Tag Archives: Second Temple Judaism

Engrafted Into The Story: Romans 11 And Reconciliation

WHY SUPERSESSIONISM IS PROBLEMATIC AND A HERESY

Image taken from Seattle Pacific University

Today, I would like to take the time to discuss my view of Romans 11, and the problem with historic approaches that I shall briefly allude to. The most infamous of approaches to Romans 9-11 is the allegorical reading of Romans 9-11. The Allegorical approach to reading Scripture has its strengths but when it come to these passages, its limits are exposed. Augustine of Hippo was one of the first Christians to apply this technique to these 3 chapters, and in the process, theological determinism was given birth. The debate starts with Romans 9:13, the oft quoted verse by Augustinians and Calvinists, “I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.” In the context of the chapter, God’s election, God choosing special people over others, starts inside a woman’s womb, Rebecca, Isaac’s wife, the daughter-in-law and relative of Abraham. Reading Romans 9:10-13 by privileging a Greek/Gentile literary reading strategy over and above unique revelation from YHWH (the Hebrew Bible)is problematic; it is a practical way in which supersessionism, the idea that Gentile-lead Christianity overtakes Judaism as the household of God, manifests itself. Augustine, and those who claim to be his heirs in Protestantism, the Reformed tradition with modern-day neo-Calvinists and the like do not in fact practice “Sola Scriptura” as they claim, or using Scripture to interpret Scripture first, but rather tradition and individualism to do so.

The implications from this interpretation are this: Jacob is the elect chosen before the creation, and Esau, in this ALLEGORY, is the reprobate, chosen by God before creation. Just when does God choose them to their fates, before or after the fall? Well that’s up to debate between our theological determinist friends. I’ll let them sort that out.

So, if we go by just the Reformation tradition, and its own standard of Sola Scriptura, there is conflict in the popular, predestination, individual election reading of Romans 9-11. The subsequent debate of Arminians proposing “corporate election” as opposed to “individual election” misses the point of my criticism. This isn’t about the nature of election; in the Hebrew Bible, there is both. This is about interpretation of Scripture, and the relationship of our Messianic Pharisee friend Paul’s writings with that of the canon. Using the Hebrew Bible/First Testament to understand the New/Second (biblical scholars call this practice intertextuality) is an important part in understanding God’s mission of to the world through God’s Son Jesus the Anointed One, and the Holy Spirit.

Supersessionism and its fellow heretical teaching, that of Marcionism (the belief that there is 2 God in the Christian canon, an evil violent God in the “Old” and a “peaceful”, loving God in the “New.” What perpetuates supersessionism is well meaning pastors and professors continually essentializing Judaism as a warmongering religion of revenge. Have you ever heard or read someone say that “the Jews were waiting for a violent messiah to overtake their enemies”? The idea that God evolved (that being God’s character) from violent to non-violent being taught by white Emergent Church leaders is just another form of this supersessionism, with a nice, smiling face. Amy Jill-Levine points out, for example, that the oft-cited Psalm of Solomon chapter 17, where Israel’s Messiah is supposed to have a “blitzkrieg” versus the Gentiles, verses often times get ignored. The nations are destroyed by “the words from his mouth.” Does this sound familiar? This is exactly the same concept that the author of Revelation says about Jesus, that a sword will come from Christ’s mouth in chapter 19, verse 15.

The example of Psalm of Solomon compared to Revelation is an example of just how dependent on Israel’s story Jewish and Gentile Christians alike really are. “Spiritualizing” Israel’s historic encounter with the One, True God is a supersessionist anti-Judaic practice. Let’s go back to Romans 9-11. It is my belief that the apostle Paul is utterly, hopelessly reliant on the words of the prophets, and in Romans, this is no different. Romans 9:10-13 cannot be understood apart from the stories of Jacob and Esau as well as Israel’s concrete relationship with Edom, the nation that descended from Esau. Malachi 1 for example addresses Israel implicitly as Jacob, and Edom (explicitly) as Esau:

“I have loved you,” says [YHWH].

