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Old 09-29-2006, 11:26 AM   #106
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Originally posted by Irvine511

perhaps redemption isn't in the achievement of the goal, but in the effort and the process one undergoes while trying to achieve the goal? that it's the striving to be like Christ that is the path to redemption, that you've been set up to fail, since no one can ever be truly Christ like. a bit like Sisyphus.

Knowing that God is perfectly holy and sinless, it makes perfect sense to me that he would not be able to abide in the presence of sin, and that man, who can never attain sinlessness, would spend eternity away from God. It makes perfect sense to me that man cannot earn a relationship with God, because he can never be perfectly sinless on this earth, and that the only way to abide in God's presence is through Christ, who being 100% man yet 100% God at the same time, loved us so much that he sacrificed his life to bridge the gap between sinful man and sinless God.

The way I see it, that is where works-based religions fail; they focus on the good deeds man can do to try to attain God's pleasure, when in fact no amount of good deeds that a man can do will ever measure up.

The first several years of my Christian life, I lived as if I were still under the law, instead of under Grace. I strived and strived yto be a "good boy" and please God. But after every victory was a failure. It was an up and down life; joy turned to guilt turned to elation turned to grief turned to joy, etc. I was living a roller coaster religion, an dit was betaing me down. Finally, after about 15 years, I realized that God doesn't want me to try and try again in my own power. All I need to do is grow in Him, and he'll work through me.
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Old 09-29-2006, 02:30 PM   #107
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80s, i really want to reply, but have a lot to do at work before the weekend so i won't have time to put in the time and thought that it deserves.

i will get back to you.

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Old 09-29-2006, 03:10 PM   #108
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80s, i really want to reply, but have a lot to do at work before the weekend so i won't have time to put in the time and thought that it deserves.

i will get back to you.

Sounds cool to me. Have a nice weekend.
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Old 10-01-2006, 12:03 PM   #109
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I have a question. What is the status of the Messiah among the various branches of modern Judaism today? Are faithful Jews generally expecting a Messiah to come or has that belief been abandoned over the years? And if they are expecting a Messiah what do they expect he will be like and what will he do?
Well, there are many among the Lubavitchers (the largest sect of Hasidism) who believe the Messiah is "among" us right now, in the form of their last dynastic rebbe Menachem Schneerson, who "died" in 1994--I put these words in quotes because his followers, applying a Kabbalistic teaching about "the souls of the righteous" to one rather obscure Talmudic passage, argue that Schneerson is in fact not truly "dead" at all, but rather still among us in a mystical sense, not to return until the Messianic Age is complete (which it's the job of his followers to hasten by "performing acts of goodness and kindness," as Schneerson always advised when asked how the coming of the Messiah might be hastened). Although most Jews would agree with the general idea that a concerted increase in such acts is indeed necessary to complete (or inaugurate) a Messianic Age--in other words, it won't happen just because "the Messiah" plops down in an otherwise exceptionally corrupt world and snaps his fingers--no one outside Lubavitch considers Schneerson (who never actually called himself Messiah, but didn't object when his followers proclaimed it) the Real Thing.

As your wording anticipates, one does indeed have to break modern Judaism down by denomination to accurately answer these questions. But this variability isn't unique to our times; rabbinic literature from classical times through to the present has always encompassed a wide array of views on the Messiah, from outright denial (rare before the early modern period) to a strictly military understanding of his role (rare in any period). While some of this divergence is simply due to disagreements about which scriptural passages refer to "the" Messiah (as opposed to the "small m" variety--e.g. David and Cyrus--or passages which may or may not have messianic import at all) and how to interpret them, some of it doubtless also reflects uneasiness stemming from what you alluded to earlier--i.e., the long list of disastrously ill-fated revolts led by men claiming to be the Messiah. The classical historians Josephus, Tacitus, and Cassius Dio refer to numerous messianic revolts, almost all of them in Galilee, from the time of Herod through to the Great Zealot Revolt (ca. 70 AD) resulting in Rome's destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple, and on to the Bar-Kokhba Revolt (ca. 135 AD) in which Hadrian's legions killed half of Judaea's population, with most of the rest exiled or enslaved. The worst of the earlier revolts was led by one Simon of Peraea in 4 BC, following Herod's death; three elite legions had to be brought in from Syria to help suppress it, and some 2000 rebels were crucified afterwards. This was shortly followed by a revolt led by another Galilean "messiah," Judas of Gamala (6 AD; mentioned in Acts of the Apostles) which doesn't seem to have been nearly as large, but nonetheless was accorded great political significance, as this Judas--along with a Shammaite Pharisee named Zadok--was apparently the "founder" of the (very messianic) Zealot faction, which continued to bedevil the Romans for the next six decades (and the Hillelite Pharisees as well; the Zealots assassinated several of them, which was one of many reasons why the Hillelites and Shammaites keenly distrusted each other). So one can understand why the topic was an uneasy one, why otherwise revered rabbis were harshly maligned for having led their followers into disaster by embracing the "messiahs" who provoked them, and why while the Talmudic rabbis were happy to discuss what the Messiah's achievements might be, they balked at the question of how precisely to recognize him and at what point to extend him support, an ambivalence which has characterized pretty much all subsequent rabbinic teaching on this topic. Unfortunately for the rabbis, it's no crime under Jewish law to proclaim oneself the Messiah, nor do any legal standards exist which such claimants must first meet; anyone can proclaim it, and there's the rub.

