About This Blog

This blog is devoted to my interest in early Christianity. My interest might kindly be termed “eclectic”. I’m interested in the usual stuff: the gospels, the apostles, the early Church fathers, and the eventual separation of Christianity from its Jewish context. But I’m also interested in more unusual and obscure stuff, such as the dating of the gospels, the formation of the Christian canon, and the early Christian embrace of the codex (book) form for its sacred literature. You can count on this: odd things will pop up here.

I’m an odd duck. I’m a Jew who loves to read the gospels. Mind you, the gospels are no walk in the park for a Jewish reader. Nevertheless, the study of early Christianity is intrinsically fascinating. We are, after all, talking about the birth of the world’s largest religion, the single greatest force in the emergence of modern western civilization. Moreover, it’s an odd fact (to me at least) that this religion took root and emerged from my religious tradition, one that is today one of the world’s smallest. What Jew could fail to be interested in how this came to pass? (Evidently, quite a few!)

The study of this material has been life-changing for me: it has increased my appreciation for Christianity, which has strengthened my commitment and devotion to Judaism. There is no reason why the study of one should lead to neglect of the other. Quite the contrary. The Talmud teaches that the righteous of all nations have a share in the world to come. It is a Jewish value to appreciate righteousness in the Christian nation. Appreciation, of course, is not cause for immigration.

So: this is why I’ve created this blog. This is why I think this blog should exist.

But let’s look at the other side, at two arguments why this blog should not exist. First, I don’t know enough to create a blog like this. This blog should be run by an expert, and I’m not even close to being an expert. But until that expert comes along, it seems reasonable for me to take what I’ve learned and carefully put it out there for discussion. To make up for my lack of expertise, I’ll cite sources as often as I can, and take comments from people more expert than me.

A second argument against this blog is even more serious. Any Jewish historian can tell you: the history of Jewish-Christian dialog is mostly a disaster from the Jewish point of view. Joseph Soloveitchik, a great 20th Century Orthodox rabbi, argued against engaging in such theological dialog, saying that Judaism and Christianity are “two faith communities (which are) intrinsically antithetic”. Soloveitchik’s argument (which we’ll explore in detail later on) appears to be similar to that of Christian theologian Brevard Childs: Judaism and Christianity are separate frameworks, each incomprehensible to those outside of the framework.

Soloveitchik’s argument (one that probably represents the viewpoint of most Orthodox Jews) is a very good one. If it were possible, it might be best to keep religions traditions separate, to let the Christians do their Christian thing and the Jews do their Jewish thing, and to have Christians and Jews interact in a purely secular realm. But for good or for bad, this is not the way things have worked out. The border between the secular and religious has never been well-defined, and has a tendency to shift, bend and break. A Jew seeking to avoid all things Christian must avoid not only church, but also politics and the arts, Freud and Darwin, Jeremy Lin and Tim Tebow. Those of us who spend time in contexts that are not purely Jewish are living in a context that is Christian to varying degrees. We might as well acknowledge the character of the world with which we interact.

If we’re going to interact with Christianity, then I think we should do so consciously, on terms we set (or at least negotiate), and for good Jewish reasons. One of the best such reasons is this: the space I plan to explore here is shared. First Century Palestine both was Jewish and the center of the early Christian church. Jesus was born, lived and died within Judaism, as did all of his early followers. The gospels are a Christian story unfolding in a Jewish space, including at the Second Temple, the most sacred of Jewish spaces. If we once shared the spaces, we can now share a discussion of these spaces. At least, that’s my argument.

But I’d rather not press this argument. I’d rather regard this blog as an experiment. Experiments often fail, and sometimes these failures are instructive. I’m willing to give this a try. I hope there’s enough here to entice you to participate.

Who can participate here? ALL are welcome: folks of all religious and non-religious persuasions and backgrounds. Follow the rules, read and comment.

  • Hi, came across your blog, and applaud your efforts, thus far.
    Unlike many (apparently), who believe that any attempted dialogue between Jews and Christians ends disastrously, or is pointless, I would dare disagree.
    Or, at least it doesn’t have to be that way.
    On one hand, you have the biggest obstacle any kind of communication faces: the human obstacle. Regardless of the subject, any dialogue, whether between persons, groups or nations, without a doubt, the worst obstacle is Human Nature.
    We simply do not like to be wrong.

