JUDAIC HERITAGE OF
There is little doubt that Judaic influence on Christianity, because of a common heritage, is basic and pervasive, especially in matters of myth, doctrine and ethics. In order to be clear, we shall record a bare outline of Judaic thought.
It is well-known that the Old Testament is a part of the Bible and the scripture of the Jews. It contains the Torah, the Genesis, including the Myth of Creation, Paradise, Adam, Eve and their Fall, the 613 Commandments or the Jewish ethical system, accounts of Kings and Prophets, and also Books of Ezekiel, Ezra, Isaiah, Amos, Jeremiah, Hosea, Song of Songs, Proverbs, Ruth, Job, Ecclesiastes, etc.
Another fact is that Christ was born in a Jewish family, brought up and lived as a Jew. It is not seriously contested now that he wanted only to reform Judaism by bringing about the acceptance of the Law. He stated that he did not want to add anything to the Law or take out anything from it. He hardly effected any major change to suggest that he ever intended to start a new religious system. Because of the very short period of his ministry, about two and a half years, history is not able to throw much light on his activities, except for the stories and parables attributed to him. It is true that Christ had no doubt about his mission, and carried it out with marvellous precision and emphasis. He expressed his ideas with clarity, deep love and a sense of urgency. His crucifixion has been the crowning event of his life, the true meaning and implications of which are still being debated, interpreted and understood. Our present concern is how far his ideas were Judaic. For this purpose, we shall first indicate briefly the Judaic ideology and then compare it with that of Christ.
The Torah, or the Five Books of Moses, embody the fundamentals of Jewish thought and ethics. Without going into the details whether monotheism is originally Egyptian or Zorastrian, there is no doubt that the revelations to Moses are categorically, if not fanatically, monotheistic. The context of the revelation has to be understood in order to grasp its full significance. First, this revelation has primarily a socio-political meaning and objective. For, through a set of miracles, God humbles the might of the Pharaoh, and frees the Jewish community from centuries of slavery in Egypt. Simultaneously, God goads the reluctant and diffident Jews, many of whom preferred the security of slavery to the risks of war, to attack and drive out the inhabitants of Canaan, occupy their country and settle there themselves. Second, God clearly sanctions the use of force and war when He says :
“I am sending an angel before you to guard you on the way and to bring you to the place which I have made ready. Pay heed to him and obey him. Do not defy him, for he will not pardon your offenses, since My Name is in him; but if you obey him and do all that I say, I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes.
“When my angel goes before you and brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I annihilate them, you shall not bow down to their gods in worship or follow their practices, but shall tear them down and smash their pillars to bits. You shall serve the Lord your God, and He will bless your bread and your water. And I will remove sickness from your midst. No woman in your land shall miscarry or be barren. I will let you enjoy the full count of your days.
“I will send forth My terror before you, and I will throw into panic all the people among whom you come, and I will make all your enemies turn tail before you.”1
“The people may have a change of heart when they see war, and return to Egypt.”2
Third, help to the Jews is the result of a covenant between God and the Jews who, by agreeing to abide by His Laws and not to worship other gods, became His Chosen Community. Fourth, the God of Jews is very stern, almost a vengeful and punishing God. No one can fail to notice these four features of God’s revelations to Moses as recorded in the Torah. In short, the Torah prescribes a whole-life system which not only involves socio-political participation and objectives, but also accepts the use of force, struggle and war for the achievement of those ends. The Torah lays down the laws both for the religious and civil lives, including rules for the punishment of the vanquished, the slaves, servants, masters, marriage, family relations, sacrifices, rituals, etc. For the cohesion of the community, the importance of family as a unit has been stressed. Obviously, the exclusive or the national character of Judaism has been quite prominent.