Rabbi Hillel, the founder of the leading Pharisaic academy of his day and the head of the Sanhedrin from (probably) about 10 BC-10 AD, is twice credited in the Talmud with the assertion that the messiah (apparently, he didn't take the "capital M" variety literally) already came during the reign of Hezekiah, and would not return again. (His most famous student, Yochanan ben Zakai, who re-established the Sanhedrin and the rabbinic academy in Jamnia following the Great Zealot Revolt, is recorded to have cynically said, "If you should be planting a sapling and they tell you the Messiah has arrived, first finish planting your sapling, then go greet the Messiah," a famous enough saying that most traditionally educated Jews know it by heart.) [* I should qualify that a minority of Talmud scholars, finding it noncredible that a teacher of Hillel's status could have gotten away with such a bold stance, attribute his saying to the 3rd-century rabbi Hillel Son of Gamaliel; the problem with this explanation is that, in the context of the long exchange of views on the Messiah in which "Hillel's" teaching is twice set forth--an exchange in which all participants seem to take for granted that the Messiah will appear in the future--it goes unchallenged the first time it is raised, then the second time is opposed by only one rabbi, who meekly prefaces his objection (a Messianic interpetation of a Zechariah passage--post-Hezekiah, obviously--drawn from a midrash) by invoking God's blessing on Hillel. Such deference and reticence to criticize are extremely unusual in the Talmud, and while it fits the reverence with which "the" Hillel's teachings are usually cited, Hillel Son of Gamaliel's teachings--there are a few unambiguously attributed to him in the Talmud--are never treated in this manner; he was a minor scholar.] The remainder of this exchange, the longest in the Talmud on the subject, records a large variety of views on the Messiah, with Tanakh passages, midrashic (oral lore) literature, and baraishas (teachings from non-mainstream rabbinical schools) all being drawn from as evidence. It's way too long for me to recount everything, but some trends I'd consider noteworthy include A) an emphasis on the role of the Messiah as spiritual leader, learned in Torah and Mishnah (Oral Law) and devoted to filling the world with their teachings, rather than as military leader; B) a taboo against opining when he might appear (a long string of elaborate nonanswers to this question concludes with an abrupt "May the bones of they who would calculate the end be crushed"); C) general agreement that he won't appear and/or act unless and until the Jews (and according to some, the gentiles as well) first repent--in the sense of leading more godly lives--combined with deep pessimism about the upheavals which would surely accompany this (one rabbi asserts "Let him come, but may I not live to see him" and two others concur, one adding that he cannot imagine the expected ingathering of the Jews to Israel transpiring without mass deaths of both Jews and gentiles, neither of which he can comprehend God wanting); and D) a hard-to-follow but intriguing mystical tangent, in which various midrashic traditions concerning the "eternal Messiah" are discussed: that God created him before creating the world, then hid him from Satan; that he exists in potential in every generation; that he will actually be a reincarnation of David, not just his descendant; and so on. The "in potential" passage sounds strikingly similar to the views of the Jewish neo-Platonist Philo (ca. 20 BC-40 AD), who relates the Messiah--whose corporeality he rejects--to the Logos (which for Philo means the dynamic, manifest aspect of God's immanence). But I'm not sure I'm understanding it correctly.

