Posts Tagged ‘Judaism’

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St Luke the Physician

St Luke the Physician (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

Quite the catchy title eh? It is a biblical account by the Physician Luke in Acts 16, just on  the heals of the Jerusalem council that stipulated new converts to The Way did not need to adhere to the Mosaic Law or Covenants (ala circumcision).

Then we hit this passage in Acts:

Acts 16

New International Version (NIV)

Timothy Joins Paul and Silas

16 Paul came to Derbe and then to Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived, whose mother was Jewish and a believer but whose father was a Greek. The believers at Lystra and Iconium spoke well of him. Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey. So the churches were strengthened in the faith and grew daily in numbers.

Now to the untrained eye it looks as it Paul totally just went against the message he was to give to the new church members. Yet there is a deeper question to be asked here. Timothy’s mother was Jewish, his father was not. This was a patriarchal society where non-Jews really had no truck with Jewish custom, in fact the circumcision was a sign against the Emperor because it placed allegiance to an authority higher.  So Timothy was uncircumcised.  But did Paul just arbitrarily force Timothy to be circumcised to come on this trip, or perhaps within the new found family freedom in Christ, with a household of believers, Timothy saw a way to embrace his heritage and requested such act?

This is the deeper questions we must ask about the living texts. Why? Simple, otherwise we may miss something simply because of the way the historian or writer recorded it. Timothy was getting the opportunity to experience the heritage of half his family (the Matrilenial line) that he had never had the opportunity to experience growing up possibly. As such, then it would make sense he would want full inclusion.

So is the text as simple, black and white we are doing this because it is what the culture I am going to wants done (as a recent sermon proposed it in church)? No. It can very much be read as a story of a young man finally free from the oppressive practices of his society and being able to make a choice of his own volition of what would be his path to God.



For at least 6,000 years the stories found within the Hebrew Bible, commonly referred to as the Old Testament in many Christian Circles, has been a piece or the texts shaping the faith of those who worship within an Abrahamic faith community. The basic texts found within the Protestant Old Testament that this introductory text lends to is 39. Elmer’s A Journey through the Old Testament is a basic text that opens up a student’s eyes and mind to beginning to understand these foundational texts.

Written 23 years ago, it shows a little dating but also reveals the bias of the author. These are topics that will be touched on as a summary is made, the text itself is interpreted within light of itself and in the conclusion he question is asked and hopefully answered with the affirmative why it is useful to explore this text as part of one’s educational enterprise.


When one first picks up an overview or introduction text to the Hebrew Bible, a reader normally braces themselves for an onslaught of dates, dead people, and possibly dry archaeological dig sites. What Elmer managed to accomplish within his text’s format is more of a DC Comics retro 1980’s “Who’s Who” feel. This was accomplished by framing the material around the key characters of the stories.

Within the character driven synopsis Elmer has structured a verse by verse commentary for the key characters he highlights. Hidden within these commentaries are simple yet effective gems with his:

  1. Synopsis:
  • Ie: cycle of Judges

(Elmer, p.143)

  1. Perspective sections (highlight what the author believes are the main thrust of the text):

Ie: Servant type of Holy Spirit

  • Both are sent
  • Both come bearing gifts
  • Both come teaching about the Son
  • Both come to woo and convince

(Elmer, p. 83)

  1.  Outlines
  • ie: Leviticus (p.123) that lays out a rhythm of :

Access- the way to God (1:1-7:38)

Association – walk with God (8:1-23:44)

Apostasy – the warning from God (24:1-27:34)

These are easy to access and understand for the reader regardless of their familiarity with the subject matter. The order or rhythm for the work is that of how they first appear within the context of the story of the Hebrew Bible.

The text itself has two main points:

  1. That for a student to fully understand the New Testament they must read the Old Testament through their Post-Christ lens. This is illustrated through his rendition of Lucifer as a story of rebellion.
  2. That the hardest lesson of faith to learn is waiting on God.

The work itself appears designed to aid a subject based study methodology that one would craft around a certain character to learn from. This learning is textual and character driven to be able to come to one’s own conclusions about the works that make up the Hebrew Bible.


            At first blush with the innovative way the stories were presented one may assume that Elmer is“wolf” in sheep’s clothing. That is he is letting innovation lead the reader into a false sense of security before hitting them over the head with a rather outdated contextual message, as was the flavour of theological writings in the televangelist driven 1980’s. That is not the case, what is found is a profound character study that can challenge the reader into seeing the sometimes familiar story through new eyes.

