Tuesday, 29 May 2018

The Messiah: Mashiach or Moshiach? Or Moshia?

O Mashiach 
  Image result for moshia

According to what we read, the English word Messiah is the adaptation of the Hebrew מָשִׁיחַ (Strong's H4899), usually transliterated mashiyach (or, more correctly māšîaḥ). The Hebrew word is a masculine noun, which is, in fact, a passive participle of the verb מָשַׁח (Strong's H4886) which means to rub (with oil), to anoint, and, by extension to consecrate. So the messiah is one who has been appointed to a high function, especially the King of Israel or the High Priest. When Israel was not independent, and stopped having a king, the word מָשִׁיחַ (māšîaḥ) became associated with the expected King of the house of David who would restore Israel to its greatness.  

In much Jewish literature in English, the word Messiah is replaced by Mashiach, so as not to confuse the latter with the former, which is considered irremediably corrupted by Christian use.

Often, we find Moshiach, instead of Mashiach. The difference is quickly dismissed as a difference in transliteration, or, maybe, as due to a difference in pronunciation by the Ashkenazi Jews. 

In an article  (where “mashiach” with an “a”) is used, it is expressly affirmed:
The word "mashiach" does not mean "savior" [color added].  The notion of an innocent, semi-divine (let alone fully divine) human being who will sacrifice himself to save us from the consequences of our own sins is a purely Christian concept that has no basis in normal Jewish thought, though it seems to have been invented or adopted by Jewish apostates in the early Church.  Unfortunately, this Christian concept has become so deeply ingrained in the English word "messiah" that this English word should probably no longer be used to refer to the Jewish concept.  Thus, we prefer to use the less familiar word "mashiach" throughout this page. (Mashiach: TheMessiah @ mechon-mamre.org)
In another article (where “moshiach” with an “o”) is used we read this quite different statement:
According to tradition, the prophet Isaiah [Isaiah 60:22; Yeshayahu 60:22] was referring to the future arrival of the savior [color added] of the Jewish people -- Moshiach ben Dovid -- Moshiach, a descendant of King David, from the tribe of Yehudah. There are many similar references to his eventual arrival in the Jewish Bible and subsequent commentaries, and this is one of the most-discussed concepts in Torah literature. [Moshiach and the World Today @ aish.com]
Curiously enough, in Isaiah we find the word “messiah” (מָשִׁיחַ) used only once, and it is used for Cyrus (the Persian king who defeated the Babylonians and issued an edict allowing the Jews to go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple), who is called “the Lord’s anointed” (Isa 45:1).

On the other hand, in Isaiah we repeatedly find God referred to (or referring to himself) a “saviour” (or “deliverer” - Isa 43:3,11;45:15,21; 49:26; 60:16; 63:8). The word used is invariably מוֹשִׁיעַ,  (Hiphil Active Participle from יָשַׁע – Strong’s H3467, to save, deliver), transliterated môšî`a.

While the origin is very different, the aspect and the sound of the two words, מָשִׁיחַ (māšîaḥ, “anointed”, “consecrated”) and מוֹשִׁיעַ (môšî`a, “saviour”, “deliverer”), is very similar.

Perhaps too similar.

Perhaps, by denying that the word "mashiach" (or “moshiach”) has anything to do with "saviour", some Jews want not so much to deny that Jesus is Messiah ("anointed"), but that he is Saviour. A prerogative jealously kept exclusively for YHWH.

Monday, 16 April 2018

"Behold the Lamb of God"

"Adoration of the Mystic Lamb", Jan van Eyck, central panel, detail  (circa 1426–1432)
29 The next day John seeth Jesus coming unto him, and saith, Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. 30 This is he of whom I said, After me cometh a man which is preferred before me: for he was before me. 31 And I knew him not: but that he should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water. 32 And John bare record, saying, I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it abode upon him. 33 And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me, Upon whom thou shalt see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizeth with the Holy Ghost. 34 And I saw, and bare record that this is the Son of God. 35 Again the next day after John stood, and two of his disciples; 36 And looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, Behold the Lamb of God! (John 1:29-36 KJV)

