Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Response to a Jew with a View about Jesus

A couple of hours ago, I read a blog written by a Jew With A View arguing that "Jesus was not, indeed could not have been, the Jewish Maschiach." I wrote a response to it that is currently awaiting blogger approval. I figured since I haven't posted anything here in a while that I'd post my response. You are encourage to read the other blog first.

Howdy! I found your blog from a link somebody (you?) posted on Yahoo Answers. I've been hearing quite a bit lately about Jews complaining that Christians misrepresent their views. Although I've done quite a bit of reading about the Jewish people from around the time of the Babylonian Exile up until the second war with Rome, I know very little about modern Judaism or how it has developed since then. And, I don't even claim to be an expert on Judaism between the times I described. So it wouldn't surprise me a bit if I myself have some misconceptions. With that in mind, I have a few questions and some comments about your post on Jesus.

Jewish Maschiach is a normal mortal man - he's born, he lives, he dies. And BEFORE he dies, he must usher in world peace, rebuild the temple, redeem Israel, and redeem the world.

I think I can sort of understand why you would say the messiah has to do these things before he dies. I mean if he's dead, he can't do them, right? But the Christian claim is that Jesus was raised from the dead after he died, so he's still alive. Is there anything specific in the Tanakh that precludes the messiah from dying and rising again before fulfilling all of the roles assigned to him?

Also, it is my understanding that the eschatological messiah will reign forever. He will not have heirs. One place I get this is from Ezekiel 37:24-26, especially the part that says, "My servant David shall be their prince forever." How will the messiah do this if he's just an ordinary mortal man? Or am I mistaken to think the messiah will be king forever?

BTW, I'm citing the Christian old testament. I realize some of the books and chapters are arranged differently in the Tanakh, but I'm in a hotel room at the moment and don't have one handy, so I don't know what the corresponding reference would be in the Tanakh.

Numerous young Jewish blokes believed themselves to BE that messiah. Jesus was one of them but - Christian friends, brace yourselves - he was far from unique.

This is actually one of my reasons for believing Jesus was raised from the dead. I mean if you think about all the messianic or quasi-messianic movements in the first century, and even Simon bar Kosiba in the second century, none of those movements survived the death of their leader. When some messianic pretender died in failure, nobody continued to think they were the messiah once they were dead. The Jesus movement is unique in this sense because it's the only one that survived the death of its leader. There has to be an explanation for that.

As you said above, and as I agreed, it does make sense that if somebody dies without fulfilling the role of the messiah, then it's perfectly reasonable to think they are NOT the messiah. In fact, it's downright crazy to go on thinking they are. So why did the Jesus movement not only survive Jesus' death, but even flourish? Well, the reason given by his earliest followers is that some of them SAW him alive after he had died, which lead them to believe he had risen from the dead. This is such a powerful explanation for the origin of Christianity that the most popular theory among scholars these days is some version of the hallucination hypothesis. Not many scholars will bite the bullet and say he rose from the dead, but most seem to agree that the disciples saw SOMETHING that led them to believe Jesus had risen (check out E.P. Sanders' discussion of the resurrection appearances in The Historical Figure of Jesus). Due in part to weaknesses in the hallucination hypothesis, I think they DID see the risen Jesus.

Thus it seems logical to include that the people who first described their messiah, are sufficiently intelligent to IDENTIFY THEIR OWN MESSIAH.

But when you think about how many of those people went after Simon bar Kosiba, thinking he was the messiah, it also seems logical to conclude that those people were perfectly capable of MISIDENTIFYING their own messiah. I think almost all Jews are sufficiently intelligent to identify their own messiah once their messiah has fulfilled all of the messianic roles predicted of him. Shoot, I think even non-Jews could do that. But what we're dealing with here are people who were in the process of fulfilling prophecy without completing it, and Jews were being asked to trust these would-be messiahs that they would continue until everything was accomplished. Understandably, mistakes were made. It should be no shock that given the great number of people claiming to be some sort of messiah that there would be a great deal of skepticism on the part of most Jews to any given claim of that sort, including Jesus.

But besides that, the people in the first century who we are talking about did not write the scriptures having to do with the messiah. Those scriptures were written hundreds of years earlier. They, just like us, had to interpret those scriptures. And they did not all interpret them the same. There was a quite a bit of variety in messianic expectation. Some Jews, namely the Essenes, actually expected two messiahs--a king and a priest. While you can certainly make generalizations about what first century Jews expected of the messiah, there is too much diversity to claim that they were all in a position to recognize their own messiah before that messiah had finished fulfilling all the messianic prophecies.

when Christians study the 'old testament' many of them assume they are reading the 'jewish bible'. Well, newflash: they're not!

