Mosaic Magazine

Response to: "Evangelicals and Israel"October 2013

My Dinner with Irving

On evangelicals, the evangelical Left, and the Jews

My Dinner with Irving

Several years ago, I gave a lecture at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI) on the subject of religion and secularism. Afterward, the discussion continued at a relaxed and intimate dinner for selected guests—an occasion greatly enlivened by the presence of the late Irving Kristol, then an AEI senior fellow, and his wife Gertrude Himmelfarb, the distinguished historian. As usual, Irving had plenty to say. In particular, when the subject turned to the distinctive character of evangelical Christianity, he pronounced himself in a manner that I (and others in the room) remember vividly to this day. “Well, after all,” he remarked, with casual assurance, “religion is what you’re born with.”

But no, I insisted in response, that was precisely what evangelicals don’t believe. There are no grandchildren in the kingdom of heaven, they like to say, which is their way of asserting that religious truth is something each person must come to individually through a process of personal conversion, a process that does not require a church or a priest but is thought to be a direct and unmediated act of “coming to Jesus.” Hence there are no legacy admissions, for this faith cannot be inherited or otherwise passed along; it must be re-appropriated freshly by each generation. This is why evangelicals say, following Jesus’ words to Nicodemus, that one must be “born again.” The first birth is not the one that counts.

Irving was completely unmoved by my impromptu catechesis. “Religion is what you’re born with,” he repeated, unraveling an amused smile and seemingly all the more pleased with a formulation that had kicked up some dust in the room. Even his wife sitting next to him, who knows a very great deal about Anglo-American evangelicalism, clearly thought him off-base. “Irving, you don’t understand. . . ,” she started, but then gently shook her head in an exasperation no doubt earned through years of experience.

As for me, with my deep respect for Irving, I couldn’t help beginning to wonder whether he may have understood something important that I was missing.


This little episode came to mind as I read Robert W. Nicholson’s thoughtful open letter to American Jews about evangelical-Jewish relations. It came to mind partly because Kristol was one of the first prominent American Jewish intellectuals to proclaim that Jews ought to be less dismissive of their evangelical admirers, but indeed should learn to cherish evangelicals as loyal and reliable allies, preferable in most ways to secular liberals. This declaration brought down on him a level of wrath and ridicule and repudiation that was stunning in its vehemence. Irving fully expected that reaction, and never showed any sign of being upset by it. He realized that the religion that his Jewish detractors were born with—militantly secular liberalism, welded to a sense of ethnic identity—would impel them to deal harshly, even savagely, with his apostasy.

One thing that Nicholson perhaps underestimates, given his typically evangelical generosity to the ideal of the free and uncoerced conscience, is just how difficult, how very nearly unthinkable, it is for most American Jews to imagine taking seriously the beliefs of most evangelicals. It is hard to judge—and as a non-Jew, I perhaps have no business even trying—whether the greater force in producing this near-unanimity is cultural consensus or cultural fear. Both probably play a role, and the fears involved are powerful ones, manifested not only publicly but on the most intimate levels.

I think of a Jewish friend, a man of impressive intellect and great moral courage, who converted to Christianity after two decades of waiting . . . for his mother to die. If this sounds like the material for a great Jewish joke, it is also powerful testimony to Irving’s contention that religion is what you are born with. For if this man had really fully believed that his eternal salvation depended on his acceptance of Jesus as his savior, would he have waited all those years? Would he have waited ten minutes?

That may be putting it ungenerously. Loyalty to what you were born with carries a weight of moral obligation all its own, not only for Jews but perhaps for Jews especially. Strangely, it seems that this logic of loyalty persists even when the specifically religious elements in Jewish identity have been all but banished in favor of full-bore secular liberalism. That would certainly help explain the vehement reaction to Irving’s daring to say a good word about an evangelical-Jewish alliance.


All this goes to underscore the importance of Nicholson’s message. It is a message that today needs to be heard more than ever as Israel faces mortal peril in a world where it is increasingly alone and abandoned, with anti-Semitism, having acquired a new lease on life, on the rampage. Under the circumstances, American Jews need especially to overcome their hardwired prejudices and see the clear truth that 300 million evangelicals have been, and still are, arguably Israel’s most stalwart non-Jewish allies in the Western world. 

Just as important, what needs to be understood is that this stalwart support is not imperishable and that it cannot be taken for granted in the future. Nicholson supports with his own research and interviews the important work of Gerald McDermott in identifying the rise of an anti-Israel movement within American evangelicalism, potentially a very serious and consequential departure.

Nicholson is right about this, and the movement he describes is real. At the same time, however, I would urge caution lest one exaggerate the extent or the durability of anti-Israel evangelicalism—or, for that matter, the size and influence of the American evangelical Left altogether.

Anti-Israel sentiment among evangelical elites is strongest in the academic world and in international missions and relief groups. But the actual influence of such groups on the larger world of American evangelical churches is debatable. One can count on the fingers of two hands, with fingers left over, the number of voluble and publicity-savvy figures on the evangelical Left like Sojourner’s Jim Wallis. (Frank Schaeffer, whom Nicholson quotes as urging “an end to the largely unchallenged influence of Christian Zionism,” is a convert to Eastern Orthodoxy.) And Bethlehem Bible College, while a seedbed for the kind of pro-Palestinian revisionism that is enjoying a run of popularity with the American evangelical Left, is not itself an American college.

So I would be wary and vigilant, but not unduly panicked. The fact is that evangelicalism thrives on a flat and somewhat amorphous ecclesiastical structure, without popes or bishops or prelates. This renders it hard to be captured by ideological missionaries—particularly ones who openly reject the authority of the Bible as so many on the evangelical Left do.

Moreover, figures like Wallis have badly tarnished their credibility by their near-total identification with Democratic-party politics. They made a reputation for themselves post-9/11 by opposing the Bush administration’s anti-terror policies, but their abject and total silence as the Obama administration has continued those same policies, expanding them into areas like the use of unmanned drones to assassinate putative terrorists, has left them utterly discredited in the eyes of many of their idealistic young followers. For years, the evangelical Right has been accused of choosing Caesar over God by aligning itself with the Republican party and conservative politics. Now the charge applies in spades to the evangelical Left.

In any event, much more important, and more worthy of concern, are the “mainline” Protestant denominations, including the Presbyterian Church USA, the Episcopal Church, and others. Their antagonism to Israel is blatant and of long standing; of even longer standing is their fealty to the standard desiderata of theological and political liberalism. Indeed, the growing liberalization of American evangelicalism can itself be seen as a convergence with the beliefs and views of these churches, bleaching out the particularisms inherent in the Jewish and Christian faiths and reducing them to a bland universalism. This is a movement that speaks to the status anxieties of the rising generation of young evangelicals, affluent, suburban-bred, and socially mobile, who are intent that, whatever else their church will be, it will not be the church of their fathers. That is generally what they mean in proclaiming their ideal of a “countercultural” faith. 

I do not mean to sound dismissive of this generation. I often lecture in evangelical colleges, and I love the students I meet there. But I am struck by some of the very phenomena that Nicholson describes. They appear to be getting a very limited education, particularly in politics and economics. Instead, they are heavy on emotivism, a disposition that leaves them prepared to speculate endlessly about what they imagine “Jesus would do” but poorly equipped for engagement with challenging points of view.


How to overcome these limitations and what they might portend? I can think of few better ways than by bringing such students into a fuller awareness of the Jewish roots of their own faith. For how can one possibly grasp the Christian doctrine of vicarious atonement, or the meaning of the Eucharist, without understanding how those ideas are grounded in Jewish understandings of sin, guilt, and expiation? How to understand the source of human rights and inviolable dignity without recurring to the biblical belief that man is made in the image of God?

To be sure, the evangelical-Jewish alliance will always be at least partially a matter of strange bedfellows. That can’t be helped, and it shouldn’t be denied. The differences are profound. But at the same time, there is a deep commonality, going to the heart of both faiths and revealed by and through the course of two millennia of human history. It is, I think, most succinctly expressed in the idea that both traditions worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That phrase carries the weight of a distinct cosmology, anthropology, and moral universe.

This, in other words—and in ways that Jews perhaps understand better than evangelicals—is the religion that both groups have indeed been “born with,” as Irving was right to suggest. That bedrock fact points to at least the possibility of an alliance destined, in the fullness of time, to be of far more than mere political convenience. 


Wilfred M. McClay is the Blankenship Chair in the history of liberty at the University of Oklahoma and director of its Center for the History of Liberty. 


  • Martin38

    The relationship between Christians and Jews is based on a far more basic issue than shared beliefs and biblical interpretation. I find that tenuous and somewhat superficial. The real question that each Christian must ask themselves is why, from among the many, Hashem chose the Jews to deliver the Messiah to the world?

    • Jeff Gunn

      Your response is puzzling. There are no shared beliefs when you boil it down: Jews believe that correct actions lead to correct beliefs, while Christians believe that correct beliefs lead to correct actions. They are, in reality, opposite belief systems. The real question you ask is only a Christian question, and does not relate to Jews at all.

      • Everett Benson

        Very many of the beliefs that are core to Christianity are already present in biblical and post-biblical Judaism, which is why Christianity, to validate itself, tries to lay claim to the Jewish Scriptures as its own and terms itself “fulfilled Judaism.” But unfortunately, the early Church painted a false picture of Jewish beliefs and practices, often demonizing them, to highlight their own distinctiveness and the legitimacy of their claim to have completely appropriated the role of Israel, God’s dedicated people. This, and other beliefs that were introduced by Christianity (e.g., suppressing the Noahide Covenant idea in Judaism which assumed nearly universal salvation for humanity without the need to convert to any one religion, and replacing it with an exclusive claim to salvation through Christianity alone) did indeed create a new religion that fundamentally differed in its view of God, of Israel’s role and nature, and of the Covenant-Scripture that bound together God and Israel. God was made triune, with the God of Sinai just one of its forms, that of Creator, while its Savior figure was novel, a dying-and-rising divinized human; the Sinai Covenant, while being retained as a prelude along with the “Old Testament” that resulted from it, was also relegated to the past, subordinated to and largely superseded by a New Covenant and Testament centered on its Savior figure; and finally Israel itself, the people shaped by the Torah covenant into a specific kind of society, was supplanted by a religious cult that has managed to accommodate many different actual societies that did not observe the Torah covenant and commandments either in deed or, often, even in spirit. So the result was indeed a new religion that both drew deeply on, and also often repudiated, the Jewish religion.

