Review: Kosher Jesus by Shmuley Boteach

For awhile, I’ve been ‘into’ orthodoxy—of Judaism. Not without some reservations. More than one person has warned me of the danger of Messianic/Hebraic Roots people learning and then denouncing Mashiach and become orthodox. That warning should be heeded, but my question would be why does that happen? If Yeshua truly is the Mashiach of Isra’el, then why are true believers forsaking Him?

I think part of the problem is questions we fear to answer. We recite doctrinal positions handed to us by the church and don’t just fail to question, we refuse! Worse, we often punish those who do. Why do I believe Yeshua is the Mashiach? Should I believe in sol scriptura? Is the trinity actually taught in scripture? Questions that mainstream Christianity couldn’t answer are why many of us felt lead to study the ancient paths. So why would we think the antidote to a fear of losing brothers to anti-Yeshua Judaism is to bury our heads? We don’t have to answer every question (is that even possible?), but we can’t be afraid of hard questions. And if our faith is true, hard questions should in fact take away our fear.

So I review Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s Kosher Jesus. A book from an unbelieving Jewish perspective, to understand why religious Jews say they oppose Yeshua—not what does a Christian say as to why. Of course, this won’t really be a ‘review’ in a literary sense. I wasn’t really looking at the writing—until the acknowledgments at the end, which are hilarious.

Synopsis: This book as being about Jesus as the most famous Jew who ever lived, who happens to be one of the most controversial and enigmatic. To Jews becoming an inspiration for bloody anti-Semitism; to Christians a divine messiah and fountain of salvation. Boteach purports to deliver a bold new vision of Yeshua as a thoroughly Jewish, patriot and rabbi murdered by Romans for his opposition to the Roman occupation.

Warning: This book is going to hit you with some hard questions. I’ll provide some responses, below, but there are some difficulties that I do not have ready responses for. I do not recommend this book if you’re not secure in your faith and understanding. But if you do decide to read, perhaps, below will be helpful in sorting it out. And by all means, offer your sorting to me!

Now, I knew going in that Boteach’s views would not be my own—that’s why I picked up the book—but I welcome anyone who works to show that Yeshua was not the founder of a new religion. He was and had to be thoroughly, Jewish in body and soul, because that’s what the scriptures teach. He certainly could not be anti-Torah. Here, Boteach has it right. Boteach is quite fair to Yeshua—with the caveat that he doesn’t trust the gospels, hence he is quite fair to a re-imagined Yeshua. He doesn’t even mind that Yeshua thought He was the Mashiach—Boteach thinks He had the potential to be the Mashiach, but failed because He died. He doesn’t take issue with the core teachings of Yeshua.

Reverse Engineering the Gospels

From about chapter one, Boteach begins to speculate about the real story of Yeshua.

“They [Yeshua’s disciples who join after his death] purge the teacher of his jewish identity as a political and religious expediency…The editing process is haphazard and uncoordinated. Much of the original story unintentionally remains hidden in the margins. Since the writings about the rabbi evolve over many decades, individual texts conflict, allowing the real story to be read between the lines.”

Much of what follows comes from that “between the lines” space. In other words, speculation. Unfortunately, the space between the lines is blurry, and doing the best to fill them in tends to leaving room for plot holes . . . Below is a summary.

Boteach opens by offering the reader a summary of what really happened. Galilee is a powder keg of anti-Roman hatred, due to Rome’s paganism and brutalizing tactics.

Ok.

They long for a military and political hero, the Mashiach, who will drive out the Romans.

Ok . . . but a hero of righteousness, too, right? I mean he’s supposed to magnify the Torah, be called YHVH-Tzedkenu (Yahwah our righteousness). He’s supposed to judge with fairness for the meek. Just saying, he’s more than a political-military hero. But, I guess the part that most people would be yearning for would be the deliverance from Rome.

Along comes Yeshua, the teacher who is charismatic and public decries Rome. He proclaims the Jews must earn their redemption, and practice Torah. That only by resubmitting to God will they be successful in overthrowing Roman power.

