Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Breaking News: Jesus was a Jew!

Film at 11:
The death and resurrection of Christ has been called into question by a radical new interpretation of a tablet found on the eastern bank of the Dead Sea.

The three-foot stone tablet appears to refer to a Messiah who rises from the grave three days after his death - even though it was written decades before the birth of Jesus.

The ink is badly faded on much of the tablet, known as Gabriel’s Vision of Revelation, which was written rather than engraved in the 1st century BC. This has led some experts to claim that the inscription has been overinterpreted...
The "Jesus Stone" has been all over the news this week, even getting a mention in that esteemed theological publication Time Magazine, with various interpretations ranging from, "This is the last nail in Christianity's coffin" to "the stone is meaningless from an archaeological perspective."

Perhaps not surprisingly, I have my own spin. It can be summed up in one word: Duh!

Now obviously I have no way of knowing whether the stone is authentic or whether the writing has been interpreted properly*. That will be up to the experts** to decide. But the thing that amuses me to no end is the breathless astonishment of experts and reporters alike at the idea that Christianity is grounded in messianic, First-Century bc Judaism. And in contrast to the modern expectation that Christianity was an absolutely unique idea completely separated from the religion of its very Jewish founders, even a very cursory reading of the NT will show that not only did the disciples and Jesus himself assume that Christianity was the next logical step of Judaism, everything they said and did was grounded in the Jewish scriptures.

For example, in Jesus' very first sermon, not in public but in his boyhood synagogue, he read a rather messianic passage from Isaiah (ca 700bc) and told his listeners, "This day is this scripture fulfilled in your ears." (Luke 4:21). The Gospel authors went out of their way to show that Jesus' messiahship was foretold in the Jewish scriptures - Matthew says that specific acts fulfilled specific prophesies of the Jewish Scriptures more than a dozen times - and Jesus himself often pointed out, rather blatantly***, that everything he was doing and everything that was happening to him was demanded by the Jewish prophets.

Even after he was resurrected, when he met with a couple of the disciples on their way to Emmaus, he explained, "'You fools****, so slow to believe everything the prophets said, should Christ not have suffered these things and been glorified?' And beginning with Moses and continuing through the prophets, he explained to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." (Luke 24:25).

We make a mistake in assuming that modern Judaism is the same as Judaism was pre-Christ. In fact, modern Judaism is as much a reaction to Christianity as the original Christianity was based on the Judaism from which it arose. If those Jews who eventually came to be called Christians came to realize that not only had Christ risen from the dead but that the scriptures they had been steeped in since birth demanded it, we can hardly be surprised that other Jews living at the same time in the same culture discovered the same things and applied the expectations that arose from that in their own way.

* Though I suspect it has not. This stone has been under study by various experts for ten years and now one appears, amidst much fanfare, to have discovered the "true" interpretation. As with most such claims, I'm a bit skeptical.

** whose shoelaces I am not worthy to tie together.

*** For example, while he was being arrested, Jesus reassured his disciples, "Don't you realize that even now I could ask my father and he would give me more than twelve legions of angels? But if I did, how would the scriptures be fulfilled that it must be this way?"(Matt 26:53-4). The disciples considered this and ran away into the night.

**** Jesus had little patience for slow learners.

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