New Age Movements: A surge of New Age Christian religious sects are popping up all over the globe and competing to convert uneducated to join them as they pursue missionizing in their membership drive. In another context ordinary people may even assume that a new sect of Jews are missionizing for Christian members to leave the historical churchs and join the members of Messianic Judaism. Another purpose of this agenda is to give their New Age Messianic Christian sect some form of credibility or make it believable if they have a few questionable Jews amongst them as a scapegoat for using the term Judaism in their campaigns.
Clearly, the majority of their new members are comprised of Ex practicing Christians who are leaving the historical churchs or left the historical organized Christian religions in droves, new age thinkers of no religious background and numerous others have left Islam to join their more lenient New Age messianic way of life.
Some New Age Messianic members have even gone to the extreme of legal name changes from non Jewish names to a Hebrew name. And various leaders of these sects have assigned themselves a title of “rabbi” which is another form of fake identity and misrepresentation of authentic rabbinical scholars. Common sense tells us that the title Rabbi is reserved for scholars/sages of Judaism and not by some fly by night character who is clueless of the Hebrew Torah and language it is written in. Nor have the Messianic Christian leaders calling themselves a rabbi, ever attended an authentic Jewish Yeshiva.
People who have attended these messianic gatherings allege these New Age Chrisitian messianic movements are using selective concepts from scripture which they imply is to establish their “new” Canon and which is alien to authentic Torah or even Christian doctrine. In so doing these New Age Messianic sects are altering the Abrahamic Commandment – Genesis 12:3 and by the same token altering the eternal word of the Torah.
There are people who from observations of some sects and their services conclude the leaders misinterpret scripture and in some cases go to the extreme of defaming other religions and biblical text. In addition, without a doubt they have an agenda that is anti-Israel and totally anti Judaism which exists amongst these sects, as they launch a propaganda campaign for Israel’s demise from the map. Allegations have arisen that some “Messianic” leaders have been known to assist certain terrorist regimes in armament smuggling while vacationing in the Holy Land or Middle East.
The wiser Christians and non religious affiliations who walked out of these Messianic Christian services proclaim there are many “wow’s” – in these messianic services including the manipulation of the Torah and Christian doctrine. Forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing or do they?
In the late 20th and early 21st centuries, several small yet competing new religious movements, such as the Ebionite Community and others, have emerged claiming to be revivalists of the views and practices of early Christian sects, although their idiosyncratic claims to authenticity cannot be verified.
The counter-missionary group - Jews for Judaism mentions the historical Ebionites in their literature in order to argue that “Messianic Judaism”, as promoted by missionary groups such as Jews for Jesus, is Pauline Christianity misrepresenting itself as Judaism. Some Messianic groups have expressed concern over leaders in Israel that deny Jesus’ divinity and the possible collapse of the Messianic movement due to a resurgence of Ebionitism. In a recent polemic, a Messianic leader asked whether Christians should imitate the Torah-observance of “neo-Ebionites”. Outreach Judaism is another organization that provides the truth to seekers of it.
These New Age movements that have surfaced use various missionizing terminology among English speaking communities, usually for the following reasons:
Following are examples of New Age or Messianic concepts and thinking;
The Ebionites: The term Ebionites derives from the Hebrew Evionim, meaning “the Poor Ones”, which has parallels in the Psalms and the self-given term of pious Jewish circles.
The term “the poor” was at first a common designation for all Christians – a reference to their material as well their voluntary poverty. Following schisms within the early Church, the graecized Hebrew term “Ebionite” was applied exclusively to Christians separated from the developing Pauline Christianity, and later in the fourth century a specific group of Christians or to a Christian sect distinct from the Nazarenes. All the while, the designation “the Poor” in other languages was still used in its original, more general sense. Origen says “for Ebion signifies “poor” among the Jews, and those Christians who have received Jesus as Christ are called by the name of Ebionites.” Tertullian inaccurately derived the name from a fictional heresiarch called Ebion.
Without authenticated archaeological evidence, attempts to reconstruct their history have been based on textual references, mainly the writings of the Church Fathers. They said that the Ebionites used an altered Gospel according to the Hebrews . The earliest reference to a group that might fit the description of the Ebionites appears in Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (c. 140). Justin distinguishes between Christians who observe the Law of Moses but does not require its observance upon others, and those who believe the Mosaic Law to be obligatory on all. Irenaeus (c. 180) was probably the first to use the term “Ebionites” to describe a heretical judaizing sect, which he regarded as stubbornly clinging to the Law. Origen (c. 212) remarks that the name derives from the Hebrew word “evyon,” meaning “poor.” Epiphanius of Salamis in the 4th century gives the most complete but also questionable account in his heresiology called Panarion, denouncing eighty heretical sects, among them the Ebionites. Epiphanius mostly gives general descriptions of their religious beliefs and includes quotations from their gospels, which have not survived. According to the Encyclopaedia Britannica, the Ebionite movement may have arisen about the time of the destruction of the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem (AD 70).
Others have argued that the Ebionites were more faithful to the authentic teachings of Jesus and constituted the mainstream of the Jerusalem church before being gradually marginalized by the followers of Paul of Tarsus.
The actual number of groups described as Ebionites is difficult to ascertain, as the contradictory patristic accounts in their attempt to distinguish various sects, sometimes confuse them with each other. Other groups mentioned are the Carpocratians, the Cerinthians, the Elcesaites, the Nazarenes, the Nazoraeans, and the Sampsaeans, most of whom were Christian sects who held gnostic or other views rejected by the Ebionites. Epiphanius, however, mentions that a group of Ebionites came to embrace some of these views despite keeping their name.
As the Ebionites are first mentioned as such in the 2nd century, their earlier history and their relation to the first Jerusalem church remains obscure and a matter of contention. Many scholars link the origin of the Ebionites with the First Jewish-Roman War. Prior to this, they are considered to be part of the Jerusalem church led by the Apostle Peter and later by Jesus’ brother, or cousin, James. Eusebius relates a tradition, probably based on Aristo of Pella, that the early Christians left Jerusalem just prior to the war and fled to Pella beyond the Jordan River. They were led by Simeon of Jerusalem (d. 107) and during the Second Jewish-Roman War, they were persecuted by the Jewish followers of Bar Kochba for refusing to recognize his messianic claims.
According to these scholars, it was beyond the Jordan, that the Nazarenes/Ebionites were first recognized as a distinct group when some Christians receded farther from mainstream Christianity, and approximated more and more closely to Rabbinical Judaism, resulting in a “degeneration” into an exclusively messianic sect. Some from these groups later opened themselves to either Gnostic (and possibly Essene) or syncretic influences, such as the book of Elchasai. The latter influence places some Ebionites in the context of the gnostic movements widespread in Syria and the lands to the east.
After the end of the First Jewish-Roman War, the importance of the Jerusalem church began to fade. Christianity became dispersed throughout the diaspora in the Levant, where it was slowly eclipsed by gentile Christianity, which then spread throughout the Roman Empire without competition from “judaizing” Christian groups. Once the Jerusalem church, still headed by Jesus’ relatives, was eliminated during the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135, the Ebionites gradually lost influence and followers. Their decline was due to marginalization and “persecution” by other sects. Following the defeat of the rebellion and the expulsion of all Jews from Judea, Jerusalem became the Gentile city of Aelia Capitolina. Many of the
Christians residing at Pella renounced their Jewish practices at this time and joined to the mainstream Christian messianic church. Those who remained at Pella and continued in obedience to the Law were deemed heretics. In 375, Epiphanius records the settlement of Ebionites on Cyprus, but by the mid-5th century, Theodoret of Cyrrhus reported that they were no longer present in the region
Some scholars allege that the Ebionites survived much longer and identify them with a sect encountered by the historian Abd al-Jabbar around the year 1000. Another possible reference to surviving Ebionite communities in northwestern Arabia, specifically the cities of Tayma and Tilmas, around the 11th century, appears in Sefer Ha’masaot, the “Book of the Travels” of Rabbi Benjamin of Tudela, a rabbi from Spain.
