Monday, November 1, 2010

The Maccabees and “Atonement for Sin”


For they became the ransom to the sin of the nation; and the Divine Providence saved Israel, aforetime afflicted, by the blood of those pious ones, and the propitiatory death.

4 Maccabees 17:22


Be merciful to your people and let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs. (Eleazar speaking: 4 Maccabees 6:28-29)


In the Bible, the Atonement of Jesus, his death on the cross, is described as a "ransom" (Matthew 20:28, 1 Timothy 2:6). According to Christian doctrine, Jesus died on the cross to make atonement for the sins of mankind in order to redeem the world. Certain groups have emerged within Judaism. They call themselves "Anti-Missionaries." One such group is an organization called "Jews for Judaism." Their founding purpose was supposedly to strengthen the faiths of Jews and to keep them from leaving their faith. Whatever the original purposes of their organizations or their original intent, they have degenerated into anti-Christian hate groups. They are basically anti-Christian organizations. They target Christianity and not other non-Jewish religions or belief systems that some Jewish people are drawn to, such as Buddhism, the New Age Movement and Atheism. They attack Christianity and accuse Christianity of being "pagan." They state that many Christian concepts are foreign to Judaism. Sometimes they say things that simply are not true. For instance, I read a Jewish article saying that unlike Christianity, a religion founded by "Christ" and Buddhism, a religion founded by Buddha, Judaism is not named after one individual. But that isn't really true. The word "Judaism" is derived from Judah, who was one of the twelve sons of Israel (Genesis 38). Another thing that I read from the same article is that the idea of one man interceding for the sins of others is an idea foreign to Judaism. However, in the Sacred Text of Judaism, Abraham and Moses are depicted as interceding with God for Him to have mercy upon sinners (Genesis 18:16-33, Exodus 32:30-35). A major teaching of the Torah is that Aaron, the high priest, was to intercede before God for the people (Leviticus 16). Anti-missionaries will also say that the idea of blood atonement for sin is an idea foreign from Judaism. However, the book of Leviticus in the Torah describes blood atonement for sin through animal sacrifices (Leviticus 6:24-30). The Anti-missionaries also state that the idea that one man could save others by his sacrificial death and ransom the souls of others to God through his virtuous deeds is foreign to Judaism and is a "pagan" concept. The idea of a person, a man or a woman, making atonement for the sins of others through their suffering is historically an ancient Jewish concept. An ancient Jewish writing from before the time of Jesus and the rise of Rabbinic Judaism has survived. This book is basically a commentary on the story of the Maccabean martyrs. It is entitled Fourth Maccabees. The thesis of Fourth Maccabees is that the Maccabean martyrs died for the sins of Israel and redeemed Israel from their sins and made atonement and ransomed them by their sufferings and deaths. Fourth Maccabees says,


For Moses saith, And all the saints are under thine hands (Deut. 33:3). Therefore these having been sanctified through God, have been honored not only with this honour, but also their means the enemy did not overcome our nation; and that though their means the enemy did not overcome our nation; and that the tyrant was punished, and their country purified. For they became the ransom to the sin of the nation; and the Divine Providence saved Israel, aforetime afflicted, by the blood of those pious ones, and the propitiatory death. For the tyrant Antiochus, looking to their manly virtue, and to their endurance in torture, proclaim that endurance as an example to his soldiers…When those persons giving up their bodies to pains for the sake of religion, were not only admired by men, but were deemed worthy of a divine portion. And the nation through them obtained peace, and having renewed the observance of the law in their country, drove the enemy out of the land.


If the Maccabean martyrs could ransom Israel through their suffering and deaths, surely the Messiah, the King of Israel, could do the same! So we see that the concept of a righteous man dying for the sins of others is an ancient Jewish concept from before the first century. The Anti-missionaries are putting out bogus information. People need to realize that Judaism has evolved over the centuries. Judaism as it existed in the Old Testament period, Judaism of the time of Christ, Rabbinic Judaism and modern Judaism are all different from each other. The idea that one man could die for the sins of others may be foreign to some modern day rabbi's concept of Judaism. However, it is not foreign to ancient or historical Judaism. Any rabbi that makes such a claim is betraying his ignorance of his own religion and its ancient texts.

The idea that Christianity is "pagan" is a very fallacious argument. The same arguments can be made against Judaism. If Christianity is "pagan" so is Judaism. Recent archeological discoveries show that the pagan neighbors of the ancient Israelites worshiped in manners very similar to the Jews. (And these modes of worship pre-date Judaism-and even Abraham-by many centuries.) An ancient pagan temple has been discovered in Syria which is very similar to how King Solomon's temple is described in the Holy Bible. (And it is much older than Solomon's Temple.) One Psalm and several chapters of the Book of Proverbs and been found to have been derived from ancient Egyptian texts. (Psalm 104 from the Holy Bible seems to be derived from the ancient Egyptian "Hymn to Aten." Proverbs 22:17-24:22 is a quotation from the ancient Egyptian scroll entitled "The Wisdom of Amenemope." Ancient Egyptian's circumcised and kept many ceremonial practices very similar to those found in the Jewish Torah.) Archeology has shown us that the ancient Israelites were not as different from their pagan neighbors as many have been led to believe. Archeological discoveries of the ancient Israelites and their so-called "pagan" neighbors has tremendously expanded our understanding of the Holy Bible and are vastly superior to certain rabbinic commentaries written by rabbis who were far removed from the time of the Bible, who occasionally misunderstood the sacred text because did not possess the accurate scientific evidence which we have now discovered. Besides that, not everything that is supposedly "pagan" is wrong or bad. Archeological discoveries help us to get into the minds of the ancients. Through archeological discoveries we learn about how the ancients lived and what they believed. Dismissing historical information because it is "pagan" can severely limit our understanding of the Bible. Consider this, what will help us to understand the Bible better, archeological discoveries that are contemporary with the ancient text of the Bible or commentaries written by a rabbi in Europe, one thousand to fifteen hundred years after the Scriptures were written? Even Judah Maccabee was willing to learn from and form alliances with so-called "pagans," being his Roman, Spartan and Nabatean Arab allies. Judah Maccabee was fiercely devoted to Judaism but he was wise enough to befriend and learn from so-called "pagan" allies. (However, it was his brother Jonathon who forged the alliances with the Spartans.)

We should remember how Jews have been persecuted. However, it should be borne in mind that Moslems have persecuted Jews as well. Also, many Christian kingdoms in Europe granted the Jews sanctuary and protection. Many ancient Jewish writings, such as the Apocrypha and other ancient Jewish writings, were preserved by Christians and not by Jews. There have been periods of interfaith communion and cooperation between Christians and Jews. During the Renaissance, Christians began to study Jewish philosophical words such as the Kaballah and the Talmud. The first printed Hebrew Bible was a joint endeavor of Christians and Jews. Anti-Semitism must be condemned. But when someone tries to create a distorted jaundiced view of Christian history this troubles me. We must resoundingly condemn Anti-Semitism. As a Christian, I am proud of what Christian civilization has accomplished. Saint John Chrysostom and Martin Luther made anti-Semitic comments. This does not mean that all of the early church fathers or all the reformers were evil. Some of the early church fathers were Jewish (such as Hegissipus). (Certain people take certain quotes from Luther and Chrysostom and quote them in order to make Christianity look bad. In the same manner, Anti-Semites have taken certain quotes out of the Talmud that speak ill of gentiles in order to create a negative image of Judaism. Both of these groups are attempting to do the same thing-spread hatred.) Christians need to celebrate their heritage and be wary of giving in to anti-Christian propaganda and pseudo-historical revisionism.

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