If Jesus is the Messiah, Why Don’t More Jewish People Believe in Him?


Jews for Jesus branch in New York City.

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A skeptic I was speaking with recently brought up the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as the Messiah. Implicit in his questionings was really an argument, which went something like this:

  1. Christians claim that Jesus is the Messiah as predicted by the Old Testament.
  2. Most Jews reject Jesus as their Messiah.
  3. Therefore, Jesus cannot be the Messiah.

There are two major problems with this line of reasoning. First, this is an appeal to popularity. Not long ago, people believed that the earth was flat. Just because a belief is widely held doesn’t make it a correct belief. The popular opinion of the Jewish people could be wrong.

Secondly, this is a wild overstatement. Many Jews do accept Jesus as the Messiah. At the earliest point of the history of the church, only Jews were Jesus’ followers. There are congregations of Jewish Christians across the globe today, including many in Israel.

Furthermore, Jesus himself predicted that he would be rejected by most Jews of his era. He was not at all what many Jews expected of the Messiah, and little has changed to this day. Their understanding of the Messiah was that he would be someone who would overthrow Israel’s oppressors and usher in world peace, not be crucified on the cross like a criminal. To hang on a tree, in their view, is to be cursed by God. (see Deuteronomy 21:23) However, in Mark 12 Jesus predicted he, like so many of God’s prophets sent to the nation before him, would be rejected, mistreated and killed.

Jesus then began to speak to them in parables: “A man planted a vineyard. He put a wall around it, dug a pit for the winepress and built a watchtower. Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. At harvest time he sent a servant to the tenants to collect from them some of the fruit of the vineyard. But they seized him, beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Then he sent another servant to them; they struck this man on the head and treated him shamefully. He sent still another, and that one they killed. He sent many others; some of them they beat, others they killed.

“He had one left to send, a son, whom he loved. He sent him last of all, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’

“But the tenants said to one another, ‘This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him, and the inheritance will be ours.’ So they took him and killed him, and threw him out of the vineyard.

The meaning of the parable is clear. The vineyard is Israel (see Isaiah 5:1-7), the tenants were the people of the nation, the prophets were the servants. Jesus viewed himself as the Son and heir of the kingdom. Even skeptical New Testament scholars like those of the Jesus Seminar accept this as an authentic saying of the historical Jesus. Mark records that Jesus went on to say that the vineyard owner would do away the vineyard owners and give the vineyard to a nation that will produce the fruits – which the bible indicates is the church, which consists of both Jew and Gentile. No one has a special place with God because of their ethnicity. (see Ephesians 2:12-15, Gal. 3:28, 6:14-16)

History also tells us that the Romans destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D.; and the Jews, sadly, became dispersed across the world. Only in the past century have they been gathered as a nation again. Jesus not only predicted his rejection in this parable, but also the destruction that followed in 70 A.D. (see also Matthew 22:1-14, Mt. 24) Note that this does not make the church “special” any more than Jews are special because of their ethnicity. Paul warns us that just as judgment came to Israel for their rejection, so we too can be judged for our unbelief. He goes on to say that God’s gifts toward Israel and their calling is without repentance. (See Romans 11) God “so loved the world”, which includes people of all nations, including the Jews through whom the Messiah came.

So the argument raised by the skeptic is demonstrably fallacious and furthermore disproved by history. It does nothing invalidate the claims of Christianity, if anything these objections can be used to strengthen Christianity’s claims.

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28 thoughts on “If Jesus is the Messiah, Why Don’t More Jewish People Believe in Him?

  1. Great post, Erik! This is an issue about which I have sometimes wondered. What is interesting to me is the way that many people who are Jewish Christians converted. So often you hear “I was always told the New Testament was anti-Jew so I never read it.. then someone handed me a Bible and said just read the Old Testament and think about Jesus. I did, and I saw Jesus throughout. Then I converted.”

    I’ve read similar stories a bunch of times.

    • Thanks, J.w. I love hearing the conversion stories of Jews who have found Jesus as their Messiah. I wish I knew more about the topic and was more equipped to help them. I found it a bit surprising a skeptic would bring this up as an objection to Christianity, but it helped me realize the importance of being ready to give an answer to people of all sorts of backgrounds. I know Dr. Michael Brown has some expertise in this area, one of these days I’m going to shell out the $ to get his books on answering Jewish objections.

  2. Hi Erik. I came upon your essay while seeking something else entirely, but having read it, I thought I’d drop a quick note your way. I find it really heart-breaking that to you, I am not okay the way I am. I am just another person who needs to be converted. I am a person who needs “help” in finding Jesus. I am defective in some way because I am still a Jew, and thus, I don’t see that you have the truth. And you probably have no idea how insulting and patronizing those sentiments seem to a Jewish person.

    You wrote as your title: “If Jesus is the Messiah, Why Don’t More Jewish People Believe in Him?” For Jewish people, the answer is very plain. Jesus did not do what the messiah was supposed to do. (Happy to debate this any time, but it will be frustrating for both of us. I’ve seen the same “proofs” my Christian friends offer over and over, and they are actually quite unconvincing, usually based on poor translations, words ripped out of context, or assertions put into Jesus’s mouth that he, a practicing Jew, never would have said.) And while I do respect your beliefs, there are so many historical inaccuracies in the New Testament, and so many distortions of what Jews really believe that it makes many of us sad. Because of those distortions, we were brutally persecuted for more than 2000 years, yet you wonder why we don’t convert. No offense to you, but why would we?

    Thanks for reading this. I know it’s not what you hoped for– I know you hope you’ll find the right verse or the right argument and suddenly, voila! I’ll become a Christian. But Erik, I won’t. There’s no reason to. The Bible I read tells me to put my trust in G-d, to have no other Gods (or sons of god) before Him, to serve Him and to follow the path He so kindly gave me. You were perhaps taught that Jews are unhappy, trapped by a bunch of laws, waiting for their eyes to be open. I’m actually quite joyful about being Jewish. I love it and wouldn’t trade it in for anything. I don’t expect you to understand. But I do send you my love and my prayer that one day, you’ll be okay with the fact that not all Jews “need” to convert and those of us who don’t are not necessarily going to hell. Best regards from Devorah Leah, your basic friendly Jewish feminist.

    • Hi Donna,

      I’m glad you’re joyful in your Jewishness, although as a Christian of course I would love for you to be able to see Jesus as your Messiah. But that is neither here nor there at the moment. The point of my post was not meant as an apologetic for Jews to accept Jesus as the Messiah. Rather, it was in response to an atheist’s objection to Christianity which was a markedly fallacious argument. I’m sorry you felt insulted but quite frankly this post was not meant for you.

      As for the historical inaccuracies you claim the New Testament has, to what inaccuracies do you refer? We can talk about that if you like. I’ve read the New Testament many, many times. And there are scholars whom I could refer to that know more about the book than I. I have never heard one of them say that there is any justification for persecuting the Jews. I’ve always been taught that the Jews were God’s covenant people and that his gifts and callings are without repentance. I am grateful for the Jewish nation and have a high regard for Torah, Psalms and Prophets, as do you. I’m sure we don’t agree how to interpret them, but I have no ill will towards Jewish people whatsoever, and I believe that it my faith that has informed my appreciation for the Jewish people.

      As for the whole “hell” thing…look, I’m not God, I don’t know a person’s heart, I think he will judge us righteously with the revelation he has given all of us. I think people freely separate themselves from God against His will and God doesn’t want anyone to perish. Yes, I do think Jews should convert if they have the sufficient knowledge, but what else can I do but believe what I think is true? I don’t think I’m being arrogant in this at all, and the arrogance sword can cut both ways.

      Anywho, I’m glad you stumbled upon my blog, I definitely did not mean to come across like a jerk. I think we share a lot of common ground in some ways and I wish you all the best.

      -Erik

  3. Hi Erik and thanks so much for responding. I hope nothing in my post gave offense in any way, as I have deep respect for my Christian friends (and yes I do have Christian friends). We may not agree on theology all the time, but I’d like to believe we serve the same God. I understand that you think I (and other Jews) should convert. Truth be told, I hope one day you’ll come to Judaism, but it’s fine with me if you don’t. Based on what I’ve read in your pages, being a Christian has been a very positive thing in your life, as my being Jewish has been in mine. And I agree that given the divisive and sometimes heated rhetoric out there today, the best thing we can do is try to seek common ground.

    As for distortions and misinterpretations in the New Testament, oh where do I begin? Rather than hijacking your blog for a debate that will probably bore the pants off of your readers, may I ask if you’ve read the wonderful (and very accurate) book about this very topic, “The Misunderstood Jew” by Professor Amy-Jill Levine, a noted New Testament scholar with expertise in Judaism in the time of Jesus. Many of us who are Jewish find some of the quotes attributed to Jesus problematic, and she explores i great detail what Jews at that time did and did not believe, and what beliefs would undoubtedly have been espoused by Jesus, given that he lived and died a Jew.

