The Jewish perspective of the OT according to poster David_Jay

by deegee 44 Replies latest watchtower beliefs

  • David_Jay

    Do Jews believe that God appeared to Moses?

    Keep in mind the illustration of The Miracle Worker. The Bible is the “play” version of the true story. It tells us things that are true, but it often employs narrative devices to get these points across.

    Something did happen historically speaking. But is what we read in Scripture about Moses at the burning bush, is this some literal description? Even with those Jews who read the Exodus story more down the literalist path don’t read it at face value (for instance, literalist readings in Judaism see a contradiction in the Exodus text between 3:2 and 4, where one verse says it was an angel at the burning bush and the other says it was God).

    What is commonly accepted is that Moses had some type of revelation, whether corporeal (visible to bystanders) or a vision (it is generally held Moses was seeing not a “fire” at the burning bush but the Shekinah) or that even the text is dramatizing the enlightenment Moses received upon learning that Jethro was the high priest of the same God worshipped by Moses’ ancestors, this is what the text is saying. Moses had a “revelation.” The actual nature of this will likely remain unknown, but it was truly a theophany and could have included aspects of some or all the above. (A “theophany” is a manifestation of the Divine as opposed to an “epiphany” where one comes to realize that the Divine is hidden in the guise of something else.)

    Do Jews believe that God appeared to anyone among them instructing them to start their religion?

    The answer to that is no. While it is part of our history that certain individuals experienced theophanies, there is no instruction for any "let's start the true religion" or anything like that.

    This is not Mormonism. That religion is based on someone who claims that God instructed their leader to start that movement. But not Judaism. God didn't ask anyone of us to start the religion of the Jews, not Moses, not Abraham, no one. Not specifically anyway.

    Part of that has to do with our concept of God. In short, since Abraham onward Jews have understood God to be the opposite of all deities worshipped by the nations. The physical universe is an effect caused by "something," and that Great Cause is what God is to us. While we refer to this Cause as "God," our concept of God is more of the "un-God," like the soft drink 7-Up used to be called the "un-cola." Nothing humans think a god is or can be describes the true God. God is greater, far more incomprehensible, yet closer and relatable than any god can be. In a sense there are no such things as gods. But the Great Cause of all we see, that is God.

    This explains why so many things in Jewish worship seem similar to other religions but then have a facet or do something the complete opposite way others do. For instance, our God has a name, but we don't pronounce the name. Our God is greater than all others, but has no image. Our God is a mystery, but we can still relate to God.

    The Jewish response to the God concept is what has become our religion. And it wasn't a religion to begin with. Like other nations of the ancient world, our God was connected to our national identity and ethnic customs. The worship of the Hebrews technically didn’t become what we know as a “religion” until after the Babylonian exile. Granted an entirely new thread can be developed to debate the ins and outs of that, but before then what the Jews did in worship of their God was linked to their ethnic or cultural identity. Jews worshipped their God, and people of other nations worshipped theirs. Rarely did a person from a different nationality worship the deity of another nation. Things didn’t work that way as they do now. The worship of the Jews was no different in the religious paradigm of the ancient world. In fact, it was very much limited by it, shaped by it, and governed by it.

    While this doesn't mean Jews don't hold that God did not revealed things regarding our religion. God did indeed do this, sometimes more directly than others, but our response to God began the moment we became aware of this Great Cause. Whether it was a formal act of liturgy or the mere refusal to worship the images of heathens, the worship of the Jews began when they became aware that there was something greater than all the religious ideas humans could come up with.

  • GrreatTeacher

    David_Jay, impressive pedagogy.

  • John_Mann

    People cannot accept that Judaism and Catholicism did not came from books.

    It's much more convenient to beat the Sola Scriptura strawman.

    What attracts me in Judaism is not the concepts of God in it but the concepts of soul. Judaism went far more deep than Catholicism in concepts of soul. Only in Aquinas the subject was expanded.

