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On Messianic Judaism


I’m really excited, and somewhat nervous, to announce my new Podcast, called On Messianic Judaism. Search for it wherever you listen to podcasts. It is a series of relatively short discussions of Messianic Jewish history in the main, with a smattering of interviews and theological and philosophical episodes.

If you prefer the written text, here is the draft text of my next episode, Texts and Stories: What They Said About Messiah.

Intro

Welcome to the Messianic Jewish Life Podcast. Hi, this is Daniel Nessim and today we’ll continue our series on the History of the Messianic movement by exploring what people imagined about the Messiah in the year he was born.

Introduction

In the year Yeshua was born, what were people saying about Messiah? What were they learning about him? What were they reading, and what were their hopes and what were their stories?

Amidst all the complexity of Jewish life in Israel, religious and political ferment combined to produce a Messianic hope. Thus the first century witnessed “a remarkable outburst of Messianic emotionalism.”[1] That was the expectation of a Messiah, an anointed one, who would fulfill many expectations and hopes raised by the predictions of the prophets and Israel’s desire for freedom from foreign oppression.

Today, Jewish and Christian scholars disagree about the kind of Messiah that Yeshua declared Himself to be, or even that He declared Himself to be the Messiah. The question that begs to be asked however, is whether Yeshua was the kind of Messiah that the people of His day were hoping for. What did their reading of the Scriptures and tradition lead them to believe about Messiah? What effect did the domination of foreign powers in the nation’s life have on their ideas about His role as a deliverer? The answers to questions like this are far from simple, and as one might expect. They varied from segment to segment of Jewish society.

It is self-evident to most scholars that Jews of the first century who were looking for the Messiah were looking for a deliverer from the oppression of the Roman administration. That is actually a given, so it is not this point that we will prove here. What can and should be shown is that other streams of Messianic expectation existed, and maybe even flourished in certain segments of Jewish society.[2] To be sure, we are going to briefly look at these expectations for a ruling Messiah, but we have to look at the possibility that there were also different ideas floating around about the role of the coming Messiah in Jewish society in the year that Yeshua was born. While of course the idea of King Messiah conquering Israel’s oppressors was in the forefront, what we want to look at are the nuances, the other viewpoints and expectations that were being expressed in his day.

To go one step further, when in future podcast episodes we get to his years of teaching in Galilee and Judea, we will see that it was not such a leap as many suppose for Yeshua’s followers to acknowledge Him as the Son of God, or even, going just one step beyond commonly accepted thought, to patently attribute some sort of divinity to him.

Yeshua made His appearance in the Galilee early in the second quarter of the first century CE. In His time He was far from being the only one people thought might be the Messiah. Claimants to the title abounded. Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver in his book that lists over seventy Messianic pretenders, that is seventy would be messiahs in Jewish history, writes that popularly, “the Messiah was expected around the second quarter of the first century CE, because the Millennium was at hand. Prior to that time he was not expected, because according to the chronology of the day the Millennium was still considerably removed.”[3]

Various writings such as the Sibylline Oracles and the Book of Enoch circulated and raised the hopes of the people. Josephus attests to this. He asserts that this expectation contributed to the Jews taking up a war against Rome, based on “an ambiguous oracle that was found in their sacred writings, how, ‘about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.’”[4]

1.        Messiah the King

The most evident of all assertions about first century expectations of the Messiah is that he was expected to come as a king and deliverer the Jewish people from their ruthless, foreign, and illegitimate oppressors. The Sibylline Oracles, a collection of Jewish writings written both before and after the life of Yeshua, speaks of Messiah in glowing terms as a coming king. It is the third book in particular, one of the more ancient parts of the collection that is most of interest. Oxford scholar Alfred Edersheim wrote over a hundred years ago that “In these Oracles, 170 years before Christ, the Messiah is ‘the King sent from heaven’ who would ‘judge every man in blood and splendor of fire.’ Similarly, the vision of Messianic times opens with a reference to ‘the King Whom God will send from the sun.’”[5] Later another passage in the Sibylline Oracles declares “For a blessed man came from the expanses of heaven with a scepter in his hands which God gave him, and he gained sway over all things well.”[6] This picture of a Messianic ruler who acts as a judge over all men and things is not confined to the oracle alone. It was a common expectation that the Messiah’s kingdom would have a universal and spiritual aspect to it. It would not be a kingdom over Israel alone. Thus the great philosopher Philo wrote in his Life of Moses “A man shall hereafter come forth out of thee who shall rule over many nations, and his kingdom shall increase every day and be raised up to heaven.”[7]

