Wednesday, December 10, 2014

[Respectfully] Challenging Tim Hegg's View That Yeshua Did Not Endorse Oral Torah in Matthew 23

In Hegg's "What version of the Mishnah Did Paul Read?", Hegg says many things that we can agree on.  He says the Mishnah did not exist as a written document in the pre-destruction era.  He says that 1st Century Judaism was pluriform.  He says that the Mishnah does not necessarily reflect an accurate historical record of the beliefs and practices of 1st Century Judaism.

However, he does make some extremely bizarre assertions that run counter to the Tanak.  He slowly builds the case that there was always a fairly strict separation between written and oral Torah:

"The distinction between oral and written Torah is also marked by the locations in which each was taught and learned....In contrast to the beit sefer, the means of instruction in the beit midrash was that of oral repetition...We see, then, that though there was a mixture of written and oral learning in both the beit sefer as well as the beit midrash, the beit sefer was predominately concerned with the written text of the Tanach...and thus with reading and writing.  The beit midrash, on the other hand, was almost entirely dominated by listening and repeating the traditions...Here, then, in the methodology for learning and transmitting the oral and written Torah, we see that a clear distinction between the two was carefully guarded and maintained even into the post-destruction era."

And the big finale:

"But the second point is even more important:  while the exact identification and function of the 'seat of Moses' in 1st Century Judaisms eludes us, most scholars agree that 'the seat/chair of Moses' was connected with the synagogue, not the beit midrash.  Moreover, that Yeshua speaks of the 'scribes and the Pharisees' sitting in the 'seat of Moses' would very likely make a connection to the written Torah, not the oral Torah.  First, as noted earlier, the scribes (soferim; grammateis) were the preservers and transmitters of the written, biblical text, not the orally repeated traditions.  Second, the fact that Yeshua states the scribes and Pharisees 'sit in the seat of Moses' favors a linkage to the written Torah given at Sinai by the hand of Moses.  Some might argue that the oral Torah was also linked to Moses, for the rabbis taught that all of the oral Torah was also revealed at Sinai.  However, the rabbinic teaching that God gave the oral Torah to Moses at Sinai was not extant in the 1st Century..."

First, we should all note that Hegg says the scribes were NOT the transmitters of orally repeated traditions.  However, this directly contradicts Scripture:

"...the fourth meaning of the term [sopher].  The scribes who were scholars of scripture belonged to the group of the Levites (2 Chronicles 34:13).  According to Nehemiah 8, several Levites assisted Ezra during his Torah reading in the temple: 
'The Levites explained the Torah to the people, while the people remained in their places.  And they read from the scroll, from the Torah of God, interpreting it and clarifying its meaning; so they understood the reading. [Neh. 8:7-8] 
The fact that the Levitical scribes operated as a group is significant.  This does not mean that they took turns in reading and explaining.  It is far more plausible that they gave instruction simultaneously but at different points and to different audiences.  The Levitical scribes were teachers of Torah. 
'They offered instruction throughout Judah, and they had with them the Scroll of theTorah of [HaShem].  They made the rounds of all the cities of Judah and taught among the people.' [2 Chron. 17:9] 
Having the written Torah 'with them'...the Levites were 'teaching' [2 Chron 17:9], 'interpreting [Neh. 8:7], 'explaining' [Neh. 8:8], and 'clarifying the meaning' [Neh. 8:8] of the Torah.  As scholars of scripture, the Levites acted as the successors of Moses who had been the first to 'explicate'...the Torah (Deut 1:5; compare Deut 30:1-13)," pgs. 79-80, Scribal Culture by Van Der Toorn
These Scriptural passages also tell us that in addition to the reading of Torah being joined with "interpretation" (i.e. tradition), there is no indication that locations for learning were strictly, separated as Hegg maintains, into Bet Midrash and Bet Sefer.  He even admits that there is limited evidence to support his conclusion:

"While historic documentation describing the educational methods in the Judaisms of the pre-destruction era is sparse..."

In fact, we can only speculate about whether there was a separate "Bet Midrash" in the 1st Century because our evidence only goes back to the 2nd Century:

"In rabbinic literature, the bet midrash figures prominently, although the rabbis never define precisely the nature of the institution.  Sometimes the bet midrash appears to be a place where a master and his disciples gather for study; sometimes it appears to be an actual building.  An inscribed door lintel found in the Golan states, 'This is the bet midrash of R. Eliezer HaQappar,' a rabbi of the second century...One rabbinic text of the second century refers to 'the bet midrash at Ardaskus,' another to 'the bet midrash at Lod.'  These texts imply that by the second century the bet midrash was becoming a permanent institution in some localities.  As a rule, however, the rabbis of the second century did not need a special place for the instruction of their disciples..." pg 116 From the Maccabees to the Mishnah, Shaye Cohen.

