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.