    Part of the problem with human nature is the idea that, if one of us is right, then the other is wrong.
    So it becomes sort of a giant contest of sorts, of who is the righter. And when you have religion, on either side of the conversation, no doubt there will be a conflict of opinions.

    The good news: there’s bloggers like you.

    I’m glad you are not an expert. I celebrate the reasons you are doing this blog. About time, I say. 🙂

    If you were an expert, no doubt what you have to write would be coming from a (very possibly) unintentional but nevertheless haughty place.

    But just like G_d opted to pick out the polygamist-probably moon-worshiping nobody, from a land called Ur, named Abram, take him from his home in the land of the Chaldeans, to journey exactly who-knew-but-G_d-where, change his name to AbrAHam, and make a nation, it seems he specializes in taking unremarkable people (or people who seem rather unremarkable, like Abram), and doing rather remarkable things.

    Christians will recognize this idea as G_d taking the foolish things of the world, to confound the wise. Same thing, different religion.

    But really? Not so different.

    There’s really quite a lot of things that matter deeply to both Jews and Christians, which cannot be extrapolated one, from the other. Except while Jews can get along fine without Christians, Christians cannot say the same. Why? The whole basis of Christianity rests solely upon Judaism. And in particular, a Jew. Who wouldn’t be a Jew at all, had G_d not seen fit to snatch-up Abram, change his name to Abraham…and, well, you know that story!

    I’ve only read your introduction about this blog. I will read more.

    I just wanted to reassure you that I think there’s more people in both faiths who could learn something from this adventure of yours. I very much intend to be one of them.

    I am an expert at being a non-expert.

    Best to you and thanks for blogging.
    (I’m trying my hand at blogging, as well. I can be found over at WordPress, under RichStine.)

  • manuel

    Hello. I am a new (5yr) Christian whom emigrated from Catholicism. I am here because I’ve been reading up on the key differences between the OT and the Torah. I also wanted to add, as a way of enriching your blog concept, my own knowledge up to this point. I can tell you that from a very early age I was in awe and very drawn to the concept of “God”, with a great amount of questions for my parents that went unanswered due to their own lack of education and actual knowledge outside of the “traditions” they had been taught. My teens and twenties were spent ignoring my childhood curiosities and it wasn’t until my early thirties that I met God, or rather as I know it actually works, that he called upon me. As context I had become quite wealthy (at least from the point of view of my humble beginnings and background) and was experiencing complete disenchantment with the “many” things I had surrounded my life with (cars, jet set trips, luxuries, women, etc.). I had tried to read the bible 2-3 times in the past but never read past genesis and a few gospels. And so I was stricken by a great sense of loneliness one Jan. 02, 2007. I had actually briefly attended different denominational christian churches, none of which seemed to fit. So on this one particular evening I was at the desk of this temp. apartment I was renting before moving into the 6000 sqft. home I was almost through building (all by my lonesome), when I began to speak to God. I told him that I could not bare the great void and loneliness in my life any longer, of not having a companion at my side to share all of my many triumphs and accomplishments with, that I had traveled throughout many parts of the world (Europe, South America, etc.) trying to find this person, but nothing. That if he was truly God to bring her to my door because I was never going to find her. 5 minutes later my wife came knocking at the door. With her I not only found that companionship I so desperately yearned for, but she brought me to the place where I met God. She belonged to a christian church which I am sure you have never even heard of (Church of God Ministry of Jesus Christ International). Anyways after we got to know each other and starting falling in love, one day we finally started speaking about the religion factor (make it or break it time I thought), and she mentioned she belonged to this church. They had already grown to around 300 locations at the time and by chance had just opened in my city. She took me, and once there at the end was asked if I wanted to receive prophecy through one of the sisters that was visiting that day from another city. I (being the huge skeptic and traditionalist conservative type that I am) refused at first but momentarily said, what the heck.. Sat down, the sister lay her hands over my head and began to quietly pray for me and then got closer to my ear and in privacy began speaking,..My son I have brought you here…mentioning two absolute facts about my life that no one was aware of, much less this lady, and then going on to tell me that he had brought me there and that he was going to make a new man out of me, that I would be loosing all of the many material possessions I had accumulated in the world. I was in tears at the end of it, astonished as to how this lady new these things about me, thinking could my soon to be wife had said something to this person, but knowing that the details about me she could never have known about. Any ways so it began that I began my journey.. First reading the bible, studying prerecorded bible studies from all of the different worldwide churches, were people ask personal and bible questions, and living to see the fulfillment of everything that God was telling me through many different people (brothers and sisters who had been baptized in the holy spirit and had spoken in tongues prior to be being given the order by God to serve him as instruments for him to convey personal messages to each person that desired to receive prophecy in the Church. Six months later the financial crisis in America really hit me, and a year later I was literally penniless. That was Five years ago, and now there are close to 900 churches worldwide on all continents of the world. If you read the gospels and later the story of the early or primitive christian church they speak of these phenomenon. Christ leaving but in his stead the holy ghost (spirit) coming and staying with us (humanity) until his return. I can only tell you that there are millions of people in my church, with hundreds being added day in and day out (Jews, Muslims, Catholics, etc.) There is only one factor behind all of this growth and it is simply that God speaks and governs the church and us. He answers us through dreams, visions, and prophecy. He guides us through this very real phenomenon. He has fulfilled so many of his promises to me already that I dont have enough space here to redact them. He has changed me as a human being on a very intimate level. I know from reading scripture that God always spoke to his chosen people (Jewish people). To Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and to the people in general through his many, many prophets… Why would this LIVING TRUE GOD stop speaking all of a sudden? I can firmly tell you that Christ was the Mesiah and that “we” (the millions now) that step into these churches day in and day out throughout all of the world and where God speaks things so intimate and personal to each of us, that I know he lives. This would, at least in my mind, be impossible to orchestrate on a global scale the way it currently works for us. And the miracles that I have personally been witness to (curing of illnesses, resurrections, etc.) are real. I know that there is one true God and he is the same today as he was yesterday. His laws and commandments are unbreakable. He calls on those that have a sincere and true heart for him, that yearn him.

