The Pharisee, the Potion, and the Poison of Anti-Semitism

(See follow on post from this one “Jesus (Matthew?) and Anti-Pharisaism”).

In The Gift and the Poison: Tolstoy and Luther on the Jews,” I examined the two extremes of Tolstoy’s glorification and Luther’s condemnation of the Jew: Tolstoy’s “The Jew is that sacred being who has brought down from heaven the everlasting fire…” contrasted with Luther’s “that they be forbidden on pain of death to praise God , to give thanks, to pray, and to teach publicly among us and in our country. ” Tolstoy gushed overboard, while Luther sunk low. I concluded that the LORD Jesus Christ is the only one of the three able to walk on water.

In this post, I want to examine further the fallibility of man contrasted with the perfection of the LORD Jesus Christ.

At the Roshpinaproject, there is a discussion on whether Christianity has caused more harm than good. I was asked by “YourPhariseeFriend,” Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal:

“Why do you consider only the nice things that Jesus said “what Jesus taught” – he said pretty nasty things as well – presenting them to an audience hostile to Jews and to Judaism – you have to be blind to deny Jesus’ evil influence on the history of Europe…”

I answered that Jesus talked more about judgement/punishment than he talked about love. Jesus is following in the footsteps of the prophets Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and all the others; too many to name, who speak far more about judgement/punishment of Israel than about God’s love for Israel. If you put the “comfort” passages of the Tanakh (Older Testament) on the left side of the page and the “devastation” passages on the right, you’re going to end up with relatively much fewer on the left.

According to Rabbi Blumenthal:

“The comparison between the Christian Scriptures critique of Jews and Judaism to the Critique of the Jewish prophets is morally corrupt. The Jewish prophets wrote a critique for their own people – they included themselves when they criticised the people – their books were read throughout history as books of self-castigation – the Christian Scriptures on the other hand were read throughout history as a condemnation of the “other” – as a critique of a group of people who the reader of the book does not identify with – these are polar opposites.”

The Rabbi is correct that the Gospels condemn most of the Pharisees and their friends. Where the Rabbi and I differ is that while the Rabbi regards the Gospels (and the whole NT) as a concoction of unknown Jew haters, I regard the NT to be an accurate historical account of what Jesus said and did. And it is Jesus, Himself, who does the condemning of the Pharisees and Jewish leaders in the Gospels: “You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. ” (Matthew, 12:34). Now, such talk will undoubtedly infuriate many a Jew. He will, however, not attack Jesus, or Matthew. Why not? Because he reads a different history to me.

How can I enter into any meaningful Judaism-Christianity dialogue with the Rabbi if he doesn’t even accept that Jesus – or even Matthew – existed. I once read a book by a Jewish author – wish I could remember his name – who wrote a history of all the false Jewish Messiahs. Jesus was nowhere to be found in any of the pages. The reason for this, I surmise, is that the Jews argue that as far as their documents are concerned (for example, the Talmud), there is no mention of Jesus in their records. Furthermore, they reject the non-Jewish historical records of His existence. Now here’s the logical and ontological rub:

(Ontology consists of a study of essence and existence, which are two aspects of “being”; Greek ontos, hence “ontological”).

It is logically impossible to discuss the essence of anything if it’s existence is called into question. In other words, we can only examine what (essence) a thing is if we accept that it is (its existence). Jean Paul Sartre said “Existence (THAT) precedes essence (WHAT).” No existence? Then no essence. If there is no thing, then it’s pointless discussing what the nature (essence) of that “no thing” is.

The Rabbi rejects the Christian historiographical record (that is, the documentary evidence) that I accept. I, however, also accept the Judaic historiographical record (Tanakh). Here is the irony (inherent in my differences with the Rabbi):

One of the main reasons why I accept the Tanakh (which Jesus calls the “scriptures”) is because Jesus said – over and over again – “it is written.” And why – on the human level – do I accept what Jesus said about the “scriptures”? Because I accept the documentary evidence that he indeed said what has been recorded. I said that I do accept “on the human level.” There is another level, though, much more imperious,the supernatural level. For I also read in those same documents that Jesus said: “All that the Father gives me will come to me….No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:37, 6:44). So, I come to Jesus mainly because he draws me, and not mainly because I worked it all out myself. This “drawing,” to faith is, of course, anathema to a Jew – as well as to many Christians, I might add (See my “What happened to Faith in the Gospel of Grace (?).”

As for the scriptures poisoning humanity against Israel, let me say something about “poison.” Socrates was condemned to death and forced to poison himself with a potion of hemlock. Now “potion” and “poison” (not the French Christian poisson “fish”) come from the same linguistic root.1

Potion and poison may differ by only one ingredient. I, as a Christian Jew, don’t blame the potion, Jesus for poisoning Christians. We must blame instead that particular ingredient that turns a potion into a poison – a deadly poison. And we know what that ingredient is: sin (in this Rabbi’s case, “anti-Semitism”).

