Thursday, April 30, 2015
Recovering Judaism: Why Neusner's Book on One Law is the Most Mind-Blowing Book I've Ever Read (CONTAINS EXTENDED EXCERPTS)
This morning I woke up at around 5AM. I hurried to the computer and began typing. Because I love all of you, I painstakingly typed out most of the preface and a large portion of Chapter 1 from Neusner's "Recovering Judaism."
Why did I do this?
Because what he presents is simply astounding:
(1) the reality that the Bible story of Israel's exile and restoration is the story of Adam and Eve's (i.e. humanity's) exile and restoration to "Eden";
(2) a new way of defining our Messianic faith: WE BELIEVE IN A META-ETHNIC JUDAISM!;
(3) the fullest and best explanation of why ALL of humanity must keep the One Law found in the Torah of Moses.
So what follows is an extremely long excerpt. In the next few days, there will be additional posts.
"This book aims to prove that, in its normative writings, Judaism is a universalistic religion, speaking a language common to all humanity and offering a place in God's kingdom to everyone. That proof is required because Judaism is commonly portrayed by both the faithful and the competing religions as ethnic and particularistic, exclusive and unwelcoming. Two forces today aim at the ethnicization of Judaism into a mere culture, Christianity and Jews themselves.
From New Testament times, Christianity has represented Judaism as insufficient because it excludes the gentiles from that 'Israel' of which Scripture speaks, the Israel that knows and worships the one and only God of all humanity. But on its own, Christianity cannot stifle the vitality of Judaism within the community of the faithful.
The Jewish community defines itself in ethnic and political terms, and even rabbis function more often than not as ethnic cheerleaders. Jews, so people maintain, have attitudes and feelings and opinions acquired through birth and upbringing and not accessible to other peoples, as do all other ethnic or racial groups. By Judaism, then, people mean, the Jews' ethnic culture. Then in an age of ethnic celebration, a time in which people emphasize difference and not commonality, Judaism finds itself represented as an ethnic religion, which is not a religion at all. It is the sum of Jews' experience: the culture, the history, the sentiment, and consciousness of the Jewish people. So difference and particularity rule, and Judaism, a religion that I shall show from its origins means to address all humanity from beginning to end, from creation to redemption at the end of days, loses all hearing.
To state matters simply: the Jews used to be a people with one religion, Judaism. Now, Judaism is becoming merely the religion of one people, an ethnic religion, thus, in the monotheist framework of a universal God of all humanity, deprived of its religiosity altogether.
The argument of this book, with its stress on the universalistic character of the thought and argument of Judaism to constitute a universal religious tradition, addressing the entirety of humanity exactly as do Christianity and Islam, competing with the other two monotheisms on an even playing field for the attention and affirmation of all who maintain that the one and only God who made heaven and earth has made himself known to humanity. ...the claim that [Judaism] affords access to the one and only God to only one sector of humanity, a sector sustained principally through ethnic or racial ties, and that that one and only God is inaccessible to everybody else--that absurd claim laid against Judaism caricatures Judaism and violates the generative logic of monotheism, whether in its Islamic or Christian or Judaic formulation.
Each of the monotheist religions--Judaism, Islam, and Christianity--chooses its own medium to convey one universal message to all humanity concerning the one and only unique God. All encompass in the story that they tell humanity the one God's self-manifestation to Abraham, then in the Torah given by God to Moses at Sinai, and, more generally, in the Hebrew Scriptures of ancient Israel. All concur on a further stage in revelation: God in Christ; God to the prophet, Muhammad; God in the Oral Torah, for Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, respectively. Judaism represents one of the three possibilities that inhere within the dialectics of monotheism. But while Christianity and Islam set forth a message of universal significance and appeal, Judaism finds itself represented as a backwater, not part of the mainstream of monotheism.
What I mean to demonstrate in these pages is that in its normative writings, Scripture as conveyed in the Mishnah, talmudic amplifications of the Mishnah, and midrash (terms defined in the Glossary), Judaism addresses all of humanity and appeals to everyone to accept the yoke of God's kingdom as set forth in the Torah of Moses. In this account of the method and message of the Judaic monotheism defined in the classical and normative documents of Judaism in their formative age, coinciding with the formation of Christianity and concluding at the eve of the advent of Islam, I show the universal character and appeal of Judaic monotheism in the mainstream of humanity.