        As a consequence, the New Testament is not a reliable source for information about traditional Torah-centered Judaism. One of the misconceptions it conveys is that Judaism is just a religion of outward actions but lacks inward spiritual faith. This has never been true. Faith in God, in the Sinai revelation and the Oral Tradition that reflects it, and in all the many values that we find in the Torah and Judaism more generally, has always been intensively inculcated in traditional Judaism from childhood up. The Torah itself begins with belief affirmations, after all, and the entire history of the creation of the people Israel is a history of faith finding embodiment in actual lovingkindness and sanctifications of life. Heartfelt trusting beliefs are emphasized throughout the Jewish annual calendar of festivals and in all daily prayers. They even are stated whenever doing a commandment, as their justification and source. This is for example notably true for the Ten Commandments themselves. The First Commandment, presented as the basis of all the rest, urges acknowledgement of and faith in the one God, the Creator of the universe and the personal Lord of history, the Redeemer who took Israel out of Egypt and revealed himself at Sinai. These beliefs appear again in the central Jewish confession of faith, the Shema (Deut. 6:4-9), which is taught to small children as their first Jewish practice and prayer, which is recited throughout life by adults when awakening and when going to bed, which is also repeated twice daily in formal daily prayer services, and which is uttered with one’s last breath by the dying.

        Faith is absolutely fundamental to Judaism, but it is not separated from what we do, rather it is obviously shown and sustained by what we do. Action flows from faith, so that is primary, but then the action in turn helps to enlarge and anchor that faith in real life, effecting sanctifications and healings and creating a merciful and just community. These intentions and actions are faith responses, in short, to the loving God who, we acknowledge, created and sustains us. The prophetic message is not contrary to the commandments, as so often said by Christian theologians, but rather is only realized, enacted and fulfilled in the imperatives of the commandments; only this removes faith from the realm of mere sentiment and makes it real in life. The commandments are therefore the embodiment of the Mosaic and prophetic faith imperatives taught at Sinai; they actualize and convey God’s grace.

        A crucial aspect of Protestant Christianity that very early gave rise to a more sympathetic and insightful understanding of Jews and Judaism was the tendency of some of the early Reformers (Protestant leaders) to acknowledge the continuing divine relevance of Jews and Judaism, and its continuing divine witness, so that Christians could and should indeed learn from it and support it, encouraging Jews to maintain their own Judaism, rather than simply seek its replacement with their own Christian faith. Supersessionism contested with pre-millenial dispensationist, dual covenant ideas that were no longer so exclusivist, and that were willing to postpone to the actualized Messianic Era all questions about final matters. Many evangelical Christians today have renounced conversionary agendas, and sincerely wish Jews to become more Jewish in religion rather than Christian, as part of God’s plan. From the Jews come blessing for all humanity, just as God promised Abraham. These are true friends of Israel, and Jews should welcome them very warmly.

        • Rick Gibson

          Mr. Benson:

          Let me disagree with you, on one basic point. You, like many Jews, assume that the modern Jewish religion is the same basic religion as that of the Tanakh, and argue that Christianity is the innovator. You criticize Christianity, for seeking the authority of Jewish scripture, yet not remaining true to it.

          The truth of the matter is that both modern, rabbinic Judaism and Christianity are descended from biblical Judaism, but are quite different from biblical Judaism. The Books of Moses set out a long and detailed list of laws, which no one even tries to follow now. No one has any cities of refuge. No one releases debts every seven years. Torah has a whole, intricate social and legal code, which is simply not followed. For modern Jews to claim that they are the “real” followers of Torah, and that Christians have tacked on all kinds of new things, is disingenous. The truth is, both religions started with biblical Judaism and then took it in new directions.

          Both sides, of course, have their reasons for what they have done. The Torah, for example, clearly commands animal sacrifice. Neither religion does this. Modern Jews say that they do not, because they have lost the Temple, and sacrifice is not proper without the Temple. Christians do not practice animal sacrifice, because the Crucifixation is seen as the ultimate atoning sacrifice, making all other sacrifices unnecessary.

          Who is more faithful to Torah? That is an interesting question, that could be debated in many ways. The truth, however, is that neither side really wants to be faithful to Torah, as Torah. Both sides read Torah through later texts. Christians, of course, are quite open about reading Torah through the lens of the Gospel, and when the Torah and Gospel are in tension, we all know which text wins in Christian circles.

          The same, however, is true among moderns Jews. They read Torah through the lens of Talmud. An Orthodox Jewish friend of mine explained it like this. It is like a chess game. Torah states the opening positions of the chess pieces. Talmud gives you the permissible rules for moving the pieces. After two thousand years of Talmud, the pieces, today, are in a very different place than they were at the start.

          Jews and Christians often assume that we have more in common than we do. Yes, we start with the same ancient text. But both sides have two thousand years of reading it through very different traditions. To understand each other, we need to start by understanding this long history.

          • Everett Benson

            I very much regret that I only came back to this webpage a moment ago, and did not respond three days ago. Possibly the author has left the site permanently, and few will be reading it in the future. However, let me briefly respond to the many misconceptions of Rick Gibson’s post.

            Firstly, the assertion that Judaism is a new religion that developed in the post-biblical period, and is as much a novel interpretation of biblical spirituality as Christianity, is easily shown to be entirely incorrect. We can say that every religion is structured and even defined by three things: the ultimate source-reality the religion posits, the person/community that experiences this reality, and the bond that links the two. Biblical Judaism, already at Mt. Sinai, defined these as, respectively, the one transcendental yet personal God who created the universe and grounds all things, Israel, an actual people, the Jewish people, created as such at Mt. Sinai, and the Torah covenant that guides the internal life of that people and provides the bond between God and Israel. This Torah covenant is understood in the Hebrew Scriptures itself to include not only later books of the Hebrew Scriptures but also oral interpretations that already were necessary in the time of Moses, for much in the Torah commandments is stated briefly and from the start needed clarification in terms of applications (see on this, e.g., Exod. 18). For more detail, see for example the article “Oral Law” in the Jewish Encyclopedia on-line, and more fully in R. Michael Shelomo Bar-Ron, Oral Torah from Sinai: The Case for the Authenticity of the Oral Torah (2011).

            Post-biblical Judaism is structured by the same three basic elements. Its primal reality remains the utterly transcendental one God of the universe, creator and savior, revealed at Mt. Sinai. The community responding in love to God remains a real people, Israel, the Jewish people right up to the present time. And the bond between the two, defining their relationship, remains the Torah covenant including the oral tradition that continues to apply it to all aspects of life. So biblical and post-biblical Judaism is the same religion, and the people who hold to it remain the Jewish people.

            Christianity radically changes all three of the above essential elements of religion. The focus is on a different kind of God, triune, with one of its persons a novel dying-and-rising divine human being (something quite impermissible in biblical or post-biblical Judaism). Only belief in that novel divinity, it is said, “saves,” not the God of Sinai known in the Torah. The community affirming this God may claim the title of “Israel,” but actually constitute not a people but merely a cult shared among diverse peoples that are actually warned not to enact the Sinai covenant and its commandments, for they are said to apply merely to the actual people Israel, the Jewish people alone. Instead, the bond between the community and God is a “New Covenant” that links them with the new Savior God. This New Covenant is explicitly stated to supplant the “Old Testament,” and its commandments. So it is evident that all three of the essential elements of biblical Judaism have been radically altered, and this novelty of this change is explicitly underlined in Christian discourse and in the New Testament itself. Christianity is therefore not equally the inheritor of biblical Judaism with post-biblical Judaism, but genuinely a different religion.

            Post-biblical Judaism, on the other hand, insists on its faithfulness to the Sinai covenant and its commandments, and anyone adhering to it, including converts, are part of the Jewish people, called as in the Bible “Israel.”

            Rick Gibson claims that because the Temple no longer stands, and the strictly Torah-observant Jewish state of old no longer exists (which means that the laws linked to these things are therefore in abeyance), it follows that the Judaism of the past two thousand years cannot be the Judaism of the Biblical period. This is manifestly untrue, both in logic and in historical fact, since Judaism is not summed up by Temple ritual nor even laws relating to statehood, and in fact even in the Biblical period there were times when there was no Temple and no Jewish state, and yet the Jewish religion continued on with full intensity. That is how it survived Exile, and that is how it flourished even before there was settlement in the Holy Land. Judaism centers on heart-felt worship of the one God revealed at Sinai, by the Jewish people, in accordance with the Torah covenant. If some laws relating only to a Torah-observant Jewish state or to a Temple must be suspended, there are still very many others that can be fully enacted even in Babylonian Exile. Even when the Temple still stood, and there were Jewish kingdoms in the Holy Land, there were many Jews, probably the majority, who could not worship regularly at the Temple or maybe even visit it once in their lives, both within the remoter areas of those kingdoms, and in the Diaspora. That Judaism continues on to the present day.

            One last point. Mr. Gibson assumes that there were no “Jews” at Sinai. No doubt he terms them “Israelites,” or “Hebrews,” because he wants to avoid supposed anachronisms and “Jews” (or “Judaeans”) became the prevalent term only after the Northern Kingdom of Israel was dispersed into unknown lands and only Judah remained. But the Kingdom of Judah was the only Jewish kingdom before there ever was a Northern Kingdom of Israel. Moreover, the people actually were the same people under whatever name. There was no new people replacing the old one. It is all a matter of terminology. But it is a strange terminology, which is part of a wider anti-Judaic attempt to insist that the people, the God, the Scriptures, the land itself, and the religion per se only became “Jewish” and “Judaism” from the time of the Babylonian Exile, or even that “Judaism” only emerged at the same time as Christianity some 500 years later. For Christian exegesis has it that before the Babylonian Exile we have to do not with “Judaism” but with “Israelite religion.” This religion was held not by “Jews” but by the “Hebrews” or “Israelites.” The Scriptures composed by these non-Jewish “Israelites” were not the Torah but the “Old Testament”/”Law” (the terms are entirely anachronistic and even polemically Christian usages, so certain sorts of anachronisms are emphatically OK it appears). The land the Hebrews/Israelites lived in was not Judea or Israel (unless referring to the kingdoms) but “Canaan” or, more usually, “Palestine” (the latter is also entirely anachronistic — the term does not appear in the Hebrew Scriptures nor the New Testament). This amounts to a thoroughgoing and manifestly wishful and polemical de-Judaization of the founding era of biblical Judaism, so as to sideline Judaism and “Jews,” and to claim Sinai and the Prophets for Christianity. In contradistinction from this, I would remind Rick Gibson that even Paul, in his Epistle to the Romans, asserted plainly that the Jewish people and their Judaism remain the tree onto which Christianity has “grafted” itself as a branch.