Messiah the King had to be, as shown by the dialogue in Matthew 22:42, the descendant of king David, the archetypal Jewish king. Yeshua asked the Pharisees “What do you think of Messiah? Whose son is he?” They replied, “The son of David.” Other New Testament passages demonstrate again and again that the Messiah was expected to be a descendant of David. Outside of the New Testament, the 17th Psalm of Solomon, written about 50 years BCE, draws a detailed picture of the coming Davidic Messiah. Here he is portrayed not only as a mighty deliverer, but also as one pure of sin, announcing: “And he will be a righteous king over them, taught by God. There will be no unrighteousness among them in his days, for all shall be holy, and their king shall be the Lord Messiah.” The writer of the Psalm went even further, with a theological bent: “He will be pure of sin, to rule over countless nations, to recover the nations and destroy the sinners, by the might of the word.”[8] That this man should be of Davidic descent is again seen in 2 Esdras 12:32 which says that “the Messiah . . . will arise from the posterity of David.”

There is almost no one who would dispute that just like today, those Jews who believe in a personal, human Messiah, were looking for one who would fulfill certain predictions of the Hebrew Bible, especially those that would bring Israel deliverance from its enemies. The question, of course, if often “which one”?

2.        Messiah the Son

Amazing writings anticipated that Messiah would be more than a mere man. Even if deity were not ascribed to Him, certainly some of these writings expected He would be super-human or a super-human with extraordinary authority and abilities.

A fragment found among the Dead Sea Scrolls asserts that “Over the poor His spirit will hover and will renew the faithful with His power. And He will glorify the pious on the throne of the eternal Kingdom. He who liberates the captives, restores sight to the blind, straightens the b[ent]. . .  for He will heal the wounded, and revive the dead and bring good news to the poor.”[9] This fragment echoes the same interpretation of the Scripture made by Yeshua when He proclaimed in the Synagogue that He Himself was the one who had come in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1 (Luke 4:18).

Another Dead Sea Scroll fragment suggests, in terms strikingly familiar to those who have read New Testament account of Yeshua’s conception and birth, that Messiah is somehow descended physically from God. It says: “When God engenders (the Priest-) Messiah, he shall come with them [at] the head of the whole congregation of Israel with all [his brethren, the sons] of Aaron the Priests, [those called] to the assembly, the men of renown; and they shall sit [before him, each man] in the order of his dignity. And then [the Mess]iah of Israel shall [come], the chiefs of the [clans of Israel] shall sit before him.”[10]

While this fragment indicates that the Messiah is to be a great ruler, it also states that Messiah was expected to be fathered (yolid) by God! The word that the Jewish Oxford scholar Geza Vermes translated (maybe reluctantly I should say) as fathered is from the same root as yeled, or “child” in the Hebrew. Perhaps, one might speculate, it is the word Yeshua used when he spoke about the only begotten (μονογενῆ ) son. Translations that express this word μονογενῆ as “one and only” miss this sense and misportray what the original writer of John was saying. He was saying what this Dead Sea Scroll fragment was saying. Vermes himself confirmed that a computer enhancement of the manuscript verifies the accuracy of the reading.

Bolstering this connection between the Father and Messiah as His son were numerous terms including the idea of sonship were current in pre-Christian Judaism. The phrases “Son of God” and “Son of Man” were not unknown in the first century BCE.  The Psalms of Solomon 17:23 for example, refers to “the Son of David,”[11] emphasizing Messiah’s kingly ancestry. A second Dead Sea Scrolls fragment, 4Q246, refers to one who is the expected “Son of God . . . The son of God he will be proclaimed and the son of the Most High they will call him.”[12]

If this second source were the only text we had, it might be dismissed as an anachronism, because it makes the strongest of links between him and the Most High, even if it is not expressly asserting deity as an attribute of the son. There are many sources though, such as the well-known Book of Enoch which repeatedly emphasizes the same theme. The book of Enoch, clearly written some time before the first century CE, has been found complete in the Ethiopic language. Its early dating has been conclusively shown by the fact that fragments of it were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. There a number of chapters foretell and anticipate one to come who is called the “Son of man,” a term used frequently in the New Testament.[13] There we read that “at that hour that Son of Man was named in the presence of the Lord of Spirits, And his name before the Head of Days . . . . And he shall be the light of the Gentiles.”[14] A later chapter states that “from the beginning the Son of Man was hidden,” and all the kings shall “worship and set their hope upon that Son of Man.”[15] So similar is this language to that of the New Testament, it becomes more than a stretch that the writers of the New Testament and the participants in the Gospel accounts were familiar to it. Further, it is likely that not only they were familiar with these terms, but so were their audiences. Was it so far-fetched then for Simon Peter to declare “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God?”[16]

From the perspective of the New Testament, which presents Yeshua as both God and man, a further question has to be asked: Did Israel expect a Messiah who was himself a possessor of the attributes of Deity? A super-human with ties to the Most High was expected by some, even many, as the documents show. But was God Himself expected to be the Messiah?