    II dont know how this can be dismissed.

  • Susan Browne

    Dear Larry,

    I love you blog. My knowledge of the parting of Christianity and Judism is very broad brush. Most of which you have probably discovered on your own.

    1- The entire Bible: Torah, Tanack and New Testament was entirely written by Jews (except for Luke in the NT) his father was probably Jewish..

    2 – All of the early believers in Yeshua were Jewish.

    3 – Then, when Peter and Paul were given permission by G-d to introduce the faith to the gentiles – it all seemed to explode: Throw in the Roman Roads, Roman system of Pax Romana and the diasporia after the Temple was destroyed and you have a preponderance of Gentiles calling themselves Christians taking the balll and ranning with the faith.

    4 – Probably, then as now, the Jewish believers were expected to assimilate into the Gentile Christian culture which was anathema to God and to the Jewish believers. .

    5 – Then with the fall of Rome came the ever popular Augustine. He promoted the idea of a parallel society called the City of God, and even the protestants revere him as the first step visionary of the reformation.

    6 – Jewish co-existence with the Church was spotty during the Dark Ages. Then the Rennaisance and modern history.

    The biggest breach, IMHO, is that Christians and Jews do not speak the same language. Hebrew is a concrete, visceral language with a much greater ability to get into the soul. Greek is a conceptual, verbal and mental language. It is the objective language of the intellectual. Analysis. I think you can only ‘get’ G-d by approaching him in the Holy language. This is not just a difference in words … it is the difference in the road you travel to get into the center.

    Shalom,

    Susan

    • lbehrendt

      Susan, I agree with what you say about different peoples using different languages, even when we’re all speaking English. A good example is the word “Messiah”, which I think means different things to Jews and Christians. The fact that both groups employ the same word creates endless confusion. Also, in case it isn’t clear, there are very few Jews today who can speak Biblical Hebrew with any fluency. Most Israeli Jews speak Modern Hebrew, which is a close cousin to Biblical Hebrew. But interestingly enough, you can buy versions of the Tanach (Old Testament) translated from Biblical to Modern Hebrew. Relatively few Jews outside of Israel speak any version of Hebrew today, though many of us have some ability to read Hebrew.

