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    Siddur Sar Shalom, edited by Daniel Nessim

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    Introducing Your Jewish Friend to Yeshua, by Nessim and Surey

    Introducing Your Jewish Friend to Yeshua, by Nessim and Surey

The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles – Book Review


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Toby Janicki

The Way of Life: The Rediscovered Teachings of the Twelve Jewish Apostles to the Gentiles

Marshfield, MO: First Fruits of Zion / Vine of David, 2017. 581 pages. $35.00 ISBN 978-1941534243

 

 

For over a century, scholars have discovered in the Didache an intriguing ‘window’ into the lives of the earliest Christians. A short discipleship and church manual for gentiles, it was written sometime around the first great Jewish War in 70 CE. Apart from a few decades in the early 20th century, before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls confirmed its very early date, scholars have generally been keen to notice the very Jewish nature of this book. What the Didache is, is a manual written by early Messianic Jews to new disciples as part of what is sometimes called the ‘gentile mission’ – the rapid explosion of the Good News of Messiah’s advent and redemptive work around the Roman Empire and beyond. The title of this famous manual, written in Greek, is translated as ‘Teaching of the Lord through the Twelve Apostles to the Gentiles‘. This is where Janicki has found a model for the subtitle for his substantial commentary. In case any might think the Didache is pseudepigraphic – falsely attributing its writings to a famous author – the Didache simply claims that its teachings are representative of the teachings of the Twelve Apostles, and its author(s) remains unnamed and anonymous.

One would think that with an ancient book full of teachings collected and presented by early Messianic Jews, their modern counterparts would have been all over it to discover what the perspective of their predecessors might have been. Such has not been the case apart from an Aberdeen PhD dissertation by E. Spivak in 2007. This is where Toby Janicki has made a remarkable contribution. While he makes no claim to being a Messianic Jew himself, as a member of the Movement he examines the Didache from a thoroughgoing Messianic Jewish perspective, in what is the second largest and most extensive commentary on the Didache ever published.

The introduction sets the tone, with a relatively brief but comprehensive overview of the history and background required to understand the background of the Didache. Janicki demonstrates that he has come to grips with the full body of Didache scholarship and has his own specific contribution to make. Thus already a Messianic Jewish perspective comes to the fore as Janicki proposes that the Didache ‘is a Mishnah for Gentile believers. It addresses key halachic issues of everyday life and community’ (pp. 16-19). The introduction is followed by the text of the Didache in Greek, with Janicki’s own translation into English.

The commentary deals with the Didache chapter by chapter. The Didache has 16 chapters. Each chapter begins with the English of the Didache cross-referenced to quotations and allusions in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, but not to extant Jewish literature or other early Christian literature. The focus then is, as through the commentary, on the practical value of the Didache.

Each chapter translation is followed by an overview in which Janicki grapples with the general questions raised by each chapter, with reference to the comments and observations raised by scholarship thus far. Janicki does so in a way that while not easy for the casual or elementary student or reader, is not difficult at all for someone who has mastered the basics.

In turn, the overview is followed by verse-by-verse commentary on the Didache. This is where Janicki’s contribution shines. Each verse is dealt with in depth, with reference not only to Didache scholarship but also comparable writings of the early church. Especially useful is his careful incorporation of insights from the Talmud and other Jewish writings. While somewhat questionable, because the Mishnah and Talmud were not committed to writing until later centuries, the insights do provide a Jewish frame of reference from which to view the teachings of the Didache. Further, they accentuate the Didache’s affinity of thought to that of other Jewish literature, as opposed to that of Christianity in those same later centuries, which was rapidly distancing itself from Jewish modes of thinking.

One of Janicki’s own distinct contributions is important to highlight. Page after page, Janicki treats the Didache as a book of value for directing the life of Jesus’ disciples today. There is a distinctly pastoral tone to the book, and the Didache is not merely exegeted, but potential applications to the lives of modern Christians are highlighted for consideration. Thus we are told ‘According to the Didache, idle and lazy members of our communities who rely on the benevolence of believers are not true followers of the Master’ (p. 442).  It is strong language, but a logical application of the Didache’s teaching in Didache 12. This is nothing less than the re-incorporation of the Didache into the tradition of a church that has long forgotten its precepts in favour of those of later church writers.