          • Rick Gibson

            Mr. Benson:

            What I said is the following. Biblical Judaism, the religion followed by the Jews prior to the Second Diaspora, was based upon Torah. Since the Second Destruction of the Temple, and the Second Diaspora, two religions have emerged, both of which use Torah as part of their scripture. Neither of these religions, however, is the same as Biblical Judaism.

            Modern, or rabbinic Judaism, is defined by its adherance to Talmud. What is Talmud? How that question is answered, depends on who is answering. The ordinary answer, which would be given by neutral scholarship, is that Talmud is a huge body of commentary, which accumulated over the centuries. It comes in two versions: the Jerusalem and the more authoritative Babylonian Talmud. Talmud was written by the rabbis, over many centuries. It comes after Torah, and is a gloss on Torah, created by the rabbinic tradition.

            If one has this understanding of Talmud, as I do, then modern Judaism, with its adherence to Talmud, is plainly quite different from biblical Judaism. This viewpoint is shared by many within Judaism. This is a quite ordinary point of view, for example, within the Conservative branch of Judaism.

            This is not, however, the viewpoint of many Orthodox Jews. In their view, Talmud was not created after Torah. In their view, at Mt. Sinai, Moses gave both the Written Law (Torah) and the Oral Law (Talmud.) From this perspective, Torah and Talmud cannot be separated. When an Orthodox Jew says that he or she is studying Torah, what they generally actually mean is that they are studying Talmud. They do not make any distinction between the two.

            Mr. Benson, you and I are not going to agree on the origins and authority of Talmud. To me, it is the record of rabbinic debates, which occurred many centuries after the Tanakh was written. To you, it is the Oral Law, which was given on Mt. Sinai. To you, this is a matter of faith, and I am not going to argue with your faith.

            You feel that Christianity is grafted onto Judaism. That is not accurate, from either the Christian or the Jewish point of view.

            From the Christian point of view, Christianity is the fulfillment of the Jewish Scriptures. Jesus viewed himself, and is viewed by his Church, as the Messiah, who was promised by the Torah and the Prophets. This viewpoint is not grafted onto a separate Jewish perspective; it is the fulfillment of that perspective.

            From the Jewish point of view, well, of course, there is never one Jewish “point of view;” there are always several. From the Orthodox Jewish point of view, which is defined by the view that Talmud is Torah, that the Oral Law is binding, Christianity is not a graft onto the religion, but is a flat rejection of it.

            Jesus was aware of, and spoke about, the viewpoint that the oral tradition had authority equal to or superior to that of Scripture. Jesus rejected that view, many times. If you read the stories of his interactions with the Pharisees, what drives them, over and over, is the reverence which Jesus had for Torah and the Prophets, and his total rejection of the oral tradition, when it deviated from Scripture.

          • Everett Benson

            The “grafting” terminology I cited was from your own Apostle Paul, Rick. The Christian Church has accepted that terminology ever since, down through the ages.

            On the rest, have you consulted at the least the article on “Oral Law” that I cited from the Jewish Encyclopedia, available online, Rick? Another excellent source on this is the discussion by R. Gil Student, available online under the rubric “Proofs for the Oral Law.” I suggest you read these before closing your mind.

            As I already showed, the Oral Torah very obviously had to begin with Moses, since the commandments presented in the Torah are often too abbreviated as they stand to be fully actionable, and even their terms sometimes need clarification (e.g., what qualifies as “work” on the Sabbath?). Actually there had to have been an oral tradition for the Children of Israel even before Moses since obviously they had at least some basic God-inspired social and religious norms and practices they followed which Moses then drew into conformity with the Torah revealed at Mt. Sinai. The explanations and applications that he, the elders he appointed, and those who succeeded them as scribes and priests down through the generations, taught, were obligatory for those later generations, as was explicitly commanded in Deut. 17:8-11. This passage validates Oral Torah down through the generations as such, and makes it an obligatory part of faithful observance of the Written Torah for all later generations. Have a read of it, Rick.

            Naturally, since it connected the Torah to actual changing historical society and conditions (without it, the Written Torah would have become obsolete in the very first generation!), the Oral Torah interpretations and applications developed further over later ages. This in itself means that the Talmud as we have it comes after and inherits about 1,200 years of oral interpretations, and records in itself some 600 years of further debates (from the second century BCE onwards). Nevertheless, it is a product of faithful Israel down through the ages, inspired by a great love of God and gratitude for his Teaching: it enacts the Written Torah given at Sinai and its spirit is in accordance with the prophets and sages of the later books of the Jewish Scriptures, so it is the genuine conservator of the Torah.

            The Hasidic/Pharisaic/Rabbinic view of Oral Torah was certainly the most widely followed and popularly supported authoritative mainstream of Jewish religion in the last generations of the Second Temple period, as Josephus, the Talmud, and the New Testament and early Christian Church themselves document (the Hasidim of the Maccabean period were the predecessors of the Pharisees), which means that it was already centrally part of Judaism before the rise of Christianity, and indeed, Christianity unknowingly reflects in its own Jewish heritage much of that Oral Law teaching. For example, Jesus’s criticisms of stoning people to death and leniency in application of some other commandments (but not in regard to divorce where he was far more severe, etc.) generally reflected Pharisaic views, not anti-Pharisaic views as so often claimed. It is not generally known that when the Pharisees/Rabbis finally gained majority control of the Great Sanhedrin after the fall of the Temple, they immediately proceeded to make capital crimes so difficult to prove that they effectively abolished capital punishment altogether, the only pre-modern civilisation to do so. This has remained the authoritative norm in Jewish society for the past two thousand years. It is a pity that the Christian church did not continue that more merciful outlook already enunciated by the Pharisaic-Rabbinic Jesus, but of course it conformed itself to the Roman legal system instead, which saw nothing problematic in either in death sentences or in extorting confessions of capital crimes through torture.

            The Jesus quoted in the New Testament did not reject the Oral Torah, on the contrary, he endorsed it unequivocally. He himself was a Pharisee, i.e., Rabbinic Jew. There is the saying of Matt. 5:17-19: “Think not that I have come to abolish the Law and Prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” And there is the saying of Matt. 23:2-3, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’s seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you.” This is a full endorsement of the Oral Torah. This endorsement must have been from Jesus and have been undeniably attested in the first Christian generation since it so contradicts Pauline and later Church views; of course it is immediately followed by a truly hateful diatribe against the Pharisees, much of which must have been written by later gentile editors (for example the senseless and vitriolic rant in verses 29-35 would condemn to Hell all Jews without any distinction whatsoever, including both Jesus and his own disciples). In any case, Matt. 23 and other criticisms of the Pharisees’s behaviour allegedly from Jesus, do not reject the Oral Torah per se, only “hypocritical” behaviour that does not live up to it — so even the criticisms implicitly endorse the Oral Torah. Not all of the New Testament reflects Jesus’s own actual views of God, Israel and Torah. Despite the inheritance of the “Old Testament” and Jesus himself, in the end a quite different religion results, as I wrote before.

          • Rick Gibson

            Mr. Benson:

            Thank you for your long and thoughtful reply.

            I am confused about a fundamental issue in what you are saying. Obviously, the Torah has to be interpreted, as times change. That is common sense. References to mules need to be updated to automobiles and so forth.

            The key question, however, is the date and authority of Oral Torah. Was it given, at Mt. Sinai, by God, in which case it has the same age and authority as Torah, or did it develop over time, as the rabbis debated the issues? Frankly, it seems screamingly obvious to me that the latter had to be true. But, the implication of that is that Oral Torah is both newer and has less authority than Torah. Torah itself is the Word of God. What some rabbi thought about Torah, in the year 300 B.C. or 500 A.D.,, is interesting, but hardly the Word of God.

            As I understand it, many Orthodox Jews make the claim that Oral Torah was given at Mt. Sinai. That claim seems entirely irrational to me. The Talmud is obviously a work of commentary, written over centuries. It clearly was not given at Sinai, but evolved over time. Those who claim that Oral Torah was given at Sinai, it seems to me, are obviously trying to ratchet up its authority level. I could understand their claim, if they claimed to be Prophets or in some sense speaking for God. But, for people who were basically scholars to say that their commentary has equal authority to the divine text, that strikes as going too far, from any point of view.

            If you read the Gospels carefully, you will see that the interaction between Jesus and the Pharisees was not all one way. He sometimes expressed respect for particular Pharisees with whom he met. He also expressed unreserved respect, in the places that you have quoted, for the Tanakh. Not just the Torah, but the Torah and the Prophets. (I have always found the Jews with whom I speak and interact to have relatively little interest in the Prophets.)

            You say that this means that Jesus endorsed the Oral Law. No. You are, once again, equating the word “Torah” or some equivalent with both the written and the oral. That may be natural to you, but it is not valid here. You will find many references in the Gospels in which Jesus attacks the rabbis for making up human laws and adding them to Torah. You will find similar attacks, in shockingly graphic language, throughout the Prophets. Both the Prophets and the Gospels are very clear in attacking the rabbis which elaborated upon Torah, and added new rules, to it. Both the Prophets and Torah provide a great deal of authority for the view that Torah is the Word of God, but the oral law are rules made up by men, which do not have divine authority.

            You also say that, after Jesus fully endorsed the Oral Law, then somehow or another Christians ended up with a different religion from rabbinic Jews. You seem to think it is odd that Jesus did not end up as another rabbi, endorsing the Oral Law. I appreciate your passion for the Oral Law, but, I think you are very much missing the point about Jesus. If you read the Gospels, they are very clear about who Jesus is, why he came and what he hoped to achieve. He was the promised Messiah. He was the Son of God, whose atoning death saved the world from sin. He came to bring us all the path to the Kingdom of Heaven.

