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REINTERPRETATION OF THE CRUCIFIXION OF JESUS

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  • Daniel Thomas
    I found this article and thought it is interesting for our review and study. TO DIE FOR THE PEOPLE: A Kabbalistic Reinterpretation of the Crucifixion of Jesus
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 23, 2001
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      I found this article and thought it is interesting for our review and study.

      TO DIE FOR THE PEOPLE:
      A Kabbalistic Reinterpretation of the Crucifixion of Jesus
      by Yakov Leib haKohain (Lawrence G. Corey, Ph.D.)
      As Originally Published in
      The Priest: A Journal of Catholic Theology April, 1996

      [Prologue: Please note in advance that the purpose of the following article,
      originally published in a Catholic journal, is not to "convert" Jews to
      Christianity, or Christians to Judaism -- nor to "prove" or "disprove" the
      validity of the Christian faith by virtue of its roots in the Judaic -- but
      simply to correct the commonly held beliefs, among Christians and Jews alike,
      about the role of the Jewish people in the crucifixion of the man later to be
      called "Jesus," as documented in both Jewish and Christian Scripture. Over the
      past four years, since its publication, "To Die for the People" has offended
      Christians and Jews alike: Christians because it seeks to disprove one of their
      most cherished popular beliefs -- that is, that the Jews called for the death
      of "Jesus" out of malice and rejection of his "divinity" -- and Jews because
      the article, written by a Jew from a Jewish perspective, even takes the matter
      of "Jesus" seriously at all. Be that as it may, I offer it to you now during
      this Passover and Easter Season.]  
      Ever since Vatican II, the Church has actively pursued a  dialogue with
      Judaism. But a major impediment has been a continuing, popular myth that the
      Jews of Jesus's time rejected  Him. However, my thesis in what follows is that
      the vast majority of Jews and the Jewish authorities of His time not only
      accepted Jesus as the Messiah, but for that very reason intentionally
      precipitated his death. At first glance this may seem contradictory to
      everything we have been taught, but a reading of Jewish and Christian Scripture
      suggests otherwise.

      For example, the Fourth Gospel (John 11:49) indicates that the Pharisees and
      High Priests ultimately accepted Christ when they
      became convinced that He embodied the Resurrection, and acting on a Jewish Oral
      Scripture that the Messiah must "die for the
      people" (e.g., Zohar 5:218a), they instructed their followers to call for His
      death and thereby inaugurate the Millennium. If so, this could explain why the
      Jews are said to have shouted "Hosanna!" on one day and "Crucify him!" a week
      later. (John 12:13, 19:15).  Various Hebrew texts support such an
      interpretation and will be discussed later.

      At this point, we turn to the scriptural and historical evidence for the Jew's
      belief in Jesus.  According to Luke, the common Jewish people flocked to Jesus.
      For example, the first 5,000 Christians were Jews (Acts 4:4). Moreover, there
      was the requirement that Gentiles had to convert to Judaism before they could
      join the Jerusalem Church of Peter and James (Acts 15:1) Even some Pharisees
      acknowledged Christ, albeit grudgingly. Nicodemus, a "leading Jew" hailed him
      as "a teacher who comes from God" (John 3:1-2). And Rabbi Gamaliel, a member of
      the Sanhedrin and later Paul's teacher, declared, "If [Christianity] comes from
      God you [members of the Sanhedrin] will not only be unable to destroy [it], but
      you might find yourselves fighting against God" (Acts 5:34-39)  Elsewhere, the
      Sanhedrin itself concluded, "It is obvious to everybody in Jerusalem that a
      miracle . . . has been worked through [Christ's disciples] in public and we
      cannot deny it" (Acts 4:16).

      Less well known is that some post-Biblical rabbis actually held much the same
      belief in Jesus. For example, a Midrash states,
      "The son of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi had a choking fit. He [Rabbi Joshua] went and
      brought one of the followers of [Jesus] to relieve his son's choking" (Midrash
      Rabbah, Ecclesiastes 10:4:1). And according to a Medieval rabbi, Menachim of
      Speyer, "A Christian may be permitted to heal a Jew even if he invokes the aid
      of Jesus and the Saints." Even Maimonides wrote, "Ultimately, all the deeds of
      Jesus of Nazareth . . . will only serve to prepare the way for the Messiah's
      coming and the improvement of the entire world" (Mishnah Torah: Hilchot
      Melachim U'Milchamoteihem 11:4).

