Header Image


Bad Eagle Journal

Jews, Hebrews, and Ilana Mercer

by David Yeagley · October 6, 2011 · 9 Comments ·

It is the season of Yom Kippur and the observance, yea the celebration, of repentance–the most significant experience in human psychology. “Hope and change,” maybe. Turning, to be exact. Yes, it is an ancient Jewish value, and through its incorporation by the Christian religion, has come to be a rudiment on all Western societies. We humbly share these thoughts at such a confusing, intentionally chaotic time in American history.

Ilana Mercer,
daughter of a rabbi. has always given Ilana Mercer great credit for her willingness to distinguish between the Jewish religion and the Hebrew ethnicity behind it. Unlike many liberal Jews who consider the word “Jewish” to mean, exclusively, a religious faith, and seem overtly to deny that there is any such ethnicity as Jewish, Mercer is willing to grant them the religious connotation of the word “Jewish,” and yet maintain the existence of the ethnicity, which, for the sake of the differentiation from the religion, she refers to as “Hebrew.”

The fact is, the distinction of these two words was established long before our friend Ilana Mercer. Paul the Apostle made it around 66 AD. It was an epistle “to the Hebrews,” at least in the earliest Greek manuscripts. It is said to have been dictated by Paul to his assistant and emensuensis Timothy, in Rome, and sent to a congregation of Jewish people who had joined the Jesus movement. (We can discuss the issues about the authorship of the Epistle to the Hebrews in another piece. Suffice it to say, we accept the authorship of Paul, having carefully considered all circumstances possible.)

The American Interfaith Institute published an article in 1995 in their Explorations journal. It was entitled “Translating Hoi Ioudaioi In the New Testament,” by author David G. Burke, of the American Bible Society, New York. Hoi Ioudaioi, of course, is Greek for “the Jews.” Burke observes that “the Jews,” even at the time of the writing of John’s gospel narrative (ca. 96 AD), “Jews” or “Jewish” was already associated with the religion, particularly the Pharisaical traditions at Jerusalem. (Burke notes that of the 195 uses of hoi Ioudaioi, 151 occur in John’s gospel and Luke’s “Acts of the Apostles.”) Burke’s article is an ‘apologetic’ for the seeming contextual negativity generated around the term “the Jews,” in as much as “the Jews” condemned Jesus to death, in the story. Burke’s ultimate argument is that, contextually, hoi Ioudaioi meant Jewish leaders, not the religion, and not the ethnicity, nor even the culture. He notes that eighteen recent English translations in fact use the term “leaders” or “Jewish leaders.” This argument is with the intent to mollify the prejudice against hoi Ioudaioi which has always been attributed, by Jewish people, to the effects of the New Testament.

Like Ilana Mercer, St. Paul decided to eliminate the communication conflict by simply referring to the ethnicity, “the Hebrews.” While it was plainly true that Pharisaical Judaism in Palestine did persecute Jews, or Hebrews, who espoused the new folk rabbi, Jesus; while it is true that Paul himself (formerly “Saul”) was foremost in the persecution of such Jews; and while it is true that for a long time no Christian Jews trusted Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews he makes some amazing statements which, in our opinion, show a unique and virtually unfathomable repentance on Paul’s part.

It appears that Paul is writing to a “Reform” community, or, the more liberal Jews of his day, who were not only foreign to Palestine, but were not completely versed in Jewish culture or tradition. Many scholars see the letter to the Hebrews as a work which has to be addressing the Alexandrian Jews. This sector of the Jews, which did in fact have it’s own synagogue in Jerusalem, was nevertheless deeply Hellenized, culturally and even religiously–in terms of theology and spirituality. Naturally, Paul would put on his finest Judaism to address them. There are aspects to his letter to the “Hebrews” (Έβραίός) which are unique and different from all his other letters–which were written to either Gentile or mixed Jewish-Gentile congregations. In his letter to the Hebrews, we observe the most most profound depths of Paul’s personality.

