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.
daughter of a rabbi.
BadEagle.com 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.