      For certain, Jesus’ earliest followers were Jewish, but I don’t think I agree with your assessment of the Jewish authorship of the New Testament. Paul was Jewish, of course, but there’s endless debate over how many of the epistles assigned to Paul were written by Paul. I doubt that the author of Mark was Jewish. I’m pretty sure that the author of Hebrews wasn’t Jewish. Not that we know for certain. We could complicate matters by considering the sources used by the NT authors. For example, we might consider the author of Matthew to be Jewish, but Matthew utilizes large portions of Mark, as well as the theorized “Q” Gospel.

      At some point we’ll discuss here the “Parting of the Ways”. I’ve discussed here a tiny bit of the history of Christian-Jewish relations, but we’ll get into more detail about this later on.

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Susan Browne

    Dear Larry,

    Thanks for the insight into Hebrew. I am just about to start to learn Hebrew. It will be biblical Hebrew. The most compelling reason to do this is that it is my understanding that the consonants all serve (many) but at least two purposes: to form the structure of a completed thought but also taken alone to show the derivatives that are compounded to make up that thought. It is that characteristic of Hebrew that makes it God’s language. Is modern Hebrew the same?

    Christianity was overtaken by the Greek language. The old 1st century cliche’ quipped, “The Greeks had a word for it.” Whatever IT was. Therefore, the single word Love in Greek has 5 derivatives …1: Storge – the kitchen kind of love. 2 – Epithumea – The innocent first love of a young person 3- Philos – Brotherly love 4 – Eros Sexual Love and 5 – Agape – Unconditional Love. These distinctions do give meaning to the exchange between Jesus and Peter.

    “Peter do you Agape me?”

    Peter, “Yes, Lord I philos you.”

    Jesus: “Do you Agape me?

    Peter, “Lord, you know that I philos you!”

    Jesus, “Peter, do you (even) philos me?”

    Hebrew doesn’t mess around with the minutia of breaking down concepts, it goes for the big stuff. It defines God. YHWH: Jireh (Provider), Adonai (Soveriegn), Nissi (Banner), Tsidkeenu (Our Righteousness), Mekaddishkew (Our Sanctifier), Shammah (Present), Elyon (Most High), Rohi (Our Shepherd), Hoseenu (Our Maker), Eloheka (Thy God), Elohay (My God), Eloheenue (Our God), Elohim (The Eternal Creator) Shalom (Our Peace), Ropheka (Our Healer), Sabboth (Lord of Hosts),

    When I think about the value of each. The Greek is nice, it gives me a word to define what I am feeling or not. The Hebrew gives me the Keys to what I can expect in my life with God on Earth.

    As to the authorship of the New Testament.

    It is my understanding that the author of the book of Mark was John Mark, the same young man that hung out with the disciples during Jesus ministry. It is commonly accepted that all the synoptic Gospels were written by those people that had been with Jesus and personally witnessed the events they wrote about including Luke.

    John Mark was the young man that Paul got so upset with when he accompanied him on a missionary trip. Peter later gave him a second chance. Therefore, he kind of had to be Jewish. Peter was the one who was the most ambivalent about Gentile believers even after God corrected him. Peter would certainly not have sanctioned Mark hanging out with them before the resurrection.

    As for the Book of Hebrews.
    I think the Church still puts that one in Paul’s column. However, I never believed that either. Paul’s writing style was more light than heat. Hebrews is so like Peter – raw, in your face, powerful and inelegant. The book of Romans and Hebrews seem to me to contain the complete theology of Christianity. Except for the Gospels, Acts and Revelations, the rest are expansions on the original theme like a Bach Cantata.

    Technically, the entire Tanack and NT were written by God using men as his amanuenses. The proof of this is the fulfilled propheses, Jewish history and survival So many who challenge the authorship of the Bible especially those in the Christian Church who pride themselves as being part of the school of ‘higher criticism’. (Imagine the presumption of criticizing the only book God claims to have written. They obviously are not afraid of lightening.)