    But the problem with any discussion you and I might have on the New Testament is that you seem to believe it is factual and accurate, even though there are many historians (Christian as well as Jewish) who would dispute that. I do not want to question your faith. I just want to say that there are in fact other interpretations of the New Testament, and I am aware that these perspectives contradict what many fundamentalist Christians believe. That said, I’d be happy to go chapter and verse with you any time, but it might cost me the opportunity to be friends with you. And that is not something I want to do, especially given that we seem to share a love of baseball! And no, I don’t think you are a jerk. I just think you have a particular understanding of Judaism that was shaped by Christian beliefs, and that understanding is not how Jews look at it! Love from your friendly Jewish feminist in Boston, Devorah Leah

    • Hi Donna,

      Don’t worry about offending me, my skin is pretty thick for the most part. While faith is very personal and we are rightly passionate about it, I think we be grown-ups and can separate the argument from the person. 🙂 You are probably correct in saying that my understanding of Judaism is much-informed by Christian beliefs. I am actually very interested in learning more about modern Judaism, so this discussion could prove enlightening for me, and hopefully for both of us. I have not read the book you mentioned but I’d be willing to look into it. I’m currently in the middle of several books for a class, but I will definitely look into it.

      I do believe that the New Testament is factual and accurate, but my Christian faith
      does not hang on the doctrine of inerrancy. You seem to be aware of research into the historical Jesus. I think the Jesus of history is the Jesus of Christian faith and that is a defensible position, but even if the critic is right and the bible writers put words into the mouth of Jesus, by using a lot of the same criterion these critics use, I think a good case can be made that Jesus claimed to be the Messiah. Furthermore, by inference to the best explanation of the historical data, a good case can be made that God vindicated this claim by raising him from the dead. Since Christianity hangs on this more than any other claim, I think if our discussion is to continue it should center on these two claims, particularly the resurrection.

  4. Oh dear. I feel our first quarrel coming on! First, Jesus lived and died a Jew, so it’s doubtful he was the Jesus of Christian faith in any way other than what was later attributed to him. And since he left no writings, and since what we have from his followers was written between 45 and 200 years after he died, it’s difficult to say from a historical point of view that these books are accurate. They were written by people trying to prove that Jesus was the promised messiah, not by objective historians. I know, my Christian friends say the NT is historically true and the apostles were witnesses to what occurred. But again, (a) they were not objective, so they put in the facts that proved their point and left out those that did not, and (b) since the documents were written so many years after the events, they can’t be proved– they can just be believed (or in my case, dis-believed).

    And since Jesus left no writings, we will never know if he claimed to be the messiah. Perhaps he did, but from my standpoint, as a Jewish person, he would not have said such a thing. And again, as for whether he rose from the dead, you have your belief, but no contemporary historian at that time mentioned such an event. If it occurred, wouldn’t somebody– Suetonius perhaps, or Josephus– have remarked upon it? There were even the rough equivalent of newspapers, such as the Acta Diurna, but those didn’t mention it either. Only in the Gospels, written years later by people determined to prove that the messiah had come, do we find this story.

    Jews do believe in the final days, the dead will be resurrected. But as for believing that God can take a human body, or that a deity can die and then rise, this was a very common belief in Roman mythology, as you know. But it’s never been a part of Judaism. That said, you’re up late. Are you on the west coast? I’m on the east coast but after years in radio, I’ve always been a night person!

  5. Hi Donna,

    Obviously I wan’t much of a night person last night! Didn’t mean to leave you hanging! This isn’t a fight, no worries. I love discussing this stuff. Forgive me if I do the snobby I-quote-you-then-write-my-rebuttal thing. I just want to make sure I address all your points.

    “They were written by people trying to prove that Jesus was the promised messiah, not by objective historians. I know, my Christian friends say the NT is historically true and the apostles were witnesses to what occurred. But again, (a) they were not objective, so they put in the facts that proved their point and left out those that did not, and (b) since the documents were written so many years after the events, they can’t be proved– they can just be believed (or in my case, dis-believed).

    In response to a.) does having an agenda preclude one from giving an accurate history? If so, then a lot more than just the gospel writers become falsified, including Tacitus, Josephus, etc., who have certain biases that show in their writings. There is no such thing as a completely unbiased historian. But like you (I think at least), I believe the Torah writers wrote reliable history because they cared about what happened in the past. And why did they care about the past? Because their theology was anchored in past events. The same can apply for the gospel writers.

    In response to b.) the gospel documents weren’t written that much later after the events, but my case for the resurrection certainly doesn’t hang on that. Most critical scholars (conservative, liberal and in-between) believe that when Paul lists a series of resurrection appearances in 1 Corinthians 15, he is quoting an early Christian oral tradition. I can go into more detail, but critics believe this creed was something Paul received somewhere between 2-5 years after the crucifixion. (I should mention that most critics date 1 Corinthians to around 51-55)

    “And since Jesus left no writings, we will never know if he claimed to be the messiah. Perhaps he did, but from my standpoint, as a Jewish person, he would not have said such a thing. And again, as for whether he rose from the dead, you have your belief, but no contemporary historian at that time mentioned such an event. If it occurred, wouldn’t somebody– Suetonius perhaps, or Josephus– have remarked upon it? There were even the rough equivalent of newspapers, such as the Acta Diurna, but those didn’t mention it either. Only in the Gospels, written years later by people determined to prove that the messiah had come, do we find this story.”

    But his followers did leave writings that even the most critical scholars deem as helpful in understanding what the historical Jesus said. And in my post I gave an example of a parable that Jesus told that demonstrates his radical self-understanding. Furthermore, we do have Tacitus, Pliny and Lucian mention the early beliefs of the Christian faith which entailed the worship of Jesus, so we do have some implicit outside confirmation. But we do know from the very start of the church the fact that the resurrection of Jesus was preached, in Jerusalem, of all places, mind you. Not only do we know this from the aforementioned creedal passage that Paul shares in 1 Corinthians, (not just the gospels) but also from the sermon summaries in Acts (more oral tradition), and we know what Paul himself preached and we have the gospels and writings of the early church fathers. And we know they believed in what they preached; I don’t think anyone would dispute that, as they showed a willingness to suffer. Liars make poor martyrs.

    “Jews do believe in the final days, the dead will be resurrected. But as for believing that God can take a human body, or that a deity can die and then rise, this was a very common belief in Roman mythology, as you know. ”

    I think this is what makes Christianity so fascinating. I don’t think the Roman mythology connection is quite accurate, not to say that there are not dying and rising gods in those religions, but they are not quite analogous. We can discuss that further if you wish. But anyway, what would make good last-day-resurrection believing Jews preach something so unjewish as the fact that Jesus had risen from the dead -beginning in Jerusalem!- if it had not actually happened? What would cause a good Pharisee like Saul convert to Christianity if Jesus had not really been raised? Surely he would be the last person interested in pagan mythology?

    Anyway, sorry for the mini-book. I could go into more detail but I’ll let you respond and we can go from there. I usually am a night person too, but this past week has been insanely busy.

  6. Hi Erik, today was kind of hectic, so this will be brief (only addressing a couple of your points). The argument that because Paul believed X, then X must be true is kind of weak, no offense to you. Paul could be very disingenuous when “explaining” Judaism– for example asserting that if you didn’t keep all the commandments, it was as if you’d kept none of them– utter nonsense. Nobody except perhaps the most arch-fanatic believes that, and while Paul may have been a zealot, he was not a dummy, and he knew perfectly well that Judaism did not say any such thing.

    In fact, Judaism– then and now– is based on mitzvah, following the Commandments by doing what He asked to make the world better; but it is also based on teshuvah, (turning back to God, repenting, asking for God’s forgiveness if and when you have failed Him). But Paul wanted to shape the difference between the “Old” and the “New”, so in his theology, Judaism became a strict, legalistic bunch of rules, whereas Christianity became a much easier, more forgiving path to God. Too bad for the Jews that Paul’s depiction of Judaism was so harsh, because for 2000 years, generations of evangelical Christians have eagerly invited Jews to leave all that nasty legalism and embrace the love of Jesus. Oh dear.

    Dying and rising gods are in fact a pagan idea, and there is no place for them in Jewish teaching. Gods that take a human body are also foreign to us, since we are told to have no other gods before Him, and that includes worshiping a son or an angelic being. As for Saul/Paul being a good Pharisee who converted to Christian worship, I will accept for a minute that he may indeed have been a Pharisee and he may indeed have been religious at one time. But consider this. I know a former Protestant minister, who decided after years of spiritual doubt, that he had been called to Judaism. He not only converted to Judaism but studied to become a rabbi (and actually has become one)– he is now as faithful and enthusiastic as a rabbi as he probably was in his time as a minister. If you ask him, he can give you many many reasons why Judaism is better for him than Christianity was. So it may have been with Paul– for whatever reason, he became dissatisfied with Judaism and left it. People who become dissatisfied with something and find what they believe is a better answer will always try to frame the discussion by showing the superiority of their new-found faith.