For instance he shows a correlation through history of the church, and a story from the Testament by quoting Matthew Henry “all God’s people are praying people” (Elmer, p. 40) as a lead into the Abraham story on the eve of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. This thought is clearly continued with Abraham’s conversation with God around the destruction of the two cities as prayer (Ibid, p.60). For prayer is the communication of our relationship with God, and as such can be open, flowing yet the great question is raised as Abraham debates God over how many righteous people are needed to assuage destruction why did he stop at 10? Did he think that if Lot’s family was counted that would be enough? Did he believe there was 10 people in the cities he was unrelated to that were after God’s heart? Or as the petitions drove on, and Abraham remembered the inhospitality of the cities did he have a Jonah/Ninevah moment and just no longer want to wrestle with God over their salvation?

Hard questions rose within the readers’ mind that may not traditionally come up within a Western Church where 90% of the time these texts are abused and used to show the “abomination” of homosexuality, which has nothing to do with the story. The inhospitality circled around security, gang rape, offering up of daughters, essentially drawing that the only care in life is for one’s own power not for the needs of the other.

Yet again, as we journey through the Torah, Elmer avoids the easy explanations and go to chapters within Leviticus to discuss the most atrocious of sins. Where most interpreters in the Western Christianity go to chapter 19’s sex laws, Elmer rests on a little know child sacrifice to Molech in 20:1-5 as the true apostasy before the Lord.

This has set a good rhythm within Genesis for the relationship of the people with God. Yet Elmer has a tendency of needing to tie these stories directly into teachings of the Christian Testament. Yes the early church grew out of Judaism, and was eventually kicked out of the synagogues and Temple yet does it always need to be read through the lens of the other. He stipulates this by correlating the Joseph story of Genesis with Romans 8:28 “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose.” (New International Version). Paul was writing to Roman believers with this line, as a classically trained Pharisee, from an upper class family background and a citizen of the Empire. Joseph was sold by his jealous brothers into slavery in Egypt and rose to prominence within Egypt through his spiritual gifts from God. So yes it is possible in certain instances to read the Christian Testament into the Hebrew Bible, but one should always ensure the teachings align and that they are not just trying to make a puzzle piece fit an empty hole.

The last statement within Genesis was used in the summary section around the comparison of the servant and The Holy Spirit. This comparison at first reads seems unique and practical, but it does not hold water when one thinks of what the Holy Spirit does within the life of a believer and community. Yes the servant accomplishes these four fold ministries, but these are also just the beginning of the work of the Spirit. This is an example of attempting to over read the Christian Testament into the Hebrew Bible.

Another is seen as Elmer stating that the Angel of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible is Jesus pre-incarnation (p. 143). This is not a strong statement, as it eliminates the Host of Heaven from work, but it also discredits the writing of John 1 about the Word becoming flesh, and the work in Genesis 1 being used to create, and the teaching of angels (messengers) being lower than Jesus in Hebrews. It appears with this that Elmer found a writing crux and kept going with it.

From this we enter into the world of the Judges which is another time of waiting. The people have entered what can only be described as a Tween cycle of existence, where they constantly rebel and fall back into the family through the work of some of the most dysfunctional individuals for their time: (a) Othniel (nepotism); (b) Ehud (left-handed); (c) Barak (coward); (d) Deborah (woman); (e) Gideon (coward); (f) Jephthah (son of a harlot); (g) Samson (adulterer) (Elmer, p.144).

From this emerges the monarchy out of the theocracy with Saul (Elmer, p. 180) that holds the United Kingdom under only two other monarchs: David and his son, Solomon before it is ripped asunder (Ibid, p.181). Unfortunately where Elmer had been challenging norms and could continue to challenge the student’s suppositions and indoctrinations around certain stories when he hits David he falls back into a church rut of vaguest details.

David and Bathsheba hits a wall where he relies on innuendo, abstract language to not really lay out what actually came to play between these two (p.204). Elmer is still leaning on a patriarchal and in some estimation, misogynistic view that Bathsheba was at least partly willing and that it was a fling or affair, while inappropriate nothing more. What is missed is that the power of the throne was abused, not only abused, but a man targeted a woman to exercise their power for sexual gratification. This is a textbook definition within Canadian Law of sexual assault (otherwise known as rape). Where Elmer could have stepped out in courage, he retreated.

Within the Wisdom Literature Elmer holds to a Solomonic authorship stance on Ecclesiastes, Proverbs and Song of Solomon. He relates that is was a younger Solomon who wrote the song, but then in spite of order within the canon postulates Ecclesiastes as the prologue that spurred on the writing of Proverbs (p.217).

Which brings us into the division of the kingdom due to sibling rivalry (which could be a later literary effect to remind the believer of the journey of Cain and Abel) between Rehoboam and Jeroboam and it is through this division that the exiles happen where the Prophets speak to attempt to prevent. The unique highlights being that the Babylonians allowed Jeremiah to continue to live because they thought him an ally (Elmer, p. 261).