      Furthermore, a closely guarded rabbinic tradition holds that Paul was a devout
      rabbi who intentionally "paganized" Christianity by bringing it to the Gentiles
      in order to alienate it from his fellow Jews, thereby saving them from its
      supposed heresy. Despite the naivet´┐Ż of this later belief, it indicates the
      extent to which the early rabbis acknowledged the widespread acceptance of
      Christ among the Jewish populace.

      There is little doubt that the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus to death. For example,
      Maimonides writes in the Mishnah Torah,
      "Jesus of Nazareth . . . aspired to be the Messiah and was executed by the
      court" (Hilchot Melachim U'Milchamoteihem 11:4).
      Also, the Talmud states:

      "On the eve of the Passover, Jesus of Nazareth was [crucified]. For 40 days
      before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'Jesus of
      Nazareth is going to be stoned because he is guilty of practicing sorcery and
      enticing the people to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let
      him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought
      forward in his favor he was [crucified] on the eve of the Passover . . . Rabbi
      Ulla asked, 'Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defense could have been
      made?' [And then he answered his own question by stating,] No, because with
      Jesus of Nazareth it was different, for he was descended from the royalty."
      (Tr. Sanhedrin 43a)

      At least one Jewish scholar suggests that such historical references to Christ
      in the Talmud may be historically accurate, probably originating, he suggests,
      with the Tanna Eliezer ben Hyrcanus, who may have learned them directly from
      his own teacher, Johanan ben Zakkai, who was a contemporary of Jesus. (R.
      Travers Herford, The Universal Jewish  Encyclopedia, Vol. 6, p. 88.) If so,
      this particular Gemara is interesting for several reasons.

      To begin with, it verifies that the Sanhedrin did, indeed,  sentence Jesus to
      death, but not for the reasons given in the Christian Gospels.  According to
      this passage of Talmud, Jesus was condemned for "sorcery" and "apostasy" and
      not for "blasphemy" as the Gospels contend (Mt 26:65, Mk 14:64, Lk 5:21, Jn
      10:33) -- charges that are far more probable since claiming to be the Messiah,
      or even the "Son of God," did not constitute blasphemy in rabbinic law. For
      example, the Talmud states: "If a man say to thee, 'I am God,' he is [only] a
      liar; if [he says I am] 'the son of man,' in the end people will laugh at him.
      (Tr. Yer. Taan. 65b; see also Rabbi Baruch Horovitz, The Disputations,
      Scholarly Publications, 1972, page 151.)
       
      This charge of sorcery and not apostasy is confirmed by recent scholarship,
      such as that by Professor Morton Smith at Columbia
      University who writes: "Outsiders [those hostile to Jesus] spread the word that
      his family had tried to put him under restraint as insane, that he was
      possessed, that he had a demon, and that his miracles were done by magic."
      (Jesus the Magician, Harper & Row, 1978, page 43; see also by the same author
      Clement of Alexandria and a Secret Gospel of Mark, Harvard University Press,
      1973.)

      Another point of interest in this Talmudic text is that it openly acknowledges
      Jesus to have been "descended from the royalty" (i.e., the Throne of David),
      which implies that He was a legitimate heir, in their eyes, to the office of
      Messiah -- and, furthermore, it was because of that very royal lineage that "a
      defense could not be made" on his behalf, as stated by Rabbi Ulla in the Gemara
      in question.

