Sunday, August 01, 2010

The Gospel Code: FFOZ Blogs

I have taught the Gospels at the Bible college level for years and I am always surprised that many Christians fail to understand that JESUS WAS A JEW. They fail to see the need to understand Jesus our Messiah as a Jew. I have copied the text of this article but really encourage you to go to the original blog and see the pictures and read the whole article The Gospel Code By D. Thomas Lancaster.

While your there Check out the upcoming year long Study Chronicles of the Messiah. You will have the eyes of your understanding opened in a new and A new Biblical understanding of Jesus will refresh and inspire your life in God through Jesus.

"The average churchman is finally figuring out what New Testament scholars have always known: Jesus was Jewish. He wasn't Jewish like a famous actor might be Jewish. For example, you might have watched a lot of old Star Trek episodes and never known that both Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner were Jewish. Shatner doesn't look particularly Jewish, and Nimoy looks Vulcan. On the show, neither of them do anything very Jewish. Their Jewishness is just their ethnicity.

Jesus wasn't like that. Jesus was really Jewish. If you saw Him, you could not possibly mistake it. The man was Jewish. Everything He did and said was patently Jewish. Chronicles of the Messiah is a year-long, subscription based study on the life and teachings of the Jewish Jesus, an intense study designed to help you know Jesus better.

Now you might think, "Why does the world need another commentary on the Gospels?" Well, consider the success of The Da Vinci Code, a fictional book purporting to reveal the historical Jesus. The only thing that the five million copies of The Da Vinci Code actually prove is that people are still interested in reading about Jesus--five million books and a major motion picture, all about Jesus. Those of us who still regard ourselves as disciples of the man from Nazareth should be flattered.

Then again, Jesus has always been popular. In March of 1964, the London Evening Standard published an interview with John Lennon in which he claimed that his rock and roll band, The Beatles, was more popular than Jesus. He was wrong about that. Nearly four decades later, Jesus is still regularly making the cover of Time Magazine. Not so with John Lennon.

Still, the media attention that Jesus gets now-a-days is not what it used to be. Lately critics and scholars have been asking a lot of disturbing questions about the person they call "the historical Jesus." Even the implication of a "historical Jesus" as someone different from the iconic church Jesus is a little disquieting. The idea is that the Jesus venerated through the centuries is not exactly the same as the real Jesus of Nazareth who lived and taught in early first-century Galilee and Judea. It's like the difference between Leonard Nimoy and Mr. Spock. Nobody really believes in Mr. Spock. Leonard Nimoy is the historical Spock--the Jewish one.

Even the Gospels themselves are under scrutiny today. Textual criticism--the science of comparing documents and manuscripts and searching for their most original form--has been around for centuries, but in the last few decades it has begun to leak into the mainstream consciousness. As a result, people are asking questions about the veracity of the gospel stories. That's probably a good thing. Questions are always good, and truth, if it is truth, should be able to withstand inquiry. But some scholars and fiction writers have begun to suggest that our Bibles possess the wrong gospels altogether. Many early Christian writings and pseudonymous and apocryphal works never made canonization. Several liberal scholars think that they should have. They regard these other works as extra books of the Bible, akin to the deleted scenes at the end of a DVD, and they are hoping they will be restored in an extended director's cut edition.

How do we know that the church canonized the right gospels? What makes the gospel of Mark a New Testament scripture, whereas the gospel of Mary Magdalene is neglected and forgotten? How do we know that the recently discovered gospel of Judas shouldn't be considered part of the Bible?

In his best seller The Da Vinci Code, fiction writer Dan Brown posits that the Roman Church purposely destroyed the authentic gospels because they wanted to suppress the truth about the humanity of Jesus. He purports that the second-century, apocryphal Gnostic gospels are more authentic and reliable than the canonized gospels. Thus the truth about Jesus is veiled behind a church conspiracy.

Dan Brown is right about one thing: Throughout the ages, the church has endeavored to conceal certain truths about Jesus. But it would be unfair to characterize this effort as a conspiracy. The real Christian conspiracy is more a collusion of prejudice, anti-Semitism and theological confusion than it is a sinister, secret plot. The embarrassing secret about Jesus that the historical Christian church would have preferred to leave behind long ago is the Jewishness of Jesus.

