Dear Rabbi Singer,
Apparently, you guys have not read about the foolishness of the Sanhedrin 2,000 years ago. Or perhaps, God has hardened your hearts.
“Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?” I’m sure you understand this as clearly as the Sanhedrin 2000 years ago understood this. Do you really believe that a poor carpenter born in Bethlehem of the lineage of David would be able to set circumstances in motion such that the prophets could be made to be fools? I believe that God and His prophets are bigger than that.
In the end you are forced to believe one of three things: Jesus was crazy and empowered by Satan for his miracles, or Jesus intentionally led people away from God and wanted to do this so much that he died at the hands of the Romans and Sanhedrin to fulfill this purpose, or that Jesus is Messiah – and as Messiah, would save any – even those who had him slain. My question to you is: Which do you believe that Jesus was? I would not mind this question and answer posted if you so choose to do so.
As I sit here preparing to respond to your questions, it dawned on me that you are not asking anything in the first three paragraphs of your letter.
Your unsubtle sentiments in paragraphs one and three are familiar to the Jewish people. They are noticeably consistent with the long-held Christian notion that contemporary Jews bear the same loathsome characteristics as their first century forebears who were convicted by the New Testament for Jesus’ crucifixion. Do not think, however, that I have an unsympathetic ear either. I understand your position. The New Testament casts the Jews in the darkest colors imaginable to the Christian mind. Essentially, whatever it is that one considers detestable in a people, that is precisely how the Jews are portrayed in the Christian Scriptures. The nation of Israel paid a painful price for this age-old indictment.
In the collective consciousness of the Church, the Jews of subsequent generations retain the sinister character of the people who were said to have committed deicide, regardless of how far they are removed in time and place from the first century. From the moment Christianity was spawned, this notion was vigorously espoused by virtually all of the Church Fathers and Reformers as well as their countless eager followers.
The New Testament contains maliciously stories of the Sanhedrin, who they blame for condemning Jesus to death. These contrived anecdotes are filled with so many contradictions and inconsistencies – both within the Gospels and outside of the Christian canon that they betray themselves as self-serving, odious accusations, specifically designed to heap all of the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus squarely on the yarmulke of the Jew. This portrayal of the Jews in the Gospels, particularly in the Passion Narratives, has been devastating for European Jewry and is ultimately responsible for the unspeakable misery of untold millions of my people. The world’s oldest hatred is alive and well.
With regard to the verse, “Eloi Eloi lama sabachthani?,” attributed by the New Testament as Jesus’ last words on the cross, and the Church traditionally refers to this phrase as “The Word of Abandonment.” These crying words, however, are not speaking about the messiah, nor is it a prophecy of the future. Rather, this passage was lifted from the lips of King David, who was expressing his own dire predicament, and placed in the mouth of Jesus by the first two Gospel writers.1 Both Matthew and Mark render the words in Aramaic with a translation (originally in Greek) after it.
This passage appears in Psalm 22:1-22 where King David, who is its author and the one speaking throughout this chapter, is describing his own anguish and longing as he remained a fugitive from his enemies. It was from the very depths of David’s despair when he cries out his heartfelt supplication, “Eli, Eli, lamah azovtani…” In short, passionate words of despair and faith contained in the twenty second Psalm are not a prophecy about Jesus or any future figure. These celebrated passages do not peer into the future. Rather, all these prayers, without exception, were written in the first person by King David, painfully describe his own turbulent life, not the life of Jesus.
Furthermore, the words of this verse do not fit into Jesus’ mouth from a Trinitarian viewpoint. The opening verses of this Psalm read,
“My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me? Why are You so far from helping me, and from the words of my groaning? O my God, I cry in the daytime, but You do not hear; and in the night season, and am not silent.” (Psalm 2:1-2 – Psalm 2:2-3 in a Christian Bible)
Why would Jesus, the man/god of Christianity, be complaining that “God is so far from helping me?” How could God, the first Person of the Trinity, not hear the cries of God, the second Person of the Trinity? To whom is this supposed “God” complaining? The speaker here is moaning that God is not listening to him day and night. In the next few verses, he questions his feelings of abandonment, and enumerates the moments that God did listen and intervene for his ancestors. How can God not understand his own predicament? Applying the words of Psalm 22 to Jesus challenges even the most fertile imagination, and renders core Church teachings untenable.
