Bible Studies


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Bible

The Bible, Book of Books

Why has the Bible survived centuries and crossed all the borders? What makes this Book so powerful? The word “Bible” says it already. Derived from the Greek word biblia which means “books,” the word Bible suggests its essence and its role. This is the Book of books, because it is the witness par excellence.

History

After all the sophisticated and elegant doubts cast on the accuracy of the Bible in the nineteenth century, increasing historical and archaeological discoveries have continually verified the accuracy of the Bible in an extraordinary and unexpected way.
For example, the idea that Moses was able to write 1400 years before Christ used to cause people to smile, simply because it had been believed that writing was still unknown at that time. The discoveries of the Proto-Sinaitic alphabet, the ancestor of other alphabets (sixteenth century B.C.E.), and of the Ras Shamra texts (fifteenth century B.C.E.) have confirmed, however, the claims of the Bible against the attacks of critics and rationalists who said no one wrote back then.
The story of the Flood was also given a cold shoulder, until similar stories started to crop up from various traditions, from South America to India, from the American Indians to the Eskimos.
Archaeological digs have brought to light ancient biblical sites: Ai, Megiddo, Jericho, Hazor, Shiloh, Beth-Shemesh, Lachish, and from these sites some of the most incredible stories of the Bible have been confirmed.
Also, the way the history is reported in the Bible increases one’s faith. Contrary to the historiographers of long ago, the Hebrew does not care to exalt the exploits of the hero. The unrighteous as well as the righteous are depicted. And even the righteous are presented with their worst characteristics. The first man, Adam, falls into sin; Abraham, the patriarch, lies; Jacob deceives his brother and hurls doubts at God; the great King David murders and commits adultery. The Bible has not tried to revise history; therefore, its testimony of history is untainted.

Unity

The Greek word biblia, the origin of the word “Bible,” is in the plural. The word translates the ancient Hebrew designation hasefarim (“the books”), as seen in the book of Daniel (Daniel 9:25) and especially in the tannaitic literature (Meg 1:8; Git 4:6; Kelim 15:6). Yet “the books” are, in fact, one book. The Bible has many authors, from different periods, backgrounds, cultures, yet it is still one book, a remarkable phenomenon. The variety of the writings (poetry, prose, genealogy, oracles, laws, etc.) and the authors, over a period of more than a thousand years, is traversed by their deep unity.
In almost all the books of the Bible, the prophets stand untiringly in the way of the kings, to remind them of love and justice, but at the same time always echoing the same hope. The reason behind this literary unity is found in the faithfulness of its heralds. Progress in the Bible is sung in terms of a return to the past, a “Teshuva.” But beyond the stubbornness to root down in the sacred text only, the unity of the biblical text explains itself by the fact that it is inspired by the same Spirit.

Only an author able to travel through time and space would be successful in achieving this unity. Thus, the unity of these writings gives testimony of that supernatural inspiration. It testifies to the existence of Someone who survives the ages, who was present with Moses, with David, and with Ezra; who was in Jerusalem as well as in Nineveh, on the mountain as well as in the belly of a fish.

Truth

No wonder that the truths of the Bible are held in so high esteem, both by the moral that governs the relations among people, and by the ideal and hope that press them forward far beyond themselves. The ethics of Israel were so different from the cultures around it that it cannot help causing astonishment. The rationalists were so stricken by the ethics that they opted for a later date (people back then weren’t supposed to have such exalted ethics).

But it has been recently observed that the language and the structure of the biblical legal texts were of the same type as the alliance treaties of the second millennium before Christ. The superiority of these laws should be explained differently. Their universal application and even their actuality suggest that they have an origin that transcends human societies. Even atheists claim these laws when they preach nonviolence, honesty, or the respect of human rights.
On the other hand, the values of dietetic and health laws, which the Bible promotes, are the same ones promoted today. Doctors are increasingly recommending a vegetarian diet, similar to the one in the Bible (see Genesis 1:29), as the ideal. Research in psychosomatic medicine has confirmed many assertions of the Bible underlining the relationship between the spirit and the body, biblical truth, moral or scientific.

Prophecy

Biblical truth transcends time and circumstances. It even makes predictions. Today, at the end of the twentieth century, we are able to look back and confirm the accuracy of Bible prophecy. There was the prediction of the fall of powerful cities like Babylon (Jeremiah 51:8), Nineveh (Nahum 3:1-7), and Tyre (Isaiah 23), which no one at that time could foresee. At the same time, the Bible predicted the successive rise of Babylon, Persia, Greece, and Rome (Daniel 2 and 7).

