The Torah in Ancient Judaism

The Torah in Judaism is often thought to be strictly the Law, or a set of legal codes given to the Hebrew people by God to Moses shortly after the Exodus fromEgypt.  Such an understanding is severely handicapped, as the Torah in Judaism is much more than a set of laws.

“It must first be stated that the term Law or Nomos is not a correct rendering of the Hebrew word Torah. The legalistic element, which might rightly be called the Law, represents only one side of the Torah. To the Jew the word Torah means a teaching or an instruction of any kind. It may be either a general principle or a specific injunction, whether it be found in the Pentateuch or in other parts of the Scriptures, or even outside of the canon. The juxtaposition in which Torah and Mizwoth, Teaching and Commandments, are to be found in the Rabbinic literature, implies already that the former means something more than merely the Law (e.g b. Ber 31a; b. Makk 23a; m. Abot 3.11). Torah and Mitzvoth are a complement to each other, or, as a Rabbi expressed it, “they borrow from each other, as wisdom and understanding – charity and lovingkindness–the moon and the stars,” but they are not identical. To use the modern phraseology, to the Rabbinic Jew, Torah was both an institution and a faith.  (Solomon Schecter in [ART, p.117f])

We can therefore see that the Torah, far from being a simple set of legislation becomes the revelation of God to the people ofIsrael. It included but was not limited to the Law that is so commonly thought to be the whole of the Torah.

This is not to negate the legal aspect of the Torah, however, because the laws governing various aspects of Hebrew life were numerous and detailed, as can be seen by simply glancing through either the books of Exodus, Leviticus or Deuteronomy, where over 600 laws are set down for everything from dietary habits, war, criminal prosecution, land disputes and monetary issues. These of course would later be used by the Pharisees and Sadducees to gain greater political clout inJerusalem; thousands of extra laws dictating every possible action would be set down by these two groups and would be one of the main contention points for Jesus Christ and the Apostle Paul after the birth of Christianity.

It is clear to see that the Torah represented not just legalities but the entire Judaist faith, and its significance cannot be underestimated; the prosperity of ancient Israel seems to wax and wane with how high regard the Torah was held. Jehoshaphat’s plan of restoringIsraelafter Asa’s failing reign was to instructIsraelin these matters:

 

2nd Chronicles 17:7-9

“7 In the third year of his reign he sent his officials Ben-Hail, Obadiah, Zechariah, Nethanel and Micaiah to teach in the towns ofJudah. 8 With them were certain Levites—Shemaiah, Nethaniah, Zebadiah, Asahel, Shemiramoth, Jehonathan, Adonijah, Tobijah and Tob-Adonijah—and the priests Elishama and Jehoram. 9 They taught throughoutJudah, taking with them the Book of the Law of the LORD; they went around to all the towns ofJudahand taught the people.”

The recovery of the Book of the Law of Moses during the reign of Josiah sparked a series of reforms that lasted through the rest of his reign:

2nd Chronicles 34:21“21 “Go and inquire of the LORD for me and for the remnant inIsrael andJudah about what is written in this book that has been found. Great is the LORD’s anger that is poured out on us because those who have gone before us have not kept the word of the LORD; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written in this book.”

2nd Chronicles 34:10, 33

“10 He read in their hearing all the words of the Book of the Covenant, which had been found in the temple of the LORD… 33 Josiah removed all the detestable idols from all the territory belonging to the Israelites, and he had all who were present inIsraelserve the LORD their God. As long as he lived, they did not fail to follow the LORD, the God of their ancestors.”

It can be seen then that not only was the Torah the foundation of the faith of Israel but it was literally the soul of the nation, and it was on the basis of Israel’s devotion to the Torah that Israel’s prosperity was built. It was an essential part of the fiber of the being of the Hebrew people, moreso than the Constitution is the America or any other founding document to any other nation; it is unique in the aspect that it is not the product of long philosophical thought or logical means to an end or the result of poetic mythologies to explain natural phenomenon, but rather the direct revelation of God to His chosen people.  With that in mind it is easy to see why the Torah holds such an important place in the minds of the ancient Hebrews as well as in modern times.

 

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SOURCES

Schechter, Solomon. Aspects of Rabbinic Theology. Jewish Lights 1909/1993. Print.

 

Apologetics Study Bible. HCSB.Nashville, Tenessee.  Holman Bible Publishing.  2003. Print.

 

 

 

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An Analysis of Thomas Aquinas and his Natural Theology

Natural theology, as defined by Thomas Aquinas, is the study of God and His attributes purely apart from divine revelation; that is to say, a study of God based on reason alone. The things learned by this method Aquinas calls, “preambles,” to faith:

“The existence of God and other like truths about God, which can be known by natural reason, are not articles of faith, but are preambles to the articles; for faith presupposes natural knowledge, even as grace presupposes nature and perfection the perfectible.” (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, Article 2, Reply to objection 1.)