The New Testament texts indicate that Yeshua’s general audience in His time did not.[17] Nevertheless, a hint that the Jewish monotheism of the first century was not so absolute as that of today are provided by the first century Alexandrian Jewish philosopher Philo. In writing about Genesis 9:6 he asks, “why is it that God says He made man after the image of God, and not that he made him after his own image? . . . no mortal thing could have been formed on the similitude of the supreme Father of the universe, but only after the patter of the second deity, who is the Word of the supreme Being.”[18]

3.        Messiah the Servant/Priest

Another expectation some people had of the Messiah was that he would be a servant, or even a priestly figure. While this was not a prominent tradition, it is still attested to in the Testament of Judah. Therethe reader is told

And after this there shall arise for you a Star from Jacob in peace: And a man shall arise from my posterity like the sun of Righteousness, walking with the sons of men in gentleness and righteousness, and in him will be found no sin. And the heavens will be opened upon him to pour out the spirit as a blessing of the Holy Father. And he will pour the spirit of grace on you. And you shall be sons in truth, and you will walk in his first and final decrees. This is the Shoot of God Most High; this is fountain for the life of all humanity. Then he will illumine the scepter of my kingdom, and from your root shall arise the Shoot, and through it will arise the rod of righteousness for the nations, to judge and to save all that call on the Lord.[19]

This text is so explicit, and so in line with what Yeshua’s disciples came to believe about him, that more than a few scholars came to the conclusion that it was added in to the Testament of Judah by Christians at a later date. There is quite a possibility that this is true,[20] so let’s not hang our hat on this peg, shall we? Still, there are other possibilities.

A second source, 4Q285 which means that it is the fragment 285 from the fourth Dead Sea Scroll cave, can be read as “A staff shall rise from the root of Jesse,  . . . and they will put to death the Leader of the Community, the Bran[ch of David].[21] If this is the correct reading of the ancient scroll fragment, it becomes even clearer that some Jews were open to the possibility of a Messiah who would suffer before He would rule. For the writers of this fragment, this Leader of the Community may have been the leader of the Essene community, or their “Teacher of Righteousness” but here we see some remarkable connections. The root of Jesse is connected to the Branch of David, and both are connected to the Leader of the Community. David, of course, is a messianic figure, and so when the Leader of the Community is prophesied as being killed at some point, this is a messianic prediction of sorts. Maybe more than “of sorts” because the Essenes viewed themselves as having an important role in the messianic kingdom.

Of course, this view was in noticeable contrast to the image of Messiah as a coming king. Nevertheless, from the viewpoint of Messianic Judaism, it is in harmony with the Servant spoken of by Isaiah the prophet. From our perspective, the tension that these different views of the Messiah created in people’s minds eventually gave rise to the tradition seen in later texts that there would be two Messiahs. One would be a victorious ruler, and one would be a righteous Tzadik who in many of those accounts would suffer injustice.

The Israel of Yeshua’s day, in which Messianic Judaism had its genesis, was ripe for the Messiah’s coming. As has been seen, nascent Messianic Judaism was birthed not only in the person of Yeshua, but also in a nation rife with nationalism, religious speculation, and expectation regarding him. As we recount the history of Messianic Judaism it is important to see its origins in the second temple period and it’s thought.

As we come to the end let me list just a few of the important writings of that time, and hints that they include about their Messianic expectations.

The Temple Scroll, which describes the future Temple, its priesthood, festivals and sacrifices in the Messianic Kingdom. In this Temple God would dwell with Israel for all eternity (29.7–8). They would cleave to God and God would call them His people, a theme also found in Jubilees 1.

1 Enoch 46 speaks:

And there I saw One who had a head of days, And His head was white like wool, And with Him was another being whose countenance had the appearance of a man, And his face was full of graciousness, like one of the holy angels. 2And I asked the angel who went with me and showed me all the hidden things, concerning that Son of Man, who he was, and whence he was, and why he went with the Head of Days? 3And he answered and said unto me:  This is the Son of Man who hath righteousness, With whom dwelleth righteousness, And who revealeth all the treasures of that which is hidden, Because the Lord of Spirits hath chosen him, And whose lot hath the pre-eminence before the Lord of Spirits in uprightness for ever.

Daniel 7 speaks of the Son of Man who was “given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him.”

The Serek, the Community Rule of the Essene community, saw themselves as a “holy society” in “an eternal fellowship” (2.25). They had “secret” teachings (7.18) revealed to them by their “Interpreter” (8.11–12). There too, in the second column of one fragment of it (1QSA 2.11–21) the prospect of a banquet with the Messiah is discussed at length. Here it seems the Messiah was expected to be one of their community.

