Friday, March 27, 2009

A Lengthy Response - RE: Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up

If you've been following the comment string of my previous article: Will the Real Messiah Please Stand Up, you may have noticed an escalating string of comments from an anonymous reader. I admire the thought and clarity with which he/she has responded and I think there are valid questions raised worth addressing, so I have decided to create a lengthy response to the most recent comment in this new post.

In an item-by-item fashion, allow me to reply...
1. Christianity is not a divine religion. It is a political creation of the Roman Empire designed to control the Jews.
Yes, and Judaism is not a divine religion either, it's the syncretistic product of an Egyptian outcast fascinated with the Messopotamian mythologies and Semitic culture... fooey. To establish a pacifying religious figure-head amid the rebellious Jewish people may seem a plausible scheme of the Romans, until you consider: just how big of a threat were the Jews to Rome? Did they merit such an outlandish ruse? If they could pull off such a covert operation with such success that nobody diverted from the political line for centuries, maybe they should have dreamed up such a plan for dealing with the Visigoths?

What's more is the the Biblical writings don't support the notion at all. Yes, as mentioned before, it may seem appealing to invent a character such as Jesus who may pacify the Jews, but it's obvious from the beginnings of the Gospels that the Jews rejected Christ. If the intent in creating a false religion was to win over the rebellious Jews to follow their pacifist leader, would the gospels and Acts have portrayed Jewish rejection of Christ so clearly?

No, this is not a valid approach to history.

2. There is no place in Judaism for a messiah that does part of his job, then dies, then comes back and finishes the job.
Well, then it appears the Romans didn't do their research before defining this character that they invented, eh? Oh, sorry... I digress. We're on the 2nd point now. Right.

Could it also be said that there was no place in Judaism for God to make Abraham into a great nation... destroy it... and then do it all over again? Actually, my friend Anonymous, I agree with you. Inasmuch as Judaism had become by the 1st century more of a pattern of traditions than (as you called it) a "divine religion," there was no place in their tradition for a Messiah such as Jesus was and is. You are quite correct.

However, I believe what you may have been trying to say is that there is no place in the divine Hebrew texts (our "Old Testament") for such a Messiah. I confess that I'm not as well versed in Old Testament theology as I should be, so I won't dare venture into a passage-by-passage discourse of how each prophecy can be reconciled. However, I would like to submit that Hebrew writings were never very exact when it came to chronology and continuity (except in cases when they expressly aimed to be, such as Jonah's 3-day visit to fish gut).

By way of example, I'll offer two: first, Adam was told not to eat of the tree for, "when you eat of it you will surely die" (Gen. 2:17). Yet, he did not die... at least not "when" he ate of it. Secondly, consider David's anointing (Messiah) as King. In 1 Samuel 16, David is anointed as king by the prophet of God and Saul is proclaimed to no longer be king. But, David is not king for another 30 years. He was king already, but not yet.

I will, again, reiterate my agreement with Anonymous that this sort of "already but not yet" messianism has no place in traditional Judaism. But it is nonetheless a hermeneutically sound approach to the Messianic prophecies.

3. There are 5 or 6 things that the Jewish messiah must do in order to qualify. These include (off the top of my head) - gather the exiles, build the temple, usher in an era of peace (perhaps preceded by a large war according to some people's interpritation)... and there are others I can't remember right now.
Ahh, and there lies the real issue. All of the items cited herein are a part of traditional Jewish Messianism. On these grounds, the earlier point that Jesus did part of His job, died, and will later return to finish it is actually misrepresented. Jesus did not do any part of this "job" according to the Jewish Messianism. He promised it. He predicted it. But he left every ounce of it undone at His death. In fact, it should interest Jewish readers that the New Testament writings from Acts through Revelation (especially Revelation) express a burning desire to see all of the traditional Jewish Messianic prophecies fulfilled.

However, Jesus' first trip to this terrestrial ball had other goals in mind. He was fulfilling Jeremiah 31:31 before Isaiah 11:6. Christianity does not claim that Christ has already fulfilled all of the Messianic roles. The chief difference in a Christian's present anticipation of a future Messiah and the Jew's present anticipation of a future Messiah is that Christians already know Him by name.
4. ...The Christian interpritation of the messiah involves supernatural stuff, the Jewish messiah is an emancipated empowered mortal human being who brings about real dramatic change to the real world...
How sad a prospect to think that God cannot accomplish the "supernatural." What do Jews do with the "supernatural" elements of their own cherished scriptures? Which is easier, to part the red sea or to raise a man from the dead? And, if you cannot trust that God really parted a sea, then why would you believe his promise to send a peacemaker in the future--mortal or otherwise?
Jesus was a great man... to be denied messiahship is not an insult, it is a great credit to him that he was a contender.
Ah, yes, just as it was an honor for Yahweh to be a 'contender' for the Israelite's worship, right up there with all the other gods... oh, wait, that's not how God thinks at all. "I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another" (Isaiah 42:8).

