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Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Evolution of Judaism

In more recent times, there has been renewed interest among Christians about the Jewish roots of their religion. Many thinking Christians have begun to seriously contemplate and consider the fact that the founder of their religion was an observant Jew. Indeed, the same could be said about the overwhelming majority of the followers whom he attracted during his lifetime on this planet.

In this connection, it is interesting to note that both religions lay claim to a body of literature and traditions that neither one very much resembles. While Christians embrace the God of the Torah and the intent of its laws, most of them reject its specifications and rituals. Likewise, Jews embrace the God of the Torah and the specific application of the laws given by "Him" to Moses, but they have abandoned almost all of the sacrificial and ritualistic system outlined within it. Moreover, the whole edifice of a centralized system of worship and religion which David and Solomon erected around the Temple in Jerusalem no longer exists. Both sides acknowledge the promise of a Messiah/Mashiach in the writings which we refer to as the Old Testament, but they reach dramatically different conclusions about how that promise was to be fulfilled.

All of which brings to mind an obvious question: Which religion (if either) is the legitimate heir to that body of literature and traditions which they both lay claim to? Jews appeal to the old "I was there first" line to justify their claim. Christians, on the other hand, appeal to the person and work of Jesus Christ to stake their claim to the Old Testament.

Now it is certainly beyond dispute that the Old Testament is a largely Hebrew/Jewish document, and that the religion based on those writings began with these people. Nevertheless, it is also clear that YHWH is purported to have warned these same people over and over again that they were in danger of losing their favored status with "Him." Under the terms of the covenant (as outlined in the Torah), the Jews were promised blessings for their obedience and severe consequences/penalties for their disobedience. (see Deuteronomy 28) In similar fashion, most of the prophets who followed Moses predicted that God would remove the favored status of the Jews and allow them and their Temple to be overwhelmed and overthrown by their enemies. The prophet Ezekiel even recorded a vision of the glory of the Lord departing from the Temple. (Ezekiel 10)

We know from both Scripture and secular history that the Jewish state did cease to exist, and that the temple and Jerusalem were destroyed. Moreover, it has been pointed out in previous posts on this blog that these events had catastrophic consequences for the Jewish religion. As the sacrifices, rituals and festivals centered on the Temple and its priesthood in Jerusalem, all of these things naturally disappeared when the Temple and priesthood were decimated by the Jews' enemies. Hence, Jews would argue that their religious practices evolved out of necessity to conform to the reality of their new circumstances.

According to Judaism 101, the Jews have traditionally rejected Jesus as the fulfillment of the promised Messiah because he did not conform to their view of what that personage was supposed to be and accomplish. On this site, Tracey Rich states that Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Mashiach because he "did not do any of the things that the scriptures said the messiah would do." More precisely, the author defines these things in the following way: "The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15)."

Of course, many Christians would say that these items constitute the second phase of Christ's mission (to be accomplished after his return to this earth in power and glory). Some would say that the Jews (along with many of their fellow Christians) have fundamentally misunderstood the nature of the promised activities of the Messiah. They would argue that much of what was prophesied and taught should be interpreted as spiritual milestones that would be achieved, not as literal political and cultural events on this earth.

Getting back to our original question (Which religion is the legitimate heir to that body of literature and traditions which they both lay claim to?), it is interesting to note that there haven't been any successful attempts to rebuild the Temple or restore the Jewish religion to its former practices since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. (less than forty years after Christ's crucifixion, death, resurrection and ascension). Why is that important to our discussion about the evolution of Judaism?

Take a moment to consider these things. Christians claim that Jesus was the fulfillment of the sacrificial system, Law and prophets. Christ himself is purported to have said that he came here to fulfill the Law and the prophets. (Matthew 5:17)

Perhaps there is no clearer statement of the Christian claim to be the rightful heirs of the God and traditions of the Old Testament than those outlined in the book of Hebrews. After describing the Temple and its rituals (Hebrews 9:1-10), we read: "When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are to come, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance - now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant." (Hebrews 10"11-15) Continuing into the next chapter, we read: "The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming - not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins. But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins." (Hebrews 10:1-4)

Think about what an interesting coincidence we have in the events of the First Century of the Common Era. The followers of Jesus of Nazareth claimed that he was the fulfillment of the Temple rituals and sacrifices and had given everyone access to the Holy of Holies (Most Holy Place or Inner Sanctuary), and the Temple was destroyed and the animal sacrifices specified by the Law ceased to be offered. Moreover, those items that were lost have never been rebuilt or restored by the Jews (or anyone else for that matter). Hmm, maybe this wasn't a coincidence after all! What do you think?

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