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?”
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.” But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

Throughout the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, if you pay attention to the details, Edom has a special place in God’s plan. Edom is a stand-in for the rest of us Gentiles and our stories. In Deuteronomy 23, YHWH orders the Israelites: “Do not despise an Edomite, for the Edomites are related to you. Do not despise an Egyptian, because you resided as foreigners in their country.” In the time of Solomon’s reign, as punishment, YHWH raised up opposition, from guess where? Edom! So just as the Gentiles have historically been resistant to YHWH, so has Edom rebelled against the reign of Israel.

Fast forward to Romans 11, Israel’s story is one where the descendents of Abraham lived in a cycle of faithfulness and unfaithfulness, and then exile and return. God is given credit with liberating the Israelites and Judeans time and time again with judges and kings, and even after God sends God’s people into exile, God makes a way for them to return, and even choose the empire that allows them to do so according to Ezra and Chronicles. Just as the imagery in Romans 9 about stressing God’s sovereign freedom and love, so is the image of God as a gardner, engrafting the Gentiles in to the roots and branches of Israel. Much like the author of Hebrews, Paul is arguing that the Gentiles have been included fully in the new plan. This is what makes the New Covenant better than the “old”: more people for God to call beloved. The election and call to service to YHWH as well as the gift of the Promise (which includes the Law) is irrevocable (Romans 11:28). The problem with supersessionism is that it is first and foremost, a rejection of God’s plan that includes the strategy of engraftment. Understanding our Gentile place is crucial part of understanding the mission of YHWH, the Word that YHWH sent went to Israel and Judah first, and then the Gentiles.

The Resurrection faith in Yeshua the Messiah does not permit us to ask, “who will go to heaven?” or “who will go down to the abyss?” (Romans 10:5-7). These questions are not what the covenantal relationship between God and humanity is about. The specific details of the afterlife are for God to know, and God is God’s own mystery and power decides alone (Romans 11:25-36). When it comes to living in fellowship with Jews, Jewish and Gentile Christians exist as a testimony that Israel’s covenant has been opened up, that God has reconciled Jew and Gentile.

“But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept.”- Genesis 33:4 (NIV)

Yom Kippur: Scapegoats And Nonviolent Politics

Azazel (Supernatural)

Azazel (Supernatural) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For observant Jews, The Day of Atonement has reasoning behind its history found in the pages of Leviticus, chapter 16. There are two animals, one is a bull who is to be sacrificed on the altar for the sins of the people, while the other one is exiled from the camp, and the community’s sins leaving with it. In mainline and evangelical communities, the idea of social sin has been lost, that and along with a lack of knowledge of the First Testament, the meaning of scapegoats are lost on us.

A modern interpretation of Azazel as a Satanic...

A modern interpretation of Azazel as a Satanic, goatlike demon, from Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal (Paris,1825). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This goat in Jewish mythology and the writings of the Mishnah (scholars say starting around the 2nd Temple era), represents Azazel, (“a goat that departs”), a leader of angels that rebel much like some stories of satan. Here we have a religion where every year, the ritual life of a community is centered on the victim. The story of the victim told and told year after year decenters our stories of the victors of history so that the losers have a voice. May the words of the Pharisee and apostle Paul for us “to remember the poor” as he has come to our minds. May we remember the words of the rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth whom Christians call the Messiah, that there will be a day when the goats (who still participate in the scapegoating mechanism) will be separated from the sheep (those who obey God to fight against scapegoating) expose our violent ways.

Mazel Tov!

For more sources concerning this view, please see S. Mark Heim’s Saved From Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross

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Larry Hurtado's LORD Jesus Christ: Chapter Two

My Protestant Pheelings Phor Philo of Alexandria

This is my third post of my current series on Larry Hurtado‘s LORD Jesus Christ: Devotions To Jesus In Earliest Christianity:

See my first 2:

