Friday, August 2, 2013

Faith Fridays: Starting at the Beginning

Working at a synagogue has opened a fresh interest in my faith's "parent" religion, and I've come to realize that there's more than one side to the Christian story. This fresh awareness has prompted mutterings of "Jesus didn't come up with that idea, the prophets before him did" (not to mention the sage Hillel) and other similar mumbles.

I recently finished reading When Christians Were Jews (That Is, Now): Recovering the Lost Jewishness of Christianity with the Gospel of Mark by Wayne-Daniel Berard and while the book has some issues (the fondness for a few crackpot theories which are contested in scholastic circles), I got some fresh insights into the earliest Gospel and the Christian faith. 

May my Jewish friends forgive and correct me if I get any of this wrong. I am still very new into my studies and the more I read, the more I find what I first felt was authoritative to be less so. That was the case with this first book, although it has some really neat stuff in it.

(1) If you're not familiar with historical-criticism method of the bible, you're not gonna like this: Mark's Gospel is biased against Pharisees (Jewish group that today's rabbinical Judaism sprung from). You didn't know scripture could have biases? Have you read Chronicles lately? It's not that there isn't history in Mark's Gospel, but that there's a definite bias. This gospel, as the others were, was written to speak to the Christians (Jesus Jews) of that time. (This is being echoed by the current book I'm reading which is John Dominic Crossan's Who Killed Jesus? Answer: it mightn't be who you think it is.)

In a nutshell, after the Rome destroyed the Temple in 70 C.E., there were two Jewish parties left standing: the Pharisees who thought living by Torah was more important than the Temple, and the Jesus Jews who thought including everybody (no matter if they were considered unclean by Torah or not) was more important than keeping Torah. Jesus is quoting Isaiah on that last one. (And that's really really really simplified.)

(2) Christians would still be Jewish today if it wasn't for that power struggle between the two groups. The author's argument is that we still are.

(3) Both sides spent so much time proving how different we are in writings and rulings from various councils on it -- and in horrible ways and ultimately Christians have spent centuries committing atrocities upon Jews since becoming the Roman Empire's official religion -- that we've forgotten how alike we are.

This was borne out by my reading of The Idiot's Guide to Jewish Culture and History and The Idiot's Guide to Judaism both by Rabbi Benjamin Blech. These were simplistic summaries of the Jewish faith but made some things really clear in how much we Christians have carried Jewish faith with us, despite the schism between Judaism and Christianity, and how much we have lost, by trying so hard to prove that we are different.

What do we have in common? Super briefly, because I've gone on long enough, two things. 
  1. "...the Lord is our God, the Lord is One." (the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:4,  Mark 12:29); and,
  2. "...you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Mark 12:30-31, Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:18, the sage Hillel, Matthew, Luke, Romans, James)
'For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” ' (Galatians 5:14)
Selah.

2 comments:

  1. Hmmm... I'm super confused by point number 2. How would Christians be still (or, I guess, how are we still)? The whole idea of "including everyone" would seem to rule out everyone becoming Jewish had the two groups decided to co-exist without a power struggle?

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  2. Well, imagine for a moment, if history hadn't happened and the two groups back then decided to agree to disagree instead of getting into a nasty fight about it. The theology in modern Judaism (broadly speaking as I am still a beginner at this and there are at least 3 main groups, and then some smaller variations--does that sound familiar?) is rather similar to Christianity's, see my last paragraph above. I guess what I'm trying to get out is that is we don't disagree on "love your neighbor as yourself", we disagree on how. Christianity inclusiveness (which, let's be honest, we've forgotten to do much of), or Judaism's "a light to the nations", showing the world what a life of faith looks like.

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