The Rome part isn’t really in the gospels (at all), but I suppose it would have come up a time or too, so I’ll give an ‘ok.’

The teacher tells his disciples the time of redemption is drawing near. He has begun to believe he is the long awaited Mashiach, who will lead them to victory. With the sword, but the shield will be God’s favor on the righteous.

Um. . . I don’t believe the implication, but the plot still makes sense.

On the night before the final confrontation, Yeshua urges his disciples to gather swords. Preparing to capture the Temple as the beginning of the massive revolt. His sermons get more fiery as he attempts to inspire the Pharisees and priests to join the revolt. But some corrupt priests and the High Priest who will be held accountable for a revolt rats him out. Like that, he’s dead.

Ok, but my reader will want to remember this for later.

After the death and resulting grief, the disciples debate the meaning of the message . . . since he died. Their numbers dwindle from many to a desperate few. After all, however great, the teacher wasn’t the Mashiach because he failed. The few keep meeting in secret. Deprived of their teacher, devastated, persecuted, they become fewer and fewer.

I guess that makes sense.

Without warning a stranger arrives. They fear he may have been sent by the high priest, an agent of Rome. He admits he never met the teacher, but is strangely enamored since a vision he had on the way to Damascus, on his way to persecute them.

So that would be Paul. Again note the underlined.

He shocks the disciples with a mystical reinterpretation of the rabbi’s mission. He suggests the rabbi was outright divine, and came to die for their sins. He came to save souls not to free them from Rome. Then the stranger tells the Torah-observant-disciples of a Torah-observant-rabbi . . . that his death meant the end of Torah observance.

Wait. The Rabbi died . . . and then this stranger shows up . . . to join the people he persecuted. A group that was fading into history with fewer and fewer members . . .  He wants to join them? Is that like hijacking a sinking ship? And he’s so enamored with this ‘messiah’ who he never met, based on hearing about him or having a vision, but has a completely different view of him than the disciples that knew him? For the plot to work, the author will have to explain why Paul bothers to attach to a failed rabbi, who is the target of persecution, with a failing following. Did he really have this vision? Where did it come from? Why would God distort a good message or allow the enemy to? And why do devout men fall for it?

At least to his credit, Boteach says they banish him at first.

Despite being banished, new adherents flock to the new message. They love the idea of a personal God vs. a God of ritual and numerous laws, etc.

Wait, wait. This guy travels to Judea (because that’s where the original disciples were). Hijacks the message in the presence of the actual witnesses, who say it didn’t happen that way. And attracts crowds to a persecuted religion (whose eye witnesses say it didn’t happen), crowds of religious jews, who like the disciples adhere to Torah. So Yeshua comes along gets a following by teaching one thing, this guy comes in and attaches to that same guy’s legacy and takes it in the opposite direction—and it sticks?

Now, if there’s a devil and this is some important battle, then of course the adversary will want to disrupt it, but that assumes that Yeshua was special. How many other Rabbis were in his day? How many other devout patriots were murdered, but this one particular one sends shockwaves across history?

But if he’s unimportant, why doesn’t the devil just use Paul directly and forget about trying to drag through the mud Yeshua who died in opposition to the new message? Why bother with someone who has witnesses to the contrary? Boteach will go on to talk about biblical characters that he thinks are ‘made up’, why not make up Yeshua? None of this makes sense, unless Yeshua was needed for the story, and if Yeshua is that important, how do you get adherents pulling from the same crowd. He’s that big a deal, but no one remembers what he actually taught?!?

As more followers come to a small church in Jerusalem, the teacher’s real disciples bristle in protest. The real Yeshua, they say, was a strict teacher of Torah. Now in defiance, the stranger preaches a total break from Torah, but as much as the original disciples want to distance themselves from the stranger’s message . . . he has brought new life to the movement. Plus money. Over time the gentile influence outweighs the Jewish and it changes the religion dramatically.

Back the truck up. The torah-keeping eyewitnesses of a torah keeping Rabbi in Jerusalem can’t hold back a crowd of anti-torah disciples of an anti-torah non-witness who is using their rabbi’s name?!? That’s like going into someone else’s house, telling the family guests stories about the family, and no one in the family being able to correct the narrative.