    Paul probably didn’t think about pagan mythology, but he did believe something miraculous had occurred. I am just suggesting that what occurred was very well-understood by pagans (more so than by Jews, who could not wrap their head around a dying and rising god the way pagans could); the pagan acceptance of a deity who was human, died, and was raised up contributed to their being willing to convert, like taking the Saturnalia (December 25, the day to worship the Sun) and changing it to the day to worship the Son. Very clever and very effective. Doesn’t make it historically accurate, however. (The old question I’ve been asked by missionaries– about whether Jesus was a liar, lunatic, or lord — comes to mind; I always reply that he was none of the above. So, it’s not really a valid question to ask whether I think Paul and/or other gospel writers were liars. Since I don’t accept the accuracy of many of the events in the NT, I can’t debate whether the gospel writers intentionally lied. They certainly misrepresented and/or lied about what Judaism teaches, but that’s another part of our discussion.) However, let’s be clear. Much as I disagree with the theology in the NT, I never said the NT writers were liars. I said they had a belief that something had occurred, and they wrote down what they thought and believed, and with every year that passed, the story grew, taking on a life of its own. And fortunately for the new Christians, what they believed attracted a large number of pagans. But large numbers of people believing something does not mean the event really occurred the way people believe it did…

    Anyway, I’m not my usual cheerful self today, since a dear friend of mine got diagnosed with lymphoma, but God willing, it was caught early. Still, makes you appreciate your health and how every day is precious. Anyway, hope I am proving to be a worthy discussion partner and I hope your readers are not wondering when you are gonna unveil the BIG proof that wins me over! Love, Devorah Leah.

  7. Hi Donna, I’m very sorry to hear about your friend. I will say a prayer for her. I doubt my readers (all 12 of them) are going to be waiting for the big proof that wins you over. Argument has it’s place, but I don’t think argument will ultimately persuade too many. But I do enjoy a good discussion along these lines, thanks for indulging me. If you’d rather not discuss this now because your thoughts are with your friend, I will not be offended. You are right, life is precious and we should count our blessings.

    To clarify, my argument is not Paul believed X, then X must be true. I really haven’t made my argument yet, I’ve just tried to counter some of your objections in without allowing myself to get really long-winded. My argument would look more like this.

    1. Jesus’ disciples sincerely believed he rose from the dead and appeared to them.
    2. External evidence and events support the authenticity of their belief in the resurrection. Paul’s conversion is one of those events, the empty tomb is an external evidence.
    3. Opposing theories are implausible. They cannot account for the facts. Jesus’ resurrection has the most explanatory scope and power.

    Now you said “So it may have been with Paul– for whatever reason, he became dissatisfied with Judaism and left it. People who become dissatisfied with something and find what they believe is a better answer will always try to frame the discussion by showing the superiority of their new-found faith.”

    Paul claimed to have seen the risen Christ. So that would make him a liar if he was merely dissatisfied with Judaism. He, a bit like yourself, did not believe that Jesus fulfilled Messianic expectations, but he took it to the extreme by persecuting the church and according to his own testimony he was stopped dead in his tracks by the risen Christ. That sounds very different than one who has slowly creeping doubts in their mind about their faith. Why would a good Pharisee suddenly go from persecuting a faith at one moment to converting to it if not for something that he interpreted to be an appearance of the resurrected Jesus?

    As for the dying and rising gods thing…forgive me, but you’re going a little Dan Brown or Zeitgeist on me!! :)That view makes for interesting entertainment, but is plagued with problems and not taken seriously by very many historians. Christmas was not celebrated by the church until the 4th century. Belief in his resurrection originated and was preached shortly after Jesus was crucified. The Jewish world may have been rather Hellenized in Jesus’ day, but there was no sign of dying and rising gods in that day. Such a thing was held to be abominable. Remember that the early christian church was Jewish, not Gentile. Moreover, all of these pagan religions saw these things as a metaphor, it alluded to the crop cycles and fertility, not to anything concrete. When the Christian church preached the resurrection to the Gentile world, they were met with hostility, not a reaction like “Oh, you mean like Osiris, Horus and such! Sure! Sign me up!” They found bodily resurrection to be crazy. Furthermore, dying and rising god stories do not account for the empty tomb.

    As for an evolving legend, again, the disciples claimed the resurrection from the beginning. Whatever we think of the N.T., this much is regarded as historical by even the many skeptical scholars. You can say they were lying or hallucinating, but the growing legend theory is not an option that critics take seriously. Both Paul and James came to believe in the resurrection apart form the disciples testimony. What evidence do you have for these assertions that the story “took a life of its own”?

    Anywho, there’s my .02. Sorry again to hear about your friend, again, I won’t take it personally if you don’t respond right away.

  8. There will be days when I am very busy (like tomorrow) and I may delay my response. Right now, I am trying to keep my mind occupied. This is actually the second person in a week that has been diagnosed with cancer– last week, a student of mine (very good student, in fact) found out his girlfriend, age 23, has cancer. I realize we cannot fathom why things happen the way they do, but I’m just hoping these two good people make a full recovery, God willing.

    Okay, let’s go back to The Disciples believed X and said so all along, therefore X must be true. Umm, 19% of Republicans believe Barack Obama is a secret Muslim born in Kenya, and no matter what you say to them, they are CERTAIN of it. They have “proof,” they have “evidence, ” and they are absolutely convinced. They even have a number of websites where they can share they belief and reinforce their faith. Now, I am not equating the followers of Jesus to the “birthers,” but I am saying the fact that a number of people fervently believe X and are certain there is proof doesn’t always mean we should take what they say at face value. Believing something happened, even believing it fervently, only means you’ve got a large group with a similar belief, and psychology has studied that phenomenon. Mass delusion perhaps? Or in this case, I’d call it a mass hope based on a deep love for the man and his message, plus a deep dissatisfaction with life under Roman rule. Still, even if they were all convinced of it, that doesn’t mean it actually happened, although I know you too believe the NT is a historical document.

    You say opposing theories about the resurrection are implausible. Why so? As a Jew, I can say with certainty that the story of the resurrection did not happen. This does not mean I’m disrespecting your faith. I acknowledge that every religion, my own included, has wondrous stories that are meant to inspire the believers. For example, Hindus firmly believe Lord Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill to save the devotees from a demon. Buddhists firmly believe that Buddha found enlightenment after meditating under a bodhi tree, and provided all who follow him with a way to overcome the cycle of birth and death. For Hindus, Bhagavad Gita is historical fact. For Buddhists, so are the Sutras. But no matter how many times my Hindu and Buddhist friends insist these thing actually happened (in India, there are markers that show were it is believed Krishna lived when he took a human body and came to earth, and there are markers that show where it is believed Buddha received enlightenment. Millions of worshipers are certain these events occurred. But you and I might beg to differ.

    Of course the disciples believed Jesus rose– they had to believe it, or else, their faith would be in vain, right? It’s like not wanting to admit the person or persons you put your trust in didn’t turn out the way you had wanted. Many of the early believers were convinced the world was about to end and that Jesus would come back in their lifetime. But he didn’t come back, and the world didn’t end. So now what? Set up your own eschatology, your own miracles, your own holidays, your story of what it all meant and what believers needed to do till he finally returned. (For centuries, the “what do we have to do?” part involved persecuting the Jews and forcing them to convert. But that’s another story too.)

    Yes, the early Christians were Jewish but they had already taken the first steps to breaking away from normative Judaism by worshiping a man, by believing he was the messiah, and believing that they should follow him rather than following traditional Judaism– much of what Jesus taught was in fact what might be called Reform Judaism, but they changed a number of important tenets and came up with new beliefs that were in no way Jewish. We haven’t addressed original sin, certainly not a Jewish concept, nor have we addressed vicarious atonement– the Hebrew Bible is pretty clear that no man (or woman) can die for the sins of another, if we are to believe the Book of Ezekiel.

    I have no idea whether Paul saw the risen Christ, and I’d say “claimed” is a good word to use. I also can’t say whether Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill or whether Buddha received enlightenment while sitting under a bodhi tree– their scriptures say these things occurred, and I never want to disrespect what others believe. So let’s just say there really isn’t much historical evidence of it, but for those who believe it, they don’t need evidence– they refer back to their own scriptures and say, “see, it says so right here!”

    Anyway, so when you wrote your blog post, I’m sure you never expected to have this kind of discussion. Hope it’s enjoyable in some way– I certainly don’t wanna be annoying. You seem like a nice person (and I’ve been told I’m not so bad either). Looking forward to your reply.

    • Hi Donna,

      Let me just say that you are not annoying me! I love these sort of discussions, that’s why I write.

      Let me first address your proposed mass-delusion hypothesis. Here is the creed that Paul quotes, including some of his own comments towards the end

      “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.”

