Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Jesus Christ conundrum: Why the Jews didn't acknowledge Yeshu ha'Notzi as the Messiah

The most perplexing conundrum regarding the Bible to a devout Christian is why didn't God's chosen people, i.e. the Jews, accept God's plan of sending his Son Jesus Christ as the Messiah?
To Jews who studied the scriptures Jesus did not measure up to their conception of what the Messiah was supposed to fulfill upon his earthly presence.
They anticipated according to 12th century Spanish rabbi Moses Maimonides in his "Laws Concerning the Installation of Kings":
"The Messiah will arise and restore the kingdom of David to its former might. He will rebuild the sanctuary and gather the dispersed of Israel. All the laws will be reinstated in his days as of old. Sacrifices will be offered and the Sabbatical and Jubilee years will be observed exactly in accordance with the commandments of the Torah. But whoever does not believe in him or does not await his coming denies not only the rest of the prophets, but also the Torah and our teacher Moses.
"Do not think that the Messiah needs to perform signs and miracles. bring about a new state of things in the world, revive the dead, and the like. It is not so....Rather it is the case in these matters that the statutes of our Torah are valid forever and eternally. Nothing can be added to them or taken away from them.
"And if there arise a king from the House of David who meditates on the Torah and practices its commandments like his ancestor David in accordance with the Written and Oral Law, prevails upon all Israel to walk in the ways of the Torah, and fights the battles of the Lord, then one may properly assume that he is the Messiah.
"If he is then successful in rebuilding the sanctuary on its site and in gathering the dispersed of Israel, then he has in fact (as a result of his success) proven himself to be the Messiah. He will then arrange the whole world to serve only God, as it is said: "For then shall I create a pure language for the peoples that they may call upon the name of God and serve him with one accord." (Zeph. 3:9).
Suffice it to say, none of these occurred during Jesus' one-year preaching, teaching and witnessing to those who came in contact with him.
Initially, when Jesus began his ministry around the year 28, teaching in the synagogue in his hometown, Nazareth, the congregation at first, "spoke well of him, and wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth." (Luke 4:22).
Then, on hearing more of his preaching, "all in the synagogue were filled with wrath." (Luke 4:28).
Other Jews were moved to follow him, and on one occasion his disciples and others stood about as he sat on a mountain -- the Sermon on the Mount -- at which "the crowds were astonished...for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes."(Matthew 7:28-29)
When Jesus heals a man on the Sabbath, the Pharisees, a Jewish faction, "went out, and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him." (Mark 3:6)
When Jesus seeks to justify himself, citing the authority of God, his "Father," then " the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he not only broke the Sabbath but also called God his own Father, making himself equal to God." (John 5:16)
The trial of Jesus and his subsequent crucifixion contributed to hatred of the Jews who were blamed for this tragic moment which sparked a new religion, Christianity following the "resurrection" of Jesus.
 According to Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser in his book "Judaism and the Christian Predicament", on pages 211-243: "Pontius Pilate played the central role in the tragedy of the crucifixion...
"The Gospels, read carefully, offer many indication that the drama surrounding the execution and arrest of Jesus was part of the larger drama of the Roman endeavor to crush Jewish resistance to Roman rule."
In the gospel of Mark 14:43-72, 15:1-15, the arrest of Jesus occurs: "And immediately, while he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the 12, and with him a crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the scribes and the elders. Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, 'The one I shall kiss is the man; seize him and lead him away safely.' And when he came, he went up to him at once, and said 'Master!' And he kissed him, And they laid hands on him and seized him...
"And they led Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests and the elders were assembled....Now, the chief priest, and the whole counsel sought testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none....And some stood up and bore false witness against him, saying, 'We heard him say, I will destroy this Temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.'
"Yet not even so did their testimony agree. And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, 'Have you no answer to make? What is it that these men testify against you?' But he was silent and made no answer. Again the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, 'Are you the Christ, the son of the Blessed?' And Jesus said: 'I am; and you will see the son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.'
"And the high priest tore his mantle, and said, 'Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard his blasphemy. What is your decision?' And they all condemned him as deserving death...And as soon as it was morning the chief priests, with the elders and scribes and the whole counsel held a consultation; and they bound Jesus and led him away and delivered him to Pilate. And Pilate asked him, 'Are you the King of the Jews?' And he answered him 'You have said so.' And the chief priests accused him of many things. And Pilate again asked him, 'Have you no answer to make? See how many charges they bring against you.'