That statement is an overview of Natural Theology, which must not be mistakenly seen as the only kind of theology or the only kind Aquinas believes is necessary. On the contrary, Aquinas defined “Sacred Doctrine” as the attributes and knowledge which God Himself can give. Sacred Doctrine consists of things of God which no human reasoning can begin to understand, and Natural theology consists of the things of God which human reason can begin to understand.

Having established both of these doctrines, the question becomes: which is more important, and in what order should they be pursued? This point is a little more difficult; the ultimate goal of natural theology is to prove the existence of God by pure human reason, while Christianity is based in faith in that which cannot ultimately be proven, and so the two appear to be mutually exclusive.

“…when natural theology is successful it does not provide any grounds for faith in any strict sense of grounds. That is, if natural theology succeeds in its initial task, to prove the existence of God, no de fide truth follows from this as a consequence. If it did, the de fide truth would be transformed into a known truth … (Ralph McInerny, “On Behalf of Natural Theology,” in Being and Predication (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1986), p. 251)

It appears, then, that the question becomes as much of a definition of “faith” as an explanation of how two apparently opposing doctrines can exist with each other. The concept of “faith,” as a blind leap in the dark appears to be where Aquinas is leaning here; a simple belief in that which cannot be seen or proven, for if it is proven then faith is not needed. However, since the definition of a “leap in the dark,” does not fit with Biblical definitions of faith, an examination of the definition of “faith,” is necessary:

“Faith in the biblical sense is substantive, based on the knowledge that the One in whom that faith is placed has proven that He is worthy of that trust. In its essence, faith is a confidence in the person of Jesus Christ and in His power, so that even when His power does not serve my end, my confidence in Him remains because of who He is.” (RaviZacharias, “Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message,” Thomas Nelson Inc, 2002)

“Though He slay me yet will I trust Him…” (Job 13:15, “Holy Bible,”)

We can see that Biblical faith is not a mere belief, will to believe or blind belief in a lack of evidence; contrary to that it is trust by experience and through proof. Aquinas’s definition seems to err more on the side of pure belief, and this is the cause for his concern. Thus, natural theology would appear to be at odds with a belief system in which faith is defined as just belief in that which cannot be proven.

The weakness of Aquinas’s system, therefore, was the thought that if God could be proven, faith would no longer be needed; this view, when examined in light of a Biblical understanding of faith, is false.

Having a proper understanding of both Sacred Doctrine and faith is key to refuting the Thomistic belief that a doctrine which can be known cannot be believed; it is clear that with a Biblical understanding of faith the opposite is true. However, the medieval mode of theology, with faith before understanding clearly colored Aquinas’s view of theology:

“Nor do I seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe that I may understand. For this too I believe, that unless I first believe, I shall not understand.” (Anselm ofCanterbury, “The Devotions of Saint Anselm ofCanterbury,”)

However, as stated above, knowing and believing are only exclusive to each other if the definition of faith takes on clearly un-Biblical connotations. Neither can be seen to be superior to the other; without a personal trust, Christianity is mere intellectual belief, and without reasonable knowledge there are little grounds for faith.

God can, then, be both known and believed in a purely Biblical sense. There are attributes of God that can be known through natural theology and there are attributes that can be known through Divine Revelation only; but neither need be exclusive to the other, indeed, the two are meant to work in tandem:

“…Love the Lord your God all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength….” (Mark 12:30, “Holy Bible”)

From a Biblical standpoint no faculty is exclusive to the other, and the above statement is confirmed that faith and reason are to work together. Aquinas certainly didn’t dismiss faith as unreasonable or reason as incompatible with faith, but his limited definition of faith forced him reduce faith a more blind belief , which practical and defendable to Aquinas is not an entirely Biblical model.

The conclusion reached is therefore twofold: natural theology and Sacred Doctrine are to work in tandem and not merely picking up where one leaves off; and that a proper understanding of faith is necessary to reconcile the seeming differences and limitations of faith, natural theology, and reason.

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Aquinas, Thomas, Summa Theologica. B&R Samizdat Express. 2009. E-book.

McInerny, Ralph “On Behalf of Natural Theology,” in Being and Predication. Washington,DC: TheCatholicUniversityofAmericaPress. 1986. Print.

Zacharias, Ravi. Jesus Among Other Gods: The Absolute Claims of the Christian Message. Thomas Nelson Inc, 2002. Print.