      So here we have a list of appearances that includes Peter, the 12, 500 disciples *at one time*, whom many were alive at the time Paul said this indicating they were available to be interviewed. Then also James (a skeptic) and Paul (a persecutor)

      Now first of all, the delusion hypothesis doesn’t seem to cut it. Yes, there are conspiracy theory wackos like birthers, or worse yet, people who are willing to follow nuts like David Koresh or Marshall Applewhite to their death. Sadly, we’ve all seen that large segments of people can fall for some silly stuff. But theory does not account for the fact of the empty tomb. It doesn’t explain the conversion of Paul. People who are candidates for delusions believe something that it overrides all logic. Paul was a Jew and a persecutor of the church. He was very hostile and there is no motivation for him to leave his faith for a dead man, who he would’ve viewed as a false prophet who was cursed by God (Deuteronomy 21:23) for blasphemy. This also goes for James, a devout Jew who did not believe until an appearance convinced him.

      As for cognitive dissonance. Well, again that doesn’t explain why the tomb was empty. It doesn’t explain the conversions of James and Paul. Moreover, there were many so-called Messiahs in around the times of Jesus, like Simeon ben Koshiba for example. No one went around saying he really was the Messiah after all after the Romans put him to death no matter how much they may have wanted him to be. The thing of it is, no one was expecting the Jesus to rise from the dead, even his own disciples to their own personal embarrassment. They even disbelieved the women followers of Jesus who came to them and reported that the tomb was empty. They did not believe until Jesus had appeared to them.

      Do other religions have miracle stories? Well, sure. You’re a Jewish person. I guess I might want to ask you – do you believe the miracle stories in Exodus are historical? If so, why? Does it follow that because there are miracles stories in the New Testament documents or in other religions that it therefore cancels out the miracle stories in the Torah? Well, no. I would hope we would agree that some miracle stories are better historically attested to than others. I’ve offered several historical facts that even critics of Christianity agree to (resurrection appearances, conversion of former unbelievers Paul and James, empty tomb, origin of christian faith) While there are other theories out there, which has the best explanatory scope and power?

      As for certain doctrinal issues, we can get into that at some point if you wish. I just want to try and stay on the resurrection topic first. If Jesus had not been raised, then any Christian doctrine coming afterwards has no basis.

  9. Hi Erik. I’ve got a few minutes between meetings, so let me continue. I never said the early Christians suffered from mass delusion– I said psychologists have offered that as a possible answer to why large groups of people believe certain things to be true, even when there is no evidence. Belief is very powerful. The early followers believed Jesus was the promised one, so they constructed an entire mythology around him, using carefully selected bible verses from the Hebrew bible to try to prove the point, and then spreading the story of the empty tomb. But we are kind of stuck here. It could have been grave robbers. It could have been any one of a number of things the Romans did to humiliate the followers of the man they (the Romans) had such contempt for. But no, I’m not persuaded there was a miracle and Jesus rose from the dead. I think we are in the domain of “belief” here– some things are articles of your faith, so you accept that they must be true. Your faith requires you to believe Jesus was raised from the dead. My faith has no such requirement, and in fact, for us, any resurrection of the dead won’t happen till the final days. (I believe that was a notion championed by the Pharisees, the guys the NT loves to use as rhetorical villains.)

    As for the miracle stories in the Hebrew Bible, I understand that early men and women did not understand science, so the parting of the Red Sea (Sea of Reeds) may or may not have happened– could have been low tide, a storm that parted the waters, or perhaps a miracle. It’s a great story though, and shows once again the power of faith. But my Jewishness does not rest on whether I can prove to a skeptic that Moses did X, Y or Z. My Jewishness is about DOING, not believing. Jews are commanded to DO certain things to make the world better. Yes, faith is important, but you can be an agnostic and still live your life according to Mitzvah and Jewish ethics. Of course, as someone who does believe there is a God, I prefer that people acknowledge His presence and put their trust in Him. But if they can’t do that right now, my suggestion is just to do mitzvot (plural of mitzvah) and the Talmud says that out of doing, comes understanding.

    So, I really can’t answer why Paul or James would leave Judaism. Maybe because they felt angry at how traditional the Jewish faith was at that time, they were seeking something new and different; maybe they felt ambivalent about leaving– they wanted to go, but they also felt guilty about leaving Judaism and needed a dramatic reason to explain their new-found faith in a new religion that was so different from the one that originally nurtured them. I truly do not know what their motivation was, but as I said, my experience is that converts are always really enthusiastic, and part of their enthusiasm involves being critical of (or separating themselves from) what they used to believe. This, as I said, is bad news for us Jews, because it led Christians to have very negative views about Judaism. To this day, many of my Christian friends have numerous misconceptions about Judaism, based on what the writers of the NT claimed was typical of Jewish belief.

    Obviously, contrary to what Paul said, nobody died for our sins, since the Hebrew Bible says that’s not necessary (Ezekiel 18:20 and elsewhere). I know my Christian friends immediately say that you need a blood sacrifice, except that’s not what the Hebrew Bible says. The Tanakh offers many ways to repent and atone, and we can get into that discussion sometime. But suffice it to say that I don’t know why Paul embraced such an un-Jewish concept as vicarious atonement. But he did. And in order to promulgate that doctrine, there needed to be a savior. Judaism traditionally did NOT think the messiah would be a savior– he (or maybe she?) would be a messenger, sent by God to announce the final days and the coming of the Kingdom. But it was God, and God alone, who was the Forgiver, the One to whom we atone, the One who grants us that atonement. That’s why The Jewish New Year is so powerful– the Ten Days of Repentance are such a great opportunity, and we are given it every year. If there were no possibility to atone without somebody dying for us,why does God give us Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement? And why does He repeatedly tell us we can in fact turn back to Him and atone? So, again, whatever Paul believed (and it was a belief), that does not prove anything about Jesus. But it proves a lot about Paul.

    I’m heading back to work now. Hope you are well and sometime we ought to talk sports. My first dream as a kid was to be a sportswriter. I was told girls couldn’t do that, so I ended up being one of the few women disc jockeys, a long story better told some other time. Love, Devorah Leah.

  10. Hi Donna,

    Thanks for continuing this little dialogue with me. Before I get back into our little friendly debate, let me first say I am a huge baseball fan and I was blessed enough to write a few articles for ESPN.com in the past. I was hoping it would turn into more than that, but my writing was more on the analytical side of things (stat geek stuff). Those who get to write about sports for a career are journalists or columnists. I’m too much of a geek to be columnist and I haven’t been to journalism school, so that career path seems to be shut.

    To review, I’ve stated that the historical data that we have that virtually all critical scholars agree upon is that the tomb was empty, Jesus followers claimed to see Jesus after his death. Some of these followers were Saul of Tarsus and James, two men who claimed to have seen the risen Jesus and had no apparent reason to lie and accept such an unjewish notion of one man being raised from the dead before the general resurrection of the dead. As for those nasty Pharisees, it’s interesting to note that the gospels say that when it came to the issue of the resurrection, he sided with those nasty villainous Pharisees over the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection.

    I contend that neither James or Saul were very likely to convert to a religion they had been hostile towards and lie about having an appearance of Jesus and be willing to suffer for this belief. Based on Paul’s letter to the Galatians, a letter which all critical scholars accept as genuinely written by Paul, we see Paul’s testimony that he converted based on an appearance. I’ve also contended that mass delusions and legendary development is also not a very good plausible explanation given the evidence we have. Furthermore, the more we multiply hypotheses, the more ad hoc the explanations become. There’s no evidence for these alternative hypotheses, and combinations of theories leads to to higher improbabilities.

    To be generous, let’s say the chance that 12 disciples and the 500 brethren who claimed to have seen Jesus experienced some mass delusion is 60%. We’ll also say that Paul and James had some sort of epiphany and decided that the Jewish religion was boring and they’d join the persecuted Christian church at 60% each. And let’s also say that someone else stole the body. (Even if that theory is true, the fact is that the disciples, James and Paul all believed based upon appearances and not the empty tomb). But we’ll also say that the chances of that happening are also 60%, which I think is quite generous. So .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 x .6 = 7.7%. So combining hypotheses gives you dwindling probabilities.

    On the other hand, to simply say that God raised Jesus from the dead in vindication of his Messianic claims is not nearly as implausible, ad hoc and has more explanatory power and scope than all these multiplied hypotheses.

    The late Jewish scholar Pinchas Lapide, a Jewish theologian and Israeli historian (and former Israeli diplomat) accepted the resurrection as a historical fact based on much of the evidence I’ve shared with you. Now, he did not become a Christian but I think this goes to show how strong this historical evidence is.

    You can read more about Lapide here in this very short article in Time Magazine. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,920335-1,00.html I’d also encourage you to take a look at this article by N.T. Wright, (a notable and respected historian and theologian, and an expert on the resurrection) on the origins of the belief in the resurrection and let me know what you think. http://www.ntwrightpage.com/Wright_Jesus_Resurrection.htm

    Anyway, I’m not trying to duck some of the theological issues that you’ve raised. I think the resurrection is vital since Christianity stands or falls with it, which is why I’m trying to establish it as best I can before I move on. Maybe these types of arguments aren’t all that compelling for everyone, I understand that

    I do agree with you that orthopraxy is vital and it is absolutely pathetic that some Christians have twisted the new testament scriptures to promote anti-Semitism. For that I am sorry. But I think that it is rather clear that Christianity arose in Jerusalem, by Jesus’ Jewish followers based on something that they experienced and proclaimed from the very earliest days of the church so Christianity at it’s root can hardly be anti-semetic.