The entire letter plays on sweeping analogies from the Torah, ever emphasizing the transcendence or fulfilment in the story of Jesus. The Torah is employed as allegory, the reality being the Messiah. That, of course, is the offense to the religious Jew. However, in Hebrews 13: 10-14, Paul pushes the allegorical interpretation beyond any precedent or succession.

10 We have an altar, whereof they have no right to eat which serve the tabernacle. 11 For the bodies of those beasts, whose blood is brought into the sanctuary by the high priest for sin, are burned without the camp. 12 Wherefore Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered without the gate. 13 Let us go forth therefore unto him without the camp, bearing his reproach.

Paul says that the believing Jew, or Hebrew, who believes in Christ, is like the burnt offering, the sin offering, that the Levitical priests were forbidden to eat. That offering was immolated outside the camp, the city, or the congregate of the people. Since Jesus, the Lamb of God, was offered outside the Temple, outside the walls of Jerusalem, the believing Jew willingly offers himself, in identifying himself with Jesus, for the sins of the people.

The offering of Jesus was to “sanctify the people.” The believing Jew, in identifying with that offering, also sanctifies the Jewish people, the Hebrew ethnicity. That is the astounding implication. To nudge it yet a inch further, one might say that the Christians of the world are the offering for the Jewish people. As such, the true Christians give up their place in this world, they sacrifice their place, for the sake of the Jews.

And finally, verse 14, “For here have we no continuing city, but we seek one to come.

The hope of the Christian is the New Jerusalem, (Heb. 12:22; Revelation 21: 10, f.), nothing on this earth.

Remember that this is Paul, a Jew, who put to death many other Jews (who believed in Jesus), who himself came to believe in Jesus and to devote his life to Jesus, writing to Jews, whom he calls Hebrews, or Έβραίός. He has given up his place, he has sacrificed himself, that, analogously, “he might sanctify the people,” that is, the Jews. Israel. The Hebrews.

In that day, as Paul saw it, the Jew who believe in Jesus was the willing sacrifice that would sanctify the Jewish nation.

A bit mystical, perhaps. First Century mind traveling. Paul was definitely a traveler, in every metaphorical sense of the word, as well as literal. The persecution that any Jews who believed in Jesus would likely take from other Jews was to be understood as a sacrifice, for the good of all the Jewish people.

To see it this way, is, in our opinion, repentance. It is also forgiveness. It is the ultimate restoration of consciousness, soul, and eternal verity. Surely, only a Jewish person could even begin to fathom the significance of such a mind. The rest of us can only look on in mute wonder.

Posted by David Yeagley · October 6, 2011 · 11:52 am CT · ·

Tags: Bad Eagle Journal · Christianity · Jews · Race · Religion

Read More Journal Posts »

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Pamela K. // Oct 6, 2011 at 3:40 pm   

    The Day of Atonement is the one feast out of the Seven Feasts of Israel that is not fulfilled in the New Testament.
    Although I believe having a knowledge of and observing the seven feasts, or holy convocations, held each year by the Chosen People greatly enhances the faith of Christians, the Church owes no atonement. While the Church is by no means innocent of sin, it is exonerated. Jesus paid the ultimate price for the sins of all of who believe in Him as Lord and Messiah.
    However, there is much Messianic significance at Yom Kippur. In their teachings, the rabbis refer to the sacrifice of Isaac (Akedah), and that God accepted the sacrifice of Isaac on our behalf. The story of Isaac beautifully foreshadows the sacrifice of Messiah (Hebrews 11:17-19) whose sacrifice God accepted on our behalf.
    The Haftorah portion on Yom Kippur is the Book of Jonah. When Jesus was challenged to prove He was the Messiah, He used the story of Jonah-in the belly of the whale for three days-to illustrate His own death and resurrection.
    The apostle Paul wrote of a future time when all of Israel will be redeemed and will have atonement (Romans 11:26)
    The prophet Zechariah also predicted this time of Israel’s redemption as a nation (Zechariah 12:10; 13:9)
    Christians can celebrate Yom Kippur by thanking God for our atonement through Jesus, and by praying that more Jewish people will come to recognize Christ and accept their atonement through Him.

