Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Notes to a Lecture of Biblical Judaism

I. A controversial history
A. The early history of Judaism is actually the early history of three monotheistic religion: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam
B. This history, according to these three religions, is the arena in which God acted and spoke
C. The Hebrew Bible (what Christians call the Old Testament) purports to be a record of God’s dealings with human beings.

II. Three views of Biblical history
A. Biblical history can be seen as God’s inerrant revelation of how God revealed Himself to the Jewish people.
B. It can be seen as a record, from human points of view, of God’s revelation to the human race and God’s action in history
C. Or, it can be viewed as a purely human record of events some of which were thought, mistakenly, to have been caused by God
III. Two Phases In Jewish History
I. Biblical Judaism: Before the destruction of the Second Temple
II. Rabbinical Judaism: Since the destruction of the Second Temple
IV. The Hebrew Bible
Called the Tanakh
Thought to have been written between 900 B. C. E. and 200 B. C. E.
Traditional view is that Moses wrote the first Five books of the Bible, but this is no longer commonly held.
There are three major sections of the Hebrew Bible: the Torah (the first five books), the Prophets (named for those who spoke in God’s name to the people) and the Writings
V. Historically reliable?
A. Supported by some archaeological documentation
B. Probably much of what is written once a Jewish kingdom was established is based on royal court recordkeeping
C. Written from the perspective of the Jews themselves
D. Most scholars think some parts of it went through a period of oral tradition before being written down.
VI. Keeping it controversial
A. The Hebrew Bible records miracles which are supposed to have been performed by God
B. The Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions all maintain that there is a God capable of performing miracles who had a vested interest in the establishment of the Jewish religion.
C. Did God part the Red Sea? This is an issue on which believers and skeptics are bound to differ

VII. In the Beginning: Stories of Origins
Creation story: Gen 1-2. In these accounts there is a similarity to Babylonian creation legends like the Enuma Elish, but there is a big difference. One God creates, not a committee
While most people today read the Genesis story and contrast it to Darwinian evolution, the people who first read it contrasted the Hebrew monotheistic account with the polytheistic creation stories of their neighbors
VIII. The Fall of man (or woman?)
1. In a paradise but forbidden to eat the tree of the knowledge of good and evil
2. Eve is tempted by the serpent (a walking talking snake, there is no direct reference to Satan in Genesis
3. Adam and Eve are required to live outside the Garden and must die
4. A basis for chauvinism?
IX. Noah’s Ark, or Ut-napishtim’s
1. The earth is filled with wickedness, and Noah builds an ark. Everyone thinks he’s bought oceanfront property in Arizona
2. It rains 40 days and 40 nights
3. God promises not to flood the earth again
4. Mesopotamian tale, the Epic of Gilgamesh is similar. But the difference between these two stories is huge and absolutely crucial. One God floods the earth in the Noah story, in the Ut-Napishtim story one of the gods warns Noah that the committee of the gods is planning a flood.
5. Noah is also more convenient for Sunday School teachers than Un-Napishtim

