Yeshua in Context The Life and Times of Yeshua (Jesus) the Messiah Mon, 04 Nov 2013 13:36:09 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Yeshua’s Story: The Beginning Mon, 04 Nov 2013 13:26:54 +0000 yeshuain VERSION 1: Yeshua the Galilean came suddenly onto the scene of public life in Judea through the work of John the Baptizer (Yohanan, with a hard, throaty “h”). Later, the community of his disciples would ask questions about his birth and early life, but I will tell those stories at the end. The beginning of his impact on Jewish life in the first century was in a movement of new hope led by an unlikely figure, a hard man whose popularity had nothing to do with charisma and everything to do with the long-supressed hopes of Israelites in that day. God the King seems to have returned in power through this circle of penitents dipping themselves in the waters where Israel first entered the land.

VERSION 2 (shorter sentences, simpler style): Yeshua the Galilean came suddenly onto the scene of public life in Judea through the work of Yohanan (John) the Baptizer. Later, the community of his disciples would ask questions about his birth and early life, but I will tell those stories at the end. The impact of Yeshua on Jewish life began in this strange movement of people dipping themselves in the waters where Israel had entered the land in the days of Joshua. The leader of this movement, Yohanan, was ironically popular — a hard, unyielding man. His popularity had nothing to do with charisma and everything to do with the long-supressed hopes of Israelites in those days. God the King seemed to have returned in power. That power was sensed by the masses in the words of Yohanan.

[more to come, I think . . . just starting a new idea for a project . . . not that I need another project.]

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Eternal Messiah Tue, 04 Jun 2013 12:16:43 +0000 yeshuain The mysterious nature of God is not something new to the New Testament. Time and time again, from Creation through the history of Israel, God interacts with this present world in ways that are the action of God, but are not the totality of God. I wrote at length about the way the Hebrew Bible describes the Presence, Shechinah, Glory, Word, Theophanies, and Indwellings of God in Yeshua Our Atonement (chapter 3, “The Divine Glory over the Cherubim,” and chapter 8, “The Divine Glory Incarnate”). You can order Yeshua Our Atonement here.

So it’s not as if Yeshua came on the scene in Galilee and started a new theology of God. Nor is that the apostles took some pure monotheism of Judaism and corrupted it with Greek philosophy. I know many people, Jewish and not Jewish, think something like this must have taken place.

Perhaps this suspicion is because the church fathers were steeped in Greek philosophy (for example, Origen used concepts from Aristotle to formulate his explanation of the Son eternally generating from the Father). Using Greek philosophy was the right thing for them to do. Their audience needed the ideas of the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Messiah and apostles put into categories more familiar to them. And Judaism itself was from early on influenced by Greek philosophy as well.

Although I find no fault in Greek thought and I am not advocating some kind of pure Hebrew-ism as an alternative to Western thought (the so-called Hebraic vs. Hellenistic mindset idea), I do think it interesting to try and describe the Divine Messiah and his relationship to the Eternal God in terms that are drawn from Judaism and the Hebrew Bible.

I think the Jewish apostles already did this for us. Their approach was first and foremost one of story. Whereas the Greek philosophical way includes defining things and relationships with precision, the Israelite way was to define things with story.

The Fourth Gospel (John) does this by saying, “All things were made through him” (1:3). Paul does this by saying, “For by him all things were created” (Col 1:16). How did they find a connection between Yeshua (the very human person in whom they believed) and the creator of all things? They came to the conclusion that Yeshua was the Spoken Word who was God’s agent in creation.

You may ask, “Did God use an agent in creation?” Genesis says, “And God said . . . and there was . . .” In other words, God sent forth his voice, his Spoken Word, and all things were made. The apostles were not the first to speculate on the Spoken Word of God being an aspect of God but not the totality of his being. Philo of Alexandria and the Aramaic Targums (paraphrases) speculated about it. Neither were the apostles the last Jews to consider the mystery of God’s Word as an aspect of his being (rabbinic writings contain many such speculations). See Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels for an in-depth exploration (you can see my review here).

If, in fact, Yeshua was more than a man — if he was the Word born as a man — then he was divine. He was not all there is to God. The Spoken Word in Genesis was an aspect of God’s being without being the totality of God.

Did Yeshua really have the power to create the universe? The Fourth Gospel reveals Yeshua in an act of creation (turning water into wine, 2:1-12). A story like that is intended to say, “There is more to this rabbi from Galilee than may appear on the surface.”

Were the apostles justified in equating Yeshua with this Spoken Word of God? Where would they get such an idea?

A good hint is found in the Fourth Gospel. John 1:1 gets a lot of attention. John 1:18 gets less. Before I quote it, you may notice various translations disagreeing. This is because there are three different readings available in the manuscripts. But see Raymond Brown for the compelling reasons to follow this reading:

No one has ever seen God;
it is God the only Son,
ever at the Father’s side,
who has revealed him.

This saying should raise some questions. No one has seen God? What is he talking about? Clearly Moses and others saw God, right? Not so, as texts like Exodus 33:20 make clear, “you cannot see my face, for man may not see me and live.”

Moses saw a manifestation of God, not his direct being. Yeshua alone has seen God’s direct being. In fact, it becomes apparent, Moses saw the Son (the pre-existent Yeshua) and not the Father.

The Jewish apostles became convinced of this after the resurrection. Before that, Yeshua seemed to them just a man. At his death they disbelieved (see Mark 14:50). After his resurrection they understood. The many mysterious things Yeshua had said about himself started to make sense. He was more than a man. The way he talked about the Father, of his absolute unity with the Father, only made sense once Yeshua’s Glory was revealed.

So, all this to say, what is an early Jewish way of describing the divinity of Yeshua? I think the following points are all early and formed a chain of understanding for the Jewish apostles:

  • Yeshua spoke of God as his Father in ways that went beyond any ordinary person’s relationship to God.
  • Yeshua’s hints of his divinity were vindicated as true by his return from death and ascension to glory.
  • There was a longstanding background in the Jewish faith of God’s Agent sharing his power and nature, but not being the totality of his being.
  • The Word in Genesis and the Glory in the Pillar and the Presence above the Cherubim are all examples of an emanation or radiance from God’s being who is equal with God but not the full being of God.
  • The analogy of Son to Father is like Word to God and like Glory to Adonai; the Glory is God but not all there is to God.
  • Men have seen some levels of the Glory, but have not seen the direct being of God ever.
  • The Word and the Glory are the aspect of God he sends into the world to reveal and to act.
  • Yeshua is this Word and this Glory.
  • Yeshua is the Radiance (emanation) of God’s glory (Hebrews 1:3); as light and heat come from the sun without being the totality of the sun.

In a much later development in Judaism, kabbalistic thinkers described God in his direct being as the Ein Sof (the Without End) who cannot be seen or known by finite humans. We know God, said these kabbalists, though his emanations (Sefirot) which come to us at varying levels of potency.

In kabbalistic language, we could say Yeshua is not Ein Sof, but that he is rather the sum of all the emanations.

In the later development of Christianity, the church fathers described the Father as eternally generating the Son. Generating and radiating and emanating are all similar ideas. They also used another metaphor, that of begetting or conceiving. Conception of a child, unlike birth of a child, is something that happens virtually instantaneously. It would be wrong to describe Yeshua as the Son born of the Father. But to say he is the Son begotten of the Father comes closer to describing the mystery.

Yeshua existed before he was born. He was always at the Father’s side before time.