Post-exilic works such as Esther which was written to those still in Diaspora who had opted not to return to the Holy Land (Ibid, p. 278). For the work did not name God, yet God is the most prevalent character throughout with the actions of the characters and how Esther rose to prominence within the city for control of the king. It is also another reflective book from the Genesis stories when we think of how Joseph was given into slavery, what happened with Esther was no different, yet God was there working with her.

How does all this matter though to us today? Do we need to be able to see the Christian Testament illuminated within the works of the Hebrew Bible for it to bear relevance?


The answer for the writer of the two above noted questions is yes it does still matter and No we do not for it to still bear relevance. The challenge as was pointed out in the previous section Elmer has a well laid out text, where he pushes boundaries in some places, percolates thoughts in others. The unfortunate part is that where these gems happen, there is by far more times where he holds the party line that does not need to be held with just a bit of deeper digging, and more to the point should not be attempting to insert a Christian understanding upon a Judaic story.

The journey is still worth the price of admission for the questions it does read, but as with all textbooks (or media in general) this should be approached with one’s critical eye fully engaged to enter collegial dialogue with the work.

The last things that need to be remembered which can be seen as key for the believer within the Hebrew Bible. Within these stories that can seem barbaric, bloody, misogynistic, genocidal, hate filled… there is kernels of hope:

  1. We are a people of prayer, and it is within prayer that we can interact fully with God.
  2. God is alive in our lives and all things work towards our calling eventually.

Holding onto these things as one takes their life experience, faith, education and the Holy Spirit to experience the full revelations within for journey today and this text has added to the education peace for understanding.

Wow what a simple question…yea I know there are many that believe that he is a figment of someone’s imagination, a myth (in the negative connotation of never existed) or a conspiracy theory.  In Canadian Mainline churches we have seen Tom Harpur‘s The Pagan Christ that states it is a myth adopted and transformed within the Judaism to reflect a messiah (I could get the deets a bit wrong, been a while since I have read it).

But is this truly the core of the mythicist? See the mythicist is factually inaccurate. I am continuing my journey through Bart D. Ehrman‘s Did Jesus Exist? and am enjoying his systematic way of affirming, yet disproving (if I had the money would soo take his NT course).

But the two pieces for reflection today are:

1) The suffering Messiah: no jewish person up to this point would have seen a messiah as suffering the curse of the Cross.  This is why Paul was such a staunch executor of the heretics of the Way. Ehrman uses the analogy that this would be akin to 20th century church affirming David Koresh as the Messiah/Christ. Get how wretched this peasant labourer on the cross was seen by his countrymen?

But the arugment continues for Ehrman deftly points out Isaiah 53, Psalm 22, Psalm 69 etc (the suffering messiah texts)… and apptly proves that Messiah is not mentioned, but rather the Lord’s Servant.  Texts written in times of suffering calling out prayers to God, or preparing for times of suffering lifting up to the Holy Mystery for comfort.  Do you see it? Go back and read, reflect and see what you come to believe as you bring your experience, the text and the Holy Spirit together in the broader context.

2) The second point is he goes through many historical figures (Hitler, Plato, Stalin, etc) who have divergent accounts of their lives out there, but it does not disqualify their existence. Best quote: You will get very different accounts of the presidency of Bill Clinton depending on whom you ask. But the differences have no bearing on whether or not he existed. (Ehrman, 2012 p.183).

So did Jesus exist? Yes.

Why is there no historical record of his birth?

C’mon folks get your caucasoid-western-centric heads out of our collective arses’. Why would the birth of a non-citizen bastard child, in an occupied nation, in an illiterate small town to peasants even rate the use of literacy to record? It wouldn’t. But it does not dispell the records of his life after that. This proves that the peasant labourer turned travelling guru did exist.

What can be scholarly or even locally debated? Whether or not this man was the actual messiah of ancient Judaism or not?

What cannot be disputed is that his life was lived in such a manner that the powers of the time lynched him. Or its equivalent today… Westboro Baptist Church not only picketed his funeral, they arranged it.

Reflect on who this peasant, Jesus is to you?

Friday, May 25, 2012
Some say her work is forbidden. Some might say it’s a complete waste of time. Others remain silent. But Julie Seltzer, one of a few women in history to write a complete Torah scroll, is just following her heart.

“My love of Torah led me to be a scribe,” she says.