            Now, as a Jew, the natural response to all of this would be to say that Jesus was either out of his mind or was a blasphemer. He fairly clearly was not insane, so it is hard to avoid the conclusion, from the Jewish perspective, that he was a blasphemer and, if you credit the miracle stories, a sorcerer. I do not read Hebrew, so I have not read the text, but, as I have heard that the G’mara states clearly that Jesus was executed for blasphemy and witchcraft. If you read the Gospels as well, they make it pretty clear that Jesus got into so much trouble, with the religious authorities, precisely because he so consistently challenged the authority of the rabbis.

            Please do not misunderstand me. I am not lacking in respect for the Talmud and similar works. In my mind, these are the texts which have kept Jewish culture alive, for many centuries, in a very difficult Diaspora. I have tremendous respect for that very difficult achievement. I remain clear, however, about the distinction between divinely inspired Scripture and human commentary.

          • Everett Benson

            Thank you, Rick, for your own thoughtful response. But I believe I have already answered the questions you raise, in my previous post. Just to add one more point to clarify the status of the Oral Torah: it is held that God not only inspired the Torah at Mt. Sinai, and the later prophets who called for a return to it, but also the scribes, judges and elders of Israel down through the ages who applied the Torah teachings to actual life, so that the eventual consensus reflects God’s will for Israel. Indeed, since God is eternal and all restrictions of time and place do not apply to him, he foreknew the applications of Oral Torah down through the ages, and in the Torah as written, he endorsed them (Deut. 17:8-13).

            Moreover, I really do not want to debate Jesus with you, since I do not wish to attack Christianity; I only answered some of the rather simplified options you laid out for understanding him because you made clear that you were using these arguments to persuade your wife to become a Christian, and that evangelising, however understandable in the circumstances, is what I consider highly problematic. That is so not only because of the outright distortions of Judaism involved (which knowledgeable Jews have a right to contest), but also actual Christian teachings and history regarding Jews down through the ages. These have produced demonizations (already in the New Testament itself), and frequent savage injustices and cruelties (which have severely reduced Jewish numbers over the past two millenia and make each Jew today a precious and very much needed part of a small and threatened religion, culture and people).

            This history of belief and practice strips Christian evangelising of Jews of any moral authority or spiritual legitimacy. In terms of spirituality, in fact, the persistence of Jews and the Jewish religion itself, in the face of such constant pressures and persecutions, is the most moving testimony in history to the power of spirituality and enduring lofty faith in God to sustain a religious community. It is wrong for Christians to seek to undermine and denigrate that faith.

            Instead, I frankly believe that the only proper Christian path today is to encourage Jews to retain and to deepen their faith and to pass it on to future generations, while repentantly acknowledging and reforming those parts of Christianity that have resulted in such monumental past evils. I know that there are evangelical Christians that have precisely such views, and that there has been a renunciation of evangelising Jews by many Christian friends of Israel.

            Furthermore, I have warm admiration and appreciation for the fervently Protestant Christian Zionist groups discussed in this series of articles. Without them and their views, from Lord Balfour and Prime Ministers Lloyd George and Winston Churchill in Britain to Presidents Truman, Johnson, Nixon, Bush and many other American leaders, it is likely that there would be no Israel at all. In fact, I consider them the staunchest friends of Israel in Western civilization, and so I very much welcome the contribution of Robert Nicholson, Wilfrid McClay and others at this website, and thank Mosaicmagazine for inviting their articles. Those essays raise very important issues, that Jews around the world should take very seriously.

            However, I do believe that these issues are also core issues within the Christian world, too. Jews can and should give their support but the real challenge for Christian Zionists is the internal one, and their struggle goes far beyond strictly Jewish matters. That is why their chief efforts should be directed within, to their own Christian communities. The issues touch directly on “Old Testament” and “New Testament” teachings, and therefore involve many areas of Christian moral and spiritual beliefs, theology, practiced everyday Christian life, community values and leadership. They go to the heart of Christian faith and religion, and how they are resolved will determine the future of Christianity itself. The Jewish issue, for the churches, is as usual a litmus test of far-reaching fundamental spiritual, moral and practical values in Christianity.

            The secularizing quasi-Marcionist liberal-leftist “social-justice” coterie that has taken over the elite center of the formerly traditionalist mainstream churches in the West is not only the chief continuator today in Western Christianity of the theological supersessionism and Judaeophobia of past ages (and thus their anti-Zionism, again self-righteously putting at risk the lives of millions of Jews), but also represents a far-reaching politicizing reformulation and challenge to Christian faith and survival itself.

            It is a telling fact that the World Council of Churches has had practically nothing to say about the savage persecution of Christian churches throughout the Muslim world (just as during the Cold War it said nothing about the suppression of Christianity in the Soviet Union), but instead it devotes a great deal of its time to delegitimizing and demonizing the only Middle Eastern state in which Christians are thriving, Israel itself. The indifference to genuine traditional Christian values is reflected in the rapidly declining numbers of adherents of those mainstream churches. Much the same is true for their mirror in the Jewish community, the Conservative Movement, as you rightly say, Rick, but that is an issue for another day.

          • Everett Benson

            Some additional points in response to your specific factual claims, Rick. The prophets never attacked the application of the Sinaitic teachings to everyday life, they attacked the tendency of their generation to disregard those teachings. This is explicitly stated very many times in their writings. The passages I quoted from Jesus did not attack Pharisaic teachings at all, but entirely endorsed them. The criticisms of the Pharisees, allegedly made by Jesus but very likely “added to” by later editors are after all only criticisms of their “hypocrisy” in not doing what according to Jesus they rightly taught. So, as I wrote before, this itself is an endorsement of the Oral Torah. You say that irregardless of the likelihood of later editorial intrusions, Jesus explicitly attacked the Oral Torah itself “many” times in the Gospels. Please do give at least some of those many Gospel citations showing this. And do keep in mind that differences of opinion on one or another specific issue are entirely acceptable within Rabbinic discourse, as the Talmud itself records: what we need is a blanket statement against the Oral Torah per se, to put over against the positive statements, such as Matt. 23:2-3, “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’s seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you.”

            As for the very few Talmudic references that are probably to Jesus (although even this is controversial due to their incorrect and differing details: e.g., they refer to an Egyptian-born sorcerer who lived around 130 BCE, had five disciples, and was judged solely by a Jewish court and hanged the day before Passover), those discussions come generations and even centuries after Jesus lived and appear to reflect no particular knowledge of Jesus beyond a garbled view of what Christians told the rabbis in their polemical debates. Based on those claims, no doubt the rabbis would have to agree that Jesus made blasphemous and anti-Jewish, anti-Torah statements, so, they might well conclude in principle that if a Jewish court, fully observing Jewish law, actually had sentenced him as Christians claimed, he was justly condemned.

            But a detail or two upsets the conclusion: first of all this was just hearsay, to the rabbis, and hearsay in Rabbinic law is not sufficient to justify execution. In fact, the Pharisees and later Rabbis were against all capital punishment, as I mentioned in a previous post, so the execution probably could not be justified as such, in a Rabbinic court of law (Sadducean proceedings were much more severe). Neither were the court procedures as detailed by Christian tradition actually in accordance with Jewish law, whether Sadducean or Pharisaic. Even the seizure of Jesus at night (even worse, Passover night!) was against Jewish law. The alleged “crime” according to the Christians was that he claimed to be the messiah — but this is no crime in Jewish law. That would be a nonsense. And, of course, Jesus was crucified, but this too is an explicitly Torah-prohibited form of execution even amongst the Sadducees — as is any execution on a festival such as Passover. The execution was not by any Jewish authorities but by order of Pontius Pilate, according to the Gospels themselves. This does not indicate trouble with Jewish religious authorities, but Roman ones.

            Pontius Pilate was not interested in Jewish religious sensibilities or concerns at all, as Josephus makes very clear indeed (Wars, Book II, Chap. IX, para. 2-4, tells us that Pilate personally oversaw his army’s beating and murder of a large multitude of peaceable protesters who had gathered in the Temple courtyard to petition him to stop his regular intentional desecrations of the Temple and his illegitimate confiscations of Temple pilgrims’ donations). Pilate put down with utmost brutality all popular movements. He caused so much tumult and protest throughout Judea over the years that eventually he had to be removed from his post, in fact, lest war break out.

            The High Priest Caiaphas (who was not a Pharisee but a Sadducee) had bought his post from Pilate, and was not recognized by the Pharisee-led majority of the population nor probably even most Sadducees as their religious authority. This is why he had Jesus arrested secretly, at night (to avoid mass protests and resistance), and why he violated all other trial procedures dictated by Jewish law.

            The Pharisees, and the Jewish population generally, had absolutely nothing to do with Jesus’s execution. It is a telling fact that according to Josephus, the Pharisees protested as a group when a later Roman procurator ordered the crucifixion of James, Jesus’s brother (Josephus, Antiquities, Book XX, Chap. IX, para. 1). The leader of the Rabbis, Gamaliel, is said in the Book of Acts (5:33ff.) to rule against punishment of Christian sectarians on the grounds that if their claims about Jesus and the Messianic Era were right, they would all see it in historical reality as stated in Scripture, and if they were wrong, all would see that too. This gives a very different picture from the claims that Jesus was executed because he battled the Pharisaic religious authorities of his time, rather than the good God-fearing Pontius Pilate and later Romans whose extortions and brutalities actually brought about the Jewish War of 66-72.

          • ahad haamoratsim

            Sir, I agree that Jews and Christians read the same document through radically different lenses. Rather than the chess analogy, I recommend that you read the introduction to Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch’s commentary to the Pentateuch, and his discussion there of the relationship between the Written Torah and the Oral Torah (which you refer to as Talmud, although Oral Torah encompasses much more). To Orthodox Jews, the Oral Torah is essential to understanding the Written Torah.

            Be aware though, that Orthodox Jews most certainly do release debts every seven years and look forward to the day when we will once again have cities of refuge and animal sacrifice.

          • Rick Gibson

            Mr. Haamorastim:

            Thank you for your reply. I will see if I can find Rabbi Hirsch’s work. I am trying to keep my terminology straight, but, given the volume of the Jewish works, it gets confusing at times. I am aware of the Mishnah, the G’mara and other works, but I am not clear if they are considered part of Talmud and/or the Oral Torah. Most of my exposure to Judaism has been via Conservative Jewish rabbis, and they do not tend to talk about these works very much.