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Pharisees Fri, 31 May 2013 10:59:59 +0000 yeshuain
The Pharisees were saying to him, “Look, why are they doing what is not lawful on the Sabbath?”
-Mark 2:24

You may have heard, wrongly, that the Pharisees were the rabbis and that they basically ran the show in Yeshua’s time.

You may have heard that the Pharisees . . .

  • were all hypocrites
  • made up 613 rules which were oppressive
  • led the synagogues and governed the way Jews lived for God.

Great resources for those who want to read up on the Pharisees: E.P. Sanders, Judaism: Practice and Belief and Shaye Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah. I provide no documentation for the assertions I will make in this summary on the Pharisees. Feel free to ask questions in the comments.

There are several reasons why the Pharisees are misunderstood:

  • Josephus, who was a Pharisee, exaggerated their power and influence
  • The later rabbis (third through sixth centuries), whose origins were in the Pharisee movement, exaggerated their power and influence when writing about the first century
  • The other parties (Sadducees, Essenes, Herodians) all ceased to exist after 70 CE
  • Yeshua clashed with the Pharisees on some matters of Torah
  • Un-careful reading of the Gospels leads people not to notice the Sadducees and chief priests were the primary instruments of his execution, while some Pharisees instigated against him.

Here are some important truths about the Pharisees:

  • They tended to be middle class, some working as scribes and other in various occupations.
  • They tended to be urban, not rural.
  • Their numbers were never large.
  • Their origin was as a political party in the days of the Maccabees.
  • They had some popularity because they stood against Rome in some early clashes.
  • They were a sort of fraternity with a common interest in reforming Israel by increasing zeal for the Torah.
  • Their beliefs were the closest of all the parties to the views of Yeshua and the apostles.
  • In the early days especially, and the later rabbis corrected this tendency, they emphasized ritual over love and justice and mercy.
  • You should no more judge Judaism by the things Yeshua criticized about the Pharisees than you should judge any Christian group by the ideas or behavior of some.
  • If Yeshua was commenting today, he’d have many sharp criticisms for various Christian sub-groups that might make the Pharisees look good by comparison.
  • The synagogues were run by common Jews, elders in the various towns.
  • The rabbis of later centuries, whose origins were from the Pharisees, did not become the recognized leaders of Judaism until the sixth century.
  • Synagogues in Israel in Yeshua’s time were not places of power, but learning and piety, and they were not led by Pharisees.
  • Most Jews did not follow the growing list of traditions the Pharisees were coming up with out of a desire to see Israel come closer to God.
  • The 613 are biblical commandments, not man-made rules of the Pharisees.
  • Yeshua had positive things to say about some Pharisees. Nicodemus seems to have become a disciple. Of one Pharisee Yeshua said, “You are not far from the kingdom.”
  • Many Pharisees believed in Yeshua after the resurrection, and one of them was Paul.
  • Paul continued to say, “I am a Pharisee,” the rest of his life and never repudiated this identity.
  • The Pharisees who thought more like Shammai were probably more violent in their manner of dealing with threats to Israel’s renewal.
  • The Pharisees who thought like the gentler, more tolerant Hillel outnumbered the Shammaite Pharisees.
  • Paul the persecutor was probably in the more militant Shammaite wing.
  • The Pharisees were a minority on the Sanhedrin and the Sadducees called the shots.
  • The Temple did not run according to the wishes of the Pharisees; if it had, this would have been a vast improvement and would have made the Temple much more in keeping with what Yeshua believed.
  • The Pharisees in Yeshua’s time lived in Judea and had not spread much into Galilee.
  • Yeshua believed the Pharisees did not keep the Torah enough and said his disciples had to surpass them.
  • A large part of Yeshua’s critique was that the Pharisees should have seen loving God and people as the highest priorities of Torah.
  • Yeshua expected his disciples to outdo the Pharisees literally in loving God and people.

So why would Pharisees come up to Galilee to check Yeshua out? Why would they sometimes follow him around and find reasons to criticize his disciples?

They cared deeply about Israel getting right with God. They wanted to see Messiah come and had a notion of Messiah and victory over Rome that Yeshua came to teach against.

They saw Yeshua at first as a disciple of John the Baptizer. They came to evaluate him as they had first evaluated John. They were critical of his ideas which did not match their own about what Torah renewal would look like.

They were well-meaning people who were wrong about a few things. But they were more like Yeshua in beliefs than most other Jewish sub-groups. And some of the things they were wrong about no one else understood either. Even the disciples did not think Messiah would die, make atonement for Israel and the world, and rise again.

Questions? Doubt something I said has substantiation? Feel free to ask me in the comments. Or if you would like to share how misinformation about the Pharisees and about Judaism has bothered you, I’d love to hear from you.

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How We Know Mark Was the Earliest Gospel Thu, 13 Dec 2012 14:16:48 +0000 yeshuain How did students of the four Gospels determine that the earliest of them is Mark? The answer is fairly simple and the case is overwhelmingly clear. How certain is the conclusion? It is so certain that only a small percentage of scholars hold to any other theory. The large agreement among different interpreters of the Gospels that Mark came first is for a simply reason. That reason is what happens when you lay side by side the three “Synoptic” Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke.

These three Gospels have been called “Synoptic,” a word which means “seeing together,” because they share in common a large amount of material, follow the same basic order, and stand apart from John, whose Gospel is unique among the four.

Long ago people realized you could display the text of the three Synoptic Gospels side by side in columns to form a synopsis or parallel Gospel or a harmony. When you do this you find that a large percentage of Matthew, Mark, and Luke are parallel. They share a large amount of verbatim agreement, though each of the three has unique ways of diverging from each other in small and large matters. Much is the same and some is different.

For a long time, people who have studied the Gospels in synopsis (parallel columns) have referred to “the Synoptic Problem.” That problem is: how do we account for the agreements and differences in the parallel accounts and in the other material in the Gospels? Many of the observations I will share here come from a book that I think is the simplest and best-explained handbook on the topic, by Mark Goodacre, The Synoptic Problem: A Way Through the Maze.

In this article I am focusing only on the way comparing the Gospels in synopsis helps us see that Mark was the first to be written. Many other fascinating topics arise from a comparison of the Gospels in this manner.

Here is one of the things you find when you put the Gospels in parallel columns and study the agreements and differences: Mark is the middle term between Matthew and Luke. What I mean is this: again and again in material that occurs in all three Gospels (material called Triple Tradition) Matthew and Mark have agreements in common and Mark and Luke have agreements in common far outweighing the fewer agreements Matthew and Luke have against Mark. In the differences of detail, both Matthew and Luke agree with Mark more than they agree with each other.