Another writing of interest is the Damascus Document, in which there is a really curious reference to “the men who entered the new covenant in the land of Damascus.” This covenant is seen as the “fountain of living water” (19.33). in this book, however, as in other writings found in Qumran, there is often mention of the “teacher of righteousness,” a role which Yeshua doubtless fulfilled in his own way.

As we can see there are many texts and stories that were written and told about our Messiah. They tell a lot about the thought and range of ideas about who he would be in his day. This is the end of the time that we would call the cradle of messianic Judaism. We have seen the religious map of his day, and in this episode we have seen the writings that expressed the aspirations and hopes of the Jewish people for the Messiah who would come. This is the stuff from which Messianic Judaism would be born upon the recognition of many Jews of Yeshua as the Messiah. We are at an exciting point in our journey through the history of messianic Judaism as now we are ready to discuss Messiah Yeshua in his day and in his Jewish context. Join us next week as we begin to explore this next phase in Messianic Jewish history.

Outro

Thank you for joining us and listening to our podcast. 

Do me a favour. Take a minute to like this podcast and leave a positive review wherever you are listening to it. Support our podcast by going to onmessianicjudaism.com. My email address is daniel@nessim.org and I’m looking forward to your feedback. I am Dr Daniel Nessim, and this is On Messianic Judaism.


[1] Abba Hillel Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel (Gloucester, Mass.: Peter Smith, 1926), 5.

[2] Because of the defensive posture of Jewish scholarship vis-à-vis the claims of Christianity, these expectations that might encourage people to make a connection between them and Yeshua of Nazareth are generally neglected or disparaged.

[3] Silver, A History of Messianic Speculation in Israel, 7. Considerably later, the dating of the Jewish calendar was changed to what it now is, so that year 5000, marking the start of the sixth Millennium, no longer corresponds with 30 CE.

[4] Josephus, Wars of the Jews, VI, v, 4 (Vol. 1, p. 456).

[5] Edersheim, Life and Times, Vol. 1, p. 172. Quotes Sibylline Oracles, 3: 285-286, 652. The Sibylline Oracles were written by unknown authors in the pre-Christian era. They are considered Jewish, and were collected by the Romans about 85 BCE. The emperors Augustus and Claudius, as well as the historian Josephus and various church fathers, quoted them.

[6] James H.  Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Vols 1-2: Vol. 1. Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments Vol. 2. Expansions of the “Old Testament“ and Legends, Wisdom and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms, and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic, 2 vols. (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1983-1985), Sibylline Oracles 5:414f.

[7] Yonge, Philo, “On the Life of Moses.” I:290.

[8] Psalms of Solomon 17:32, 41

[9] 4Q521, Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p. 392. See Isa. 61:1; Ps. 146:7-8; Luke 4:18.

[10] IQSa=IQ28a, the ‘Rule of the Congregation’ or, ‘The Messianic Rule’, Geza Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English, p. 159.

[11] Psalms of Solomon 17:23

[12] 4Q246, Vermes, p. 577. While Vermes characteristically plays down the import of “Son of God,” Eisenman and Wise say “There can be no denying the relation of allusions of this kind to the Lukan prefiguration of Jesus: ‘He will be great, and will be called the son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give him the Throne of his father David . . . For that reason the Holy offspring will be called the Son of God’ (Luke 1:32-35).” The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, New York: Barnes & Noble, 1992.

[13] The term Son of Man occurs over 80 times in the New Testament, including the famous pericope  in Luke 22:67 When Jesus is asked “Are you the Messiah?” (67) and He replied “Hereafter shall the Son of man sit on the right hand of the power of God.”(69) to which the Sanhedrin queried (v. 70) “Art thou then the Son of God?” This passage shows that there was clearly a link between all three terms in the minds of Jesus and His interrogators.

[14] Book of Enoch, 48:2,4. cf. Daniel 7:9, 13, 22, which refer to the Son of Man in the presence of the “Ancient of Days.” Clearly Enoch 48 echoes these verses and their Messianic theme. The Book of Enoch, which was long found only in a complete Ethiopic translation and a Greek rendering of certain chapters (along with quotes in various authors of antiquity) is so close to the New Testament in many respects, that some scholars were convinced it had to have been a writing of the early church. The discovery of fragments from the book among the Dead Sea Scrolls proved that they were written some time between 200 BCE and the end of the pre-Christian era.

[15] Book of Enoch, 62:5,9.

[16] Matthew 16:16

[17] Peter’s exclamation in Matthew 16:16 “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” stands in apposition to the views of the multitude. His disciples evidently had a more complete understanding of their master than the crowds. Yeshua was ultimately crucified on the charge of blasphemy, or claiming to be God, Matthew 26:65.

[18] Philo, Questions and Answers on Genesis, II, (62), p. 834.

[19] Testament of Judah 24, OTP.