  • 2 David Yeagley // Oct 6, 2011 at 4:00 pm   

    So, what do you think is being said in Hebrews 13: 10-14? It at least seems to say that the believers who follow Christ, “without the camp,” “without the gate,” bear the sin of the people, allegorically at least. The believers, the followers of Jesus somehow figuratively atone for the people (the Jews). They are the sacrifice, burned without the camp.

    If this is a fanciful interpretation, then what do you think it might be talking about?

    The believers in Jesus are certainly sacrificed, in some way, for some thing.

    Frankly, I think the “church” (even while still comprising Jewish people) lost its spiritual status altogether the minute it bought real estate. Once the group owned property, it was “of this world.” The history of the church ever after has been one of political, temporal affairs, often literally “fighting” for the kingdom.

    Perhaps this is one of the reasons Jewish people have never been able to relate to the “Christian church.” It’s just another competitor.

  • 3 Pamela K. // Oct 6, 2011 at 8:45 pm   

    “We have an altar from which those who serve and worship in the tabernacle have no right to eat.” Hebrews 13:10.
    I believe the author is saying that we have to direct faith to the person of Jesus Christ instead of spiritually bereft religious rituals.
    In verse 11, the author, whom we assume to be the apostle Paul, is referring to the sin offering on the Day of Atonement. Christ’s sacrificial death on the Cross is the anti-type of that sin offering. The priests of ancient Israel could not eat the flesh of any animals whose blood was sprinkled on the mercy seat, though they did eat the flesh of other sacrificed animals. The bodies of the sin offerings were burned outside the camp as Jesus was taken to be crucified “near the city” (John 19:20)
    Though the priests had no right to eat the sin offerings, believers have the right to nourish themselves on the life of Jesus.
    “Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood will have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” ” John 6: 52-54

    It was for this purpose that Jesus suffered outside the city gate.

    “Going outside the camp” refers more to an inner attitude, the one in the heart of a true believer, who sees no value in religious rituals or dietary regulations, or allows themselves to be morally corrupted by the love of money and earthly possessions.
    “…for it is good for the heart to be established by the means of grace and not to be devoted to rules of diet and ritualistic meals which bring no spiritual benefit or profit to those who observe them.” Hebrews 13:9

    I think the whole of Hebrews 13 is a directive in regards to the conduct of believers. However, I believe the moral of Hebrews 13 is that in order to become more like Christ we have to surrender at the foot of the Cross and die to ourselves,(discard the foolish wisdom of the world and the futility of human reasoning) so that God’s will can be carried out, and accomplish in us “that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ the Messiah, to Whom be the glory forever and ever,”
    Hebrews 13:21

  • 4 David Yeagley // Oct 6, 2011 at 9:03 pm   

    Well, still, the believers follow Jesus outside the camp; so, even if this means that they become in some significant way divorced from (Pharisaical/traditional) Judaism, they are still allegorically represented as having an atoning function for the people (of Israel), the Jews.

    There is nothing said about spiritual nourishment in this passage, at least not in the way you are explicating (which is nonetheless true).

    Yours is one fine interpretation, however, and would stand in most any Christian theological circle. I am not meaning to imply one whit that something you’ve said isn’t true. At all.

    I’m just fascinated with this idea that the believing Jew (Christian) is some mystical atonement for the rest of the Jews. This is a new thought for me. By extension, all the church is a sacrifice of or for the Jewish people. This greatly moves me, this thought.

    Is there not some validity to this. After all, it is what the text is saying, prima facie. I don’t think I’m interpreting it at all, actually.

    Again, what you say is perfectly true. But I just don’t see that in this text.

    THANKS FOR HASHING THIS OUT WITH ME, PAM! This is one of the strangest texts I’ve ever considered. Familiar with this since I was a teenager, I only now begin to see things…

  • 5 hulagirl // Oct 7, 2011 at 1:01 pm   

    You are both right, I believe. Pamela’s the more traditional take, an David’s an interesting take. Christians can be seen as “sacrifices” , since we love the Jews, and in martyrdom will die for our Jewish Savior and Jewish people (many Christians sacrificed in Nazi Germany, as well as in IslamoNaziville today), and pray all the time for the veil to be lifted that they may believe in Yeshua.

