Saturday, February 4, 2017

The greatest page Jacob Neusner ever wrote

In Judaism in the Beginning of Christianity, Jacob Neusner wrote what is in my opinion the greatest page he ever wrote, anywhere. Reproduced in full, that page is:

The ancient rabbis look out upon a world destroyed and still smoking in the aftermath of calamity, but they speak of rebirth and renewal. The holy Temple lay in ruins, but they ask about sanctification. The old history was over, but they look forward to future history. Theirs, as we see, is a message that what is true and real is the opposite of what people perceive. God stands for paradox. Strength comes through weakness, salvation through acceptance and obedience, sanctification through the ordinary and profane, which can be made holy. Now to informed Christians, the mode of thought must prove remarkably familiar. For the cross that stands for weakness yields salvation, and the crucified criminal is king and savior. That is the foolishness to which the apostle Paul makes reference. Yet the greater the "nonsense"—life out of the grave, eternity from death—the deeper the truth, the richer the paradox! So here we have these old Jews, one group speaking of sanctification of Israel, the people, the other of salvation of Israel and the world. Separately, they are thinking along the same lines, coming to conclusions remarkably congruent to one another, affirming the paradox of God in the world, of humanity in God's image, in the rabbinical framework; of God in the flesh, in the Christian. Is it not time for the joint heirs of ancient Israel's Scripture and hope to meet once more, in humility, before the living God? Along with all humanity, facing backward toward Auschwitz and total destruction, and forward to complete annihilation of the world as we know it—is it not time?
It is time for Jewish and Gentile believers to bury the hatchet and come together in humility to worship the one true and living God. The Holy One, Blessed be He. YHWH. I wish that more on each side of the large divide could study with a humble eye all of the shared history and shared beliefs and set aside centuries of error. Setting aside blame, and looking upon one another as brothers—one the prodigal son, the other the son who stayed put and toiled away—is the way forward.

The works of great scholars such as Neusner and Edersheim shed light on the places where beliefs and practices overlapped in the first centuries on either side of Jesus/Yeshua, and it is on these shared beliefs and customs that we must focus if we are to learn and grow. In the intervening centuries, Judaism and Christianity would become religions, separate and one might even say wholly unrecognizable to what they were in their infancy. This isn't to suggest that Judaism had been static up until the destruction of the Temple. However, it is worth noting that the feud which essentially exists between these two faiths rests on those centuries of misunderstandings and interpretations that most certainly wouldn't be recognized by our first century ancestors in belief.

Shalom.