A 12th century Muslim historian Muhammad al-Shahrastani mentions people living in nearby Medina and Hejaz who accepted Jesus as a prophetic figure and followed traditional Judaism, rejecting mainstream Christian views.
Some scholars assume that they contributed to the development of the Islamic view of Jesus due to exchanges of Ebionite remnants with the first Muslims. However, Muslim theologians and those who accept their narratives of early Islam maintain that the Islamic view of Jesus was revealed in the Quran well before any significant Muslim encounter with Christians such as the Migration to Abyssinia.
Judaic and Gnostic Ebionitism: Most patristic sources portray the Ebionites as traditional ascetic Jews, who zealously followed the Law of Moses, revered Jerusalem as the holiest city, and restricted table fellowship only to Gentiles who converted to Judaism. They celebrated a commemorative meal annually, on or around Passover, with unleavened bread and water only, in contrast to the daily Christian Eucharist.
Epiphanius of Salamis is the only Church Father who describes Ebionites as departing from traditional Jewish principles of faith and practice; specifically by engaging in excessive ritual bathing, possessing an angelology which claimed that the Christ is a great archangel who was incarnated in Jesus and adopted as the son of God, opposing animal sacrifice, denying parts or most of the Law, and practicing religious vegetarianism.
The reliability of Epiphanius’ account of the Ebionites is questioned by some scholars. For example, the heterodox views and practices ascribed to some Ebionites originated in Gnostic Christianity and are characteristics of the Elcesaite sect, which Epiphanius mistakenly attributed to the Ebionites.
Regarding the Ebionites specifically, a number of scholars have different theories on how the Ebionites may have developed from an Essene messianic sect. Hans-Joachim Schoeps argues that the conversion of some Essenes to Christianity after the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE may be the source of some Ebionites adopting Essene views and practices; while some conclude that the Essenes did not become Christians but still had an influence on the Ebionites.
Jesus: The majority of Church Fathers agree that the Ebionites rejected many of the central Christian views of Jesus such as the pre-existence, divinity, virgin birth, atoning death, and physical resurrection of Jesus. The Ebionites are described as emphasizing the oneness of God and the humanity of Jesus as the biological son of both Mary and Joseph, who by virtue of his righteousness, was chosen by God to be the messianic “prophet like Moses” (foretold in Deuteronomy 18:14–22) when he was anointed with the Holy Spirit at his baptism.
Of the books of the New Testament, the Ebionites are said to have accepted only a Aramaic version of the Gospel of Matthew, referred to as the Gospel of the Hebrews, as additional scripture to the Hebrew Bible. This version of Matthew, Irenaeus reports, omitted the first two chapters (on the nativity of Jesus), and started with the baptism of Jesus by John.
The Ebionites believed that all Gentiles must observe the commandments in the Law of Moses, in order to become righteous and seek communion with God, but these commandments must be understood in the light of Jesus’ expounding of the Law, revealed during his sermon on the mount, and other evangelical counsels. The Ebionites may have held a form of “inaugurated eschatology” positing that the ministry of Jesus had ushered in the Messianic Age so that the kingdom of God might be understood as present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age.
James versus Paul: James, the brother, or cousin, of Jesus, was the leader of the Jerusalem church. Paul, Apostle to the Gentiles, established many churches and founded a Christian theology (Pauline Christianity). At the Council of Jerusalem (c 49), Paul argued to abrogate Mosaic observances for his non-Jewish converts.
When Paul recounted the events to the Galatians (Galatians 2:9-10), he referred only to the remembrance of the poor rather than conveying the four points of the council (Acts 15:19-21). The nature of the laws for the Gentiles described by James is contested (Council of Jerusalem).
The issue of the observance of Mosaic law by Gentile converts remained unresolved (Acts 21:21), with Paul agreeing to James’ request to lead a group of Greeks in carrying out Nazarite vows in order to for Paul to prove his adherence to the law. James reiterated (Acts 21:25) the four points of the earlier council, saying that Gentiles were not required to perform the Nazarite vows. The uproar that followed ended with Paul being rescued from the people of Jerusalem by Roman centurions (Acts 21:30-35).
Some scholars allege that the Ebionites regarded James, brother, or cousin of Jesus, the first bishop of Jerusalem, the rightful leader of the Church rather than Peter. James Tabor argues that the Ebionites claimed a unique dynastic apostolic succession for the relatives of Jesus.
They opposed the Apostle Paul, who claimed that gentiles/Christians did not have to be circumcised or otherwise follow the Law of Moses, and named him an apostate.
Epiphanius relates that some Ebionites alleged that Paul was a Greek who converted to Judaism in order to marry the daughter of a high priest of Israel but apostasized when she rejected him.
Few writings of the Ebionites have survived, and these are in uncertain form. The Recognitions of Clement and the Clementine Homilies, two 3rd century Christian works, are regarded by general scholarly consensus as largely or entirely Christian in origin and reflect Christian beliefs. The exact relationship between the Ebionites and these writings is debated, but Epiphanius’s description of some Ebionites in Panarion 30 bears a striking similarity to the ideas in the Recognitions and Homilies. Scholar Glenn Alan Koch speculates that Epiphanius likely relied upon a version of the Homilies as a source document.
The Catholic Encyclopedia classifies the Ebionite writings into four groups:
Some also speculate that the core of the Gospel of Barnabas, beneath a polemical medieval Muslim overlay, may have been based upon an Ebionite or gnostic document. The existence and origin of this source continues to be debated by scholars.
The mainstream Christian view of the Ebionites is based on the polemical views of the Church Fathers who portrayed them as heretics for rejecting many of the central Christian views of Jesus, and allegedly having an improper fixation on the Law of Moses at the expense of the grace of God. In this view, the Ebionites may have been the descendants of a Christian sect within the early Jerusalem church which broke away from its mainstream theology.
The mainstream view of the Ebionites is that they were heretics due to their refusal to see Jesus as a false prophet and failed the Messiah claimant but also for wanting to include their gospel into the canon of the Hebrew Bible.
Mainstream Islam charges mainstream Christianity with having corrupted the Bible. Some in the Muslim community believe that the Ebionites (as opposed to Christians they encountered) were faithful to the original teachings of Jesus with shared views about Jesus’ humanity, though the Islamic view of Jesus conflicts with the Ebionites’ views regarding the virgin birth and the crucifixion.
Some scholars (secular or from mainstream Christianity) are acknowledging the recent emphasis on the Jewishness of Jesus and his earliest followers, and commenting on how they reconciled the Jewish Jesus with the Christ of faith. On the other hand, some Christian apologists have criticized the quest for the historical Jesus as having resulted in a “revival of the Ebionite heresy
The Nazarenes: The Nazarenes were converts of the Apostles who fled Jerusalem because of Jesus’ warning of its coming siege. The “Canons of the Church of Alexandria” (2nd-3rd century AD) uses the term “Nazarene” to refer to non-Jewish believers. They fled to Pella, Peraea (which is northeast of Jerusalem), and eventually spread outwards to Beroea and Bashanitis, where they permanently settled. There, they and the other disciples took the name “Jessaeans” and began distinguishing themselves from them. They took this name either because of Jesse, the father of David, to fulfill Psalm 132:11, or from the name of Jesus himself. Once the term Christian was applied to the followers of Jesus at Antioch, the Nazoreans dropped the name Jessaean and Christian, and retook the name Nazarene.
In contemporary Israeli Hebrew, the term “Notzri” is likely to be derived from or related to “Nazarene” and is the general word for “Christian”.
In all Arab countries Christians are called “Nasara” Plural of Nasrani. The term “Nasara” is used many times in the Qur’an when referring to Christians, which may be a corruption of the word Nazarene.