Ironically, Leonardo Da Vinci's painting, The Last Supper, illustrates this point well.

If you look carefully at the painting, you will notice several curiosities. Aside from the obvious absurdity of everyone sitting on the same side of the table, notice the dinner rolls in front of each disciple. The Last Supper is supposed to be a Passover seder meal, part of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. The only bread served at that meal was flat, unleavened bread (matzah), but Da Vinci's painting offers no suggestion of Passover. Stranger yet, notice that the only Jewish-looking person at the table is Judas; everyone else looks distinctly European. Da Vinci's painting gives us clues about the real agenda regarding Jesus: a reflexive denial of His Jewishness.

From the earliest church fathers, to the popes and reformers, to the great artists of Christian history, to the very architecture and iconography of the cathedrals, the clues are everywhere. The church wants to deny the Jewishness of Jesus. If it were possible to erase it, Christianity would have done so centuries ago. The historical Jesus was a Jew.

The first Christians were actually Jews who believed that their rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth, was the long-anticipated heir to David's throne. They believed He was the Jewish Messiah; that is to say, the King of the Jews. They pointed to His resurrection from the dead as evidence of their convictions. Those first Christians, however, did not consider themselves Christians. They did not even imagine a religion called Christianity. They were Jews practicing Judaism, just as their rabbi had taught them.

By the early second century, however, Christianity had come to identify herself as a religion distinct and separate from Judaism. The early believers were exiled from the synagogue. Systematic persecutions, two Jewish revolts against the Roman state and theological polemics with mainstream Judaism all shaped the emerging church. Churches became predominantly gentile and sects of the new faith divided on ethnic lines. The Jewish believers disappeared into obscurity, while a new gentile Christianity grew ever stronger and more dominant. The new Christianity defined herself against Judaism and Jewishness.

In order to suppress the Jewishness of Jesus, Christianity found it necessary to suppress the historical Jesus. His humanity--a thoroughly Jewish humanity--was diminished. Unfortunately, it is this suppression and diminishing of the historical Jesus that has left Christianity so vulnerable to attack from liberal theologians, critics and fiction writers.

However, the church's sacred writings--the Gospels and Epistles left behind by those earliest believers--testify to the absolute Jewishness of the man and the original faith. The evidence remains within the books of the New Testament, like an ancient, hidden code. Most Christians read over it without ever suspecting its existence.

The gospel writers did not intend to write in code. They intended to communicate forthrightly and clearly in their own language and cultural context. But when Christianity jettisoned Judaism, we quickly forgot that language and culture. We lost the interpretive tools to correctly understand the Gospels as the gospel writers had intended them to be understood. We began to read the words and deeds of Jesus without comprehension. We began to make up new meanings. The historical Jesus was lost.

The Jewish code language of the Gospels functions on several levels. At its most basic, the code could be described as the preponderance of Semitisisms (Jewish ways of saying things) that constitute the text. Though the Gospels are written in Greek, the syntax, structure, idiom and semantic configurations often betray a Semitic origin.

It seems evident that our Gospels were written by Jews who were far more accustomed to Hebrew and Aramaic than they were to Greek. They were working with Greek translations of Semitic documents, and translating the words of Jesus from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek. The resulting Greek text is soaked in Semitic terminology and turns of phrase that can sometimes only be understood by first retro-translating a saying or phrase back to Hebrew or Aramaic.

On another level, the Jewish code language of the Gospels consists of innumerable allusions to the wider expanse of Jewish literature and rabbinic thought. These allusions are fraught with meaning. A reader unfamiliar with the works and concepts alluded to by the gospel writer inevitably misses the semantic point of the passage.

The code could also be described as a paradigm of thought and interpretation. The paradigm is late second-Temple Judaism. Therefore, our best resource for interpretation is Jewish literature that was written in the same paradigm. For example, it is hard to correctly interpret the parables of Jesus in isolation, but when the reader compares the parables of Jesus with the hundreds of similar rabbinic parables preserved in ancient Jewish literature, he suddenly has a contextual matrix from which to draw understanding. It's like flipping a light switch.