    Most of these critics are trying to eliminate the supernatural parts of the Bible so that the secular society will respect their beliefs.

    My only criticism of Jewish people is that they are blind to the powerful effect having divine DNA has on them as a people and nation. They completely misread the Gentile world. They think that we too are capable of being drawn to goodness and higher values in life by education. That is sort of like Einstein trying to teach Hitler the value of the Jewish contribution to the world. Or putting lipstick on a pig. You can only teach people what they already know (instinctively).

    Ignorance can be eradicated by education … sin can only be eliminated by purging or regeneration. As our best current theologian, Dr. R. C. Sproul says. “We are not sinners because we sin … we sin because we are sinners.” Sin doesn’t mean evil or wicked. It just means being a screw-up. Of course God has unreasonable standards, but look what kind of company he keeps. The moon, the stars, the sun, they do not screw-up.

    Everyday we fight the most lovely Jewish people who believe we can find natural solutions to our problems in government, and society when only the supernatural, divine intervention, is going to save us … and most specially God’s Holy Israel.

    Shalom,

    • Susan Browne

      Larry,

      I am a bit confused as how there can be any misunderstanding of the word Messiah. In the Tanach – Mashiyach means anointed one. From the root Hebrew word Mashach meaning to smear. Even the Greek word translated Christ – Christos means anointed.

      Could it be that the confusion comes within the Jewish People? They were expecting a reigning King to establish true Peace on Earth in a political, governmental and international sense. They ignored the scriptures in Isaiah 53 (& 43 other places in the Tanach) that said Mashiyach as a man would take a side trip to be the ‘suffering servant’ for the sins of the world and thereby open the door in the millions of the Gentiles.

      The long expected Messiah of the Jewish people is still coming. We Christians believe that you Jewish people will be just as joyful when you see him even though he will have a long while robe, silky long hair and beard, a beautiful expression on his face … and nail scars in his hands.

      I found it interesting that in researching this the ONLY time Mashiyach is used in the Tanach (Daniel 24 – 27) was to prophesy that the Mashiyach would be cut off in death, but not for himself, and after that the city and the temple will be destroyed. It sounds like Jesus, the destruction of the Temple by the Romans and the diaspora to me.

      Shalom

      • lbehrendt

        Susan, much of what you’ve addressed here is discussed in my series here on Isaiah 53, and some of it is discussed in my series on Daniel Boyarin. I think that either of those places would be a good place to continue this discussion, so perhaps you’d like to post a comment there. My comment here was meant to be a simple one: Jews and Christians today do not see the word “messiah” in the same way. You reflect that difference in your comment, when you say that Jews and Christians have differing views of whether the suffering servant passages in Isaiah are messianic prophecies. I agree.

  • William T.

    I have one question, but let me prefix with it with some background ..

    The House of Israel split from the House of Judah before Babylon/Assyria invasions.
    The House of Israel goes off to Assyria.
    The House of Judah goes off to Babylon.
    The House of Judah returns from Babylon.
    The House of Judah, or rather John Hyrcanus specifically forcibly converts the entire nation of Edom (Esau) into Judaism. Sadduceeism and Phraiseeism emerge coterminously with this integration, as does the Herodian line of kings.

    Q. Why do few people look at the relationship between the Edomites (who were also Jews) and the Israelite Judeans?

    Wouldn’t understanding the complexity of Edomite/Judean dynamics help with understanding Jewish/Christian dynamics?

    • lbehrendt

      I probably do not understand your question fully. I don’t see that few people look at the relationship between the Edomites (or the name I see used more often in literature about the late second Temple era, the Idumeans) and the Judeans. Shaye Cohen devotes considerable attention to this subject in his book “The Beginnings of Jewishness”.