Labels: , ,


  • Hi Nick, you may call me Sam.

    You started your response with a nice attitude, but later I couldn't help but notice your dismissive thoughtlessness, and pretty soon I could sense your religious arrogance interlaced into every passage. That's OK, it just means that you really think you're right, so we've got something in common. So let's play a little cat and mouse game over the internet, that could be fun but I do have a day job and I have a short attention span.

    I'm encouraged to see that you know how to use "syncretistic" in a sentence, well good for you. You don't like syncretism? here's Wikipedia's definition...

    "Syncretism consists of the attempt to reconcile disparate or contrary beliefs, often while melding practices of various schools of thought. The term may refer to attempts to merge and analogise several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and mythology of religion, and thus assert an underlying unity allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths."

    I especially like that last part about being inclusive, I think that's worthwhile. Off-course Judaism and Christianity take an entirely different approach to solving the "inclusivity challenge".

    Judaism says God is just God, no trinity, no father, no son, no ghost, by definition beyond our capacity to understand, but it's possible to catch a glimpse of God by analysing the history of a people's relationship with their idea of God, which is what the Torah was originally intended to act as a record of. By resisting the temptation to define God, Judaism leaves room for individual interpritation and analysis of every possible conception and misconception. The non-believer, the atheist, the person who admits that he simplly doesn't really know, is much more likely to see merit in a religion that doesn't strictly define its God. The truth is nobody really knows, but religious people like me and you just think we know, to such an extent, that we readily overlook the truth (which is that we definitely don't know what God is - you cannot possiblly know that the trinity is truth - the Nicene creed is what started Christianity's long and slow demise. How many denominations are we upto now? I wouldn't be surprised if it's hit 3 digits! Not much certainty there man!). Christianity epitomises weak belief. But it does cater for the majority (the inclusivity challenge) because it allows you to remain a sinner and not consider that your sins have a consequence in the real world because Christianity promises you that, once you've confessed and been absolved of your sins, you're renewed - clean slate - just like that. That's just as crazy as the Muslim's belief that in heaven he will have his way with x number of virgins. It's irrational, it's childish, it's escapism from responsibility and adulthood and citizenship. Every action has a reaction, and every act has a consequence, regardless what your priest tells you and regardless how many "hail mary"s you do.

    Christianity doesn't resist temptation in more than one sense. Hell, you're free to sin and give in to human nature all you like so long as you confess the following Sunday. Thank God we have the legal system to save us from the intermitent nature of Christian morality. And instead of leaving God as an unknowable variable, it says that he is this and that and there's a virgin thrown in the mix. It's the stuff of fairytales, the Torah in contrast is an informative document . A followed by B, C begat D, if E then F, do G on H, do I every J, K said L would happen when M (coincidence the letter "M") revealed himself. The good thing about Christianity, and there are many, is that it creates nice people. A little less reponsible than would be ideal but nice people generally.

    Nick, I don't want to write another thesis, but seriously, it's so obvious that Jesus was a great guy who the Roman Empire took advantage of a hundred years after he died. The Visigoths were nothing compared with the Jews. The self-belief of a Jew is something that cannot be defeated with armies. Yes, Christianity is the Roman Empire's best effort at controling the proliferation of a Jewish cult based on the memory of a Jewish man (Jesus). By absorbing it, renaming it, rebranding it, they removed the Rabbis from being in control. It was a government run religion. Some people criticise China these days for restricting religious freedom, let me tell you that China allows you to believe whatever you want as long as you don't interfere with matters of government. The Roman Empire on the other hand was completely against religious freedom.

    In the end it's what inside that counts, and you may be a swell guy, but Messiah or not is not something we're gonna leave for the Roman Empire to influence. But if you see Jesus, say Hi to him for me. I mean, in the case of Jesus, seeing is believing. Until then, I'm keeping my feet on the ground.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At March 31, 2009 at 6:57 AM  

  • Sam, thank you for your reply, but I cannot help but notice there hasn't been any attention given to the points in my reply. Instead, you seem to have introduced an entirely new set of arguments about syncretism, escapism, freedom to sin, etc. while simply restating your old positions with superfluous terms like "obviously" tagged on. I'm afraid I don't have an interest nor the time for this flavor of "cat and mouse." It can go on forever, and while maybe entertaining, usually ends in just flat-out hurtful attitudes toward one another, which I don't believe is the goal for either of us.