All these events had been predicted centuries in advance of their occurrence. Prophecy even assumed the risk of using numbers to date upcoming events with accuracy. Already within the Bible, the ancient Hebrews were familiar with these fulfillments of prophesies. The exiles in Babylon took comfort in the prediction of Jeremiah about the return from exile. Saul, the king, cries out while envisioning his downfall. King Hezekiah learns of his death and its postponement by healing. Births are announced well before time. So the biblical word is not only witness to past events; it also shows itself as a trustworthy witness to the present as well as the future.

Old and New Testaments

For these reasons the Bible will always remain relevant; always a novelty for all. To qualify its nature as “old” or “new” is nonsense. The Bible, if it is inspired by the Almighty, cannot be “Old Testament” or “New Testament,” because the eternal God always remains the same. During the fourth century C.E., when Eusebius of Caesarea utilized the expression “Old Testament” for the first time to designate the Hebrew Bible, it was with a clear anti-Semitic attitude to diminish what had been until then commonly called “the Scriptures.”

In fact, nothing in the New Testament foresaw such an opposition. Most authors are Jews as are also the ones in the Old Testament. The events are located in the extension of the history of Israel and are interpreted in reference to ancient prophets. In addition, the Law is always observed.

A pious Jew could also consider these writings as those of the prophets of old and equally venerate them. What has been called the New Testament bears all the qualities met in the Hebrew Bible: The ethical ideal that pierces a tortuous heart, the victories over disease and death, the fulfilled prophecies, and also the extraordinary preservation of the documents. All these characteristics function as solid arguments in favor of its inspiration from above.
But whether it means the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, or the Gospels, the proof would never be found in the arguments alone: Confirmation of its trustworthiness comes to us from beliers’ personal experiences, archaeology and history, the miracle of its unity, its high ethical and spiritual ideal, its fulfilled prophecies, its actuality, and the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts.

Indeed, the proof is found essentially at the level of each one of us, Jew or Christian, believer or nonbeliever, in the measure that one would accept it for what it claims to be: The Word of God. For if we open this old Book and we venture our eyes and our soul into the course of its pages, we will be able to discover right here within ourselves in the throbbing warmth of our daily life, more convincing than ever, its power and its truth.

Original manuscript by Jacques Doukhan, (Adjusted somewhat to fit the website).

Notes:

1. Jacques Doukhan, “The Bible, Book of Books,” Shabbat Shalom, December 1995, 15-17.

 

Messiah

The Messiah Jesus, A Jewish Messiah?

Can we be Jewish and believe in Jesus? Can we be Christians and reject the Jewish roots of Jesus?

Since the schism which split Judaism, producing the church and the synagogue, Jesus has become the Messiah venerated by Christians and abhorred by Jews. Christians accuse the Jews of having rejected him while the Jews accuse Christians of having forged him; the very name of Jesus would become synonymous with blasphemy and betrayal. Jesus could not be the Messiah simply because he was the Messiah of the Christians.
But are these accusations and assumptions really justified? Are the Christians correct when they accuse the Jews to have rejected and even killed Jesus? Are the Jews right when they assume that Jesus is the Messiah only for the Christians? Today, we do not dare to address such divisive and confrontational issues. To be sure, these questions were too much abused and distorted in phony Jewish-Christian dialogues. Yet this should not prevent us from the consultation of the evidences, for they may lead to interesting and quite surprising conclusions.

A Recognized Messiah

If we believe the story told by the Gospels and the New Testament book of Acts, when Jesus came into Galilee and Judea, he was listened to, acclaimed and followed by Jewish crowds. “Then Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit to Galilee, and news of Him went out through all the surrounding region. And He taught in their synagogues, being glorified by all” (Luke 4:14, 15).1 “Then He arose from there and came to the region of Judea by the other side of the Jordan. And the people gathered to Him again, and as He was accustomed, He taught them again” (Mark 10:1). “For all the people were very attentive to hear Him” (Luke 19:48).