    What you think about the role of Ezra in the making of the OT while in Babylon?

  • John_Mann
    (it is generally held Moses was seeing not a “fire” at the burning bush but the Shekinah)

    Interesting. And we can thought the bush being the tree of life.

    Very good thread!

  • David_Jay

    Thanks for the comments, Grreat Teacher and John_Mann.

    John, as to your question about Ezra composing the Hebrew Scriptures while in Babylon: It is unlikely that anyone among the Jews was composing Scripture to a large extent during the Babylonian exile. It was a very dark time for my people.

    To discuss this in complete detail would hijack this thread down a different course, but the short of it is that the Scriptures began to shape into the form as we might recognize them during the Davidic dynasty era.

    During the exile it was likely only the royal family in exile that had any access to these texts, and while they weren't forgotten during this time and some work could have been done during this time, it was likely after the exile that Scripture began to really develop into the finalized form we know now. It is commonly held that Ezra may have had some hand in this but it's not the only worthy hypothesis that can be considered.

  • John_Mann

    I thought the role of Ezra (not necessarily during the exile) was unanimous among Jews. I'm Catholic and the Jewish tradition we inherited says Ezra played a major role in the making of what we call OT.

    The Catholic approach to OT is primarily historical. We are interested in the development of the strong concept of monotheism built by the Jews. No other people built such massive concept of monotheism.

    We understand the OT is written in an exaggerated way. That's the Jewish way of teaching. Jesus used it.

    The account of creation (of human souls) is very sophisticated too. Sadly pentecostal fundamentalism hijacked it.

    And of course the concept of a Messiah.

    It's good to have a well educated person in this forum who knows the ancient (and original) way to cope with Holy Scriptures.

    You could talk about the Jewish view of the (second) destruction of the Temple and how it was seen as the end of the world itself. Non Catholic Christians have a hard time to understand the importance of the Temple to Jews.

  • tor1500

    Hi David_Jay,

    Wow, what a lot of information. So, after reading all your info. how is one supposed to walk this life out...What does God require of us? Well, for one, I think he wants us to care for one another instead of trying to dominate one another...that's what I get....

    Is there going to be a resurrection, a new earth a new heaven ?

    What say ye?


  • David_Jay

    (Tor, while answering all your questions immediately will take us off subject--and this is NOT a lesson in what the Jewish religion teaches about such things, but instead the PERSPECTIVE of Jews on their Scriptures [please see the OP and my first reply]--some of your questions are about to be answered here as we cover the next question. To learn more about what Jews believe religiously follow the instructions I have in the second post of this thread.)

    THE STUBBORN, REBELLIOUS, AND CHALLENGING CHOSEN PEOPLE OF GOD: Why we are called the nation of "Israel" and not the nation of "Abraham"

    "For whatever reason God chose to do this, I am sure we can all agree it was pretty unjust either way, and most here would have a bone to pick with God after all was said and done."

    You could see the nods of agreement in the audience. If it had been a Southern Baptist church, such audience agreement would have been salted with an "Amen!" from a few congregants...except that you would probably never have had such agreement from Christians from any denomination if that message had been preached from their pulpits.

    No. These were the words of a rabbi. This was his subject during one Shabbat service after our Torah portion was completed. It had just covered one of those parts of the Bible where the Jews were commanded to kill all their enemies in a battle of exterminating genocidal proportions.

    And yes, you read it right. The rabbi and his congregation felt the reading of Scripture showed God as acting unjustly, with some agreeing that they would let God know personally how dissatisfied they were with God's behavior.

    Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Chosen People, Israel. Ta-da!

    Not what you were expecting, eh, my Watchtower-educated children? Well, that's us. God's "chosen people" in all our glory. Take it all in. We just had a reading from God's inspired Word, and as we have characteristically done since the days of Abraham, we took issue with what God had to say.