Anselm of Canterbury. The Devotions of Saint Anselm of Canterbury.  New Century Books. 2010. E-book.

Quest Study Bible. NIV.Michigan. Zondervan. 2003. Print.

Beowulf as Medieval Christian Evangelistic Literature

Beowulf is considered the most important pieces of Anglo-Saxon literature for a number of reasons: it is the first epic poem written in the vernacular as well as the oldest English piece of literature currently in existence. However, it’s most often overlooked trait is that is also an example of fervent Anglo-Saxon Christianity and a brilliant example of primitive Christian fiction for the purpose of both defending and spreading the Christian belief throughout the pagan Scandinavian lands.

That Beowulf borrows enormously from Christianity and the Bible is no secret, but these traits are often cited as mere influences and do not have any purposes beyond showing the fact that the author was devoutly Christian himself.

The evidence for it being a work designed to legitimize Christianity on a large scale is as follows:

1. The author makes numerous attempts to show the superiority of the Christian god and the assistance given to those who follow Christianity, as the Anonymous poet tells us, “It was hard fought, a desperate affair that could have gone badly; if God had not helped me,” (1656-1657).

2. It is made clear that the Scandinavian people desire glory and power, and the Christian god is portrayed as a glorious and powerful being with titles like, “almighty,” occurring frequently throughout the text; descriptions of the Christian god’s wrath are brutal and simple, “They suffered a terrible severance from the Lord; the Almighty made the waters rise and drown them in the deluge for retribution,” (1691-1693)

3. The immediate adversary for the Danes is a monster named Grendel, who is the spawn of Cain, the first murderer, but is also a creature who is destroyed be Beowulf, who is empowered and equipped by God, “The sons of Ecgthow would have surely perished and the Geats lost their warrior under the wide earth had the strong links and locks of his war-gear not helped to save him; holy God decided the victory. It was easy for the Lord, the Ruler of Heaven, to redress the balance once Beowulf got back up on his feet.” (1550-1556)

Other themes of subtle contrast, comparison and praise for the Christian God abound and frequently echo Biblical styles and themes; lines 1724-1745 resemble both in style, tone and subject matter the Psalms of King David ofIsrael.

It is quite clear however that this is not simply a tract for conversion since pagan influences do have a strong hold. The more destructive ones are not mentioned and the more positive ones are, i.e. swords and armor have names and characteristics and even personalities as is common throughout the medieval period; meeting halls are filled with mead and warriors eager for glory and celebration; camaraderie and a father-like love between a commander and his troops is often showcased.

Thus, Beowulf is not just an anti-pagan tract, but rather a brilliant and subtle expression of Christianity’s superiority over the old pagan religions of the north. The Christian god is shown to not just be a powerful deity, but THE powerful deity, the almighty, who rewards valour and bravery in a far better way then the pagan gods of the time.  Hence, Christianity is portrayed not as the weak kneed religion of the infidels, but rather as the powerful belief system of the hero of the Danes and Geats, Beowulf. This makes it a powerful and effective evangelistic story and one that clearly had a large influence on both the culture and religion ofScandinavia in terms of advancing Christianity as a legitimate religion.

SOURCES –

Anonymous. “Beowulf.” “The Norton Introduction to Literature.”

Alison Booth. Kelly J. Mays.New York,London. W.W. Norton & Company, 2010. 1088-1098. Print.

Abraham and Isaac

Abraham and Isaac – Taken from Genesis 22.

1. Abraham is commanded by God, with whom he had a personal and deep relationship, to do something shocking, sacrifice His son, Isaac.

2. This has never been commanded by God (human sacrifice) and is strictly forbidden in Hebrew culture; this is NOT setting a precedent for child or human sacrifice.

3. Abraham has two options:

  • Trust his theology, which says that God would never ask him to do something like this and that he shouldn’t have to do this, or…
  • Trust God, whom he has absolute faith in by a lifetime of experience, that even though this is abnormal, shocking, heartbreaking and even wrong, God will remain faithful to him if he remains faithful to God.

4. Abraham elects to completely trust God, even going against his own reasoning, because God has been faithful to him to the extent that Abraham knows He can be totally trusted.

5. He prepares to carry out the act but is stopped; God was not going to allow Isaac to be harmed because it is against His nature, and hence there was never an instance where Isaac was going to actually perish. God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice and  establishes a covenant with Abraham through whom He brings about the Hebrew nation (He promises to make his people a people that will never die out and will flourish for all time) and eventually Christ as the Redeemer for all mankind

6. Abrahams absolute faith and trust is credited to him as righteousness and lays the foundation of the Gospel; that we are made righteous before God by faith.