In Genesis there is an important fact which gives a meaningful clue to the world-view of Judaism and Christianity, since it is common to both these systems. We refer to the myth of Paradise, Satan, Adam’s Original Sin, contrived by the Serpent through Eve, and their Fall. This myth is basic to the theological understanding of Judaism and Christianity, though in the former case some of the Prophets have tried to give a somewhat optimistic and evolutionary view of life. In fact, it is this myth which makes it necessary later to have a corresponding myth of the Coming of the Messiah and Redemption by him. For the same and similar reasons the system of atonement or the ritualistic sacrifices also become logical and compulsory. We have made a specific mention of this myth for two reasons. First, it is very relevant and helpful to our understanding of the course and character of the Christian thought and history, as also of Toynbee’s interpretation of it, if it is taken to be true and typical. Secondly, while this myth of the Original Sin and Fall gives a significant clue to the Christian view of life, it is diametrically opposed to the thought of the Gurus, who do not contemplate any such Fall. Hence our reference to Genesis and its myth.
Before we proceed further to record the development of the Judaic ethics and the role and interpretation of the Prophets of Judaism, let us recapitulate in brief the salient features of the Torah as indicated by its scholars.
1. It is strictly monotheistic.
2. The relation between God and the Jews, as a Chosen Community, is governed by a Covenant. Accordingly, the system is exclusive and national.
3. God is very jealous and stern. He remorselessly prohibits and punishes the worship of other gods.
4. The system is whole-life, accepts a socio-political role, and prescribes laws, both for religious and empirical lives.
5. The revealed Commandments have a strong ethical bias. They accept the use of force and war for socio-political objectives.
6. Love of God and love of the neighbour is the essence of its ethics.
7. It prescribes animal sacrifices as means of atonement, and performing rituals. Other rituals like raising of Altars, circumcision, etc., are also prescribed.
8. Because of the story of the Original Sin and banishment from Paradise, the hope of a Messiah, who would redeem the Jews, or all men is a part of the later Jewish tradition.
9. Man has free will to do right or wrong.
10. The Laws could be modified as laws were for man and not man for laws. Under certain conditions, it could be necessary even to break the law.
11. All punishments and rewards were contemplated in this world.
Apart from its monotheism, the most important aspect of the revelation of Moses is its ethics. The Ten Commandments have an abiding character that have influenced the entire Western civilization. Judaic ethics forms the very foundation of the entire thought and theology of the Christians. God almost drives an enervated and spiritless community to attack the land of Canaanites and occupy it. The basic lesson of the revelation is that man as the instrument of God has to face and destroy Evil in life. God was aware of the weakness of the Jews when He said, “‘The people may have a change of heart when they see war and return to Egypt.’ So God led the people round-about, by way of the wilderness at the Sea of Reeds.”3 “And Joshua overwhelmed the people of Amalek with the sword.”4 The Law of Punishment revealed to Moses prescribes, “... the penalty shall be life for life, eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.”5 The Law is equally strict for the vanquished and violations of the prescribed rules governing religious, ritualistic and civil life.
An important facet of Jewish life and ethics is the clear prescription and value of animal sacrifices and rituals as laid down in the Torah :
“Speak to the whole community of Israel and say that on the tenth of this month each of them shall take a lamb to a family, a lamb to a household. But if the household is too small for a lamb, then let him share one with the neighbour closest to his household in the number of persons : you shall apportion the lamb according to what each person should eat. Your lamb shall be without blemish, a yearling male; you may take it from the sheep or from the goats. You shall keep watch over it until the fourteenth day of this month; and all the aggregate community of the Israelites shall slaughter it at twilight. They shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they are to eat it. They shall eat the flesh that same night; they shall eat it roasted over the fire, with unleavened bread and with bitter herbs. Do not eat any of it raw, or cooked in any way with water, but roasted — head, legs, and entrails — over the fire. You shall not leave any of it over until morning; if any of it is left until morning, you shall burn it.
“This is how you shall eat it : your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; and you shall eat it hurriedly : it is a passover offering to the Lord. For that night I will go through the land of Egypt and strike down every first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and I will mete out punishments to all the gods of Egypt, I the Lord. And the blood on the houses in which you dwell shall be a sign for you; when I see the blood I will pass over you, so that no plague will destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.