            I am surprised, and gratified, to hear that some people are still releasing debts every seven years, and otherwise attempting to follow the letter of the law in the Torah. It is news to me, but it is very proper.

          • Leah

            News to me too. Where can I get a loan from an Orthodox Jew to clear my credit cards which will take me more than 7 years?

          • Shmalkandik

            The institution of “prozbul,” created by Hillel, allows Jews to give up their right to collect debts directly from another Jew, and assign it to a legitimately constituted rabbinical court. Thus, the debtor pays the court, and the court transfers the fund to the lender. As for non-Jews, there has never been a prohibition on Jews lending to them and collecting after the seventh year, or for accepting interest.

            Jews and non-Jews are not members of the same moral community, but with the event of the Enlightenment, are members of the same political community. Error has no rights, and the Jews may be in error according to Christians, but people have rights. This is why the intellectual foundation of our country I and must remain secular. Else, we invite internecine strife.

          • Leah

            Ah, a sophistry. The usual Orthodox way to evade the intent of the law with a technical solution. The debt is not forgiven but merely transferred to court which collects the debt and then gives it to the original lender. Pah! I knew there was a catch. But that might still work for me if there were never any interest on the debt. Is that the case? The whole practice is similar to the silly idea of putting a wire around an area that “encloses” it and allows you too push a baby buggy to shul. Such impractical and outdated customs should just be dropped instead of evaded.

          • Leah

            Animal sacrifice is repulsive, beneath God, and will never return…just as human sacrifice will never return. Abraham apparently thought it was an okay idea. Almost all religions have evolved from their primitive states and to “hang on” to what you think of as a Torah true idea is what makes your kind of Orthodoxy absurd. I guess you also believe that the day will come when we will stone our sons to death for gathering wood on the Sabbath, burn witches, and reinstitute multiple wives and concubines.

          • Leah

            Also Amen. Simplistically stating ideas leads to simple false ideas. But to say Jews and Christians have no ideas in common is ridiculous.

        • Leah


    • Leah

      See Ogden Nash, “How odd of God to choose the Jews.”

  • Rabbi Eukel

    Is Professor McClay, not suggesting, but asserting that Jewish senior fellow Irving Kristol’s unwavering statement at the intimate dinner with selected AEI guests, “Well, after all, religion is what you are born with,” had a double-meaning that could be embraced by both American Jews and evangelicals?

  • Ethel

    Christianity’s belief that one must believe in Jesus to be “saved,” with its concomitant mission to disparage other belief systems, religions etc while stressing conversion is, at its core and beyond, racist and bigoted.
    While I am grateful for Christian support of Israel, it is prudent, to paraphrase the late President Ronald Reagan, to say thank-you but be wary. Please remember that Jews–and others–are not guests to be tolerated in a Christian world.

    • Leah

      Ah, Ethel. No one disparages other belief systems more than Jews who have geneticized the very definition of who is a Jew. Is that not bigoted and racist? Christians do not care to what religion one is born. You can become one of them by belief alone. That’s the least racist statement of all, while Jews all over the world are arguing over who is a Jew. Do not Jews in general think that Christians are nuts, even those who are not evangelical? Do not Jews fear Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam per se? Do not secular Jewish parents still panic when junior dates a shiksa? See, we even have a word for it. I hate how willing you are to call Christians bigoted and racist. Maybe we should be more reluctant to throw the first stone.

      • The White Biship

        As an evangelical pastor, let me wade in in support of Ethel. Several years ago I began a serious study of anti-Semitism in an effort to understand it. I became convinced that the Jews have every reason to think of us as bigoted and racist, because the history of Christianity is a history of anti-Semitism. I note that many Jews look at the Christian scriptures (written by Jewish men) as the fountainhead of this hatred of the Jews, but I think they should actually look at a particular interpretation of these scriptures, supersessionism (i.e.replacement theology), as the real villain.

        The change in attitude among evangelicals that McClay notes—particularly young evangelicals—has to do with a revival of Reformed Theology which retained and redefined the traditional Roman Catholic understanding of the prophetic scriptures. This Protestant adaptation of this theology is known as Covenant Theology and is deeply anti-Semitic.

        Unlike McClay, I see this movement as a serious threat to the evangelical church’s continued support for Israel. It is growing so rapidly that it is frightening, and if strong voices are not raised in support of its rival, Premillennial Dispensationalism, I fear that Israel and the Jewish people may soon find itself without the strong support it has enjoyed among evangelical Christians.

        Ethel, I want you to understand that I don’t blame you or any other Jewish person for be suspicious of anything that calls itself Christian. Were I a Jew I would hate Christianity. But I want you to know and understand that there are some of us who love the Jewish people. I am one of them.

        • Everett Benson

          More power to you, The White Biship! If we can find our way to loving and kind relationships with each other, and accept “the dignity of difference,” as the former Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth Jonathan Sacks put it in his book The Dignity of Difference (I recommend it to you and to all readers!), the world will be a better place altogether.

      • ahad haamoratsim

        Leah, if Judaism were racist, we would hardly accept converts. The accusation that Judaism is bigoted and racists is one of the oldest libels extant.

        • Leah

          I was not saying that Judaism is racist, but that Ethel’s view that Christians are racist is bigoted and racist too. I am asking for no such stones to be thrown in any direction. Most Jewish parents do not ask for the shiksa to convert, but ask that she not be engaged with at all. I had a rabbi tell me one time that he would not want his sons to marry a convert. Racist? Bigoted? Judaism does indeed accept converts and commands that their status never be mentioned to them again or disparaged in any way. If only Jew would react this way…amen.

    • L.D. Mills

      I don’t follow your reasoning. Jesus stated “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” I am not following how this is racist and bigoted. These words apply to Gentiles like me, too. If you care to, please explain.

    • Rick Gibson

      Ethel. Do you recall the story of Phineas, from the Torah? The people of Israel were intermarrying with outsiders, God was becoming angry and Phineas saved the day, by dramatically running a spear through a Jewish man and his non-Jewish lover. The idea that the community must hold itself separate and apart from others, in order to serve God, comes from the Jewish scripture. If I read you correctly, your logic would demand branding the Old Testament as deeply racist. But it is more complicated than that, and so is the Christian call to convert the world. The Old Testament is not properly viewed as racist, because the Jews were not told to separate themselves, for racial reasons. Rather, they were told to separate themselves, so that they could serve the one true God, and not be sucked into the false pagan beliefs of the surrounding peoples. In a similar way, Christians are told to spread the Gospel to the entire world, not out of disrespect for any one, but because the Gospel is the truth, and the path to salvation. The key point, which I think you either miss or disagree with, is that, in both cases, the religions were acting, not out of hostility to others, but out of devotion to the truth.

      • Everett Benson

        Phineas objected to public sexual intercourse taking place in the Tabernacle itself, which would make the Mosaic religion identical to the practices of the pagan cults everywhere else in the ancient Near East, in which temples commonly were served by temple prostitutes and orgies. No doubt his reaction would have been the same had the sexual intercourse been between two Jews. The primary issue was the extreme degradation and desecration of the Tabernacle service to God; that could not be allowed to become a precedent.

        One reason Judaism is not racist is that conversion to it is open to all, and we read not only of the converts that Abraham made, but that those who fled from Egypt under Moses’ guidance were a “mixed multitude” (Exod. 12:38; Num. 11:4), all of whom became the Jewish people at Sinai—precisely why it could be that a Jewish man could take a non-Jewish woman into the Sanctuary to perform sex there: both were still operating from pagan presuppositions, thinking that this would be a commendable form of worship. Subsequently, all the people of Canaan over the generations became Jewish (and were exiled as such in 586 BCE), and conversions (such as are already described in the Book of Ruth) occurred down through later ages. Furthermore, the service of Jews, as a “Kingdom of Priests” (Exod. 19:6), is held to help bring all of humanity, the “laity” Israel serves, to God. That was one of the chief functions of the Temple when it was built. But yet another reason Judaism is not racist is that it holds that salvation is available through all cultures and religions when they revive awareness of the Noahide Covenant of righteousness that is part of their own past heritage (we are all still bound by Noah’s covenant with God, as his descendants), and purify their own beliefs and practices in accordance with it. This Noahide Covenant has seven basic commandments, according to the Talmudic formulation, amounting to ethical monotheism (but allowing worship of other powers associated with the one supreme God). That is why the pagan people of Nineveh could be forgiven by God when they repented, as related in the Book of Jonah, and why Job, a pagan Arab, could be considered the model of a truly righteous man pleasing to God. “The righteous of all peoples have a place in the World-to-Come” as the Rabbis put it. Jews have never claimed a monopoly on salvation and truth. This is one of the crucial differences between it and Christianity; as a Jew, I believe that it teaches a more universal and merciful way than Christianity.

        • Rick Gibson

          Mr. Benson. Thank you for an interesting reply. I enjoyed reading what you had to say.

          Winston Churchill once said that the Americans and the English were two people divided by a common language. I often feel that way about the Bible, with regard to Christians and Jews. It is often amazing to me how differently we can read the same text.

          You read Numbers 25, 1-9, the story of Phineas, as being primarily an attack on public sex in the tent of meeting, as done by pagans at the time. I was surprised enough at your reading, that I went back and reread the text to see if I could figure out where you were coming from. I have to say, there is some textual support for that reading. Phineas killed the Jewish-pagan couple in the tent of meeting. The text does not say what the two were doing, but it does not take a great deal of imagination to read between the lines. So, thank you, for you have enriched my understanding of this text. It is one of the astonishing things about scripture, that there is always another way to read it; there is always more meaning, if you keep digging.

          I do not think that this text is primarily about sex in the tent of meeting, however. The text does not quote Phineas as saying anything, so we can’t be entirely clear what his motives were. Right before, he got out his spear, however, Moses is quoted as commanding the Jews to kill all of the other Jews “who have yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor.” The point here, I think, is to avoid Baal worship, or, more broadly, to avoid worshiping any God but the Lord. Intermarriage, or more informal sexual relations, with pagans are to be avoided, not on racial grounds, but because they tend to lead people to abandon the Lord and to worship pagan gods. My point, in bringing up this story, was to differentiate between zeal for the Lord, and racism. The Bible has many teachings and stories, which can sound racist to modern ears, but are really about zeal for the truth.