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In addition to conflicting with authoritative data, the Wilders’ rhetoric also poses a real danger of galvanising violent extremism — not countering it.
Rabbi Laura Geller: Shavuot and Ruth: Beyond the Letter of the Law
Saturday night is the anniversary of the giving of Torah at Mt. Sinai. Strange, isn’t it, that on the holy day we celebrate the Giving of the Law, we traditionally study the Book of Ruth, the most transgressive of the Bible, a book that explicitly defies a Divine command.
Gadadhara Pandit Dasa: Is God a Person? A Gaudiya Vaishnav Perspective
Even though it may sound attractive or may be easier to understand that God is formless energy, as far as I’m concerned, it’s not possible to exchange love with formless energy
Chris Fici: ‘Today We Have the Power’: A Spiritually Radical Documentary
In his debut documentary feature, filmmaker Christopher Timm deftly presents a vital meditation on the bridge between spirituality and social justice, through the prism of the seminal demonstrations at the 1999 World Trade Organization (WTO) meetings in Seattle.
Eitan Press: Thinking Outside the Book: Shavuot and the Great Torah Download
Many people associate the word “Torah” with the Five books of Moses, but according to Jewish wisdom, the Torah and what was given at Mt. Sinai was much more than a book.

Thought I would share this, quite a few good thoughts and conversation starters.

The Parliament Newsletter
Religious and Spiritual Leaders at the 2009 Parliament, MelbourneFrom the Editor…

As I understand it, Judaism does not give great weight to panaceas. There is no silver bullet, no single action or belief that enables you to achieve a good life. But what my religion does teach is that creating good systems—of action, belief, and communal life—enables communities to thrive.

I think there are lessons from this approach that can be applied to the inter-religious movement—and this newsletter. The first is that there is no single constituency. There are youth leaders and experienced clergy, politicians and business people, writers and educators, theists and humanists who are all essential to this movement. Their voices must be heard and amplified. For they—we—are all part of the movement and the network that has helped it grow.

The second is that communities rely on clear communication between their members. The inter-religious movement, in its continued growth, must allow for open communication, even when it leads to a plurality of views and even when those views do not align. A shared vision for a social movement can coalesce only when disagreements can be openly expressed and challenging topics directly engaged.

As the new editor of the Parliament of the World’s Religions’ newsletter and its Religious Leadership Fellow, I look forward to hearing and amplifying your views. As a young leader and future rabbi, I will look to those of other traditions, professions, and ages for contributions and insights. As a person invested in online publications and organizations—notably in my involvement founding the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue and State of Formation—I will seek out those who are invested in more traditional mediums of expression. As a person who tends towards boisterousness, I will work to quiet my own voice in order to ensure that the newsletter remains about us and the movement we continue to build.

The Parliament of the World’s Religions newsletter will now appear twice each month in order to keep you up to date on breaking stories and enriched by incisive articles from our colleagues and reflections on the personal journeys that people within our large and growing network of movement-builders have taken in order to become a part of it.
Our stories are different. But they intersect in this movement and will have a voice in this newsletter. Our newsletter.

Honna Eichler

Joshua Stanton,
Religious Leadership Fellow
Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions

Celebrating a Death
by Rev. Paul Raushenbush

It is a strange and conflicting emotion to celebrate a death. My professed beliefs include the redemption of evil and the potential good in all humanity. Yet I felt a sense of exhilaration when I read the headline ‘DEAD’ about Osama Bin Laden.

Read more…

My Take: Burial at sea shows compassion of Islamic law

By Imam Khalid Latif

I was sitting in a KFC in Brooklyn on Sunday night (halal for those who are worried) with two of my students when my phone started to buzz like crazy as friends, colleagues and family let me know that Osama bin Laden was dead.

Read more….

  Trustee Corner
Lessons from My Journey
by Helen Spector
CPWR Trustee

When Rev. Dr. David Ramage recruited me in 1990 to serve on the Board of Trustees leading up to the 1993 Parliament, I was not engaged in or much aware of the inter-religious movement.

My commitment to the Council’s work caught fire when I joined a group of Trustees to travel to Cape Town in 1998, to meet with our organizing counterparts and talk with leaders from all the faith communities who would support the Parliament in 1999 in Cape Town. From that visit and my work since, I have come to see clearly the power of the interfaith experience and the positive impact of Council’s community organizing approach.

Read more…

Parliament Webinar Series
Greening Your Religious Community
Clare Butterfield May 11, 2011
10:00am U.S. Central Time 

Rev. Dr. Clare Butterfield
Register Now Director, Faith in Place

This webinar will provide training in basic approaches to organizing your religious community to be more sustainable in its own practices and to promote sustainability in the homes of members and in the public square.

Latest from State of Formation
Voices of Emerging Leaders

Honna Eichler Can Ancient Texts Inform Social Practice?
by Honna Eichler


James Croft Can We Talk?
by James Croft

  Ben DeVan What Do Americans Really Believe?
by Ben DeVan


Neil Krishan Aggarwal Diversifying the Traditions of a Religious Campus
by Neil Krishan Aggarwal


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June 28–July 1; July 25-28

The 2nd Global Conference on World’s Religions after September 11
September 7

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