“This day shall be to you one of remembrance : you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord throughout the ages; you shall celebrate it as an institution for all time. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread; on the very first day you shall remove leaven from your houses, for whoever eats leavened bread from the first day to the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.”6
“You shall observe this as an institution for all time, for you and for your descendants. And when you enter the land which the Lord will give you, as He has promised, you shall observe this rite. And when your children ask you, ‘What do you mean by this rite ?’ You shall say, ‘It is the passover sacrifice to the Lord, because He passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt when He smote the Egyptians, but saved our houses.’”7 The Lord spoke further to Moses, saying, “‘Consecrate to Me every first-born; man and beast, the first issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine.’”8 “This is the law of the passover offering : No foreigner shall eat of it. But any slave a man has bought may eat of it once he has been circumcised.”9 “... you shall set apart for the Lord every first issue of the womb : every male firstling that your cattle drop shall be the Lord’s. But every firstling as you shall redeem with a sheep; if you do not redeem it, you must break its neck. And you must redeem every first-born male among your children.”10 “If you will heed the Lord your God diligently, doing what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I the Lord am your healer.”11
God presented very clear commandments against idolatry, worship of other gods, murder, adultery, theft, false witness, and coveting neighbour’s wife, slave or property. On the positive side, respect for parents and elders was also prescribed, “And if you make for Me an altar of stones, do not build it of hewn stones; for by wielding your tool upon them you have profaned them.”12 Following is the rule for slaves, “When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment. If he came single, he shall leave single; if he had a wife, his wife shall leave with him. If his master gave him a wife, and she has borne him children, the wife and her children shall belong to the master, and he shall leave alone. But if the slave declares, ‘I love my master, and my wife and children : I do not wish to go free,’ his master shall take him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl; and he shall then remain his slave for life.
“When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not be freed as male slaves are. If she proves to be displeasing to her master, who designated her for himself, he must let her be redeemed; he shall not have the right to sell her to outsiders, since he broke faith with her.”13
The Torah also gives to man the most important gem of all ethics, namely, love of God and of your neighbour. “You shall love your neighbour as yourself. I am the Lord......”14 This forms the ethics of all religions that are whole-life and socio-political in character. A significant aspect of Jewish life is its strong emphasis on ethics. Its Prophets and scholars were very particular in doing so. The story goes that when a person respectfully approached learned Hillel with the request that he should be explained the meanings of the 613 Commandments of the Torah, and that while he did so, he would keep standing on one leg, the scholar’s response was, “Whatever is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbour. That is the entire Torah. The rest is commentary; go and learn it.”15 This sums up the essence of all human ethics. This principle has probably helped the Jews to survive over the centuries.
It is no coincidence that a similar emphasis on the cultivation of this vital element as the base of all religious life has been made by Christ as well. For, in any whole-life system like Judaism, Islam, Christianity or Sikhism, the foremost religious or ethical principle is the Fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. Another significant aspect of Judaic ethics is that reward and punishment for one’s deed take place in this world. No next world is assumed.
Jew Prophets and Their Role
(i) Prophets — Moral Conscience of Jews
The appearance of a long chain of Prophets over a number of centuries after Moses, presuming he was a historical figure, is an uncommon occurrence in the religious history of the Jews. The role these Prophets have played has been unique, beneficent and ennobling. The Prophets were ordinary persons, but they had their moments or periods of inspiration or vision when they made their prophesies with the same sense of assurance and compulsion as that of any mystic. It is evident that Moses’s vision of the Jews is quite exclusive and national. But, it is indeed admirable that these Prophets while making their criticisms or prophesies, have been far more universal in their approach, vision and sympathies than the original nationalistic thesis of Moses would seem to warrant. Undoubtedly, they have by their deeds and words helped the Judaic society to broaden their affinities and to remould their thoughts towards universal ideas. There is hardly a great thought which they have not expressed with conviction and sincerity.
Judaism had 48 Prophets and 7 Prophetesses. For obvious reasons, we shall state only salient features of their thought and work. David and Solomon have been exalted heroes of Judaic history. They and other rulers were very clearly criticised by the Prophets for their lapses, corruption and lavish living. David was accused of contriving to destroy General Uriah, the Hittite, and marrying his wife Bathsheba, whom he coveted. Similarly, Solomon, who had a large harem, introduced the worship of other gods in the Temple in order to please his Egyptian wife. It is the bold and healthy criticism of these Prophets that not only kept the rulers on the path of sanity and rectitude, but also helped to maintain public morale at a high level. For, they always kept the basic principles of ethics in view, namely, help to man, protest against injustice, and fight for truth and righteousness. Prophets Amos, Hosea and Isaiah also advised the rulers to remain prepared in order to fight, and dispel the armies of prospective invaders and attackers; or with what country to fight and with which to avoid war. In fact, to the Prophets goes the credit of mellowing down the nationalism or exclusivism of the Jews. Prophet Amos considered all men to be equal in the eyes of God who was the Lord of all mankind.