It is, I demonstrate, a monotheism for all, not just for an 'us.' Appealing to the revelation of Sinai, oral and written, Judaism frames a shared, accessible logic that forms of the Torah a universally applicable and compelling system of salvation. Judaic monotheism aims to persuade the world to accept the one and only God's dominion and to identify, in the world, the marks of God's rule. So addressing all of humanity Judaism appeals to a reasoned reading of revelation. As there is no ethnic physics or mathematics, so in the framework of monotheism, Judaism, like Christianity and Islam, claims there is no ethnic theology, only a universal claim on the intellect of every person in the world resting on the authority of God's revealed will recorded at the Torah--the instruction--of Sinai.
Specifically, Judaism transforms the specificities of the Torah into generalizations that encompass the story of all humanity, beginning, middle, and end. That story begins with Adam and Eve and their fall from Eden and the advent of death and ends with the restoration of humanity to eternal life. How do the sages of the Judaic documents of ancient times turn the particular story of Adam and Israel into the universal account of humanity at large? What transforms Scripture as portrayed by Judaic monotheism into a universal statement is its appeal to the shared intellectual qualities of the human mind. Common rules of thought and analysis, Judaism maintains, transform the Torah's particularities into universally accessible and rationally compelling truth. We deal with a universality of intellectual medium, not only of message--a transcendence over particularities made possible by appeal to self-evidence: to the shared modes of thought and analysis that all reasonable persons find compelling. Judaism appeals above all to logic, reason, and rationality in the reading of the revealed Scripture common to the three monotheist religions.
Judaism's one God is portrayed by the sages' Torah as above all bound by the same reason and rationality that humanity in common shares; it is a universal monotheism based on shared intellect, not on the imposition of revelation from on high to the prophet, not on the formation of a universal message around a particular man, risen from the dead, as in the cases of Islam and Christianity. In Judaism resurrection marks common humanity, and prophecy takes the form of reasoned rules. But among the monotheist religions, all aiming to speak to all humanity, what choice did, and does, Judaism have but to rely upon the intangible force of a shared reasoning about common premises? Few in number, always subordinate in practical power, Judaism in its formative age and normative statement, in the first six centuries of the Common Era, chose the way of the weak, the road of rationality. Lacking all force but the power of reason, to makes its case Judaism offered only argument based on irrefutable facts and compelling reason.
Denied access to politics, through which Christianity made its way in the West, speaking within a polity lacking all military prowess, through which Islam spread the word, Judaism took the third way, besides the political and the military ones. It was the way of re-presenting revelation through reason. The sages of the Torah, written and oral, therefore exercised the compulsion of rational argument, following the model not of Moses before Amalek and Moab but Abraham confronting God at Sodom: 'Will not the Judge of all the world do justice?' That is why the particular statement of monotheism represented by Judaism insists upon the well-constructed, rational argument when it speaks of both revealed facts and ordinary matters. Judaism speaks of sanctification in terms of the here and now and of salvation and justice in the framework of practicalities pertinent to the generality of the human condition. Therein I find the universalistic character of Judaic monotheism, and that is what in detail, through the native categories of Judaism, halakah or norms of behavior, haggadah or norms of belief, I demonstrate in these pages.
This book forms part of a long-term effort on my part to translate the results of literary and historical scholarship into accounts accessible to a wider reading public. To construct this history-of-religions interpretation of Judaism as a universalistic, and universalizing, mainstream-monotheism, I call in part upon and rework completed research of mine into theology and haggadah, philosophy and halakah. That is with special reference to three works, two for theology and haggadah: The Presence of the Past, the Pastness of the Present. History, Time, and Paradigm in Rabbinic Judaism and The Theology of the Oral Torah. Revealing the Justic of God; and one for philosophy and halakah, The Halakah. An Encyclopedia of the Law of Judaism....
pg. 1 "...Judaism addresses undifferentiated humanity with a message of universal application. It is a religion that speaks of one God for all the world.