      As for parallels between this relationship and the Jewish/Christian relationship … let’s look a bit more at the history. I think it’s well accepted that around 120 BCE, John Hyrcanus conquered Idumea, but it’s not clear that the Idumeans were “forcibly converted”. In the “Jewish Antiquities”, Josephus reports that the conquered Idumeans were given a choice to either (a) leave the country, or (b) have themselves circumcised and obey the laws of the Judeans. If Josephus is right, then the choice given the Idumeans fell somewhere between voluntary and mandatory, and it’s not clear that what the Idumeans were asked to do was tantamount to conversion. Again relying on Shaye Cohen, it appears that the acceptance of Idumeans as Jews took place gradually. Complicating this discussion is that we have other reports from other historians (Strabo, Alexander Polyhisor, Ptolemy) that give us different accounts of the Idumeans’ conversion. Another complication is what it means to be a Jew (a religion, an ethnicity and a nation), and the fact that the concept of “religion” in the sense that we understand it (in rough terms, a faith that can be separated from ethnicity and nationality) either did not exist at this time or was only beginning to emerge.

      In any event, the Idumeans were outsiders who were in some sense brought into Judaism, while the early Christians were Jews who eventually parted from Judaism. Yes, these events share questions in common, such as the nature of religious borders, and how we define insiders and outsiders. I don’t know anyone who would deny this. But the so-called “Parting of the Ways” between Christianity and Judaism began roughly 200 years after the conquest of Idumea and (according to the best and most recent scholarship) took some time to complete, perhaps as much as 300-400 years. We’re talking about events separated by large blocks of time.

      All this leads me to suspect that I don’t understand your question, or that there’s more to it.

  • Susan Browne

    Hi Larry,
    After a detour into a personally very difficult year, I am back to your blog.
    Maybe I am naïve or stupid, but it all seems so simple to me. G-d was working on reestablishing connections with his human creation after the fall of Adam and Eve.. He searched to find a man who would be obedient, and he found Abraham.
    He made him an offer he could not refuse, “Obey me, and I will make you a great nation, and your name will be great and I will bless you, and through you all nations on the Earth will be blessed.”
    Abraham accepted His offer, and after a bewildering series of tests to prove his faithfulness, became the friend of G-d. Each time he obeyed G-d expanded his blessing. It finally became a irrevocable unilateral trust to all of Abraham and Sarah’s descendants which included a land grant of what we now call the nation of Israel.

    But a nation needs laws, and to be bound by a common set of moral, ethical and spiritual values. Enter Moses and the 600 mitzvoths and the blessings and curses of obedience to the law.
    Then a nation needs it’s own land with boundaries, without which it is just a nomadic tribe enter Joshua and the conquering of the Promised Land. But Israel was to be a special nation. A showcase to the world of how humans could live in peace and prosperity if they followed the rules. G-d was very rough on Israel when it disobeyed because He needed a people that would set the example of how to get by in a corrupt and secular world.
    G-d needed to crown a King to show what a man that God could love look like. Not a perfect man, but a man who rejoiced in his creator. He chose David and promised him that his throne and kingdom would never end.
    G-d wrote his judgments in the lives of the people and the nation. After being taken to the woodshed enough times by G-d, they got the message. They were scrupulous in keeping the letter of the law, and ruthless in holding their brothers to the high standard.
    Now, G-d was ready. He had his showcase nation. They lived the message that obedience to G-d was mandatory but they lived in isolation from other nations as G-d had instructed them to do. It was not G-ds will for just one set of people to be reconciled to him. He wanted to win over the entire human race.
    But he couldn’t do it the same way he had done with the Jews. It just wasn’t practical. Besides the Jews had even gone too far. Were too rough and had neglected the fact that G-d was a stern judge, but also a loving forgiving and merciful G-d.
    So, according to prophesy, He sent a boy who grew to a man with great miracle working powers, who loved saint and sinner alike a King from the line of King David. A humble man, who was willing to die for all mankind to show the true nature of G-d was not a lawyer but a lover.
    The Jews were hoping that the King of the Jews would be a ruler that would establish righteousness on Earth with an iron hand … a suffering, martyr was not what they were hoping for, so a lot of them rejected him and kept looking for a reigning King.
    But the Gentiles jumped at the chance to be in a restored relationship with a loving G-d. A G-d who promised to forgive them everything, and give them a fresh clean start everyday and even promised that as they followed Him, they could make them year by year better by His power, not their own.
    As Jesus predicted – the Temple was destroyed and the Time of the Gentiles began. As Jesus predicted the Gentiles would overrun Jerusalem until the time of the Gentiles had ended. That happened in 1967.
    The only thing about the story that seems hard to me to understand is if you don’t believe in G-d or that He is not willing or able to work in the affairs of human kind.
    If you do not believe in God, I say their is one word that proves beyond all shadow of a doubt that God exists …. Israel.
    Messiah Yeshua promised to come back again looking just like what the Jews were hoping for … a Reigning King who would establish by Divine Power the rule of righteousness on earth. But he will not just come to a handful from a tiny nation … but to the whole world to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth with power.
    I think that is a great and very understandable story. What is so hard to understand?