Two appendices include the text of the Epistle of Barnabas and the Oxyrhynchus Papyrus 1782. A bibliography is also included but no comprehensive indexes of references or subjects, items which are admittedly an option for commentaries. The layout of the book is excellent and the typeset clear and readable, which helps in making it an accessible resource for all. Jesus is consistently referred to as the ‘Master’, a usage that seems somewhat awkward, but also appropriate. Footnotes unfortunately do not flow from page to page, which sometimes causes problems in the page layout (as in page 9, which is half blank), but in general the book is very well produced.

For those who want to get an idea of how at least some early Messianic Jews taught regarding personal and congregational life, in more than just a dry, scholarly way, Janicki’s book is well worth the $35 asking price. I have a suspicion that Janicki’s contribution will be welcomed not only by laypersons but also Didache scholars for his fresh contribution and integration with contemporary Messianic Jewish thought.

 

Sefaria – Don’t Miss out on This Amazing Resource


More than fifty years ago, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz Even-Israel took it upon himself to make the Talmud, the central text of Jewish life, available to all. In 1965, he began translating the 37 tractates of the Talmud from ancient Aramaic into Modern Hebrew, with an English translation published in the Koren Talmud Bavli Noé Edition. Ninety […]

via Setting the Talmud Free — The Sefaria Blog

Messianic Jews in Ancient Georgia


The Curious Case of Kartli

No, this isn’t about Messianic Jews in Georgia, USA.This is about Georgia, somewhere north of the terrible fighting now going on in Syria and Iraq, and south of Russia. This is about Messianic Jews over 1500 years ago, hundreds of years after the earliest ‘Jesus Movement’ among the Jews of Jerusalem and beyond. Ancient accounts published in recent decades tell an amazing story of how Jews far northeast of Jerusalem came to faith in Yeshua (Jesus) as the Messiah, and how they became the foundation for the later Christian church in their region.

In the early fourth century, expansion to the Jewish communities in Georgia, between the Black and Caspian Seas is recorded in the accounts of St. Nino. Tamila Mgaloblishvili and Iulion Gagoshidze record that St Nino, “co-equal of the Apostles and the Illuminatrix of Georgia” was sent on a mission to Kartli by her uncle Iovenalius, Patriarch of Jerusalem.’ Arriving in the town of Urbnisi,

…she tarried a whole month staying with local Jews. Thence she proceeded to Mtskheta, the capital of the kingdom, and once there, she also established closer relations with local Jews to whom she eventually began to preach Christianity. Those who listened to her and accepted what she said were also Jews – the first followers of Christ in Georgia. [1]

While it is not believed that St. Nino was Jewish herself, her familial connection with Iovenalius in Jerusalem suggests that she would have been familiar with the Palestinian Jewish Christian community, or NMJM which was spread throughout the region of Syria. This is corroborated by her strategy which was to first stay with Jews, suggesting her familiarity and comfort with the Jewish people.

In fact, it is hard to be certain of the accuracy of Moktsevai kartlisai (The Conversion of Kartli)[2] from which our information comes. That makes the story all the more interesting for our purposes. “The first missionaries to arrive in Kartli were most probably adherents to the ancient Palestinian Christian tradition, and the archetype of the life of St Nino, the Illuminatrix of Georgia, ought to be regarded as having been evolved and recorded in the community of the Judaeo-Christian residents of Mtskheta.”[3] So we can see – as it were – a continuation of the Pauline policy of going to the Jewish community first, and we can see that in the eyes of St. Nino, or at least in the eyes of those whose work she is credited with, the Jesus Movement had its natural home among the Jewish people.

Once again, themes that emerged in the book of Acts emerge in the Georgian account. Just as in Acts 8:1 some of the community were dispersed from Jerusalem resulting in the spread of the Gospel, so it was a few years later during the Jewish Revolts, resulting in a field for the Gospel to spread to two centuries later.

