Rabbinic Judaism and Biblical Judaism

Israel Shamir writes:

it is a common error to think that Judaism of our contemporaries is the Judaism of the days of Jesus.

The brilliant Israeli scholar, Prof. Israel Jacob Yuval of Hebrew University in his book, Two Nations in Your Womb[i], proved that Judaism we know of (Rabbinic Judaism) came to existence in the end of the first century after Christ. It came out of ruins of the old Temple-centered Biblical Judaism, practically at the same time as Christianity. It is a full answer to the notion of ‘superseding faith’. Christianity actually superseded Biblical Judaism and became the faith of millions. Still, a small band of men challenged its advent, and offered an alternative, Rabbinic Judaism. In the eyes of its followers, Rabbinic Judaism superseded Biblical Judaism.

Rabbinic Judaism has very little in common with Biblical Judaism. It produced its own holy books, the Mishna and Talmud, as Christianity produced the New Testament. Prof. Yuval wrote: The Biblical Judaism died, and two religions claimed to be the legitimate heir, Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism.

Thus, Judaism we know of is a jealous sister, not a mother faith to Christianity. Its adepts are not the people who remained faithful to the ‘old religion’, as the Biblical Judaism with its sacrifices, Jerusalem Temple, ritual purity, tithes and priests disappeared two thousand years ago.

The Talmud in Calvinism

Writing in Christian Hebraists and Dutch Rabbis, Aaron Katchen discusses the Dutch Calvinist appropriation of the Talmud in Biblical exegesis. He quotes the the famous Dutch theologian Johannes Coccejus, as saying:
…it is a new thing I am attempting, namely, to show that a knowledge of the Talmud and of the talmudic writers is of extraordinary help in the elucidation of the New Testament.
Before that, though, quoting Grotious’s view from the De jure that:
the Hebrew writers can contribute not a little to our understanding of the meaning of the books belonging to the old covenant,
Coch continues by saying that the Talmud, the “Doctrinalis,” or the “authorized teaching” of the Jews, as he refers to it at this point, has its usefulness for the understanding of the law in all its facets: ceremonial, natural, and that fixed by convention (“positivus”).
Where, but the Jewish Talmud, can the learned traditions handed down by our forefathers be sought? Indeed, these are relevant, whether for a fuller understanding of Mosaic law, ritual as well as judicial and moral; or for an illustration of exotic (?) laws; or for shedding light on accounts of the Jewish commonwealths [e.g, Josephus(?)]; or, what is most important, for confirmation of the account in the Gospels, where there is abundant mention of Jewish customs, law and traditions.
Katchen, 68-69

A Theology of Space Travel 1.7

There is an article out today on the number of possible “Earths” in the Milky Way. The number may be low or high, depending on your point of view.

One idea that has occurred to me from a theological standpoint is that our propensity to idolatry and the worship of everything from bugs to the Sun make it highly unlikely that there is other human-type life in the Universe. I wouldn’t extrapolate to plant and animal life, but it seems to me that if we encountered another sentient species in our present state of maturity, we would probably fall to worshipping them at some point. Just a thought.

Exciting Each Other to Idolatry

Commenting on Isaiah 41:7-8, Calvin says:

for the Prophet means that workmen, by beating “in their turn,” mutually excite each other, because by being earnestly employed in the same work, they grow warm, and each of them urges and arouses the other, to perform in the shortest time what they have undertaken. In short, he describes the rebellion and madness of idolaters, by which they excite each other to oppose God.

Carlos Eire summarizes his views by saying, “The inclination to commit false worship inherent in every individual is aggravated by society through mutual support and social conditioning.” Calvin continues:

From this passage and from all histories it is manifest that this vice was not peculiar to a single age, and at the present day we know it by experience more than is desirable. We see how men, by mutual persuasion, urge one another to defend superstition and the worship of idols; and the more brightly the truth of God is manifested, the more obstinately do they follow an opposite course, as if they avowedly intended to carry on war with God. Since religion was restored to greater purity, idols have been multiplied and set up in hostility to it in many places; pilgrimages, masses, unlawful vows, and, in some cases, anniversaries, have been more numerously attended than before. During that ancient ignorance there was some kind of moderation; but now idolaters, as if they had been seized by madness, run about, and are driven by blind impulse. There is nothing which they do not attempt in order to prop up a trifling superstition and tottering idols. In a word, they join hands, and render mutual aid, in order to resist God. And if any person wish to throw back the blame on his brother, he will gain nothing; for it adheres to every one in such a manner that it cannot in any way be removed. All are devoted to falsehood, and almost avowedly devise methods of imposture, and, trusting to their great numbers, each of them places himself and others above God. They excite each other to the worship of idols, and burn with such madness of desire that nearly the whole world is kindled by it.

Calvin’s Education

In our day seminary costs a lot of money. I sometimes wonder how Calvin and the other Reformers did it? How did they get their education, how did they preach and write so much? Well, in some cases, if not most, they were coming from somewhat wealthy families. Carlos Eire writes of Calvin:

He had, after all, grown up Catholic and funded his entire education with income from ecclesiastical benefices.

A benefice was revenue from church property granted to an individual. This biography says:

Having distinguished himself at an early age, Calvin was deemed worthy of receiving the support of a benefice, a church-granted stipend, at the age of 12, so as to support him in his studies. Although normally benefices were granted as payment for work for the church, either present or in the future, there is no record that Calvin ever performed any duties for this position. Later on he held two more benefices, for which he also did no work. Thus supported by the Church, at age 14, Calvin was enrolled at the College de la Marche in the University of Paris, though he quickly transferred to the College de Montaigu.

So Calvin benefited from a church-funded education, he did not work his way through school like many of his modern followers are forced to do.

An Honest Look at Dying, Death and Life

Professor William Stuntz died of cancer last week at age 52. He knew he was going to die for a long time. This interview is a remarkable look inside an honest Christian, his regrets over life and his impending death. The following question and answer are a poignant example:

Your life is ending sooner than you must have expected.  Are you pleased with the life you lived?


I’m not displeased in the sense that I never got to see that or do this or enjoy something else.  I have almost none of those feelings.  I am utterly satisfied with my life in those terms.  I have gotten many more good things than I could deserve in any conceivable way.  I have been incredibly more blessed, along multiple dimensions, than I would have imagined when I was young.  In that sense, I am perfectly pleased with my life.

What I am displeased with is my own living of life.  I feel an acute sense that I ought to have done better with the circumstances I was given.  This is one of the reasons why it cut me so deeply when people suggested that suffering is God’s discipline — because I find it so very, very easy to believe in a God who is profoundly disappointed in me.

It seems utterly natural to believe in the Disappointed God, because I myself am disappointed.  He must be even more disappointed, I think, because his standards are so much higher than mine.  How could he not be disappointed?  That makes complete sense to me.

It’s the other God, the God who does not experience that kind of disappointment, the God who sees me the way that Prodigal Son’s father saw him — that is the harder God for me to believe in.  It takes work for me to believe in that God.

The Vancian Prose of John Donne

John Donne sounds like a character in a Jack Vance book in this passage from his Essays in Divinity:

Picus, Earl of Mirandula, being a man of incontinent wit, and subject to the concupiscence of inaccessible knowledges and transcendencies, pursuing the rules of Cabal, out of the word Bresit, which is the title of this first book, by vexing and transposing and anagrammatizing the letters, hath expressed and wrung out this sum of Christian religion.