Jesus’ popularity lasted until the very end. Just before the fateful Passover which would see Jesus being taken away, Luke reports as a final note, as if forever marking the memory of his passage in Israel: “Then early in the morning all the people came to Him in the temple to hear Him” (Luke 21:38). Jesus’ popularity was such that his judgment was done expeditiously and at night (Matthew 26:31; 27:1).
After Jesus’ death the book of Acts talks about the presence of numerous followers. On the day of Pentecost 3,000 disciples could be counted in Jerusalem (Acts 2:41), then later the number would swell to 5,000 men plus women and children (Acts 4:4). Shortly thereafter, the book notes that: “And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women” (Acts 5:14). The term “multitudes” is then used to designate those that came “from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem” (Acts 5:16). Later, the book of Acts notes again that “the number of the disciples multiplied” (Acts 6:7).
Based upon the figures given in the book of Acts and other historical information, scholars estimate that at the time of Stephen’s death the number of Jewish converts to the Christian faith was around 25,000.2 Even after Stephen’s stoning and the ensuing persecution, the number never ceased to increase. The story of Acts is regularly punctuated by the same recurrent observation, noting the always increasing success of the gospel among Jews (Acts 8:5-12; 9:31, 35, 43; 11:20-21; 14:1; 16:5; 19:9, 20, etc.). At the end of Acts, the brethren of Jerusalem are glad to count in Palestine “many myriads of Jews . . . who have believed” (21:20). We know that the Greek word “myriad” used here actually means 10,000. Therefore, we can very easily estimate that the number of Christian Jews had exceeded at least three times 10,000. This represents more than half the number of inhabitants of Jerusalem at that time. This signifies that the great majority of Jews (and in certain places their totality) had recognized Jesus as their Messiah.
Therefore, we can say both that the Christians contending that the Jews failed to recognize Jesus and that the Jews who think they had all the reasons to reject him are wrong. The historian Jules Isaac would have a good reason to note his embarrassment: “With rare exceptions, wherever Jesus went the Jewish people took him to their hearts, as the Gospels testify. Did they, at a given moment, suddenly turn against him? This is a notion which has yet to be proved.”3 Later in his demonstration, Jules Isaac concludes: “The Gospels give us good reason to doubt that this [the rejection of Jesus by the Jews] ever happened.”4

A Predicted Messiah

Actually, this Jewish welcome should not be surprising. Since the beginning, the Gospels present Jesus’ coming as the ultimate fulfillment of the lasting hope of Israel.
First, the time was ripe. In Jesus’ time, there was a strong expectation for a Messiah. This is known not only through the testimony of the Gospels and the historians of the time but also through the Dead Sea Scrolls, which show that the Jews oppressed under the Roman yoke were expecting the Messiah to come soon.
By consulting the Scriptures, particularly the prophecy of the 70 weeks found in Daniel 9, they could easily conclude that the time had come.5 This passage in Daniel is the only one which speaks directly and absolutely about the Messiah and also indicates chronologically when he should come. “From the time when the word was announced that Jerusalem will be built again to the Messiah, the Prince, there are seven weeks and 62 weeks” (Daniel 9:25, literal translation). Two landmarks are given here which allow us to situate this event in history:

  1. The word that announces the reconstruction of Jerusalem. This refers to Artaxerxes’ decree in 457 B.C.E. This was the third and last of such decrees (following those of Cyrus and Darius, see Ezra 6:14). This decree was the decisive one and the only one to be followed by a blessing (Ezra 7:27-28).
  2. The subsequent time period of 69 weeks (7 plus 62) which, in the prophetic context of Daniel and according to the most authoritative and ancient Jewish interpretations like those of Saadia Gaon, Rashi, and even Ibn Ezra,6 must be understood as weeks of years. This period of time comes out to be 69 times 7 equals 483 years long.

This means that the coming of the Messiah was predicted to occur 483 years after 457 B.C.E. which brings us to the 27th year of our era. It is superfluous to remind ourselves that this date coincides with the appearance on history’s stage of Jesus of Nazareth as he began his messianic ministry to the people of Israel (Luke 3:21-23). This is also the year when Jesus introduces himself as the anointed Messiah, the one that fulfills the prophecy:

“As His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read. And He was handed the book of the prophet Isaiah. And when He had opened the book, He found the place where it was written: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor. He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord.” Then He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. . . . And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled” (Luke 4:16-21).

Jesus here identifies himself as the Messiah awaited by all. His numerous miracles, his exemplary and extraordinary life, his exaltation of the Torah, and his teaching being so deeply rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures, confirm it. This is the response that he gave to John’s disciples when they came to him in order to inquire whether he was indeed the Messiah announced by the prophets: “Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Go and tell John the things which you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk; the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear; the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them’” (Matthew 11:4, 5).