    To make a quick point of this reply, I will say that I fear you have mistook me for a Catholic. You're correct, there is sadly a great number of denominations. Nearly every observation that you've made about "Christianity" is true only of Catholicism (and a few similar split-offs), and I don't mean to fault you for holding these views. I fault the total disunity of those who call themselves Christians for having fostered such poor views by those examining the faith from the outside. Nonetheless, if you get to know the Evangelical movement within Christianity, you'll find much more satisfying answers to these concerns.

    To your points on escapism, I would ask you (if you have a New Testament) to read James, particularly 2:14-16. Ironically, these are the verses I am teaching on this Sunday and you may also find some articles from me on the topic in this blog this week.

    By Blogger Unknown, At March 31, 2009 at 8:23 AM  

  • Thanks Nick, you're a swell guy, and I'm sorry if my writing sometimes ventures into sensitive areas. Nonetheless, I think you handle yourself like a true gentleman (something I can't honestly say about myself). For the record, I haven't given up on Christianity, it's just that there more that I disagree with in Christianity than in Judaism. By the way, I was born Muslim, so go figure! Nice talking to you. I think you actually won this blog-off since I didn't address your points, as you rightly mention. Best wishes with your work. Regards.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, At March 31, 2009 at 8:07 PM  

  • I find your posts very interesting. Just to clarify:

    We don't 'reject' Jesus - any more than Christians 'reject' Mohammed. During his lifetime Jesus was one of many young, charismatic preachers claiming to be the maschiach. He had a very small following, as head of one of numerous sects there on the fringes of Judaism.

    The key point that I'd like to address is this:

    Judaism has a specific set of 23 messianic prophecies. To qualify as maschiach, a man MUST fulfill ALL of these - in one normal, mortal lifetime. The Jewish maschiach is not 'divine'. He is just a normal, Jewish man. He must fulfill the prophecies before he dies. There is no 'second coming' in Judaism.

    You're aware, I am sure, that there are many other Jewish claimants to the role of maschiach. Many of them seemed en route to fulfilling some of the prophecies - but they died before fulfilling all 23. Thus they were never accepted as maschiach.

    If you look at the concept of maschiach as it appears in Judaism it is clear that Christianity significantly altered the concept and redefined the very term 'messiah'.

    The Jewish and Christian views of 'messiah' cannot be reconciled - they profoundly contradict each other.

    By Anonymous Jew With A View, At May 26, 2009 at 3:31 PM  

  • Dear "Jew with a View",

    I have thought about your points, but I cannot seem to see the dispute. I've actually agreed with your statement in this very post. I have stated, and continue to state that "there was no place in their tradition for a Messiah such as Jesus was and is."

    The Christian position does indeed hold to a different definition of Messiah than the Jewish tradition. That said, I do believe that most if not all of the 23 items you cite are actually what Christians are still awaiting as eagerly as you are. The difference is, our faith holds that we already know and are known by the one who is to fulfill them: Jesus. Nonetheless, I recognize that this contradicts your tradition.

    So, to set this straight, I don't intend to argue that Jesus is the maschiach in the Jewish tradition. I agree that Christianity is not a sect of Judaism, and I don't want to offend you by attempting to redefine your traditions of which I am nowhere near as intimitely familiar as you.

    The challenge, then, that I will pose is this: I am convinced and hold by faith that Christian theologians have rightly exposited the Word of God even from Hebrew text, whereas it is Israel that has, as Scripture teaches, had their hearts hardened to the truth.

    Realizing this is somewhat of an inflammatory statement, I mean not to offend, but rather redirect the discussion a bit. You see, in the writings that I've found in your own blog, it appears you primarily oppose the Messianic Jews and their position--of which I am not one. In as much as you defend your rightful position of defense over the Jewish traditions, we're comparing apple to oranges.

    Would you be so kind as to post here or email that list of 23? In the mean time, I'm also interested in your thoughts on the issue raised in this post on the Chronology of Old Testament promises fulfilled and it's relevance to the Messianic promises.

    Nick Carter

    By Blogger Unknown, At May 26, 2009 at 4:34 PM  

  • Nick,

    I appreciate your comments :)

    OK - so we agree that our faiths disagree...! :)

    But both Judaism and Christianity have good, moral teachings at their cores. It's a difference in ideology, not intent, I think.

    I suspect that any problems that arise perhaps develop from the belief that Jews 'had their hearts hardened to the truth.'

    (I know you didn't mean this to be offensive and that you are simply stating what your Scipture teaches).

    I'll come back to this but firstly to answer on the specific Jewish prophecies - here they are:

    * He will be descended from King David (Isaiah 11:1) via King Solomon (1 Chron. 22:8-10)

    *The Moshiach will be a man of this world, an observant Jew with “fear of God” (Isaiah 11:2)

    *Evil and tyranny will not be able to stand before his leadership (Isaiah 11:4)

    * There will be no more hunger or illness, and death will cease (Isaiah 25:8)

    * All of the dead will rise again (Isaiah 26:19)

    * The Jewish people will experience eternal joy and gladness (Isaiah 51:11)

    * He will be a messenger of peace (Isaiah 52:7)

    * The ruined cities of Israel will be restored (Ezekiel 16:55)

    * Weapons of war will be destroyed (Ezekiel 39:9)

    * The Temple will be rebuilt (Ezekiel 40) resuming many of the suspended mitzvot.

