Saturday, October 24, 2009


My sense of things is that most Christians, and this very much includes Christian scholars, see their religion as the inheritor of Greek and Roman civilization. It's not called the Roman Catholic Church for nothing. While there is some lip service to the idea that Hebrew scripture is a part of Christianity, it is still a serious problem that 1) they do not mean Hebrew scripture in and of itself, i.e., a part of Jewish/Hebrew culture, but Hebrew scripture as rewritten for Christian theology, 2) there is no realization of how much rabbinic and Pharisaic oral culture informs Christianity, not even lip service to this, and 3) it is certainly true that, on the Internet at least, Christians still frequently disparage Hebrew scripture in favor of the New Testament which they clearly regard as superior (they only reluctantly accept Hebrew scripture).

The fact that the NT is in Greek probably helps promote its identification with Greek civilization. But that obscures the fact that the NT, especially the Gospels, is essentially a Jewish document. The Gospels are really a translation from Hebrew and/or Aramaic. The underlying words of the oral tradition were in Hebrew or Aramaic. More important than the vocabulary, all the ideas, sayings, parables, and metaphors are from Jewish culture. Jesus and his disciples carried out their affairs and conversations entirely within Jewish culture.

Yet on the Internet, whenever I point out a parallel from rabbinic literature or the likely underlying Jewish words, what I usually get is the silent treatment or the occasional hostile response of Hey buddy, these are Greek words we are discussing here. Even the point that Greek and Jewish civilization have most in common — a love of debate and reasoning according to principles — is always ignored. We imagine Jesus proclaiming instead of reasoning and debating, which is what he was really doing.

Christians still depict the Talmud and Jewish culture generally as focused on picayune disputes rather than profoundly debating moral and spriritual questions. The result is that Judaism is understood as a tribal or ethnic culture and not as a great civilization. The latter category belongs solely to the Greeks and Romans in the opinion of many. NT scholars reinforce this opinion when they constantly reduce ancient Judaism to externals like Temple, rituals, purity concerns. Far more important than the Temple was the Constitution/Torah and the Pharisaic fight for constitutional government, justice, and peace. Christian scholars tend to ignore this and miss Jesus' participation in this part of the culture. Their choice has been to not be Jewish when they study the Gospels. So sad.

Leon Zitzer

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