X. Are these guys for real?
1. For centuries Jews regarded these figures as historical
2. Now, many Jews regard them as symbolic figures
3. In pre-flood times these people are said to have lived for a long time. Methuselah was the longest: lived to the are of 969. 4. A literal adding-up of the genealogies would place the creation of everything at about 4004 B. C. If that is the case, then not only is evolution false, but also light from distant stars could not reach our planet, since they are a millions of light years away and light takes a year to travel a light-year.
XI. Abraham
1. When Abraham is introduced the books becomes more seemingly historical
2. Called by God out of Ur (in present-day Iraq, what was then called Babylonia). Moves to Haran in present-day Eastern Turkey, and then into Canaan
3. Enters into a covenant relationship with God. God promises to provide land, protection and descendants to Abraham. Abraham is to be circumcised as a sign of their exclusive relationship to God.
XII. Monotheism again
1. Was Abraham a monotheist who thought that other gods did not exist? Probably not. But an exclusive covenant relationship with God made him a monotheist in effect.
XIII. The Promise of Descendants
1. Abraham is promised descendants, which seems on the face of things incredible because Sarah was, shall we say, post-menopausal.
2. Sarah encourages Abraham to have a child with Sarah’s maidservant Hagar. He does, and Ishmael is born.
3. But Sarah does conceive and bear Isaac, and Ishmael is sent away.
XIV. The Sacrifice of Isaac
1. God then asks Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac.
2. Abraham prepares his son for sacrifice, but God provides a ram.
3. After this point there are no more requests for human sacrifice.
XV. Jacob’s sons and the sojourn in Egypt
1. Jacob has 12 sons. One of the sons, Joseph, is a favorite of his father, whose jealous brothers sell him into slavery.
2. When Jacob’s family need grain they come to Egypt, not realizing that Joseph has become a top government official.
3. Joseph forgives his brothers and invites them to live in Egypt.
4. The book of Genesis ends with the death of Jacob.
XVI. Moses
1. A Pharaoh arises who sees the Hebrews as a threat and enslaves them.
2. Moses grows up in Pharaoh’s court. He sees a Hebrew being mistreated and kills the foreman. He then becomes a fugitive, and goes out to the Sinai desert in a white Ford Bronco (just kidding).
3. Meets God in the burning bush-wants to know this God’s name
4. Yhwh-I am that I am.

XVII. The Exodus from Egypt
1. Pharaoh refuses to let the Hebrews go.
2. God hits the Egyptians with ten plagues
3. Last plague strikes down the firstborn of Egypt, but the Hebrew firstborn are protected if the lamb’s blood is above the door.
4. This event is remembered annually at Passover (Pesach).
5. The Hebrews cross the Red Sea, though some people think they just went over the Reed Sea. If the latter is the case, then the real miracle was God’s drowning the Egyptian army in three feet of water.

XVIII. The Ten Suggestions
1. Only they’re not suggestions, they are commandments.
2. First three commandments focus on the relationship with God.
3. Last seven concern the relationship between persons
4. Why would you follow a God that was so bossy if you could follow some other god? The idea is that the people stand in a unique covenant relationship to God in virtue of God’s having brought them out of Egypt.
XIX. More detailed laws
1. In Leviticus there are more detailed laws concerning ritual purity.
2. Numbers gives the rest of the historical record
3. Deuteronomy (second law) records the death of Moses.


Mike D said...

As I read your notes on Judaism, it did not seem to reflect a Jewish perspective. It did not read like Jewish sites that explain Judaism. For example, section II probably should have explained differences between Orthodox, Conservative, and Reformed branches of Judaism. Instead, it seems to reflect divisions among Protestant Christian theology. I am not sure that Jewish rabbis approach the authorship of the Tankh the way you describe.

I may be misunderstanding the approach of a World Religions Class. Perhaps the goal is not to view each religion from the viepoint of its members.

Victor Reppert said...

I'm mostly following the presentation of Judaism in the text I'm using. At this point I am presenting Judaism, but also the common history that underlies Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Developments in rabbinical interpretations of these passages come later.

Edward T. Babinski said...

Vic, you wrote,
"There is no direct reference to Satan in Genesis." [sic]

So you found "indirect" references to "Satan" in Genesis? Really? Where? I know some Christians claim there are two indirect references to "Satan" in Genesis, but consider...

1) The serpent was not Satan, but is said to have been "the wiliest creature God had made." Neither was the serpent depicted as being commanded by Satan or by an evil force. In fact Satan is never mentioned in the entire book of Genesis. And of course it's the serpent who gets cursed for what it did, not Satan. Or maybe "Satan" was cursed to go on his belly and eat dust all the days of his life?" This just goes to show that there are simply NO references to "Satan" in Genesis, direct or indirect.

As for the other verse in Genesis that Christians say contains an indirect mention of "Satan," the verse simply states that serpents and human beings will no longer talk easily together as Eve and the serpent did, but rather, shall be at war with one another, with Eve's seed stepping on the heads of serpents and the serpents offspring biting the heels of those stepping on their heads. Again, the curse is directed at the serpent and its offspring, not at "Satan." Though much later after "Satan" grew in prominence and power during the intertestamental period, the tale arose that "Satan" was the "serpent." Just goes to show how stories change over time.