"But Jesus made no further answer, so that Pilate wondered. Now at the feast he used to release for them any one prisoner whom they asked. And among the rebels in prison, who had committed murder in their insurrection, there was a man called Barabbas. And the crowd came up and began to ask Pilate to do as he was wont to do for them. And he answered them, 'Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?' For he perceived that it was out of envy that the chief priests had delivered him up. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release for them Barabbas instead. And Pilate again said to them, 'Then what shall I do with the man whom you call King of the Jews?'
"And they cried out again, 'Crucify him.' And Pilate said to them 'Why, what evil has he done?' But they shouted all the more, 'Crucify him.' So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabas; and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified."
Jesus' Judgment Day occurred in controversial circumstances. The only people who know what really occurred met behind closed doors, but here's what's been written:
Following his arrest, Jesus is alleged to have been taken to the residence of the High Priest, where he was tried that very night by the council -- the synedrion, as it is called in the Greek original -- with the High Priest acting in the role of presiding officer. But the details of this trial present many irregularities according to Rabbi Bokser who in his chapter "The Perversion of History" in his book "Judaism and the Christian Predicament" on page 217 wrote:
"If the proceedings had been concluded during the night session, why did the council deliberate again "as soon as it was morning"? More baffling is the divergence of this account from the record describing the procedure by which the Sanhedrin conducted its sessions, which has been preserved in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:1). Here the court is described as sitting only in the daytime, and never on a day of a festival or a day preceding a festival. It is unthinkable that the Sanhedrin would have met on the night of Passover. The Roman authorities themselves exempted Jews from appearing before Roman courts on Sabbaths and festivals and on days preceding them. The Mishnah rules, too, that a verdict of guilty in a capital case could not be promulgated the same day. It was to be deferred for the day following. The procedure also required that the trial begin with a consideration of circumstances favorable to the defendant, and only subsequently was the prosecution to be presented."
As Hugo Mantel has recently shown in "Studies in the History of the Sanhedrin) on pp. 176 ff., 254: "All the evidence in rabbinic sources, moreover, indicates that the presiding officer of the Sanhedrin was a Pharisaic scholar, not the High Priest, and that this Sanhedrin never met in the residence of the High Priest. Its regular meeting place was in the "Gazit" chamber in the Temple precincts."
The Sanhedrin is alleged to have found Jesus guilty of "blasphemy." This is a grave offense in biblical and rabbinic law, punishable by death. If Jesus had really been charged and found guilty of blasphemy according to Rabbi Bokser on page 218: "Most scholars are in agreement that the Jewish courts of that time were competent to impose the death penalty for capital offenses, if of a religious nature. Indeed, according to the Gospel of John, Pilate suggested to the deputation of the High Priest that Jesus be dealt with by the Jews themselves. They replied that it was not within their authority to execute anyone (John 18:31). But how could Pilate have suggested that they perform an act which Roman law itself had forbidden? Pilate's statement becomes intelligible if we assume that he originally judged the complaint against Jesus as religious in nature and therefore asked that the Jewish authorities assume jurisdiction. Some commentators have also found it strange that here (John 18:62) Jesus is quoted as making a public acknowledgment of his messiahship. This runs counter to the general plan of the Gospel of Mark, according to which the messiahship of Jesus was a secret known only to the chosen few, which was to become common knowledge only after the crucifixion.
"We face a more serious difficulty in comprehending the behavior of Pilate, the Jewish leaders, and the Jerusalem crowd. Pilate is here portrayed as a weak but kindly man, one who has a strong sense of equity but who allows outside pressures to deflect him from doing what is right. He is described as convinced that Jesus is innocent and is anxious to release him, but the crowd, instigated by the Jewish authorities, presses him to execute Jesus, and he yields to them."
In conclusion upon these highly controversial consequences suffice it to conclude, according to Rabbi Bokser on page 243 of his book: "The crucifixion of Jesus was an incident in the Roman oppression of the Jewish people. Some Jewish leaders were involved in the events, but they were colonial administrators serving under an occupation government; they were an auxiliary element in the Roman administration. They did not represent their own people; they were, in fact, part of the apparatus by which the Roman administration operated. Jesus was crucified because his movement threatened the stabilility of the existing order, and the existing order in this context was the political order which presided the Roman procurator. The initiative for the action against Jesus in an ultimate sense, however the consequence of events really occurred, was with the Romans whose order was threatened, and not with the Jews who, as a people, were themselves the victims of that order.
Those who converted to Christianity followed the teachings of Paul and didn't let the Jewish scenario interfere with their new-found faith.
In his book "Why the Jews Rejected Jesus" David Klinghoffer opines: "The Jews rejected the Christian claim for Jesus in large part because God wanted then to see the true Messiah in Jesus, if in fact their eternal salvation was dependent on their making this identification, then He would have made it much clearer, far less open to doubt. God is fair.