  • 6 David Yeagley // Oct 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm   

    To get a handle on what’s really “Jewish” is beyond psychology, beyond phenomenology. It is most ‘other worldly.’ Personally, I find this inspiring. Motivating. Energizing. I realize it also frustrates and infuriates many others.

    I’m not even sure how I mean to apply Hebrews 13: 12, 13. I just notice it, and ponder what it might mean–in reality.

  • 7 MK316 // Oct 11, 2011 at 11:04 am   

    I haven’t read David Burke’s article on the use of “the Jews,” which appears with particular frequency in John’s gospel. However, your summary of his argument indicates he sees “the Jews” as “the Jewish leaders.” I have a hard time with that, and would like to offer my own alternative reading. Why not consider John’s use of “the Jews” to be a local term, as in, “the Judeans”? I say this because John’s gospel stands unique among the four gospels in that so much of the action takes place in Judea, primarily Jerusalem, whereas Galilee is more prominent (relatively, at least) in the synoptic gospels. It could be that John is using “the Jews” to distinguish the people under consideration from “the Galileeans” — the Israelites who, in the words of one of the Pharisees, “know not the Law” (John 7:49).

    I admit that this interpretation is not without complications, given that Luke and Paul seem to use the term more generally that this. However, I think it is very possible that John, a Galileean fisherman, might indeed be using the term as a local one. Consider the following statement he makes:

    “After these things Jesus walked in Galilee: for he would not walk in Jewry, because the Jews sought to kill him.”

    Here, Jewry clearly means the people of Judea. Surely, the Galileeans were Hebrews, Israelites, and Jews in the more elastic sense of the term. But John is, to my mind, using the term more specifically.

  • 8 MK316 // Oct 11, 2011 at 11:30 am   


    In response to Pamela’s explanation of Hebrews 13: 10-14, you wrote:

    “Well, still, the believers follow Jesus outside the camp; so, even if this means that they become in some significant way divorced from (Pharisaical/traditional) Judaism, they are still allegorically represented as having an atoning function for the people (of Israel), the Jews.”

    I’ve never gotten this before from the passage, and think you’re stretching the Day of Atonement beyond its straightforward meaning. Yes, of course the passage is referring back to the Day of Atonement. However, the followers of Christ – the heavenly Lamb of God – while called to be living sacrifices to God, are never called to be atoning sacrifices for anyone — Jewish or otherwise.

    As for Hebrews 13:13, I agree substantially with Pamela. If we let scripture interpret scripture, we can see this passage as an extension on a theme frequently invoked in Paul’s writings – namely, the temporal, earthly shame (i.e., reproach) of being associated with Christ:

    “For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; “ (1 Corinthians 1:22-24).

    In other words, if those within the camp of Judaism reject the atoning value of Christ for themselves, then they have no share in that atonement, and must go on seeking for one in a type or shadow that has already found its full manifestation in Christ (as Pamela said). Thus, the Hebrews who DO place their trust in the atoning work of Christ are here exhorted to separate themselves (spiritually, at any rate) from their countrymen who do not, and that is what it means to, symbolically, go outside the camp.

    There is nothing in the Bible, to my mind, that gives any weight to the Jewish notion of the Jews or any people group being a sacrificial lamb for other groups of people. It is a perverse reading of Isaiah 53, which sees Israel as the suffering servant rather than Christ, which has given rise to this notion.

    As I understand it, this idea was either unknown or not taken seriously until Rashi came along in the 11th century AD and interpreted the passage along those lines. The majority opinion among the Rabbis prior to this was that the passage was indeed speaking of the Messiah.

  • 9 MK316 // Oct 11, 2011 at 11:53 am   

    Sorry, in my quote from 1 Corinthians, I failed to include the verse that rounds out the thought Paul is conveying:

    “But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24).

You must log in to post a comment.