The words that we read at the beginning of v. 35 ("Again the next day ...") emphasize that this is the third day since John the Baptist was introduced to us and, faced with the insistent questions of the "Jews", he declared to be only the "voice of one crying in the wilderness, Make straight the way of the Lord", the voice of the forerunner and announcer of the Messiah. The second day John "sees Jesus coming unto him" and addressing his disciples, he said, "Behold the Lamb of God, which takes away the sin of the world", he who "baptizes in the Holy Spirit ... the Son of God". The following day, meeting Jesus again, turning to his disciples, he says again: "Behold the Lamb of God!" This insisted reference to Jesus, on the part of John the Baptist, as "the Lamb of God", who even "takes away the sin of the world" is not accidental. It is hard to think that John the Baptist does not refer (or at least the author of the Gospel does not attribute to him a reference) to the sacrificial role of Jesus. Isaiah 53 can be heard here, and in particular "... he was like a lamb led to the slaughterhouse ... he shall bear their iniquities" (Is 53:7,11). But how would John the Baptist, who repeatedly declares, regarding Jesus, "I did not know him" (Jn 1:31,33), recognize in him the "suffering servant" destined for the atoning sacrifice? It is possible to think that, once again, John the Baptist had in mind another poem on the "Suffering Servant", in which it is said, "I have put my spirit upon him" (Is 42:1, see also Is 61:1-2, which Jesus applies to himself in the synagogue of Nazareth - Lk 4:18-19). And indeed John says:
And I knew him not: but he that sent me to baptize with water, the same said unto me: "Upon whom you shall see the Spirit descending, and remaining on him, the same is he which baptizes with the Holy Spirit." (Jn 1:33)
It has also been suggested that, if the Greek text of the Gospel of John is, at least in part, the translation from an original Aramaic, then "lamb of God" could be the literal translation of talyâ d'alâhâ, in which talyâ can mean not only "lamb", but also "son" and "servant" #. In short, the expression may contain a "stratification" of multiple meanings. We could have here, on the part of John the Baptist (or of the author of the Gospel) a kind of play on words, which would allude not only to Jesus as "lamb of God" (spotless, that is the perfect sacrificial victim), but also as "son of God" (at least in the sense of his messianic dignity) and "servant of God", in the same sense in which Isaiah uses this expression (Is 42, 49, 50, 52-53), and likewise the Apostle Paul (Phil 2:7-8): the perfect, even slave-like obedience of the Son of God to God, the Father Almighty.

# The Aramaic origin of the Fourth Gospel, C.F. Burney, 1922, p. 107. Before proposing the “Aramaic solution”, Burney suggests also that the expression "lamb of God" may harken back to Genesis 22, and, in particular to the phrase, “God will provide himself a lamb ...” (Gen 22:8)

Friday, 6 April 2018

In the beginning ...

Image result for tohu bohu

Here is how the very beginning is presented in the Bible:
1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. 2 Now the earth was without shape and empty, and darkness was over the surface of the watery deep, but the Spirit of God was moving over the surface of the water. (Genesis 1:1-2 NET) 
So what do we learn from these often neglected verses? That however "without shape and empty" [the Hebrew words are tohu and bohu], and before God started putting some order into it by creating light and separating light from darkness, what was there was NOT some pre-existing chaotic "stuff" that God found there (as we read in Plato), BUT the very first step of God's creation.

Only starting with the creation of light, creation is subdivided in "days" and the result of each "day" is called "good".

Has creation retained some of that original aspect, "without shape and empty"? I believe it has. It shows, in particular, in the lack of order of natural catastrophes (which are NOT the result of the "original sin"). Why did God create the universe "without shape and empty" in the first place? Why these aspects are still present? Essentially because if everything was in perfect order, even freedom would be impossible.

Genesis 1:1-2, we may say, suggests that "God left significant work 'unfinished'". While we often perceive this as apparent "incompleteness" of creation as "indifference of nature", even "cruelty of nature", even, occasionally, catastrophes, I contend that God chose this way "for a good cause": freedom.

Is this too high a price for freedom? All I can say is that, without freedom, we would be robots, or, to use another image, mere actors constrained by an unchangeable script.

Other posts about Creation and Freedom:

Friday, 16 March 2018

Is Jesus a myth?

What most people (scholars), participating in the historical vs mythical debate about Jesus, do not say is that, if one considers Jesus to be a historical person, then the gospels are by far the most ample account of his life. But there is a catch. The supernatural is hardly separable from the gospels, or rather, if one removes the supernatural from them, they become senseless. (#)

If, on the other hand, one opts for the myth hypothesis, there are, as far as I can see, two distinct ways to approach it:

1. Either resort to the "Christ myth theory", pure and simple. With it, of course, every claim abut Jesus becomes possible.

2. Or resort to the same theory, with the further assumption that the Christ myth is not some sort of spontaneously concocted and gradually established myth: no, it is the fruit of a deliberate conspiracy. This, for instance, is the central thesis of American author Dorothy M. Murdock bka "Acharya S", especially in her book The Christ Conspiracy: The Greatest Story Ever Sold (1999).

While option no.1 may seem more soberly "scholarly", I find option no.2 more credible, once one chooses to renounce the pure and simple "truth hypothesis" of the gospels, and realises that the historical Jesus, expunged from the supernatural, creates more problems than it solves. (Of course, unlike Acharya S, one does not need to believe that Jesus is nothing but an Egyptian Horus in Jewish sauce.)

(#) I know that Bart Ehrmann - see, in particular his How Jesus became God, 2014 - thinks he has a sound story, but I think all the problems he thinks to have sorted out are still there. See also the review of his book by Larry Hurtado.