To decipher the code, we need to compare the New Testament with other ancient Jewish literature. For example, in the late second century, the sages of Judaism began compiling the oral teachings that had been transmitted to them from their teachers. Many of these oral teachings had been handed down from teacher to student for generations--even centuries. The first collection of those teachings is called the Mishnah, a book of legal codes redacted in the Galilee during the early third century. For the next several generations, Jewish rabbis and scholars poured their efforts into commenting and arguing over the Mishnah. Their commentary is called the Gemara, and along with the Mishnah, they form the voluminous works called the Talmud. In addition to these works of legislation, the rabbis recorded oral traditions, teachings and interpretations about the Bible called the midrash. The word midrash means "something searched out." The midrash is a source of many parables similar to the ones Jesus used to tell.

By comparing these rabbinic works with the Gospels, we notice a great deal of crossover. Sometimes, the synonymy of the Gospels with the rabbinic literature is so great that it is difficult to tell if a certain teaching originated with Jesus or with the sages of His day. At other times, the sayings, maxims, parables and ordinances of the rabbis inform the language of the Gospels in a way that makes sense of what is otherwise obscure.

The gospel code is a real phenomenon, not some half-baked, flakey retelling of history. And what is more, the code can be broken. The original meanings can be recovered. Thanks to the wealth of early rabbinic literature preserved by the Jewish world, we are able to decipher the code. We are able to see Jesus from a Jewish perspective again.

Chronicles of the Messiah does this kind of code breaking in every lesson, and the results are exciting. Thanks to the intrinsic Jewishness of our Gospels, their authenticity and antiquity are incontrovertible. No second-, third- or fourth-century church forgers could possibly have manufactured documents so genuinely Jewish. Nor would they have been motivated to do so. What is more, when tested for an authentic, first-century Jewish voice, the apocryphal Gnostic gospels and other non-canonical Christian writings perform very poorly. In the light of Judaism, they are exposed as the late counterfeits that they are.

Chronicles of the Messiah is a Messianic Jewish commentary on the life and teaching of Yeshua of Nazareth. The Chronicles are a harmonization of all four gospels into one continuous narrative. In so doing, we carry on the gospel tradition in the spirit of the evangelist Luke who said, "I too thought it good, having investigated all these matters thoroughly from their beginning, to write them to you according to their order" (Luke 1:3).

In the Chronicles of the Messiah commentary, we "investigate all these matters thoroughly," looking into Jewish sources and literature to better understand the world of the Bible and the culture of the New Testament as we tell the story of Yeshua "in consecutive order." We uncover the Jewish background of the gospels and reveal the foundation of Torah and prophecy on which the message of the Kingdom of Heaven is built.

Chronicles of Messiah attempts to study the gospels as they were meant to be studied: within the context of Torah Judaism. We try to recapture the original Jewishness of the gospel story and the person of Yeshua, the Jewish rabbi. To assist us in this endeavor, we use The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels: An English Translation as our gospel text. The Delitzsch Hebrew Gospels employs transliterations of proper names and certain concepts and nouns, and it attempts to reconstruct the original Semitic forms which lie behind the Greek text.

In addition, the commentary for Chronicles of the Messiah consults the never-before-translated Hebrew Gospel commentaries of the nineteenth century, Messianic Jewish luminary Rabbi Yechiel Tzvi Lichtenstein. Rabbi Lichtenstein wrote in the style of classical rabbinic commentary to accompany the Delitzsch Hebrew New Testament. His insights are invaluable.

It's not too late to get on board with a subscription. Take the opportunity to know Jesus better. If you are a disciple of Jesus--the real, historical Yeshua of Nazareth, you should consider spending a year in the Chronicles of the Messiah, and discover the greatest "Jewish" story ever told.

About the Author: D. Thomas Lancaster is Director of Education at First Fruits of Zion, and regular contributor to Messiah Journal. He is the author of the Torah Club programs, and the books Grafted In, Restoration and King of the Jews."

FFOZ Blogs : The Gospel Code

1 comment:

Red Letter Believers said...

What an amazing post. I never really realized that there was a concerted effort to take the Jew out of the Christ. Fascinating read.