          You then discuss the Noahide Covenant, and argue that Jews do not claim a monopoly on the truth, but are open to all who accept ethical monotheism. This, you feel, is another and deeper reason that Jews are not racist. I do not feel that any of the major religions is properly seen as racist, that is simply not the motivation of any of them.

          I think, however, that there is an implication of your argument that you are not seeing. The Noahide Covenant, or ethical monotheism, is hardly universally accepted by the world’s religions. Hindus certainly do not accept it, nor do Buddhists or Taoists. I do not think you can seriously argue that any religion accepts it, beyond the Abrahamic religions. And I think you have real problems with the idea that Islam seriously buys into it. So, in the end, I think you are basically left with the old Jewish, Christian dialogue. I do not think there is anyone else in that particular conversation.

          • Everett Benson

            The incident with Phineas had nothing to do with intermarriage. It had everything to do with pagan forms of worship, in this case obviously including sexual acts like Temple prostitution. The entire chapter Num. 25 deals with pagan worship; the Phineas incident is told in that context as an instance of it. Moses himself, in that chapter immediately after the Phineas incident, condemns the profanation described there not at all because it involved intermarriage (or rather marriage with converts), nor even a Midianite woman eager as a would-be convert to join in Tabernacle worship, but because of the coarse and degraded view of holiness the couple’s sexual act conveyed and sought to impose on Israel. Moses himself was married to Zipporah, the daughter of a Midianite priest (both of whom became converts to Judaism), you will perhaps remember, Rick (Exod. 2:21; 18:1-11). Marriage with converts, former non-Jews, is entirely acceptable, even positively good, in Torah law and practice. Please read my earlier post on this again.

            The remarks on the Noahide covenant are also off the mark. The Noahide covenant applied to all the polytheistic peoples of the ancient Near East known to the early Jews; they still apply to all non-Jewish peoples and religions today, according to Jewish belief. And in many ways they are actually followed to some degree, however imperfectly or inconsistently, in most of these cultures and religions. (Read up on the Seven Noahide Commandments before you say that they are not!) The Ninevites mentioned in the Book of Jonah, and the pagan Arabs among whom Job lived, for example, may not have formally acknowledged the Noahide covenant heritage they had, but according to Torah teachings they nevertheless necessarily had that heritage, and some among them knew of it in their hearts and showed this in their actions. Similarly, the Romans, with their gladiatorial games, genocidal wars, and glorification of every form of brutality, certainly did not generally act in Noahide ways, and did not formally acknowledge their heritage, but the Talmudic rabbis held that some even among the Roman persecutors were true Noahides and righteous persons beloved of God and assured of salvation.

            From biblical times onwards, Judaism has understood all other cultures in terms of the Noahide covenant, which is how Jews could live peaceably in all cultures. E.g., in China, Confucius was held to be a true Noahide by the Jews of the medieval period that lived there, according to stone stele that still survive to the present time.

            As for the idea that only the Abrahamic religions “buy into” the idea, what strikes me about Christian commentaries on the Bible is how assiduously they slide over in silence the whole topic, ignoring the implications of Gen. 9 about Noah’s covenant itself, misinterpreting other references to righteous gentiles like Melchizedek, reversing the meaning of the Book of Jonah to somehow claim it is a criticism of the alleged chauvinism of then mainstream Judaism rather than its representing, explicitly, the universalism of that mainstream, and ignoring that Job is stated both in Job 1:1 and in later Jewish tradition to be a pagan Arab. However, I do agree that as Maimonides and especially some later authorities among Ashkenazi Jewry maintained, Christianity, and Islam are in a special class, being as a whole Noahide religions as such, even if they claim exclusivistic salvation to one degree or another and reject the full Noahide idea.

          • Everett Benson

            An addendum to my just previous answer to this post by Rick Gibson: he says that Hindus, Buddhists and Taoists “certainly” do not accept the Noahide covenant. But they do, since Hindus tend to assume that, whether they worship Shiva or Krishna or some other god as their chief divinity, they affirm that “really” that divinity is the One God of the Universe, of which all other gods are lesser modalities. Most Buddhists affirm too that there is one Buddha or enlightened consciousness, the Buddha-nature, behind all reality, of which all gods and forms of Buddha are expressions. That agrees with the two Noahide Covenant commandments to acknowledge One source of all, and not to blaspheme against it. It is permitted to Noahides to associate other powers with God as lesser modalities or intermediaries, although not permitted for Jews. Hindus, Buddhists, and Taoists also support the establishment of courts of justice in their society. They also condemn as crimes murder, robbery, and sexual perversions that mar or destroy marriage. Finally, they endorse kindness to animals and not causing them undue pain. Those are the Seven Noahide Commandments. Anyone enacting them, regardless of religion, is a righteous person worthy of salvation, according to authoritative Jewish tradition.

            But the explicitly monotheistic religions that stem from the Mosaic revelation necessarily anchor the Noahide covenant values more fully in their own teachings even if both of Judaism’s daughter religions suppress the explicit acknowledgement of the Noahide Covenant concept — because of its challenge to their own supremacism and exclusivist claims. It might be noted, in regard to Islam, that Judaism as Muhammad understood it provided a pattern for him, and Moses is the person most often cited in the Qur’an. So, whatever have been their doctrinal and cultic changes of Judaism to assimilate it to their own original Greco-Roman or Arab cultures, with attendant crucial misunderstandings and historical shortcomings (including severe persecutions of the Jews for remaining Jews), the daughter religions have tended to create more righteous societies from the foundation up in which there can be many more fully righteous persons. As such Jews can welcome them warmly, and consider both Christianity and Islam as part of God’s providential plan to improve and prepare the world for the messianic age when all humanity will finally know peace, fully acknowledge God and honor Israel’s role in history, as prophesied in the Torah.

          • Rick Gibson

            Mr. Benson:

            Thank you for continuing an interesting discussion. At this stage, you and I disagree a good deal. I am familiar with the view of Hinduism as being its own peculiar form of monotheism, but to see it as in any serious way similar to the Abrahamic religions strikes me as fanciful. The traditions are profoundly dissimiliar. As for Buddism, it expressly does not believe in God.

            And, yes, Islam claims kinship with Judaism, and yes, there is plainly some historical tie-in, but Islam is a very different religion, with profoundly dissimilar values, from Torah. I think that, if we start to talk about how all of the religions are similar, we are generally whitewashing their real identities.

          • ahad haamoratsim

            Not ‘similar to the Abrahamic religions’; rather, observant of the 7 commandments of the Noahide law which, as Mr. Benson points out, is sufficient for a non-Jew to earn a share in the World to Come. A Jew would have to fulfill 613 commandments to earn a share — if that’s racism, it must be the most benign form in history.

          • Leah

            It doesn’t matter who else believes it. We believe it and that’s all that counts to us. To me it is Truth and I don’t care what other religions believe. I rest my soul in God’s Truth and its loving arms.

        • Leah

          I agree. Judaism salvation is universal, not particular. Which makes inter-sect arguments within the tribe particularly hateful to me. They are essentially anti-Judaism at heart, and why I particularly favor the Chabad movement.

      • Leah

        See Everett…the sin was not sex with an outsider, but doing it in public in a religious site to imitate a pagan practice.


      It’s neither racist nor bigoted to presuppose that salvation is limited to one’s own sect or religion assuming that either:
      1. Everyone is invited or at least allowed to join
      2. That salvation is a personal state without which those who aren’t saved can live quite well without.

      Every Abrahamic religion or sect claims some unique relationship with the creator; for traditional Jews it’s the attainment of “Olam Haba”; for Muslims it’s something else, and for many Christians it’s “salvation.”

      As a Jew, I don’t expect “salvation”—it’s not in my lexicon; and similarly, a Christian would not expect “Olam Haba,” even if deep down inside, both, along with the ultimate attainment of Muslims, and the final accomplishment of “grace”, are all pretty much the same thing—the attainment of a level or degree of spiritual purity, independent of one’s physical being.

      • Everett Benson

        Actually, traditional Judaism has always taught the hope for “salvation,” for that is precisely what Olam HaBa, “The World-to-Come,” is about. Of course, there are plenty of differences with the Christian definition, probably most notably that according to Judaism (cf. B.T. Sanhedrin 105a) almost all of humanity would enjoy it, whatever their religious and cultural affiliation, for (as I mentioned in an earlier post as the authoritative Rabbinic teaching), it is assumed in Judaism that all cultures retain a heritage of the Noahite Covenant teaching righteousness, and as the Tosefta Sanh. 13:2 puts it, “The righteous of all peoples have a place in the World-to-Come.” To understand this saying rightly, however, one must add that, according to the Talmud, God is so merciful that even a single exceptionally good deed can win heavenly salvation for an otherwise entirely sinful person.

      • Leah

        Agree. If a convert to any religion is disparaged and assigned to a second place because of the group to which they were born, that is bigoted and maybe “racist”.

  • Harold

    As a member of the Republican Jewish Coalition, I (and many of my confreres) can attest that it is quite possible to leave behind the political, secular version of the Jewish religion. I can also attest to the liberating feeling to be found in seeing younger Jews join up. Of course, one must become accustomed to insults in place of reasoned dialogue, but that’s the expected price of tribal apostasy–the latter-day equivalent of marrying out.
    As for the Jew who converted when his mother finally died–one has to ask if the parents had ever engaged in any practices that might have influenced his behavior. Remember, existence precedes essence. If it did not (in his experience) one would expect another essence to be attractive. Thankfully, he did not choose radical politics.

    • Leah

      You could also call him a lily-livered Mama’s boy. All converts to all religions have to face up to family disapproval and they can’t all wait for Mama to die.


        Or, one could say that in holding off from professing another faith in the presence of a mother who was a committed Jewess, he was all the time observing the commandment of “honor thy mother and father”—which both Judaism and Christianity hold as a cornerstone of belief.

        It’s not “lily-livered” to defer any action which would bring pain to others; it just calls into question the particular impetus or incentive for conversion.

    • Leah

      I know how you feel about being a Jewish Republican or Conservative or Libertarian. Insults head your way from all directions anyway but your fellow Jews think you particularly cruel or insane. But do not blame the parents for the son who eventually converted. I’ve seen very observant families lose one or two. Maybe sometimes God calls one to a different practice due to their own needs because God is not as rigid as the orthodox of any religion thinks.