"To think he wants Jesus to abandon the Torah and its commandments on the basis of an interpretation of the prophets that seems so tenuous."
Klinghoffer continues, "Even as some Jews argued with one another about philosophy, others argued with Christians. The latter charged that Judaism denied reason, while Jews maintained that the belief in Jesus simply wasn't logical. Here it was possible for the bitterly clashing opponents to argue on equal ground.
"There were two articles of Christian faith that Jews objected to with particular vigor: the Trinity and the Incarnation. In advocating these, Christians asked Jews to embrace beliefs that both contradicted logic and denied certain basic principles about God. Contradictions of that kind, the Jews said, they could not accept."
Jesus' Jewish contemporaries had every reason to scoff at his pretensions, since he did not live up to their minimal criteria for what a messiah was supposed to do -- which was first and foremost to liberate the land and people of Israel from foreign oppression...he failed to meet Judaism's evidentiary standards.
According to Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser in his book "Judaism and the Christian Predicament",  "The Gospel accounts disclose to us that Jesus lived and died as a Jew, within the framework of Jewish belief and Jewish practice."
In Rudolf Butmann's book "Form Criticism": "It must remain questionable whether Jesus regarded himself as the messiah, and did not rather first become messiah in the faith of his community (page 71).
On page 183-184, Bultmann maintains, "A detailed examination of the teachings of Jesus disclosed him to have been within the mainstream of the living tradition of Judaism. The pioneer of critical studies in the Old and New Testaments, Julius Wellhausen categorically declared: "Jesus was not a Christian; he was a Jew. He did not preach a new faith, but taught men to do the will of God; and in his opinion, as also in that of the Jews, the will of God was found in the Law of Moses and in the other books of Scripture." (Wellhausen's "Einleitung in die drei ersten Evangelien, page 113).
"Wellhausen's judgment on the Jewishness of Jesus is fully supported by modern scholarship."
So, how do Jews evaluate who Jesus was?
Jesus is revealed as a former student of Torah who went seriously off the rails and became a spiritual danger to the people Israel.
His mother was Miriam (Mary), a women's hairdresser who was married but conceived the baby Yeshu by another man, Pandira, according to R. Travers Herford in "Christianity in Talmud and Midrash".
About Miriam, it is said that she was of a royal bloodline but "played the harlot with carpenters," suggesting that it was the paramour, Pandira, who was the carpenter -- not Jesus's adoptive father, Joseph, as in the Gospel story, according to a tractate "Sanhedrin" in the Talmud.
Yeshu grew up to be a disciple of a great rabbi, Joshua ben Perachya. On a certain occasion Yeshu and Joshua ben Perachya were staying at an inn. They had a disagreement about a term the mentor used and the teacher took offense and cast him out of Rabbi Joshua's circle.
He was rebuffed on numerous occasions. Finally he went away and started his teachings which were heretical to fellow devout Jews.
At the end of this narrative, the Talmud gives the outcome thusly, "Yeshu ha'Notzri practiced magic and led astray and deceived Israel.
The prophecies in Isaiah 2:4: "They shall beat their swords into ploughshares...nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore," did not reach its fruition during Jesus' time on earth.
In Isaiah 52:13 reads, "Behold, My servant will succeed; he will be exalted and become high and exceedingly lofty," a 12th century commentator David Kimchi retorted, "the only place that Jesus was lifted up and exalted was the tree on which they hung him."
Another passage, Micah 5:1, held messianic significance to both Jews and Christians prophesying that the Messiah would come from Bethlehem: "Bethlehem -- Ephratah -- you are too small to be among the thousands of Judah, but from you someone will emerge for Me to be a ruler over Israel..."
Jesus wasn't a ruler over Israel, or as Kimchi responded, "He did not govern Israel but they governed him" which was in reference to the way the Jewish authorities treated Jesus harshly in his final hours, who either killed him themselves (the Talmud's version) or connived with the Romans to do so (the New Testament Gospels' version). This transcription appeared in Frank Talmadge's "Disputation and Dialogue: Readings in the Jewish-Christian Encounter."
One of the most problematic Christian dogmas, the Trinity is antipathetic to the Jews' belief in God's Oneness, "Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord is the One and Only." (Deut. 6:4)
The early Christians believed in a duality of God, the Father and the Son, which Talmudic rabbis railed against. The Trinity emerged with the Nicene Creed in 325.
Maimonides contemptibly wrote in "Guide of the Perplexed", p.27: "Those that believe that God is One, and that He has many attributes, declare the unity with their lips, and assume plurality in their thoughts. This is like the doctrine of the Christians, who say that He is one and He is three, and that the three are one."
