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A Discussion of Messianic Judaism, the Emerging Messianic Jewish Paradigm, and Related Leadership Issues from the Preoccupied Mind of Rabbi Stuart Dauermann, PhD.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Toward a Messianic Jewish Epistemology

In his discussion of interreligious dialogue in “The Open Secret,” Lesslie Newbigin refers to—and takes issue with—the views of John Hick. Hick prefers to ground interreligious discussion around the abstract concept of “Transcendent Being,” the latter being a verbal noun form of the verb “to be,” but which, in this highly abstruse high-level philosophical discussion, “is devoid of any subject, that is, devoid of any reference to something that is,” but is rather a philosophical construct that is postulated [1995:166]. Newbigin finds this type of discussion unsatisfactory, not the least because it is the province only of those whose education and predilections suit them for finding such discussions credible and satisfying.

In addition, he states,
It is not obvious that the very abstract mental concept, which only a very small number of philosophers trained in certain disciplines are capable of grasping, is a more reliable starting point for the adventure of truth seeking than is the fact of Jesus Christ. Every attempt to form a coherent understanding of the whole human situation starts out from an initial act of faith. There is no possibility of knowing anything except on the basis of something that is, at least provisionally, taken for granted. . . . My point is that I know of no basis, no axiom, no necessity of thought that requires me to believe that a historic person and a series of historic events provide a less reliable starting point for the adventure of knowing than does the highly sophisticated mental construct of a philosopher [1995:166].

This raises the intriguing question as to what pivotal and axiomatic event or reality should and does form the basis of Messianic Jewish epistemology and identity.

Should the starting point of Messianic Jewish identity and epistemology be the created order? “I know I exist in a universe not created by me, which self-evidently must have been created by a something/someone prior to and other than creation. This being is God the Creator. Therefore, I am a created being aware of and seeking to know more of the Creator of all.”

Or should the starting point for Messianic Jewish epistemology and identity be the person of Christ? Should our epistemology be a slight adaptation of Newbigin's?

Starting from the created order or from the Person of Christ yields a universalistic and individualistic sense being. In addition, seeing ourselves primarily as related to Christ leaves us Christians indistinguishable from other Christians. But how do we get from there to our Jewish identity [after all, we ARE Messianic JEWS] and is the latter really important? My answer is “without doubt.”

A Jewish epistemology, of which Messianic Jewish epistemology is a subset, begins with this: We know ourselves to be the people whom God brought up out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery/bondage [Exodus 20:2]. It is something of a neo-Cartesian frame of reference. We start from the fact that we know ourselves to be living Jews. Who are the Jews and how are we alive at this time? We are that people who were delivered from Egyptian bondage. And because this delivered people knows itself to be a self-evident truth, it knows therefore that God exists. In fact, Exodus 20:2 is the preeminent text upon which Jewish belief in God is founded: "I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery.” The Exodus is central to Jewish self awareness and identity. Indeed, that eschatological events are of a cataclysmic and convulsive nature is measured by their relationship to the Exodus, so that Jeremiah can say: "Therefore," says ADONAI, "the day will come when people no longer swear, 'As ADONAI lives, who brought the people of Isra'el out of the land of Egypt,' but, 'As ADONAI lives, who brought the descendants of the house of Isra'el up from the land to the north' and from all the countries where I drove them. Then they will live in their own land” (Jeremiah 23:7-8).

Seeing ourselves as being part of the Exodus people engenders a more particularistic and communal sense of self than seeing ourselves as creatures or as Yeshua’s people. It brings us axiomatically into the realm of communal relationship and obligation, whereas the others postulated require no communal identity in themselves. (Agreed, seeing ourselves as the Exodus people, while foundational, is neither comprehensive nor final for Messianic Jews. We Messianic Jews, we Exodus people, are also creatures of God and Yeshua’s people).