Larry Hurtado and Historical Criticism: An Introduction of sorts

Larry Hurtado’s Lord Jesus Christ: Chapter One

As we continue on with the second chapter of Hurtado’s work, we move into the beginning of his argument where he wants to start with the authentic Pauline letters. Hurtado contends that these are the earliest proofs we have of Jesus devotion, that the fact remains that the Gospels were written much latter, and Paul’s practices represents what Hurtado calls an early Jewish Christian set of practices and beliefs. Paul himself, according to Hurtado, has a mission to deliver a “Torah-free” Jewish Christian Gospel to the Gentiles (the Nations).  Hurtado wants to guard against the history-of-religions approach to the New Testament, the one that frames Jesus, and then his apostle Paul as scholars of Hellenistic philosophy. LH starts with Paul’s letters for this very reason, as well as to put into dispute claims made by persons such as Dominic Crossan who make the mainline Historical Jesus argument that Paul was a Platonist/semi-Platonist. For example, Hurtado stresses that the early Jewish Christian belief of Jesus as God’s Son has to do with the Davidic Kingship, and not at all with Jesus as some cog from Greek Philosophy. It is important to understand Paul as a faithful Jew dedicated to the Messiah, I would agree with Hurtado, but there was no  singular “purely Jewish” strain of Judaism. Hurtado knows this, that there were many Jewish parties, and understanding this is the keep. Paul himself, as his autobiographical statements suggest, was a member of the Pharisees, and so much of Paul’s teachings were still consistent with Pharisaical Judaism, such as the emphasis on bodily resurrection and the Torah (to this, I will come back to later).

Hurtado uses the example of Philo of Alexandria as the “typical Jew” of early Judaism, and I just think that’s just incorrect. In fact, Philo’s use of a revisionist Platonism, allegorical interpretations of the Septuagint, as well as his Logos theology WERE NOT the mainstream in early Judaism. Philo was a marginal, radical thinker for his day, so the contrast between Philo and Paul utterly fails. What one can say about these contemporaries is that Paul and Philo were creative, radical intellectuals dedicated to reinventing Hebrew philosophy and that they have more in common than at first glance.

Larry Hurtado goes on to argue that one of the markers of early Jewish Christianity under the influence of Pauline Letters is the belief of the Pre-Existence of Christ. It is a central confession of these early Christians where the pre-determined purposes of creation and redemption are intertwined. Hurtado rejects Wisdom literature and Paul’s use of it as a case for pre-existence, contra James Dunn. Dunn, who argues for example that the hymnology in Phillipians 2:1-11 is more about the story of Genesis with a connection to Adam-Christology. This would be perfectly suitable logic for Pauline theology scholars especially in light of Paul’s letter to the Romans, but ah, Hurtado disagrees. Pre-existence in Jewish theology comes by way of apocalyptic writings in Judaism, claims LH. No specifics were given or sources cited, just a couple of essays, maybe a dissertation, but I believe what Hurtado has in mind is the Son of Man passages like in Daniel or Enochian literature.

TORAH TORAH TORAH

When one considers Hurtado’s defense of Pre-existence (and being the faithful Alexandrian theologian that I am, I hold to pre-existence), I find it rather weak. It is weak because of Hurtado’s dismissal of Wisdom literature, and because of Hurtado’s claim that Paul is preaching a Torah-less Jewish Christian Gospel to the Gentiles. I found it not that convincing because, when one thinks about the meaning of the Messiah, Jesus as the Chosen Annointed One, we must give heavy consideration to God’s election of Mary’s body for YHWH’s divine enfleshment. Personification and Mary’s chosenness go hand in hand with Jesus’ election as Messiah. No body, no Messiah; know body, know Messiah. Therefore, any notion of Christ being pre-existent without a body is wrong, for that “being” cannot be called Christ as such, since Christ cannot be without a physical fleshly sack of meat and water. This is where the innovations of Philo come into play, with the person of Wisdom. Because Hurtado doesn’t get Philo, he gets Christology and Paul’s mission wrong as well. Paul DOES NOT present an antinomian Good News, for without the Law, there is no Gospel. The Torah is understood in some Jewish traditions to be Wisdom, God’s blueprint prior to creation. If Paul is presenting Jesus as Wisdom like in his letters to the Corinthians, then Paul is presenting the Torah, Jesus as the Law made Flesh.

Next up, I’ll take a gander at chapter three on Judean Jewish Christianity.

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