Next, we should consider that Scripture also teaches that the oral Torah was, in addition to being a hallmark of the scribes, a hallmark of the Pharisees (whom Yeshua said sit in Moses' Seat):

"The New Testament is in full accord with Josephus' view that the hallmark of the Pharisees was the twofold Law, the 'tradition of the elders' (Matt. 15:1-9; Mark 7:1-13; Phil. 3:5-6; Gal. 1:13-14)," pg. 20 Judaism in the Time of Jesus by Irving Zeitlin

One last thing, "Moses' Seat" being singular and "Scribes and Pharisees" being plural, indicates that this was not a literal seat but rather a symbol of authority.  But let's say that Hegg is right that this only refers to a literal seat.  Hegg says it couldn't be associated with bet midrash.  Other scholars disagree:

"Of course, 'Seat of Moses' need not necessarily refer to a chair and could, by metaphor, refer directly to the teaching authority of Moses, which his successors took up.  (This was the usual interpretation before archaeology offered and alternative.)  Such a derivation of authority from Moses is the burden of m. 'Aboth 1.  The term 'Seat of Moses' suggests that a teach could be viewed as a 'vicar' of Moses.
     The chair, if there was one, need not necessarily have been located in a synagogue;  Davies and Allison suggest that Jesus means that the scribes and Pharisees run Moses' 'school.'  As seen above, 'teacher of Torah' was one of the Rabbis' favorite conceptions of Moses, and he was thought of in some respects simply as their most senior colleague.  The 'seat of Moses,' then, might refer to the authority of those who taught the Law and its interpretation, perhaps in the beth midrash," The New Testament Moses, by John Lierman

Now, I respect and love Tim Hegg.  I'm writing this to show that Hegg's ideas about Yeshua not endorsing oral Torah need to be examined.

Also, if Hegg reads this, I would invite him to respond.




  1. First, we should all note that Hegg says the scribes were NOT the transmitters of orally repeated traditions. However, this directly contradicts Scripture.

    You are assuming that when scripture states that the scribes interpreted the Torah, they were using some standard oral law... but that is all it is, an assumption. I can pick up the Bible, can conclude on an interpretation, so can an atheist, whoever is right or wrong, or both wrong, does not mean we used some form of oral law to interpret the text. So I don't see any contradiction here, just assumptions.

    The main argument would be, can one interpret the scriptures, without some form of oral tradition, I would hope so, because the reason I came to see the error of Replacement Theology within Christianity, is because I turned to interpreting the Bible based on what it actually says, instead of what 1000's of years of Christian tradition or oral interpretation has taught. In Judaism, they say that anyone who seeks to interpret scripture outside of Halachah, the traditional interpretation, will come to an erroneous understanding of scripture, a heretical understanding, FFOZ took this stance, when it claimed that people who did this were acting like Korah (remember :P). Christianity in its traditional form, says the exact same thing, and yet, the only way to break away from some of the false teachings and lies of Christianity, is to disregard its traditional understanding, and read scripture for what it says.

    The problem is in trying to make this black and white. The Bible clearly does not give us all the details, so there is room for interpretation and man made law to fill in some of the gaps, I personally do not see any issue with that, I do see an issue with the idea that scripture is only understood within oral tradition, which if your understanding is correct, this is exactly what it means.

  2. First, our hermeneutics are probably identical. I reject any Rabbinic "halachah" that contradicts Torah (Tanak/Apostolic Writings).

    Second, you said I was making an assumption. No, this is not true. Where in the Tanak does it say what a Totafot is? i.e. does it explain how to interpret this? No, it does not. Yet, Yeshua used many such traditions from the elders. Further, the Torah says the priests interpreted the written Torah so that people understood the meaning. It MUST follow logically that they explained practices such as totafot.

    This is not assumption, this is written Torah and logic.

  3. Hovav Ben Avraham AvinuDecember 10, 2014 at 12:06 PM

    Written Torah + Logic + new situations = ORAL LAW

  4. You missed a fine detail, the assumption is that there was a standard understanding of tradition (interpretation), a monolithic understanding, when in fact there was not, such as what is regarded today in Halachah... and if there is no one standard, then it cannot clearly hold the same weight as the Torah itself in terms of authority, thus they are not one and the same, and if it can be debated as Yeshua did and went against some of the traditions of the elders, then its authority in some ways is also diminished. You can't have it both ways. So you have to pick and choose, and if you are picking and choosing, then how much authority does the oral tradition really have.

    Even Messianic Judaism today, while claiming to adhere to the Oral Tradition as authoritative, conveniently ignore parts that they believe contradicts the Apostolic authority.

    Written Torah + Logic = Interpretation, and there are plenty to go around and there was plenty in the 1st century as well.

    Like I said before, I have nothing against man made laws in and of themselves, they are needed, the issue is when they are considered on the same level of authority as the Torah... However this cannot be true.

  5. Zion,

    I'm aware of that detail, which is why I've never advocated that rabbinic halachah carries mandatory authority. I've been very careful to say that rabbinic halachah should be accorded the weight of epistemic authority (i.e. that of expert of opinion). I have specifically juxtaposed epistemic authority with deontic authority (i.e. mandatory authority).

    The mistaken assumption to which you refer that Hegg notes in his article, is made by a number of Messianics who say that rabbinic halacha carries deontic authority (i.e. the same as written torah). NOTE: I'm not one of those Messianics.

    Hegg is not aware that there is a different approach to rabbinic halacha--the one I'm advocating.

  6. I have no idea the elaborate view Tim Hegg has on Halachah, never met the guy, however he practices much of it, so I am not sure he doesn't know, one gleaming example is he wears a kippah, you should email him concerning this and if you get an answer, I would like to know as well :P, however I think his main argument in his article is based on Judaism, and how they view Halacha, as well as many advocates within Messianic Judaism. Which is viewed as mandatory.

  7. Okay, I just sent his peeps a message. Will let you know... Or maybe they'll respond here.

  8. Shalom Peter.

    First thank you for asking to to interact on your post. I hope that his response is edifying to the Lord, and encourages fruitful discussion.

    Tim has responded to this article at the link below.

  9. Thanks, brother. I'll check it out now.