    Chosen but not Only

    Christian groups like the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons (and many other "restoration gospel" movements) share a common earmark: they generally teach that being "chosen" by God is exclusive to being the "only" people of God.

    These (and even older religious groups) have made such similar claims and connections for themselves that they have too often projected their definitions on "chosen" upon us. While it is also not correct to say that some Jews have not arrogantly made a similar connection, for the most part our theology doesn't make the same connection between being "chosen" of God and being the "only" people of God.

    A very ancient part of Jewish theology teaches that God communicates with all peoples and nations. Some Jews teach that God offered all peoples the Torah, shopped it around until he got to us, and we decided to go into contract with God. This contract (or covenant) includes the responsibility of being a light to the nations, to work with God in redeeming us all from a world infected by our own failings, that of the Jews as well.

    That makes us "chosen" for the purposes "spelled out" in the contract, but not "chosen" as in the "only" people or "only" religion God works with.

    And the fact that God offered us this covenant also means God knew what God was getting into.

    God's Chosen People, Not Always Obedient

    Note that while we are called the children of Abraham, we are also called the nation of Israel. Have you ever wondered why the two names, and these particular two names? And why not just the children and "nation" of "Abraham"? Why does the nation get the name of Jacob, and then his second name "Israel"?

    That is because we are in a covenant or contract with God. We are not slaves anymore as we were in Egypt. We are partners in God's purpose for the world. And just like any other contract relationship, the partners don't always see eye-to-eye.

    Like our forefather Abraham, we often question God. (Genesis 18:16-33) And like Jacob, we actively "wrestle" with God and thus gain for ourselves the same name of "Israel."--Genesis 32:27, 28.

    This seems to be part of the reason God has chosen us, or so one theological theory of Judaism suggests: God is "learning" how to deal with humanity and grow through his dealings with Israel.

    Yeah, this flies in the face of the JW interpretation of Malachi 3:6 (which we understand that God doesn't change in reference to his covenant with us, not that God cannot change intentions, views, or the mind of God). But Jews have come to learn that God is not bound to the limits of the static description of God found in Scripture.

    God says that despite being question by and wrestling with our forefathers, that God nevertheless love them. And even today we don't always agree with God. We often wrestle with his ways. And it appears that we have been chosen to play this very part.

    As such you can probably see how and why we are not limited to following Scripture exactly as written all the time. Sometimes yes, other times no.

    The biggest difference between how Jehovah's Witnesses (and many Christians) use Scripture is that they seem to follow them as closely as possible, even when there are contradictory commands to deal with. Jews on the other hand challenge Scripture, we question the Lord, we wrestle with God.

    And that is what you should expect from the children of Abraham, from the nation of Israel, the Chosen People of God.

  • David_Jay

    John_Mann wrote:

    I thought the role of Ezra (not necessarily during the exile) was unanimous among Jews. I'm Catholic and the Jewish tradition we inherited says Ezra played a major role in the making of what we call OT.

    This is a good example of the vast difference between Jewish thought and the way some Christians, especially Jehovah's Witnesses (that even ex-members can accidentally hold over after leaving the Watchtower), think.

    I never said that the role of Ezra was not unanimous among Jews. I merely said that "it's not the only worthy hypothesis that can be considered."

    Unlike much in Christianity that restricts an individual to usually one (and often very exact) view, as you might have noted already this is not the way Jews do things.

    Jews almost unanimously, hands down, understand Ezra as having a distinct role in re-publishing (even refashioning) the Hebrew Scriptures, especially the written Torah. In fact, much as a Catholic would call the apostle Paul by the name "Saint Paul," Jews generally speak of "Ezra the Scribe," and not just as "Ezra."

    But having this universal view doesn't mean that there can't be other equally possible ways that things actually worked out in the construction of the written Hebrew Scriptures. No one knows 100% for sure what happened as Ezra the Scribe did not make a documentary called "The Re-publishing of the Jewish Bible After We High-Tailed It Out of Babylon," and especially since Ken Burns was not born yet.