      But even more significant for the thesis of this essay -- that the Jews of his
      time condemned Jesus to death in order to facilitate his messianic destiny --
      is the revelation in this possibly accurate historic account in the Talmud that
      "nothing was brought forward in His favor" at His trial. According to the
      Gospels, Jesus had many powerful and respected allies who could have testified
      on his behalf. These included the "rich young aristocrat" of Judea (Mt 19:16);
      Joseph of Arimathea (Mk 15:43); Jairus "the synagogue official" (ibid 5:35);
      the "centurion of Capernum" (Lk 7:1); the "rich son of a leading family" (ibid
      18:18); Zacchaeus "the senior tax collector" (ibid 19:1); Nicodemus the
      Pharisee (Jn 3:1, 7:50, 19:39); and the "court official" of Cana (Jn 4:46).

      Why did none of these come forward on Jesus's behalf at his trial by the
      Sanhedrin?  The standard explanation, given by Christian exegetes, is that
      these prominent people were "afraid of the Sanhedrin" -- whose power under
      Roman rule, incidentally, was highly questionable. Another more-probable and
      less-often considered answer to this question lies in the Gospel of John, where
      a sequence of three events takes place that gives rise to the thesis I put
      forward here -- namely, that they refrained from testifying on Jesus's behalf
      not out of fear or hostility, but in order to assist him in the fulfillment of
      his Messianic destiny. This is the sequence of these highly-significant events:
      first, Jesus announces He is the Messiah (Jn 10:25); second, He also calls
      himself "the resurrection" (ibid 11:25); and third, the Jewish elders decide to
      kill Him (ibid 11:45).

      In what follows I propose to show how the final stage of this scenario -- the
      decision of the Jewish elders to "kill" Jesus -- took place not out of
      hostility, but as an effort to fulfill the Jewish prophecy that the Messiah
      must "die for the people." I realize that this thesis flies in the face of
      everything Christianity has taught for two thousand years, but I believe there
      is valid evidence for it in the scriptural data I propose to discuss in the
      following paragraphs.

      * * * * *

      Jesus chose the Jewish festival of Hanukkah (or "Feast of Dedication") to
      announce that He was the "Son of God" (Jn 10:22). His choice may not have been
      entirely arbitrary. To begin with, Hanukkah always falls on the 25th day of
      Kislev in the Hebrew calendar. Now, as any Torah scholar, such as Jesus, would
      have known, the 25th word of Genesis in the Masoretic  text is Oyer, or "Light"
      (Beraishit 1:3) -- and Hanukkah commemorates a miracle of light that took place
      when the Temple was rededicated after its defilement by the Hellenists. On that
      day, only one small jar of oil was found that the heathens had not profaned;
      this was only enough to keep the Eternal Light of the Sanctuary burning for one
      day. The miracle, however, was that it lasted eight, thereby providing time for
      new oil to be produced.

      Thus, the spiritual meaning of these temporal events is that the light of God
      could not be extinguished by the forces of
      darkness. This corresponds to the opening passage of John: "All that came to be
      had life in him, and that life was the light of
      men, a light that shines in the dark, a light that darkness could not
      overpower" (Jn 1:45). In any case, the primary significance of this event is
      that it sets the stage for those to follow.

      Shortly after Jesus announced that he was the "Son of God," He went to the home
      of Mary and Martha in Bethany. There He
      proclaimed the next stage of His vocation: "I am the resurrection . . . If
      anyone believes in me, even though he dies he will live" (Jn 11:25). Then, as
      if to prove this bold assertion, He raises Lazarus from the dead (Jn 11:43-44).

      Now, the Resurrection, in general, was a subject of heated debate at the time.
      So much so, that it polarized the warring parties of Pharisees (who believed in
      it) and the Sadducees (who did not). All three Synoptic Gospels record the
      incident in which the Sadducees challenged Jesus to take a stand on the Issue
      (Mt 22:23, Mk 12:18, Lk 10:27). This may have been more of an attempt to ferret
      out His political leanings than His religious beliefs. If He came down against
      it, He was a Sadducee; if in favor of it, a Pharisee. Jesus, however, evaded
      their attempts to pin Him down.

      For example, He says, "God is God, not of the dead but of the living," which
      seems to beg the question (Mt 22:32). Only after he announces that He is the
      Son of God does He take an unequivocal stand: not only are the Sadducees wrong
      about the Resurrection but He, Christ Jesus, is its living embodiment, as
      proven by His raising of Lazarus from the dead.