Goodacre proposes a way for students to see this for themselves. You can take a synopsis (or harmony or parallel) of the Gospels and work it out for yourself. Find all the Triple Tradition material (it occurs in all three Synoptic Gospels) and use colored pencils to do a survey of agreements and differences. Here is a list of some, not all, of the Triple Tradition material (from Goodacre, pgs 35-36):

  • Matt 8:1-4 … Mark 1:40-45 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . . . . Leper
  • Matt 9:1-8 … Mark 2:1-12 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . . . . . Paralytic
  • Matt 9:9-13 … Mark 2:13-17… Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . . . Call of Levi/Matthew
  • Matt 9:14-17 … Mark 2:18-22 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . Fasting, New Wine, Patches
  • Matt 12:1-8 … Mark 2:23-28 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . . . Grain on Sabbath
  • Matt 12:9-14 … Mark 3:1-6 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . . . . Man with Withered Hand
  • Matt 10:1-4 … Mark 3:13-19 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . . . The Twelve
  • Matt 12:46-50 … Mark 3:31-35 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . Mother and brothers
  • Matt 13:1-23 … Mark 4:1-20… Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . . . Sower Parable
  • Matt 8:23-27 … Mark 4:35-41 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . Calming Storm
  • Matt 8:28-34 … Mark 5:1-20 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . . Gerasene Demoniac
  • Matt 9:18-26 … Mark 5:21-43 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . Jairus, Bleeding Woman
  • Matt 14:13-21 … Mark 6:30-44 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . Feeding Five Thousand
  • Matt 16:13-20 … Mark 8:27-30… Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . Peter’s Confession
  • Matt 17:1-8 … Mark 9:2-8 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . . . . . Transfiguration
  • Matt 17:14-20 … Mark 9:14-29 … Luke 5:12-16 . . . . . . . Epilectic Boy
  • Matt 19:13-15 … Mark 10:13-16 … Luke 18:15-17 . . . . . . . Little Children
  • Matt 19:16-30 … Mark 10:17-31… Luke 18:18-30 . . . . . . Rich Young Ruler
  • Matt 20:29-34 … Mark 10:46-52 … Luke 18:35-43 . . . .Blind Bartimaeus
  • Matt 21:1-9 … Mark 11:1-10… Luke 19:28-38 . . . . . . . . . Triumphal Entry
  • Matt chs. 21-28 … Mark chs. 11-16 … Luke chs. 20-24 Passion Narratives

So here is Goodacre’s coloring project and here are the results you will get. Color words found only in Matthew blue. Words found only in Mark color red. Words unique to Luke should be yellow. Words shared only by Matthew and Mark would be purple. Words shared only by Matthew and Luke would be green. Words shared only by Mark and Luke would be orange. Finally, words found in all three will be brown.

Here is what you will find. There will be a lot of brown, some purple, some orange, but very little green. In other words, agreements between Matthew and Luke against Mark are rare. This shows that Mark is the middle term between the three. What does Goodacre mean by “middle term”? This can be illustrated as below:


. . . MATTHEW . . . MARK . . . LUKE . . .

. . . MATTHEW . . . MARK

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .MARK . . . LUKE

He means that Matthew used Mark as a source and also Luke used Mark as a source. If we propose that Mark was first and that both Matthew and Luke read Mark, it explains the fact that Matthew agrees more with Mark against Luke than with Luke against Mark. It explains how Luke agrees more with Mark against Matthew than with Matthew against Mark.

How we can tell that neither Matthew nor Luke was first: If Matthew was the first Gospel and if Mark and Luke both knew Matthew, then Matthew would be the middle term. If Luke was first, it would be the middle term. Mark is what Matthew and Luke have most in common. Therefore Mark was first.

More evidence: Another phenomenon in the Gospels is that there is a good body of material found in Matthew and Mark, but not Luke, and a good amount found in Mark and Luke, but not Matthew. And the Matthew-Mark material and Mark-Luke material follows the order of guess which Gospel? Mark. Again we see Mark as the middle term. Another line of evidence is the tendency of Mark to make statements in raw, unfiltered, almost scandalous terms. Whenever Mark describes Yeshua in a manner than might be controversial, we sometimes find that Matthew and Luke soften the description. If Mark makes the disciples look bad, we find that Matthew and Luke make them look less bad. Then there is the matter of material Mark does not include, things like the Lord’s Prayer and the various teachings that make up Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount and Luke’s Sermon on the Plain. Does it make sense, if Mark came later, that he would omit this material? In choosing what to include and what to leave out of a written Gospel (the community knew many more sayings and deeds of Yeshua than the Gospels record) why would Mark leave out the Lord’s Prayer once it was part of the Synoptic Gospel tradition? He would not be likely to. More likely, Mark was written before Matthew.

In short, the evidence stacks up that Mark is what Matthew and Luke have most in common and that Mark was the earliest to be written and circulated.

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Pre-Order Yeshua Our Atonement Thu, 08 Nov 2012 22:58:28 +0000 yeshuain Due for release December 20, 2012. You can pre-order now (US only, foreign orders please email me at yeshuaincontext at gmail to request a link to order).

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Early Divinity in John 5 Tue, 05 Jun 2012 12:58:47 +0000 yeshuain Many have argued that the idea of Yeshua’s divinity was a late development. This is commonly applied to the Fourth Gospel as a principle for detecting layers of sources. What I mean is, people will say the gospel of John was written in layers, by multiple hands. An early and simpler version of the gospel, it is said, did not have the strong theme of Yeshua’s divinity. Supposedly Greco-Roman ideas are the source of the divinity doctrine. So as the movement for Yeshua became less Jewish and more Roman, the doctrine developed and the Fourth Gospel underwent several edits and additions.

First, Larry Hurtado has made what is perhaps the best case that the worship of Yeshua (which itself implies divinity) was early, very early, during the predominantly-Jewish stage of the movement (see his book How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?). A huge piece of evidence? Philippians 2, which is a hymn Paul is quoting because he knows the Philippians give it credence. So this hymn has been around long enough to be considered authoritative. That means it could easily be from the 40′s or at latest the 50′s.

Second, and what this post is all about, in John 5, we see Yeshua making an argument related to his divinity, which is thoroughly Jewish in character and not something which would arise in a Greco-Roman type of thought. Raymond Brown, in his commentary on the Gospel of John, points out that Yeshua’s argument about why he does his work on the Sabbath (rather than waiting for the six working days) is a Jewish argument.

The controversy and Yeshua’s response are explained as follows:

THE CONTROVERSY: And this was why the Jews were persecuting Jesus, because he was doing these things on the Sabbath.

YESHUA’S RESPONSE, PART 1: But Jesus answered them, “My Father is working until now, and I am working.”

REACTION: This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

YESHUA’S RESPONSE, PART 2: So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all that he himself is doing. And greater works than these will he show him, so that you may marvel. For as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so also the Son gives life to whom he will. The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son, just as they honor the Father. Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
(John 5:16-24 ESV)

What is the Jewish argument which Yeshua is making?

  1. What we are to do on the Sabbath is to imitate God in his rest (Gen 2:2).
  2. All life on earth is continually sustained by God, even on the Sabbath.
  3. Therefore it is lawful to sustain life on the Sabbath as this is what God is doing (“my Father is working until now,” i.e., even on every Sabbath since creation).

God did not completely cease work on the Sabbath, men were born and died, and only God can give life. Yeshua has just healed a man so incapacitated he cannot even move on his own. In giving this man mobility, Yeshua is giving him fuller life. Thus, Yeshua fixes his redemptive work on the Sabbath in light of God’s work.

This style of argument is Jewish in nature. It is based on a text, an idea strongly rooted in Judaism. Yeshua does not cite Genesis 2:2, nor does he have to. The Sabbath principle is foundational. But it is not foundational in Greco-Roman thought. On the contrary, the Roman sources lampoon the Jewish people for laziness for needed a seventh day rest.

Brown alludes to other commentaries which list rabbinic arguments that God does not get tired or need to rest and that no child would be born and illness healed on the Sabbath if it was thought that God ceased all his labors on the Sabbath. It is not from life-giving but from creating that God rests on the Sabbath.

It is not the kind of argument that would suit later Christianity. This section in John 5 is profound, reflecting on Yeshua’s transcendent authority (vss. 20-24), at resurrection (vss. 25-29), the judgment according to works (vss. 22-23, 30, 45), the judgment given over to the Son (vs. 22), the Son as Life-Giver (vs. 21), the witnesses to Yeshua’s identity (vss. 30-44), and Yeshua as the ultimate subject Torah points to (vss.45-46). Yeshua’s teaching that he works as his Father works and does what his Father is doing is saying, in essence, “Life does not cease on the Sabbath and my Father works to sustain life as do I.” The implication is not that Yeshua, by virtue of his identity, is exempt from the Sabbath law. It is, rather, a halachic statement: doing whatever promotes life on the Sabbath is permitted and Sabbath restrictions should not promote death or suffering to continue.

