Martyrdom, Jesus’ Appearance, Regenerating Torah

1. Source: Isaiah Gafni, “Historical Background,” Jewish Writings of the Second Temple Period, ed. Michael E. Stone (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1984) 8.

“Thus, claimed [Emil] Schurer, if the hellenization of the Jewish people ultimately failed, it was due to the over-zealous steps taken too hastily by Antiochus to advance this process, which lead in the end to the Hasmonean reaction. Ironically then, according to this line of thought Antiochus emerges as the one person responsible for saving Judaism.”

Hellenism still existed in Judaism after Antiochus. We see that in IV Maccabees, which tries to reconcile Judaism with Greek philosophy. But Hellenization did not lead the Jews to abandon the rituals that separated them from the Gentiles (e.g., Sabbath, circumcision, food laws). In that sense, Hellenization failed in Judea in that it was incomplete.

Opposition often enables a movement to gain strength. Antiochus‘ persecution of observant Jews led to the survival of Judaism. There was a famous saying when the church was being persecuted that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” When the church finally gained power, there was concern that Christians would become apathetic. Some Christians wanted to self-sacrificially demonstrate their devotion to Christ, and they were sad that they could not be martyrs, and so they embraced a monastic lifestyle.

But persecution doesn’t always cause the oppressed movement to thrive. You don’t see too many Arians these days! I’m not sure if that movement thoroughly died off as a result of its fourth century stigma, for I once heard a professor state that Germanic tribes in the Middle Ages embraced a form of Arianism. But the persecution of the Arians did not lead to a rapid increase in their membership, as far as I know.

I’m sure there’s a point there somewhere. Maybe it will come to me someday!

2. Source: Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church, Volume II: Ante-Nicene Christianity (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1910) 277.

“In the ante-Nicene age the strange notion prevailed that our Saviour, in the state of his humiliation, was homely, according to a literal interpretation of the Messianic prophecy: ‘He hath no form nor comeliness.’ This was the opinion of Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and even of the spiritualistic Alexandrian divines Clement, and Origen. A true and healthy feeling leads rather to the opposite view; for Jesus certainly had not the physiognomy of a sinner, and the heavenly purity and harmony of his soul must in some way have shone through the veil of his flesh…”

Was Jesus ugly? I don’t know. Isaiah 53:2 says he was, but some Christians argue that it’s describing how he was at his crucifixion, when he indeed was marred and disfigured. For them, it’s not about his general appearance. Psalm 45:2 says, “You are the most handsome of men; grace is poured upon your lips; therefore God has blessed you forever” (NRSV). From a Christian standpoint, that may refer to the Messiah, since v 6 (“Your throne, O God, endures forever and ever”) is applied to Jesus in Hebrews 1:8. But does it mean Jesus when he was on earth, or Jesus in his glorified state? And can we necessarily distinguish the two, if Jesus had the same physical body before and after his death (with some significant modifications, of course). Was Jesus ugly or handsome?

My Armstrongite church background was somewhat ambiguous on this issue. We never really cared for the long-haired, bearded, weakling Jesus, contending instead that Jesus was an ordinary looking man who didn’t stand out. After all, Matthew 26:48 says Judas kissed Jesus to point him out to the soldiers. At the same time, my Armstrongite tradition also loved Bruce Barton’s The Man Nobody Knows, which portrays Jesus as a man’s man, with big muscles, causing numerous women to swoon. As Barton notes, Jesus had to scare people when he drove the money-changers from the temple. The weakling Jesus couldn’t do that!

In The Jesus I Never Knew, Philip Yancey discusses a British movie about Jesus, in which Jesus appears as an ugly hunch-back. In that case, it wasn’t Jesus’ physical appearance that attracted people, but his character and his words.

I think that Schaff gets rather preachy, but he makes an intriguing point: a healthy inside can affect our outward appearance. It’s called a “glow.” Some have told me that I have it, while others have remarked that I come across as moody and tense. I don’t know whom to believe! I know that I often feel moody or tense, but maybe whatever faith I do have manages to manifest itself every now and then.

3. Jacob Neusner, Judaism’s Story of Creation: Scripture, Halakhah, Aggadah (Boston: Brill, 2000) 83.

“Adam and Eve had one commandment, but no Torah. In one way they compare to Israel. Israel had many commandments. But in another way they do not, for, by contrast, Israel possessed the Torah. And that would make all the difference. Specifically, like Adam, endowed with free will, but unlike Adam, subject to God’s dominion in the Torah, Israel would be educated by the Torah. Through keeping the commandments as an act of free will doing God’s will, Israel would succeed where Adam and Noah had failed: realizing God’s plan in Creation. How would the Torah make the difference? Living in God’s kingdom and keeping God’s laws would teach Israel to obey willfully and so freely, uncoercedly, to love God with the entirety of the heart and soul and might. The Torah’s Halakhah, then, would be read as a massive exercise in the regeneration of Adam, Man, into Israel.”

This quote stood out to me because it gives me some insight into one of Neusner’s claims: that the Sages viewed the Torah as a cure for original sin. Should we assume that God did nothing about original sin until Jesus? If that were the case, then what’s the point of the Old Testament, with its stories about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and the Torah? Michael Fishbane says that Noah was like a new Adam. And perhaps Abraham played some role in God’s interaction with sinful humanity, in that the nations were to be blessed through him (Genesis 12). Throughout the Old Testament, was God doing something to address the sin of humanity?

I find Neusner’s statement about the Torah intriguing, assuming I am understanding it correctly. In my opinion, he seems to be saying that the Jews would come to see God’s beauty as they kept the regiment of the Torah, and that would influence them to freely choose God’s way. Adam and Eve, by contrast, only had one commandment, so they lacked an appreciation of God’s character. But the regiment of the Torah is greater revelation, which hopefully brings a fuller appreciation of God.

Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out that way, for Israel had the Torah, yet she disobeyed it. In light of that, the Christian view that God gave the Torah to condemn sin and to show people their need for Christ makes more and more sense. Obviously, having the Torah doesn’t necessarily make people want to do it. But you know what? Contra many Christians, believing certain doctrines about Christ doesn’t always change the heart, either, at least not in my experience.

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.
This entry was posted in Bible, Books, Church, Comps, History, Life, Rabbinics, Religion, School. Bookmark the permalink.