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Jewish / Judaism : Does Christianity Corrupt the Old Testament? And: On the Memra, part 1 of 5
In this parsed essay we will present some example of the charges of corruption made against Christianity and some examples of the Rabbinic manner of interpretation.
Part 1: The Charges (and the problems for those making them) Part 2: The Targumim Part 3: Targum Yerushalmi or Jerusalemand Targum Onkelos or Onqelosand Targum Jonathan or Pseudo-Jonathan Part 4: Fragmentary Targum and Targum Neofiti and Examples of Rabbinic Interpretation Part 5: Examples of Rabbinic Interpretation (continued and concluded)
There is an odd contradiction when it comes to the Christian claim that quite often there is support for Christian theology in ancient Rabbinic writing. One the one hand, when the ancient interpretation of the Old Testament-the Tanakh-as found in the Rabbinic writings is appealed to; the anti-missionaries charge that we do not understand those writings due to the various methods of interpretation employed by the ancient sages. On the other hand, when anti-missionaries read the New Testament they claim that its writers are taking the Old Testament out of context or even claiming that certain texts are treated as prophecy when in reality they are not. The contradiction is that when considering the New Testament use of the Old Testament it is the anti-missionaries who do not consider the various ancient methods of interpretation that, quite naturally, the writers of the New Testament would have employed.
The Charges (and the problems for those making them): A common charge made by anti-missionaries is that Christians have tampered with the Old Testament in order to force it to agree with Christian doctrine.
Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan charges,
"In many cases, they were not above using verses out of context, changing texts, and even mistranslating them, in order to prove their point."1
This is quite a charge to make however, in the chapter of his anti-missionary book in which Rabbi Kaplan discusses Jesus he does just what he accuses Christians of doing. He offers incorrect citations, he makes utterly false claims as he removes texts from context to make pretexts for prooftexts and in his anti-missionary zeal; he comes to very odd and false conclusions. Here is one example,
"In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus instructed his followers (Matthew 5:43) 'Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, and do good to those who hate you.' This might have been a fine lesson if Jesus himself lived up to it. But when it came to his own enemies, Jesus declared (Luke 19:27), 'Take my enemies, who would not have me rule over them, bring them here, and kill them before me.'"2
One need not know too much about Jesus to know that this is dead wrong. But is it wrong? Did Jesus not say that? Yes and no. The Rabbi did not care to point out that the text he is quoting states, "While they were listening to this, He [Jesus] went on to tell them a parable." Jesus was telling a parable, and there is a character in the parable that says those words. Yes He said that, but they were not His words.
Moreover, Rabbi Kaplan himself is not above inserting words into the Old Testament. He does so in his quoting of Isaiah 2:2-4, this type of practice, if done by Christians, is considered by him to be a corruption of Scripture. He quotes,
"_Come let us go up to the mountain of G-d to the house of the G-d of Jacob and He (the Messiah) will teach us His ways_And He (the Messiah) will judge between nations_"3
While this may seem like no big change the point is a basic one; when the Rabbi wants the text to say Messiah he simply inserts the word.
And Rabbi Kaplan concludes,
"The main things is that a clear reading of the Jewish Bible offers absolutely no support to the 'proofs' of Christianity. In most cases, all you need is a good translation (or better still, the Hebrew original), and all those 'proofs' fall away. Many contemporary Christian scholars admit as much."4
This is clearly fallacious as Christian scholars most certainly do not admit that all proofs that make Christianity what it is are null and void.
Larry Levey, a self-described "Former Hebrew-Christian," charges,
"Those Christians who desperately ransacked the Talmud to find support for their preconceived ideas are not students of the Talmud with any interest in the actual teachings of Rabbinic Judaism. They merely use the Talmud like a drunk uses a lamp post - not for illumination, but for support."5
Interestingly, in Larry Levey's article of less than one page he does exactly what he speaks out against. In his short article he makes reference to 26 New Testament texts; he does not do so with any interest in the actual teachings of Jesus and His Apostles but he desperately ransacks New Testament to find support for his preconceived ideas and is merely using the New Testament like a drunk uses a lamp post.
Rabbi Shraga Simmons,
"The missionaries' approach to ensnare unsuspecting people includes quoting Torah verses out of context and gross mis-translations_These deceptions are most successful with Jews who have no knowledge of their own Jewish heritage."6
Rabbi Simmons also states,
"Biblical verses 'referring' to Jesus are mistranslations_.Biblical verses can only be understood by studying the original Hebrew text-which reveals many discrepancies in the Christian translation."7
This is called elitism; the Rabbi has knowledge of Hebrew and therefore you cannot hope to challenge him. However, this would mean that a large percentage of Jewish people the world over cannot know the Bible since they do not know Hebrew. But then again, of course they can, they rely on the Rabbi. But in that case why cannot Christians rely on Christian scholars who are Hebrew experts? Being bilingual I can tell you this much; translation can be difficult and translation is possible.
1. Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, The Real Messiah? A Jewish Response to Missionaries (New York: National Conference of Synagogue Youth, 1976, New edition, 1985), p. 37
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