Randy's Corner Deli Library

08 July 2008

Rethinking Judaism and Christianity

July 08, 2008
Rethinking Judaism and Christianity
Another discovery may shed light on the period prior to the birth of Jesus, and add to discussions about Judaism and Christianity. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/07/06/world/middleeast/06stone.html?sq=jesus&st=nyt&scp=4&pagewanted=all

What is called "Gabriel's revelation" is a stone tablet with 87 lines of Hebrew writing. It describes a prominent national leader who died and came to life after three days.

A day after an article about the stone appeared in the New York Times, a Hebrew translation of the Times article began on the front page of the Israeli newspaper, Ha'aretz. That evening two professors from the Hebrew University appeared on a major television news program to discuss its significance.

Analysis of the stone has appeared in a prominent journal serving the professions of archaeology and biblical studies. Experts quarrel about individual words that are blurred, and may be crucial to the interpretation. The provenance of the stone, or its history and authenticity, may yet be subject to dispute.

Given the standing of scholars who have invested their time in the stone, we can at the least speculate about its impact on conceptions of Judaism and Christianity at about the time of Christ.

A prominent conclusion is that an important element in the story of Jesus is not unique. Jewish ideas of that time and earlier also conceived of a messianic figure who would die and come back to life.

Add this to readings of Jesus' preaching that find them similar to ideas expressed by Hebrew prophets for several hundred years. The conclusion is that Jesus did not differ from other individuals circulating in the Jewish community. The Roman occupation was oppressive. It produced not only the rebellion of Jesus as described in the New Testament, but two widespread uprisings of Jews, including one civil war. It is not surprising that the period included messianic figures who were said to produce miracles, and predicted an end to suffering.

The New Testament is not the work of Jesus, but appeared several decades after his death. The claim that he is the messiah, along with reports of his virgin birth and resurrection came from his followers. They worked to elevate his status, and distinguish themselves from the Jewish establishment. Ideas about the corruption of Jewish leaders, their lack of morality, and their inflexible preoccupation with small details of law appear in the New Testament, and made their contribution to anti-Semitic stereotypes promoted by Christian Churches subsequently.

Jesus might have had the standing to earn a place in a Hebrew Bible if it was not for his followers. It is they who declared war against the Jews, and made it difficult for Jewish scholars over the years to view with equanimity the affinity between Jesus and Judaism.

Writing by Christian and Jewish scholars in recent decades have contributed to a rapprochement that sees Jesus not only as a Jew, but as one who reflected sentiments apparent in Jewish thought at the time of his life. Commentators see the Holocaust as impacting on the work of Christians about Judaism. Jewish scholars have contributed their own evolving ideas about Christianity. Pope John Paul II symbolized the new spirit when he referred to Judaism as Christianity's older brother while on a visit to Jerusalem in the year 2000.

No one should expect Christian churches to fold themselves into Judaism, or to be received as Jews as a result of the stone called Gabriel's revelation. Theological tensions remain. Religious movements resemble government bodies and large corporations. The perpetuation of their structures, key personnel, laws, traditions, and customs take priority over new ideas that challenge what is well established.

New discoveries may nonetheless blunt antipathies between religious communities as they pass from scholars to professors of religious history and theology, and eventually to teachers in religious schools and preachers. We may also hope that something will come out of an invitation for an Israeli rabbi to attend an interfaith conference in Spain, organized by the World Muslim League, and sponsored by King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia. http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2008/07/03/israeli_rabbi_invited_to_saudi_interfaith_meeting/

The applause would be louder if the conference was in Saudi Arabia, and if a Saudi official did not deny that an Israeli rabbi had been invited. http://www.gulf-news.com/news/gulf/saudi_arabia/10226693.html

Currently we have to rest with the realization that it has been a while since Christian authorities burned Jews. Hopefully it will not take as long for the jihads to stop, and for leaders of all the Muslim countries to welcome Israel's presence in the Middle East.

Ira Sharkansky (Emeritus)
Department of Political Science
Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Home tel: 972-2-532-2725
Cell phone: 054-683-5325
Fax: 972-2-582-9144

Posted by Ira Sharkansky at July 08, 2008 04:57 AM

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