      Strange as it may seem, this aligned Him with the very Pharisees whom He
      elsewhere appears to have condemned. It did not go
      unnoticed by them.

      After seeing Jesus raise Lazarus, some of Mary and Martha's guests "went to
      tell the Pharisees what He had done," and as a
      result "the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting" (Jn 11:45). I cannot
      emphasize strongly enough the importance of
      this meeting to our thesis that the Jews of His time called for Jesus's death
      not, as we are told, out of hostility and
      rejection, but out of a recognition of his Messianic role and an attempt to
      precipitate it.

      To begin with, two things are noteworthy in these events. first, that the
      informants ran to the Pharisees, rather than the Sadducees; and second, that
      the chief priests, who were presumably Sadducees themselves, would have
      accepted an invitation from their supposed enemies to decide the fate of Jesus.
      Something of compelling significance must have drawn these arch enemies into
      collaborating with each other -- something more than merely putting down one of
      the many (and not particularly different) messianic movements taking place in
      Palestine at the time. Whatever the case, a remarkable meeting ensues, as
      described by John:

      "Then the chief priests and Pharisees called a meeting. 'Here is this man
      working all these signs,' they said, 'and what action are we taking? If we let
      him go on this way everybody will believe in him and the Romans will come and
      destroy the Holy Place and our nation.' One of them, Caiaphas, the high priest
      that year, said, 'You don't seem to have grasped the situation at all: you fail
      to see that it is better for one man to die for all the people than for the
      whole nation to be destroyed.' He did not speak in his own person, it was as
      high priest he made this prophecy that Jesus was to die for the nation -- and
      not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered children
      of God. From that day they were determined to
      kill him." (Jn 11:47-53)."

      Thus, the high priest, and all the Jewish leaders assembled with him, agreed
      that Jesus must die not only for the salvation of Israel, but "to gather
      together in unity the scattered children of God" -- in other words, to fulfill
      the Messianic commission. It is for this reason -- to actualize the Jewish
      prophecy that the Messiah must "die for the people" and "gather the scattered
      children of God" -- that the Jewish leaders determined to "kill" him, and not,
      as we have been told by two thousand years of Gentile-Christian history,
      because they and the Jews whom they led "despised" and "rejected" Him.

      These deliberations by the Jewish leaders are notable for several reasons.
      First, it was not the "signs" Jesus performed to which they objected, but
      rather their possible effect on the Romans. Indeed, the Pharisees and chief
      priests were not at all concerned that "everybody will believe in him," or even
      if He was deserving of their belief (which implies they felt He was), but
      rather that as "king of the Jews" (i.e., the Messiah) He posed not a threat to
      them, but to Roman rule and, therefore, the political stability of the Jewish
      nation. But even more remarkable are the reasons for which they finally
      "determined to kill him."

      Let us reconstruct this meeting in our mind's eye: We see a group of Pharisees
      who have just been told that Jesus just raised a man from the dead. Their
      reaction is panic. "This man is working all these signs," they say. But signs
      of what? Surely, in the context of the times, they must have meant "signs of
      the Messiah." (For example, although the original Greek word used here,
      semeion, is translated in modern versions of the Bible as "signs," its literal
      meaning, as given in the King James version, is "miracles.") But if this is so,
      what are they to do? If they accept Him -- as they are beginning to think they
      should, based on His Otot HaMashiach ("Signs of the Messiah") -- they run the
      risk of provoking their Roman rulers; if they reject Him, they run the even
      greater risk of possibly provoking God.

      The dilemma is resolved by Caiaphas. Speaking, it should be noted, as a
      prophet, he proclaims that Jesus must be executed, not as a punishment for
      claiming to be the Messiah but, on the contrary, in order to fulfill his
      Messianic destiny: "Jesus," he says, "must die for the nation [of Israel] . . .
      and not for the nation only, but to gather together in unity the scattered
      children of God."

