Friday, 7 September 2012

Exploring the Semitic Roots of Christianity


"Jewish Roots, Semitic Roots, Hebrew Roots and Pagan Roots"

Many people are on a quest to re-discover a more authentic form of Christianity. Indeed, some people are trying to discover the Jewish Jesus and are even rejecting the title "Christian." If you come into contact with this movement you will see that it is extremely diverse. In this manual, we are going to examine some of the issues that arise in the "Jewish Roots" movements-not movements is plural because there are several movements.

The Sacred Name and Restorationist Movements

A "restorationist" movement is a sect that believes that Christianity became hopelessly corrupt in antiquity and needs to be restored. The problem with this ideology is that the church never lost the New Testament. If the New Testament represents the teachings of Jesus and it was never lost-how could it be said that the teachings of Jesus were lost. In a sense, you could think of the Baptist Church and the entire Protestant Reformation as a type of Restorationist movement. But, better examples would be the Jehovah's Witnesses/Seventh Day Adventists, and better yet, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Joseph Smith taught that all spiritual knowledge was lost from the death of the Apostle John until he came.

Some Hebrew Roots organizations do believe that the canon of the New Testament needs to be revised. An example would be Monty Judah, who advocates removing the Epistle to the Hebrews from the New Testament. Many, Hebrew Roots movements now have their own translations of the Bible.

The Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh Day Adventists have a huge influence on the Hebrew Roots movement. Their influence is divisive and controversial but it is there. Michael Rood is a former disciple of the Way International-an organization highly influenced by the Jehovah's Witnesses. Much of what Michael Rood teaches is what he learned when he was a member of the Way International.

The first issue where you see their influence is with the Sacred Name. In the Old Testament, God has two names-one is Elohim-which is used about 2,500 times in the Old Testament. The other "Name of God" is called the Tetragrammaton. This word means "four letters." The letters are YHWH. This Name of God has been translated as "Jehovah" in the past. In the Old Testament period-we know from the text of the Bible and from archeological evidence, that Jews spoke the name "Yahweh." YHWH is used in the Old Testament about 6,000 times. Many scholars think the name of God was Yahweh but it may have been pronounced as "Yehowah." The fact of the matter is the pronunciation is lost and exactly how the Name was pronounced is no longer known with certainty. At about 200 BC, a Jewish sage named Simon the Just introduced the practice of not saying the Name out of reverence. Circumlocutions were used (this means other words were substituted for the Divine Name). The commandment says "thou shalt not use the name of Yahweh your God in vain." Well, if you never say the name Yahweh-then you aren't going to break that commandment. So, the Jews substitute words for Yahweh such as "Ha-Shem," meaning "the Name," and "Adonai," meaning the Lord. For the most part, this is a Jewish practice that has been adopted by Christians. In fact, it seems Jesus himself observed this tradition and used circumlocutions for the name of God and generally referred to God as "Abba, Father," or by the name El, or Elaha in Aramaic. Jewish people find it sacrilegious and deeply offensive to pronounced the "Ineffable Name of God."

Certain "Sacred Name" believe that you must call upon God by Yahweh-or some variation-or you will be damned. And if you don't pronounce it exactly the way that they say you must pronounce it then you are going to hell. There are even groups that say that Yahweh and Elohim and two different God and cast aspersions on those who worship the one or the other.

Bible Versions and Translations

Since the Sacred Name is that important to these people they produce Bible versions that use the Sacred Name. Some of these groups also teach that it is necessary to practice all 613 Commandments of Moses. One of these leaders is named Israel Hawkins and he believes that since Moses and the Patriarchs practiced polygamy-he and his followers would too-since the Law of Moses is the ultimate standard of morality. Hawkins has produced his version of the Bible. Some of these people disagree with calling the Bible-the Bible because the word "Bible" is derived from the pagan city "Byblos." The problem is that the word Bible merely means book and Byblos was actually called Gebal and the people there believed that Elohim founded the city. So, they call the Bible the "Beshora," The Sacred Scriptures-or some other title.

I personally don't have any problem with a Sacred Name Bible, as long as they accurately reflect the text of Scripture. Now there is a plethora of "Hebrew Roots" Bibles and it seems like there is a new one all the time and it seems confusing.

The "Jewish New Testament" and "The Complete Jewish Bible" follow the Jewish tradition and do not use the Sacred Name but use the word Adonai instead.

The Name of Jesus

Having dealt with the name of God, we now move on to the name of Jesus. The name "Jesus," is derived from the name Joshua. This name was originally "Yehoshua" and means "Yahweh is Salvation." Later this name became "Yeshua" and it seems like this is the name that Jesus would have went by. However, it is also possibly that the name was pronounced as "Yeshu." However, the rabbis created an acronym for the name Yeshu-which was "May his name be accursed forever." So, Yeshu-although it may have been how Jesus' name was pronounced was made into a Jewish curse word. For this reason, Israeli Christians now call Jesus "Yeshua," instead of the traditional Hebrew pronunciation of "Yeshu." Certain "Messianics" also argue about how to pronounce the name of Jesus. Some say that "Jesus" means "Hey Zeus!" This is absurd. The Greeks used an I or a J for the Y letter and didn't have an SH sound in their language so they substituted an S. Greek has case endings because nouns such as names must be declined. This is how the "S" was added to the end of the name "Jesus."

What about the Afterlife?

