Theodicy: Why do bad things happen to good people?

One of the hardest questions for monotheistic theologians is the question of the presence of evil. That is, if God is just, why do bad things happen to good people?

I think there are even harder questions here though as well.

For one, the existence of the greatest evil on the planet, that seems to be more and more clearly indefensible, and yet seems to grow greater every year (at least here in Australia) in terms of its prevalence, and astonishing support.

That evil, is the evil of abortion. To anyone with any reasonable depth of morality and intellect and ability to deeply study the question of abortion in a rationale and comprehensive manner cannot possibly come to any other conclusion than that it is wrong, dead wrong, and worse downright disgusting, abhorrent and evil!

So to me another incredibly challenging question is how come this great blot on humanity, this evil that makes our time in the history of man the most evil since the time of Noah, has not been severely reduced, it not eliminated, by the great efforts of so many moral, caring and concerned lovers of life and defenders of the innocent?

This afternoon, I will join a few thousand marching for life, for our most vulnerable and innocent, the unborn. Yet, I will march, as I always do, with a very heavy heart, because our voice is so small, so weak and ineffective, despite all truth, all evidence, including scientific and anecdotal evidence being very much on our side.

Now, some may quote Proverbs 21:31 at me: “The horse is prepared against the day of battle; But victory is of Yehovah”.

Yes, it is true that we are called to be involved and take up the challenge, but also accept that it is God who determines how and when the victory will occur and it will surely occur, but it has taken too long. Despite our efforts, for the most part we have gone backwards!

Yes, perhaps we can take some solace in knowing that the great heroes of faith faced many of the same questions and challenges in their lives.

 Abraham for example pleaded, “Shall the Judge of all the earth not do justice?”, when from his perspective, he too thought that justice was missing, the God was not acting.

Moses too cried: “Why have you done evil to this people?“, as did Jeremiah: “Lord, you are always right when I dispute with You. Yet I must plead my case before You: Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why are evil people so happy? (Jer. 12:1).

So this question, this challenge and argument is not new, yet to me it seems of greater validity than ever!

Yes, there are some answers. For example, we read in Psalm 92:

“7 … that though the wicked sprout like grass, and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed. …
and it goes on:
“12-15 …The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Planted in the house of Yehovah,  they will flourish in the courts of our God. In old age they will still bear fruit; healthy and green they will remain, to proclaim, “The LORD is upright; He is my rock, and in Him there is no unrighteousness.”

Evil wins in the short term but never in the long. The wicked are like grass, the righteous like a tree. Grass grows overnight but it takes years for a tree to reach its full height. In the long run, tyrannies are defeated. Empires decline and fall. Goodness and rightness win the final battle. As Martin Luther King said in the spirit of the Psalm: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

But, the more complete answer as I see it still lacks something. That answer is that justice ultimately exists in the world to come, in life after death.

It is clear that many die without seeing and receiving justice; from the hundreds of millions on unborn killed before the altar of immorality, ignorance and convenience; to many unfairly treated and cut-down in so many ways through wars, political and social upheavals, and even unresolved tribal and family disputes.

So we who believe that our God is a God of Justice and Mercy, need to believe that Justice will be served in the hereafter, on the Great Day of Judgment.

But this can feel empty and unsatisfying, and it is also not the central focus of the Bible. The Bible calls us to engage in ‘tikkun haOlam’, that is in fighting to repair the world now, regardless of the truth that we will fail!

We are to build … the world with grace’ (Psalms 89:2).

It is in the here and now that we must work for justice, fairness, compassion, decency, the alleviation of poverty, and the perfection, as far as lies within our power, of society and our individual lives.

So how can we heed this call, when we only see failure (in this life)? Perhaps a part of the answer is to take the attitude that if bad things have happened, let us blame no one but ourselves, and let us labour to make them better.

Taking this attitude, accepting our part in the world, and our call to be in the world, ‘repairing the world’, then maybe we can emerge from our pain, our despair, our tragedies, and though perhaps shaken, scarred, and limping like Ya’acov after his encounter with the angel, we can find the resolve to try again, to rededicate ourselves to our mission and faith, to ascribe our achievements to God and our defeats to ourselves.

So, I will once again march, and I will try not to feel so heavy-hearted as I reflect on how evil our world is. Instead I will cry, ‘Blessed be the Name of the Lord …’! Baruch HaShem!

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that …” – Martin Luther King

The Rational Bible

I have just started Dennis Prager’s ‘The Rational Bible: Genesis’

I had already read his ‘The Rational Bible: Exodus which I think is the best commentary on Exodus that I have ever read, and I have read quite a few.

The title of these books on the 5 Books of the Torah is based on Prager’s contention that reason alone is sufficient to believe in the God of Israel, the God of the Bible.

Prager states that: 

“Exodus contains the Ten Commandments, the most important moral code in world history.” My theological mentor Frank Selch always argued that the Ten Commandments were the Moral Code of the Universe.

More than anything He (Yehovah, the God of Israel & Creator of the Universe) wants from us moral behaviour.

He follows this up with the statement that if the Torah wants its readers to know one thing, it is that

“God’s essence is goodness.”

Prager cites Exodus 33:18, when Moses asks God to “let me behold Your Presence. God responds, I will make all My goodness pass before you.”

Prager continues:

“That God chooses to define Himself as good constitutes one of the most important statements in the entire Bible,” and he adds the idea that may not sit well among many believers and non-believers alike. “God does not say, ‘I will make my love pass before you.’