It may also be mentioned that the Quran clearly alludes to the fact that the word Nasaara has its origin in the Arabic word Nasr which means to bring victory. This is made clear in Surat Al Saff (the 61st chapter of the Quran) when Jesus is quoted as saying, “Who are my ansaar (victors) to Allah. The disciples said we are the ansaar (victors) of Allah.” And so they called themselves Nasaara because of that. This would suggest that the origin of the word does not relate to the place of Nazareth but to the concept of giving victory to God.
According to the standard reference for Koine Greek, the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Nazoraios (plural: Nazoraioi) is translated into English as:”Nazoraean,
Nazarene, quite predominantly a designation of Jesus, in Matthew, John, Acts and Luke 18:37, while Mark as (“coming from Nazareth”). Of the two places where the later form occurs in Luke, the one, Luke 4:34, apparently comes from Mark (1:24), the other, 24:19, perhaps from a special Greek source.
Matthew says expressly 2:23 that Jesus was so called because he grew up in Nazareth. In addition, the other NT writers who call Jesus Nazoraios know Nazareth as his home. But linguistically the transition (Nazareth) is difficult and it is meant something different before it was connected with Nazareth. According to Acts 24:5 the Christians were so called “Nazirites”
In all, the following derivations have been suggested:
Alongside the traditional explanations above, two more recent explanations have been suggested:
Jerome viewed a distinction between Nazarenes and Ebionites, a different Christian sect, but does not comment on whether Nazarenes considered themselves to be “Christian” or not or how they viewed themselves as fitting into the descriptions he uses. His criticism of the Nazarenes is noticeably more direct and critical than that of Epiphanius.
The following creed is that of a church at Constantinople at the same period: “I renounce all customs, rites, legalisms, unleavened breads & sacrifices of lambs of the Hebrews, and all other feasts of the Hebrews, sacrifices, prayers, aspersions, purifications, sanctifications and propitiations and fasts, and new moons, and Sabbaths, and superstitions, and hymns and chants and observances and Synagogues, and the food and drink of the Hebrews; in one word, I renounce everything Jewish, every law, rite and custom and if afterwards I shall wish to deny and return to Jewish superstition, or shall be found eating with the Jews, or feasting with them, or secretly conversing and condemning the Christian religion instead of openly confuting them and condemning their vain faith, then let the trembling of Gehazi cleave to me, as well as the legal punishments to which I acknowledge myself liable. And may I be anathema in the world to come, and may my soul be set down with Satan and the devils.”
“Nazarenes” are referenced past the fourth century AD as well. Jacobus de Voragine (1230–1298) described James as a “Nazarene” in The Golden Legend, vol 7. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274) quotes Augustine of Hippo who was given an apocryphal book called Hieremias by a “Hebrew of the Nazarene Sect” in Catena Aurea – Gospel of Matthew, chapter 27. So this terminology seems to have remained at least through the 13th century in European discussions.
The Church of the Nazarene, emphasizes Christian activism in the Arminian tradition of John Wesley, and which is accepted as a mainstream Christian (Protestant) denomination that was born out of the Holiness Movement of the early 20th Century. The Church of the Nazarene took their name in order to associate itself with the humbleness of Christ’s town of origin, as they seek to reach the “humble” in society. Various branches of the Apostolic Christian Church also use the term “Nazarene” or “Nazarean” in their name.
The Sacred Name Movement (SNM) is a movement in Christianity that seeks to conform Christianity to its Hebrew Roots in practice. The best known distinction of the SNM is its belief in the use of a proper name for the God of Israel (YHVH/Yahweh) based upon the Tetragrammaton and the use of the Hebrew name of Jesus (Yashua). SNM believers also generally keep many of the Old Testament laws and ceremonies such as the Torah festivals and keeping kosher food laws. However, not every ‘Sacred Name’ Group adheres to Old Testament festivals, dietary laws and other mitzvot.
The term “sacred name” is not exclusive to this movement but is a general theological term in Christianity – a translation of the Latin nomen sacrum – as well as being paralleled by concepts in many religions such as the Māori concept of a tapu name for a person or god.
The Sacred Name Movement arose in the early 20th century out of the Adventist movement. C. O. Dodd, a member of the Church of God (Seventh Day Adventists), began keeping the Jewish festivals (including Passover) in 1928 and adopted sacred name doctrines in the late 1930s. Dodd began publishing The Faith magazine starting in 1937 to promote his views. It is currently freely distributed by the Assembly of Yahweh, the oldest of any still existing Sacred Name Assembly. Renowned scholar of American religions J. Gordon Melton wrote of the magazine, “No single force in spreading the Sacred Name movement was as important as The Faith magazine.”
The Movement started with the formation of the Assembly of Yahweh in Holt, Michigan, USA in the early 1930s. The leaders of this group claim that a founding member was visited by two angels who explained that The Messiah’s Name is properly Yahshua. This occurred around the time that interest in the subject was keen.The Assemblies of Yahweh, Bethel, PA, was begun by Jacob O. Meyer, after ordination by members of the Assembly of Yahweh. Over time, The Bethel organization became independent of the Michigan group, and expanded their national outreach.
An evangelist and prominent Minister in the Assemblies of Yahweh Donald Mansager split from the Assemblies of Yahweh and formed Yahweh’s Assembly in Messiah in 1980. Mansager left that organization in dispute over the handling of an adultery scandal, involving a prominent minister in that group. He then formed Yahweh’s New Covenant Assembly in 1985. The name was changed to Yahweh’s Assembly in Yahshua after an internal split in 2006. Alan Mansager and his father parted ways as Alan disagreed with his father on the scriptural qualifications for ordaining ministers. Alan formed Yahweh’s Restoration Ministry.
Robert Wirl split from the Assemblies of Yahweh, Bethel, and formed Yahweh’s Philadelphia Truth Congregation in 2002. It can be argued that all the above groups are a “Sacred Name group”, as they all have ties to the original “Assembly of Yahweh” and have almost identical doctrines. Because there is no formal enrollment to be a “Sacred Name group,” the term is loosely defined. Many people include groups that use variations of “Yahweh” and “Yahshua”, but teach very different doctrines than the above groups, to be “in the movement”.
There are countless groups with no established ties to the Assembly of Yahweh, Holt Michigan. One of the better-known includes The Assembly of Yahweh 7th Day in Cisco, TX, which developed their liturgy under their own leadership. They have extensive dealings with the mainstream Sacred Name groups listed above, exemplified by the fact that they host the Unity Conference every year. Their doctrines differ from mainstream Sacred Name doctrines such as using the vernal equinox to calculate their calendar, rejecting the pre-existence of Yashua (commonly called Jesus) and differing views on the application of Sabbath rest.
The Assemblies of Yahweh, Bethel, PA, and the House of Yahweh each maintain an exclusive flavor to their fellowship patterns, and have distanced themselves from the mainstream of the movement. It is rare for a member of either of these two organizations to personally have dealings with Sacred Namers on the outside. The Assemblies of Yahweh (Bethel) still has many beliefs and practices in common with the Movement, while the House of Yahweh has evolved a liturgy and a doctrinal system that is considered unorthodox.
Angelo Traina, a disciple of Dodd, undertook the writing of a Sacred Name edition of the Bible, publishing the Holy Name New Testament in 1950 (see Tetragrammaton in the New Testament) and the Holy Name Bible in 1962, both based upon the King James Version but replacing “God” with “Elohim”, “LORD” with “Yahweh” and “Jesus” with “Yahshua”. A distinction of the Sacred Name Movement has been the use of such Sacred name Bibles, others having been produced since Traina’s.
A Judaeo-Christian-Muslim concept refers to the three main monotheistic religions, commonly known as the Abrahamic Religions. Formal exchanges between the three religions, modeled on the decades-old Jewish-Christian interfaith dialogue groups, became common in American cities following the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords.
The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has argued that the term Judeo-Muslim to describe the Middle Eastern culture against the Western Christian culture would be more appropriate in these days, claiming as well a reduced influence from the Jewish culture on the Western world due to the historical persecution and exclusion of the Jewish minority. There is also a different perspective on Jewish contributions and influence.