John 5 is one more piece of evidence that the divinity of Yeshua is an early development, a Jewish one, and not a late, Greco-Roman-inspired doctrine.

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Applying Messiah’s Kingdom Parables, Part 2 Fri, 11 May 2012 15:14:30 +0000 yeshuain

. . . birds came along and devoured it . . . it withered away . . . it yielded no grain . . .”
-Mark 4:4, 6, 7.

Parables are usually connected to a scripture text or several of them. They often explain something puzzling about God and his relation to his people, or something unstated or mysterious in a text.

Yeshua understood a startling truth found in Isaiah 6, one that naturally leads any thoughtful reader to ask questions. Modern readers of the Sower parable (Mk 4; Mt 13; Lk 8) tend not to realize that the parable is commenting on a text. The text is Isaiah 6. It is not a randomly chosen or obscure passage. It is the chapter in which Isaiah saw God’s Throne above with his kingly robes coming down and filling the Temple (Isa 6:1). It is the “holy, holy, holy” passage with the Seraphim (the burning ones). It is the commission of the prophet Isaiah.

Yeshua, prophet and Messiah, has a mission which can be compared to Isaiah’s. Yet the puzzling thing about Isaiah’s commission is that he was sent to tell the people about God’s desire for them in that moment in history and yet his words would paradoxically cause greater judgment. God said to Isaiah:

Go, say to that people: ‘Hear, indeed, but do not understand; see, indeed, but do not grasp.’ Dull that people’s mind, stop its ears, and seal its eyes — lest, seeing with its eyes and hearing with its ears, it also grasp with its mind, and repent and save itself.
-Isaiah 6:9-10, JPS.

These words are so surprising, so ironic, many readers need to give them multiple readings to understand what they are saying.

Isaiah was a kingdom prophet. Yeshua was a kingdom prophet. The kingdom is God’s rule over his people and all the cosmos. Isn’t telling people about the kingdom good news? On the contrary, in many cases it is bad news. The simple in understanding think that true instruction will be easily recognized and that great promises will be believed and acted upon.

The easiest criticism of Yeshua is that his message was so little heeded. If he was Messiah, or even a true prophet, why didn’t he bring about the renewal of Israel? Why wasn’t the earth redeemed? Why didn’t the world to come start in his day? Where is the messianic redemption with all the promises of every person under their vine and fig tree?

Parables, according to the early rabbis in the land of Israel, were especially founded in Israel as a way of teaching by Solomon (see Song of Songs Rabbah, first chapter). They interpreted Mishlei (Proverbs) and Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) as illustrations of Torah truths. They saw Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs/Solomon) as figures of God’s dealings with Israel at the Exodus and Sinai. The figure or simile or parable (mashal) explains something about a scripture text.

The Sower parable is about good news that is bad news. It explains first and foremost how a true prophet (Isaiah, Yeshua) can speak what is good and yet he will not be heard. It explains how a generation can be so close to devastation (Isaiah’s in the Assyrian and Babylonian crises and Yeshua’s in the coming war with Rome) even though the kingdom is proclaimed. It explains how disciple circles can form and preserve the teaching for the future.

Isaiah’s words did not prevent Israel and Judah from collapsing, nor did Yeshua’s. But Isaiah’s words and Yeshua’s words did lead to the formation of disciple circles. They were passed down generation to generation.

The Sower parable is rich. To begin to understand it, realize it is a commentary on Isaiah 6. Realize first that it is about our human tendency not to receive the message. It is not our responsibility to bring the messianic era. The king will bring the kingdom. But he who has ears to hear will understand why it is delayed. We bear fruit while we wait.

If you would like to follow this series, here is Part 1.

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Applying Messiah’s Kingdom Parables, Part 1 Tue, 08 May 2012 12:06:30 +0000 yeshuain

To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables.
-Mark 4:11

“Kingdom” is not “afterlife” exactly and it is not “people of Israel” or “people of the Church.” The modern reader tends to inject meanings into Yeshua’s words that are not there. Looking in the words of Messiah for a message on how to qualify for a good afterlife, it is natural for many to see in the word “kingdom” a code word for “going to heaven.” This is a problem compounded by the fact that Matthew, the best-known gospel for many Bible readers, uses the phrase “kingdom of heaven” instead of “kingdom of God.” But, as many will rightly point out, “heaven” here stands for “God.” It is a euphemism, like saying “in the eyes of heaven.”

Another temptation is to see “kingdom” as either “the nation of people known as Israel” or “the visible institution of the church.” Christian pastors sometimes ask people to “work for the kingdom” with the understanding that “church is the kingdom.” In Judaism, “kingship of God” is a more common notion than “kingdom.” This is because Judaism, like Yeshua, is immersed in the Hebrew Bible.

What does Messiah mean when he says “to you” (the inner circle, those who come to me after my teaching and ask questions) is given the “secret of the kingdom” but to everyone else (outsiders who sit on the hills and listen from afar, hoping to catch a glimpse of a miracle) there are only “parables”?

Does he mean that the parables are not about the kingdom? Is the idea that the parables are teasers, mere hints, but that somewhere else we should look for Messiah’s real teaching? If so, where do we find this teaching?

No, it is not that there are two sets of teaching exactly, although the inner circle does get more explanation and teaching than the hill-sitters get. But rather, it is the whole package. Those who become part of Messiah’s disciple circle (not just the Twelve, but at least one hundred and twenty by the time of Acts 1) receive the secret. And the secret is not just one thing. It is many things.

Those who were in Messiah’s disciple circle, the ones who were fortunate enough to be there in Galilee and Judea so long ago, saw the actions of Messiah, got private explanations, and went through the experience of disappointment, terror, disbelief, startling realization, overwhelming joy, and sense of empowerment through the trial, death, burial, resurrection, commission, and ascension of Yeshua. The secret was being in the disciple circle. It was asking questions. It was watching Messiah do messianic things. It was seeing the kingdom in action. It was living through the greatest misunderstanding about kingdom (that death and suffering lead to the reign of God).

It is possible to be in Messiah’s disciple circle now. The requirement is a willingness to consider his words and actions. The requirement is to do this with others. The requirement is to believe.

In this series, I will explore a little at a time the details of Messiah’s parables and what they mean about the kingdom, future and present. What is the kingdom exactly? What does a first century Jewish teacher mean when he says “kingdom of God”? How do we apply this?

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Yeshua’s Exalted Identity (Synoptic Gospels) Wed, 28 Mar 2012 13:47:21 +0000 yeshuain Many think the idea of Yeshua as an exalted figure (prophet, Holy One of God, Messiah, divine-man) is primarily the domain of the Gospel of John. But in the synoptic gospels (Mark-Matthew-Luke) we read quite a bit about the identity of Yeshua as something greater than a rabbi:

Yeshua Affirming Messianic Identity

  • Luke 19:40 The Stones Would Cry Out
  • Matthew 21:16 Mouths of Babies
  • Matthew 16:17 Flesh and Blood Has Not Revealed This
  • Mark 14:62 I Am and You Will See the Son of Man

Yeshua Affirming Exalted Status
These claims go beyond the role of teacher or prophet.