In fact, the expression, ‘God is love,’ is not to be found in the Hebrew Bible.”

Prager has taken to writing these commentaries on the 5 Books of Moses, the Torah because he argues that the West has lost the great wisdom and message of truth and morality found in the Bible.

Prager:

“The lack of wisdom—certainly in America and the rest of the West—is directly related to the decline in biblical literacy. … In the American past, virtually every home, no matter how poor, owned a Bible. It was the primary vehicle by which parents passed wisdom on to their children.”

Prager:  

“My realization is the most important book in American history has become an unimportant book, and for most Americans. And this is a major tragedy for the country.”

Prager contends that the Bible remains profoundly relevant—both to the great issues of our day and to each individual life. It is the greatest moral guide and source of wisdom ever written.

Do you doubt the existence of God because you think believing in God is irrational?

Prager’s books will give you many reasons to rethink your doubts.

Do you think faith and science are in conflict? You won’t after reading this commentary on Genesis.

Do you come from a dysfunctional family? It may comfort you to know that every family discussed in Genesis was highly dysfunctional!

To repeat the reader of Prager’s books on the Torah is never asked to accept anything on faith alone. In Dennis Prager’s words,

“If something I write is not rational, I have not done my job.”

I think this is a great argument. This is also how I see my faith. My faith is based on reason. As a trained Physicist I have confidence in logic and reason; as a teacher of teenagers I see daily the need to have sound, well-researched and articulated reasons with which to defend my faith in a God who cares and calls us into right relationship with him.

Prager also has an interesting theory behind the shocking rise of secularism and socialism in Western society.

He argues that it began in the 19th century:

“Why did it begin? In large measure, to get a Ph.D. in the late 19th century, you had to go to Germany. The Germans had already established socialism and secularism as the intellectual ideals. So they were shipping over Americans with Ph.D.s who believed in socialism and secularism. And the college, even then when few people attended, is very influential on the societal thinking. And that’s where I believe it began.

But I also hold a lot of religious people responsible.

They forgot how to make the case for religion, and it just became faith alone, which is lovely faith, but it’s not enough. God gave us reason, let’s use it.”

I strongly recommend these books:

The Rational Bible: Genesis https://www.amazon.com/Rational-Bible-Genesis-Dennis-Prager/dp/1621578984/>

The Rational Bible: Exodus  https://www.amazon.com/Rational-Bible-Exodus-Dennis-Prager-ebook/dp/B075Y3X51R/

Save a man; save a world. Destroy a man; destroy a world

Some years ago I wrote a blog post on this week’s Torah Portion. It started with:

“One of the rarest of people are those who learn to fully and totally repent, especially where this has involved a reversal of character.

If you are a strong, independent and very capable individual it is perhaps even harder to recognize your error, to recognize when you have wronged someone (and hence, in a sense, the Almighty, because all are made in His image). Sometimes we even need some serious help – see for example the story of King David in 2 Samuel 12.

Implicit in the whole Bible is the idea that one man’s sin however small, affects the entire word, however imperceptibly.

On the bigger scale we have the famous Jewish saying, based on the story of Cain and Abel and the ‘blood’ being plural in Hebrew (‘the bloods of your brother cry out from the ground’), that states that: Save a man; save a world. Destroy a man; destroy a world

This also lead to the Jewish appreciation that a wise man must give his wisdom to the community in the same way a man blessed with wealth/riches should also do so. Put simply, it is a sin not to serve – all have talents; all are called to use those talents to help repair or better the world (Tikkun HaOlam).” – from https://globaltruthinternational.com/2012/12/21/the-rarity-of-repentance/

500_F_69574324_wQMmLoUOh8s6JyMp6BarOZoh53PV1N3nWe see the Apostle Paul reflecting the argument that we all have talents to share in his famous 1 Corinthians 12 & 13 proclamation.

But what of wealth and wisdom?

Who is wealthy? Surely it’s relative in terms of the community the ‘wealthy’ person is part of, and even then there are degrees of wealth.

Who is wise?

Again, wisdom is relative and comes through the application of knowledge over time – all people as they age have time, but not all devote it to gaining knowledge and applying that knowledge and hence gaining much wisdom.

What about humility is considering your talents?

The humble person is he/she who walks faithfully before God, aware of both his frailty before his Maker, but also the great gift of life, of humanity, of the power to love, to create, to grow and experience joy that has been bestowed on all of us.

Perhaps part of the challenge for all who seek to be involved in Tikkun haOlam is to both act and use the gifts bestowed whether wisdom or wealth or whatever, but also through humility, to recognize the limits of these gifts and not overstep the mark.

As someone who has many years of seeking knowledge and trying to act wisely with it, I am also very much aware that my wisdom is still limited, especially given the vastness and complexity of the Creator and His Creation.

I was reminded of this when reading an article about Isaac Newton’s theological studies and again seeing the famous quote he made to himself as his life was drawing to its close, that he seemed only like a boy playing on the sea-shore, ‘and diverting myself’, he said, ‘in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than ordinary, while the great ocean of truth lay all undiscovered before me ’.

ben sirachIntriguingly, despite the world applying this remark to his scientific endeavours, given that the great majority of his time, especially after the age of 24 was spent in studying theology, especially Judaica, it would seem more appropriate to see him reflecting on his studies of the Almighty, the God of Israel in this manner.