And they slowly just accept this? Because there’s new life? A totally alien life? “Hi, I’m Bob. I know your church was strict catholic, but it’s dying so I thought I’d teach islam here. Just look how many people will join!”

Does the author see that going over well? The setting for the plot doesn’t make sense. For Boteach’s story to work, he’ll need to set it somewhere where no one can talk to the eye witnesses. Even if the disciples didn’t protest, how is the anti-torah message supposed to get along in Jerusalem? Even the ‘edited’ New Testament that he critiques tells over and over that the population and the elite cared very much about Torah. How are you going to have a pervasive anti-Torah movement in Jerusalem?

Then disaster strikes. Unable to endure the Roman oppression any longer, the Jews revolt—

Though, they could apparently endure the growing anti-torah message that they all could witness was false, growing in their midst.

—the Romans descend and sack Jerusalem. Slaughtering millions. The gentile followers of the stranger who never met Yeshua now take a dramatic step. There is no way to survive as a group, if they remain associated with the cursed Jews.

Wait. So the stranger. Who was persecuting this group, then joins the group, only to find, “Oh, hey, these Jews are unpopular.” The plot, sir, is untenable. He joins outcasts, makes the outcasts even unpopular with the original outcasts, then surprised at how unpopular they are, now has to distance the group from Jews. Why did you pick a Jew in the first place, when you wanted to appeal to Roman Gentiles!?!?! Why did you decide to settle in Jerusalem, this hub of anti-Roman sentiment?!?!

They purge the teacher of his Jewish identity. His teachings and writings are heavily edited. Much gets rewritten completely. They turn him into a gentile, before their canon is solidified. In the altered version, Yeshua never rebelled against Rome, he abhorred the Jews, despised the Rabbis, and preached subservience to Rome. “The editing process is haphazard and uncoordinated. Much of the original story unintentionally remains hidden in the margins.” But the rabbi’s views are transformed enough to be exiled from his own people.

Again, the plot doesn’t work. Why is the editing haphazard and uncoordinated? In this version, you have maybe 30 years between the rabbi and this dramatic change. Firstly, you would have to tacitly admit that that writings were in existence in the lifetimes of the eye witnesses. I’m great with that by the way. If they were written later, than why wouldn’t they have simply been written in their final form? Why leave the setting in Isra’el? Start with Rome or Athens! Why make him Jewish at all? If you’re starting from scratch, just put in the stuff you like. There’s no reason to insert the Jewishness only to have to redact it. You’ve already disagreed with the eyewitnesses, so just scrap it all.

So given that they exist—and have therefore been disseminated, otherwise you could simply redact them all in coordination—how is that with this massive following of Jew and Gentile, that no one preserved the originals? The Gentiles might have reason to destroy the originals, but the original Jews, certainly don’t. Every single faithful adherent agreed to simply rewrite their beloved teacher’s writings? No one said, “This is wrong! This is fraud! This dishonors his memory!” His close friends? His disciples? Not one person sets out to preserve the truth?!?!

Time for a primer on successful conspiracy (borrowing from the homicide detective who does Cold Case Christianity, who’s name escapes me). The detective points out 5 traits of a successful or effective conspiracy. As a sometimes cop, I can also verify these (though with less experience).

Short-time span: It is easier for multiple people to keep a straight story and coordinate in a short time. In Boteach’s version, he’s got 30+ years.

Small number of people: The more people, the more potential leaks. In Boteach’s version and history bears this out, you have thousands involved in this conspiracy.

Good communication: to coordinate lies, the conspirators must be able to talk to them. That’s why suspects are detained separately. In Boteach’s version you have the original eye-witnesses who deny Paul’s version, so you already have bad communication. Paul’s followers then are scattered and on the run after 70 AD. How easy is it to communicate, by snail mail without modern conveyances?