  • Matthew 11:27 All Things Have Been Handed over to Me by My Father
  • Matthew 12:6 One Greater Than the Temple
  • Luke 22:30 Eat and Drink at My Table in My Kingdom
  • Mark 2:10 Son of Man has Authority on Earth to Forgive Sins
  • Mark 8:38 Son of Man Comes in Glory of His Father
  • Mark 10:40 To Sit at My Right or Left Is Not Mine to Give
  • Luke 4:18 He Has Sent Me to Proclaim Release
  • Luke 7:22 Tell John What You Have Seen
  • Mark 10:45 To Give His Life as a Ransom
  • Matthew 28:18 All Authority Has Been Given to Me

Yeshua as Prophet

  • Mark 6:4 No Prophet Without Honor
  • Mark 8:28 Some Say Prophet
  • Luke 7:16 A Great Prophet Has Arisen
  • Luke 7:39 If This Man Were a Prophet
  • Mark 13:2 [Foretells Temple Destruction]
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Passover and Yeshua’s Last Week (Based on John) Mon, 26 Mar 2012 21:52:31 +0000 yeshuain What happened when in the week leading up to the crucifixion of Yeshua? What if we ask this question of the Gospel of John instead of the more common approach of following Mark-Matthew-Luke (the synoptic gospels, as they are called)? It’s tempting to turn to Mark or Matthew for information, but suppose we simply follow the Fourth Gospel to see what we can learn?

Let me begin with just a brief note on my appreciation for the accuracy of the Fourth Gospel on matters related to the Temple and feasts of the Torah. I first began to consider the possibility that John was more precise that the synoptic gospels at the Society of Biblical Literature meeting in New Orleans in 2009. Paul Anderson (The Fourth Gospel and the Quest for Jesus) gave a stunning presentation on the value of John for historical understanding (if you are skeptical, I suggest you take a look at the book). Then I read Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses and The Testimony of the Beloved Disciple. I became convinced that the Fourth Gospel is written by a Jerusalem disciple (the elder John) who ran in priestly circles (if this notion sounds strange to you, you might acquaint yourself with the evidence before discounting it). My previous views (published in many articles here 2010 and earlier on MJ Musings) about the timing the crucifixion, Passover, and Last Supper all began to change. With that said, I think there is a great value in looking at John to ask questions about the chronology of Yeshua’s last week.

Knowing the short attention spans of many readers, I will give my conclusions first and then you can decide whether to read the notes and commentary below. I give two results tables depending on whether we think the crucifixion was on a Thursday or a Friday (see below, “Friday Is Not a Certainty”):


  • Saturday (possibly Friday night), Yeshua arrives in Bethany (Jn 12:1). If so, he would not have traveled far since it was the Sabbath.
  • Saturday night they hold a dinner for him in Bethany (arguably, could be Friday night).
  • Sunday morning is the Triumphal Entry (Jn 12:12; arguably, could be Saturday morning, which would be unlikely and render Thursday crucifixion unlikely).
  • Wednesday night is the Last Supper.


  • Sunday (or Sat night), Yeshua arrives in Bethany.
  • Monday morning (possibly Sunday) is the Triumphal Entry.
  • Thursday night is the Last Supper.

**Note that a Wednesday crucifixion theory, if based on John, would have the Triumphal Entry on Saturday morning (possibly Friday).

**Note that with so many ambiguities (what does “six days before” mean exactly?), the Palm Sunday/Good Friday tradition could fit with John’s chronology (as Raymond Brown supposes is does).

**The only things we can be “sure of” from John’s chronology: the crucifixion is on Nisan 14 when the lambs would be slaughtered and the Last Supper is the night before the regular Passover Seder. We cannot be certain about the day of the week given all the ambiguities.

Taking the statements about timing at face value from John (for example, we skip over possibilities such as the notion that the Lazarus story may be told out of chronological order), we find these helpful periods, events, and chronological notes leading to the crucifixion and Passover:

  • 10:22, Hanukkah.
  • 10:40-42, Interlude beyond the Jordan.
  • Ch. 11, The raising of Lazarus.
  • 11:54, Interlude in the town of Ephraim (no one knows where this town is located).
  • 11:55, Passover at hand and many had come to Jerusalem to purify themselves (very important, see commentary below).
  • 12:1, Six days before Passover (thus, five before the crucifixion).
  • 12:2-10, Mary anoints Yeshua, chief priests plot and plan.
  • 12:12, The next day (five days before Passover, four days before the crucifixion).
  • 12:13-16, Triumphal Entry.
  • 12:17-19, Pharisees concerned with his popularity.
  • 12:20-36, Greeks are brought to him, heavenly voice.
  • 12:37-50, Yeshua hides, sayings on belief and unbelief.
  • 13:1, Before the Passover.
  • 13:2-27, Last Supper.
  • 13:28-30, They supposed Judas went to buy what was needed for the feast.
  • The remainder of chs. 13-17, discourses at the Last Supper.
  • 18:1-27, Nighttime arrest and first trials.
  • 18:28, It was morning; priests would not enter as they feared being disqualified to eat the Passover (see commentary below).
  • 19:1-13, Roman trial, flogging.
  • 19:14, It was the day of preparation for the Passover.
  • 19:15-30, Crucifixion and death.
  • 19:31, It was the day of preparation, bodies to be buried before Sabbath, Sabbath was a high day.
  • 19:32-41, Body removed and burial.
  • 19:42, They laid him close since time was short and it was the day of preparation.
  • 20:1, First day of the week, women come to tomb in the early morning.

According to Numbers 19, the period of time for purification after coming into contact with any kind of corpse impurity (contact with the dead, being under a roof where a corpse lay, or contact with people or objects that have corpse impurity, etc.) is seven days.

We know that people would come to feasts early in Jerusalem (not a strict requirement to fulfill the entire period in the city), with many arriving in time to spend the entire seven days purifying themselves. Paul purified himself seven days before his Nazirite vow (Acts 21:24-27). Josephus mentions the practice of many pilgrims coming from the countryside to Jerusalem and spending the seven days of purification in Jerusalem (War I.XI.6 #229). Thus, in 11:55, while Yeshua has not yet arrived near Jerusalem, some of those who have arrived wonder when he will show.

The chief priests would have to consider themselves impure if they went under Pilate’s roof (as violence happened there and a corpse under that roof was a real possibility). This would make them unfit to eat the Passover (Numb 9:6-12). Thus we see here, as in several other indications, that Yeshua’s morning trial and crucifixion happened on Nisan 14, when the lambs for Passover were slaughtered.

Every indication in John is that Yeshua was crucified starting the morning on which the Passover lambs were slaughtered. John 19:14 is clear that it was the day for preparing for the Passover (which is Nisan 14).

I have in the past defended the “Good Friday” notion (that Yeshua was crucified on Friday). But that was based on previous assumptions I held and harmonizing Mark with John (something I no longer feel the need to do). If Passover (the first day of Unleavened Bread) is a Sabbath, then the “Sabbath” mentioned could be the weekly Sabbath (Friday night till Saturday night) or any day of the week on which the Passover fell. If Yeshua was crucified before Passover started, then we have no reason for dogmatism about a Friday crucifixion (but neither is it impossible, Matthew 12:40 notwithstanding).

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PODCAST: Lamb of God #2 Fri, 23 Mar 2012 13:50:31 +0000 yeshuain Sometimes we understand a story best only after we have read to the end. Like a detective story, the Gospel of John has some revelation that waits until 21:24. And when we read a second time, once we understand, there are some connections between Messiah, Passover, Temple sacrifices, and the eyewitness experience of the Beloved Disciple that add new layers of meaning to Yeshua as our Passover.