As I have often stated to senior students who excel academically that if they wish to find areas to really test their intellectual abilities then my top four for consideration would be the study of Genetics/DNA; Neuro/Cognitive-Science; frontier Physics and greatest of all, Theology!

While the brain is the most complex creation in the Universe, surely the greater intellectual challenge is to study the Creator, not just His Creation?

So I offer through my books, my articles and blog posts and even my videos a little of my wisdom in the hope that I can share in Tikkun haOlam (Repairing the World), or as I shared in the Amazing Grace article  building the world with grace (Psalms 89:2). – http://circumcisedheart.info/Amazing%20Grace.pdf

 

The Humility of a True Champion

When Lee Sodel, the winner of 18 World Championships in the Chinese game of Go, a game played by over 8 million South Koreans alone, walked into the room for his first game with DeepMind’s AlphaGo program (in a best of 5 matchup), he was totally convinced he would win 5-0. gallery-8

When he lost the very first game and was in total shock, at the press conference he honestly admitted and accepted his loss and then paid respect to the team that created AlphaGo.

He stated: ‘I would like to express my respect to the team for creating such an amazing program AlphaGo.’ This is an example of the great humility of a true champion.

And then in the second game when AlphaGo makes a move that no human professional Go player would make (AlphaGo calculated that the likelihood of a human making this move was 1 in 10,000), Lee Sodel considers this shocking move and said that it was ‘creative and beautiful’, and ‘it was a very meaningful move’.

Again, a true champion and a humble human can recognize value even in his most difficult competitor or challenger.

After it was all finished and Lee Sodel had lost 4-1 he spoke very highly of the experience and said he had learned a lot. He stated: “I will make something out of it with the lessons I have learned… it has been an unforgettable experience.”

And this reminds me of the great statement by Tom Watson, the founder of IBM: “To succeed, double your failure rate.”

gallery-9

 

I recommend the movie – https://www.alphagomovie.com/

 

Some Similarities Between the Qumran Manuscripts (DSS) and the New Testament

There are many similarities between the Qumran scrolls and the NT. I detail just a few below.

Firstly though, what are the Qumran manuscripts (also known as the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls’ – DSS) which date from around 250 BCE up to possibly as late as 50 CE and were discovered between 1947 and 1956?

When speaking of the DSS we are not just talking about the Qumran caves (probably Essenes) but most critically also the Wadi Murabba’at; the Nabal Hever and the Nabal Se’elim finds.

Also critical are the finds from the Wadi ed-Daliyeh, north of Jericho (1962) and from Masada (63-64). The DSS have given scholars an enormous amount of information about the early transmission of biblical books; about the fixation of the Text (canon) and about the procedures for how the canon of the Tanakh came into being.

Prior to these finds there had been little detailed information about how the Rabbinical Recession (Masoretic Text – MT) as used in Jerome’s day had come into being.

What has emerged is that there are really three distinct major groups of texts. Using Cross’s[1] naming these are the ‘Palestinian’ group (mostly from the Essenes/Qumran), the Egyptian group (LXX, Greek versions of Samuel; Kings, a short Hebrew version of Jeremiah, etc) and the ‘Babylonian’ group.

It is the Babylonian group that appears to have been the work of Hillel and his son and disciples. This text group canonized the Tanakh some time between the 2 revolts of 70 and 135 CE and it is from this group that the Rabbinic Recession has derived.

This group is very conservative, ‘pristine’ and shows little scribal editing, revision or modernizing. Most of the documents come from the southern caves and at Masada. This is where the authorative  Pharisaic text (the proto-Masoretic text type) came from; the text that Yeshua would have used as he was in all likelihood a Pharisee or very sympathetic to their Biblical understanding (again, see Flusser for extensive evidence of this).

‘In fact, most of the biblical manuscripts at Qumran indicate that the proto-Masoretic text type in fact predominated. … It is likely that this text type was the most common because it was the most ancient.[2]

The Essenes (Qumran) with their clear Hellenistic influences (discussed in my book referenced below) have provided a lot of helpful texts and information, and the variants such as the Isaiah variants, are generally attributable to their work.

When all these finds are put together they provide great evidence for the authority of the MT of the Tanakh.

Prof. Gary Rendsburg of Rutgers University is a leading expert on the Qumran Scrolls and states that:
“Of the 930 assorted documents from Qumran, 790, or about 85% of them are written in Hebrew (120 or about 13% are written in Aramaic, and 20 or about 2% are written in Greek). Of these 930, about 230 are biblical manuscripts, naturally are in Hebrew, so in actuality the percentage of Hebrew texts is 80%.

On the other hand, our Hebrew texts are the longest ones, such as the Temple Scroll, the Community Rule, the War Scroll, and the Hodayot—with only the Genesis Apocryphon as a lengthy Aramaic scroll.

This might, of course, be the accident of preservation—that is to say, the Aramaic documents are much more fragmentary than the Hebrew ones—but in general we may state that the language of choice for the Qumran community was Hebrew and that the percentage of Hebrew material among the Dead Sea Scrolls is actually higher than the aforementioned 80%, perhaps even approaching 90%.”[3]

The best represented of the biblical books among the Qumran manuscripts are Psalms, Deuteronomy, and Isaiah (with 34, 27, and 24 copies, respectively).Intriguingly these are also the most cited books from the Tanakh in the New Testament as well.