    *He will then perfect the entire world to serve God together (Zephaniah 3:9)

    *Jews will know the Torah without Study (Jeremiah 31:33)

    * He will give you all the desires of your heart (Psalms 37:4)

    * He will take the barren land and make it abundant and fruitful (Isaiah 51:3, Amos 9:13-15, Ezekiel 36:29-30, Isaiah 11:6-9).

    * Once he is King, leaders of other nations will look to him for guidance. (Isaiah 2:4)

    * The whole world will worship the One God of Israel (Isaiah 2:17)

    * The peoples of the world will turn to the Jews for spiritual guidance (Zechariah 8:23)

    * Nations will end up recognizing the wrongs they did to Israel (Isaiah 52:13-53:5)

    * He will include and attract people from all cultures and nations (Isaiah 11:10) .

    * Knowledge of God will fill the world (Isaiah 11:9)

    *The Sanhedrin will be re-established (Isaiah 1:26)

    *All Israelites will be returned to their homeland (Isaiah 11:12)

    As you'll see, the maschiach has to usher in world peace, in order to qualify *as* maschiach.

    - I've written more but will have to post it separately as apparently I've exceeded the word limit :)

    By Anonymous Jew With A View, At May 27, 2009 at 9:44 AM  

  • Here's the second part of my post:

    I think a point of conflict between our faiths arises because as you say, Christians believe their interpretation of our scriptures, is the objectively 'right' one.

    This is problematic because, while some versions of the 'old testament' are extremely good and very reliable, some are not. There are instances of mistranslation and also misinterpretation.

    Interestingly, some Christian bibles have now been revised in order to reflect better the original Hebrew of the Tanakh.

    I'm aware that Christianity believes Jesus is referenced in the Tanakh, and that the Tanakh points to or 'foreshadows' Jesus, but the original Hebrew simply does not support this.

    Of course, I totally appreciate that as a Christian, you will disagree on this point :)

    I'm sure Christians would feel the same way about their bible, if for example, Muslims insisted that *their* understanding and interpretation of the NT was superior to that of Christians! I'm no expert but I think Islam does claim that both Jewish and Christian texts have been 'corrupted'! But I digress.

    To return to Jewish/Christian beliefs about Jewish scriptures: at times it can be frustrating for Jews when we are informed by *some* Christians that we are 'ignorant' of our own scriptures (I'm not implying that you would ever word it like this).

    And, inevitably, problems arise when Christians are convinced that we as Jews have 'had our hearts hardened'. That is a negative belief and one that has historically, had a damaging effect both on Jews and also on Jewish-Christian relations.

    With regard to your points about the chronology of the messianic prophecies:

    There's a significant and interesting difference between our faiths: Christians actively await the return of Jesus - whereas Jews do not actively await the arrival of the maschiach.

    While the notion of maschiah is a fundamental tenet of Judaism, outside of one or two Orthodox Jewish groups, it isn't something that we spend much time thinking about.

    Which leads to a point you touched upon in your post: the Tanakh does not specify *when* the maschiach will arrive. The only thing we can be sure of is that we will know him by his actions, in that he will fulfill the prophecies.

    In your post you stated:

    'The chief difference in a Christian's present anticipation of a future Messiah and the Jew's present anticipation of a future Messiah is that Christians already know Him by name.'

    Yes, this is one major difference. Another one is that for Christians, Jesus the messiah is 'divine'. G-d incarnate. He is no mere mortal, but 'the son of god'. (please do correct me if I misrepresent Christian tenets, I'd hate to do that).

    The Jewish maschiach, though, won't be 'divine'. It is a fundamental Jewish belief that G-d is G-d, and man is man. No human can **ever** be 'divine'. And in Judaism, G-d never, ever, takes human form.

    Let's suppose that Jesus had fulfilled all the Jewish prophecies *before* he died. Had this been the case, there would have been no issue over declaring him the maschiach. Indeed, at that time, the Jews were desperate for the maschiach - hence the sheer number of young Jewish men claiming to be maschiach!

    Also, in Judaism, no man can be 'the son' of G-d, because all humans are equally the children of G-d. I can easily believe that Jesus declared himself 'a son' of G-d, because this would have been in keeping with Jewish beliefs.

    Have I addressed your points? If not, do let me know! There's always so much one wants to say on these topics :)

    By Anonymous Jew With A View, At May 27, 2009 at 9:45 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]