“One man’s potion is another man’s poison,” that is, one man’s potion may appear to be another man’s poison. Christianity may appear to the Rabbi to be a poison. But, to be trite, why blame the message if the hearers get/make it all wrong?

“Since Matthew 23 was given out to the public – what percentage (asks Rabbi Blumenthal ) of people read it in a spirit of self-chastisement – and what percentage read it in a spirit of “look how evil THOSE Pharisees are/were?”

Here are the first verses of Matthew 23:

1Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: 2″The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. 3So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach. 4They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them.  5″Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long; 6they love the place of honour at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; 7they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’

I think the correct way to read Matthew 23 is (in the Rabbi’s words) “look how evil THOSE Pharisees are/were” AND “in a spirit of self-chastisement.” Most people, however, ignore the second part. This ignorance is (the blight of) human nature, which Judaism, in contrast to Christianity, preaches is essentially good – where people are regarded as “much better than we think we are” (Twerski).

In Isaiah 1, and many other places in the Tanakh, God is very angry with the apple of His eye. How many modern Jews, or any one else, take God’s warning to heart? Very few. They don’t even take His existence to mind. Modern Jews have have had a great influence in shaping the modern Western “soul,” e.g. Sigmund Freud, Viktor Frankl, Twerski, Mordecai Kaplan, Elie Wiesel, for whom the weak will of man instead of the rejection of God was the root cause of man’s unhappiness. If it only stopped there. Eli Wiesel is one of the most influential “greats” of our generation. What does he leave to his fellow Jews and the rest of the world? “God may still live but if he does, He has much to answer for.” (Heinze, A. R. 2004. “Jews and the American Soul,” p. 328).

Here are a few pertinent – or impertinent – verses (depending on whether you believe it is God who speaks or not) from Isaiah 1:

4 Ah, sinful nation,
a people loaded with guilt,
a brood of evildoers,
children given to corruption!
They have forsaken the LORD;
they have spurned the Holy One of Israel
and turned their backs on him.

6 From the sole of your foot to the top of your head
there is no soundness—
only wounds and welts
and open sores,
not cleansed or bandaged
or soothed with oil.

9 Unless the LORD Almighty
had left us some survivors,
we would have become like Sodom,
we would have been like Gomorrah.

13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings!
Your incense is detestable to me.
New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations—
I cannot bear your evil assemblies.

15 When you spread out your hands in prayer,
I will hide my eyes from you;
even if you offer many prayers,
I will not listen.
Your hands are full of blood;

16 wash and make yourselves clean.
Take your evil deeds
out of my sight!
Stop doing wrong,

In Isaiah 6 the LORD appoints Isaiah as a prophet. “Send me,” Isaiah pleads. And what is the first instruction from the LORD?

8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?”
And I said, “Here am I. Send me!”

9 He said, “Go and tell this people:
” ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding;
be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’

10 Make the heart of this people calloused;
make their ears dull
and close their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
hear with their ears,
understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”

God’s potion contains large doses of suffering – and death. Man’s remedy is never a potion, but always a poison. Christianity is ultimately a love story (which the Jew regards as a hate story). But this love story is unlike “Romeo and Juliet,” where the poison gets mixed up with the potion. To be able to distinguish the two is – according to Jesus – a gift from God, and not, as a German Jew would say, a gift (a poison) from hell. (German gift “poison”).

(See follow on post “Jesus (Matthew?) and Anti-Pharisaism”).

1 “Poison” from Old French puison (12 century) “a drink,” later “a potion, poisonous drink” (14 century), from Latin potionem “a drink,” also “poisonous drink,” from Latin potare “to drink.”

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9 thoughts on “The Pharisee, the Potion, and the Poison of Anti-Semitism

  1. Hi
    You seem to have a problem having a meaningful discussion on the basis of some beliefs that you believe I maintain. Let me tell you this – I am willing to have a meaningful discussion without demanding that you give up any beliefs that you presently maintain BEFORE we begin our discussion – what is necessary for a meaningful discussion between the two of us (or between any two people) is that you speak directly to me – tell me what is bothering you about my position – and listen to what I have to say about your position
    You have my e-mail address – or you can address me directly on my own blog http://yourphariseefriend.wordpress.com – or continue the line on the blog where I posted my response to you
    It may take me time to get back to you – but I plan to do so eventually – if you plan to reply on either of the blogs – please send me an e-mail that you have replied
    Yisroel Blumenthal