Usage has shifted again, according to Hartmann et al., since 2001 and the September 11 attacks, with the mainstream media using the term less, in order to characterize America as multicultural. The study finds the term now most likely to be used by liberals in connection with discussions of Muslim and Islamic inclusion in America, and renewed debate about the separation of church and state.
Use of term in United States law: In the legal case of Marsh v. Chambers, 463 U.S. 783 (1983), the Supreme Court of the United States held that a state legislature could constitutionally have a paid chaplain to conduct legislative prayers “in the Judeo–Christian tradition.” In Simpson v. Chesterfield County Board of Supervisors, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals held that the Supreme Court’s holding in the Marsh case permitting legislative bodies to conduct prayer in the “Chesterfield County could constitutionally exclude Cynthia Simpson, a Wiccan priestess, from leading its legislative prayers, because her faith was not “in the Judeo–Christian tradition.” Chesterfield County’s Board included Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clergy in its invited list.
It is used more by conservative thinkers and journalists, who use it to discuss the Islamic threat to America, the dangers of multiculturalism, and moral decay in a materialist, secular age. Dennis Prager, author of popular books on Judaism and antisemitism, Nine Questions People ask about Judaism (with Joseph Telushkin) and Why the Jews? The Reason for Antisemitism, and radio commentator, has published an on-going 19-part series explaining and promoting the concept of Judeo–Christian culture, running for three years from 2005 to 2008, reflecting the interest of this concept to his listeners.
Judeo–Christian generally refers to a set of beliefs and ethics held in common by Judaism and Christianity. The Judeo-Chrisitan “term” is under assault by an amoral and materialistic culture that desperately needs its teachings. America has always combined secular government with a society based on religious values. Along with the belief in liberty as opposed to the European belief in equality, the Muslim belief in theocracy, and the Eastern belief in social conformity, Judeo–Christian values are what distinguish America from all other countries. Prominent champions of the term also identify it with the historic Pilgrim–Puritan Protestant tradition.
The earliest uses of the term are cited by the Oxford English Dictionary of the terms “Judeo–Christian” and “Judeo–Christianity” date to 1899 and 1910 respectively. Both terms appeared in discussions of theories of the emergence of Christianity, and with a different sense than the one common today. “Judeo–Christianity” here referred to the early Christian church, whose members were Jewish converts and still considered themselves part of the Jewish community.
The term became particularly associated with the conservative right in American politics, promoting a “Judeo–Christian values” agenda in the so-called culture wars, a usage which surged in the 1990s. Hot topic issues in the battles over the Judeo–Christian tradition include, in a typical example, the right to display the following documents in Kentucky schools, after they were banned by a federal judge in May 2000 as “conveying a very specific governmental endorsement of religion”:
The present meaning was for the first time used on 27 July 1939 with the phrase “The Judaeo-Christian scheme of morals” in the New English Weekly. The term gained much greater currency particularly in the political sphere from the 1920s and 1930s, promoted by liberal groups which evolved into the National Conference of Christians and Jews, to fight antisemitism by expressing a more inclusive idea of the United States of America than the previously dominant rhetoric of the nation as a specifically Christian Protestant country.
By 1952 President-Elect Dwight Eisenhower was speaking of the “Judeo–Christian concept” being the “deeply religious faith” on which “our sense of government is founded”.
The Jewish conservative columnist Dennis Prager, wrote: “The concept of Judeo–Christian values does not rest on a claim that the two religions are identical. It promotes the concept there is a shared intersection of values based on the Hebrew Bible brought into our culture by the founding generations of Biblically-oriented Protestants, that is fundamental to American history, cultural identity, and institutions.”
Liberal secularists reject the use of “Judeo–Christian” as a code-word for a particular kind of Christian America, with scant regard to modern Jewish, Catholic or more liberal Christian traditions.
Supporters of the Judeo–Christian concept point to the Christian claim that Christianity is the heir to Biblical Judaism, and that the whole logic of Christianity as a religion is that it exists (only) as a religion built upon Judaism. Two major views of the relationship exist, namely Supersessionism and Dual-covenant theology. In addition, although the order of the books in the Protestant Old Testament (excluding the Biblical apocrypha) and the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) differ, the books are the same.
The majority of the Bible is, in fact, Jewish scripture, and it is used as moral and spiritual teaching material throughout the Christian world. The prophets, patriarchs, and heroes of the Jewish scripture are also known in Christianity, which uses the Jewish text as the basis for its understanding of historic Judeo–Christian figures such as Abraham and Moses. As a result, a vast chunk of Jewish and Christian teachings are based on a common sacred Hebrew text.
In the American context, historians use the term Judeo–Christian to refer to the influence of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament on Protestant thought and values, most especially the Puritan, Presbyterian and Evangelical heritage. Some early colonists saw themselves as heirs to the Hebrew Bible, and its teachings on liberty, responsibility, hard work, ethics, justice, equality, a sense of choseness and an ethical mission to the world, which have become key components of the American character, what is called the “American Creed.”
These ideas from the Hebrew Bible, brought into American history by Protestants, are seen as underpinning the American Revolution, Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution. Other authors are interested in tracing the religious beliefs of America’s founding fathers, emphasizing both Jewish and Christian influence in their personal beliefs and how this was translated into the creation of American institutions and character.
The interest of the concept Judeo–Christian is not theology but on actual culture and history as it evolved in America. These authors discern a melding of Jewish thought into Protestant teachings which added onto the heritage of English history and common law, as well as Enlightenment thinking resulted in the birth of American democracy.
Judeo–Christian concept in interfaith relations: Promoting the concept of America as a Judeo–Christian nation became a political program in the 1920s, in response to the growth of antisemitism in America. The rise of Hitler in the 1930s led concerned Protestants, Catholics and Jews to take active steps to increase understanding and tolerance.
In this effort, precurors of the National Conference of Christians and Jews created teams consisting of a priest, a rabbi and a minister, to run programs across the country, and fashion a more pluralistic America, no longer defined as a Christian land, but ‘one nurtured by three ennobling traditions: Protestantism, Catholicism and Judaism.” “The phrase ‘Judeo–Christian’ entered the contemporary lexicon as the standard liberal term for the idea that Western values rest on a religious consensus that included Jews.
Law professor Stephen M. Feldman identifies talk of Judeo–Christian tradition as supersessionism: “Once one recognizes that Christianity has historically engendered antisemitism, then this so-called tradition appears as dangerous Christian dogma (at least from a Jewish perspective). For Christians, the concept of a Judeo–Christian tradition comfortably suggests that Judaism progresses into Christianity, that Judaism is somehow completed in Christianity. The concept of a Judeo–Christian tradition flows from the Christian theology of supersession, whereby the Christian covenant (or Testament) with God supersedes the Jewish one. Christianity, according to this myth, reforms and replaces Judaism. The myth therefore implies, first, that Judaism needs reformation and replacement, and second, that modern Judaism remains merely as a “relic”. Most importantly the myth of the Judeo–Christian tradition insidiously obscures the real and significant differences between Judaism and Christianity.”
Through soul-searching in the aftermath of the Holocaust, “there was a revolution in Christian theology in America (producing) the shift in Christian attitudes toward the Jewish people since Constantine converted the Roman Empire.”
The rise of Christian Zionism that is religiously motivated Christian interest and support for the state of Israel, along with a growth of philo-semitism has increased interest among American Evangelicals in Judaism.The scriptural basis for this new positive attitude towards Jews among Evangelicals is Genesis 12:3, in which God promises that He will bless those who bless Abraham and his descendants, and curse those who curse them.
Other factors in the new philo-semitism include gratitude to the Jews for contributing to the theological foundations of Christianity, and for being the source of the prophets and Jesus; remorse for the Church’s history of anti-Semitism; and fear that God will judge the nations at the end of time on the basis of how they treated the Jewish people. Moreover, for evangelicals Israel is God’s prophetic clock, “irrefutable” proof that prophecy is true and is coming to pass in their lifetime. Great numbers of Christian pilgrims visit Israel, especially in times of trouble for the Jewish state, to offer moral support, and return with an even greater sense of a shared Judeo–Christian heritage.