The centrality of our identity as the people of the Exodus is one of the reasons why David Wolpe’s published remarks some years ago concerning the non-importance and historical improbability of the Exodus were so volatile and in need of refutation. If Israel is not the people whom God brought up out of the Land of Egypt, then not only are Israel’s foundational historical claims and identity demonstrably lies, even her faith in God is unseated and removed from the historical, existential, and communal to the realm of mere personal opinion and philosophical speculation--lovely for Greeks, certainly post-Enlightenment, but utterly foreign to a truly Jewish epistemology . If we did not come up out of Egyptian slavery, then God never delivered us from bondage, and therefore—how can we Jews know who we are and who God is? And what happens to Sinai where the Torah was given to establish our unique way of life if not by way of the Exodus? Sinai becomes nothing but a myth, like Mount Olympus. Without the Exodus, everything disappears in a cloud of flimsy rhetorical smoke, and as Jewiish deconstructionists philosopher Jacques Derrida opines, our faith claims become nothing but words about words.

The shift from an Exodus epistemology to any others seems to me titanic and dreadful. To so shift is to lose our Jewishness, to lose Sinai, to lose our covenant status, our sense of membership in that people whom God delivered from the Land of Egypt to give us his Torah and to bring us into the Land of promise. Is it not clear that to lose these things is ultimately, to lose ourselves? If we are not the Exodus people, then Jewish identity and heritage becomes nothing more than a collective bluff and brag.

Losing our identity as the Exodus people is also to lose a true sense of who Yeshua is, for He is, after all, the promised Saving King of this people: Shiloh—the one from Judah whom both Israel and the nations will obey: “The scepter will not pass from Y'hudah, nor the ruler's staff from between his legs, until he comes to whom [obedience] belongs; and it is he whom the peoples will obey” [Genesis 49:10], and, as we saw a few weeks ago, “a star [who] will step forth from Ya'akov, a scepter [who] will arise from Isra'el, to crush the corners of Mo'av and destroy all descendants of Shet" [Numbers 24:17]. Yeshua’s identity is clearly grounded in that of Israel. Without the people of Israel, Yeshua Himself has no identity. When the Jewish people disappears from view, so does He. And when we forget who we are, we disappear. Notice the connection between such forgetting and communal disintegration, and the connection between Jewish peoplehood, Torah, God and facticity of the Exodus.

11 "Take heed lest you forget the LORD your God, by not keeping his commandments and his ordinances and his statutes, which I command you this day: 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full, and have built goodly houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply, and your silver and gold is multiplied, and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage, 15 who led you through the great and terrible wilderness, with its fiery serpents and scorpions and thirsty ground where there was no water, who brought you water out of the flinty rock, 16 who fed you in the wilderness with manna which your fathers did not know, that he might humble you and test you, to do you good in the end. 17 Beware lest you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.' 18 You shall remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth; that he may confirm his covenant which he swore to your fathers, as at this day. 19 And if you forget the LORD your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you this day that you shall surely perish. 20 Like the nations that the LORD makes to perish before you, so shall you perish, because you would not obey the voice of the LORD your God. [Devarim/Deuteronomy 8:11-20].

Finally, we would do well to ponder the astounding insight of our tradition when it says, "'You are my witnesses,’ says Adonai, ‘and I am God’” (Isaiah 43:12). When you are my witnesses, I am God. And when you are not my witnesses, I am not God" (Midrash T’hillim 123:2). The existence of Israel and of God are intertwined. We exist because be brought us up out of the Land of Egypt. And because we exist, his identity and reputation are secured in the world.

R. Kendall Soulen reminds us that the term "God" is simply a monosyllable devoid of explicit meaning. The term must have a referent that gives it substance. For this reason, he reminds us that the good news of which the Bible speaks is this: "the God of ISRAEL has worked in Jesus Christ for the sake of all." The God of whom the Church speaks, of whom Judaism speaks, who sent Yeshua to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins, whom we call the One True God, and whom Yeshua called "Father" is not simply God: He is explicitly and irreducibly [but of course, not exhaustively] "the God of Israel." Without Israel, God is reduced to a monosyllable devoid of content. Without his saving history with Israel we would know little about Him, and belief in "God" becomes little more than words.

The first commandment is first for a reason: to know that God exists. And we know the saving character of the One who exists because we exist—the Exodus people: "I am ADONAI your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the abode of slavery."

At 7/20/2006 1:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Exodus 12:38 Many other people went up with them, as well as large droves of livestock, both flocks and herds.

Who were these other people?

At 7/20/2006 2:14 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

To the inquirer about Exodus 12:38, I did some research for you. Here goes.