  2. Hi Raphael
    I do not see much material worthy of a response – you make assumptions about what I believe that have no basis in reality – you are responding to points that I made without trying to understand what I meant – but in any case – I will try to help you understand the poimt I was making about the negative influence of the Christian Scriptures
    You focus on the question: “Did Jesus actually say this” – I think that your question is irrelevant – I am focusing on the book of Matthew – in that book there is a character called Jesus – the Jesus of Matthew’s book will change according to the readership of the book – perhaps the readers will envision a character that is similar to the historical Jesus – and perhaps not – but that question is also irrelevant – the question that is important is:”What Jesus did the vast majority of Matthew’s readers envision?” – “How did the vast majority of readers understand the message of Matthew 23?” – “Did the writer of Matthew have the foresight to understand how his book will be read and understood?”
    What do you think the answers to these questions are
    Your Pharisee Friend

    • Yisroel
      I’m so glad that you have taken time to repond.

      As far as I understand the strict Orthodox Jewish view, the Torah is breathed out by God. The Torah, therefore, is a direct revelation from God. It was, therefore, not for Moses to decide the effect this revelation would have on the people, and only then write it down accordingly. A similar situation obtains in the Christian scriptures, which is considered by many Christians to be God-breathed. So, when Matthew wrote his Chapter 23, it was not his job to consider the possible attitudes his readers, or he, himself, might have had to the Pharisees. In other words, it was not Matthew’s (or Moses’) job to foresee what the effect on readers would be. I don’t mean, of course, that Matthew, or any of the other NT writers, or Moses, or David, or the Prophets went into a trance-like state of automatic writing.

      Ultimately, it is important whether God is “speaking” through Moses or through Matthew. So, the issue in Matthew’s Gospel is two-fold: 1. did Matthew faithfully record what Jesus said, and 2. did Jesus have divine authority to say what he said? The two-fold issue in the Torah is: 1. did God really speak to Moses, and 2. did Moses faithfully record what God said. For me, the answer to both sets of these respective questions is yes. For you the answer to the second set of questions is yes. If God didn’t speak, and if scripture (as we both understand the term) is not an accurate rendering of what God said, then I see nothing wrong with trashing Moses, and I would do the same to Matthew. Consequently, it wouldn’t be wrong to accuse those who persist/insist in believing the Jewish and Christian scriptures as, at best, deluded, at worst, miscreant.

      (As far as I understand, the strict Jewish Orthodox view is that only the Torah is a direct (word-for-word) revelation).

  3. Hi Raphael
    You could believe what you want – but if you base your belief on the effect that the character in the book had on the world – you have to count the bad as well as the good
    Your Pharisee friend

    • Thanks Yisroel for your comment.
      I think you will agree with me that belief in such a serious matter as Truth should not be based 0n what we want Truth to be. We both agree that God requires that we obey him. Blessings and curses will follow depending on whether we obey or not. The Tanakh records that most of the time, “Israel” was disobedient and was consequently heavily punished by God. Sometimes Israel suffered even when they kept the covenant (Pslam 44). Israel didn’t base its belief on the effect it would have on itself (or on the world); Israel based its belief on the revelation at Sinai. It was based on this primary historical event.

      Similar principles apply to Christianity. Is the historical record recorded in the Gospels true. For example, did the Jewish leaders and the Romans play a major role in the death of Jesus or is David Flusser correct when he says:
      “It would seem, therefore, that Jesus’ tragic end was preceded by no verdict of any earthly judiciary. It was the outcome of the grisly interplay of naked spheres of interest, in the shadow of brutal antagonisms, and to outward appearance, it had no real connection with the man Jesus and his cause.”

      If Flusser’s acccount had carried the historical day, there would probably have been far less antisemitism. The question, though, is what really happened?

  4. Hi Raphael
    My point was not so much “believe what you want” – but rather – if one looks to the “positive” influence of Christianity on world history as a basis – as evidence – to support faith in Christianity – then these people would have to take the negative into account as well – I was not accusing you of using this as the basis for your faith – but if you remember – this whole thread began when someone posted a long piece about the positive influence of Jesus on world history as a basis for faith – that is and remains the context for my comments
    Your Pharisee friend

    • Yes, Yisroel, there is also much evil that has been done in the name of Christ.

      We all need to get a balanced view. Kenneth Scott Latourette – the Yale historian – wrote 12 volumes on the issue; the first seven volumes, A History of the Expansion of Christianity on the spread of the Christian faith; the next five volumes on Christian missions: Christianity In a Revolutionary Age; A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1958-1969). He condensed it all into one volume.

      On the positive side, Matthew Parris, an atheist, writes in Timesonline From The Times
      December 27, 2008

      “Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good. ”
      “I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.”
      http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece

      There’s a wide range of opinion on the topic; see http://www.sciforums.com/Impact-of-Christianity-on-Human-Society-t-4090.html

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