The Qumran sectarians viewed the Temple Scroll as a book of revealed scripture, which means that they saw revelation continuing in their day; the same holds in the New Testament, where revelation is seen as an ongoing process.

In Matthew 3 we read of Yochanan the Immerser (John the Baptist), speaking very critically towards some Pharisees and Sadducees that came to get a mikvah (a ritual immersion or baptism). His strict attitude and approach is very reminiscent of the Qumran Yachad’s (communities) writings.

While the vast majority of the DSS scrolls come from a period a century earlier than Yochanan the Immerser, Pliny wrote that the Essene community (assuming the Qumran Yachad were the Essenes) was still resident in the area (if not Qumran specifically) well into the 1st century C.E.

So again we see some NT links with Qumran.
“In 2007, a new inscription—not on parchment and not in a cave, but rather on a slab of stone—was made public. It is called the Vision of Gabriel, though the term Dead Sea Stone also has been used, and it dates to the 1st century B.C.E.

While the details of its discovery are not known, apparently it was discovered around the year 2000, found its way to a Jordanian antiquities dealer, and was sold to a private collector. The collector was unaware of the significance of the object until a visitor to his collection read the inscribed words, at least as best as possible.  The text is ink on stone, a rare medium, since usually one incises letters into the stone. The ink is very faded, so it is hard to read the entire inscription. The stone stands about one meter high, and the inscription comprises 87 lines in Hebrew.

The best paleographer of Hebrew in the world, Ada Yardeni, has authenticated the inscription. The text is known as the Vision of Gabriel because the angel Gabriel conveys an apocalyptic vision, or perhaps better a series of visions. The sense we get from the text is that an enemy nearly destroyed the “sons of the holy,” but now their leader, the “prince of princes,” will arise and overcome the adversary.

Much of this, of course, sounds like phraseology known from the New Testament.
In short, wherever one turns, one finds connections between the scrolls (and now the Dead Sea Stone) and the books of the New Testament. The Qumran sect and the Jesus movement were parallel streams, each with its own apocalyptic vision, against the backdrop of the Roman Empire and the panoply of Judaisms under the umbrella of common Judaism. The one group had little or no continuity, while the other group spawned the largest religious movement in the history of the world.”[4]

This information about the ‘Vision of Gabriel’ again illustrates the commonality in understanding between the Qumran Yachad who primarily used Hebrew in their writings, and the NT authors. While again only circumstantial, it is still strong evidence that the Hebraic Jewish authors of the NT would have also predominately preferred Hebrew in their writings.

As an interesting aside, Rendsburg also notes with regard to the Qumran Yachad that:
“… The common theme here appears to be the end of days (Hebrew ’aharit ha-yamim), since we get references to the Temple that is to be built in the end of days, the end of the dominion of Belial, a figure known as the Shoot of David, and so forth.
The one passage to highlight is proof that the Yahad served as the replacement or surrogate for the Temple. The humans who comprise the community are called in
themselves a miqdaš, a holy place, a sanctuary, a temple.”

Where else have we heard that designation? Perhaps in Matthew 26:61, 27:40; Mark 14:58, 15:29; John 2:19, and especially John 2:20 where we learn that Yeshua was speaking about the ‘temple of his body’ and especially in 1 Cor 3:16 where we read: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

So again we see great parallel’s in their Biblical understanding which would surely extend to a common appreciation of the primacy of the Hebrew tongue.

Christianity in the development of its Hellenistic perspective, has followed its own course, but its indebtedness to Judaism of the first century CE (or proto-Judaism as Flusser preferred), specifically of the Qumran type, is being acknowledged more and more as the DSS are studied and reported on.

We can also see this indebtedness and commonality in the Apostle Paul’s approach to the use of the Minor Prophets like Habakkuk.

Hab 2:2 describes how God told Habakkuk, “Write down the vision and make it plain upon the tablets.”

For the writer of the Qumran ‘Pesher Habakkuk’, this prophecy of Habakkuk speaks to his present day: And God told Habakkuk to write down that which would happen to the final generation, but He did not make known to him when time would come to an end” – 1QpHab 7:1–3.

The Qumran author clearly saw an eschatological (end-times) message in Habukkuk, yet such a prophetic message is not at all clear in the original context.

Hab 2:2 continues with the phrase … that he who reads it may read speedily,” which for the Qumran ‘Pesher’ author “… concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets” – 1QpHab 7:4–5.

And then Habukkuk 2:4 states,But the righteous shall live by his faith,”. We would normally conclude, as I have certainly argued before, that the righteous person shall prosper by his own faith or trust in God.

Yet the Qumran author of Pesher Habakkuk sees this faith as directed to and through the Righteous Teacher [5]:  This concerns all those who observe the Torah in the House of Judah, whom God will deliver from the House of Judgment, because of their suffering and because of their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness.” – 1QpHab 8:1–2

But this same passage of Habakkuk is quoted three times in the New Testament in  Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, and Hebrews 10:37–38 (possibly also authored by the Apostle Paul).

The Apostle Paul, just like the Qumran author before him, sees this passage as referring to the Age to Come (the Olam Ha Bah or the Kingdom of God), and in the Apostle Paul’s case to Yeshua as well.

Without going into the numerous examples, this interpretative method of applying certain passages from the Tanakh to present realities, as per Pesher Habukkuk, is also quite common in the NT from Matthew to the Apostle Paul’s epistles, and to my understanding further supports the common and shared Hebraic mindset that would have included the use of the Hebrew language.