(1) "mixed multitude" occurs in Numbers 11:4 as a translation of asaphcuph, "collection," "rabble." The same phrase in Exodus 12:38; Nehemiah 13:3 is the rendition of erebh. "Mingled people" is used also to translate 'erebh, and is found in Jeremiah 15:20, 15:24; Jeremiah 50:37; Ezekiel 30:5, and in 1 Kings 10:15 the Revised Version (British and American) (the King James Version "Arabia"; compare the American Revised Version margin). In the last case both revised versions have followed the pointing of the Masoretic Text, and this pointing alone distinguishes "mingled people" ('erebh) from "Arabia" ('arabh); in the unvocalized text both words are equally '-r-b. Now "the traffic of the merchants, and of all the kings of the mingled people, and of the governors of the country" is very awkward, and the correction into "Arabia," as in the Massoretic Text (and English Versions of the Bible) of the parallel 2 Chronicles 9:14, is indicated. Probably the same change should be made in Ezekiel 30:5, reading "Ethiopia, and Put, and Lud, and Arabia, and Cub." A similar textual confusion seems to be responsible for either "and all the kings of Arabia" or "and all the kings of the mingled people" in Jeremiah 25:24. On all these verses see the commentaries.

(2) In Jeremiah 25:20; Jeremiah 50:37, "mingled people" is a term of contempt for the hybrid blood of certain of Israel's enemies. Something of this same contempt may be contained in Exodus 12:38, where a multitude of non-Israelite camp-followers are mentioned as accompanying the children of Israel in the exodus, and in Numbers 11:4 it is this motley body that seduced Israel to sin. But who they were, why they wished or were permitted to join in the exodus, and what eventually became of them or of their descendants is a very perplexing puzzle. In Nehemiah 13:3, the "mixed multitude" consists of the inhabitants of Palestine whom the Jews found there after the return from the exile (see SAMARIA). In accord with the command of Deuteronomy 23:3-5, the Jews withdrew from all religious intercourse whatever had been established with these.

NOTE.--The Hebrew noun for "mingled people" may or may not be connected with the verb translated "mingle" in Ezra 9:2; Psalms 106:35; Daniel 2:43. On this see the lexicons.

In general, most would say we don't know for certain who comprised that erev rav [mixed multitude], and of course the rabbis' reviews are mixed when it comes to characterizing this anonymous crew. Some see them as the riff-raff, a group of hangers-on and rabble-rousers ultimately responsible for the building of the golden calf. Others suggest that they were Egyptians who simply wanted to escape, wise people who shared the human impulse to be free.

Rashi views the multitude to be people who were converts to Israel’s God. It seems to me most logical that these were indeed simply Egyptians who wanted to escape, who recognized that the God of Israel was clearly more powerful than all the gods of Egypt, and that the latter were undergoing judgment. It is also likely that most of them and their descendants if not all would have submitted to circumcision and communal conversion as they continued to live among the Israelites. That would have been the normal practice in those days.

At 7/21/2006 4:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rom 11:11 I say then, they did not stumble so as to fall, did they? May it never be! But by their transgression salvation has come to the Gentiles, to make them jealous.

What stumbling in Paul talking about and what could a Gentile possibly have that would make a Jew jealous?

At 7/21/2006 8:11 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

The stumbling is stumbling over Messiah, not recognizing Yeshua, as was foreordained, that the Gentiles might hear and enter in. As for making Israel jealous, there are two explanations, one commonly given and one more recent which I find more compelling. The most usual explanation is that the Gentiles would have a palpable and rich relationship with God which would make Israel jealous. The more recent, b y Mark Nanos in his "the Mystery of Romans," is that Israel knew that their prophets had said that in eschatological times, the Gentiles would come to the knowledge of the One True God. Through the gospel, that was happening, and this would make Israel jealous--feeling that their divine escahtological prerogative was being fulfilled by the Jewish Yeshua followers and the Gentile fellow travelers.

At 7/22/2006 12:08 PM, Blogger S. Naima said...

I enjoyed reading this blog in particular & will forward the url to my dad.

S. Briskin

At 7/23/2006 9:57 AM, Blogger Carl said...

I am convinced this post about 'Exodus epistemology' touches the heart of the matter.

