Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Jewish sources in Christian Scriptures: Lecture notes

 Jewish sources in Christian Scriptures

Study Notes:
It is impossible to read Christian Scriptures without recognizing their roots in the Tanach ( our sider of the Good Book) , Jewish thought in the period following the return exile ( as preserved in the “Sefarim Histzoniim”-the Apocrypha and contemporary literature, & the Dead Sea Scrolls) and Rabbinic literature, which while compiled later, is based on earlier traditions.
For that reason, the early Church rejected attempts to separate the Christian teachings from its Hebraic roots ( the Marcionite heresy) and the Protestant Reformation, which opened up European civilization from the hold of medieval Christian thought, was founded upon a deep understanding of the Hebraic roots of Christianity. In my library, for example, I had a Bible dictionary from the 1600’s, by a Protestant scholar,Johanes Cocceis, who relied on Rashi and the Talmud for his definitions. I had a Talmud manuscript facsimnile, published by a Protestant scholar of Judaism, Herman Strack, who also published the Rabbinic parallels to Christian scriptures.

The readers of these notes will soon recognize that, while Jesus is speaking in Jewish phrases and concepts, he is not speaking as a humble country “Rabbi”( a term not yet in use in his day), nor as a prophet, but already as a quasi-angelic or quasi-divine being, who is to bring about the long awaited “end of days”, in which the existing human order will be overthrown. It is already here that the split with the rest of the Jewish people is inevitable.

Here are some sample parallel texts.
A.      The Gospel According to Saint, John:1:1  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 
Jewish source: The first systematic Jewish philosopher, Philo of Alexandria, used the term Logos ( Word) to mean an intermediary divine being, or demiurge. Philo followed the Platonic distinction between imperfect matter and perfect Form, and therefore intermediary beings were necessary to bridge the enormous gap between God and the material world. The Logos was the highest of these intermediary beings, and was called by Philo "the first-born of God." Philo also wrote that "the Logos of the living God is the bond of everything, holding all things together and binding all the parts, and prevents them from being dissolved and separated."( Wikipedia).  Aramaic equivalent: Memra. Hebrew: Dibur, also, “Chochmah”, Wisdom in Proverbs.
B.Golden Rule:
“One gentile came before Shammai : Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot. Shammai pushed him away with the builder’s cubit in his hand.  The same gentile came before Hillel. He converted him and said to him: That which is hateful to you do not do to another; that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation.( Go study. Talmud Shabbat 31 a)
This phrase is found both in the positive “do” and “negative” don’t” in Jewish texts a century or more before this time. Hillel’s admonition is that platitudes are just that, without definition and specification of application, a classic Jewish perspective.
C.      Klal gadol- The great principal
One day an expert in the law stood up to test Him. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26“What is written in the Law?Jesus replied. “How do you read it?” 27He answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’ and ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”… 28“You have answered correctly,” Jesus said. “Do this and you will live.”…( Luke 10:27. In Mathhew and Mark, Jesus says it to the scholar)
 (Leviticus 19:18) "Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." Rabbi Akiva says: This is the great principal of the Torah. Jerusalem Talmud, Nedarim 30B ( However, in the same context, Rabbi Akiva’s collegues,Ben Azzai disagrees and says: This is the account of the story of humanity…He created humans in the divine image.”Gen 5:1. He explains that morality based on the self is self-defeating, unless we ground each other in our shared divine image, a far greater concept).
D.Turn the cheek
 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h]39 But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. 40 And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. 41 If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. 42 Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.(Mathhew 5)
On eye for eye: Mishnah Bava Kamma 8:1 One who injures his fellow is liable for five categories of payment: damages, pain, healthcare, unemployment, and shame.
This is a rejection of the position of Saduccees, the priestly party, who took the Bible text literally, and insisted on eye for eye, literally.
I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting. Isaiah 50:6
Let him offer his cheek to one who would strike him, and let him be filled with disgrace. Lamentations 3:30
The understanding here is that affliction is not from one’s enemies, but from God, and is to be accepted as “ tough love” ( yisurim shel ahavah- afflictions caused by love, as in the classic statement by fathers,    ” This hurts me more than it does you”).
 If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; And if he is thirsty, give him water to drink; 22For you will heap burning coals on his head, And the LORD will reward you.…Proverbs 25:21
Ex 23:5 If you see your enemies donkey under a burden, you must help him with it.
Another understanding of these statements was promulgated by scholars, such as Dr. Albert Schweitzer ( who set up health clinics in Africa) that these are conditional morality statements, based on the idea that the end of times is around the corner, tomorrow, and therefore, there is no time for tit-for-tat; the end of days will resolve all disputes!
E.Sermon on the Mount ( Matthew 5)
He said: “Blessed are the poor in spirit,   for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
 Isaiah 66:2 “These are the ones I look on with favor:    those who are humble and contrite in spirit,    and who tremble at my word.
 Blessed are those who mourn,    for they will be comforted.
Isaiah 61:2 to comfort all who mourn,   and provide for those who grieve in Zion—.
 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,    for they will be filled.
Isaiah 55:1 “Come, all you who are thirsty,    come to the waters;
and you who have no money,    come, buy and eat!( drink and eat the words of the prophet)
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
And the Sages taught: About those who are insulted and do not insult, who hear their shame and do not respond, who act out of love and are joyful in suffering, the verse says: “And they that love Him are as the sun going forth in its might”(Judges 5:31). Shabbat 88b
F. The Lord’s Prayer: Matthew 6
This, then, is how you should pray:
“‘Our Father in heaven,--Avinu Shebashamayim  (“avnan d bishmaya” in reconstructed Aramaic)
hallowed be your name,-yitgadal veyitkadash shmay raba ( Kaddish text)
 your kingdom come, yamlich malchutey (kaddish text)
And lead us not into temptation,– al tavienu lo liday chet vlo liday averah ( morning prayer)   but deliver us from the evil one.’-vehaser mealenu oyev, dever veraav …vhaser satan milefaneu umelachareynu ( evening prayer)
Jesus is complaining about people who pray too long. It is reflected in a Rabbinic dictum that the ideal prayer is that of Moses for his sister, Miriam,” Al Na Ref Na La”-5 words only,” God, please,heal her, please.”