Lamb of God #2

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REVIEW: Anthony Le Donne’s Historical Jesus Thu, 22 Mar 2012 13:21:38 +0000 yeshuain Historical Jesus: What can we know and how can we know it?, Anthony Le Donne, Eerdmans, 2011.

This short and very readable volume is valuable but flawed. The reason I say that: great information on historical “knowing” and application to historical Jesus studies, but poor application to the Jesus story once Le Donne turns his attention to it. First, the part I think is good.

When it comes to historical knowledge, how we know history, Le Donne explains in layman terms why modernism overreached. Modernism was too optimistic in some ways and too skeptical in others. It assumed we could find “the facts, just the facts” and view history objectively, in a one to one correspondence. All knowledge, even memory, is interpretation, says Le Donne, in what I deem to be a proper postmodern correction.

And Le Donne carefully and clearly explains how memory and historical knowledge actually work. If a reader wants a book showing how postmodernism is a great improvement on modernism, this one is perfect for the task. All new knowledge is filtered through our previous knowledge, and is a matter of interpretation. There is no un-interpreted fact. Memory itself, as Le Donne demonstrates, is “refracted” (to use his word) just as the view of deep space is subtly altered by the limits of our optical technology. And we put new data into categories we understand from previous things we have learned. Paradigm changes and new categories come slowly, building on previous knowledge. That is why, over time, our knowledge improves, as more and more data give us new categories of understanding. Knowledge is provisional, destined to be improved as our base of ideas grows.

When we experience something and access the memory of that experience, we categorize it according to pre-conceived ideas.

How does this apply to Jesus? He lived according to ideas and categories from the prophets. He spoke ideas that had precursors in Israelite thought. His followers and critics alike understood him in categories from the Hebrew Bible. He deliberately evoked themes shared by Jewish hearers and put his own twist on them. All of this, so far, is undeniable.

But when Le Donne creatively applies examples, that is where I think his work suffers. Here is a prime example of the dubious results of his application: the ascension never happened but was Luke superimposing Elijah typology on the memory of Jesus’ death. That is, Luke heard the accounts of eyewitnesses and read earlier gospels like Mark, but the pre-conceived categories of the Elijah story colored his perception of what happened to Jesus. His prior categories of knowledge boxed him into certain ways of thinking about Jesus. Elijah ascended and the disciples remembered Jesus according to many Elijah-like sayings and deeds. Thus, the ascension scene of Yeshua at the end of Luke, repeated at the beginning of Acts, is a the result of a chain of memory refraction passing from Mark to Luke, in which Elijah typology is taken too literally.

The mechanism Le Donne suggests for this is as follows: Luke had before him Mark 16:19 (that is already questionable as Mark 16:19 is thought to have a later origin than Luke and that Mark properly ends at 16:8). Mark 16:19 makes a simple literary statement about Yeshua being taken up into heaven. Luke interprets this literally through the Elijah story and assumes a bodily ascension into the sky. Luke then takes what is simple literary allusion to the death and then disappearance of Yeshua from the tomb to have been a resurrection and ascension into the sky.

But as creative as this reconstruction sounds, it is based on omitting certain things and allowing others which have no basis. Did Luke really have Mark 16:19 before him? Or is Mark 16:19 a scribal addition from later than the New Testament? Could it be that Mark 16:19 is actually based on Luke’s account of the ascension? And the greatest gap in Le Donne’s thinking, it seems to me, is that he finds a creative re-explanation of the ascension, but leaves untouched the empty tomb and resurrection appearance stories. Is he implying that the resurrection may have really happened but not the ascension?

I recommend Le Donne’s book for what it is great at: explaining historical knowledge, what it is, how memory is constrained to be an interpretation and not a mythically objective reporting of “what happened,” and a defense of traditional categories of historical Jesus studies as valid as long as the idea of authenticity is properly defined. I shudder when I read Le Donne’s applications, though, not only to the ascension, but also to the “triumphal entry” and “temple cleansing” incidents. Numerous pre-judgments about the state of Jesus’ disciple movement, the Temple authorities, and Jesus’ own psychology color Le Donne’s examples. There is much room to disagree with his application of his solidly helpful theory.

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PODCAST: Lamb of God #1 Fri, 16 Mar 2012 18:17:31 +0000 yeshuain Passover is coming. It’s a good time to meditate on many themes. One that get’s less attention — I think — than it should is the lamb of God thread in the gospel of John. There is probably a lot more to it than you think. And it is good.

Lamb of God #1

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Low and High Versions of the Yeshua Story Fri, 09 Mar 2012 22:36:44 +0000 yeshuain THE YESHUA STORY, LOW VERSION
At last, in the days of the Second Temple a great Son of Israel arose in Galilee. He was a Hasid whose piety and Spirit-endowment worked healings. He was a teacher who spoke of the kingdom, the malkhut hashamayim, the world to come. The Temple authorities and the would-be rabbis in Judea opposed him. His miracles bothered them, since he was not one of them. His fanatical following scared them and was enough to convince the Roman governor to kill him. But the God of Israel raised him and he ascended to be the heavenly Messiah. God revealed that the death of Yeshua was a substitutionary atonement for all who would believe. At the end of the age, God will send him back as the Messianic king.

The story of Israel is not simply on earth, but in heaven. The Ancient One would give dominion to the Divine One who is like a man (the Son of Man). In Galilee a man became known for his miracles and kingdom teaching. His followers thought he was simply a human Messiah, but some things did not fit. He did not heal by prayer, but by his authority. He forgave sins. He said he was Lord of the Sabbath. He said the Son of Man would suffer Israel’s tribulation in himself. He rose and ascended and then they knew him to be the Divine Messiah and Redeemer, the Son of Man who received all authority from the Father. God himself, the Son and not the Father, had become a man. God himself took on humanity to raise humanity toward divinity. God himself experienced death to free us from death. The Radiance of God has been among us and will come again.

What difference does it make which version we believe?

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REVIEW: The Jewish Gospels by Daniel Boyarin Thu, 08 Mar 2012 22:46:00 +0000 yeshuain Daniel Boyarin is Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. In the foreword by Jack Miles, he is called “one of two or three greatest rabbinic scholars in the world.” I’m not qualified to assign numbers to who is or isn’t the world’s greatest Talmud scholar, but it is easy to say that Boyarin knows his Talmud better than any but maybe a few dozen people in the world.

So, it might surprise you to know that Boyarin thinks Judaism and Christianity are compatible. His goal, stated on pages 6-7 is to help Christians and Jews to stop vilifying each other. He doesn’t follow Jesus and isn’t asking fellow Jews to do so. But he demolishes all ideas that Christian devotion to Jesus is contrary to Judaism or that Christianity is anything other than a Judaism to which mostly non-Jews have been drawn. Jews in the time of Jesus were looking, he says, for a divine messiah. And Jesus’ earliest followers were kosher Jews. The sad separation and enmity of Judaism and Christianity is something to get beyond, not something to perpetuate.