(ii) Reward and Punishment in this World
The Torah contemplates that all reward and punishment take place in this world. The Prophets too talk generally of reward or punishment in this very world. They were not otherworldly. In fact, so often many of the Prophets like Jeremiah have attributed adversity of slavery of the Jews to their failure to observe the Laws of God, and as His punishment to them. Since Torah and the Prophets prescribed a system that involved a combination of the spiritual and the empirical life of man and a struggle for righteousness, they contemplate reward and punishment to be a part of the dispensation in this world.
A corollary of this view is the difficult question of pain and sufferance of good persons in this world. The Book of Job discusses this question but hardly furnishes an answer. Job does not mention that there is anything like hell or heaven for man. Man’s story, he believes, virtually ends with his death. “So he who goes down to the grave does not return. He will never come to his house again.”16 “For I will soon lie down in the dust; you will search for me, but I will be no more.”17 “Man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble. He springs up like a flower and withers away like a fleeting shadow, he does not endure.” “Man’s days are determined; you have decreed the number of his months and have set limits he cannot exceed.”18 “Only a few years will pass before I go on the journey of no return.”19 “He will perish for ever, like his own dung;”20
Presumably because of the myth of the Fall, Bildad, Job’s friend, even talks about the basic sinfulness of man. “How can one born of woman be pure ?”21
(iii) Man’s Aim is to do Righteous Deeds
Though Job is unable to understand the injustice done to him and pleads man’s incapacity to comprehend His ways, yet he asserts with emphasis and conviction in what lies real wisdom and understanding for man : “Where then does wisdom come from ? Where does understanding dwell? It is hidden from the eyes of every living thing.” “God understands the way to it and He alone knows where it dwells.” Job lays down a profound truth for man to follow. “ The fear of Lord — that is wisdom, and to shun evil is understanding.”22 Elihu stated : “Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong.” And again he gives another great truth. “Can he who hates justice govern ?”23 Ultimately Job admits his or man’s limitations. “Surely I spoke of things I do not understand; things too wonderful for me to know.”24
The Sikh Gurus have also stated : “Wonderful, Wonderful, Unknowable, Indescribable, is He.” In sum, Job feels that it is not given to man to know His logic and ways, he is to do things in fear of God. The same thing is stressed by the Gurus. “Wonderful is His Will, if one walks in His Will then one knows how to lead the life of truth.”25 It is a new epistemological doctrine. The two activities are not separate but simultaneous, because a Will known is essentially a Will carried out. “They who know His Will, carry it out.”26 Knowing is doing.
In Judaism, the stress is on doing righteous deeds and helping one’s fellow beings. The present world is the field of doing religious activities and practising righteousness. Therefore, there is no sanction on withdrawal or other-worldliness.
The Prophets, as in the Torah, make positive recommendations for the use of force for a truthful cause. Both Amos and Isaiah advised the kings to prepare for war against Assyria. Isaiah recommended that there should be no corruption in life so as to make the country strong and enable it to fight the enemy; otherwise Assyria would conquer Israel.27 The Prophet also advised with whom to go to war, or to avoid it. Ecclesiastes lays stress on doing justice and protecting the rights of the poor.28 The tradition of struggle for righteousness and war is so strong that later the famous Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi J.B. Baba asked disciple Rabbis, namely, Judah, Ilai, Yochai, Chalaphta, Simon, Nehemia and Meir, to join the rebels against the Romans. These Rabbis fought and revolted against the Romans. They were tortured to death or died as revolutionaries. The Rabbis were all outstanding scholars, they espoused the cause of rebels and partook in the rebellion.29 Similarly, Zealots and Bar Kochpa also organised revolts against the Romans, though their rebellions were mercilessly destroyed.