The above is an excerpt from ‘The New Testament: the Hebrew Behind the Greek’https://www.amazon.com.au/New-Testament-Language-Mindset-Hellenistic-ebook/dp/B009XO0NQU/

dss5

 

[1] An excellent introduction to the DSS’s is Frank Moore Cross’s ‘The Text behind the Text of the Hebrew Bible’ as well as ‘Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls’ edited by Hershel Shanks. Also see The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English’ (2004) and translated by Geza Vermes

[2] ‘Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls’ – Shanks p48

[3] http://jewishstudies.rutgers.edu/docman/rendsburg/396-qumran-hebrew-studies-on-the-texts-of-the-desert-of-judah/file

[4] ‘The Book of Genesis’ by Prof. Gary Rendsburg

[5] For a great article on how faith in a ‘Righteous Teacher’ or ‘Completed Tzaddik’ can help bring atonement please see ‘Vicarious Atonement: Origins and correct understanding’ – http://torahofmessiah.org/atonement-through-a-tzaddik.html

The Betrayal of the Jewishness of Jesus

isaiah signatureI would like to suggest what the core elements are to this betrayal are, and some pointers to how this developed historically, and then finally to how we may be able to come ‘back from the brink’ that such betrayal may well lead to.

I suspect that many, if not most who are actually guilty of this betrayal have absolutely no idea that this is the reality, but rather imagine something almost the antithesis of such a statement.

My first and foremost witness alongside our recently improved knowledge of the historical background to this development is the late, great Professor Flusser.

Flusser[1] is in my view undoubtedly the greatest scholar on the life of times of ‘Jesus’ there has been at least in recent times if not for the last 1800+ years.

But Flusser was even more than that because  he approached those who have betrayed ‘Jesus’ with such compassion and sensitively which included referring to this Jewish man whose name was actually Yeshua by this Greek invention of a name ‘Jesus’[2].

And it is in fact Flusser himself who has made this very argument so powerfully and with such solid conviction from a very deep and broad appreciation of the relevant facts.

Flusser (who was an orthodox Jew, just like Yeshua and Rav Sha’ul – the Apostle Paul[3]) has stated that: … I know that it is not so easy for Gentiles to accept the thorough Jewishness of Jesus. Because then it would mean that they had received a foreign god and not their own ancient pagan gods. So they have to assimilate Jesus to the Greek gods.”

Again, most reading this who may be part of this betrayal may still not see how Flusser could possibly be speaking to and about them, but please bear with me as the deception is so strong and so deep, with a very extensive and sad history.

But another quote from Flusser should begin to make  the connection and inference clear. Flusser stated: As far as you depart from the Hebrew background of the Gospels as far as you go farther from the Jewish origin of the Gospel and of the Jewishness of Jesus by this I would even say you betray Jesus himself.”[4]

flusser

So what has caused this departure from the Hebrew background of the Gospels, and the Jewishness of Yeshua?

To set the scene we need to reflect on what we now know regarding Israel in the time of Yeshua. Our understanding of Israel 2000 years ago has been dramatically altered over the last 50-70 years as a result of the findings of the Dead Sea Scrolls and other related recently discovered ancient scrolls such as those in the Cairo Genizah.

It is now very well established that the ‘lingua franca’ of Israel in the early 1st century was Hebrew, not Aramaic, not Latin and certainly not Greek

As Flusser states as well: “It is very improbable … that he (Yeshua) has spoken Greek. … He knew both languages of the Land: both Aramaic and Hebrew. But when he taught, he taught clearly only in Hebrew.

For instance, the saying ‘Kingdom of Heaven’ doesn’t exist in Aramaic. All the parables in the rabbinic literature are in Hebrew…. And my experience is that it is impossible to translate some of the words of Jesus into Aramaic.”

So what is the new evidence that has lead to such a strong conviction amongst the experts on this matter that Hebrew was the primary language of Yeshua and all his early disciples.

A century ago this was not the accepted wisdom.

The revelations from the study of the Dead Sea Scrolls were most convincing and dramatic. Because of their influence, the highly respected The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, which in its first edition, in 1958, had stated that “Hebrew had ceased to be a spoken language around the fourth century B.C.”, revised this statement in its third edition (1997) to instead state: Hebrew continued to be used as a spoken and written language…in the New Testament period.”

Prof. Gary Rendsburg of Rutgers University is a leading expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls (also known as the Qumran Scrolls and dated from around 250 BCE up to 50 CE) states that: Of the 930 assorted documents from Qumran, 790, or about 85% of them are written in Hebrew (120 or about 13% are written in Aramaic, and 20 or about 2% are written in Greek). Of these 930, about 230 are biblical manuscripts, naturally are in Hebrew, so in actuality the percentage of Hebrew texts is 80%.

On the other hand, our Hebrew texts are the longest ones, such as the Temple Scroll, the Community Rule, the War Scroll, and the Hodayot—with only the Genesis Apocryphon as a lengthy Aramaic scroll.

This might, of course, be the accident of preservation—that is to say, the Aramaic documents are much more fragmentary than the Hebrew ones—but in general we may state that the language of choice for the Qumran community was Hebrew and that the percentage of Hebrew material among the Dead Sea Scrolls is actually higher than the aforementioned 80%, perhaps even approaching 90%.”[5]

But there is much, much more.