Among the themes of the book are some startling claims which deep six the status quo that Judaism and Christianity are separate and incompatible ideas about God and faith:

  • Jews in the time of Jesus were expecting a divine-man Messiah figure.
  • Many Jews already believed in something very much like what Christians call the Son and Father.
  • Some accepted Jesus as divine-man and some did not; both groups were Jews; one of these groups we now call Christianity and the other Judaism.
  • Christianity is a Judaism.
  • It is not just that Jesus is a Jew, but Christ, the exalted and divine figure, is also a Jew.
  • The doctrinal police represented by some rabbis and church fathers are the ones who sought to make Judaism and Christianity incompatible (he gives the specific example of Jerome who rejected people with orthodox faith who wished to remain Jews, saying they had to renounce Jewishness to be true Christians).
  • Early Messianic Jews (Christian Jews) called Nazarenes must have been a sizable group even in the fourth century.
  • The false boundary between Judaism and Christianity needs to be blurred.
  • “Son of God” originally meant the human Davidic ruler; “Son of Man” originally was a divine figure equal with God though submitted to him.
  • The roots of the All-Transcendent God [Father] and the Immanent Agent God [Son] go back even to pre-Israelite days as Canaanites sought to understand deity as both.
  • The Similitudes of Enoch (part of the book called 1 Enoch) give the lie to the notion that Judaism rejected a divine redeemer who is a God-man.
  • The Similitudes, written about the same time as Mark, parallel the ideas of a divine man almost identically to Mark, but neither text was aware of the other.
  • Yeshua (Jesus) and his early followers were kosher (he documents how Mark 7 and the “all foods clean” passage have been misunderstood).
  • There was a history of faith in a suffering Messiah (Isaiah 53 style) before Jesus and the usual debate about whether Isaiah 53 concerns Israel or Messiah is a moot argument.
  • The liberal Christian notion that the church developed the suffering Messiah idea by misinterpreting the Hebrew Bible is false.
  • The Gospels are a conservative return to an earlier idea of a Second Divine Figure, who represents the Immanent Aspect of God.
  • Jesus, or Mark, knew his way around a halakhic argument.

Boyarin also gives many intriguing solutions to long-held puzzles about Christology, the theology of the divinity of Jesus and his humanity, and how the Gospel texts are using the Hebrew scriptures and dealing with the seeming paradoxes of Yeshua (Jesus):

  • The debate about “Son of Man” as “human one” or “divine redeemer” can be resolved if we understand “Son of Man” as a simile: one who is divine but it is like he is human.
  • Contrary to much Christian scholarship, Yeshua (Jesus) saw himself as Son of Man from the beginning, not just at the Second Coming.
  • Daniel 7 has two ideas in tension: Son of Man is divine redeemer but also Son of Man is Israel.
  • The root of Jesus’ saying “the Son of Man” must suffer is Dan 7:25-27 where Son of Man is Israel and must suffer a time, times, and half a time. Jesus midrashically reads this as the Son of Man (himself) suffering for Israel as Ideal Israel.
  • Christianity long ago deemed adoptionism a heresy (Jesus became divine at his baptism when filled with Spirit). This idea is called apotheosis (a man becomes divine by indwelling divine spirit). Yet the gospels contain this theme, especially Mark, argues Boyarin (though he becomes God at his ascension, not his baptism). However, see the next bullet point.
  • The opposite of adoptionism (apotheosis) is theophany (incarnation, God becomes man) and the divine man is shown to have pre-existed and been divine before birth as a human. This theme is also in the Gospels and is emphasized over the apotheosis theme.
  • Boyarin sees both theophany (God became man) and apotheosis (a man became God, Jesus became God as his ascension) in the Gospels. Are these two incompatible streams? See my thought below.

What about Boyarin’s notion that the Gospels have both apotheosis (Jesus becomes God at the ascension) and theophany (Jesus was already God who became man at his birth)? As he shows extensively, the same thing happens in the Similitudes of Enoch, which Enoch chapters 70-71 seemingly contradicting what had been said earlier about Enoch. While earlier it seems Enoch became the Son of Man when, as it says in Genesis, he “walked with God and was not,” in truth, he was already Son of Man before he was born, according to chapters 70-71. Are these ideas really a contradiction? Perhaps they are relative to whether Enoch is viewed from the earthy viewpoint or the divine. This is a way to take Boyarin’s notion that in the Gospels Yeshua (Jesus) both becomes God and already was God. In reality, he already was God, but in appearance his divinity was revealed at his ascension. This way of reading it is compatible with the creeds of Christianity and the strong divinity statements in Paul, Hebrews, and Johannine writings.

The Jewish Gospels is a short, approachable book. Even people who don’t read academic literature can enjoy it and understand most of it. Boyarin gos out of his way to define terms in simple language. The body of the book is only 160 pages.

I can’t honestly think of a sound reason to criticize the book, although it seems my review may be weak for lack of finding fault. I found the entire book engaging and finished it in about three hours. In my opinion, this is a great step forward in Jewish-Christian relations and is a mind-opener worthy of being read by many thoughtful Jewish and Christian thinkers.

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Symbolic Actions and Kingdom Enactments Thu, 08 Mar 2012 22:40:37 +0000 yeshuain Isaiah spent most of his career in sackcloth, but for three years went about barefoot and in his undergarments as a sign of what was to come (Isa 20:1-3). Ezekiel laid on his side for three hundred and ninety days (Ezek 4:4-5). Zechariah broke two staffs over his knee and threw thirty shekels into the treasury of the house of the Lord (Zech 11:7-14).

These are symbolic actions, a kind of prophetic message in and of themselves. Yeshua also engaged in symbolic actions and what I call kingdom enactments.

Symbolic Actions Declaring High Authority

  • The Triumphal Entry (Mk 11:1-11; Mt 21:1-11; Lk 19:29-44; Jn 12:12-19) – Riding deliberately into the city as per Zechariah 9 with crowds hailing him, Yeshua is making a claim of messianic identity.
  • The Temple Cleansing (Mk 11:15-17; Mt 21:12-13; Lk 19:45-46; Jn 2:13-17) – Perhaps Malachi 3:1 is in the background (after the messenger — Elijah, John the Baptist) the Lord comes suddenly to his Temple. Yeshua quotes Isaiah 56 and Jeremiah 7. This action largely contributed to his arrest and execution.
  • Forgiving Sins (Mk 2:5; Mt 9:2; Lk 5:20 and another incident in Lk 7:48) – In even the most skeptical interpretation, Yeshua is claiming to know when God forgives a sinner. Since he says in Mk 2:10; Mt 9:6; Lk 5:24 that the Son of Man has authority to forgive, evidence is strong Yeshua is claiming more. He is claiming to be the divine Son of Man with authority in such matters as per Daniel 7 and the dominion given him by the Ancient of Days.
  • Sending the Twelve (Mk 6:7-13; Mt 10:5-42; Lk 9:1-6) and Sending the Seventy (Lk 10:1-16) – Even more so that Yeshua’s own mission of proclaiming the kingdom (Mk 1:15; Mt 4:17), sending disciples to proclaim it suggests starting a renewal movement (a prophetic or even messianic role).

Symbolic Actions as Identity Stories

  • The Baptism of Yeshua (Mk 1:9-11; Mt 3:13-17; Lk 3:21-22) – Yeshua’s participation in John’s movement already connects him to the role of prophet. The heavenly voice affirms Yeshua’s identity.
  • The Temptation of Yeshua (Mk 1:12-13; Mt 4:1-11; Lk 4:1-13) – Yeshua is tested for worthiness for a role of high authority (prophet, messiah). Satan affirms Yeshua’s identity in an ironic manner.
  • The Transfiguration (Mk 9:2-10; Mt 17:1-9; Lk 9:28-36) – Yeshua ascends a mountain with three as witnesses and experiences a prefiguring of coming glory and a visit from Moses and Elijah. A heavenly voice affirms his identity.

Kingdom Enactments
In these Yeshua demonstrates that he has partially brought the kingdom with him (the rest to come later).