Lack of external pressure: When conspirators have little to lose by maintaining silence or deception, they can continue. In Boteach’s version, the disciples were oppressed before Paul even showed up, then there would have been the threat of losing social standing as they decry Torah in Torah’s capital in the shadow of the temple. They are then being literally killed by both faithful Jews and their Roman oppressors. What incentive do they have to keep up the conspiracy? What do they gain for what they know is a lie? If they are worried about surviving because of the Jewishness, why keep up the religion at all? How many followers of David Koresh are there, today? Where are the followers of a thousand false teachers? How long does a political scheming religion last, when it has no source of gain, other than a fuzzy feeling? If scientologists were being crucified in public, does Tom Cruise modify his scientology or does he get as far away from it as he can?

I forget what the last quality was. I want to say it was discovery. A conspiracy works best when no one knows it exists. Duh! Which again, this ‘new’ religion doesn’t gain from that trait because you have thousands of people who must know about the systematic effort to erase the originals, including the eyewitnesses who say it didn’t happen.

Boteach might have a leg to stand on, if he had a correct, ‘original’ narrative but Boteach admits he has to read between the lines. He doesn’t have a single manuscript that tells the ‘true story’, he infers it all from contractions that he sees. Contradictions that when found in the Tanahk would have been quickly explained.

The Evil Jews

I won’t give the blow by blow. But there were some insights to be gained (along side further unbelievable claims). There were things I really liked as well, such as the way he shows how many of Yeshua’s teachings have parallels in traditional Judaism. It’s not that He had to be in step, but He certainly couldn’t have been wholly alien to the people who were expected to recognize Him.

However, One of the things that Boteach brings up repeatedly is the “anti-Semitism” of the Brit Chadasha, contrasted with how “placating” it is toward the Romans. Growing up in a non-denominational setting, I can say I was never aware of anti-Semitism. Faults were found with the Jews, but I never met anyone—though I’m sure they exist—that considered the Jews to have been any more responsible for Yeshua’s death than anyone else. It was always taught to me that though some of the Jews may have conspired, most of the Romans were complicit, and really it was all our sins for which He died, so no penitent follower of Yeshua could blame anyone but themselves.

But this isn’t as simple as the above. Have you ever wondered, why the gospels refer to “The Jews”? I mean, Yeshua and all his chosen talmidim were Jews! It’s like telling a story set in Cincinnati and talking over and over about what “the Americans” did. And especially since, not all the Jews were doing X. How can we say the Jews persecuted Yeshua, when the thousands who followed Him, were also Jews?

I don’t have a good answer, but I did note that aside from Yochanon (John), the gospels refer to “the Jews” rarely. Mattityahu, Mark, and Luke use the noun only to say things like “King of the Jews” or “elders of the Jews” in contexts, where a gentile is addressing the people of Isra’el. That makes good sense to me, because you’re distinguishing between two groups or representatives of two groups. Yochanon is more difficult to me, using “the Jews” in areas like I described above. Like Yochanon 2:17-18, where the talmidim are called talmidim, and juxtaposed with the moneychangers who are called Jews. Why did the writer of Yochanon do this? Or 3:25, same thing, Yochanon the Immerser’s talmidim are just called talmidim, and they are being questioned by ‘the Jews’ as if Yochanon and his talmidim are not themselves Jews? I admit this troubles me, especially when the other three gospels don’t have this difficulty.

One possible answer: was Yochanon originally written for gentiles? That would make some sense of why they are identified—but that doesn’t answer why Yochanon speaks as if the talmidim weren’t Jews . . .

However, Boteach I think is also unfair. Pointing to all the criticism of ‘the Jews’ in the gospels. From his perspective, it’s later editing made to disparage an unpopular group, freeing up Romans to more easily accept the new version. However, judgment begins at the house of Elohim. The Rabbis will point to Moshe and Reuven who were both punished in seeming disproportion to their crime. (Re’uven is understood to not have literally had sex with Ya’akov’s concubine, an example of Rabbinic ability to ‘read between the lines’ without calling the document a forgery). The rabbinic conclusion is that those who are greater or nearer the truth are held to a higher standard. Thus, wouldn’t one expect that the Jews would be more harshly critiqued than the Romans, who knew nothing of Elohim? How much time did the prophets spend criticizing Isra’el vs. Assyria, which was the Roman culture of that time?