The Tosefta preserves a tradition that the famous sage Rabban Gamaliel I (1st Century C.E. and the teacher of Rav Sha’ul, the Apostle Paul) once banned (from use in the Temple) a translation of Job into Aramaic (Tosefta Shabbat 14:2[6]).

But why? Why would he speak so derisively of this translation?

Apparently in the synagogues when the Tanakh was being read and spoken out loud to the assembly, the Hebrew text was sometimes translated into Aramaic ‘on the fly’ and spoken in Aramaic. As Aramaic grew in popularity and as a common language, especially in some areas of Israel like the Galilee, and also in the Diaspora, this become a well-known practice.

I don’t know if Gamaliel objected to this at all, but apparently the written Targum versions, while being highly accurate with 80-90% of the Hebrew text’s linguistic information – morphological, syntactical and semantic’[7], they also contained a lot of midrashic or ‘paraphrastic’ commentary (i.e they were an ‘amplified’ version, or paraphrase like ‘The Message’ is a paraphrase of the NT).

If so, it is understandable that this senior and very revered Rabbi might object to such versions being used in the synagogues at least, even if they were popular as it appears, with the general population.

The book, ‘Targum and Scripture: Studies in Aramaic Translations and Interpretation in memory of Ernest George Clarke’[8], edited by Paul V M Flesher, also makes the very significant point, that “The Palestinian Talmud [more commonly known as the Jerusalem Talmud] even contains a passage that forbids the use of written translations in the synagogue (Y Meg. 4:1, 28a or 74d).” (p 62).

And “Third, Willem Smelik has recently shown that in the early rabbinic period, the Palestinian rabbis did not like translations into Aramaic. Their remarks in Palestinian rabbinic texts repeatedly indicate that the rabbis reject the targums (Aramaic translations) usefulness and validity.”

And for how long did this primacy of Hebrew last? It would appear at least until 130-135 CE and the time of the Bar Kochba revolt. The esteemed LXX scholar Emanuel Tov also argues that Hebrew remained the language of the Rabbi’s through to at least 135 CE:

“Since the only text quoted by in the Rabbinic literature and used for the base for the Targumim and Vulgate is the MT [Masoretic Text – written in Hebrew], it stands to reason that it was the text embraced by the Rabbis. Furthermore, all the texts used by the religious zealots of Masada and the freedom fighters of Bar Kochba found in all other sites in the Judean Desert except for Qumran are identical with the medieval MT.” [9]

The evidence is now very strong that Hebrew continued to be used for Bible commentary and liturgical texts to military communications and legal documents through the time of Yeshua and even for centuries afterward. Judean coins from the period of the Great Revolt (70 CE) and of the Bar-Kochva Revolt (135 CE) also bear Hebrew inscriptions.

I give much more detail on these recent findings in my book The New Testament: The Hebrew Behind The Greek’ https://www.amazon.com.au/New-Testament-Language-Mindset-Hellenistic-ebook/dp/B009XO0NQU/

One of the realities that also comes out of our greater knowledge of these times is that even if Yeshua actually used Aramaic when he was teaching, it was evidently at the same moment translated into Hebrew, because from this time we have virtually no sayings or teachings from Israel recorded in Aramaic.

So what does all this really mean?

It means the original writings of the Good News of the Kingdom of God that were recorded as a result of the life, death and resurrection of Yeshua were written in Hebrew, to a Hebrew audience with a Hebrew and therefore Torah-centric mindset.

The evidence is also very well documented now that there were virtually no Gentile converts to the faith of Yeshua until at the very earliest around 45 CE (with Cornelius the Centurion). Therefore, the earliest versions of the Gospel were all in Hebrew with the Greek version of Matthew for example most likely not written until after 70 CE.

Flusser make this point quite forcefully in his argument that that the Greek Matthew was written after 70 CE by a Gentile/Greek person who did not have the best understanding of Jewish practices.

Amongst the evidence he cites is the use of the Greek word ‘phylacteries’ meaning ‘protective devices’ in Matt 23:5 which clearly indicates that the editor in translating the Hebrew ‘tefillin’ did not really understand what these tiny scrolls really were![10]

So what does this mean and what has happened since to bring about this betrayal of Yeshua?

Simply Gentiles somehow managed to remove all (or perhaps ironically ‘bury under the rubble’ as per Rabbi Gamaliel) the original Hebrew recordings of the Gospel of Yeshua and then used poor Greek translations to slowly and subtly, but very significantly alter the core message and introduce a great many falsehoods into the original faith of the followers of Yeshua.

It would be much more accurate to label this faith as ‘Yeshua Judaism’[11] (as opposed to the modern faith of Israel which is more accurately labelled ‘Akiva Judasim’ as it essentially follows the dictates of Rabbi Akiva).

It is past time to try to return to this faith.

This in part requires both a recognition of what these falsehoods are[12], but also to replace the Greek and Hellenistic mindset that mainstream Christianity has adopted with the Hebraic Mindset and Torah-centric value system that Yeshua and all his early disciples and followers had.

Part of the approach is to reject that argument from one of the founders of the Protestant movement in Martin Luther that the Epistle of James is an ‘epistle of straw’[13] and instead to revaluate the centrality and true meaning of the message in this great letter of Ya’acov (James) the brother of Yeshua.