  • The White Biship

    As an evangelical pastor for 38 years, and an unapologetic Christian-Zionist, I can say a hard amen to McClay’s essay. However, I am perplexed to see a picture of the sign at the entrance of Wheaton College at the beginning of the essay. Understand, Wheaton is a fine college and my daughter Alma mater, But it epitomizes the very trends McClay is decrying and is hardly the place one would look to find strong evangelical support for Israel.

  • The White Biship

    As an evangelical pastor for 38 years, and an unapologetic
    Christian-Zionist, I can say a hardy amen to McClay’s essay. However, I
    am perplexed to see a picture of the sign at the entrance of Wheaton
    College at the beginning of the essay. Understand, Wheaton is a fine
    college and my daughter’s Alma mater, But it epitomizes the very trends
    McClay is decrying and is hardly the place one one look to find strong
    evangelical support for Israel.

  • Beatrix17

    Our religions may differ, but Professor’s McClay’s American attitude is familiar and comforting.

  • Rick Gibson

    I am a highly educated person, who was for many years an Episcopalian, married to an Israeli-American Jew, and active in a local conservative synagouge. In the last few years, I came to the Lord and became Evangelical. From my own experience, I think I understand the reasons for the Evangelical-Jewish relationship to be so one-sided, with steady Evangelical support for Israel and equally steady Jewish-American disdain for Evangelical Christians.

    First, there is a tremendous cultural gap between American Jews and Evangelicals. American Jews are extremely focused upon obtaining elite educational credentials. It is very important to them to be taken extremely seriously by the Ivy League schools and the New York Times. Those elites, of course, view Evangelicals with disdain, and that influences American Jews; being friendly to us is not the way to the sort of status and success that most American Jews want.

    Second, it is important to understand that Israel and the American Jewish community are more and more divided from each other. The American Jewish community is overwhelmingly liberal. For a number of reasons, liberals do not automatically support Israel any more; in fact, they usually oppose Israel. American Jews want to support Israel, but they have great trouble with Israeli leaders such as Netanyahu, who is so clearly not a liberal. There is, in short, growing estrangement between Israel and the American Diaspora community.

    Evangelicals support Israel for a number of reasons; the shared tie to the Bible, the deep respect which the Bible teaches for Israel—yes, we read Deuteronomy, and take it seriously when it says that those who bless Israel will be blessed, and those who curse Israel will be cursed—and, frankly, common values. Evangelicals like Israelis; we have a lot in common. Israeli opinion is divided, of course, but I think that most Israeli’s response to Evangelicals is that, while our religion strikes them as weird and over the top, they appreciate friends wherever they can find them. We are kind of in the same category for Israelis as the Druze; we certainly are not family, and our weirdness is never forgotten, but we are known as steadfast friends. All of these things, in my view, are creating a new, and odd situation, in which there is an increasing divide between Israel and American Jews, a close, although strictly one-way friendship between Evangelicals and Israel, and a great deal of distance between the American Jewish community and Evangelicals.

    • Leah

      I take issue with your idea that American Jews want to be elite and accepted by the elitist Ivy League and their fellow travelers. Education has always been a major value to non-ghetto Jews as a way up from abject poverty. Most Americans do not realize that American Jews, for the most part, came here dirt poor as most other immigrants did. The “new” problem is that most Jews no longer believe in God, they just believe in being “Jewish”, whatever that means to them. American non-Orthodox Jews are mostly agnostics and atheists. I was arguing with one fellow Conservative congregant over whether of not “Jews” believe in a life after death. I said “absolutely do” and she said “absolutely don’t”. She is convinced that the idea of a life after death is completely foreign to Judaism. I waited impatiently for the Conservative powers that be to come out with a declaration of faith in book form about twenty years ago. It started in chapter one by explaining that not all Conservative Rabbis “believe in God” as a real, existing spirit. I didn’t want to read any further. If Judaism is a philosophy, I don’t need it. The problem with American Jews is that Judaism is no longer a “religion.” I’m willing to bet that your wife is an agnostic Jew, which is why she can accommodate her living style to a Christian husband. Since most American Jews are agnostic, they would see you as nuts. Why would you choose to literally kneel to an ancient Jew who, as one wag said, “owed his fame to the fact that Jerusalem of 2,000 years ago did not have an insane asylum”? And since Israel also has a minority of religious Jews, their friendship would tend to be “one way”. As you said, the Israeli people will appreciate friends wherever they can find them. Interfaith efforts can help us be kind to each other, but we will never believe our faiths are equally valid. There can only be one Truth after all.

      • Rick Gibson


        My view of American Jews is substantially the same as yours. My wife is Israeli. In Israel, she was secular. Here, she is Conservative. What that means, most of the time, is a matter of ethnic and tribal identity. Over time, however, she has become more of a Torah believer. She is still fiercely anti-Orthodox, as are so many Israelis, but, in her own way, she is coming to believe more in the Lord. We have, for years, gone to a Conservative synagogue. We have experienced the same thing as you, which is that faith in God is optional in Conservative Jewish circles. There are certainly Conservative Jews who believe in God; it is by no means required, however.

        This is not dissimilar from “mainstream” Christians. I was an Episcopalian for years, and the approach was very similar to that of Conservative Judaism. It was very nice, very learned, and belief in God was strictly a formal abstraction. I now belong to a non-denominational Evangelical church, which is based upon passionate belief in Christ. And, yes, it does cause tension at home.

        And, yes, a sincere Jew has to view our faith as nuts. Frankly, I prefer that to the alternative. Our rabbi likes to go on and on about how much he loves Christianity. He means well; he is trying to promote kindness and good behavior, between different faiths, and that should certainly be encouraged. At another level, however, he is displaying ignorance and disrespect. As you say, the two faiths are profoundly antagonistic, in some of their basic claims. My wife’s view, which is entirely logical from her perspective, is that Jesus was a blasphemer who was rightly executed. I understand that view, and I respect it, because it shows that she is taking our Lord’s words seriously. She is not blowing off what he said, but she is actually listening to his claim to be God. As C.S. Lewis said years ago, the only logical reactions to what Jesus said are to regard him as a lunatic, as a liar or as the Lord.

        • Everett Benson

          There are several other obvious possibilities, Rick, which you should share with your wife too: one is that Jesus was simply mistaken in the belief that he was the foretold messiah, since the messianic age (as defined in Scripture) manifestly did not eventuate. Many scholars (from Schweitzer on), however, have pointed out that Jesus did not actually claim to be the messiah. In a number of passages, too, he is quoted as denying that he is God, too (Matt. 19:16-19, 24:36; Luke 18:18-22; Mark 10:17-22). This view of things is radically different from the views presented in the Gospel of John and the Epistles of Paul (who never met Jesus and does not quote him directly, only theologises about him). Of course there are many such self-contradictions in the New Testament.

          This brings up a second possibility you might bring to your wife’s attention, Rick: that is that Jesus and his words were misrepresented by the gentile majority that took over the movement quite early, in the course of the first generation in fact, even significantly rewriting the Gospel accounts into their present version. In this version, coincident with the failure of the messianic actualization, most of those in the new sect abandoned its previous messianic definitions, identification with the Jewish people and belief in the Jewish God and modified its views to constitute an entirely different religion. To justify this transformation, the authoritative leaders of mainstream Jewry as well as “the Jews” as such as a continuing people were maligned and demonized, to disqualify their continuing witness, through their mere existence and persistence, to the non-fulfilment of Christian claims to represent the authentic “Israel” and the authentic prophecies of the Jewish Scriptures.

          Here we see the deepest root of the anti-Semitism of the past two thousand years: precisely because the Jewish Scriptures were recognized as such a great and incomparable treasure of wisdom and truth which the Church wished to appropriate for itself, the claim of the Jewish people to it had to be delegitimated and demonized. Underlying this was a simple typically Hellenistic either-or: either the Christian religion despite its explicitly boasted novelty was the legitimate successor to ancient Israel and the Torah teachings, or the Jewish religion was. And if the Jewish religion wasn’t, then only the most base and evil reasons could explain the persistent refusal of Jews to abandon their unchanged heritage, acknowledge Christ as God, convert to Christianity and validate its claims before all the world. The horrible consequences of such teachings have left a bloody trail of Jewish suffering down through history, right up to the present. Anti-Semitism is a direct consequence of the blessings Judaism has brought humanity, so deeply shaping Christianity, Islam and modernity itself. This, in a painfully ironic way, illustrates the validity of the insight into human history given in the Suffering Servant concept of Isaiah, which Christians also acknowledge in their imaging and explanation of the Crucifixion.

          It is a pity that a more inclusive and merciful vision of truth, befitting a multileveled and multi-perspectivial view of a reality that is rooted in transcendence, which allows room for the idea of many “covenants” and gradations of truth (such as Judaism taught), could not have developed in the Church.

          That is why the development in some sectors of Protestantism in the last five centuries of a more sympathetic pre-millenial dispensationist, dual covenant view of the continuing Jewish witness to God, and therefore a supportive view of Zionism, is so crucially important, both now and into the future.

          So you see, Rick, that there are other alternatives that offer a way out of the too extreme either-ors listed above.

          • Rick Gibson

            Mr. Benson:

            Look, in this sort of discussion, it is very important to start with an understanding that, while these issues have been misused in the past to justify evil behavior, that was always wrong. Christians should treat Jews well, for the same reason that they should treat everyone well, because it is what our Lord commands us to do. So, regardless of where you come down on any of these issues, none of them justify evil. In that context, let me also point out, that, over the centuries, there have been fierce, Christian v. Christian wars over a different set of theological issues, and precisely the same statement applies to them. Mankind has made a mess of these things, many times, in the past.

            I see in what you have written a pattern that I have often seen in Jews, which is a desire to somehow save Jesus as a properly Jewish leader and to blame somebody else, usually Paul, for the Christ movement breaking from rabbinic Judaism. I am not entirely sure where this impulse comes from. I suppose part of it is a desire not to offend Christians by directly attacking the big guy, and instead deflecting the criticism onto secondary figures.