For that matter, Boteach, himself considers the Cohen Hagadol (High Priest) in Yeshua’s time to be a stooge for Rome, along with other cohenim. He also quotes Rabbi Yochanon, from the Talmud at the time of the siege of Yerushalayim as considering the sin of the people and the priesthood as so severe, that given the option to save something of his choosing, he chooses to save a small village and its people and not Yerushalayim or the temple. How can Boteach tell us the Jews were essentially good, and also acknowledge that the sages thought Yerushalayim deserved to be sacked? And if the Pharisees were so righteous, why couldn’t they save the city? Why couldn’t any of them incur Elohim’s favor to save the beloved city?

The answer would seem to be because despite the pious trappings of many—but not all—Yerushalayim and Isra’el were still stiff-necked. Is that anti-Semetic? No, even the Rabbis will say the temple was destroyed a second time because of the sin of Isra’el. So then, I must ask Boteach, why should Yeshua (if He was the Mashiach) have focused on the sins of pagan Rome and tried to lead an uprising against it, when all the sages agree Yerushalayim deserved judgment? Wouldn’t the logical, expected course for a prophet be, to decry the sin of the people of the covenant? It’s not that the Brit Chadasha finds inherent fault with the Jews, as if they were worse than all people, but that it finds fault with them because they are the chosen people. They are to publish His Name in all the Earth; they of all people should be walking in Kedushah (sanctification). They seemed to get knocked so far down, because they should be so high.

However, I think this fairness is often masked by real anti-semitism in Christian doctrine. How many times are we told about what the Pharisees did? Their hypocrisy? Their blindness? As if they were cruel cavemen (at least in their theology), when in fact much of what we know about the Mashiach comes through them? Or how much of our “Judeo-Christian” values depends on the Judeo part, more than the Christian part? If you put atrocities on a scale, which side is heavier. The Christian heritage’s or the Jewish’s?  Isra’el gave the world Torah and the Mashiach; the world gave Isra’el the holocaust aided by supposedly Christian lands, the pogroms, and even today many Christians can’t accept that the Jews deserve a piece of land the size of New Jersey. On what ground, do we in churchs sit to judge the ‘backwards’ theology of the Pharisees? With teaching in church like that, how are the Jews not supposed to assume the “New Testament” is anti-semetic?

The “Ok” Romans

Boteach envisions that the gospels were revised to appease Romans, making them seem “ok”. This seems doubtful. The original writings, that had already been disseminated, would have to be hunted down and revised, with the originals destroyed, in order to appease the Romans—a process which would have taken years or decades—while the Romans were still persecuting them. How would any of them know this would be successful? And if they didn’t know, what would convince each member individually to undertake heresy for saving their own skin? Remember the key to a good conspiracy is good communication and low pressure (among others). These followers have no such advantages.

Plus, the question remains, why not just give up the sham altogether?

But to the point. Is Pilate depicted as trying to ‘save’ Yeshua? Maybe a little, and I’ll address that more in a moment—but how ‘innocent’ can the Romans appear when the guy in charge chooses to put someone he believes is innocent, to death in a gruesome and humiliating way? I mean the Romans are the guys who brought crucifixion to the Holy Land! Romans mingled the blood of men with sacrifices. Romans had fun by beating the Mashiach. If the church was trying to expunge Rome’s brutality, it did a very very poor job. And if that was the church’s objective, why record the ongoing brutality of Rome against Christians in extra biblical sources?

Yet again we make ourselves vulnerable. Church history is clear that many Christian customs, like the timing of Christmas, Easter (even its name), Lent, and many other customs did come from paganism in the Roman empire. The later (post Constantine) “church” did make the practice of adopting/adapting/baptizing pagan customs to make the “church” more palatable for converts. In that, the church has sullied its reputation, as Boteach rightfully points out. That could be read as placation; but in the same breath . . . one could argue that about customs Isra’el adopted.

Howver, doesn’t that still acknowledge that the church did change to suit new converts? If they could change practice, why not “holy writ”?

