nations. They would be consecrated to Him by their way of life, laid out in the Torah. It is called the Nomos, in Greek and is called the Law in other languages.

The Torah brought together instructions from the previous covenants, such as basic natural law given in the covenant with Noah and the sign of the covenant, the circumcision of males, which had been part of the covenant with Abraham; butthis was the definitive covenant with the sons of Jacob/Israel, that is with those who were to be called Israelites. Notice that the covenant of Sinai is made with Israel, God’s firstborn. Beyond that there is no covenant specifically and uniquely withJudah, unless one counts the promise made to Judah made through Jacob/Israel that the scepter of government would never depart from him.

Judah was one of twelve with whom the covenant was made. Judah was part of Israel. It is from the name Judah that the word Jew derives. Most people would say that God made a covenant with the Jews. This is imprecise. Of course God made a covenant with Jews, insofar as they are part of Israel, but if we are to use the language of the Hebrew Scriptures, the tribe of Judah, the Jews, are but a part of Israel.

When the Israelites entered the land that God had promised their father Abraham, each tribe was assigned its proper place. In the south were the tribes of Judah, Simeon and Benjamin. It seems that Simeon was quickly absorbed into the tribe of Judah. It lost its distinct identity as a punishment for its founder’s misdeeds. The tribe of Benjamin maintained its identity well into the time of the Roman domination. Saul (Paul) of Tarsus identified himself as a Benjaminite. The separate identity of the tribe seems to have been lost by the Roman destruction of the temple in 70 AD. The tribe of Levi was scattered through the whole land, both north and south. The tribes of Levi persist to this day.

The roles of Levite and Cohen (sacrificing priest) still have their place in modern Jewish liturgy. In the north of the Land, nine tribes settled: 1. Reuben, 2. Dan, 3. Naphtali, 4. Gad, 5. Asher, 6. Issachar, 7. Zebulun, and 8. Joseph. The tribe of Joseph however was divided into two half tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh, named for the two sons of Joseph.

So in effect you have 3 tribes in the south and 10 tribes in the north and one tribe Levi, scattered throughout. The two half tribes of Joseph were by far the largest in the north and that is why the northern Israelites are called Israel but also Joseph or Ephraim or Manasseh or even Samaria for the name of their eventual capital city by the prophets.

Now it gets complicated. The northern tribes were taken into exile by the Assyrians in 720 BC and are by in large, lost to history that is until the present era of DNA testing. The southern tribes were taken into exile by the Babylonians in 586 BC, but maintained their ethnic and religious identity, and returned to the Land in 520 BC. In the messianic literature that developed over the next centuries, one of the necessary conditions for the messianic age was the ingathering of Israel, which had been scattered among the nation in a way that Judah had not been. The Talmud speaks of two messiahs, the suffering servant, the son of Joseph, and the glorious messiah son of David from the tribe of Judah.

Meïr Leibush ben Yehiel Michel Wisser, called the Malbim, interprets Ezekiel 37 to mean that the Messiah ben Joseph will gather the ten lost northern tribes in preparation for the Messianic age. Though the Malbim is a relatively recent commentator, it seems reasonable that this is a messianic precondition.

Well, all this is gloriously obscure, but what is the point? Even in modern Judaism, though the word Israelite and Jew are used interchangeably, they do not have exactly the same meaning. Jewish and Israelite are not exactly the same thing. So, if the covenant of God is with Israel, the big question is, “Who is an Israelite in addition to who is a Jew?”

Next week: the difference between Judaism and the religion of Israel.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