[20] M. de Jonge, “The Transmission of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs by Christians,” VC 47, no. 1 (March 1993 1993).

[21] Robert Eisenman & Michael Wise, The Dead Sea Scrolls Uncovered, p. 29. “This might also be read, depending on the context, ‘and the Leader of the Community, the Bran[ch of Dave’], will put him to death)” Vermes (The Complete DSS in English), p. 187, prefers this reading in light of  4Q161, frs. 8-10, an Isaiah commentary, but neither reading is by any account certain.

The Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology – Year 2, 2019


Last year, scheduled just before the start of the Society of Biblical Literature‘s Annual Meeting in Boston, the Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology held its first meeting. You can read my summary here. On November 22 of this year, in San Diego, a second meeting was held with auspicious Pauline scholars on the theme of Fulfillment and Supersessionism in the Theology of St. Paul.

The purpose of this blog is to make accessible a simple summary of the meeting, and to construct an aide-memoire for myself.

The first presentation was by William S. Campbell, from the University of Wales, who spoke on fulfillment language in Paul’s writings. He noted that πληρωμα, a not-so-uncommon word, is only used once by Paul in terms of fulfilment, in Galatians. He referred also to τελος, with it emphasis on outcome, more than conclusion, or termination. He stated that “Paul speaks of Christians as the ratification of the Old Testament promises.” He further mentioned that in Romans 9-11 Paul does not use fulfilment language, as Matthew might do. This led to his statement that Paul’s is “not a fulfilment theology but rather a theology of confirmation.” The significance of all of this is that fulfilment language sometimes annuls, whereas confirmation language does not. The covenant can be ratified and renewed. The Covenant of God with Israel remains God’s covenant with Israel and only Israel. As he stated, “Israel is not a theological symbol. Israel is a historical people.” undefined

Not to be confusing, the second panelist was Douglas A. Campbell from Duke Divinity School. Another from the Campbell clan, laddie! His contribution was based on research written up in his new book Pauline Dogmatics: The Triumph of the Love of God. For him, the basic truth claim of Paul was “Jesus is Lord”. Early Christianity, he pointed out, was composed of Torah-observant Jews and Gentile pagans. Paul lived in a new eschatological reality, and he reminds his readers that we all live in it. There was a distinction for Paul between interpersonal and structural. We live in the age of the flesh, but are moving to glory. The very eschatological logic that resulted in Paul resisting the imposition of Judaism on Gentiles should warn us of the danger of imposing Gentile accommodations on Jews (inside, I applauded). Secondly, an apocalyptic account facilitates an understanding of Israel. Israel, for Paul, is above all the place where God moves to save the cosmos. For Campbell the apocalyptic Paul, properly understood (by which scholars typically mean “the way I understand”) is an emphatically non-sapiential Paul.
My dear Douglas Campbell. I think you lost me a bit. I’ll have to buy your book, it seems, if I wish to grasp all of what you were getting at.

Paula Fredriksen from Boston University responded. She did not disappoint and proved her razor sharp wit, perception and forthrightness. She challenged Douglas as to whether apocalyptic eschatology really speaks of the end of the world (it doesn’t). Her position is that “Paul doesn’t preach Christianity but eschatological Judaism for Gentiles.” She sees Messiah as a Davidic warrior, for Paul. She further bridled at the idea that Jewish observance (for Jews) is optional now that Messiah has come. She accepted that the “optional” approach of Douglas Campbell is better than Christian Anti-Judaism, but pointed out that Paul was a believer in circumcision with all the obligations that entailed. undefined

The last panelist was Francis Watson, from Durham University. He contended with the idea that supersessionism is the same thing as erasure, and argued for the radical transcendence of the Christ event. He then interacted with the other panelists. The olive tree analogy of Romans 11 came in for special attention, and William Campbell pointed out that the NRSV translation “in their place” in reference to the Gentile branches being grafted in (Rom 11:17), is a tendentious translation, and problematic.

A LIVELY DEBATE
ensued, with considerable interaction between Paula Fredriksen and Douglas Campbell. It is too much to get into the details, and I hope that I have understood correctly, but the key issues were:
a) the election of Israel (for Campbell in the New Covenant Israel is a reconstituted continuity, and all Christians bear the image of a Jew – Jesus). This seemed problematic to Fredriksen – and I have to agree;
b) Fredriksen – in that case, what still needs to be done?
c) In a query to Fredriksen, what is πνευμα for Jews? Fredriksen asserted that there is a continued uniqueness in Jewish identity for Paul, who asserted to Peter (Gal 2:15) “we are not Gentile sinners”, asserting that Jews by nature are different. Jews do get the πνευμα, as Jews. This is what he means by “peace upon the Israel of God” (Gal 6:16) – he is talking to Jews who have the πνευμα.
d) a further argument was then, what about belief and unbelief? Doesn’t this have a distinguishing force for Paul? Francis Watson responded by pointing out that this is the source of Paul’s grief.