Even Jesus’ death carried a special meaning; it was understood in relation to the sacrifices offered on the altar of the Temple. Indeed, this interpretation was already indicated in the promise of the first pages of Genesis. In the very heart of the curse that follows the fall of Adam and Eve, God sows a word of hope. Someone born from the seed of the woman would crush the head of the Serpent, the archetype of evil, while being at the same time hit at the heel (Genesis 3:15).
The principle of salvation through sacrifice is here suggested. It is not an accident that right after the curse, God makes this symbol concrete through the clothes of skin (Genesis 3:21). In a dramatic gesture, God comes down and Himself cuts garments for Adam and Eve. For that purpose, God does not choose linen or cotton or another vegetative material. He chooses the animal. A specification that implies the death of the animal, the first death, the first sacrifice designed to relieve Adam and Eve from their feelings of shame, to help them survive before God, before themselves. The function of the sacrifice was then to point to the future event of messianic salvation.

It would be an error to try to interpret Israel’s sacrifices from a magical perspective. They were not a simple ritual gesture meant to appease an angry God. We are also in the wrong if we attempt to interpret them from a psychoanalytical perspective, as a transference device allowing repressed violence to be expressed. In biblical thinking, the salvation process does not move upwards from the human sphere to the divine, but on the contrary downwards from God to mankind.

In that perspective, the institution of the sacrifices should be understood along the lines of Yehezkel Kauffman’s demonstration, as a symbol of the divine movement towards humans, as humans of the hesed (grace) of God.7 Hebrew thought is events-centered. In the Bible, the sacrifices are part of the covenant ceremony through which God binds Himself for the future and promises hope (Genesis 8:20-22; Genesis 15; Exodus 12:22, 23). The sacrifice therefore is not magical nor psychological in nature but is a sign announcing an event to come. Hope in Hebrew is essentially of a historical nature.
It is therefore not surprising that Isaiah 53 uses a reference to the Levite sacrifice in order to describe the coming of the Messiah, savior of Israel and humanity: “Surely He has borne our griefs . . . But He was wounded for our transgressions, . . . as a lamb to the slaughter, . . . His soul an offering for sin, . . . for He shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:4-7, 10, 11).
A passage in the Midrash alludes to a tradition according to which, because of Isaiah 53:4, the Messiah was to call himself a leper: “The masters [Rabbana] have said that the leper of the school of the Rabbi . . . is his name, for it has been said: ‘He has borne our diseases and he has borne our sufferings, and we have considered him as a leper, smitten by God and humbled.'”8

A characteristic invocation in the Midrash refers to this same text: “Messiah of our justice [Mashiach Tsidkenu], though we are Thy forebears, Thou art greater than we because Thou didst bear the burden of our children’s sins, and our great oppressions have fallen upon Thee. . . . Among the peoples of the world Thou didst bring only derision and mockery to Israel. . . . Thy skin did shrink, and Thy body did become dry as wood; Thine eyes were hollowed by fasting, and Thy strength became like fragmented pottery-all that came to pass because of the sins of our children.”9
We can also recognize a similar correlation in the wording of the prophecy of the 70 weeks which links the coming of the Messiah and the atonement of sin (Daniel 9:24). This process was directly tied into the ritual of the sacrifices (Leviticus 4-7; 17:11). This affinity has also caught the eye of the rabbis of the Talmud: “R. Eleazar in the name of R. Josei: ‘it is a halakha [a principle] regarding the Messiah’; Abbai answered him: ‘we then do not need to teach all the sacrifices because it is a halakha which concerns the messianic era.'”10
Therefore Christians were very much within a Jewish framework when they identified Jesus, the Messiah of Israel, their Messiah as: “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29; cf. 1 Corinthians 5:7; Apocalypse 5:6, 9; Hebrews 9:28; etc.).
He had come at the fullness of time and in the appropriate manner as was announced by the prophecy and symbolized by the sacrifices at the Temple. It is noteworthy that this is the only Messiah of history who so consistently has been related to the prophetic statements of the Hebrew Bible concerning the Messiah. Jewish scholar Schonfield boldly recognizes: “It is needful to emphasize that neither before nor since Jesus has there been anyone whose experiences from first to last have been so pin-pointed as tallying with what were held to be prophetic intimations concerning the Messiah.”11 Indeed, Jesus of Nazareth was recognized by many Jews, maybe even the majority of his contemporary Jews, as the Messiah that they had been awaiting. Certainly this historical fact does not prove in an absolute manner his messianic identity, but it does show that the events which had just occurred had won the Jewish people over.

A Messiah Who Has Survived

There were a great number of Messiahs in Israel’s history. From Bar-Kokhba to Shabbathai Tzevi, and nowadays to Rabbi Schneerson, a multitude of Messiahs drew crowds to themselves. Yet history does not retain them as Messiahs anymore. Each movement was a short-lived flame which did not extend its light beyond the space and time of those Messiahs.