But that is not how the other monotheisms regard and represent Judaism. They see it as ethnic and particular, not as universal--and therefore as not really monotheism. The representation of Judaism as particularistic, narrow, and ethnic characterizes Christian accounts of Judaism, whether explicitly apologetic or merely insidiously so..."
pg. 2 "Christian theology in times past and contemporary scholarship of a historical character as well take as their starting point the position that 'Israel' in the Judaism of that time is ethnic and that consequently Judaism, while affirming one God, kept God to itself. Then, the Christian theological apologetic goes on, the gospel improved upon Judaism's monotheism by bringing to all the peoples of the world what had originally been kept for only one people alone. So for Judaism 'Israel' refers to the ethnic group, a particular people, defined in quite this-worldly terms. And the contrast between ethnic and particularistic Judaism and the universalistic Christianity follows."
"Dunn's Representation of Judaism as Particularistic....How, then, does Dunn explain the parting of the ways? He appeals to the particularity and ethnicity of Judaism, as against the meta-ethnic, universalizing power of Christianity to reach out beyond the ghetto walls of an ethnic Israel....
Dunn's premise is that 'Israel' found definition in both an 'ethnic' and a religious identity. Certainly for our own day his view prevails, since a broad consensus maintains that Judaism is 'the religion of the Jews,' a conglomerate of Jews' public opinion, whatever that may be, and that the Jews form an ethnic group, with the religious part also constituting a religious community. So by Judaism people mean an ethnic ideology bearing religious pretensions.
....But in the Torah, the written as conveyed through the oral, there is no ethnic Israel that is distinct from a super-natural Israel at all. Such a distinction does not take place in the sources that attest to the Judaism of which Dunn speaks," pgs. 2-3.
"How does Judaism accomplish its universalistic aspiration? In its world-encompassing conception, Judaism tells the story of God and humanity, specifically, of God's failure and hopes for ultimate success in making humanity. The story takes shape in stories of beginnings, specifically accounts of Eden and the fall from grace to death, then Israel and its fall from the land to exile. But Judaism carries the story forward to Israel's ultimate return, guided by the Torah, to the Eden of the land of Israel. Then the Torah, within the tale of Judaism, comprises God's self-manifestation to Moses at Mount Sinai, God's will for humanity set forth to Israel in oral and written form. Adam's fall from Eden, embodied in death that comes to everyone, finds its counterpart in Israel's exile from the land of Israel, but then the counterpart, Israel's return to the land at the end of time, inaugurates the final chapter in resurrection, judgment, and entry into life eternal in 'the world to come.' Israel then stands for humanity, fallen into death, risen into eternal life.
Now 'Israel' within the same story encompasses all those who know the one and only God: the saving remnant of humanity in the aftermath of Adam and Eve, this time destined to life eternal. The simplest possible statement of the matter is as follows: 'All Israelites have a share in the world to come, as it is said, 'your people also shall be all righteous, they shall inherit the land forever; the branch of my planting, the work of my hands, that I may be glorified' (Isa. 60:21; m. Sanh. 11:1). To state matters in general terms by turning the predicate into the subject: 'all those who have a share in the world to come are Israel[ites],' and, within the framework of the Torah, tis monotheism and prophecy, that will ultimately include nearly the whole of humanity....
Defined in this way, as is done in Judaic doctrine and liturgy alike, 'Israel' no more forms an ethnic group or a mere nation in a this-worldly sense than the church is a mere imperium or the abode of Israel a mere- this-worldly political entity... Stated in this manner, Judaism is no more an ethnic religion than Christianity is a bearer of culture alone or than Islam is nothing more than a means of social amelioration....But while everyone recognizes the universality of Christianity and Islam in their statement of monotheism, Judaism finds itself represented as particularistic and ethnic, and not only by its competition within monotheism. So far as that representation appeals to religious and theological, not merely political facts, it vastly misses the mark, as Dunn's christological apologetics shows," pgs. 3-5
"Demonstrating the Universalistic Character of Judaism
How do I show the universalistic character of Judaic monotheism? It is, specifically, by setting forth in the reading of revealed Scripture a rationality common to all humanity. I tell the story of how the Judaic statement of a universalistic-intellectual monotheism is realized in the normative laws, or halakah, and in the normative reading of Scripture, or haggadah....The one whole Torah, oral and written, speaks of particulars but conveys universal truths. But that mode of monotheist discourse that the sages uniquely framed as the medium for the Torah's message lost purchase upon the inner life of Judaism, and the other monotheisms never acknowledged it to begin with," pg. 6.