For example, among many things Ya’acov speaks out against:

  • a superficial hearing of God’s Word;
  • pious speech but little practice of the same i.e. hypocritical behaviour;
  • the error of being dogmatic about Scriptural teaching, yet not fully understanding proper practice.[14]

But most crucially, Ya’acov calls for an obedience to Torah, and this means living righteously:

“22 You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works;
23 and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness—and he was called a friend of God.
24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”
– Ya’acov 2:22-24 (ESV)

“Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him demonstrate it by his good way of life, by actions done in the humility that grows out of wisdom.” – Ya’acov 3:13

I think that one of the biggest challenges to mainstream Christianity recognizing how much it has betrayed Yeshua and bringing about such a huge change in his focus and message, is for the academics and preachers within Christendom to look outside of their very narrow ‘echo-chamber’ and look to scholars like those at the Jerusalem School of Synoptic Research for guidance in the much needed re-evaluation of their reliance on Greek as the text through which to translate and understand the Gospel message.

And there are a great many Jewish scholars who are more than willing to help with this re-alignment and re-evaluation, such as Prof. Mark Nanos (perhaps the leading scholar on the Apostle Paul alive today), Prof. Pamela Eisenbaum of ‘Paul was NOT a Christian: The Original Message of a Misunderstood Apostle’); Prof. Adele Reinhartz of ‘Befriending The Beloved Disciple: A Jewish Reading of the Gospel of John’ and Prof. Amy-Jill Levine of ‘The Historical Jesus in Context’ with Dale C. Allison & John Dominic Crossan’, to name just a few.

Also, the New Testament texts need to be restored to the underlying Jewishness and Torah-centric message that they originally conveyed. Such a vital and challenging task is also being undertaken by the Jewish translator Uriel Ben Mordechai[15] who has already translated three of the NT letters, namely Hebrews, Galatians and Romans and is currently working on the Gospel of Yochanan (John).

Sadly, I am not optimistic that this transformation will occur.

The academics and preachers within Christendom (the use of ‘Christ’ instead of Messiah or Mashiach is so indicative of the significance of the problem) have such a huge vested interest in maintaining the status quo and at the same time have, for the most part, huge blinkers on that appear to prevent them from even considering the thesis of the article and instead reacting to it by either totally ignoring it, or trying through many methods such as the logical fallacies of ‘appeal to authority’ and ‘genetic fallacy’ to delegitimize this whole argument.

So to try to overcome these vested interests and centuries of inherited bias perhaps we need to ask, how much do you really want to know and follow Yeshua?

How much do you really want to know the Almighty and if you do, how willing are to listen to Him?

When Moses spoke with the nation of Israel as Yehovah directed him  he said Hear (i.e, listen very carefully and HEED what I say) O’Israel, Yehovah is our God, Yehovah is ONE. And you shalt love Yehovah your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.’

If you can hear this call today and this is truly your heartfelt desire, would it not be incumbent upon you to seriously question how well you know Yeshua, who and what he was, and  in turn what Yehovah desires of those that truly know Him to the point of loving Him?

If so, then please take the message shared here seriously enough to be open to considering it; to doing the research and study required to properly evaluate the claims made here and decide for yourself who you are called to follow, the Hebrew Yeshua or the Greek Jesus? vatican1

To finish and to affirm my great admiration for the lifetime efforts of Prof. David Flusser, I conclude with his words:

“The purified Judaism of (Yeshua) is one of the few hopes…probably the only hope to live in our world.”

Paul Herring
June 2018

 

[1] https://www.theguardian.com/news/2000/nov/14/guardianobituaries

[2] I will use his actual Hebrew name from here on in this article.

[3] See my book ‘Defending the Apostle Paul: Weighing the Evidence’ – https://www.amazon.com.au/Defending-Apostle-Paul-Weighing-Evidence-ebook/dp/B009TLLK0U/

[4] https://www.jerusalemperspective.com/14412/

[5] http://jewishstudies.rutgers.edu/docman/rendsburg/396-qumran-hebrew-studies-on-the-texts-of-the-desert-of-judah/file

[6] “It once happened that Rabbi Halafta went to Rabban Gamaliel, to Tiberias, and he found him sitting at the table of Johanan ben Nezif, with the Targum (i.e. Aramaic translation) of the Book of Job in his hand. Rabbi Halafta said to him: “I remember that Rabban Gamaliel the Elder, your father’s father, would sit on a stair of the Temple Mount. They brought before him the Targum of the Book of Job, and he said to the builder, ‘Bury it under the rubble.” – Tosefta Shabbat 14:2

[7] http://trove.nla.gov.au/work/27823855?q&versionId=33577534

[8] ibid

[9] http://www.emanueltov.info/docs/papers/11.large-scalediffs.2008.pdf?v=1.0  (p14)

[10] For more detail on this and many related issues please see my book ‘The NT: The Hebrew Behind the Greek’.

[11] As suggest by Bruce Barham of http://torahofmessiah.org/

[12] I detail some of them in my book ‘Doctrinal Pitfalls of Hellenism’ – https://www.amazon.com.au/Doctrinal-Pitfalls-Hellenism-Studies-Greek-ebook/dp/B00DO17CK8/

[13] Luther called it “a right strawy epistle in comparison with the writings of Paul, Peter and John.” –http://www.biblicalstudies.com/bstudy/expostudy/james.htm

[14] For details on the central and powerful message of Ya’acov please see my article at circumcisedheart.info ‘James The Just – Re-evaluating His Legacy’ – https://goo.gl/1N2vR9

[15] http://www.above-and-beyond-ltd.com/store/books/if.html

Two Re-Translations of John 1: A Comparison

By sheer coincidence I recently returned to an article I wrote some 4 years titled The Torah Dressed Itself in Flesh’. I then went to find the reference by Dr Jacobus (Coos) Schoneveld that I had based much of this article on.