Anyhow, now I'm straying pretty far from your question, so I'll briefly fast-forward to the era of the Rishonim (medieval rabbis), about whom it's somewhat easier to generalize due to their characteristic practice of formulating a list of principles regarded as fundamental to Jewish belief. Here opinions on the centrality of the Messiah range from the argument that it's an important but not fundamental doctrine (Nachmanides, Albo, Crescas) to the argument that it's absolutely fundamental (Maimonides, ha-Levi, Rashi). However, among the Rishonim only Maimonides is granted anything resembling the authority accorded the Tamudic rabbis (and then only by the Orthodox) so I won't bother with details here.

The majority of present-day Orthodox regard Maimonides' position on the Messiah as the definitive one. (Maimonides is to Orthodoxy what Aquinas is to Catholicism, despite many of his particulars having been rejected--as a theologian he was quite austerely rationalist, for example, despising the attribution of qualities to God, which hardly jives with mainstream Orthodox sensibilities.) According to Maimonides, the Messiah will: be a highly learned and fully observant Jew who can trace his paternal ancestry to King David; gather all the Jews back to Israel and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem; establish monotheism among any gentiles not already observing it (like all major Jewish thinkers, he considers all ethical monotheisms, including Christianity and Islam, as among the worthy paths to "a share in a world to come"); and make peace among all nations. He does not, of course, regard the Messiah as divine nor as a conduit to or from one's particular standing in any "world to come." And how will we recognize the Messiah? Like the Talmudic rabbis before him, Maimonides waffles on this one, settling for conveniently saying: "Should he be killed before completing all this, then he is not the Messiah."

Most present-day Reform Jews (the denomination actually dates to the early 1800s), as well as those of the tiny Reconstructionist denomination, reject the idea of an individual Messiah, but retain the ideal of the "Messianic Age," a utopian era of peace and justice which it is the duty of believing Jews to strive to bring about. Conservative Judaism takes a middle path, adopting an agnostic stance as to whether the Messiah of prophecy is literal (in the Orthodox sense), or an allegory of our covenantal partnership with God in the work of tikkun olam, the ongoing redemption of an inherently unstable world. The Hasidim, though generally considered Orthodox (or ultra-Orthodox, in the case of some sects), actually sound more like Conservatives when they talk about the Messiah, his role, and its relationship to the duties of other Jews (not so surprising, as Conservatism was profoundly influenced by neo-Hasids like Heschel and Buber); however, they do definitely affirm an individual Messiah.

So...I hope, lol...there's your answer! (Plus, erm, a whole lot more.)

Also, I wanted to clarify something I mentioned in my Israel post, concerning the tradition of Orthodox anti-Zionism and its view that only the Messiah may legitimately restore the Jews to Israel. Although this position was certainly more widespread in Zionism's early years than it is now, it was never the majority view of religious Jews, and the main reason for this is a corollary it entails: that the diaspora condition and all travails associated with it are deserved punishments from God for Jewish failures to remain adequately observant. While this makes sense insofar as *some* calamities befalling the Jews in the Tanakh are explained in this way (usually in connection with idol worship), it's never been a tenet of rabbinic Judaism that all of them can be thus explained, nor that the Tanakh supports any such sweeping view. But at any rate, this is the view held by religious anti-Zionists, then and now; so, for example, the Satmar Hasidim and Neturei Karta, two such present-day sects, maintain that every Jew killed in the Holocaust deserved it, and that the Nazis were simply God's agents in meting out punishment. Unsurprisingly, then, they tend to be regarded by the rest of us with something like the level of affection most Christians feel for members of the Westboro Baptist Church.
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Old 10-02-2006, 10:01 PM   #110
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Thanks so much for your informative reply, Yolland. I always learn so much from you.

From all you said, it doesn't sound like any of the various denominations within Judaism view the Messiah as divine. Was that always the case, or was there a time when Jews expected the Messiah to come from and/or be God? If not, then would Jesus claims have been extra shocking in that he claimed not only to be the expected Messiah, but also to be God as well?
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Old 10-04-2006, 01:31 AM   #111
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Well considering how much I run on, I guess I should hope so

And I'll give you the short answer first this time: "no" and "yes," respectively.