      Here, Caiaphas is calling on the authority of Jewish Oral Scripture. The first
      part of his prophesy -- that "Jesus [must] die for the nation" parallels the
      Jewish, Pre-Christian Oral Scripture: 

      "When God desires to give healing to the world He smites one righteous man
      among them . . . and through him gives healing to all . . . A righteous man is
      never afflicted save to bring healing to his generation and to make atonement
      for it." (Zohar 5:218a)

      Significantly, this Atoning Messiah of Judaism not only "dies the people," but
      also rises from the dead after three days -- as shown in another Jewish Oral
      Scripture that states: 

      "[The] Messiah [ben Joseph] will . . . be slain and lay in the streets for
      three days. Then . . . the prophet Elijah will go and revive
      [him] . . . And in the hour when the Tribes of Israel will come forth, Clouds
      of Glory will go before them. And the Holy One, blessed be He, will open for
      them the sources of the Tree of Life, and will give them to drink on that day."
      (Otot HaMashiach)

      Clearly, this pre-Christian, Judaic doctrine anticipates Christ's alleged
      prediction throughout the Gospels that on the "third day" He would "rise
      again."

      The second part of Caiaphas's prophecy -- "and not for the nation only, but to
      gather together in unity the scattered children of God" -- refers to another
      Jewish Oral Scripture:

      "And then the Community of Israel communes with the Holy One, blessed be He,
      and that hour is a time of grace for all, and the
      King [Messiah] holds out to [Israel], and all who are with her, his scepter of
      the thread of grace so that they all may be wholly united to the Holy King."
      (Zohar 5:45a)

      Furthermore, a Mishnah by Maimonides states,

      "If a king will arise from the House of David [who] . . . gathers the dispersed
      of Israel [as Caiaphas believes Jesus could do], he is
      definitely the Messiah." (Mishnah Torah: Hilchot Melachim U'Milchamoteihem
      4:11)

      Thus, by alluding to these two commonly held doctrines, Caiaphas prevails, and
      the assembled Jewish leaders finally "grasp the
      situation:" Jesus has fulfilled the "signs of the Messiah" and, therefore,
      according to Jewish Oral Scripture, he must enter the next stage of the
      scenario, which is to "die for the people" in order to "make atonement for His
      generation" and "unite the scattered children of God." Consequently, they
      determine to "kill" him, not as a punishment for His claims, but to catalyze
      His Messianic vocation.

      In at least three passages of the Gospels (Mt. 16:21, 20:17, 20:19) Jesus
      alludes to the same Jewish messianic prophesies that may have prompted Caiaphas
      and the elders to sentence Him to death in order to fulfill his messianic
      mission to the Jewish people. These were: he must be killed by the "pagans,"
      lie dead for "three days" and later be resurrected as the conquering Messiah.
      He also seems to have known in advance that these Jewish leaders would
      sacrifice Him to atone for the people, which suggests that He may have
      intentionally provoked them into doing so by His actions at the home of Mary
      and Martha in Bethany.

      These considerations cast new light on why the Jewish "mob" may have demanded
      Christ's crucifixion (Mt 27:11, Mk 15:1, Lk 23:13, Jn 19:1).  That is, rather
      than calling for His death out of blind malice, as we have been told they did,
      they may have done
      so for their eternal salvation. Viewed from the perspective of Caiaphas'
      prophecy, and the Jewish Oral Scriptures that may have
      prompted it, their assertion "his blood be on us and our children" (Mt 27:25)
      can be taken to mean, as Paul later wrote, "Through his blood, we gain our
      freedom, the forgiveness of our sins" (Eph 1:1-7).

      * * * * *

      In summary, then, and contrary to current popular belief, according to the
      Gospels themselves thousands of religious Jews flocked to Jesus during his
      life-time (as they did and have to numerous other charismatic "messianic"
      figures), and even before Paul brought His message to the Gentiles.  This
      strongly suggests that there was no contradiction in their minds between
      "Orthodox" Judaism and Christ's teachings. In fact, we're told, the early
      Church "went as a body to the Temple every day" (Acts 2:46).