    Shabbat Sholom

    • lbehrendt

      Susan, I apologize for letting this comment of yours sit for so long. I’ve had a few issues of my own to deal with this year.

      No, neither stupid nor naive. More like smart, perceptive and vibrant.

      My comment below is briefer than it needs to be. We should be discussing many things here, such as the doctrine of supersessionism, and the Christian notion of salvation history. But for the moment, I’ll speak very briefly only about diversity and the question of “what is so hard to understand.”

      There are many aspects of the Jewish world-view (or world-views; we’re not a monolith) that differ from the way (or ways) that Christians see things. One of the goals of this site is to appreciate this difference without trying to eliminate it or smooth it over. Part of the joy I find in speaking with you stems from this difference. You represent a particular form of humanity created in G-d’s image, and I’d rather celebrate your particularity than argue against it!

      We can appreciate some of this Jewish-Christian difference in where your comment starts, with Adam and Eve. Personally, I don’t take the Adam and Eve story literally, though I’m not sure that matters, because we both see the story as loaded with symbolic and theological content. I think the Jewish view here is that the story portrays the broken nature of the world in which we live. This brokenness goes not just to internal spiritual matters (our sin nature, for example), but also to external matters such as hunger, physical suffering, pain in childbirth, and perhaps death itself.

      As this thought was developed by the mystical side of Judaism, it is as if G-d is in some ways lost, or in hiding. From a certain point of view, this is a sad state of affairs. But it gives us a purpose. We can imagine both G-d in search of humans and humans in search of G-d. From this point of view, the brokenness of the world is a challenge to us that gives us a common purpose with G-d, and thus provides us with a kind of divine partnership that perhaps is more meaningful than the ideal of life in Eden.

      This being said, the extent of human suffering is beyond any need or purpose I can imagine. In our recent memory we’ve seen the physical destruction of one-third of world Jewry, and when we responded “never again”, our broken world conspired to produce fresh genocide in Rwanda, Bosnia, Darfur, Cambodia, and other places, most recently Syria. Personally, I hesitate to blame G-d for crimes perpetrated by humans against humanity, but then how do we explain the hundreds of thousands who have died in recent years, in one fell swoop, by a single earthquake, tsunami or other “act of G-d”?

      This is what is hard to understand. Too many innocents have suffered and died. It’s hard enough to understand how a just and loving G-d can allow this to go on. But it gets worse when the Bible seems to say that this is all part of G-d’s plan, and even orders people to perpetrate this suffering and death. For example, one might read portions of the Bible as a divine order to engage in genocidal practices (see the portions of the Bible instructing us how to wage war against the Canaanites).

      I get the fact that my understanding is limited. I’m just one person, incapable of understanding the divine purpose. But for me at least, all this IS difficult to understand, really impossible to understand.

      Again, I apologize that this comment cannot be longer. I think that these themes should be developed more fully in upcoming posts.

  • zvi aviner

    Sirs,

    My name is Rabbi Dr Zvi Aviner. I am a physician as well as a Torah scholar.
    For the last several years I have been teaching the “Seven Commandments of
    Noah” to both Jewish and non-Jewish audience. The interest in this topic
    has arisen in the general public since the USA Congress’ declaration
    (1991) recognizing the Seven Noahide Commandments as the base for the moral
    fabric of our nation. You can see my work on NoahideSevencommandments.com
    I can offer a course of 55 classes, based on the Book of Genesis. I have
    a manuscript called “Noah’s Tree of Life” which is aimed at Jewish-Christian interfaith.
    I need help to publish and market this work. Please write me if you are
    interested. Thanks for your attention,Z Aviner .