    Hope you’re having a good day,

    Erik

  11. Quick point before I have dinner (just spent part of the afternoon at the doctor– got a nasty sinus infection). You are attributing more to Pinchas Lapide than he delivered. This is a guy who was by all accounts a gadfly, fond of making controversial assertions that got many people upset– for example, he was one of the few who defended Pope Pius XII, whom many accused of not doing enough to protect Jews during the Holocaust, and of being far too passive about anti-Semitism. You can situate him as a Jew who accepted the resurrection (but who did NOT believe Jesus was the messiah, contrary to all the “Messianic” websites that have embraced him), but his book is much more nuanced– he says a resurrection is a POSSIBILITY, and he notes that only a small number of Jews– not ALL the Jews of that time– claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus. Thus, one could still theorize this was a group who wanted to believe it, and so they did, while everyone else remained skeptical.

    Lapide was/is still very controversial in the Jewish scholarly world– and while you like his conclusions, his colleagues who studied NT were not entirely convinced by his argument about the resurrection. I’m not convinced by it either. On the other hand, there have indeed been a few Jewish scholars who studied and analyzed the NT. As I have mentioned, that’s why I like Amy-Jill Levine’s treatment of the subject of what is and is not accurate in the NT– she has great respect for Christianity and is a professor at a Baptist college. She accepts that some events may indeed have been true, but asserts that others were reinterpreted and infused with Christological perspectives. You may also want to check the work of Geza Vermes, who briefly DID flirt with Christian belief before returning to Judaism. He wrote several excellent books about Jesus from a Jewish perspective.

    As for the theology of the late N.T. Wright (a fine writer, and I am familiar with is work), once again, you seem to pick and choose from those scholars who see things your way. And of course they do. Their life and their faith depends on it. But here again, there really is no direct historical evidence of any resurrection, other than the testimony of a group of people who absolutely had a particular agenda– to prove that this person, Yeshua ben Yosef, was in fact the promised messiah. Now, there is nothing wrong with having an agenda. But you continue trying to do exactly what the early Christians did– prove that something happened based on minimal unbiased evidence. Actually, I fear that such an event as a resurrection cannot be proved objectively. There is not one shred of scientific evidence that proves Jesus (or Buddha or Krishna) rose from the dead. There are, however, many people who are convinced that their deity actually was miraculous raised up from the dead. You are one who is convinced of this, while I am one who is not.

    But let me ask a bigger question (or several related questions): why does this matter? Why invest time trying to persuade Jews like me that Jesus really was resurrected? You are asking me to accept that a Jewish guy, probably very eloquent and charismatic, perhaps influenced by the Essenes, was the messiah; and the proof of this is that he died and rose from the dead (to atone for my sins). From my perspective, that’s quite a (dare I say it) leap of faith. For one thing, it completely goes against what it says in the Hebrew Bible about what the messiah would do; it contradicts the assertions that no-one can die for your sins, and it violates the idea that a deity can take a human body or that we should pray to anyone other than God. I know you really believe in your religion, and really do I respect it, but I must say I find it impossible to take such a leap of faith when what I have (Judaism) works so well for me. Till later, and we can discuss becoming a sportswriter even if you perceive yourself a geek. Love, Devorah Leah

    • Hey Donna,

      Sorry for the delayed response, last two days I have been busier than a one-legged man in a butt kicking contest, if you can pardon my midwestern colloquial expression.

      You mentioned Geza Vermes, I really have been meaning to check out some of his works. I will check into Ms. Levine’s stuff too, sounds interesting. Believe it or not, I really like hearing both sides of the arguments. I do know Vermes accepts a lot of these facts that I’ve been discussing with you (empty tomb, resurrection appearances)

      You’ve brought up bias now a few times, so allow me to speak to that. Notice that I stated that Paul and James both historically had biases running in the very opposite direction. Paul remained hostile up until when he believed. I mean, I might ask “if someone actually witnesses the risen Jesus and wasn’t changed by this experience, wouldn’t this indicate that the person was too biased against Jesus to act on the facts?” Biases go both ways, you know.

      Moreover, recognizing bias in an author doesn’t automatically merit the conclusion that the person reporting is distorting the facts. Pardon me if this example hits close to home, (and I’m not claiming this example is exactly analogous) but modern Jewish historians of the Nazi holocaust have painstakingly chronicled Nazi atrocities because they are passionately committed to exposing the gross travesties that occurred. It’s revisionists who downplay the facts. In some cases personal bias encourages historical accuracy.

      And if we’re going to throw out all history because it is allegedly biased, then we’re going to have to throw out a lot of histories. Tacitus pretends he’s unbiased in his introduction, but his clearly shows up in his histories, but we don’t throw it out. One can comb through bias and still get historical facts. Finally, bringing up bias doesn’t really deal with the arguments, it’s just attacking the source. Furthermore, to say that a writer has a bias tells us absolutely zilch about the value of the information a person presents. And again, bias cuts both ways.

      So why do I want to convince you that Jesus is risen? Well, again I’ve just been talking about historical data and what I think the best interpretation of that data is in comparison to some of the alternative hypotheses, which I think lack in explanatory scope and power and are rather ad hoc. I haven’t offered a theological explanation yet. But to that end, I’m not sure how to answer that exactly… I have looked into the various religions of the world before I became a Christian and I find that not only does Christianity has the most explanatory power, but is also the most existentially livable and well, God is real to me in the person of the Holy Spirit. It’s difficult to express. I trust my experience, and my experience tells me that this is real through various ways that I feel God has guided me, answered my prayers, comforted, encouraged and corrected me, and just simply overhauled my life. It’s a personal relationship, and all that other jazz that to you might seem like Christian cliche. You can read my personal testimony here on the blog of how I became a Christian if you wish.

      I’m out of time right now, but I hope we can keep chatting. I promise to switch gears and talk about some of your theological objections you raised, like how can God be a man or the whole atonement issue. Just to be up front, I don’t expect to “convert” you and that’s not really my aim. I hope to get you thinking, but this is a mutual thing. I live in Iowa. We don’t have many Jews in Iowa (at least I’ve never met one). So I feel like you could help me learn a great deal about your religion that go beyond my preconceived notions.

      We should talk sports and sports writing some time. Who’s your team(s)?

      -Erik

  12. PS– I was typing fast (plus my head is all stuffed up) and I notice several typos. Hope you could at least understand me– I really do speak English now and then!!!

  13. Sorry for the slow reply– it ended up being a very busy week at work, plus my sinus infection is slowing me down a bit. Sports-wise, I’m a Red Sox fan, but for about a decade, I followed the Toronto Blue Jays. As you may or may not know, I’m the woman who discovered the rock group Rush, and they dedicated two albums to me; we’ve remained friends for years, and the lead singer (Geddy) is a devoted Jays fan, so for a while, I followed the Jays very closely so when we saw each other, we could talk baseball. It was very cool to see the Jays win back to back world series in 1992 and 1993. After the baseball strike, however, things were just never the same. Right now, I am hoping Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield wins his 200th game– 45 years old and still pitching; an amazing story. I casually follow all the Boston teams, but I love baseball the best. How about you?

    So you’re in Iowa– you must have been having some fun this past few weeks with all the political candidates invading the states for the Republican Straw Poll. I remember a time when Republicans believed in moderation. They were fiscally conservative, but they believed in the separation of church and state, and respected the right to privacy… But this bunch, with a couple of exceptions, are very scary to me. Bachmann, Santorum, Gingrich, and soon-to-be-candidate Rick Perry seem to want a Christian theocracy, and that is NOT good for the Jews. The Republican party historically was always pro-big business, but today’s version has become far too preoccupied with protecting the super-rich and eliminating unions. I am also puzzled by the single-minded, almost fanatical focus on preventing women from exercising their right to abortion– even in the case of rape or to save the mother’s life. The opposition by some Christian conservatives even to the use of contraception is equally mystifying. There are some Christian pharmacists who won’t fill a prescription for birth control pills, for example. And then there’s the focus on keeping gay people from marrying, which also puzzle me. I am quite heterosexual, and married to the same guy for nearly 25 years, but still cannot see how letting my gay colleagues have equal rights hurts my marriage. Okay fine, I expect a debate with my Republican friends on the hot-button issues, but don’t we have bigger problems in this country right now than controlling women’s wombs and denying marriage equality to gay citizens? Jesus talked about the poor; Republicans want to eliminate the social safety net that protects them. Yet Republicans claim they have the market on morality. Rick Perry’s prayer rally was especially disconcerting for someone like me. A governor should not be telling citizens they need to come to Jesus, and he should not be telling non-Christians they are not welcome to pray with him at his rally.