Public awareness of a shared Judeo-Chrisitan belief system has increased since the 1990s due to a great deal of interest in the life of the historical Jesus, stressing his Jewishness, throught “New Age” religions as Jewish Christians. The “New Age” Christian religion’s literature explores differences and commonalities between Jesus’ teachings, Christianity and Judaism.
In the 1930s, in the face of worldwide antisemitic efforts to stigmatize and destroy Judaism, influential Christians and Jews in America labored to uphold it, pushing Judaism from the margins of American religious life towards its very center. During World War II, Jewish chaplains worked with Catholic priests and Protestant ministers to promote goodwill, addressing servicemen who, in many cases ‘had never seen, much less heard a Rabbi speak before. At funerals for the unknown soldier, rabbis stood alongside the other chaplains and recited prayers in Hebrew.
In a much publicized wartime tragedy, the sinking of the USS Dorchester, the ship’s multi-faith chaplains gave up their lifebelts to evacuating seamen and stood together ‘arm in arm in prayer’ as the ship went down. A 1948 postage stamp commemorated their heroism with the words: ‘interfaith in action.” In the 1950s, “a spiritual and cultural revival washed over American Jewry” in response to the trauma of the Holocaust. American Jews became more confident to be identified as different.
Two notable books addressed the relations between contemporary Judaism and Christianity, Abba Hillel Silver’s Where Judaism Differs and Leo Baeck’s Judaism and Christianity, both motivated by an impulse to clarify Judaism’s distinctiveness “in a world where the term Judeo–Christian had obscured critical differences between the two faiths.” Reacting against the blurring of theological distinctions, Rabbi Eliezer Berkovits wrote that “Judaism is Judaism because it rejects Christianity, and Christianity is Christianity because it rejects Judaism”. Novelist and theologian Arthur A. Cohen, in The Myth of the Judeo–Christian Tradition, questioned the theological validity of the Judeo–Christian concept and suggested that it was essentially an invention of American politics, while Jacob Neusner, in Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition writes “The two faiths stand for different people talking about different things to different people”.
Judeo–Christian concept in American history: Nineteenth century historians wrote extensively on the United States of America having a distinctively Protestant character in its outlook and founding political philosophy. It is only since the 1950s that the term “Judeo–Christian” has been applied to it, reflecting the growing use of that term in American political life. By some the term is used casually, simply as a commonplace term, or as an inclusive synonym for the religious. Others, including for example Prager, argue the term is appropriate in its own right, capturing a distinctively Old Testament dimension (though not necessarily that of Judaism) in the Puritan character of early American Protestantism.
The notion of a distinctive religious basis for American democracy and culture was first described and popularized by Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1840’s, in his influential book, Democracy in America. In Chapter Two, De Tocqueville describes America’s unique religious heritage from the Puritans. His analysis showed the Puritans as providing the foundational values of America, based on their strong Hebrew Bible view of the world, which included fighting for earthly political justice, an emphasis on laws and education, and a belief in the chosenness of the Jews which the Puritans identified with, giving them a sense of moral mission in founding America.
As de Tocqueville observed, the Puritan’s Biblical outlook gave America a moral dimension which the Old World lacked. De Tocqueville believed these Biblical values led to America’s unique institutions of religious tolerance, public education, egalitarianism, and democracy. The principles of New England now extend their influence beyond its limits, over the whole American world. The civilization of New England has been like a beacon lit upon a hil. Puritanism was not merely a religious doctrine, but corresponded in many points with the most absolute democratic and republican theories.
Nathaniel Morton, the historian of the first years of the settlement, thus opens his subject: “we may not hide from our children, showing to the generations to come the praises of the Lord; that especially the seed of Abraham his servant, and the children of Jacob his chosen ( Psalm cv. 5, 6 ), may remember his marvellous works in the beginning.“
“The general principles which are the groundwork of modern constitutions, principles were all recognized and established by the laws of New England: the intervention of the people in public affairs, the free voting of taxes, the responsibility of the agents of power, personal liberty, and trial by jury were all positively established without discussion. In the bosom of this obscure democracy the following fine definition of liberty: ” There is a twofold liberty, natural and civil or federal. The first is common to man with beasts and other creatures. By this, man, as he stands in relation to man simply, hath liberty to do what he lists; it is a liberty to evil as well as to good.”
“The exercise and maintaining of this liberty makes men grow more evil, and in time to be worse than brute beasts: The other kind of liberty I call civil or federal; it may also be termed moral, in reference to the covenant between God and man, in the moral law, and the politic covenants and constitutions, among men themselves. This liberty you are to stand for, with the hazard not only of your goods, but of your lives, if need be.” I have said enough to put the character of Anglo-American civilization in its true light. It is the result ( and this should be constantly kept in mind) of two distinct elements, which in other places have been in frequent disagreement, but which the Americans have succeeded in incorporating to some extent one with the other and combining admirably. I allude to the spirit of religion and the spirit of liberty.”
This concept of America’s unique Bible-driven historical and cultural identity was developed by historians as they studied the first centuries of America’s history, from the Pilgrims through Abraham Lincoln. The statements and institutions of the founding generation that have been preserved are numerous, and they explicitly describe many of their Biblical motivations and goals, their interest in Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible, their use of Jewish and Christian images and ideas.
In the words of patriot Benjamin Rush, “The Old Testament is the best refutation that can be given to the divine right of kings, and the strongest argument that can be used in favor of the original and natural equality of all mankind.” James Witherspoon, president of Princeton, teacher of James Madison, and later a member of the Continental Congress, and one of the most influential thinksers in the colonies, joined the cause of the Revolution with a widely publicized sermon based on Psalm 76, identifying the American colonists with the people of Israel. Of fifty-five printed texts from the Revolutionary period, thirty-three took texts from the Hebrew Bible. Thomas Jefferson, in the Declaration of Independence, referred to God twice in Hebrew terms, and Congress added two more: Lawgiver, Creator, Judge and Providence.
These Judeo–Christian values were especially important at the key foundational moments of the settling of America, the War for Independence and the Civil War.
Perry Miller of Harvard University, wrote in 1956, “Puritanism may be described empirically as that point of view, that code of values, carried to New England by the first settlers. …the New Englanders established Puritanism- for better or worse-as one of the continuous factors in American life and thought. It has played so dominant a role…all across the continent…these qualities have persisted even though the original creed is lost. Without an understanding of Puritanism …there is no understanding of America.”
This view about American history and culture has been questioned in recent decades by multiculturalists. In 2007, one prominent multiculturist professor, Jon Butler, Dean of the Graduate School of Arts & Sciences and Howard R. Lamar Professor of American History, Yale University, published a book on religion in colonial America which, according to the reviews, explodes the myth that “the piety of the Pilgrims typified early American religion,” corrects the image of “colonial America as a type of grey, monolithic, uniformity”, is critical of the Puritans, and adulatory towards third-world contributions: “Butler explores the failure of John Winthrop’s goal to achieve Puritan perfection, the controversy over Anne Hutchinson’s tenacious faith, the evangelizing stamina of ex-slave and Methodist preacher Absalom Jones, and the spiritual resilience of the Catawba Indians.” In Becoming America: The Revolution before 1776, Butler argues against a “Europeanized” or predominantly British identity of colonial America, and underlines contributions by Ibo, Ashanti, Yoruba, Catawba and Leni-Lenape.
Michael Novak, a specialist in the religious beliefs of the founding fathers, argues that the promotion of multiculturalism, moral relativism, and secularism among academics results in academic censorship that affects information and analysis supporting the Judeo–Christian heritage.