In his article, produced as part of a 1990 journal to celebrate the 70th birthday of the great scholar Prof. David Flusser,  the late Dr Schoneveld gives his own re-translation of Yochanan (John) 1 based on his understanding of the Torah-centric nature of the text.  I had not read his version for some time. But now it really jumped out at me as to how similar it was to the very recent re-translation from Papryrus 66 produced by Uriel Ben Mordechai.

My article ‘The Torah Dressed Itself In Flesh’ is available at this link: https://goo.gl/3D2L98

Dr Schoneveld’s article here –  http://www.etrfi.info/immanuel/24/Immanuel_24_077.pdf   and some of my previous explanatory commentary on Uriel’s re-translation here –  https://globaltruthinternational.com/2018/02/03/the-yochanan-narrative-series/

I have provided a line by line comparison of the first 12 verses on the next page. Apart from the newer version of Uriel’s translation of Yochanan 1:1 which he provided some years ago in his outstanding book  ‘If: The End of a Messianic Lie’, (see older version after the comparison verses) there is an amazing similarity.

Close inspection will also reveal some very significant differences with most modern versions based on Greek  translations and Hellenistic-centric understandings.

vatican1

First the verse by Dr Jacobus (Coos) Schoneveld & then the version by Uriel Ben Mordechai

(1)    In the beginning was the Torah, and the Torah was toward God, and Godlike was the Torah.

1)      Essential for creation was the Torah, and the Torah was in the presence of G-d, and a godly object was the Torah”

(2)    It was this which was in the beginning toward God.

2)      This object stood with high honor, in harmony with G-d.”

(3)    All things emerged through it, and apart from it not one thing emerged.

3)      All things came into existence because of IT, and outside of IT, not a single notion came into being that was fashioned.

(4)    What has emerged in [or: through] it, was life, and the life was the light of the human beings.

4)      IT was for life and this life was for the illumination of mortals.

(5)    And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not take it away.

5)      And this illumination was made to radiate in the face of the blackness. And that gloominess will never defeat IT!

(6)    There emerged a human being sent forth from God, his name was John.

6)      A man came out, sent by G-d — his name: Yochanan.

(7)    It was he who came to witness, in order that he witnessed about the light, in order that through him all would be faithful.

7)      This man ended up becoming positioned as an eyewitness, for the purpose of giving testimony with reference to the illumination, so that all might come to trust, owing to IT

(8)    Not he was the light, but [he was there] in order that he witnessed about the light.

8)      In that place, the illumination wasn’t there. All the more reason for giving testimony concerning that illumination!

(9)    [The Torah] was the true light that enlightens each human being coming into the world.

9)      IT has been the genuine illumination, which enlightens all humanity entering into the world.

(10) In the world it was, and the world emerged through it, and the world did not recognize it.

10)   IT was present within the world, and even the world came into existence by virtue of IT, even though the world did not acknowledge IT

(11) To that which was its own, it came, and those who were its own, did not take it up.

11)   In the midst of this one special people, IT ended up being deposited, especially to this one chosen people; the same which they embraced.

(12)But whoever took it, to those it gave power to emerge as children of God, to those who were being faithful to His Name:

12)   As many as did take hold of IT, IT gave them prerogative to emerge as children of G-d; to those who are trusting in His Name, …

 

Uriel Ben Mordechai’s earlier version of verse 1 is also a closer match to Schoneveld’s version: “In the beginning was the Torah, and (the) Torah was for the sake of (the) G-d, And godly was (the) Torah.” [from the book ‘If: The End of a Messianic Lie’]

What really strikes me is how very similar these two versions are and what I think is the significance of this. As far as I am aware, Schoneveld did not base his translation on the earliest extant Greek manuscript, nor did he have access to the Hebrew version now available in the Vatican’s online library. Neither did Ben Mordechai  use Schoneveld’s version.

That these two versions have such a consistency of understanding of the references to Torah seems to offer a strong sense of fidelity in the early transmission of the text, along with supporting this Torah centric understanding.

And finally, in support of my article’s title and inference Schoneveld translated verse 14 as: (14) And the Torah emerged as flesh and tabernacled among us — and we beheld the glory of it, glory as of an only one from Father — [it — the Torah — was] full of grace-and-truth.

yochan 1 comparison

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(1)    (13) not from blood, nor from the desire of flesh, nor from the desire of man, but from God they have been caused to emerge. (14) And the Torah emerged as flesh and tabernacled among us — and we beheld the glory of it, glory as of an only one from Father — [it — the Torah — was] full of grace-and-truth. (15) John witnesses about it and has shouted saying: it was this of which I said: “The one who is coming after me has emerged before me, because my principal he was,” (16) because out of its fullness we all took even grace upon grace, (17) because the Law was given through Moses. The-grace-and-the-truth emerged through Jesus Christ. (18) God — nobody has ever seen Him. As an only son,11 ever at the Father’s bosom, it was he who showed the way.