      Moreover, the Jews who cried "Crucify him!" and "Let his blood be on us!" may
      have done so because they believed, as their Oral
      Scriptures had told them, that His sacrificial death would free them from sin
      and initiate the Messianic Era -- a belief that would later become the
      cornerstone of Gentile Pauline Christology. But if, as we suggest here, New
      Testament Jews were so favorably predisposed to the messiahship of Jesus (as
      they were and have been to that of other similar Jewish avatars), why is there
      an almost irreconcilable breach between Judaism and Christianity today? It's to
      this question that we now turn for answers.

      A clue to the answer to our last question lies in Paul's appearance before the
      Corinth tribunal. "We accuse this man," they said, "of persuading people to
      worship God in a way that breaks the Law" (Acts 18:13). Notice that they are
      here condemning Paul and not Christ. But what was he teaching that was so
      seditious? That the Messiah abrogated the Law? Or that Jesus was an incarnation
      of God? Unlikely.

      These were already commonly held crypto-messianic beliefs. For example, R.
      Eliyahu Tougher, commenting on the Mishnah Torah of Maimonides, writes: "The
      Ra'avad and many other commentaries maintain that the Messiah's coming will
      initiate a miraculous
      era in which the entire nature of the world will change." (Hilchot Melachim
      U'Milchamoteihem page 240.) So common were
      they, in fact, that in 1666 the Messianic movement of another Jewish "divine
      incarnation," Sabbatai Zevi, literally engulfed
      the whole of the Jewish world -- despite the fact that he, like Christ,
      nullified the Law. (In the case of the former, particularly the Torah's sexual
      prohibitions.)

      Something less obvious must have motivated Paul's enemies. Something, I
      propose, deeply rooted in the tribal nature of
      Judaism itself.

      There is an abiding conviction among religious Jews, such as Paul, that the
      Torah is their exclusive property because they
      alone were willing to accept it from God. For example, the Talmud states:

      "In order to give all of mankind the option of living according to the Torah's
      precepts, the Lord offered it to each nation of the world . . .[Gentile] nation
      after nation refused to accept [it] . . . Finally, the Lord approached Israel:
      'Will you accept my Torah?' . . . Not only were they willing to receive the
      Torah but they did so even before knowing what it contained." (Tr. Avodah Zara
      2b)

      Moreover, the same Gemara continues: "The Gentiles will eventually regret their
      decision and plead, 'Offer us the Torah again and we shall obey it.' But the
      Holy One, blessed be He, will say to them, 'You foolish ones among the peoples,
      he who took the trouble to prepare on the even of the Sabbath can eat on the
      Sabbath, but he who has not troubled on the eve of the Sabbath, what shall he
      eat on the Sabbath?'"

      In other words, Gentiles are forbidden, by rabbinic law, from practicing
      Judaism because they rejected the Torah when it was offered to them. This
      belief was and is so strong that the Talmud and Midrash state:  "If a Gentile
      is learning Torah or keeping the Sabbath in the manner of Jews . . . he is
      liable for capital punishment by the rabbinic court." (Quoted in Chaim
      Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky, The Path of the Righteous Gentile, page 42)

      On the other hand, according to the same sources, the proper observance of
      Torah for righteous Gentiles is "Noahism," in
      which they join the Community of Israel by following the "Seven Laws of Noah.
      It was within this belief system that the Jewish
      leaders brought Paul before the Corinth Tribunal, not because he taught
      Christianity, but because he taught it to the Gentiles in
      a manner that permitted them to worship as Jews. For that reason, I submit, and
      not because he taught Christ, they accused
      him of "persuading people to worship God in a way that breaks the law." This
      may have been another way of saying, "Paul is
      encouraging Gentiles to break the law by worshiping God as if they were Jews
      rather than Noahites."

      Thus, we see that Gentiles are forbidden by Talmudic law from practicing
      Judaism (unless they formally convert to Judaism, which Paul asserted that they
      need not do to become Christians) and it was for that reason, and not because
      he taught that Jesus
      was the Jewish Messiah, that the Jewish leaders condemned him.