No, I know of no tradition, rabbinic or otherwise, within Judaism of expecting the Messiah to be God, and in fact this was acknowledged as early as the early 2nd century by the Christian writers Justin Martyr and Saint Hippolytus (i.e., that the Jews didn't profess this--obviously they did). "Come from," on the other hand--I'm not sure what that phrase entails to you, but part of the reason why I mentioned the various midrashic traditions of an "eternal Messiah" was to highlight that there clearly were some more mystical notions (or perhaps I should say, "were/are"--I'd describe some of the Hasidic notions as quite mystical, certainly) floating around, all of them drawn from midrashim (oral lore, of which there are abundant collections, many of which make cameos in the Talmud). The most common ones seem to have been those I cited above: that the Messiah was created even before the world was made; that he exists in some sort of potential form in every generation (which in turn entails the idea that a person with Messianic potential won't fulfill it unless Jews collectively do their part to uphold the covenant); and that he'll actually be a reincarnation of David, not just his descendant. Occasionally the title bar enosh--"son of man," normally used in Biblical Hebrew in the more general sense of "mankind," or to refer to a high-ranking angel, but in these cases clearly taking on a more specific meaning--is attached to the Messiah in such midrashim. In midrashim only, there's also an alternative tradition where the Messiah gets bifurcated into two distinct people: a "Messiah ben Joseph," who undertakes the military aspects of the job but ultimately fails (this has him fighting either Persia or Rome, depending on which midrash you're reading), and a "Messiah ben David," who resurrects ben Joseph, thus enabling him to finish off the gory bits, while ben David busies himself with the more spiritual aspects. This midrash is sometimes explained as a folkloric attempt to reconcile two contrasting scriptural images of the Messiah: the triumphant military conqueror and crusher of foes on the one hand, and the humble humanitarian who rides into town on a donkey on the other.

So yes, for a self-professed Messiah to also equate himself with God would certainly have been "extra shocking," though of all the titles (publically) ascribed to Jesus in the Gospels, only "Son of God" strikes me personally as likely to have been unambiguously taken by an average Jew as "he said he's God." The Gospel passages in which this title is linked to gidduf, "blasphemy," in the sense of a capital crime, have always puzzled me somewhat. The definition of gidduf in Mishnah (Jewish law, which in its current, "Pharisaic" form became the law of the land in 75 BC--though it's unlikely the previous form was much different) derives from Leviticus 24:10-13, and specifically means invoking God's name in a profane context (as opposed to the 3rd Commandment, lo tissa et shem ha-Shem Eloheicha lashav--not doing evil in God's name--or apikorsos, heresy, a noncapital crime with the general connotation of professing false doctrines). According to Mishnah, gidduf, whose pronouncement required all within earshot to rend their clothes--as the Sadducee Caiaphas does during Jesus' trial, confirming which crime he's accusing him of--was punishable by death (through stoning only, crucifixion not being a Jewish form of punishment) solely when the Tetragrammaton was invoked: profaning ha-Shem, Elohim, etc. warranted a flogging instead. The maximum punishment of stoning, which like all capital punishments first required a trial before a court of at least 23 and the presence of at least two witnesses (or else it was murder, and itself punishable by death), was carried out in this manner: the first witness threw the convicted party from a height, then if that did not prove fatal the second witness dropped a large stone on their head, then if that still was not fatal, an assembled crowd of all who heard the blasphemy finished off the job with a hail of smaller stones. That such a punishment would ever have been spontaneously meted out sans trial by rock-chucking mobs, as suggested by the Gospel of John, is hard to believe, and it's harder still to believe this could have occurred in Roman times, when capital-case jurisdiction was reserved for the Roman authorities (per Josephus and, for that matter, John himself; interestingly, Josephus' account of the trial and stoning of St. James attributes the Sadducees' action there to an authority vacuum brought about because the procurate, Festsus, had died, while the new one, Albinus, had not yet arrived). As far as the Sanhedrin trial, only in Mark's and Luke's accounts does it seem to be the case that Jesus might have pronounced the Tetragrammaton (assuming the Greek--ego eimi--here stands for that, as opposed to mere affirmation, which it can also convey). If so, this might plausibly constitute gidduf--assuming that Caiaphas' question used "Son of God" to denote divinity, as opposed to Messiah-ship (as David is also called this in Tanakh). At any rate, since the Sanhedrin didn't have capital-case jurisdiction and the Romans didn't consider gidduf a capital crime, I never really understood what the point of this whole exercise was supposed to be; the trumped-up accusations which Luke has them relaying to Pilate--inciting revolt ("through-turning our nation"), opposing payment of tribute to Caesar, and proclaiming himself a king--seem perfectly sufficient for their purposes, and indeed it's only the latter charge that Pilate seems to take even the slightest interest in (presumably because it could, in theory, warrant crucifixion under Roman law--a verdict both Tacitus and Josephus attribute explicitly to Pilate). [* Many historians speculate that the Sanhedrin, and particularly its Sadducees, had been especially irked by Jesus' disruption of Temple vendors, which seems plausible; however, Jesus was hardly the only rabbi to ever take offense at this, as the Talmud records several complaints by diaspora rabbis of having to clamp down on the same behavior, and encountering stiff resistance for it.] Plus, if it was really all going to wind up being decided by fiat by some random mob who apparently couldn't articulate any motive beyond bloodthirst, again, why bother?