Your thoughts connect very deeply to the ideas of Michael Wyschogrod in "The Body of Faith" and "Abraham's Promise." He also sees the particularity of the Jewish people (who are either the people of the Exodus or simply an ethnic group no different from others) as a fundamental issue both within Judaism and in interfaith dialogue.

IMO, for Messianic Jews to begin elsewhere is epistemological and covenantal suicide.

At 7/23/2006 11:54 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

Thank you Carl. I am flattered to know that my thoughts connect very deeply to Wyschogrod. I need to read him more deeply. Let my copy of Abraham's promise to someone else - - not a good idea. And I agree that "for Messianic Jews to begin elsewhere is epistemological and covenantal suicide." Detractors will say that we are somehow marginalizing Yeshua by doing so. But as I pointed out, when we lost the Exodus people, when we lose Sinai, we lose the enitre context which gives Yeshua's identity claims meaning. As Craig Blaising reminds us, Yeshua is not simply the Son of generic Man, he is That Man, the Son of David, in whom all the promises of God to Israel and the nations are Yea and Amen.

More on this later, I imagine.

At 7/23/2006 12:03 PM, Anonymous Menachem said...

IMO, for Messianic Jews to begin elsewhere is epistemological and covenantal suicide.<<<<<

Well put Carl and Stuart. The term "Jew" loses most of its meaning when divorced from its context.


At 7/27/2006 5:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Doesn't the term "religious" the same as the term "legalistic?" Or isn't it true that anytime one moves from grace to law, the relationship is doomed?

Grace and mercy, by definition, needs law if grace and mercy are to have any meaning.

To write a law that applies to every situation perfectly through out time
...where failure means a broken relationship that can not be repaired
...while showing God's character is why grace and mercy are greater than the law.

At 7/27/2006 7:56 AM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

To my Anonynous Friend,

I would challenge you to consider how postulating a dichotomy or antagonism between grace and law is a legacy from Martin Luther's struggles with his own conscience and Medieval Roman Catholicism, and really foreign to what Scripture would teach us. I advise your locating Krister Stendahl's seminal essay, "Paul and the Introspective Conscience of the West," in which he exposed how the theological tradition of the West has gotten this very wrong.

Even the statement early in John's Gospel, "the Law was given through, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" needs to be understood as most modern translations do, without the "but" that the KJV translators inserted in the text. Notice the assumption in THIS version: "For the Law was given through Moses but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." The inserted "but" assumes that grace and truth was absent from the Law. John's message is more of continuity, saying in effect, "Just as the Law was given through Moses, so grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." The source is the same God.

The law is gracious as well--otherwise, what are we saying about the God who gave it?

At 7/27/2006 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry, I was thinking of Paul in Romans: "13It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

Specfically, the "...because the law brings wrath" part. To which I would ask, "how can the Law bring Grace and wrath at the same time.

At 7/27/2006 6:51 PM, Blogger Stuart Dauermann said...

To the person who 'was thinking of Paul in Romans: "13It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, 15because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

Specfically, the "...because the law brings wrath" part. To which I would ask, "how can the Law bring Grace and wrath at the same time.'

As you look at this argument in Romans 4 Paul is NOT contrasting grace and law, but is speaking of those who rely on God's gracious covenantal promise [ultimately fulfilled in Christ] with those those who rely upon keeping of Law as in itself a sufficient means of commending oneself to God. He is critiquing a misuse of the Law, certainly not the Law itself. This is clear.

I am afraid you are still, like almost everyone, prone to see the Law in a negative light when the argument of Scripture is different. We all need to take our Luther glasses off in order to see Scripture clearly on this matter.

I trust this helps.

At 8/26/2006 8:52 PM, Anonymous Jon said...

Hi Stuart. Last time I saw you you playfully tried to swipe my copy of Marc Angel's book, Chosing to be Jewish.

Earlier you quoted Is. 43:12 to good effect. Eliezer Berkovits has a fine meditation upon Isaiah 43:10, which reads, "You are my witnesses, says the Lord, and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe and understand that I am he."

Says Berkovits, it is not that Israel first knows God and then is chosen as his witness. Rather, Israel is first chosen in order to become God's witness. It is by reflecting upon it's own (Israel's) preservation as a people over centuries when other peoples have disappeared, which is evidence for election, that Israel comes to know, believe, and understand who God is.


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