Another area where we see the influence of the Seventh Day Adventist/Jehovah's Witnesses is in the idea of the Afterlife. In the New Testament, Jesus is very clear that he believes in a heaven and a hell and an immortal soul. He teaches that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are with God presently in heaven and taught about a beggar named Lazarus who died and went to heaven. The Adventist movement came out of the Millerite movement of the 1800s. When the JWs/Adventists were developing (they have common origins) séances were extremely popular in America due to the "Spiritualist" movement. To counteract this movement the Millerites began teaching that essentially, there is no life after death-until the resurrection at judgment day. Jesus stood with the Pharisees in their belief in heaven and hell against the Sadducees, a sect that denied the afterlife. So, the Millerites are teaching the opposite of what Jesus taught. The Old Testament teaches that the souls of the dead descend into Sheol where they enter their eternal rest. Many people have become confused because they don't understand what the ancient Israelites believed about Sheol and incorrectly believe that the ancient Israelites did not believe in the afterlife.

Was Jesus a Pharisee or a Karaite Jew-or an Essene?

Nehemiah Gordon is an associate of Michael Rood. He teaches that modern Judaism is Phariseeism. This is true. Modern Judaism did evolve out of the Pharisee movement. Mr. Gordon has rejected the Orthodox Judaism and has embraced what he called "Karaite Judaism." Some of his criticisms of Rabbinic Judaism are valid. (For example-why do Jews call the Old Testament "the Tenach"? It isn't even a word? Some traditions-like how to tie your shoe laces according to rabbinic tradition are tedious.) But, Karaite Judaism is the offshoot of the Sadducee movement. The authentic Karaite Jews are Sephardic Jews who live in Egypt-or the communities that have emigrated from Egypt. Mr. Gordon argues that Jesus was a "Karaite Jew" in that he rejected rabbinic tradition and followed only the Torah. Other people argue that since Jesus agreed with the beliefs of the afterlife held by the Pharisees and since some of his teachings are similar to the famous Pharisee Hillel, then Jesus must have been a Pharisee. Still others will say that since Jesus was baptized and baptized like the Essenes-he must have been an Essene. My position is that Jesus is the Son of God and didn't belong to any sect of Judaism. Just because Jesus affirmed certain beliefs of different sects doesn't mean that he belonged to them.

Is Greek bad?

Michael Rood and others teach that we have to "leave behind our Greco-Roman thinking" and rediscover our Hebraic Roots. What is "Greco-Roman" thinking and why is it so bad?

What should be recognized at first is that Greek has had an influence upon Judaism. The word "Synagogue" is a Greek word. As is Sanhedrin. In the Passover-there is the Afrikomen-another word derived from the Greek.

The Septuagint, which is an ancient translation of the Old Testament into Greek, was translated by and used by Jews. Also, the Septuagint is an important witness to the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. Important Jewish thinkers such as Philo of Alexandria and Josephus wrote in Greek (Josephus claimed that he wrote an initial draft of the Jewish War in Aramaic.) The Apocrypha-which is Jewish literature from the inter-testamental period-is largely written in Greek.

The New Testament is also written in Greek-although certain portions may have had a Hebrew/Aramaic original. I think that the Greeks brought tremendous human progress. They were great thinkers and advance knowledge and have had a profound effect on human history. I don' t understand what the purpose is of demeaning the Greeks.

Jewish and Christian Relations

The apocrypha is ancient Jewish literature. It was preserved by Christians and not by the Jews. The Books of Maccabees tells the story of Hanukkah. Christians preserved it-Jewish versions of the Hannukah story are inaccurate and are derived from Maccabees. (I am referring to the Megillath Antiochus.) During the Crusades, Christian bishops protected Jewish communities from rogue crusader who carried out anti-Semitic attacks. (See "God's Battalions" by Rodney Stark.) Saint Augustine argued that Christians should grant the Jewish communities toleration. The Catholic Church began the practice of using Unleavened bread for the Eucharist in an attempt to reconnect with the Jewish roots of the faith. The first printed Hebrew Bible was a joint project of Jews and Christians. The Catholic Church also prepared the Complutensian
polyglot-it was a parallel Bible with different versions of the Old Testament including Hebrew and Aramaic made in the early 1500s, before the Protestant Reformation. The early church affirmed the Old Testament and rejected the anti-Semitic teachings of Marcion in the mid 100s. Origin of Alexandria around 180 produced an important six columned edition of the Old Testament called the Hexapla. Saint Jerome lived in Israel and studied Hebrew from Rabbis there and translated the Old Testament directly from the Hebrew. He also noted that the Apocryphal books were not part of the Old Testament. So, at times, Christians and Jews had cordial and productive relations and cooperated in Bible scholarship.

Anti-Semitism is very dangerous and the church must be honest about its history regarding the Jews-but we need a balanced approach. Historical revisionism that exaggerates the mistreatment of the Jews or demonizes the entire church isn't helpful. There are Jewish sources that are polemical and strongly anti-Christian. Such as the "Toledoth Yeshu," an anti-Gospel that has circulated among the Jewish community for centuries. In the "Toledoth Yeshu," Jesus is a black magician who is raped by Judas Iscariot. People have also found offensive passages from the Talmud and took them out of context in order to incite anti-Semitism. What I am saying is that Christians should be familiar with the church fathers before rejecting them all based on one or two remarks that may seem anti-Semitic today.

The Hebraic Mindset

Many of the Hebrew Roots/Messianics/Yahwist and other groups believe that in order to be acceptable to God you have to "think Hebraically." But what does this mean? Some people believe that it is necessary to know Hebrew well-and to think in Hebrew-before you can understand and be received by God. Other believe that the "Hebraic Mindset" means observing the Jewish or Biblical feastdays (or "the Feast of Yahweh"), keeping a Kosher diet, observing the Sabbath and all of the 613 Commandments of the Torah that apply to you.

Still others, such as Scott Cloud, teach that you have to think cyclically. Apparently, Easterners don't use linear thinking or apply logic the way westerners do.

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