Apologetics, Shamar

This is a write-up on something from my comps reading and Michael Fishbane.

1. In Early Judaism (New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1997), Martin Jaffee says that his book departs from the usual Jewish apologetics, which defend Judaism against Christian caricatures of it as “Pharisaic legalism” (246). That’s actually quite refreshing! I think it’s important to look at Judaism as it was, rather than conforming to political correctness in an attempt to prevent a second Holocaust. Of course we don’t want another Holocaust! But that agenda should have little to do with scholarship, which should focus primarily on facts.

Some professors still fight the battle against Christian caricatures. I had one professor who writes a lot against Christian supersessionism, and he asked his class to show him where Judaism asserts that God will weigh a person’s good deeds against his sins at the day of judgment. He was attacking the Christian charge that Judaism promotes a works salvation, even as it rejects God’s free grace. The interesting thing is that I had read in our Maimonides assignment for that class a passage in which the Rambam said precisely that–that God will weigh sins and virtues at the last judgment. But, alas, I could not find it at the time.

E.P. Sanders argued that Judaism is a religion of grace. And I agree that it is, in many respects. Judaism has a forgiving God, just like Christianity. God’s always willing to wipe the slate clean for those who repent. But even that model presumes that our vindication depends to some extent on our personal deeds of righteousness.

Is Judaism legalistic? I personally think that it is. I’d have a hard time keeping a bunch of rituals to please God. But I also admire the discipline and the structure that Judaism possesses.

Also, I don’t even think that Christianity is free of works salvation. I don’t care what cliches Protestants use to reconcile sola gratia with the Christian obligation to obey God. The fact is that the New Testament affirms that certain sins can bar a person from the Kingdom of God, as long as the sinner does not repent (e.g., Matthew 7, Galatians 5, James 2). That’s a problem I have with Christianity, but my point is that it’s works-oriented like Judaism is. Both religions have an emphasis on faith, grace, and good works.

2. In Biblical Interpretation in Ancient Israel (New York: Oxford, 1988), Michael Fishbane argues that Jeremiah 17:21-22 interacts with Deuteronomy 5:12-14 (132-133). Let me post the passages so you can follow me:

Deuteronomy 5:12-14: “Observe the sabbath day and keep it holy, as the LORD your God commanded you. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work– you, or your son or your daughter, or your male or female slave, or your ox or your donkey, or any of your livestock, or the resident alien in your towns, so that your male and female slave may rest as well as you” (NRSV).

Jeremiah 17:21-22: “Thus says the LORD: For the sake of your lives, take care that you do not bear a burden on the sabbath day or bring it in by the gates of Jerusalem. And do not carry a burden out of your houses on the sabbath or do any work, but keep the sabbath day holy, as I commanded your ancestors.”

Fishbane thinks that Jeremiah interprets Deuteronomy in this instance because both use the Hebrew word shamar (to heed, observe), whereas the Sabbath command in Exodus 20:8-11 uses zachar (to remember). The problem is that Jeremiah thinks the Sabbath command given to Israel’s ancestors included a prohibition on bringing a burden into Jerusalem. That’s not in Deuteronomy. Fishbane calls Jeremiah’s reference to the ancient law a “pseudo-citation,” which presumably means that, in addition to citing Deuteronomy, he’s referring to a law that doesn’t exist. It’s like he’s making one up!

But maybe Jeremiah isn’t appealing to Deuteronomy in this case. Can we say that he is, just on the basis of the word shamar?

We may see something similar in Nehemiah 8:14-15: “And they found it written in the law, which the LORD had commanded by Moses, that the people of Israel should live in booths during the festival of the seventh month, and that they should publish and proclaim in all their towns and in Jerusalem as follows, ‘Go out to the hills and bring branches of olive, wild olive, myrtle, palm, and other leafy trees to make booths, as it is written.'” The problem is that Leviticus 23:39-43 doesn’t tell the Israelites to make booths out of those materials; it merely says to rejoice with them. Was Nehemiah’s “law of Moses” different from what we have in our Bibles?

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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