All in all, this was a profitable session. It both highlighted the progress that has been made in understanding Paul in non-supersessionist ways, and the distance still to be made up. There is much work to be done, much bad theology to be undone, and a great amount of disagreement on how all that is going to look. The participation of a significant number of Jewish scholars, largely but not exclusively Messianic Jews, points to the importance of this task for Jewish-Christian relations.

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The Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology – a recap


Mark the date. November 16, 2018.

Meeting just before the annual meeting of the Society for Biblical Literature in Denver, leading theologians have inaugurated a society to promote post-supersessionist theology.

I was delighted to be able to attend this session, and would like to post what I heard.

Their mission statement, among other things, defines post-supersessionism as ‘a family of theological perspectives that affirms God’s irrevocable covenant with the Jewish people as a central and coherent part of ecclesial teaching.’ As the session ran on, it became clear what a massive statement that was, reaching down to the very foundations of Christian history and what Christianity is.

Holly Taylor Coolman (Providence College), a Catholic theologian, spoke first. She reminded us of the tragic story of Eduardo Mortara, who was baptised as an infant by his nanny and then declared to be a Christian who under law had to be given a Christian education. Eventually he was raised by Pope Pius IX himself, but in reality the fact that he was effectively kidnapped by the church caused much troubled soul searching. While a tragedy that will probably never be forgotten by the Jewish community, at least it was part of what paved the way to Nostra Aetate – the much more progressive statement of the Roman church on its relations with other ‘Non-Christian Religions’.

Coolman’s 10-minutes were followed by a stimulating and enlightening presentation by Willie J. Jennings (Yale). Jennings stated (if I get it right) that ‘we have contoured the features of our Christian witness in a profoundly problematic way’ and characterised Christianity as ‘imperialist to its bone’ and guilty of ‘theological hubris’. Thus whereas gentiles were originally a question for Israel, now they have become a problem for Israel. He questions how the church could discuss such lofty things as the Trinity and Divine nature of Jesus and at the same time speak of the Jewish people in such horrific ways. In all of this, the experience of the Jews raises issues of racism, and there is much work to be done to work through these issues.

Gerald McDermott (Beeson) gave an autobiographical account tied to his growth in understanding of the Scriptures as he began his journey as a supersessionist who interpreted the new ‘tenants’ of Matt 21 as the church. His wake up call caused him to realise that he had been ‘trained to miss’ that God reaches the Universal [the world] through the Particular [Israel]. McDermott quoted God’s ‘irrevocable’ covenant with Israel in Rom 11:28. He pointed out the importance of the word ‘and’ in Gal 6:16. Returning to Matt 21 he identified the ‘new tenants’ as the Messianic leaders, as in Matt 19 the Twelve Apostles are the ones who sit on thrones in His kingdom, the reference to the twelve tribes pointing to the restoration of Israel. As seen in Acts 1:6, Jesus believed in the future of Israel.

20181116_160534

Mark Kinzer proceeded to point out that historically, if Jews who became Christians were no longer to be considered Jews, then how could the Church be both Jew and gentile? Kinzer pointed to his bilateral ecclesiology, most notably put forth in his 2005 book Post-Missionary Messianic Judaism. Kinzer pointed out that there is a need for a Jewish expression of faith in Jesus that lives within God’s irrevocable covenant with Israel and respects Jewish tradition and norms.

Anders Runesson (University of Oslo) spiritedly stressed the huge diversity of stakeholders in this discussion, and the problems in Christian theology which has been characterised by triumphalism, antagonism, and fear. Pointing to a solution, he suggested the importance of exegetical ground rules. Historical reality resides outside the denominational framework. There is a need to speak across boundaries. Exegesis helps us to uncover the past, and to uncover the radical Jewishness of Christian texts – as Jewish texts (personal note: I have been impressed by Runesson’s published work on this very theme). Against the background of recent history there is great need for this post-supersessionist theology. Success will depend on how we respond to the diversity within our unity.

The last speaker was Adam Gregerman (St. Joseph’s University). Responding with questions from a Jewish perspective, he asked that if Christians affirm God’s ongoing covenant with Israel, should they not recognise that that covenant has specific provisions such as the promise of a Land, that have practical implications. He also asked whether Messianic Judaism is itself supersessionist in that it holds that all Jews should believe in the Messiahship of Jesus as it does. And then – is the conversion of Jews desirable for post-supersessionist Christianity?

