Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Quote of the Day: Daniel Boyarin on the suffering Messiah in Isaiah 53

"This commonplace view [that Isaiah 53 was distorted by the Christians from its allegedly original meaning, in which it referred to the suffering of the People of Israel] has to be rejected completely. The notion of the humiliated and suffering Messiah was not at all alien within Judaism before Jesus' advent, and it remained current among Jews well into the future following that--indeed, well into the early modern period. The fascinating (and to some, no doubt, uncomfortable) fact is that this tradition was well documented by modern Messianic Jews, who are concerned to demonstrate that their belief in Jesus does not make them un-Jewish. Whether or not one accepts their theology, it remains the case that they have a very strong textual base for the view that the suffering Messiah is based in deeply rooted Jewish texts early and late. Jews, it seems, had no difficulty whatever with understanding a Messiah who would vicariously suffer to redeem the world."

from The Jewish Gospels, pp. 132-3

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Quote of the Day: Heschel on God as "the Most Moved Mover"

"...if we put aside the categories and logic of Greek philosophy and try to understand biblical religion in its own terms, we will soon discover that the God of the bible is not Aristotle's impassive, unmoved mover at all; he can only be described as "the Most Moved Mover." Between "unmoved" and "most moved" lies the vast gulf that separates Aristotelian/philosophical and biblical/religious conceptions of God. According to the Bible, the single most important thing about God is not his perfection but his concern for the world. God created the world and from that moment on exhibits concern for his creation. The God of the Bible is not aloof but involved, not distant but near, not immune from, but vulnerable to what happens in his world and what his creatures to do. In a word, God seeks intimacy. He is especially 'in search of man,' desiring relationship and cherishing the hope that, out of this relationship (the biblical term for the fullness of this relationship is covenant) will come proper human actions and just societies. God has a stake in our behavior. Thus, he cries when we fail and rejoices when we succeed. He weeps when we ignore widows, exploit orphans, and abuse strangers; and when we violate the norms he has taken pains to communicate to us, he angrily sends prophets to chastise and warn us. What all this means is that God is filled with feeling, with pathos. Strange as this might be to Aristotle, it is the very essence of biblical religion and of the Judaism that arose from it. "

Alan T. Levenson, Introduction to Modern Jewish Thinkers,
"Chapter Thirteen: Abraham Joshua Heschel," p. 215

Monday, May 7, 2012

New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado expresses 'puzzlement and disappointment' with his friend Tom Wright's reading of Romans 9-11

When I first discovered N. T. Wright in college, I was thrilled by his papers and lectures on Jesus and Paul.  Wright has a special knack for reading Biblical texts as both a historian while simultaneously bringing out their relevance for today's church and today's world.  (I still recommend learning from Wright's reading of the New Testament: just head on over to ntwrightpage.com and select the first thing that looks interesting!

It was only after reading and listening to Wright for several years did it suddenly dawn on me that, although Wright's new perspective on Paul had hugely impacted my own thinking, I actually had progressed beyond his position towards a reading now referred to as "the radical perspective on Paul."  While I continued to appreciate his erudition, I was no longer convinced by his reading of Paul, which to me was supersessionist.

It turns out that I'm not the only one confused by Wright on this point.  In Paul and Israel's Salvation: In Dialogue with Tom Wright, respected New Testament scholar Larry Hurtado writes:
I’ve re-read his essay on Romans 9–11 several times now, and my copy is heavily marked with indications of my puzzlement and disappointment at numerous points. I will simply say that I remain of the view that in Romans 9–11 Paul’s protracted and repeated concern is the fate of his people, fellow Jews, in light of his firm conviction that Jesus has been made now the one source of salvation, and the large-scale rejection of the Gospel by his people. For Paul, it seems to me, the issue boils down to this: If his ancestral people have simply gone into a ditch permanently, then “the word of God has failed” (Rom 9:6), and/or God has abandoned his people (11:1) to whom he made promises. And if God can be so defeated by Jewish unbelief in the Gospel, or can turn from his promises to Jewish ancestors, then God’s character and redemptive power are under suspicion.

I don’t see how one can read 11:25-32 as envisioning anything other than Paul’s surprising declaration that God will ultimately triumph over the present Jewish unbelief in Jesus and secure the redemption of all. Just as Paul asserts that in God’s secret plan (“mystery”) the large-scale Jewish unbelief actually is serving (in Paul’s time) to promote the “fullness” of Gentile salvation (11:25), so Paul seems to me to say that God will double back and bring also the corresponding “fullness” of Israel (11:12) into salvation. Just as all people (including Israel) have been disobedient, so God will scoop all nations (including also Israel) into eschatological salvation (11:32). And for Paul that means salvation through the Gospel of God’s Son.
 If you want to read a brilliant analytical mind at work, don't miss Hurtado's responses to his commenters.

HT: Derek Leman, who beat me to the punch in publishing a post on this very same article.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

What does a Bing Crosby song have to do with counting the omer?

A post by Audrey Merwin on URJ's (Union of Reform Judaism) Ten Minutes of Torah blog this week opened up with this teaser:
In the movie, White Christmas, Bing Crosby croons:
When I'm worried and I can't sleep
I count my blessings instead of sheep
And I fall asleep counting my blessings1
Crosby, playing the entertainer, Bob Wallace, sings this lullaby to calm the fears of a worried youngster. His warm, soothing tones give substance to the words and create a setting of hope and comfort. What if anything does this have to do with the commandment to count the omer? Quite a lot, as it turns out.
To find out what the connection is, read the article here:

Ten Minutes of Torah - Counting Our Blessings

Don't miss Merwin's connection to justice for the poor...and while you're at it, remember the needy during this season of counting our harvests, and make a donation to your favorite charity.