      In addition to their problems with Paul, these same Jewish leaders had
      conflicts among themselves that could have colored their attitudes toward
      Jesus. The Sadducees were an elitist Temple cult of prosperous Jews who denied
      the existence of the Holy Spirit (Ruach HaKodesh), angels and the Resurrection
      -- all of which, the Pharisees, the religious party of the "common man",
      believed in and taught, just as Jesus had. Contrary to the New Testament, this
      means that the Pharisees would have been receptive to the egalitarian and
      pneumatic elements of Christ's teachings -- or, at least more so than the
      Sadducees.

      This division between the two religious parties could account for Paul's
      seeming ambivalence toward the Jews. When he (a
      Pharisee) excoriates them for their intransigence, he may be addressing the
      Sadducees (Acts 13:46); on the other hand, when
      he praises them for their willingness to "hear the world of the Lord" (Acts
      19:10), it may be to his fellow Pharisees to whom he
      is speaking. The same possibility holds true, of course, in the Synoptic and
      Johannine Gospels.

      In the wake of these events, Paul's calling as "Apostle to the Gentiles" opened
      Jewish Christianity to the Greeks and Romans --
      two groups notoriously hostile to the Jews at the time -- and what began as a
      Jewish sect under Peter and James in Jerusalem
      (and was extended by them to the Gentiles in Antioch if they either converted
      to Judaism or became "Noahites") now became a
      distinctly Gentile religion.

      As the numbers of these Greek and Roman converts to Paul's Church began to grow
      and outnumber its Jews, so did a gradual
      purging of its Jewish Christians, and a distinctly anti-Semitic attitude
      ensued. For example, Professor James M. Robinson writes, "Christianity first
      became a Jewish sect, until it became largely Gentile after the fall of
      Jerusalem, [when Judaism] was excluded." (The Nag Hammadi Library, page 7; see
      also Clemens Thoma, A Christian Theology of Judaism and Elaine Pagels, The
      Gnostic Gospels)

      Popular myth began to replace Gospel truth among the Gentile members of the
      "new and better covenant" Paul proclaimed to them (Heb 8:6). In their minds,
      some Jews became all Jews. For example, rather than some Jews having rejected
      Jesus out of hostility (which was true), all of them did. Rather than some of
      them having called for his death out of blind malice, all of them had. Rather
      than some Jews having persecuted the apostles after the crucifixion, all of
      them did.

      As a result, it was not the Jews who rejected early Christianity, but early
      Christianity that rejected the Jews. Had this not occurred, many traditional
      Jews today probably would be "Christians" in the same way that others are
      Hasidim -- that is, not as modern Gentile Christians (who mistakenly believe in
      the "divinity" of Christ), but as disciples devoted to the teachings and person
      of a particular tzaddik, or messianic figure, such as Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
      or Sabbatai Zevi, to whom we now turn.

      * * * * *

      Rabbi Nachman of Breslov (1772-1810) was one such messianic figure, still
      "worshiped" today by his Orthodox Jewish followers
      in the same way as Jesus might have been. Like Jesus, and contrary to
      established Jewish precedent, he made the remarkable
      claim that he would continue to intervene for the salvation of souls who prayed
      to him (a devotional act forbidden in Judaism), even after his death:

      "When my days are ended and I leave this world, I will intercede for anyone who
      comes to my grave [and pray] . . . No matter how serious his sins and
      transgressions, I will do everything in my power to save him and cleanse him. I
      will span the length and breadth of the Creation for him. By his peyos
      [forelocks] I will pull him out of Gehennom [Hell]." (Rabbi Nachman's Tikkun,
      Breslov Research Institute, 1984, page 42.}

      Notice that Nachman is here positioning himself as a supernatural, salvific
      figure much in the mold of the Ascended Christ. Nevertheless, despite the
      "Christian" nature of these Jewish claims, he continues to have thousands of
      disciples within Orthodox Judaism. For example, one modern Hasid, speaking for
      many Orthodox Hasidim, stated: 

      "We believe that Jesus was taken away from the Jews [by the Gentiles]. He was a
      great power; he could have been a great talmudic scholar or a Tzaddik, [but] he
      was drawn to the other side of the fence." (Quoted in Legends of the Hasidim,
      Jerome R. Mintz, University of Chicago Press, page 140)

      Parenthetically, this raises the issue of divine incarnation, which Judaism
      allegedly rejects. For example, Rabbi Eliezer Geviritz writes, "The Torah
      states clearly God is not a man" (A Guide to Torah Hashkofoh, Feldheim
      Publishers, pages 143-44.)