I hope that this short sketch of the presentations at the first meeting of the Society for Post-Supersessionist Theology is somewhat accurate. The air conditioning was loud and I had difficulties in hearing everything. My wife says I need a hearing aid! My impression is that the Society will be a welcome forum for the Christian world as a whole to come to terms with the implications of its general renunciation of supersessionist (some say replacement) theology. The implications are deep and wide ranging as well as historical, reaching to the earliest decades of the Church. The society has the potential not only to advance reassessment of ancient assumptions, but also to greatly affect Christian-Jewish relations for the good of both parties.

Messianic Satire and Humor from The Oneg – Quality Fake News from the Messianic Jew-ish community


https://theoneg.wordpress.com/

This is the first time I’ve recommended another WordPress blog, but the satire provided by the Oneg is spot-on. Take a look.

Hebrew or Greek?


When Messiah Yeshua arose from the dead and His disciples began to spread the Good News of the Kingdom, they lived in a very diverse world. Their religious life and frame of reference was Biblical and part of the nascent Judaism of the day, and they never seem to have thought of themselves as other than people living a life of devotion to the Almighty. Now that they knew Yeshua’s true Identity, their devotion and service to the Father also meant devotion and service to His Son.

Theirs was a world where they also interacted with Romans and Greek culture had had a deep influence for over two centuries. When they began to preach the Good News, they did so on the first Shavuot* to the crowds in Jerusalem, who were both Jews and Gentile proselytes (Acts 2:11) they did so to people from all over the world. When the Brit Hadasha was written they wrote according to their personalities, educations and backgrounds. This means we can understand the Scriptures so much better when we understand more about who the writers the Spirit inspired were, and the way they thought.

The Brit Hadasha was written in Greek and until recently most often interpreted by Europeans, whose cultures have been greatly influenced by their Roman and Greek heritage. This means that there have been almost 2,000 years of interpretation of the Bible that reads it in light of its “Greek” mindset, all too often this has been at the expense of understanding the Hebrew and Jewish mindset of the writers.

What is important is also to remember that there can sometimes be a false dichotomy between “Greek” and “Hebrew” thought, and that we can throw out the baby with the bathwater. Yochanan*** 1:1 is an example, as the “Word” spoken of has layers of meaning that draw not only upon Hebrew but also Greek thought.

So.

Should we read the Scripture with a ‘Greek’ mindset or a ‘Hebrew’ one? Sometimes the answer is both. Earlier we noted Yohanan* 1:1 and its layers of meaning that draw on both Hebrew and Greek thought. We should also look at what we might think is the most Jewish of all Jewish quotations in the Gospels. It is Yeshua quoting the Shema from Deuteronomy 6:4, quoted twice daily in Jewish prayer. In Deuteronomy, Israel is told to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength’.

What is interesting is that Mark cites Yeshua saying this (Mark 12:30, 37). When Yeshua quotes it He adds the word dianoia (which basically means ‘heart’ or ‘mind’). It can’t be that Mark didn’t know the Shema and got it wrong. Apart from the fact that we hold the Scriptures to be inerrant, he correctly quotes it three verses later in 12:33.
The common explanation is that Yeshua was stressing the intellectual aspect of the Shema. Knowing that those He spoke to knew the exact words, He paraphrased for the sake of emphasis, in a form of midrash (interpretation).

It must be remembered that when the Shema is recited it is accompanied by the recitation of the following verses. In those verses Israel is told to teach the commandments to one’s children, to talk of them throughout the day, to bind them on one’s hand and forehead and gates. These verses stress the internalising and understanding of the Shema and all that it entails – using one’s mind.

We can see why, then, Yeshua emphasised understanding, but the scribe’s response is interesting. Picking up on Yeshua’s emphasis he says ‘heart, understanding and strength’, replacing Yeshua’s “dianoia” with his own word for ‘understanding’, one that emphasises intelligence and sharp thinking. That is both a value of rabbinic thinking, which highly values acuteness of mind to study Torah, and of the influential Greek culture, which also highly valued the intellect.

In fact, there is something deeper going on under the surface, as after the exchange with the scribe ‘no one dared to ask him any more questions’. For us one lesson to learn is that part of loving God with all of our ‘heart, mind and soul’ is to love Him with all of our intellect.

Rabbis and Fathers


matthew 23.12

May Messianic Jews appoint Rabbis?

Messianic Jews have a natural predisposition and tendency, as Jews who care about our people and our peculiar calling, to maintain the traditions and culture of our ancestors. This means that in our lives, traditions and prayers it is most natural and fitting for us to follow the ways of our people’s lifestyles, traditions and prayers which are founded in the complete Jewish Bible and secondarily in the sea of Jewish holy writings and literature that we have inherited.

It is therefore with great surprise that many Messianic Jews have considered the words of Yeshua which seem to prohibit calling anyone ‘rabbi’ (= ‘teacher’), ‘father’, or even ‘leader’. Does this mean that Messianic Jews may not ordain rabbis, or may not call their teachers by that title? Christians call their pastors ‘pastor’, or their teachers ‘teacher’, don’t they? Why are rabbis in particular singled out?