Editor’s Note: This article is taken from Outreach Judaism [outreachjudaism.org/like-a-lion.html] which responds directly to the issues raised by missionaries and cults. And further Responds to Jews For Jesus
Question: Dear Rabbi Singer
I am a Lutheran living in Switzerland and have been reading your web page with interest. I admire your commitment to your faith, yet I am perplexed as to why you so assuredly reject Jesus Christ as your messiah. He came not only for the gentiles, but for the Jews as well. He was born to a Jewish mother and came to the Jewish people.
Because you are a rabbi, I am particularly perplexed as to why you have not willingly accepted Christ. You surely have read the 22nd Psalm which most clearly speaks of our Lord’s crucifixion. Read verse 16. It states, “Dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked has enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.” Of whom does the prophet speak other than our Lord? This Old Testament prophecy could only be foretelling Jesus’ unique death on the cross. What greater proof is needed that Jesus died for the sins of mankind than this chapter which was written a thousand years before Jesus walked this earth?
I know that the Jews have been maligned and persecuted by so-called Christians. This has certainly left a bad taste in the mouths of the Jewish people against Christ; but certainly you must know, rabbi, that these were not real Christians, for a believer in Christ must love the Jew, for his Savior is a Jew.
Many Jewish people accuse Christians of anti-Semitism, and one can understand from where this bias is coming; for the Jews have been persecuted by those who claim to be Christian, but they are not. The true Christian loves the Jewish people.
Yours is certainly one of the more surprising letters that I have received in recent memory. There is nothing about your question that is unusual or uncommon; it is rather the denomination with which you identify that makes your letter so perplexing.
How odd that as a Lutheran you would proclaim that the tormentors of the Jews “were not real Christians,” yet you apparently are not embarrassed to identify yourself with a denomination that is called after, and founded on, the teachings of Martin Luther. Among all the church fathers and reformers, there was no mouth more vile, no lips that uttered more vulgar curses against the children of Israel than this founder of the Reformation whom you apparently revere. Even the anti-Semitism of the New Testament and the church fathers pales in comparison to the invectives launched by Luther’s impious tongue during his lifetime.
You so loudly proclaim that those “so-called Christians” who “maligned and persecuted” the Jewish people “were not real Christians.” Do you believe that Luther should be counted among those who are not real Christians? Have you not read his odious volume entitled “Of the Jews and Their Lies”? If you are familiar with this and other indecent works of Luther, do you also believe that this German reformer lost his salvation because his maniacal hate for the Jew prevented him from being an upstanding member of Christendom? If this is in fact what you believe, why would you belong to a church that boasts his unblessed name?
These questions do not apply to you and your co-denominationalists alone. Every member of the Protestant church and every Christian who looks to the reformers as God’s vessels must wonder aloud whether God would use men who regard the Jewish people with utter contempt to protest against the Roman Catholic Church; for none of the other leaders of the reformation held the Jewish people in esteem either. Martin Bucer’s lack of affection for the Jews is almost legendary and, although Calvin’s epithets against the Jews are less plentiful than Luther’s abundant invectives, this disparity is likely explained by the fact that Calvin came into contact with very few Jews during his lifetime, if any at all. Although the Swiss reformer lived where Jews were not permitted to reside, his words were no less disturbing than those of Martin Luther.
Although evangelicals repeatedly declare that true believing Christians love the Jewish people, the annals of history clearly do not support this slogan. With few exceptions, the tormentors of the Jewish people emerged out of the fundamentalist genre of Christianity. Remarkably, denominations that evangelical Christians regard as heretical, such as Mormonism or the Jehovah’s Witnesses, do not have a strong history of anti-Semitism. Liberal-leaning Christian denominations such as the Unitarian and Methodist churches also have for the most part resisted this teaching of contempt that is so well ensconced in Christendom’s shameful history.
The pattern of hate that has for so long gripped the imagination of the true believer cannot be attributed to coincidence or to a remarkable quirk of history. The accounts in the New Testament — the most cherished book of the devout Christian — already display the animus of the early church toward the Jews in portraying them as the people of the devil: cunning, traitorous, corrupt, deceitful, and conspiring. In essence, whatever it is that humanity abhors, that is precisely how the Jews are depicted in the Christian Bible. Without rest, post-canonical Christian literature continued to perpetuate this dark image of the Jew. There can be little doubt as to why Christians believe of the Jews what common sense would forbid them to believe of anyone else. To some extent, Luther and his countless followers who eagerly embraced his twisted message were together willing victims of a body of literature that scandalized, smeared, and ultimately condemned the children of Israel to an unimaginable history.
Moreover, in an effort to distance Christians from a compelling Jewish message, the founders and defenders of Christianity methodically altered selected texts from the Jewish scriptures. This rewriting of Tanach was not done arbitrarily or subtly. The church quite deliberately tampered with the words of the Jewish scriptures in order to bolster their most startling claim which is: The Old Testament foretold of no messiah other than Jesus of Nazareth. With this goal in mind, missionaries manipulated, misquoted, mistranslated, and even fabricated verses in Tanach in order to make Jesus’ life fit traditional Jewish messianic parameters and to make traditional Jewish messianic parameters fit the life of Jesus.
Bear in mind, the Jewish scriptures were written in Hebrew, not in seventeenth century King James English. What has made Christian believers so vulnerable to Bible tampering is the almost unimaginable reality that only a very tiny group of them can read their Bible in its original language. As you and countless other Christians earnestly study the authorized version of the Bible, there is a blinding yet prevailing assumption that what you are reading is the inerrant word of God. Nothing, however, could be further from the truth.
The King James Version and numerous other Christian Bible translations were meticulously altered in order to produce a message that would sustain and advance church theology and exegeses. This aggressive rewriting of biblical texts has had a remarkable impact on Christians throughout the world who unhesitatingly embrace these twisted translations. As a result, Christians earnestly wonder, just as you have, why the Jews, who are the bearers and protectors of the divine oracles of God, have not willingly accepted Jesus as their messiah.
What evangelicals fail to understand, however, is that the passionate resistance of the Jew to the teachings of Christianity has little to do with the Church’s bad manners and everything to do with the Church’s contrived and therefore implausible message. This conclusion, however, is nearly impossible for Christians to accept without bringing injury to their own faith and worldview.
Remember, in Christian theology the Jews are not just another worldly tribe whose beliefs conflict with the teachings of the church. Quite the contrary, the religion of Christianity readily concedes that the Jews were God’s “firstborn” — the people who were chosen to receive and protect the divine oracles of God. The spiritual principles of such a priestly nation cannot be dismissed lightly. As a result, Christendom sought to systematically undermine the vision and trustworthiness of the Jewish people. It isn’t difficult to understand how polemical literature against the Jews became a common feature in church writings. By declaring that the Jew rejects the claims of the church as a result of Christian anti-Semitism, as you insist, or the Jew’s spiritual blindness, evangelicals spare themselves the festering anguish that self searching and self doubt invariably create.
To understand the extent and the manner in which the church tampered with the Jewish scriptures, let’s examine the verse that you insist “proves” that Jesus is the messiah. Psalm 22:16 in the King James Version (KJV) reads,
Dogs have compassed me; the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me; they pierced my hands and my feet.
It isn’t difficult to understand why Christians are so confident that this verse contains a clear reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. Of whom, missionaries ask, other than Jesus, could the Psalmist be speaking? To which other individual in history, whose hands and feet were pierced, could the Bible be referring?
Apparently, you were so impressed by this argument that you wondered how a rabbi like myself could miss this obvious reference to Jesus’ crucifixion. Paradoxically, well-educated Jews are utterly repelled by the manner in which the church rendered the words of Psalm 22:17……[FN -1]..
Although in a Jewish Bible this verse appears as Psalm 22:17, in a Christian Bible it appears as 22:16. So as not to create confusion, I refer to this controversial verse as Psalm 22:17 throughout this article.
To understand how Christian translators rewrote the words of King David, let’s examine the original Hebrew words of this verse with a proper translation.
Dogs have encompassed me. A company of evildoers has enclosed me; like a lion, they are at my hands and my feet.