      Nevertheless, Yahweh took human form at least three times in the Old Testament:
      first to Abraham at the Oak of Mamre (Gn 18:1-5); second, to Moses on Mount
      Sinai (Ex 34:6-9); and third, to the Community of Israel in the desert {Dt
      5:24). Moreover,  concerning the apparition at Mamre, rabbinic tradition holds
      that "Yahweh personally appeared [as a man] to Abraham" (The
      Midrash Says, Vol. 1, page 159), and there is a Talmudic dictum that Yahweh
      himself will come as the Jewish Messiah. The presence of such "incarnations" as
      Rebbe Nachman of Breslov and Sabbatai Zevi (whom I will discuss later), gives
      visible evidence for a tendency in the Jewish psyche to concretize the Holy
      Spirit in human form.  In any case, the anti-Semitic prejudices of early
      Gentile Christians alienated Jesus from his later fellow Jews. It was to mend
      this rent in the Fabric of God that Sabbatai Zevi
      and, later, Yakov Leib Frank, made "holy apostasy" to Islam and Christianity,
      respectively. We now turn to those acts of virtual
      conversion.

      In an archetypal sense, the breach between Jews and Gentiles goes back even
      further than New Testament times to the conflict
      between Jacob (the Midrashic father of the Gentiles). For example:

      "Esau said [to Jacob at their first and last reunion following the incident of
      the birthright], 'Let us break camp and move off [together].' But Jacob
      replied, 'May it please my lord to go ahead of his servant until I join my lord
      in Seir.' So that day Esau resumed his journey to Seir. But Jacob left for
      Succoth." (Gn 33:12-17)

      Thus, the descendants of Jacob (the Jews) and Esau (the Gentiles) have a
      long-unkempt appointment to "meet in Seir" -- that mutual spiritual ground on
      which they are destined to be reconciled with each other and God. Some early
      Jewish leaders sought to bring about this mystical Tikkun through the radical
      conversion of their followers.

      For example, the 17th century Jewish Messiah, Sabbatai Zevi, preached a
      doctrine of "holy apostasy." A century later, his spiritual heir, Jacob Leib
      Frank, brought thousands of practicing Jews into Christianity by proclaiming,
      "When you are fit to come to Esau, then the curse will be lifted from off the
      earth" (Sayings of Yakov Frank, Harris Lenowitz, trans., page 29). These
      efforts, however, were ill-conceived from the outset and created additional
      misunderstandings between the two groups.

      In our own time, the Catholic Church has replaced "conversion" with "dialogue."
      But this, too, has had its problems. Centuries
      of Christian misconceptions about the Jews continue to restrain Jacob from
      keeping his appointment with Esau. However, Paul laid
      a foundation for a reconciliation between these two brothers -- one which
      Sabbatai Zevi and Jacob Frank also tried to conclude
      -- when he wrote: 

      "You [Gentiles] that used to be so far apart from us [Jews] have been brought
      very close [to us] by the blood of Messiah. For he is the peace between us, and
      has made the two into one and broken down the barrier which used to keep [us]
      apart . . . This was to create one single new man in himself out of the two of
      them . . . to unite them both in a single body and
      reconcile them with God." (Eph 2:11-22)

      Herein, I propose, lies the ultimate "dialogue" between Jacob and Esau: each of
      us is called upon to "create one single new man in himself out of the two of
      them" and thereby "unite them both in a single body and reconcile them with
      God." By his intervention, Jesus the Jew, with the help of his fellow Jews,
      attempted to do just that by his sacrifice on the Cross. God alone knows when
      and how the true meaning of that offering -- and the role of the Jewish people
      in it -- will be fully understood.


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