    As for Jews in Iowa, there are synagogues in a couple of cities– Des Moines and Cedar Rapids are two that I know of. But yeah, there are not a lot of Jews in the state, I don’t think. Oh one thing I absolutely do like about Iowa– first state in the USA to have a radio station owned by a woman. Marie Zimmerman owned a small station in Vinton, IA in 1922-1923. A biographical sketch I wrote about her life may still be online somewhere.

    Back to theology. I was not accusing your sources of intentionally malicious revisionism. And as a professor who is familiar with historical research and historiography, I understand how to discern where bias exists and to factor that in when I am reading the particular work. I agree that just because a historian has a bias, that doesn’t invalidate everything in the work. But it’s useful to keep the bias in mind, since it could (and usually does) affect the way the story is told, what information is included and what is excluded. You mentioned the Holocaust. I don’t see bias in the work of the historians who tirelessly refute the denialists and revisionists; these historians are referring back to copious documents from that exact era that the Nazis left, and citing the testimonies of the Nazis themselves, again from the exact time when the events occurred. In this work, I see efforts to provide an accurate telling of the events that occurred. but we do not have the same advantage with the way the NT was written. The people writing it were writing years after the events, they already had a very fixed set of beliefs about what the events were supposed to prove, and there were NO historical documents they could quote (Jesus left no writings); so that gave them a bit more license to tell the story in a way that reinforced their theology, leaving certain things out, perhaps providing versions of quotes that were been based on memory rather than on written evidence from the same time as the event.

    I definitely understand how important it was to the gospel writers that they prove Jesus was the messiah, so they may well have constructed their “histories” to fit their beliefs. The tomb was empty? Couldn’t be grave robbers or the Romans making mischief. The story needed to be that Jesus did not die, that he defeated death and rose. And that is indeed what the story became. This sort of story-telling that seeks to prove a particular point is not uncommon, and it’s not necessarily malevolent; the Hebrew Bible has many stories that show the pagans at their worst, and while there’s an occasional good pagan, by and large, the focus of the stories is to show that ethical monotheism and a belief in God is superior to a belief in idols and that worship of pagan deities is not good for your health or your future.

    So, we may just have to agree to disagree here. For me, as a Jewish person, the NT is so filled with misconceptions and misinterpretations of Judaism that it’s hard for me to take it seriously as history. So I take it as what it is– the history of the new religion of Christianity, which includes a lot of self-promotion and public relations– this is a document that stands strong as theology, because it clearly states what a Christian should believe and attributes these beliefs to Jesus and Paul and the apostles, giving these beliefs Divine sanction. But as history, it’s suspect. It makes the Jews the villains, turns the Pharisees into horrid and hypocritical caricatures, absolves the Romans, and focuses on what it saw as the worst aspects of Judaism versus the benefits of Christianity. Accurate history? Not exactly, but a well-written and very effective polemic that the new Christians who were following this new faith could embrace and love. Taught them who the good guys were and who the bad guys were while it taught they stories of the messiah they had never met, except through the pages of the NT stories about him.

    The problem is that by my saying what I said in the preceding paragraph, I am invalidating and casting doubt upon something that is an article of faith for you. This is a conversation where we are stuck comparing faith with reason. And that doesn’t work very well. Facts and logic are quite different from belief and acceptance. There is no logical way that I can accept religious dogma from somebody else’s religion (I don’t believe Krishna lifted Govardhan Hill, but for my Hindu friends, that is a historical fact, where for me, it is a myth; you believe Jesus rose from the dead, where for me, that did not occur). So, I stipulate that for you, and for every believing Christian, every word of the NT is correct and factual. But for the rest of us, our experiences and our own knowledge of history tell us an entirely different story, one that is not based on Christian perspectives, and one that contradicts what you were taught to believe. And that, it seems, is the stalemate in which we find ourselves. I think it’s time for bed, so this long missive will come to an end and I send my love to you and your family. Thanks for the conversation and I hope I am not boring, even if at times I am long-winded. Love, Devorah Leah

  14. You should go back to the Blue Jays! I grew up in St. Louis and have rooted for the Cardinals since I was 8. Overall they’ve been a very good team since the late nineties now, but Tony La Russa’s act has grown rather tired with me. He had their best young prospect traded to Toronto recently here because of a silly personality clash. It seems like this sort of thing happens every year. Now that I’m in Iowa I don’t get to see the Cardinals on TV very often any more. All that comes on TV is the Cubs and White Sox.

    I don’t follow politics real close. I don’t like it when politicians try and use God to rally people to their cause. I don’t really think Bachmann, Perry, et al are theocrats, however. I think that is just a scare word used by the media. EVERYONE has a bias, an agenda, and certain things that drive them. There is no neutral ground, IMO. I do happen to be very pro-life and I really don’t think anyone, including Perry or Bachmann would argue that a woman should continue a pregnancy if they do not wish to if that pregnancy that is life-threatening. To me it all boils down to one question – “what is the unborn?” If the unborn is a human being, then I don’t think we have any right to take an innocent person’s life. If it’s not, than there is no issue.It seems to me that the evidence weighs very heavily that it is. I feel like this is actually the most feminist position to take. But of course in the case of an ectopic pregnancy then there really is no other choice but to abort the child, sadly. OK, politics rabbit trail over! We can get more into that some other time, if you like. 🙂

    You mention we have no writings of Jesus. Well, Socrates didn’t write anything down either. But most scholars of ancient philosophy think we can have pretty reasonable beliefs about what Socrates thought. Moreover, the culture at the time was predominantly passed on through oral tradition, as opposed to a written one. We have to be careful about reading modern presuppositions into history. I think that even if Jesus had written a book, we’d probably be debating whether or not it was authentic. 🙂

    Now, as for the resurrection. I’ve tried my best to answer some of the objections and what I feel are ad hoc scenarios of other possible explanations. It seems implausible that mass delusions following a grave robbery can account for the data. I don’t think the gospels or the new testament letters to the churches make the Romans or the Jewish authorities look any better. In fact, it was the Roman authorities that for nearly a few centuries after the birth of the church that was putting Christians to death at a horrific rate, including what we think may have been the martyrdom of many of the eyewitness disciples, including Peter and Paul. Over and over in the letters to the early church was told that their enemy was not flesh and blood, but evil cosmic forces that were arrayed against them. I don’t think anyone is going to read anti-Semitism out of the N.T. unless they bring it to the text themselves.

    As for bringing my bias into the New Testament documents. I think you’re assuming that I just take it as an article of faith disconnected from reason as to whether or not the documents are accurate and true. And that is just plain false. What I’ve discussed with you to this point are facts that the majority of scholars agree to as historical. I am not assuming the New Testament is inspired or even mostly accurate. I’m presenting data that has been culled using the same methods that historians use and giving you some minimal facts.

    If I may, let me ask you a question point blank and see if maybe I’m not getting to the real root of things….are miracles even possible, in your worldview? You say that our own experiences and you allege history (which I strongly argue does not) invalidates what one might read. I know for me that was one of the biggest hang-ups, the miraculous part, but it’s not a trouble anymore. Perhaps we can discuss that.

    You’re definitely not boring me here, not too many people are into discussing issues like these. I hope we’re not talking past each other or going around in circles, if we are perhaps it is my fault.

    …Red Sox? That has to be the most annoying fanbase in the world! I kid..mostly. Still bitter about 2004. 🙂

  15. Being a former journalist, as well as a fact-checker and free-lance writer, I do follow politics and this crop of Republicans is very scary to me, as I said. Regarding whether it’s the media calling Bachmann and Perry theocrats, actually it’s not “the media” doing it– it’s certain very astute commentators, and if you check the candidates’ own statements and actions, it’s an accurate description. Both seem eager to court the wing of the Republican party that believes America is a Christian nation and that we need to bring Jesus back into the public sphere. Check this very thorough essay about Bachmann’s views:
    http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2011/08/15/110815fa_fact_lizza?currentPage=all

    As I said, when a candidate has a rally, as Perry did last week, in which the Jews are invited to come to Jesus, and any non-Evangelicals are barred from praying on stage, I get very nervous. Separation of church and state is a good thing, and I do NOT believe the founding fathers wanted us to be a Christian nation. Many Christians were involved in the founding of the country, but they were from all different denominations and there were also non-Christians involved as well.

    I also am fascinated that you don’t see anti-Jewish sentiments in the NT. But here again, we have a difference in perspectives. You were taught that Christianity is about love and forgiveness, so your reading of the NT is influenced by that expectation. The problem is that there really are many many troubling (and yes, anti-Jewish) verses in the NT, and while you may not see them, some Christian scholars have indeed admitted that these verses exists and they have written essays about it. (And Amy-Jill Levine refutes many of them in her wonderful and very factual book.) I don’t have your e-mail address, but would be happy to send you a couple of journal articles you might find interesting, including one by a nun who teaches courses in the roots of Christian anti-Judaism and what needs to be done to refute some of these pernicious beliefs.