Nonetheless, as late as the era when the Talmud was written down (ca. 200 AD in the case of the written Mishnah, which is the layer in which these references appear), Christians living within the Jewish community were still considered minim, literally "creeds," a word denoting some 24 different sects (Gnostics, Samaritans, Sadducees, etc.) which were considered heterodox sects of (rabbinic) Judaism, not wholly different religions. Although it's seldom specified which minim were meant in the various passages using this word (and many of the passages don't seem to intend specifity), it can sometimes be reasonably deduced from context which sect was meant; for example, Christians were almost certainly among those "covered" by the doctrine of shidduf, "association," a ruling that for minim to worship God in corporeal form is not heresy if "their intent is on the Master of Heaven and Earth, for then they are only associating something with God." Passages clearly dating from after the Great Zealot Revolt (70 AD) suggest a distinct souring of relations with minim generally compared to earlier passages, which is not surprising, as that would indeed likely have been a polarizing event. From then on, there are increasingly hostile accusations of converts to minim becoming informers for the Romans etc., and the incidence of apparently friendly debates on points of law, interpetations of scripture, etc., drops off considerably. Of course many of these passages can't be dated definitively at all, but at any rate, according to St. Epiphanius who was a Judaean monk at the time, by 336 the situation was bad enough that Constantine had to issue two joint decrees: one barring Jews from assaulting Jewish converts to Christianity, another barring said converts from burning synagogues and violently disrupting Jewish worship services. (Christianity by this time was fully legal, but not yet the Empire's official religion; Judaism was legal, although conversion to it was forbidden.) And in 325, the Council of Nicaea, in ruling to finally uncouple Easter from Passover, had determined that (quoting Bishop Theodoret of Cyrrhus) "[i]t was, in the first place, declared improper to follow the custom of the Jews in the celebration of this holy festival, because, their hands having been stained with crime, the minds of these wretched men are necessarily blinded...Let us, then, have nothing in common with the Jews, who are our adversaries...avoiding all contact with that evil way...Therefore, this irregularity must be corrected, in order that we may no more have any thing in common with those parricides and the murderers of our Lord."

So, at what point a mutual self-understanding as two wholly distinct religions emerged is difficult, if not impossible, to date precisely; but unfortunately, whenever it did, it failed to bring about longterm peaceful coexistence.
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Old 10-04-2006, 01:58 AM   #112
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Wow Yolland! - your level of knowledge blows me away at times. Thanks for taking the time to respond with such detail. Even though I can't reply every time - I always read your posts and I always learn something from them.

Thank You.
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Old 10-04-2006, 02:13 AM   #113
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Thanks AEON, I appreciate that...it feels good to get some of this stuff off my chest actually; many of these thoughts have been rolling around in my head since back when I was the lone Jewish student at a small Southern Catholic high school, reading the New Testament for the first time and struggling to reconcile everything with what I'd learned at home, as well as various misconceptions I'd long held from casual ignorance...but I was afraid to ask many questions at the time and so stuck to solitary research instead.
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Old 10-04-2006, 06:58 AM   #114
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Fascinating stuff Yolland. I've got more questions but little time. My theater club is going to another island to tour this weekend and I'm pretty busy. Thanks again.

I'll get back to this though.

(If Edgeboy is still with us I'm sure he's gotten plenty of food for thought as he contemplates his conversion).
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