"The Starting Point
Our starting point then is clear. The theology of Judaism sets forth a monotheist system along lines entirely familiar from the Christian one and entirely congruent with the Islamic one. All three monotheisms speak of creation of Adam, sin and atonement, mercy and forgiveness, justice and the last judgment and the world to come or paradise or Eden regained. As we shall presently see, the main lines of that theology that the sages put forth tell the tale of the fall of Adam from Eden to death and the restoration of humanity through Israel from death to eternal life. At stake in Judaism, therefore, is the resurrection of humanity from the state of death in which, by reason of the fall from grace, humanity finds itself in this age. That retelling of Israel's story in dialogue with humanity's treats Israel as counterpart of Adam, embodying a fate for all humanity that corresponds to, but is the alternative of, Adam's. The narrative then treats Israel as the microcosm of humanity, its experience of land, exile, and ultimate return, as the embodiment in the particulars of the here and now of that of all humanity lived out through Adam. The mode of though to which I just referred, the realization of great truths in small cases, then embodies the grand vision of humanity writ small in Israel that constitutes the monotheism that Judaism sets forth," pg. 7
"Israel as Counterpart to Humanity
The story told in the Torah as Judaism records the tale of God's loving search for humanity's freely given love, God's failure in the original creation of Adam and Eve, God's faltering attempt to try again through the supernatural community of the faithful, Israel, the children of Abraham and Sarah and their descendants via Isaac and Rebecca, Jacob and Leah and Rachel. These God met at Sinai, according to Israel in the Torah, God's own self-revelation, written and oral. In the Torah God taught the teachings that would frame the community, Israel, capable of restoring humanity to the condition of Eden. So Judaism tells the tale of humanity's beginning in Eden and fall therefrom, then moving on to the painful story of God's quest for an Adam and Eve worthy of restoration to Eden, life beyond time, life eternal.
How, precisely, does this conception that Adam and Israel correspond come to expression in the very center of Scripture? What we are going to see is how the ancient sages found bases for comparison of Adam and Israel in Scripture. Both, we shall see, were granted an abode in Eden, Israel entering the land being compared to Adam and Eve entering Eden. Both failed to respond to God's love with the loving exercise of free will; both rebelled; both lost Eden. God mourns for both..." pgs. 7-8
"The Monotheist Theology of the Torah: Four Principles
Let me set forth a somewhat more elaborate synopsis of the same story in these propositions, by which I mean to define the principles of the monotheist theology of the Torah in the sages' representation:
1. God formed creation in accord with a plan, which the Torah reveals. World order can be shown by the facts of nature and society set forth in that plan to conform to a pattern of reason based upon justice. Those who possess the Torah--Israel--know God, and those who do not--the gentiles--reject him in favor of idols. To be Israel then means to know God, and to be gentile means not to know God. What happens to each of the two sectors of humanity responds to their relationship with God. Israel in the present age is subordinate to the nations because God has designated the gentiles as the medium for penalizing Israel's rebellion, meaning through Israel's subordination and exile to provoke Israel to repent. Private life as much as the public order conforms to the principle that God rules justly in a creation of perfection and stasis.
2. The perfection of creation, realized in the rule of exact justice, is signified by the timelessness of the world of human affairs, their conformity to a few enduring paradigms that transcend change...
3. Israel condition, public and personal, marks flaws in creation...The paradigm of the rebellion of Adam and Eve governs, the act of arrogant rebellion leading to exile from Eden thus accounting for the condition of humanity...
4. God ultimately will restore that perfection that embodied his plan for creation. In the work of restoration, death that comes about by reason of sin will die; the dead will be raised and judged for their deeds in this life; and most of them, having been justified, will go on to eternal life in the world to come. In the paradigm of humanity restored to Eden is realized in Israel's return to the land of Israel. In that world or age to come, however, that sector of humanity that through the Torah knows God will encompass all of humanity. Idolaters will perish, and humanity that comprises Israel at the end will know the one, true God and spend eternity in God's light."
Posted by Peter at 5:02 AM