Your first question essentially begins in your fourth paragraph. You ask how “a poor carpenter born in Bethlehem of the lineage of David would be able to set circumstances in motion such that the prophets could be made to be fools?” The prophets are never made fools into by the willful errors of mankind. Do you really think that people like Isaiah and Jeremiah were humiliated by the followers of deviant spiritual teachings and idolatry? Was it not these same men of God who pleaded without end that man should not turn away from the radical monotheism they vigorously proclaimed?
Moreover, your question could be asked of all the successful religions of the world. How is it that Joseph Smith was able to set into motion the fastest growing religion in North America? How is that Mohammed was able to successfully set into motion the fastest growing religion in the world? What about Hinduism with nearly a billion adherents worldwide? I am sure that the priests of Baal were very proud of what they had set into motion as well. The first Book of Kings chronicles their success among the Jewish people. I could just hear them saying, “Look at what we have set into motion! The entire nation of Israel, with the exception of 7,000 stubborn Jews, is following us. Let’s pray for these last 7,000 Jews that their hearts might not be hardened, that the scales over their eyes might be lifted, and they may worship Baal as do the rest of their brethren!”
Furthermore, from the Torah’s vantage point, membership in a large successful religion has little to do with truth. On the contrary, the Torah foretold that the Jewish people would remain few in number where they would live among the heathens (Deuteronomy 4:27). The Torah makes it clear that the intense love that the Almighty has for His people is not because we are the most numerous, for our population is among the tiniest of the nations:
“It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set his love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples.” (Deuteronomy 7:7)
There were many great nations and religions set into motion that became very successful. Their success, however, has little to do with the purity and truth of their worship. In other words, if you belong to a religion that comprises more than a quarter of the world’s population, check your theology.
I am further puzzled by your reference to Jesus as being from “the lineage of David” when according to both Matthew and Luke, Jesus was born of a virgin and would therefore be unable to claim the rights to the Davidic line because tribal lineage is traced exclusively through a person’s father. This is clearly articulated the Torah:
And on the first day of the second month, they assembled the whole congregation together, who registered themselves by families, by fathers’ houses, according to the number of names from twenty years old and upward, head by head. (Numbers 1:18)
If you believe in the virgin birth – and I’m going to assume that you do – how do you proclaim that Jesus was from the line of David when according to your own doctrine Jesus was unrelated to Joseph, and lacked the human father with which to trace his lineage back to King David?
According to Christian teachings, Jesus had only a human Jewish mother. This human Jewish father would be essential for anyone to be a legitimate heir to the throne of David. The true messiah will be a patralineal descendant of King David and Solomon.
Your last question has been asked of me by many Christians. It is a well-worn argument popularized by C.S. Lewis, and it seeks to restrict a non-Christian into only three possible options regarding the identity of Jesus. These three options are: Was Jesus A) a liar B) a lunatic C) Lord? This line of questioning, however, is preposterous because there is a far more likely option that you had not offered me from which to choose: D) Jesus never claimed to be the messiah, but rather this was a claim placed in his mouth by others. In fact, option D is consistent with Jewish tradition regarding Jesus, which holds that Jesus never professed to be the messiah, although others would make this claim for him. It may be for this reason that Jesus almost3 never claims to be the messiah throughout the New Testament.
For the Jewish people, it is completely unimportant who Jesus or Hare Krishna really were. If they are not who Christianity or Hinduism says they are, then it matters little whether they were liars, lunatics, plumbers, or carpenters. Their veneration is to be avoided at all costs.
Rabbi Tovia Singer