Jesus' Incarnation drew the most scorn from Jews. Rabbi Hasdai Crescas, a 14th century Spanish philosopher wrote in "The Refutation of Christian Principles," on page 35: "Even if we posit that God can become incarnate, this redemption is impossible."
The historian Gershom Scholem writes in "The Messianic Idea in Judaism" "The pages of the Talmud tractate Sanhedrin which deal with the Messianic age drive toward the point that the Messiah will come only in an age which is either totally pure or totally guilty and corrupt."
According to Rabbi Dr. Ben Zion Bokser in his book "Judaism and the Christian Predicament" on pages 161-162, "The Bible affirms the hope that the travail of the centuries will finally bear fruit, that the world will respond to the leadership of God's chosen witness and emmissary, the people of Israel. The world will finally learn to acknowledge God as King over all the earth, and build a world community faithful to the demands of His sovereignty. Sometimes the Bible links this hope with the mediating work of the messiah, a term which means literally an "anointed one," an allusion to the ancient practice of investing a leader in his office by a ceremony of anointment.
"Kings Saul, David and Zedekiah, and even a pagan king, Cyrus the Persian, are called in the Bible meshiah, from which derives the term messiah.
"In other instances the Bible does not refer to a mediating leader, but speaks directly of a golden age of the future which would climax historic development by inaugurating a world order of universal enlightenment and peace (Isaiah 2 and Micah 4).
"It is the messianic hope that inspires the all-pervading optimism of the Hebrew Bible. The present was often bitter and disillusioning, but the biblical writers were always animated by the faith that history was moving, by slow and sometimes faltering steps, away from idolatry and falsehood and unrighteousness toward the ascendant triumph of enlightenment, justice, mercy and peace."
Continuing Dr. Bokser on pages 169-170 writes, "The Rabbis elaborated on the biblical hope for the ultimate triumph of God's plan for human life. These elaborations flow in diverse directions, sometimes not charted by the Bible. The biblical formation of this hope often occurred at a time when the Jewish people was set on its own soil, living as a nation among nations. This hope therefore accented the universal note, the larger liberation of all mankind...The Jewish hope, as expressed by the Rabbis, remained faithful to the biblical ideal. It was a hope for a change in the historical order, for a change in the lives of men and nations. "The messianic age will differ from the present order in the absence of oppressive empires," one Sage declared (Berakot 34b). The messianic age will be characterized, in other words, by a prevalence of freedom and the absence of oppressive violence."
Furthermore, Dr. Bokser writes on pages 333 and 334, "The belief that man's salvation can be effected only by God's "self-sacrifice," by the blood of the crucified Jesus, is for the Jew a reversion to the primitive, which he cannot reconcile with his conviction that "clean hands a pure heart" (Psalms 24:4) is all a man needs to come before his Maker.
"Judaism teaches a belief in the Messiah, but what is primary in the messianic faith in Judaism is its historical content. The core of this belief is the vision of a new world order of justice, freedom, and peace to replace the epoch of oppression of man by man and nation by nation."
Martin Buber in "Two Types of Faith" differentiated the Jewish and Christian conceptions of the messiah in these terms: "If we wish to reduce the schism between Jews and Christians, between Israel and the Church, to a formula, we can say: The Church stands on the belief in the 'having come' of Christ as the God-given redemption of man.
"We Israel, are incapable of believing this. The Church views our declaration either as a case of not wanting to believe, as a very questionable sort of obduracy, or else as a kind of curse, as a basic limitation on the ability to recognize reality, as the blinding of Israel which prevents it from seeing the light...But we...know...that the world has not yet been redeemed. We know it as surely as we know that the air we breathe exists...We apprehend the unredeemedness of the world...For us, the redemption of the world is indivisibly equated with the completion of creation, with the erection of a unity no longer hindered by anything, no longer suffering any contradiction, realized in all the multiplicity of the world, equated, in short, with the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. We are incapable of comprehending anticipation of the consummate redemption of the world, in any partial respect, such as the soul's already being redeemed, however much redeeming and becoming redeemed manifest themselves to us too much in our mortal hours."
Thus, in conclusion for Jews Jesus was not the Messiah they envisioned.
He did not bring back an indwelling of the dispersed Jews.
He did not rebuild the Temple.
He did not reign over Israel as its Davidic-like King.
He did not institute world peace and harmony amongst men.
But his teachings, preachings, healings, resurrections of two dead and his crucifixion and resurrection which are documented in the four epistles, eventually spawned a new religion, Christianity.
To Christians Jesus was the Messiah.
To Jews, they're still awaiting a messianic age.

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