Accusations and Misunderstandings: A Response
I want to address a number of issues about my last few blog posts. During both my previous "Jesus In Hebrew Scripture"(1) and my current "Holy Spirit In Hebrew Scripture"(2) series' I studied and read a lot of classical and Rabbinic Jewish literature. I even at one point consulted a PHD candidate in Hebrew studies for help and asked their opinion before I posted certain entries.
This was done in order to fulfill my goal for accuracy, consistency, and revelation of truth. Just as I would not accept academic scrutiny and comments against Christianity and the New Testament from someone who had no clear understanding of Christianity and who had never read the New Testament. My goal was to look at both the Classical Jewish sources as well as the Rabbinic traditional writings in order to give a well rounded oppinion.
Saying all this, you cannot please everyone. Twice since I started this multi-part series on the complex nature of God I was accused of being bigoted and/or anti-Semitic. For this reason I want to be clear and address the points brought up against me in order that the wrinkles of misunderstanding be smoothed out.
First, I want to point out (as I have discussed before) that words have meanings. Some words have very powerful meanings. For this reason we need to be extremely careful in how we use words and who we use these types of words against. Words like "anti-Semitic" or "Islamaphobic" or "bigoted" carry powerful emotional connections. When these words are thrown around in situations that do not apply to the true meaning of the world it downplays the severity of those words.
Repetition of these accusations in situations that are not truly anti-Semitic, Islamaphoic, bigoted, racist, etc., work to trivialize the gravity of situations that do fit that category. For this reason I think we need to be careful, because situations of true anti-Semiticsm and racism happen in our society and the grievousness of these situations needs to be taken seriously.
Saying all that this is what I want to address...
Are the roots of accusations like anti-Semitism in Christianity reasonable for the simple fact that the origins of anti-Semitism can be traced back to the pages of the New Testament? That is, that the very message of the New Testament is anti-Semetic and therefore, bigoted in nature, because it makes a critique of Jewish belief?
Is this objection valid? If we go back to the pages of the New Testament do we see a picture of the gospels being anti-Semitic, Paul being anti-Semitic? Is this how we know that Christianity when it is true to its roots is anti-Semitic?
Is there anti-Semiticsm found in the pages of the New Testament? Categorically, no. But let me put this into context and explain why in order that those who say they are can see the evidence and respond respectfully.
The first issue at hand is the question of speaking words of judgement against the Jewish people. To say that Jews were stiff-necked, or hard-hearted, to say that the people of Israel were rebellious and wrong is not a statement of anti-Semitism. Why? Because if that were true than Moses would have to be labelled as anti-Semitic. Not only that, but we would have to include Ezekiel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Amos, ultimately resulting in the fact that God Himself was anti-Semitic, being the author of the words these prophets spoke.
In Dr. Michael Brown's book The Real Kosher Jesus (3) he provides a little test in his chapter addressing Jesus being a prophet, and therefore a threat to the religious establishment. At the beginning of the chapter Brown uses the same quotation that I headed this article with. Now I want to make it clear that Rabbi Cohn-Sherbok is an ultra-Orthodox Rabbi, not a Christian.
Dr. Brown provides a quiz in his book. He provides 10 quotes from the Bible, and the reader is asked to guess who the author of the quote was. Was it Moses, Amos, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, or Jesus? I want to make it clear that this quiz is not easy to do, even for the person well versed in scripture. The quiz is provided to give an example to the fact that where Jesus denounced religious hypocrisy, and the Jewish religious practices, he mirrors the message of the prophets and there is nothing anti-Semitic about it.
For example: "The LORD saw this and rejected them because he was angered by his sons and daughters. "I will hide my face from them," he said, "and see what their end will be; for they are a perverse generation, children who are unfaithful." Who said that?
How about this one: "Tell the Israelites, 'You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you." Who said this?
That would be Moses, speaking the words of God in Deuteronomy 32:19,20 and in Exodus 33:5.
How about this: "Go now, write it on a tablet for them, inscribe it on a scroll, that for the days to come it may be an everlasting witness. These are rebellious people, deceitful children, unwilling to listen to the LORDS instruction."
That would be Isaiah in Isaiah 30:8.
Let's try this one: "For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness."
Was this Moses? Could be, it would fit from what we know. Is it Isaiah? Could be, it would also fit from what we know. But it wasn't either of them, it was Jesus.