  • Healings, for in the world to come there will be no illness, disability, or death.
  • Exorcisms, for the forces of spiritual evil are due to be defeated by God.
  • Banquets, which foreshadow the banquet to come, a messianic promise.
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PODCAST: Divinity1 Fri, 02 Mar 2012 21:55:43 +0000 yeshuain To some people, the idea of Yeshua’s divinity was probably something developed late. It must have involved a departure from Jewish thought. It must have been the result of syncretism, mixing pagan notions with the original understanding of Yeshua as a Jewish teacher or as Messiah. But what is the real explanation for the origin the idea of Yeshua’s divinity?


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List: Nature Miracles of Yeshua Wed, 22 Feb 2012 11:00:52 +0000 yeshuain In some cases these miracles are curiosities, like the coin from the fish (some think this may be a parable rather than a literal event). But in others, these are among the most majestic portion in the gospels. Yeshua calming the storm and walking on water is not like the miracles of Elijah and Elisha. These are unprecedented. The claim by eyewitnesses that such things happened is amazing. Against the idea that these are fictive tales devised by a movement to magnify the glory of their founder, the gospels are written in the style of Greco-Roman biographies (unlike the later rabbinic tales) and name their eyewitness sources according to the accepted style:

  • Water to wine – Jn 2:9
  • Catch of fish – Lk 5:6
  • Calming the storm – Mk 4:39, Mt 8:26, Lk 8:24
  • Feeding five thousand – Mk 6:41, Mt 14:15, Lk 9:12, Jn 6:5
  • Walking on water – Mk 6:49, Mt 14:25, Jn 6:19
  • Feeding four thousand – Mk 8:8, Mt 15:32
  • Coin from the fish – Mt 17:27
  • Cursing the fig tree – Mt 21:19
  • Second catch of fish – Jn 21:6
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List: Exorcisms by Yeshua. Tue, 21 Feb 2012 11:00:04 +0000 yeshuain There are no exorcisms in the Bible before Yeshua (note: unless you are in a church that reads the Apocrypha as scripture, in which case Tobit has the first exorcism). The few exorcisms in Acts seem to be about the Presence of Yeshua validating the movement in the early days. I take it that exorcism is primarily a sign of the kingdom (reign of God) brought to the fore in the clash between the “Holy One of God” and the forces of evil who ruin creation. There are only six exorcisms in the gospels:

  • The Man in the Capernaum Synagogue, Mark 1:23-27 (Lk 4:33-36).
  • The Gerasene Demoniac, Mark 5:1-20 (Mt 8:28-34; Lk 8:26-39).
  • The Syro-Phoenician Woman’s Daughter, Mark 7:25-30 (Mt 15:21-28).
  • The Deaf and Mute Spirit, Mark 9:14-29 (Mt 17:14-20; Lk 9:37-43).
  • The Blind and Mute Man, Matthew 12:22-24.
  • The Bent Woman, Luke 13:10-16.
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“My Son” as Midrash Mon, 20 Feb 2012 23:12:47 +0000 yeshuain It’s a famous example of what seems to be the unusual, perhaps questionable, use of the Jewish scriptures by the apostles. It occurs in a very noticeable location — the birth narrative of Yeshua in Matthew. Some parts of the Bible get very little traffic, but the birth narratives in Matthew and Luke are pretty much highways and not little goat trails. So people are bound to notice some odd things about Matthew’s “this happened in order to fulfill” sayings.

One of the two weirdest (there is one that is even weirder) is Matthew 2:15. Is Matthew able to read and understand the Hebrew Bible? Is he guilty of a strange and arbitrary reading simply to justify his belief in Yeshua of Nazareth? Of course the author of Matthew knows what he is doing. It is the modern reader who must make the adjustment into the world of midrashic use of scripture. Midrash is a kind of teaching using the scriptures in a homiletic manner (a sermon, a talk on a religious or moral subject). Midrash is interested in going beyond the plain meaning — but it is not intended to replace the plain meaning. Midrash is looking for something hinted at. And Midrash always has a justification. It is never arbitrary. It is always based on some technical detail about the words, grammar, or interconnections between the verse in question and other verses on the same theme.

One aspect of the art of midrash is to say something that seems a tad outrageous. But on closer investigation the outrageous statement can be justified and also can be shown relevant. The sages and rabbis of old loved to discuss halakhah (detailed investigations of categories and practices for keeping the commandments of Torah). But the public preferred to hear from them midrashes — sermons and parables with moral, theological, and narrative interest.

So, let’s look at the great midrash of Matthew on Hosea 11:1 and learn as students.

Matthew’s citation of Hosea 11:1 is much closer to the Hebrew than the Greek translation (LXX, Septuagint). The Hebrew text of Hosea 11:1 rendered in as literal a form as possible looks something like this:
When a youth [was] Israel, I loved him; and out of Egypt I called my son.
The LXX has: out of Egypt have I called his children.
Matthew has: out of Egypt I called my son.

Although Matthew wrote in Greek, his midrash on Hosea depended on the Hebrew text (or if not, a Greek text that was based on the proto-Masoretic text).

It is quickly obvious if you look up Hosea 11:1 that the verse is not about Messiah, but about Israel. Vs.2 says, “As they [prophets] called to them they went away from them; to the Baals they would sacrifice and to images they would burn offerings.” (Note: Most modern translations deviate from the Masoretic text, but I am not persuaded of their reasons regarding this verse and so offer my own translation based on the Delitzsch commentary).

What facts of the situation did Matthew have in front of him that led to this connection between Yeshua the son and Israel the son?

First, Matthew had the gospel accounts from eyewitnesses that the heavenly voice twice called Yeshua “son,” once at the baptism and once at the transfiguration. Second, he had the unusual manner of Yeshua’s speaking, which was frequent, about his Father. The sonship of Yeshua was a major theme of Yeshua’s teaching and God was “Abba” to him. Third, he knew the deep theme of Israel’s sonship in the Hebrew Bible. In Deuteronomy 32 (a key chapter), Israel is the son who disappointed God who gave him birth. In the Exodus tradition, God said to Pharaoh, “Let my son go” (Exod 4:23). God promised to be a father the Davidic king (Messiah) who would be a son to him. In the Psalms about the Davidic king (Messiah) the king is called son and it is even said, “you are my son; today I have begotten you” (Psa 2:7).

Matthew is saying that Yeshua is the son like Israel is the son and like the Davidic-messianic king is the son. He is defining the meaning of Yeshua’s sonship. The specific event that brought this comparison to mind is Yeshua’s family coming back into Galilee out of Egypt, where they had been hiding from Herod.

Comparisons between contemporary events and ancient biblical events were a poetic Hebrew way of thinking. A similar famous text is also used in this section about Rachel weeping for her children. The event that inspired Jeremiah the prophet to speak of Rachel weeping was when exiles to Babylon, terribly treated Judeans being taken away from everything they held dear, passing nearby the place where Genesis had indicated Rachel was buried. It was not unusual for Jeremiah to relate geography — the place Rachel was buried — to events in his time — exiles being tragically marched away.

The problem a modern reader has is simple: we look for the plain meaning, the literal. We tend to be bothered by poetic, symbolic, homiletical connections. If Matthew doesn’t have a prophecy-fulfillment connection to Hosea 11:1, how dare he cite the verse!

But Matthew has done something much deeper. He has related Yeshua (not only here, but in dozens of places) firmly to the sonship of Israel and the sonship of the Davidic-messianic kings.

In Matthew’s day, the movement of Yeshua-followers was expanding. Certain elements already wanted to remove Yeshua in some ways from his Jewish context. Matthew famously represents the interest of keeping the image of Yeshua within a Jewish framework. Yeshua is Ideal Israel and Yeshua is the New Moses. The midrash on Hosea 11:1 is a masterful example of the art of teaching Yeshua’s life from within Jewish thought.

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