    As someone who was beaten up as a kid and called a Christ-killer, I think it’s important to recognize that it’s not just “people” bringing their own mysteriously acquired beliefs to the text. the text encourages those beliefs (John putting the assertion in Jesus’s mouth that the Jews worship the devil, for example), and numerous verses and strongly suggests that anti-Jewish beliefs are quite reasonable, since the Jews have been rejected, replaced by His new people, the Christians. I posted a very tactful piece to my Facebook page last week, about why Rick Perry scares me, and one of the commenters lashed out at me for “insulting the Savior and rejecting him.” So, I think we still have some work to do, and denying that these attitudes are not found in the NT isn’t useful.

    As for miracles, of course I believe they are possible. You and I both know that God can do anything. But you are trying to get me to reject basic tenets of Judaism (God does not have a human body; He does not have a son– we are ALL sons and daughters of God; He does not ask for a human sacrifice; He does not want or encourage vicarious atonement, etc etc) so that I can allow for Jesus’s tomb being empty. Okay fine, let’s posit that his tomb was empty. That doesn’t mean he was the messiah, since he didn’t do what the messiah was supposed to do. Could he have been raised up to heaven? Of course– I believe it was Elijah (or maybe Elisha? My head hurts and my sinus infection isn’t any better) in the Hebrew Bible who was taken up to Heaven. But here again, I am not saying it’s impossible for the tomb to have been empty. I am saying you and the NT writers constructed the facts to fit the belief– your explanation was that it was a miracle. Mine is that the Romans wanted to disrespect him and make sure he was not worshiped, so they removed a possible place of pilgrimage. This would actual have some historical precedent– when Moses died, we are told in the Book of Deuteronomy that when Moses (“the man Moses”– he was not to be worshiped) died, nobody knew where his grave was. To this day, we are told, nobody knows. And that kept a cult of personality around Moses from arising.

    So the issue is not whether I believe in miracles. I have seen miracles in my own lifetime, and I do believe they are possible. There are miracles mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, as we both know. But really, you want me to agree that a certain event, the resurrection of Jesus, assuming it occurred, was one of those miracles. The problem with this line of reasoning is that for you, interpreting the story of the empty tomb as proof that Jesus rose from the dead is crucial to your religious worldview. The early church had a basic problem as they tried to find verses from the “Old Testament” that proved Jesus: the Hebrew Bible and the commentaries said the messiah would NOT be killed. So if Jesus was dead, he couldn’t be the messiah. It was very intelligent of those telling the story making sure their version of what happened reinforced what was now the belief– that the Messiah was still alive and had simply risen from the dead, to return to his Father in Heaven. Nothing Jewish about any of that, so again, I respect your belief, but there’s no evidence it happened and it’s nothing a Jewish person can accept.

    Hope you are having a nice day and thanks for the chance to exchange ideas. Do you live near any of the cities that have actual Jewish people in them? Ever attended a synagogue or a Passover seder? Till later, Devorah Leah (with apologies for the typos I am sure this contains)

    • Hey Donna,

      Let me start of with an “argh!”. 🙂 That article in the New Yorker is such hit-job journalism I don’t even know where to start. I know quite well who Francis Schaefer and Nancy Pearcey are, they are not “dominionists” (I think they mean Christian reconstructionalists. That is just a gross libel, if you ask me. If you trace back Christian reconstructionalism to the nutjobs like Rushdooney, et al and compare his views with Francis Schaefer and Pearcey, they’re not even close. Rushdooney thinks the resurrection is past, we’re in some sort of millennial reign and we’re now to change the law to be in line with the Mosaic law. THAT is dangerous and extreme) To me, this is just anti-evangelical baloney that frankly makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. It’s ad hominem, it’s straw men and it comes across very mean spirited. Sorry, that’s just my $.02! I honestly hope Pearcey sues. And I want to be clear, I’m NOT very political at all. I do think the whole “Christian nation” thing could likely be a myth, I see Jesus eschewing that sort of thing in the bible; he said his kingdom isn’t of this world.” I still vote my conscience regarding certain issues, but I consider myself to be an independent.

      Alright, so you think that I’m too biased to see anything but love and grace in the New Testament that I can’t see any anti-Semitism. I’m sorry, I just don’t see it. Do you want to cite some chapter and verse. I’ve read the N.T. through probably over 50 times, and portions of it more than that. I can think of a few verses off the top of my head that could be construed that way, but it’s not to realize that NT authors couldn’t be anti-Jew. They were Jews (with the exception of Luke). It is because of my reading of the NT that I have such a high view of the Jewish people. They gave me my Messiah. Romans 11 speaks highly of the Jewish nation. Moreover, we see repeatedly that there was no place for racial superiority in the bible. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Donna, I’m sorry, but maybe I’m not the one reading my bias and experience into the text. If anyone says anything different and justifies themselves by the Bible, then they’re just misinterpreting it and twisting it for their own evil ends, just as one could as easily do with the Pentateuch, for example. Shoot, I just realized what time it is. I’ll try and discuss miracles with you when I’m able. Sorry for stopping in mid-thought!

      (BTW, I can’t stand the Red Sox, but who doesn’t love Wakefield? Baseball needs more knuckleballers!)

  16. Well, another day and yet again the Red Sox scored Wakefield just about no runs while he was in there. I hope one of these days, he can finally win that 200th– it’ll make a lot of people happy. As for the Ryan Lizza piece on Bachmann, the quotes are very accurate, and I am sorry you wanna believe it’s a “hit-piece”– clearly, he isn’t fond of her politics, but I still think much of what he wrote reflects actual things she has said. Ditto for my assertion a couple of posts ago that she and other extreme Republican candidates have stated that abortion is not to be permitted under any circumstances, even to save the life of the mother. I can find you some very scary quotes– but again, I wonder if you will find them scary, the way I do.

    As I expected, it seems that what we have here is two very different perspectives, yours (pro-Christian, leaning right-wing conservative) and mine (pro-Jewish, leaning center-left). This leads to both of us examining the same text but coming away with very different interpretations. Obviously, I see and understand verses through a different prism than you do, because my belief system is different from yours. So, I read the NT where bad things are attributed to “the Jews” (and until fairly recently, some Christian bibles were accompanied by illustrations of those verses, as if ALL Jews did the particular thing in the verse); I see verses where Jews are accused of all sorts of horrible deeds, including preferring to see the life of Barrabas saved rather than saving the innocent savior– by the way, this is yet one more New Testament distortion of facts, and it has cost Jews over the centuries. There is NO historical evidence that a brutal dictator like Pontius Pilate had a custom of freeing a prisoner, nor would he have asked a subjugated people like the Jews which one to free. Pilate left many writings, but there’s no mention of a Barrabas, nor of a custom of freeing prisoners at the Passover. This just gives the NT writers a chance to put the words “his blood be on us and our children” into the mouths of “the Jews” and as I said, centuries later, people like me were still being called Christ-killers, because hey, “the Jews” could have freed Jesus but chose not to.

    So, the verse that we are all one in Christ Jesus does not say to me that the NT is a tolerant document– I read that verse as saying that all who become/consider themselves Christian, followers of Jesus as the Christ, are equal. (And by the way, while Paul says slaves are included, they too are one in Christ Jesus, he never did tell the slave-owners to free their slaves; the NT says slaves should obey their masters. So everyone was equal under Christ Jesus, but some were more equal than others?) Anyway, since you sincerely believe there is no anti-Judaism in the NT, and are saying I am reading my bias (huh?) into the texts– evidently the texts cannot possibly be wrong, so therefore if I come away with a different interpretation, it’s proof that I am biased– here’s an article by a respected Bible scholar with lists a large number of those verses. I can certainly list more, but let’s begin here: http://www.jcrelations.net/en/?item=737

    And no, I don’t think I am being biased in my reading. I think there are some very problematic verses in the NT, and there are a number of Christian theologians who have come to agree with that assertion. Teaching religious tolerance is hard work– it may be going better in the US, but to this day, some churches (a few in the US, but many in other parts of the world) use those verses exactly as they were intended– to differentiate between those who were blessed (the Christian church and its believers) and those who were to suffer because they rejected their messiah (“the Jews”).

    I hope you are well and I hope you had a nice weekend. I assume the politicians are still there, and maybe you got to meet one or two of them. As for me, still trying to fight off the sinus infection; I did some volunteer work, and am now writing an article (I do a lot of free-lance writing). Big hugs from Boston, Devorah Leah

    • Hey Donna, Sorry I’ve been taking a while to respond lately, my time has been really short lately as it is today. Perhaps some time you’ll have to tell me how you got into free-lance writing. Unfortunately with the way things have been lately, I’ve had difficulty finding a full-time job. I’d love to do some freelance and have here and there, but nothing significant.

      Anyway, I’ll let the political conversation drop, other than I’ll just say that I doubt Lizza has ever read Pearcey or Schaefer or understood their arguments. They are no where near on par with “dominionism” as he calls it. Here’s an article in response to Lizza, if you’re interested http://spectator.org/archives/2011/08/15/the-new-yorker-and-evangelical# .