Notice that when the original words of the Psalmist are read, any allusion to a crucifixion disappears. The insertion of the word “pierced” into the last clause of this verse is a not-too-ingenious Christian interpolation that was created by deliberately mistranslating the Hebrew word kaari as “pierced.” The word kaari, however, does not mean “pierced,” it means “like a lion.” The end of Psalm 22:17, therefore, properly reads “like a lion they are at my hands and my feet.” Had King David wished to write the word “pierced,” he would never use the Hebrew word kaari. Instead, he would have written either daqar or ratza, which are common Hebrew words in the Jewish scriptures. Needless to say, the phrase “they pierced my hands and my feet” is a Christian contrivance that appears nowhere in the Jewish scriptures.
Bear in mind, this stunning mistranslation in the 22nd Psalm did not occur because Christian translators were unaware of the correct meaning of this Hebrew word. Clearly, this was not the case. The word kaari can be found in a number of other places in the Jewish scriptures. Yet predictably, the same Christian translators who rendered kaari as “pierced” in Psalm 22 correctly translated it “like a lion” in all other places in the Hebrew Bible where this word appears.
For example, the word kaari is also found in Isaiah 38:13. In the immediate context of this verse Hezekiah, the king of Judah, is singing a song for deliverance from his grave illness. In the midst of his supplication he exclaims in Hebrew Notice that the last word in this phrase (moving from right to left) is the same Hebrew word kaari that appears in Psalm 22:17. In this Isaiah text, the King James Version correctly translates these words “I reckoned till morning that, as a lion . . . .” As I mentioned above, Psalm 22:17 is the only place in all of the Jewish scriptures that any Christian Bible translates kaari as “pierced.”
It must be noted that the authors of the New Testament were not responsible for inserting the word “pierced” into the text of Psalm 22:17. This verse was undoubtedly tampered with years after the Christian canon was completed. Bear in mind, during the latter half of the first century, when the New Testament writers were compiling their Greek manuscripts, Psalm 22:17 was still in pristine condition; thus, when the authors of the New Testament read this verse, they found nothing in the phrase “like a lion they are at my hands and my feet” that would advance their teachings. As a result, Psalm 22:17 is never quoted in the New Testament. Missionaries, who insist that the Christian translation of this verse reflects the original words of King David, must wonder why there was not one New Testament author who deemed this supposed allusion to the crucifixion worthy of being mentioned in his writings.
The Bible tampering that has occurred in this verse becomes especially obvious with only a cursory reading of the entire 22nd Psalm. Throughout this chapter, King David is using an animal motif to describe his enemies. His poignant references to the “dog” and “lion” are, therefore, not foreign to this author. In fact, David repeatedly makes reference to the “dog” and “lion” both before and after Psalm 22:17. For the Psalmist, these menacing beasts symbolize his bitter foes who continuously sought to destroy him. This metaphor, therefore, sets the stage for the moving theme of this chapter. Although David’s predicament at times seems hopeless, this faithful king of the Jewish people relied on God for his deliverance. As the Psalmist eagerly looks to God for deliverance from his adversaries, he conveys the timeless message that it is the Almighty alone who can save man in times of tribulation. Let’s examine a number of verses in this chapter that surround Psalm 22:17 as they appear in the King James Version.
Psalm 22:12-13 (KJV):
Many bulls have compassed me; strong bulls of Bashan have beset me around. They gaped upon me with their mouths, as a ravenous and a roaring lion.
Psalm 22:20-21 (KJV): Deliver my soul from the sword, my darling from the power of the dog. Save me from the lion’s mouth; for thou hast heard me from horns of the wild oxen.
As mentioned above, it is obvious when reading this larger section of the 22nd Psalm that King David is using an animal motif — most commonly lions — as an animated literary device, in order to describe his pursuers and tormentors. This striking style is pervasive in this section of the Bible. In fact, each and every time the word “lion” appears in the Book of Psalms, King David is referring to a metaphoric lion, rather than a literal animal.
For example, in the 17th Psalm King David appeals to the Almighty to rescue him from the hands of his enemies, the “lion.” Bear in mind, an examination of the 17th Psalm is of great relevance to our study because in many respects Psalm 17 and 22 are identical, both with regard to their literary motif and driving theme. In the 17th Psalm, King David is looking for deliverance from his adversaries as in Psalm 22. In Psalm 17:8-12, the Psalmist pleads with God for deliverance from the “lion,” as he cries out,
Hide me under the shadow of Your wings, from the wicked who oppress me, from my deadly enemies, who compass me about. They are enclosed in their own fat; with their mouths they speak proudly. They have now compassed us in our steps; they have set their eyes bowing down to the earth, like a lion that is greedy of his prey, and as it were a young lion lurking in secret places.
Again, in Psalm 35:17, in a similar supplication, King David entreats the Almighty for salvation from “lions” as he exclaims,
Lord, how long wilt thou look on? Rescue my soul from their destruction, my darling from the lions.
Moreover, missionaries are confronted with another remarkable problem as they seek to project the words of this Psalm into a first century crucifixion story. In the simplest terms, this text that Christians eagerly quote is not a prophecy, nor does it speak of any future event. This entire Psalm, as well as the celebrated Psalm that follows it, contains a dramatic monologue in which King David cried out to God from the depths of his personal pain, anguish, and longing as he remained a fugitive from his enemies. Accordingly, the stirring monologue in this chapter is all in the first person. The author himself is crying out to God, and there is no doubt who the faithful speaker is in this Psalm; the very first verse in this chapter explicitly identifies this person as King David.
Trinitarian Christians are further confronted with another staggering problem. The opening verses of this Psalm clearly make little sense in the mouth of a god/man. In the beginning of this chapter the author wonders aloud,
My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Why are You so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent.
Why would Jesus, whom Trinitarians insist is God, complain that “God is so far from helping me?” How could God, the first Person of the Trinity, not hear the cries of God, the second Person of the Trinity? To whom is this supposed “God” complaining? Finally, why would God be complaining to God altogether? The speaker here is moaning that God is not listening to him day and night, and in the verses that follow, questions his feelings of abandonment when enumerating the times when God did listen and intervene for his ancestors. How can God not understand his own predicament? Who are God’s ancestors? Applying the words of Psalm 22 to Christendom’s Jesus challenges even the most fertile imagination and places an enormous strain on church teachings.
The question that naturally comes to mind is: Why did the King James Version correctly translate the Hebrew word kaari in Isaiah 38:13 as “like a lion,” yet incorrectly translate this same word as “pierced” in Psalm 22:17? These Christian translators were clearly aware of the correct meaning of the word kaari, as evidenced by their translation of Isaiah 38:13. Why then did they specifically target Psalm 22 for such Bible tampering?
To grasp what is behind this church revision of the 22nd Psalm, it is essential to be aware of the central role this chapter plays in traditional Christian teachings. Church fathers have always cherished Psalm 22 as a chapter that supposedly describes in vivid detail the agony of the passion narratives and provides the script for Jesus’ crucifixion. Segments of this Psalm are quoted extensively in the New Testament as a fulfillment of an Old Testament prophecy of the crucifixion. The most notable quote from Psalm 22 appears in the first two Gospels and is found in the chapter’s opening verses, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” Matthew and Mark place this desperate monologue in the mouth of the crucified Jesus as his last dying words…[FN 2].. These two Gospels resourcefully use Psalm 22 as one of many palettes from which to paint the brutal picture of a tormented crucified savior. All of the Gospels …[FN -3]…. similarly use Psalm 22:19 (22:18 in a Christian Bible) in their crucifixion narratives, and Hebrews 2:12 quotes Psalm 22:23 to explain why the messiah had to suffer for humanity.