May be, because of centuries of slavery, migration and dispersal suffered by the Jews, there is a streak of pessimism in Judaism as is clear from the Book of Job and otherwise too. For two years, it is recorded, the disciples of Hillel and Shammai, two top theologians, debated about the fate and life of man. Finally, they came to the dismal conclusion that it would have been better if man had not been born.30 But so far as the Torah is concerned, it is positively optimistic because it says, “Choose life.” Therefore, all withdrawal is contrary to the system of Torah. The Ecclesiastes describes all things to be meaningless and transient. All wisdom and things are of no value. Yet, in the end like Job, the conclusion is, “Fear God and keep his Commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.”31 In short, the Old Testament commends a “doing life,” a life of activity and faith in Him, according to His ethical commandments. It is the same thing as Guru Nanak lays down for the Sachiara or the true man, namely, “carrying out the Will of God.”32
Three points are the consistent features of most of the Prophets, namely, righteous activities, use of force for a righteous cause, and reward and punishment in this world. The utterances of these Prophets are a clear endorsement of the principles of the whole-life thesis of the Torah. It speaks volumes for the spiritual health of the Prophets that they have been more universal and optimistic in their conduct, expression and statements than otherwise the context or the historical conditions of the society would warrant.
(iv) Universalism and Optimism of Jewish Prophets
There is another admirable feature of the Jewish prophets who, charged with their vision and ethical zeal, have tried to transcend the limitations both of their context and the system, which, because of the sinfulness of man, suggests virtually a pre-determined world.
Evil in life is a fact of our experience. The reaction of spiritual men to this existential situation has been in two ways, leading to two different religious developments. Most of them find the situation very difficult and incurable, both because of the constitutional and egoistic weakness of man and of the heavy and insuperable odds of the historical situations. The reaction of one group in such a situation is of withdrawal, isolation and piety, with individual salvation as the spiritual goal. In a few cases, the spiritual persons have reacted altogether differently. They have pursued the path of confrontation with the forces of evil, ending sometimes in sufferings and martyrdoms.
Jewish history records that at the very inception of His revelation to Moses, God directed the Jews to take to war, attack the Canaanites and occupy their lands. For centuries, the Judaic society flourished politically and socially. However, later there were many setbacks. Religious men had no rational answer to the problem of sufferings of the righteous person. The only answer Job could give was that man could not comprehend the mystery of His ways and that the basic weakness of Original Sin could not be outgrown.
We find that Jewish Prophets like Jeremiah and some men of religion felt that the adversity of the Jews following the Babylonian attack, or later after the Roman conquest, was a justified punishment from God for the failure of the Jews to live by His commandments.33 Hence Jeremiah recommened non-resistance. Thereafter, started the growth of Judaic sects that took to withdrawal, pacifism, asceticism, mysticism and even celibacy. They lived isolated group-life in communes or small colonies. Such reaction to adversity or evil is a significant development in the religious history of man. After the Babylonian attack in the sixth century BC, there appeared a number of withdrawal, mystic and pacifist sects like the Essenes, Kabbalists, Therapeutae, Hassidists, etc. True, the majority of the Jews continued to believe in the Laws of the Torah and its system, but the appearance and the continued existence of a number of Judaic sects that had almost shed the whole-life approach of the Torah, became over the centuries, a regular feature of the Jewish life.
It is a marvellous achievement of some of the Jewish Prophets that despite all these historical setbacks, they took a distinctly optimistic view of life, not only for the Jews, but also for man as a whole.
The Myth of Original Sin and the Fall of man suggests that redemption by the grace of God is the only hope of man. Otherwise, he is doomed to live without hope of any radical improvement. For, Bilads, as quoted earlier, regards man as sinful and without hope : “a son of man, who is only a worm.” Obviously, this is the reason that Toynbee feels that the ingrained amount of good or bad that is there in the modern man is the same as was present in his early ancestors. It is, indeed, a gloomy picture that Toynbee portrays for the future of human civilization. May be, the ghastly tragedies of the two World Wars and the increasing presence of atomic stockpiles with the power-intoxicated leaders of the world was too heavy a burden on the sensitive psyche of the learned author to shed, and instead visualize a bright dawn for the fallen man.