Jesus spoke to fellow Jews and did it as a prophetic witness to His people. I could go on but I think the point is made. I would recommend Dr. Brown's book as it gives a number of clear examples of such context situations.
So when Steven rebukes his fellow Jews as stiff necked, he's echoing the message that God spoke through the prophets. When Paul describes the Jews as having zeal without knowledge he is almost directly quoting words Isaiah spoke hundreds of years before.
The combative argument may be that the New Testament is a collection of Christian writings. The only problem is that at the time they were written there was no such thing as Christianity, the word and concept didn't exist. It was a Jewish book, a collection of Jewish writings. The one possible non-Jew in the New Testament, Luke, was a God-fearing gentile yes, but one who feared and worshiped the God of Israel despite his gentile linage.
The New Testament was written (with the exception of possibly Luke) by Jewish authors, steeping their message in Jewish teaching and quotations from Hebrew scripture. Don't be fooled by the Greek-name titles we have in our modern translations. Jude was the Greek for Judah, James the Greek for Jacob, Jesus is simply the Greek rendering of the Jewish name Yeshua.
Books like Matthew, Hebrews, and James were written specifically for Jewish audiences.
The New Testament records internal disputes between the people, not between Christianity and Judaism. There was no such thing as Christianity as a separate religion in the 1st century context of when these events took place. Rather these are prophetic Jewish conflicts recorded within the New Testament.
Yes these documents were spread throughout the Greek-speaking gentile community but that in no way discounts them as Jewish in nature or origin. Within the 1st centuries BC and AD the Hebrew Bible of the day was written in Greek (referred to as the Septuagint today). This was because Hebrew as the national language was replaced by Aramaic in the time after the Babylonian exile and then as Hellenistic culture took power under Alexander the Great the lingua franca (most spoken language) became Greek.
The Jews of the 1st centuries BC and AD knew very little Hebrew apart from some memorization or reading of the Tanakh. When gentiles would come to the synagog and hear the scriptures being read they would hear these very verses in the Hebrew scriptures that could be called anti-Semitic. So it is not anti-Semitic when it is spoken in the family; and a prophetic witness is saying that there is hypocrisy and repentance is needed to avoid judgement.
Jesus (Yeshua) the prophet and Paul the Apostle did what Moses and the other prophets did, they spoke on behalf of God.
"They are the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and promises. Theirs are the patriarchs, and from them is traced the human ancestry of Messiah, who is God overall, God blessed forever!" - Romans 9:4,5
The New Testament authors follow in the footsteps of the authors of the Tankah, the Hebrew scriptures. Following the people of Israel as chosen by God but rebelling against that calling. No hate, no anti-Semtism, no bigotry, only consistency.
Resorting to emotionalism and name calling in the face of disagreement does nothing more than show ones inability to defend their own position. Disagreement is healthy, but only in the context of being able to sit down and discuss in open dialogue where and why we disagree. Only in this way can we truly understand each other's position and be able to respect and value that person as knowledgeable in their beliefs.
When we resort to falling back to catch-terms like "anti-Semitic" "Islamaphobic" "Racist" or "Homophobic" when they don't truly apply, all we do is devalue the severity of situations where those words do apply. When we fall back on emotional catch-phrases instead of engaging in respectful, fruitful debate we devalue our own positions.
All world views have disagreements with other worldviews. To say otherwise would be to only show ignorance of others' beliefs. It is only through healthy and respectful discussion and debate that we can learn, respect, and appreciate each other and their personal convictions and beliefs.
Lack of consistency is the first sign to a failed argument. And when we have to resort to name-calling it reveals the inconsistency in our knowledge, revealing our inability to defend and engage with what we as individuals believe.
"From every line in the New Testament, from every word, the Jewish spirit streamed forth light, life, power, endurance, hope, love, charity, limitless indestructible faith in God. Kindness to prodigality, moderation to self denial. Content to the exclusion of all sense of need and consideration for others with extreme strictness in regard to self. All these things were found provading the book." - Rabbi Lechiel Lichtenstein
For further information on disagreements between world views or inter-faith dialogue please see:
Love, God And Creation (2)
"No One Comes To The Father But Through Me"
Jesus In Hebrew Scripture (1): The Word Became Flesh
Jesus In Hebrew Scripture (2): A Mirror In The Old Testament
Jesus In Hebrew Scripture (3): Rabbinic Tradition
Holy Spirit In Hebrew Scripture: Coequal And Coeternal
(3) The Real Kosher Jesus: Revealing the Mysteries of the Hidden Messiah