Psalm 22 has, therefore, always been a vital text to the church and was used repeatedly in order to retroject the life of Jesus back into the “Old Testament.” In so doing, missionaries sought to lend credibility to their claim that Jesus is the messiah as was foreordained by the ancient Jewish prophets. For Christendom, the Psalmist’s original intent was superseded by their interest in applying this entire chapter to Jesus’ passion, no matter how extensive the revisions would be. The church, therefore, did not hesitate to tamper with the words of the 22nd Psalm so that its verses would reflect and sustain its Christian message. Isaiah 38:13, on the other hand, possesses no Christological value to the church and was neither quoted nor used by the church fathers to propagate their teachings. The church, therefore, had no need to mistranslate it, and thus it was left intact.
Interestingly, the stunning mistranslation in this chapter did not escape the notice of the missionary world. In fact, this controversy has attracted quite a bit of attention from Christians dedicated to Jewish evangelism. For example, Moshe Rosen, the founder of Jews for Jesus, advances a rather inventive response to this controversy over the appearance of the word “pierced” in Christian translations of Psalm 22. In his widely distributed book, Y’shua, Rosen readily concedes that the Hebrew word kaari does mean “like a lion,” and not “pierced”; yet it is on this very point where he makes his argument.
He suggests that although the word “pierced” does not exist in the Hebrew Masoretic text, it is possible that a scribe may have inadvertently changed the word “pierced” into “like a lion” by modifying one small Hebrew letter. In his own words he writes,
We can probably best understand what happened when we realize that, in Hebrew, the phrase “they have pierced” is kaaru while “like a lion” is kaari. The words are identical except that “pierced” ends with the Hebrew letter vav and “lion” with a yod. Vav and yod are similar in form, and a scribe might easily have changed the text by inscribing a yod and failing to attach a vertical descending line so that it would become a vav……[FN -4]
While Rosen’s proposition is quoted frequently by missionaries, it contains numerous remarkable flaws. Transforming kaari into kaaru by changing the letters kaf, alef, raish, yod , which means “like a lion,” into kaf, alef, raish, vav ,does not create the Hebrew word for “pierced,” as Rosen suggests. In fact, kaaru doesn’t mean anything. In other words, this word kaaru does not exist in the Hebrew language; it’s little more than Semitic gibberish. Rosen’s claim that some anonymous scribe may have inadvertently changed kaaru into kaari is wholly unfounded and completely untenable.
In order to concoct a word that resembles kaaru, one would not only have to change the letter yod into a vav, but the letter alef would have to be removed altogether. This alteration would create the three-letter word karu, spelled caf, raish, vav. Karu, however, doesn’t mean “pierced” either. It means to “excavate” or “dig.” As mentioned above, the words used in Tanach for “pierce” or “stab” are daqar or ratza, never karu.
Rosen is not the only church apologist to use scribes and rabbis of antiquity to defend the Christian translation of Psalm 22. In fact, missionaries more frequently refer to the Septuagint to justify the manner in which Christian Bible translators render Psalm 22:17. They argue that the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the entire Old Testament was completed by 72 rabbis more than 200 years before the Christian century, renders the last phrase of Psalm 22:17 “they pierced my hands and my feet.” From this they conclude that even the rabbis who lived before the first century believed that the last clause of this verse reads “pierced” rather than “like a lion.”
Evangelicals are typically quite fond of this response because it enables them to circumvent the often-troubling original Masoretic Hebrew Bible. This notion may seem strange at first glance; yet, although Christians typically begin their assault on Judaism by swearing allegiance to the Hebrew scriptures, more often than not, they will renounce this vow in order to rescue their dubious proof-texts.
Furthermore, and this is quite secondary, although Christians will rarely state this openly, the church has always had a more favorable view of Jews and rabbis who lived prior to the first century than those who lived after it. The translators of the Septuagint are of course pre-Christian, and are, therefore, held in higher regard in the eyes of the church than those Jews who rejected the claims attributed to Jesus.
Despite the overwhelming popularity of the contention that the Greek translation of 72 rabbis supports the use of the word “pierced” in Psalm 22:17, this explanation is completely without merit. It is universally conceded and beyond any question that the rabbis who created the original Septuagint only translated the Five Books of Moses and nothing more. This undisputed point is well attested to by the Letter of Aristeas..[FN -5].. the Talmud,[FN -6] Josephus,[FN-7] the church fathers,[FN-8] and numerous other critical sources. In other words, these ancient 72 rabbis did not translate the Book of Psalms. The Book of Psalms belongs to the third section of the Jewish scriptures called the Ketuvim, the Writings. This is an entirely different segment of Tanach from the Torah, which was the only section translated by the 72 rabbis. In essence, this missionary argument is predicated on a fabrication.
Moreover, and this is merely an aside, even the current Septuagint covering the Five Books of Moses is an almost complete corruption of the original Greek translation that was compiled by the 72 rabbis more than 2,200 years ago for King Ptolemy II of Egypt.[FN-9] This fact is well known to us because the Talmud [FN-10] records how these 72 translators distinctly rendered 15 phrases of the Torah in their translation. Of these 15 unique translations, only two of them are currently extant.[FN-11] Extrapolating from this, we can safely conclude that the vast bulk of the current Septuagint even of the Torah is unrelated to the translation of the original 72 Jewish translators.
The Septuagint that is currently in our hands — especially the sections that are of the Prophets and Writings — is a Christian work, amended and edited exclusively by Christian hands. There is therefore little wonder that the Septuagint is esteemed in Christendom alone. In fact, in the Greek Orthodox Church, the Septuagint is regarded as Sacred Scripture. (I have addressed the subject of the Septuagint more thoroughly in a previous article entitled “A Christian Defends Matthew by Insisting That the Author of the First Gospel Used the Septuagint in His Quote of Isaiah to Support the Virgin Birth.”
Although Christendom is predisposed to a reverence for scripture written in Greek, the children of Israel regard only the Hebrew Bible given to us by our prophets as holy and authoritative. It is these sacred texts that we diligently pore over day and night. No translation of the Bible, no matter how widely used by churches and academicians, holds any influence over our people. Do not think in your heart that the Jewish people have missed the stirring messianic message contained in Tanach or we somehow do not understand our own Bible. It is our nation which is ordained to protect the integrity of these holy scriptures, our people who brought these sacred oracles to the world’s nations, and it is our people to whom these promises were addressed.
I remain very sincerely yours,
Rabbi Tovia Singer
Footnotes from the article
1. Although in a Jewish Bible this verse appears as Psalm 22:17, in a Christian Bible it appears as 22:16. So as not to create confusion, I refer to this controversial verse as Psalm 22:17 throughout this article.
2. In the book of Luke, Jesus’ last dying words are, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” In John’s Gospel, Jesus’ last words are “It is finished.”
3.Matthew 27:35; Mark 15:24; Luke 23:34; John 19:24.
4. Rosen, Moishe. Y’shua. Chicago: Moody, 1982, p. 45-46.
5. This Letter of Aristeas (2nd-3rd century B.C.E.), written by a Hellenistic Jew, describes the events leading up to and surrounding the writing of the original Septuagint. There is considerable disagreement as to the date when this was written.
6. Tractate Megillah, 9a.
7. Josephus, preface to Antiquities of the Jews, Sec 3. For Josephus’ detailed description of events surrounding the original authorship of the Septuagint, see Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, XII, ii, 1-4.
8. For example, St. Jerome, in his preface to the Book of Hebrew Questions, addresses this issue and concedes that, “Add to this that Josephus, who gives the story of the seventy translators, reports them as translating only the Five Books of Moses; and we also acknowledge that these are more in harmony with the Hebrew than the rest.” Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Peabody: Hendrickson, Volume 6. P. 87.
9. Ptolemy II, also known as “Philadelphus,” reigned from 283 to 245 B.C.E.
10. Tractate Megillah, 9a-9b.
11. Of these 15 phrases which appeared in the original Septuagint (Genesis 1:1; 1:26; 2:2; 5:2; 11:7; 18:12; 49:6; Exodus 4:20; 12:40; 24:5; 24:11; Leviticus 11:6; Numbers 16:15; Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3), only Genesis 2:2 and Exodus 12:40 are found in the current Septuagint.