Yet, a long period of adversity could not dampen the spirit of these Prophets who hold out hope of a harmonious life for man. Prophet Micah predicts that ultimately truth shall prevail, and there would be a time when a nation would not lift the sword against another nation, and they would give up war and live at peace with each other.34 Similarly, Isaiah speaks that in the long run righteousness and justice would prevail in the world; “Wolf shall dwell with the lamb and leopard shall lie down with the kid.” “They shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks; nation will not lift up sword against nation.”35 “There would be no peace for Israel as long as any part of the world endures sufferings.”36 Strangely, Jeremiah also hopes for the return of good times, but only for Jews, who would be brought back from slavery under Babylonia. Amos too professes that in the end God would be merciful to the world. He says that God is the Lord of all mankind, and will be kind to them.37 Zephaniah prophesies that there would come a time when all nations would know Him and serve Him.38 The Seers of the Apocalypse envision that ultimately God will bring peace to this world, but before that a bloody struggle will have to be waged with Satan involving great suffering to those who are fighting for justice in this world.39 It is also recorded in the Talmud that God showed His universal concern, because He reprimanded Moses for being engaged in prayers in praise of Him, while God’s creatures were drowning in the sea.40
It is persumably because of their universal approach that these Prophets make the proverbial prophesy that ultimately there would be peace and harmony in the world. These statements of theirs, in the context in which they were made, show superhuman vision, faith and optimism. For the student of religion, these statements, as coming from men of God, have great spiritual significance. Job’s answer indicates that, while he is unwilling to leave his chosen path of righteousness, he cannot explain his adversity and sufferings. But these Jewish Prophets rise above their milieu and express a spirit of hopefulness and spiritual optimism for man, despite the presence of evil and adversity that they faced and suffered. The reaction of this group of religious men is entirely different from that of the pacifists who take to withdrawal. This group confronts evil and struggles against injustice. Martyrdom is the end result of such a struggle. We have already referred to the heroic struggle of Rabi Akiba and many other Rabbis who rebelled against the Romans and were tortured to death. This is the path God advised to Moses in His revelation as recorded in the Torah.
(v) Rise of Pacificism and Mysticism
We have seen that the Torah clearly recommends a whole-life system with undoubted interest in the pursuit of righteousness in this world. But the Babylonian attack and the destruction of the Temple changed the socio-political situation radically. These historical events caused a number of religious developments as well. On the one hand, it led to the introduction of the Messianic idea so as to maintain the spirit of the people and their faith in the Torah. On the other hand, it gave rise to a number of pacifist and mystic sects that withdrew from the mainstream of the Judaic society. In consequence, as against the Commandments in the Torah, and the statements of Prophets like Amos, Hosea and Mica (of the sixth and seventh century BC) that recommend struggle and war in pursuit of righteousness, the opinions of the pacifist sects are mostly to the contrary.
The new realities that developed need some explanation and understanding. Indisputably, the Torah combines the spiritual and the empirical aspects of life. It accepts socio-political objectives and responsibilities, because these become necessary when the neighbour has to be treated as oneself and he has to be protected from injustice and oppression. The family is the sanctified unit of all socio-spiritual life. As against it, pacifist and mystic sects have different values : withdrawal, pacifism, asceticism, hope of individual salvation and celibacy are their prominent features. The contrast in values and methodologies is complete. The Bible emphasises that procreation is a desirable value. Prophet Isaiah says, “The world was created on the basis of procreation so that he who does no offspring actually destroys the world order.”41 But the Essenes, the main pacifist sect, of the Jews, say that celibecy has a value and helps to “attain true holiness.”42
The Tannaim opposes it saying, “A teaching which would destroy the institution of the Jewish home and thus ultimately spell the end of the Jewish people, must be false and dangerous.”43 Pacificist sects in Judaism, thus, opposed by implication the basic teaching of the Torah. Such sects appeared in the sixth century BC following the prophesy of Jeremiah suggesting non-resistance to the Babylonian attack.