1) The policy of adaptation started as Christianity became endorsed by Rome, thus you had—remember the qualities of conspiracy—less pressure, greater ability to coordinate (especially since it came to be through the emperor), discovery is nullified, and the culture itself is part of the conspiracy. All things that were not true in the beginning.

2) The adaptations that happened aren’t buried, they are enshrined. Catholic history will tell you that Rome changed the Shabbat to Sunday. They don’t say, it was always Sunday. They also acknowledge the policy of adapting paganism. There’s no secrecy, here.

Pilate, Pharisees, and others out of Character

I’ve spent quite a bit of virtual ink deriding some logical problems with the revisionism proposed. But Boteach also brings some very good logic at times, that admittedly, I find difficult to refute.

Pilate is known in scripture as someone who mingled murdered blood with sacrifices. What an abomination! He also apparently killed innocent people without little hesitation, and passed them off to brutalized. He even makes friends by killing people; apparently a hobby that Herod and Pilate bonded over—which is in the Bible. Hardly appeasing— Beyond the Bible, we read that he was the one who first brought the idols of Caesar to Yerushalayim, willing to kill a group of Jews for merely protesting. How then, could Pilate end up seeming an evenhanded judge in Yeshua’s trial?

This really bothered me for a day or so. But then I had to ask, do people only do what is expected of them? Interesting, Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews  tells us that this same barbaric Pilate was moved by the display of the protestors who willingly offered themselves for death rather than tolerate the images of Caesar to be set up for worship, such that he reversed his own orders, both on setting up the images and killing the protesters. What would Boteach make of this? I think it clearly shows that Pilate—a mass murderer—could be moved at times by moral courage. If he could do that out of character, why could he not have been moved by Yeshua? Or if he would tolerate their “injury of Caesar” by keeping his effigies out, why might he not have been moved to show them a ‘kindness’ at Pesach?

The point is history is full of people who do things that are seemingly incongruent with their character. Just look at a beloved David, who suddenly sleeps with his friend’s wife and has him killed? Was that in character? Or Y’hudah and Tamar. Stone’s Tanach says that Y’hudah and Tamar were both too righteous, for him to sleep with a whore and her to play a whore. Stone’s actually implicates that Elohim ‘moved’ Y’hudah to sleep with her because he was, too righteous. And for her part, she sensed the great destiny of the line of Y’hudah and because the good was so great, she forced herself to do what she would never have done. I don’t know if that’s true—but it clearly shows that tradition is well able to accept someone doing something strange, that doesn’t quite fit. What about David working for the Philistine Achish? Does Boteach find it odd, that the legendary Philistine fighter, finds employment with a Philistine noble?

Boteach also defends the Pharisees, beginning by pointing out that Yeshua was a Pharisee—if you’ve never heard that, it is actually a possibility based on Yochanon 1:24-27, when Yochanon says to the Pharisees Mashiach is of and among them. This certainly makes the case that not all Pharisees were bad. In Mattityahu 5:20, Yeshua holds them up as righteous, but still falling short.

They were probably not “bad” in subjective sense, but recall again, that Elohim judges based on what a person has. In this sense, a Pharisee could fail by a small amount, but fall much further. But I’d also point out that if the religious leaders of the day were really so great, then why was Yerushalayim destroyed? Why hadn’t relief from Rome come? Why did even Rabbi Yochanon not ask to save the capital? Boteach seems to countenance that the Cohanim had been corrupted (in large part) because of their relationship to Rome, why is it unthinkable that the Pharisees would be corruptible? And I’m not saying, all of them, but in large part?

Boteach points to the words of the Talmud, handed down to us by the Pharisees who became the Rabbis. There are certainly good words in there, but . . .  These kinds of words were known throughout Isra’el, and yet, that didn’t save Yerushalayim. The Rabbi’s will also say that Yosef’s brothers, including Re’uven and Y’hudah were all great men, yet did that stop Yosef’s brothers from being jealous and trying to kill him? Did it stop Re’uven from going up to his father’s bed? Did it stop Y’hudah from sleeping with his daughter in law? David was certainly a good man, but he had sins. Sh’mu’el (Samuel) was a great prophet and yet his sons were worthless. Eliyahu had a servant who walked with him, and yet the servant ended up as a leper for trying to sell a miracle.