      OK, so what about all of those texts you brought up. That is a rather comprehensive list, and I could see how someone might see the bible as being anti-semitic. But again, you have to remember that all of the bible writers with the exception of Luke were, in fact, Jews. And what about texts that seem to have the exact opposite connotation?

      John 4.22: “You people worship what you do not know. We worship what we know, because salvation is from the Jews.”
      Rom 3.1-2: “(1) Therefore what advantage does the Jew have, or what is the value of circumcision? (2) Actually, there are many advantages. First of all, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”
      Rom 9–11: too lengthy to quote, but note that these three chapters address the future of the Jews and Paul’s longing to see his fellow countrymen saved.
      Rom 9.1-5: “(1) I am telling the truth in Christ (I am not lying!), for my conscience assures me in the Holy Spirit— (2) I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. (3) For I could wish that I myself were accursed—cut off from Christ—for the sake of my people, my fellow countrymen, (4) who are Israelites. To them belong the adoption as sons, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the temple worship, and the promises. (5) To them belong the patriarchs, and from them, by human descent, came the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever! Amen.”
      1 Cor 9.20: “To the Jews I became like a Jew to gain the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) to gain those under the law.”
      1 Cor 10.32: “Do not give offense to Jews or Greeks or to the church of God…”
      Romans 1:16 “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. ”

      I think the problem here is a fundamental misunderstanding about what Christianity is. 1 Corinthians 2:6 says that it was Satan who ultimately was behind the crucifixion. It was he that inspired both the Jewish leaders and the Romans, but had he known what the crucifixion would have accomplished, the bible says he never would have inspired it. Paul says in Ephesians 6:12 that our war is not with “flesh and blood” but against cosmic forces arrayed against us in heavenly realms. Assuming what the Jewish people present said about Jesus’ blood being on their heads and upon the heads of their children is historically accurate, we still see Jesus saying “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”.

      Moreover, the Bible says that it was God who allowed Jesus to be delivered to death. It was God who “has put him to grief; when he makes himself an offering for sin”. What Christians understand is that it was Jesus who although he was innocent, he willingly went to the cross, bore our sins and suffered the full wrath of the satanic powers and yet was justified through his resurrection to bring mankind – jew and gentile – salvation. It was through Abraham’s seed (Jesus, as Paul, a Jew would interpret it) that all men are blessed.

      The core message of the bible is that ALL have sinned and come short of the glory of God and yet salvation is for all who believe. I realize that we live in a pluralistic society that prizes tolerance as one of it’s highest virtues. But when we read in the bible condemnation or censure towards the Jews of Jesus day, or that judgment was coming to the nation of Israel we must understand that they cannot possibly be preaching racism because

      1. the writers were themselves Jews
      2 all mankind is equally condemned per the NT teachings
      3 the writers also offer hope and love to all sinners.

      There is no room for Christians to hate anyone because God made all of mankind in his image and likeness, and while we have all failed God and broken his moral standard, Christ died for all so that we may have life. Condemning one’s sins is not the same as hating the individual.

      As for Barabbas, we do see from Josephus where Roman officials seem to have granted mass amnesty at some other regular feasts (outside of Palestine) and to have occasionally acquitted prisoners in responses to crowd. For example,

      Upon this the multitude were pleased, and presently made a trial of what he intended, by asking great things of him; for some made a clamor that he would ease them in their taxes; others that he would take off the duties upon commodities; and some, that he would loose those that were in prison; in all which cases he answered readily to their satisfaction, in order to get the good will of the multitude; after which he offered [the proper] sacrifices, and feasted with his friends.” [Josephus, Jewish Wars 1.2, #4 ] and

      But when Albinus heard that Gessius Florus was coming to succeed him, he was desirous to appear to do somewhat that might be grateful to the people of Jerusalem; so he brought out all those prisoners who seemed to him to be the most plainly worthy of death, and ordered them to be put to death accordingly. But as to those who had been put into prison on some trifling occasion, he took money of them, and dismissed them; by which means the prisons were indeed emptied, but the country was filled with robbers.” [Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews. XX, ix.5, #215]

      The gospels (John and Mark) independently give an account to the event as well, for what it’s worth, so I guess is see no reason to say in a sweeping statement that this was never the practice of the romans to free a prisoner.

      Well, that was longer than I had intended being pressed for time. Hope your sinuses give you a break in the near future.

      Thanks,

      Erik

      Oh, btw, if you’d prefer to just start replying to each other more privately over email than publicly on my blog, let me know.

  17. Yes, I think taking this to e-mail would be good, since I have articles and attachments I’d like to share with you. I’m at A couple of things. While I commend your ability to defend what is to me indefensible (New Testament anti-Judaism), I said Pontius Pilate left no writings about freeing prisoners at the Passover. Other Romans may indeed have freed an occasional prisoners, but historians really do have questions about the authenticity of the Barabbas story, which seems inflammatory and polemical rather than factual, and there’s no historical evidence Pilate was the wonderful guy who freed Barabbas “out of fear of the Jews.” But it makes a great rhetorical point (Jews are scary, Jews reject Jesus, even Pilate can’t stop them) and that’s why it was placed in the text.

    While I am enjoying our conversation, it is also frustrating to me, (as talking to someone like me may well be to you). You seem determined to say that the NT has no anti-Jewish sentiments whatsoever, which puts you at odds with many scholars, both Jewish and Christian. In your view, there can be no problematic biases since the NT is based on forgiveness– because Jesus died for our sins (which Jews do not believe) it thus offers a message of hope to sinners. What that has to do with the anti-Jewish sentiments expressed in some of the verses is mystifying to me. The NT is comprised of a number of sources, some of which are more tolerant of Judaism and others of which are not. But there absolutely are verses, chapters, entire gospels where the Jews are depicted negatively, and I don’t know how to help you to see that. You also assert that since some of the NT authors had been born Jewish, they could not possibly have anti-Jewish sentiments. But most scholars believe John was NOT Jewish, and as for the apostles who were born into Judaism, just because somebody was born into a faith doesn’t mean they can’t turn against it later– some of the harsh assessments in the NT may indeed reflect former Jews who are angry that their people didn’t accept Jesus.

    I find your insistence that the NT offers hope and love very troubling. Jesus himself said he came not to bring peace but a sword, and that sword was directed historically at those of us who refused to accept the NT message that only those who accept Jesus are saved. Thus, the “hope and love” that was offered only applied to those who believed Jesus was the way, the truth and the life. All the rest of us, we were the enemies, the ones who rejected him, the ones who had to be brought to Christianity by any means necessary. See, Erik, the rocks come with the farm. You cannot claim, as you are trying to do, that the negative results of Christianity are unrelated to what was in the text. People wrote that text for a reason, and the words they wrote had consequences. You cannot claim none of the verses were negative and the consequences of those verses were somehow accidental. It’s convenient to say the bad outcomes (persecution of Jews, prejudice against non-believers, etc) were just the product of a few Christians who went rogue, but history tells a very different story. This was very organized, very orchestrated, and the message of Jews as the enemy was actively taught in churches for 2000 years, using specific NT verses as proof. The Christian message included an exclusivity claim (Christianity is the True faith, replacing all others) and it also included harsh and negative judgment of “the Jews”. You are about the only person I know of who disputes that the NT contains troubling or anti-Jewish verses. I wonder why you cannot accept what is a very well-documented fact.

    I can give you lots more verses, but I am genuinely puzzled by your unwillingness to accept that Christianity has a lot to answer for. I know you love your faith, and I respect that. But claiming it never did anything wrong and that all the problems are just my imagination (or the product of folks who were not “real Christians) is disingenuous. So where do we go from here? You say Christianity is about hope and love. I say it’s actually a very conditional message: everyone must become a Christian and those who do not are not eligible for hope and love. As a Jew, I do not think you should become Jewish. In fact, if you tried to approach a rabbi about converting, he or she would suggest that you go read some books, and there is a custom of sending a potential convert away three times. We don’t believe we have the only true faith– we believe the righteous of all nations will inherit the Kingdom. Thus, in my view, our message is more tolerant and hopeful, since we are not expecting you to convert if you want the hope and the love. Time for dinner, and I look forward to your reply by e-mail or back here on your blog. Love, Devorah Leah.

    • I left some comments, but I do hope you won’t be upset or offended by them, since my intent was only to address what you said, not to be rude. Having these discussions via the web can be informative but also impersonal at times.

  18. Umm, no offense to you, but saying you are a “Christian Jew” is the same as saying you are a female man. You can’t be both at the same time, since they contradict each other. While we do have much in common, and serve the same Father, the theology of Judaism and the theology of Christianity are far different. I respect your beliefs, but of course do not agree with them. And as for the “stakes,” the God I serve is a loving and forgiving God, and if you are wrong about Jesus (which of course I believe you are), He will judge you on how you lived your life and how you treated others. This is far different from the Christian message which seems to be very “my way or hit the highway”– in Judaism, we believe that the righteous of ALL nations will inherit His kingdom.

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