…an analysis of the archaeological and written sources currently at our disposal gives us sufficient grounds to make the following conclusions: Firstly, a fairly large group of Jewish immigrants penetrated into Georgia after the Jewish Wars, …. Secondly, among the Jews who came to settle in Kartli in the first-second centuries there were originally also Judaeo-Christians who had broken from the Jews in the fourth century, …. And finally, Hellenistic Christianity was established in Kartli under King Mirian (at the end of the third decade of the fourth century), yet despite this, considerable traces of the ancient Judaeo-Christian tradition still survived, lingering both in everyday life and reflected in the written monuments of ancient Georgia. [4]

This meant that centuries later, the Jewish origins of Christianity in Georgia had left their discernible imprint, even on the liturgy of the Georgian church. Knowing that liturgy, Mgaloblishvili and Gagoshidze state “We know that the Judaic oral tradition – the so-called aggada (‘haggadah’) occupied a place of conspicuous prominence in Early Christian divine service.”[5] The evidence from Kartli, then, is of a NMJM that operated as a community. Not much is known of its strategy in terms of spreading its message, and nothing is known regarding its outward proclamation, but it left significant archeological remains which have been found in the modern era. It may be that in the waning years of the Roman empire its strategy was merely to persevere and survive, a specifically community-centric approach.

The Life of St. Nino leaves us a fascinating account of outreach among the Jewish people by one (or ones – possibly NM Jews) who came from a society similar to their own. Their method appears to have been one of participation in Jewish life on the basis of belonging to, or at least a comfort within, the Jewish community. It was from within the community that the preaching of Yeshua began, and the first “converts” were people in that same milieu.

 

[1] Tamila Mgaloblishvili and Iulion Gagoshidze, “The Jewish Diaspora and Early Christianity in Georgia,” in Ancient Christianity in the Caucasus, ed. Tamila Mgaloblishvili, Caucasus World (Richmond: Curzon, 1998), 40.

[2] The Moktsevai Kartlisai is one of a number of documents discovered in St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai, in 1975. It is “one of the main components of the Georgian historical chronicle Kartlis tskhovreba (The Annals of Georgia).” Antony Eastmond, “”Local” Saints, Art, and Regional Identity in the Orthodox World after the Fourth Crusade,” Speculum 78, no. 3: 707.

[3] Mgaloblishvili and Gagoshidze, “The Jewish Diaspora and Early Christianity in Georgia,” 46.

[4] Ibid., 58.

[5] Ibid., 46.

Nascent Messianic Judaism and the Birkat Haminim


 

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Anyone familiar with Jewish believers in Yeshua, and in particular with the Messianic Jewish Movement (which I call the Re-nascent Messianic Judaism, in distinction to the Nascent Messianic Judaism of the first to sixth centuries) is probably familiar with the persecution complex that plagues it.

One of the pillars of this (often unjustified) persecution complex is the belief that the benediction of the shemoneh esrei which deals with heretics was originally composed as a birkat ha-minim, a ‘blessing’ (rather a curse) against heretics, in particular against those Jews who believed that Yeshua is the Messiah. This is what I was raised with, and yet over the past few decades this idea has been widely discredited. Rightly so. Last week, I came across a few paragraphs in a book by Andreas Köstenberger called A Theology of John’s Gospel and Letters (2009), pp. 56-57 that summarises the recent trends in scholarship on what is an important issue not only to Jews but Christians. I am reproducing it here because I think this literature review is so concise and well presented that it deserves to be noted:

‘In 1982, Shaye Cohen wrote an essay to the effect that the Yavneh sages had a remarkably inclusive spirit, cursing only those unwilling to commit to ideological pluralism. The same year saw the publication of William Horbury’s influential study on the textual development of the Twelfth Benediction that demonstrated the insecure textual foundation of the Martyn view. In 1983, Jacob Neusner showed that the Yavneh sage Eliezer ben Hyrcanus displayed a remarkably irenic spirit toward other groups within Judaism, even toward Samaritans. In 1984, Steven Katz strongly opposed the view that Yavneh launched an official attack /57/ on Jewish Christians. In 1985, Wayne Meeks declared (later echoed by Graham Stanton in 1992) that the birkat ha-minim constitutes a “red herring in Johannine [sic] research.”