There is nothing in scripture that says great knowledge of justice equates to great doing of justice.

Hard Questions

The above . . . responses came with increasing slope of difficulty. Boteach’s projection of past events has some glaring weaknesses. Most notably the conspiracy of revisionism headed up by Paul; it could be plausible if the conspirators weren’t being tortured and killed for what they knew was a lie. Revisions after the first talmidim is plausible—I say that carefully—but that underlies the fact that there must first have been a true faith based on something worth being tortured and killed for, and only after it had visible momentum that it became corrupted.

However, the symptomatic problems do resonate in Boteach’s work, and from the above they do get more difficult. Some of them aren’t so bad, if you’re Messianic. For example, his charge about the contradiction of anti-Torah doctrines of the Brit Chadasha, don’t bother me because I believe the Brit Chadasha is pro-Torah.

And I think some of the questions he raises—ones that did successfully move me—are based not necessarily on what the Brit Chadasha says but what the church says that it says. But this can be very difficult to deal with, because it requires you to separate what you’ve heard about Paul’s doctrine—for example—from what Paul’s doctrine might have said if you read it from the perspective of the Torah and the Tanahk, and yes, long-standing traditional interpretations. An example would be the Trinity. I was raised to believe in it, but once I faced the Shema (well, before I read this book), and then re-read scriptures used for trinitarianism, I found that strangely, they didn’t say what was alleged at all. For example, replacing the word Spirit with the literal meaning of wind or breath, quickly evaporates (pun, half-intended) the doctrine. But that requires you to be able to separate what you’ve always believed from what the scripture actually says.

However, again, the questions get even harder. Not only do you find yourself faced with somewhat easy questions of logic, medium questions of interpretation in proper perspective, and then hard questions of whether you’re going to be able to look afresh at an old dogma. Then you are left with the hardest questions of all, where you have to ask yourself why you have different manuscripts. Variances in different languages, don’t seem to affect the whole—and I think that’s reaffirming—but it does call into question nuances of doctrine. How much of Paul’s doctrine stands upon questionable quotes? Is he ignorant to quote the Septuagint? Or is the Masoretic wrong, especially in light of confirmations from the Dead Sea Scrolls? Or—despite their differences—are those contradictions together part of the same truth? Mattityahu for example, uses both a Hebrew source of the Tanahk that contradicts the Septuagint, and the Septuagint in the same book!

For myself, I admit I don’t know all the answers. I lean on what the different texts hold in common—and I wrestle with the contradictions. I can’t simply turn off the “why” generator in my mind. I seem incapable of being purely dogmatic, and continue questing for the answer that answers the most of scripture. And the parts, that I just don’t understand how they could fit—much of Paul—I put at the back end of interpretation. I don’t build off of it, but wait for something clearer to make sense of it.

But it’s a hard place to be. To admit, there are holes that I don’t know what to do with. And to say, yes, I think much of normal, modern Christian fundamental doctrines are erroneous. But I comfort myself with this: YHVH has been saving people who didn’t know everything since the beginning. Our difficulties with doctrine are not the end of His work. I don’t believe you can accidentally, misunderstand your way out of Elohim’s blessing. “Oops, that guy didn’t fully understand my justice and my lovingkindness . . . guess He’s going to hell.” Frankly, I think someone can never hear of Yeshua, and still be “saved.” Because at the end of the day—and I think Boteach would agree—He’s not waiting for us to be perfect, whether in deed or in tenet of faith. He knows who is sincerely reaching for Him, and He’ll make sure that person finds the Way. At the end of the day, Yeshua may have declared that no one comes to the Father, but by Him. But He didn’t say the only way to come by Him was to say the sinner’s prayer and confess a perfect statement of faith. I mean seriously, most Christians think God’s name is “Lord.” And in fact, Yeshua implied “coming by” the Son was much easier to hit. “Whoeever is not against us. Is for us.”

 

 

 

 

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