A rabbi asks a priest a question... part 1

Dear Rev. Know-it-all,
I am fascinated yet perplexed by the recent pronouncements of the church. Hope this clarifies my position.
As of the pronouncement
1.    The Jewish people are not responsible for the act of deicide, although some Jews participated in it in some fashion. (NostraAetatae). Yet - Matthew 27:24-25 states- When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “’I am innocent of this man’s blood,’ he said, ‘It is your responsibility!’ All the people answered, 'His blood is on us and on our children!'”
2.    The Jews have an eternal relationship with G-d through His covenant with them. How then does the Catholic Church maintain that it is Catholic Israel-replacement theology? That the Jewish covenant now belongs to the Catholic Church in any fashion.
3.    The Jewish people can find grace and salvation without belief in Jesus. What happened to Jesus' answer, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”? John 14:6. In fact, as a child I remember all too clearly the missionaries on the boardwalk in Coney Island, displaying this passage as they attempted to proselytize among the Jews.
4.    It seems the Catholic Church no longer believes that the Jews were sent out of their country because of their denial of Christ as Messiah. In Jewish tradition, the Jews were expelled from their land, primarily because of their sin of pursuing pagan religion. I do not believe there are any Jews in the world today who are pagans. In light of the above Jews of today are "saved" and enjoy a special role as G-d's chosen. Then say to Pharaoh, “This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son”, Exodus 4:22
5.    What of Romans 1:16   For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. Is not the primary message of the gospel salvation through belief in Jesus? This passage indicates that this message must be first brought to the Jews. The Catholic Church is now taken a position that the Jews do not need Jesus to find salvation.
The conclusion of all this that should be covered and I think this is what Rabbi Rosen was alluding to when he expressed his displeasure with the recent statement in that it did not include a strong statement regarding the State of Israel as a Jewish State. The church should now be in the forefront of advocating the Jews be given back their country - the land of Israel - as defined in Scripture which would obviously include the West Bank and eternal dominion over the city of Jerusalem. However, the church did the opposite. It recognized the Palestinian State, and is still advocating for the internationalization of Jerusalem.
I don't understand, 
Rabbi L
Dear Rabbi,
It will take me a while to discuss these points one by one, and as always I caution you to take everything I say with a grain of salt.
I should begin with the word “Jewish.”  What does the word mean? I maintain that the word has changed meaning repeatedly over the centuries. For instance, in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Damascus scroll, we read in Chapter 6 v.7, “And on the consummation of the period of these years they shall no more join themselves to the house of Judah.” The rest of the scroll is similarly anti-Judean. I certainly don’t mean to refer to the Scrolls as authoritative or biblical, but they do provide an historical context, the authors of these documents were most certainly Jews by our standard, but not by theirs. They seem to consider themselves true Levites (refer to the beginning of the chapter). If you asked them are they Judah? They would say, “No, we are Cohen and Levi.” (Priest and Levite) This distinction persists in the modern synagogue to this day, does it not? 
The leader of prayer first calls “Cohen” then “Levi”, then “Israel.”  Judah, per se, is never called. My suspicion is that at the time of Jesus of Nazareth, Yehud (Hebrew/Aramaic) and Judaios (Greek) designated an ethnicity in certain contexts, and a political/theological party in other contexts. One was clearly a Yehud/Judaios if one’s ancestry was from the tribe of Judah, as in the case of Jesus of Nazareth, but perhaps if one’s politics supported the status quo of Temple/Sanhedrin, and one was zealous for the law as Paul claims of himself. He might too be called a Judaios. Paul of Tarsus, called himself a Judaios though he was from the tribe of Benjamin. Paul, a Benjaminite calls himself a Jew “…circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless.”
He calls himself a Jew (Judaios in the Greek new testament text).  “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.” (Acts 22:3) For Paul, Judaios can be very positive term, “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.” (Romans 2:28, 29)
John the Evangelist seems to use the word Jew disparagingly as does the Damascus Document. Both the Gospel of John and the Damascus Document were written by people we would identify as Jews who would never call themselves Jews. John was possibly from a Levite family as was most probably the author of the Damascus Document.
Pilate seems to use the word in a disparaging way when he says to Jesus, “I am no Jew” (John 18:35). Luke, also a gentile, seems to use the word Judaios negatively in the Acts of the Apostles. My point is this, the word Judaios, the Greek equivalent of Yehud, always translated Jew, has quite a few meanings in the historical context of the time of Roman domination of the Holy Land. It is similar to the word Yankee. If you live in New York, a Yankee is a member of a ball club. It may also mean a person form New England. If you live in Alabama, a Yankee is anyone north of the Ohio River. If you are in Cuba, the fellow in Alabama would also be a Yankee, much to his chagrin. To assume that the words Jew and Israel are interchangeable is a modern anachronism, and muddies the discussion.
If I ever get around to writing about supercessionism, the idea that the covenant with the Jews is or is not ended, this becomes important.  If Judah and Israel are not the same exact thing, then it must be understood that there is no covenant with the Jews. There is a covenant with Israel. That means the question must be asked, “Who is Israel”?
(As you can tell this is going to go on forever. I am only on the second word of your letter.)