More recently, Philip Alexander has maintained that the existence of the birkat ha-minim can be traced back “with some confidence to the first half of the second [but not necessarily the first] century C.E.” According to him, labeling someone as a min identified that person, not necessarily as a Christian, but as one who did not accept the authority of the rabbis, who in effect condemned all those who were not of their party, “setting themselves up as the custodians of orthodoxy.” The curses rather than singling out messianic Christians, were introduced to “establish Albinism as orthodoxy within the synagogue.”‘

What do you think?

As Messianic Jews, there is much of interest here.

Post… Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism


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Ten Years after the Publication of Mark Kinzer’s seminal work Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism, the work has received significant attention from the National  (as in USA, I suppose) Professors of Hebrew in a special session dedicated to the cause at the 2015 Society of Biblical Literature annual meeting in Atlanta.

In a packed out room and to a hushed crowd of scholars, four speakers and their mediator Zev Garber took up the themes raised by Kinzer thoughtfully, respectfully and from a variety of perspectives. David Rudolph, a recent Cambridge graduate, rabbi and faculty member of the Messianic Jewish Theological Institute began by outlining the premises of PMMJ. Underscoring the fact that PMMJ did not (understandably) receive a rapturous welcome from Jewish Missions upon its publications he was able to note that some of the objections (most notably regarding its Soteriology)  raised were later addressed. One of these occasions for clarification was at the Borough Park Symposium. In fact, PMMJ has had a significant effect since its publication. In 2005 the Union of Messianic Jewish Congregations adopted a statement on the Messianic Jewish Movement (MJM) incorporating much of Kinzer’s perspective. PMMJ has also irreversibly raised the level of theological discourse within the MJM and among those who write about it. Further, PMMJ has given the MJM something to share with the world at large.

Now David and Mark are friends of course, and the purpose of having David summarise Mark’s work was no doubt partly due to a concern that his work not be dismissed out of hand or held to unfair criticism.

The second respondent however, Peter Ochs, in dealing with PMMJ made salient and helpful observations regarding PMMJ’s interpretation of Scripture. Noting that Kinzer puts exegesis at the forefront of his argument, he showed that Kinzer is selective in choosing interpretations that forward his thesis. Going by memory, I recollect Kinzer explicitly touching on this in PMMJ, pointing out (for example) that if an interpretation of Scripture leads to demonstrably bad results it must be wrong. I.e. if one’s interpretation leads one to commit genocide against the Jews as for some Nazis, then it should be rejected.  Pleasantly for a Messianic Jew, Ochs used ‘Yeshua’ rather than the possibly derogative ‘Yeshu’.

Ochs was followed by R. Kendall Soulen who referred to arguments made by Michael Wyschogrod that if a Jew believes in Yeshua he or she is still obligated to keep Torah – God’s covenant with Israel. Soulen argued that Christianity is obligated to see this possibility that Jews should remain in every way Jews upon faith in Yeshua. Looking at the Church fathers, Soulen documented the shift in theology that over a few short centuries made this unacceptable to the Church. For further reading Soulen suggested an articleby Bruce Marshall in a festschrift for John Levinson.

Zev Farber’s (Not Garber, as in the convener of the session) presentation marked a notable shift in tone. His honest and straightforward approach began with a side note: In seminary a bunch of boys could easily spend months discussing laws regarding menstruation and permissible sexual positions, but as soon as a passage on Jesus came up there was a lot of nudge nudge, wink wink…. Jews are very uncomfortable with Jesus. In fact, Farber asserted, the core issue is not really about the Truth, but ‘identity politics’ necessitates rejection of Yeshua. Indeed, ‘to flirt with Jesus is a form of moral adultery’. And ‘as long as Messianic Judaism is a bridge to Christianity it will remain squarely outside Judaism.’ No one was questioning Farber’s rabbinic bona fides after that. My feeling was that this is what I would expect from someone charged with the task of preserving Judaism and the Jewish people. But a response to Farber requires a discussion beyond the scope of this blog.