Are you arguing just that Christian translations are inaccurate, or are you claiming that the content is actually different?

The OT is just a MIStranslation of a translation of the actual Jewish bible - the Tanakh.

Unless I have misunderstood you, this is just not accurate. Most modern versions of the Christian old testament are not translations of translations. They are translations of the original Hebrew and Aramaic taken from the best manuscript evidence and textual criticism available, and these translations are done by people who are experts in the Hebrew language. I'm not a Hebrew scholar myself, but if there are disagreements between Hebrew scholars on how certain passages should be translated, then it's debatable at worst.

Why would you use the passage in Isaiah 7:14 to support your claim that the Christian old testament is a mistranslation and then turn right around and cite what you think is the correct translations from so many versions of the Christian old testament? These citations you yourself give prove just the opposite of what you're claiming.

As you probably know, the reason many English translations have said "virgin" instead of "young woman" is because that is how the Hebrew word was translated into Greek in the Septuigint. Do you think the Septuigint was translated by Christians or Jews?

The Jewish G-d NEVER takes human form - and certainly doesn't pop in to planet earth to quickly impregnate young Jewish chicks!!!

But does this actually contradict anything in the Tanakh? Is it impossible for God to do these things? Unless there is something in the Tanakh that would preclude God from ever doing these things, then this strikes me as being a weak argument. I mean the Tanakh was not written in a day. A person who accepted only the first five books might very well reject anything else in the following books just because it didn't happen in the first five books. In fact, that's exactly why the Sadducees of Jesus' time disagreed with the Pharisees on the issue of resurrection. There was no resurrection in the Torah, and the Sadducees placed no authority on the writings and the prophets where there WAS resurrection. It's easy to imagine somebody saying, "God doesn't cause giant fish to swallow people! That's nowhere in the Torah!" But if there's nothing in the Torah that specifically precludes God from ever doing that, then you have a very weak argument against it.

The issue of whether Jesus is God is completely different from the issue of whether Jesus is the messiah. If Jesus is the messiah, then Christianity is true even if he is not God. In fact, there are a few Christian sects who are quite adamant in pointing out that Jesus is not God. So even if you can prove that Jesus is not God, this doesn't even touch the issue of whether Jesus is the messiah. It's just a different subject. It's worth debating over, I'll agree, but it's irrelevent to the question of whether Jesus is the messiah, which seems to be the main subject of your post.

But let me say something about it anyway. From what I understand (and please correct me if it's a misunderstanding), the primary reason Jews reject the notion that Jesus is God is because the Tanakh explicitly says that God is not a man. But, from what I understand, that text was written in the present tense, and if so, then it is something any Christian could agree with wholeheartedly. It was written well before the incarnation. Now, given that nothing is impossible for God, except perhaps some logically incoherent state of affairs such as knowing what he doesn't know, lifting what he can't lift, etc., it does seem at least possible for God to create a human body and to animate it himself. I don't know the Jewish view on substance dualism, but if any Jews hold to substance dualism and believe that people are both physical bodies and spirits that animate the bodies, and if God is a spirit, what reason is there to suppose that God could not animate a physical body if he chose to? Or, if you allow that he COULD, what reason is there to suppose that he never WOULD? There are many things God is recorded to have done that we might've consider odd until he actually did it--turning people into pillars of salt, drowning the world, causing a prophet to be swallowed by a fish and then spit out alive, requiring animal sacrifices, circumcision, etc. The fact that something is very strange and unexpected is not much of a reason to claim that God would never do it.

You said that the Jewish messiah must "reject doing miracles." What do you base that on?

Some Jews probably doubt he ever existed at all - remember, Jesus is not mentioned by any of the contemporary writers of his own time.

Of course he was. Paul was a contemporary of Jesus, and he was personally acquainted with Jesus' brother, James.

I have much more to say about Jesus, but really just wanted to respond to what you had said. I've planned for a long time now to write a series of blogs on the historical developement of messianic expectation and how Jesus fit into it. If only I had more time! I would love to get your response to it.

I hope I haven't come across as antagonistic or condescending. You're disagreeing with me on a subject I'm very interested in, and the intelligent and articulate way you expressed your views gave me too much temptation to respond. As Oscar Wilde said, the best way to deal with temptation is to give in to it.

Please forgive any misunderstandings I've had or misrepresentations. Keep in mind that I'm only a Christian. :-)