The fact that Jesus is the only Jewish Messiah that we still talk about, the only one to have exceeded the frontiers of space and time, constitutes an interesting fact which merits consideration. We can recall here the point made by the Pharisee Raban Gamaliel, disciple of the great Hillel, who made reference to the Messiahs of his time in order to set a quality standard: “If this plan or this work is of men, it will come to nothing; but if it is of God, you cannot overthrow it” (Acts 5:38, 39). Gamaliel called upon an old rabbinical principle, traces of which can also be found in a proverb pronounced by Johanan, a sandal maker of the twelfth century: “Any community that is inspired from heaven will establish itself but what is not inspired from heaven will not.”12

To the question we asked at the beginning, whether a Jew could believe in Jesus as the Messiah, we can therefore without any doubt answer with a yes. This can be done at least for three reasons:

  1. Jesus was recognized as the Messiah by the majority of Jews of his time.
  2. Jesus’ identity as the Messiah is based upon holy Scriptures and fits Jewish tradition perfectly.
  3. Jesus is the only Jewish Messiah to have survived and outgrown his respective space and time.

The belief in Jesus as the Messiah is therefore not incompatible with the Jewish identity. The reason for its rejection during the better part of the past 2,000 years is therefore to be sought outside Judaism and more precisely in regards to Christianity. According to Jules Isaac, it is the rejection of the law by Christians which prompted the rejection of Jesus by the Jews. “The Jewish rejection of Christ was triggered by the Christian rejection of the Law. . . . The rejection of the Law was enough: to ask of the Jewish people that they accept this rejection . . . was like asking them to tear out their heart. History records no example of such a collective suicide.”13
On the other hand, Albert Memmi suggests that the Jewish resistance to the Christian message is a natural reaction to the Christian anti-Semitism: I was telling to my school comrades the story of a Jesus that betrayed his people and his religion . . . But also I had just received, because of him, a serious beating in a small church situated in a mountain town. For 2,000 years Jesus has represented for Jews the continual pretext of a continual beating they received, a drubbing in which they often found death.14 . . . When you are oppressed you cannot completely accept the customs and values of your oppressor, unless you abandon all pride and trample upon your own heart. And this rejection may occur despite the fact that those customs and values may be beautiful in themselves and even superior to one’s own.15

In other words, Christianity, whose goal was to witness for the Messiah to the world and primarily to the Jews, has become, through Christians’ abandoning of the law and their rejection of Jews, the main obstacle to their acceptance. Furthermore, by rejecting the law and oppressing the Jewish nation in the name of Jesus, we can say that probably Christianity has sacrificed a great deal of its own identity.
If we can be Jewish and accept Jesus, how could we be Christians and reject the roots which have nourished Jesus? Paradoxically, with regards to Jesus, it is not so much the Jewish identity which should be questioned as the Christian one.

Jacques Doukhan (Adjusted somewhat to fit the website)

Notes:

Jacques Doukhan, “Jesus, A Jewish Messiah?,” Shabbat Shalom, April 1997, 17-21.

  1. All biblical quotations are from the New King James version unless otherwise noted.
  2. Richard L. H. Lenski, The Interpretation of the Acts of the Apostles (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1961), p. 311
  3. Jules Isaac, Jesus and Israel (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1971), p. 101.
  4. Ibid., p. 132.
  5. This Jewish consciousness of the plenitude of time is most powerfully exhibited by the Essenes. See William H. Shea, Selected Studies on Prophetic Interpretation, Daniel and Revelation Committee Series, vol. 1 (Washington, DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association, 1982), pp. 89-93.
  6. See Miqraoth Gdoloth, ad loc.
  7. Toledot haemunah hayisraelit, vol. 3, book 1, p. 80 (cf. pp. 443, 444).
  8. Sanhedrin 98b.
  9. Pesiqta Rabbati, Pisqa 37.
  10. Zebahim 44b, Sanhedrin 51b.
  11. H. J. Schonfield, The Passover Plot. A New Interpretation of the Life and Death of Jesus (New York: Bernard Geis, 1966), p. 36; quoted in Donald A. Hagner, The Jewish Reclamation of Jesus (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1984), p. 248, n. 93.
  12. Pirqe Aboth IV:14.
  13. Jules Isaac, Genèse de l’Antisémitisme (Paris: Calmann-Lévy, 1956), p. 147; as translated in Jacques Doukhan, Drinking at the Sources: An appeal to the Jew and the Christian to Note Their Common Beginnings (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press Publishing Association, 1981), p. 25.
  14. Albert Memmi, La libération du juif (Paris: Petite Bibliothèque Payot, 1972), p. 215.
  15. Ibid., p. 71.