Finally Mark Kinzer had his chance to respond. Kinzer thoughtfully took a long-term view. He hopes that within 100 or 200 years there might be a change in the church that would allow Jewish Believers in Yeshua to really live as Jews ‘if the church would honour that boundary’.
Mark – do we really have to wait for that?

Titus, the Temple, and the Fire of Judgement


Titus and his armies destroy Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

Titus and his armies destroy Jerusalem in 70 C.E.

Was it judgement? In 70 C.E. the then general Titus captured Jerusalem. Although Josephus (possibly disingenuously) disclaimed Titus’ responsibility, the Temple was destroyed and burned to the ground. In witnessing the event Josephus recalled:

the roar of the flames streaming far and wide mingled with the groans of the falling victims; and, owing to the height of the hill and the mass of the burning pile, one would have thought that the whole city was ablaze. And then the din–nothing more deafening or appalling could be conceived than that. There were the war-cries of the Roman legions sweeping onward in mass, the howls of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the rush of the people who, cut off above, fled panic-stricken- (Jewish War 6.272-3)

Titus was the general in who took the city and was responsible for these events. His father, who had been charged with putting down the revolt had gone to Rome, having been elected as Emperor. Nine years later, Titus would take his father’s place. It would be 79 C.E. when Titus became Emperor himself. In exquisite irony, it would be that very same year that Vesuvius would erupt, engulfing Pompeii in burning ash, extinguishing the vast portion of the population of that great yet decadent city. Titus, while visiting Pompeii to assess the damage would get yet further bad news. Back in Rome, the great fire of 80 C.E. had broken out. While less destructive than that of Nero’s day, this fire would result in an equal loss of life and the destruction of many great structures – notably on Capitoline Hill, the Temple of Jupiter, the Pantheon, and the theatre of Pompeii.

The destruction of Pompeii as Mt Vesuvius erupts in 79 C.E.

The destruction of Pompeii as Mt Vesuvius erupts in 79 C.E.

Could it not have been noted in that day, what the comforter Eliphaz said: As I have observed, those who plough evil and those who sow trouble reap it (Job 4:8).

Maybe Hashem was saying something.

Our daily prayer is May it be your will, Hashem our God and the God of our forefathers, that the Holy Temple be rebuilt, speedily in our days. Grant us our share in Your torah, and may we serve You there with reverence as in days of old and in former years. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to Hashem, as in days of old and in former years.

Amen.

The Etz Chaim


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On Friday, at 6:16 pm London time, the Day of Atonement begins. We have already symbolically cast our sins into ‘living’ water in the ceremony of tashlich. Now the Day of Atonement is a time for sober reflection, teshuvah (repentance), and prayer. Throughout, there is the plea to be written in the Sefer Chaim – the Book of Life.

Our God is all about Chaim – Life. After all, He is the Creator, Source, and Sustainer of all life that is. In Gan Eden, the Garden of Eden, He planted a Tree of Life. This Etz Chaim was there as a blessing, and it was through the ‘Fall’ that humanity lost access to it. All was not lost. He provided us the Torah, which is a Tree of Life (Proverbs 3:18). He provides Living Water (Psalm 1, John 7:38), and keeps a ‘Book of Life’, references to which are too numerous to list.

As Messianic Jews, we rejoice in the fact that our Messiah has promised that we will be listed in the Book of Life (Rev 21:27). In fact, it is not just for we Jews, but for the multitudes of all nations, for it is too small a thing for the Servant-Messiah to be merely given rule the tribes of Jacob (Isaiah 49:6)!

In every Torah service we sing ‘etz chaim hi lemachazikim bach’ which means ‘it is a Tree of Life to those who take hold of it’. It is no surprise then that our Messiah is called the ‘Word’ of God (John 1:1).

This Yom Kippur, we fast – yet rejoice in Him!

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