            To do this, you, like many people, take a very selective reading from the Gospels and read them in a very particular way. John is out. Paul is out. Parts of the Synoptics are OK. We have seen a great deal of this sort of thing in the many modern attempts to find the “real Jesus.” If you look at the various efforts, from the Thomas Jefferson Bible down to the scholars of our own time, you always see the same thing. The “real Jesus” always happens to have just the same opinions as the writer. You are doing the same thing. You are a devout Jew, so, to you, the “real Jesus” is a devout Jew.

            I can respond in many ways. On a purely intellectual level, I disagree with many of the things that you said. First, I think that Jesus did bring in the messianic age, and I think that his view of his role as Messiah is quite consistent with the Prophets, although quite at odds with Orthodox Jewish opinion, then and now. Second, no one can be mistaken about being the Messiah. You can either walk on water, raise the dead and so forth, or you can’t. If you can, I think you are in touch with who you are, and the source of your power.

            These are all interesting issues, about which a great deal could be said. But I think you have a more fundamental misunderstanding. You, like my wife, think that the Christian Church claims the Jewish Scriptures, in order to bolster its own authority. That makes sense, from your perspective, because the Jewish Scriptures are independently authoritiative for you.

            For an American Evangelical, that is not true. We live in a culture which is thousands of years and thousands of miles away from ancient Israel. There is nothing in our cultural background which would make it natural to think, oh, the Jewish Scriptures have authority, and, since Jesus was foretold by those Scriptures, that makes me more likely to believe in Jesus. That makes no sense to us, either intellectually or emotionally.

            We come to Jesus for different reasons. Very few of us, I think, come to Jesus for intellectual reasons. We are not argued into following the Lord. (Many are argued out of it, but I have never known anyone to be argued into it.) We come to the Lord, because he heals our soul. We feel that there is something deeply, fundamentally wrong with human nature — with us — and we experience the reality that, after coming to Jesus, we are put into right relation with God, Jesus comes to live inside of us and a process starts of transforming us from the inside out. That is why we follow Jesus; it has nothing to do with argument.

            There is a Gospel passage about this. Jesus heals a blind man. He is then confronted by angry Pharisees, who assert that Jesus is wrong and in violation of Jewish law. He just keeps replying that he knows nothing about all of that. He says that all he knows is that once he was blind and now he sees. That is a very direct statement of how we feel.

            Are those who do not follow Jesus wrong and condemned to lose salvation? I don’t know; I hope not; I am not even sure what those words mean. I do know this. Jesus has brought tremendous power into my life, which has entirely turned me around as a person. I think that power is available to anyone who asks for it, and I would like more people to ask.

          • Everett Benson

            As I have written just now in response to a post by you above, I really do not want to get into a back-and-forth about refuting Christianity, but only responded because it was stated in your posts that you were using these arguments to try to convert your Jewish wife to Christianity, something I consider a red line issue.

            I am happy to deal with issues relating to Judaism, however, and I have done that at length. Now I see that I could do a similar thing in regard to Christianity itself, since so much in your post seems to me obviously and even blatantly contradicted by Christian history and teachings as presented in Christian sources themselves (already in the N.T., and certainly also the Church Fathers, the Protestant Reformers, and other Christian thinkers right on down to the present time). The crucial dependence of Christianity on the “Old Testament” was actually insisted on in the early Church, in response to the “spiritualizing” attempt by Marcion to sever the tie and denounce the whole “Old Testament” as mere materialism appropriate to this evil world created by a lesser god. But without that tie, there is no justification for the Christian Church’s claim to be “Israel according to the spirit,” its messianic claim for Jesus, and also no guidance for Christian life. Christianity did indeed arise out of Judaism, and this remains a core fact even today. The “Old Testament” (and also the Rabbinic spirituality that Jesus also had, by his own admission Rick — as pointed out already by me through direct quotes: I did not make them up) is the necessary foundation of Christianity. That is why “Jews” and “Judaism” remain crucial, litmus test issues today for the churches.

            By the way, the whole controversy that gave rise to Protestantism reflected the concern by the reformers that the Catholic Church had replaced the actual New Testament with itself, and had in addition utterly obscured the moral and political teachings of the Old Testament with “divine right” ideas, authoritarianism, etc., so that there had to be a “return to the sources.” Out of the resultant closer study of the Hebrew Scriptures, the actual forms of especially Calvinist, Arminian, Anabaptist and most other wings of Protestantism emerged.

            It is very relevant to add that liberal democracy itself was the result of this Protestant return to Hebraic sources. The study and teaching of Hebrew first blossomed into core university subjects as a result of the Protestant Reformation (the Catholic Church also began teaching it, in response). And so it could happen that the mostly Protestant founding thinkers of parliamentary democracy in the 16th through to the 18th centuries in Switzerland, The Netherlands, England and the American colonies could often read directly and at the least could quote from others, both the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic commentaries as chief sources for their ideas. Hundreds of books and pamphlets were printed in those centuries trying to derive guidance on what God wanted in a truly just and holy commonwealth; many had “The Hebrew Republic” in their title or sub-title. Even secularist Protestants drew on Biblical and Rabbinic sources. On this, see Eric Nelson, The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought (2010). One of the most momentous results was the American commonwealth itself, including the teachings of tolerance and non-sectarianism which also were derived by such thinkers as John Locke from the Bible and Rabbinic literature. American Christian Zionists are in effect fighting for a preservation of precisely that heritage: In God We Trust.

          • Leah

            Amen, amen, amen.

        • Leah

          Good for you. I admire your transformation. But Jesus was not a blasphemer who was rightly executed in any Jewish view. I think he would have been gladly incorporated into the list of God-inspired Prophets and loved and revered by Jews to this day, if he were not turned into God by his followers. I would argue that he never wanted or expected that. That’s where you and I would part company. Try reading some books on the “Jewish View of Jesus”. I liked and old book published in the 1930s or 40s best when most Jews still believed in God. We are still out there.


    Syncretic efforts are often undertaken by those who are weak in the knees with their own belief structure and are somehow in need of justification for their wavering.

    Jews believe X.
    Evangelicals believe Y.
    The overlap is greater than the non-overlap (except as to observance, to which the Evangelical does not, nor should, feel bound).

    But that does not mean that the largest of overlaps will wipe away those areas where the differences are real; it just means that we can talk to each other without feeling that we’re negotiating with “the enemy.”

    • Leah

      Y’s are just X’s missing a leg. They have partial truth but an abridged version of it. Not racist, just my version of the Truth. You have yours. You’re right, we are not enemies. “The Good should not be the enemy of the Best”. ;)

  • Leah

    “Honor thy mother and father” does not cover following false gods. The first commandment trumps the fifth. In this case the son was hiding his devotion to God (as he then saw it) to prevent harm to his mother (who has no right to control an adult’s faith anyway). I still think he was a coward to choose an intolerant mother over God. What kind of a Christian was he when his faith could not overcome a parent never mind a persecuting secular authority such as Iran. Are there ideas/actions for which a Jew is required to accept martyrdom rather than give in? I think so. So should it be for someone who becomes a Christian, and Mama isn’t one of them.

    • ahad haamortsim

      “Are there ideas/actions for which a Jew is required to accept martyrdom rather than give in?”
      Yes. Adopting Christianity, for one. To be less flippant, and to oversimplify, a Jew must accept martyrdom rather than:
      1) Shed innocent blood.
      2) Engage in sex between a married woman and a man not her husband, or between two men, or between certain close relatives as proscribed in the part of Leviticus that Jews refer to as Aharei Mot.
      3) Worship anyone or anything (such as a living or dead human being, a statute, an animal, a celestial body) other than G-d, or perform certain types of service for that anyone or anything.
      4) In times of persecution by non-Jews, publicly violate any of the commandments, or adopt any non-Jewish custom, at the demand of a non-Jew, even down to seemingly insignificant differences in dress between Jews and non-Jews.

      • Leah

        Thank you. I knew they were there but did not have the details. Christians probably have similar ideas, but I know even less about them. Failure to join when spiritually compelled might not be one of them, but I still think Mama should know what he really believed.

  • KingDavid

    The ‘religion’ that comes with being ‘born again’ and the religion that the Jews are born with are of the same root. It is precisely what you are ‘born’ with. The suggestion that God has turned His back on Israel is patently false!
    Romans 11:18 “But you must not brag about being grafted in to replace the branches that were broken off. You are just a branch, not the root…” For if God did not spare the original branches, He won’t spare you either.” (11:21)
    God takes the subject of Israel and the Jews more seriously than the Jews do. To side in with secular liberalism over the strident support of evangelical Zionists is a jaw-dropping, mind-numbing, shaking-my-head mistake.
    Jesus was an Israelite priest in the Order of Melchizadek. To put it in radically simple terms; We love Israel because God loves Israel. The love of God does not change because of rejection by the object of His love.
    As Christians, we identify with His rejection by His own people. Just as we are suffering the rejection of our countrymen even now. It is we who are vilified as evil as we attempt to tell them about the God who loves us as well as them.
    Why would Jews be politically aligned with the very people who would stand by and let Israel be destroyed? Why would American Christians politically align themselves with groups like Hamas, Muslim, and other anti-Jewish groups? All the while both Jew and liberal Christians claiming to be secular progressives! Is your loathing of anything to do with Jesus so deep that you would turn away from the only people and God that is trying to save you from destruction on earth and eternal damnation?

  • Shmalkandik

    Several observations:
    * As recorded by Herodotus, the Greek believed gods could become men, and men gods. The Egyptians believed ‘man from man, god from god, but never man from god or god from man’.
    This addresses the suggestion that one must think Yehsu was crazy or authentic.. No, he was simply wrong. Many men have been wrong about many things, including their own worth.

    * If Jesus was indeed claiming he was God, then Deuteronomy 13:2-4.

    * I suggest that the notion Jesus was not just Messiah but God is purely Paul of Tarsus’ innovation, the one that allowed Jesus to be mass marketed to the Greco-Roman world.
    The concept Jesus’ Jewish disciples had, which they believed they got directly from the Master, that he was Messiah but not a god, was washed away in a sea of Gentileism.

    * Christians worship the Jewish god, but not in the Jewish way.

    * You don’t have to believe every word of the Talmud came down from Moses at Sinai to accept the notion of rabbinical authority to figure out how to apply and protect the Law. Two separate issues, so let’s not conflate them.


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