Monday, 29 January 2018

What Does The Good Samaritan Parable Mean?

The Good Samaritan, Vincent Van Gogh (after Eugène Delacroix), 1890, Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands

This is the text of the well known parable.

25 Now an expert in religious law stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you understand it?” 27 The expert answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and love your neighbor as yourself.” 28 Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
29 But the expert, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him up, and went off, leaving him half dead. 31 Now by chance a priest was going down that road, but when he saw the injured man he passed by on the other side. 32 So too a Levite, when he came up to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan who was traveling came to where the injured man was, and when he saw him, he felt compassion for him. 34 He went up to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever else you spend, I will repay you when I come back this way.’ 36 Which of these three do you think became a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?” 37 The expert in religious law said, “The one who showed mercy to him.” So Jesus said to him, “Go and do the same.” (Luke 10:25-37)
The parable proper (Luke 10:29-37) is Jesus' reply to the "lawyer", who "stood up to test Jesus, saying, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”", and not satisfied with Jesus' approval of his summing up of the Law in Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18, insists - "wanting to justify himself" - by asking, “And who is my neighbor?”

What escapes most people - who otherwise fully understand the significance of  choosing the Samaritan as a paradigma deliberately  "scandalous" for any Jew, and, even more so, for a "lawyer" - is that Jesus does NOT give a definition of neighbor [Greek: plesion; Hebrew: rea`], BUT reverses the question of the "lawyer", suggesting, through the parable, what it means to be/become neighbor: to help, without calculation of personal cost, any fellow human in distress.

Friday, 19 January 2018

What Is The "Good News"?

Apart from Prov 25:25 and Prov 15:30, the expression "good news" ONLY appears in the New Testament. It is the literal translation of the Greek composite word euaggelion (Strong's G2098) usually translated in English with "gospel". It appears in the NT more than 70 times, in various expressions, first and foremost "gospel of the kingdom", but also "the gospel of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24), "gospel of peace" (Eph. 6:15) etc.

But what is the "gospel", what are the "good news" proclaimed and brought definitively by Jesus with his life, words, works, passion, death and resurrection?

I believe the essence is best expressed by these two verses:

He [Jesus] said, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the gospel!” (Mark 1:15)

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is God’s power for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. (Rom 1:16)

The Kingdom of God is near, and all it takes to be part of it is repent and accept God's salvation.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Trinitarian Appropriation

In the course of a debate , looking at the * footnote relative to 1 Cor 12:4-6 (USCCB-NAB) I encountered the word “appropriation”, used in a rather criptic, evasive way.

So that got me curious. A google-search with the string "appropriation person trinity" gave as first hit Appropriation (@ newadvent.org/cathen). Here is the incipit of the article:

Appropriation [@ Catholic Encyclopedia]

In general, consists in the attribution to a person or thing of a character or quality which determines in a special way this person or thing. In theology, appropriation is used in speaking of the different Persons of the Trinity. It consists in attributing certain names, qualities, or operations to one of the Persons, not, however, to the exclusion of the others, but in preference to the others. The qualities and names thus appropriated belong essentially to all the Persons; yet, according to our understanding of the data of revelation and our theological concepts, we consider some of these characteristics or names as belonging to one Person rather than to another, or as determining more clearly this particular Person. (...) Appropriation is not merely arbitrary; it is based on our knowledge of the Trinity, which knowledge has its sources and rules in Revelation (Scripture and tradition) and in the analogies which our reason discovers between created things and persons and the Persons of the Trinity as those persons are represented in Revelation. Of necessity, we understand the data of Revelation only under human concepts, that is, in an analogical way (see ANALOGY. It is, therefore, by their analogy with creatures and created relations that we conceive the different Persons of the Trinity and their relations. Each Person of the Trinity is presented to us with a proper characteristic which is the constitutive element of the personality. Remarking, as we do naturally, that among creatures certain attributes, qualities, or operations are the properties of the person possessing such a characteristic, we conceive the Trinity after this remote suggestion, though in an analogical and supereminent way, and we appropriate to each Person of the Trinity the names, qualities, or operations which, in creatures, are the consequences or properties of this characteristic. (...) [bolding by MdS]
I will let the readers enjoy for themselves the rest of the verbiage with which the entire article is steeped, but, with reference to the above ample excerpt, I would like to ask these questions:

Do you believe that "our knowledge of the Trinity ... has its sources and rules in Revelation (Scripture and tradition)"?

What do you think of this mouthful: "Remarking, as we do naturally, that among creatures certain attributes, qualities, or operations are the properties of the person possessing such a characteristic, we conceive the Trinity after this remote suggestion, though in an analogical and supereminent way, and we appropriate to each Person of the Trinity the names, qualities, or operations which, in creatures, are the consequences or properties of this characteristic."?

Comments welcome ...