G. Jesus as a dissident Pharisee:
The Fulfillment of the Law Matthew 5  17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
It is clear that Jesus, while in conflict with the Pharisees, is setting Halakhah as the standard to pass, not eliminate.
Washing hands?
Matthew 15 Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
Note- This is not a Biblical, but Rabbinic law.This is not yet a hard fast Jewish law- it is still debated by Rabbi Akiba many years later.
Shabbat  Matthew 2:27
23 One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grain fields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. 24 The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”25 He answered, “Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry and in need? 26 In the days of Abiathar the high priest, he entered the house of God and ate the consecrated bread, which is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”27 Then he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. 28 So the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” ( Note the twist from “Man” to “Son of Man”.)
Talmud Yoma 88b  Rabbi Yosei, son of Rabbi Yehuda, says that it is stated: “But keep my Shabbatot” (Exodus 31:13). It implies that there are circumstances where one must keep Shabbat and circumstances where one must desecrate it, i.e., to save a life. Rabbi Yonatan ben Yosef says that it is stated: “For it is sacred to you” (Exodus 31:14). This implies that Shabbat is given into your hands, and you are not given to it to die on account of Shabbat.
What Jesus has done is usurp everyone with his own status as” Son of Man.” Son of Man is a term of that period to mean a semi-Divine being, like the Logos, that comes to bridge between God and mortal man. It is this attribution, more than the claim of “ Messiah” that sets up the divide between Jesus and the rest of the Jewish world.

H Jesus as a Zealot, Jewish militant nationalist: Mark 15 22
22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity ( Tyre & Sidon) came to him, crying out, “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is demon-possessed and suffering terribly.” 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, “Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.”24 He answered, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.”25 The woman came and knelt before him. “Lord, help me!” she said. 26 He replied, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.” 27 “Yes it is, Lord,” she said. “Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” 28 Then Jesus said to her, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” And her daughter was healed at that moment.

It is to be noted that Jesus miracles are clearly reiterations of the miracles of Elijah and Elisha. He is indicating that he is the avatar of Elijah that has come to mark the end of days. He is sent here to deliver the children of Israel. Therefore, he pished away the pagan woman, and only answers here when she demeans herself in his presence.  Contrast: Elisha is sent to Zarefat in the same pagan area to be protected by a widow and he helps her-she is clearly a foreigner!
Jesus is against missionizing: Anti-conversion Matthew 23:15
… 15
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You traverse land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. 
Militant    Matthew 10:38
 33But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father in heaven. 34Do not assume that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35For I have come to turn ‘A man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.… 36A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ 37Anyone who loves his father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me
This is the direct opposite of the words of the prophet, Malachi: Elijah will return to bring the heart of the fathers back to the sons, lest I smite the earth.”
Jesus calls for rejection of parents. When Elijah appoints Elisha in his place, Elisha must first take leave of his parents before he can follow Elijah, with Elijah’s blessings. It is very clear at this point, that Jesus no longer sees himself as long-awaited Eljah, but is the  placing himself above Elijah in importance.