    Even the best critical approaches can only produce a theory on how things were done by Ezra, what part he actually played. At best, the critical view can only suggest that Ezra the Scribe was likely responsible for the Priestly Code material added to Torah (which is "P" if you subscribe to the Documentary (or Wellhausen) Hypothesis).

    The Roman Catholic Church generally agrees with this view, while simultaneously holding a conservative and liberal view of what was done by Ezra the Scribe in this regard. In the United States, for instance, while the majority of Catholics seem to favor the use of the official U.S. Catholic Bible translation, the NABRE (an excellent translation), its critical apparatus (which strongly supports the argument of Ezra's part in the production of "P") is generally disregarded and protested by a large number of churchgoers. In fact, a growing number of American Catholics are refusing to use the NABRE, adopting the use of the Revised Standard Version, 2nd (Ignatius) Catholic Edition for personal use instead. Study versions of the RSV-CE 2, while still employing sound critical methods, resort to a more moderate and even conservative lean in the presentation of explanatory footnotes. The view of this large number of faithful Catholics is that the Documentary Hypothesis is not necessarily correct, which means that Ezra did not have as large of a role as critical analysis claims. So the Catholic Church is not unanimous on this issue either, and the Holy See does not require Catholics to reject a more traditional view over the critical approach in the study of Scripture.

    That being said, the Jewish view, even when it holds to different theories, does not downplay the importance and historical significance of Ezra the Scribe and the part he played in the finalizing of our Scriptures. Exactly what it was, however, cannot be determined with accuracy, and this leaves ample room for educated guesses without diminishing the importance of Ezra.

  • David_Jay

    tor1500 asked:

    So, after reading all your info. how is one supposed to walk this life out...What does God require of us?....Is there going to be a resurrection, a new earth a new heaven ? What say ye?

    Now it's not that I am ignoring your questions in total and, for instance, answering John_Mann and not giving you the same respect for some reason.

    It bears repeating that for many ex-Jehovah's Witnesses, religion has been used as tool of negativity in our lives. Mine too. Just because I went back to the religion of my ancestors upon leaving (I was unaware of it, mostly, as a child and became a JW as a teenager), being a practicing Jew doesn't mean I am all "hunky-dory" with religion now. Anyone can take any religion, even any type of secular non-theist philosophy or rule, and use it to control and abuse others. I have had my fill, and I am sure many of my fellow ex-JWs have as well.

    If you have questions on what you should do religiously or what religious view you should have, etc., there are ways you can find healthy alternatives to the type of religion Jehovah's Witnesses preach. These groups have their teachers and preachers and web sites. Not all are "evil, abusive" religions either. If this is really your choice, go to the source.

    Jews don't believe that God requires people not under a covenant with God to adopt our views. We don't think you aren't "saved" unless you "believe in God," or that you will go to hell for being atheist or agnostic or refusing a label of any type regarding your personal convictions. We also don't think that you won't have a place in the world to come we hope for if you are a just person. You didn't do anything good or evil to warrant you being born into this world, so if there is indeed a next, I doubt God will require you to do more to enter the next phase of existence. Be grateful for today, and live thankfully not because thanks will get you more life, but because you have life to begin with. Be in the here and now, and if there is a God, let God be God and take care of the rest.

    As for how my previous post gave you some of your answers, you should note from reading it that definitive answers or "one answer for everybody" just isn't the Jewish way. If there is a God, what God may demand of you would likely be different from what God asks of me. We are not the same people.

    And my personal convictions may not be very helpful to you. If you think this information is a lot to process, you don't want into my head, and I am not up to debating with you on what I should believe or not. Technically speaking, Jews aren't into what one believes, and I am not here to defend our beliefs or advance them. I am only doing this to help ex-JWs (and current ones reading this) to see that the Watchtower way is definitely not as correct as it claims.

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