The immediate context is the first place one should look for an answer:

In Matthew 23:1-12 (CJB), Yeshua addressed the crowds and his talmidim: “The Torah-teachers and the P’rushim,” he said, “sit in the seat of Moshe. So whatever they tell you, take care to do it. But don’t do what they do, because they talk but don’t act! They tie heavy loads onto people’s shoulders but won’t lift a finger to help carry them. Everything they do is done to be seen by others; for they make their t’fillin broad and their tzitziyot long, they love the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues, and they love being greeted deferentially in the marketplaces and being called ‘Rabbi.’
“But you are not to let yourselves be called ‘Rabbi; because you have one Rabbi [here ‘Teacher‘ in the original], and you are all each other’s brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘Father.’ because you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to let yourselves be called ‘leaders,’ because you have one Leader, and he is the Messiah! The greatest among you must be your servant, for whoever promotes himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be promoted.

These terms: teacher/master/Ῥαββί (=’διδάσκαλος’), and father/πατέρα and leader/καθηγηταί are innocuous enough. It is their use in the realm of the community – synagogue and marketplace that is a problem. The problem is their use as a basis for pride and elitism (versus Yeshua’s egalitarianism).

What is Yeshua saying?

First, we must note the content of what he says:

  1. Yeshua notes that these people do sit in Moses’ seat. This is a place of authority and prestige.
  2. Yeshua notes that these people do not help others with the burdens that they impose upon them.
  3. Further, these people glory in the prestige they are accorded.
  4. Yeshua teaches:
    a. equality among the people
    b. the fatherhood of God
    c. the leadership of Messiah
    d. the necessity of humility.

Here, Yeshua is opposing elitism and the honouring of persons. As he does elsewhere in Matthew, Yeshua teaches servant leadership where the leader does not self exalt nor is exalted by those he or she serves. Thus no one is to be called rabbi, father, or leader. But it is interesting that there are few who would quibble about calling their fathers ‘father’ or leaders ‘leader’. Innately, it is understood that Yeshua is teaching regarding what is behind the use of these terms, as the context shows: The leaders he castigates are those who love the honour accorded them. This is what is unseemly. As Yeshua’s followers, we should not be enamoured by titles but together, equally, give all honour to God and Messiah.

After looking at the immediate context, we must look at it in the context of all Scripture. No major teaching stands alone or should be asserted on the basis of one passage.

If this were the only Scripture that we have that bears on the topic, it would be case closed: Don’t use the terms rabbi, father or leader. Yeshua decries the elitism that these terms engender.

Other Scriptures show that against the problem of pride and elitism, a statement of fact in a way that does not glorify individuals other than God or Messiah is appropriate. Yeshua himself did not hesitate to call teachers by their title, as was the case with Nicodemus (John 3:10).

Teachers and leader in the New Testament are also frequently addressed as such. Thus Paul asserts his apostleship too many times to mention (e.g. Gal 1:1). He does this for the purpose of establishing his God-given authority rather than to exalt himself. Likewise he calls himself the father of the Corinthians (1 Cor 4:15). Again, he does not do so in such a way to glorify himself but as a statement of what is known.

The real message of Yeshua’s teaching is that The greatest among you must be your servant (Matt 23:12). This is also what He says in Luke 22:26-27: let the greater among you become like the younger, and one who rules like one who serves. For who is greater? The one reclining at the table? or the one who serves? It’s the one reclining at the table, isn’t it? But I myself am among you like one who serves. Yeshua is to us the supreme example of servant leadership, and that is what He asks of us. He asks us to serve one another. 

The result from a look at Matt 23:1-12 as a whole, and its relationship to the rest of Scripture is that titles are not to be used by individuals to exalt themselves nor by others to exalt those individuals. On the other hand, titles such as rabbi (teacher), father and leader are indeed appropriate when used in a descriptive sense or as a statement of fact.

Messianic Jews have good reason to use the term rabbi of their ordained teachers and leaders. It is not that that teachers should be called rabbis if they are not appointed as such by a reputable body. Abuses of this abound, and remind one of the doctoral degrees that are proverbially offered via cereal box tops for a sum of money. It is in fact a statement of fact. It asserts to the community, the Jewish community and the world at large that Messianic Jewish communities are in fact Jewish communities.

Titles are widely used in the Christian world. Elder, Pastor, Father, Brother, and so on. These too find their genesis in the complete Jewish Bible. They also perform a role in their communities to provide a sense of order. Yeshua says to the use of such terms: Do not use them to aggrandise. We are all siblings, we all look to God and His Messiah, not to others.

Yes.

 

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.

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