It is a fact of history that systems which are originally whole-life become pacifist when their religious elan is on the ebb and they are unable to fight the battles of life and confront evil and injustice. The first signs and acknowledgement of defeat in pursuing righteousness are the acceptance of dichotomy or division between one’s spiritual life and empirical life. The man of religion withdraws from the main social stream and takes to asceticism, monasticism, mysticism and celibacy with the objective of personal piety and salvation. It is a complete reversal from the whole-life ideals where the objective is “struggle for righteousness” or “carrying out the Will of God.” In this struggle against evil, martyrdom is quite often the end result. The goals, methodologies and values in the two systems are quite different. Whole-life ideologies, therefore, call pacifist ideologies dichotomous, escapist, isolationist, narrow, negative and even selfish.
Seen historically, it is evident that these changes in Judaism came because the society was unable to match the challenge of the Babylonians, and later of the Romans, and the man of religion took to the path of isolation, mysticism and withdrawal. The new ideals were radically opposed to the revelation of Moses and the Torah. But pacifist and mystic sects like the Essenes, Kabbalists, the Therapeutae and Merkabah mystics flourished and continued for over 600 years within the Jewish fold.
The recovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has disclosed the presence of a colony of religious men that existed in the first and second century BC and contributed to the pacifist ideals. Spencer gives us a detailed account of the visitations of Prophet Ezekiel and other mystic groups that took to experiencing visions and mystic states. He particularly mentions the mysticism of Merkabah which had many groups of followers. Philo gives a description of these and Greek groups who divorced themselves completely from life and its pleasures and griefs. They took to esoteric practices in order to attain mystic states and spiritual visions. These pacifist and mystic sects accepted what was magical and miraculous, and the use of similar practices. Spencer considers these developments in Judaism to be purely under the influence of the Hellenistic culture. The Riders of Merkabah used ascetic practices like fasting, ablutions, etc.44
The strange part of such mysticism is that, whereas according to the Torah God is completely transcendent and different from man, these mystics almost invariably tend to suggest identity between God and the human soul. It is a singular fact that all monotheistic systems theologically declare a clear difference between the Creator and the creature. But many of these mystics from Judaism, Christianity, Greece or Islam suggest pantheism. In fact, these tendencies have always been found untenable, and have even been called heretical by the main Church of the concerned religions that are theistic. Spencer records : “Jewish mystics may indeed have shrunk from drawing that conclusion explicitly, but at least it may be said that there was for them no infinite gulf between soul and God, no absolute division between the world of living beings and the Creator.”45 These groups would resort to penance and self-imposed sufferings and like ascetic practices. Since, in their long history, Jews failed to achieve independence, and had to suffer slavery or dispersal, these esoteric, otherworldly and mystical cults of withdrawal gained faith and following among them.
The majority of the Jews, however, continued to believe in the Torah, especially those led by the Sadducees, but their beliefs were more ritualistic than realistic. It is also true that militancy among the Jews never died completely. The Zealots and Bar Kochba organised militant resistance against the Romans though they suffered heavily. Rabbis like Akiba and Meir and others supported and partook in the revolts. Most of them were done to death or persisted in the struggle which they felt was in pursuance of the Law in the Torah.
The religious history of Judaism is a clear example to show why and when pacifist sects appear in the life of a religious community.
(vi) Concept of Resurrection and Redemption
The Book of Job, which specifically deals with the subject of righteous living and the future of the good man, never talks of any other or future world of hopes. Neither the Torah, nor the early prophets, nor the Sadducees and early Pharisees mention the hope of a better world or heaven for a good person and hell for the bad. In fact, the very concept of a Messiah rose after the Babylonian attack and destruction of the First Temple. At that time, the socio-political conditions were at the lowest ebb; the concept of a Messiah who would bring hope and succour to the fallen Jews was, thus, raised. Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel were the chief protagonists of the Messianic idea. Along with it were floated ideas about what the Messiah would do. Originally, it was believed that the Messiah would bring about the resurrection of the dead and give them a renewed or new life in this very world. This was the view of the Sadducees when they later came to accept the Messianic idea. The pacifist groups or the Essenees, however, raised the concepts of the next world, heaven and hell, where the dead would be resurrected or the soul of man would go. Some later philosphers, like Saadia, who suggests creation ex nihilo, also talk of a soul after the physical death of man, but the soul would remain virtually isolated and enjoy spiritual bliss. Such ideas were advanced particularly by the mystic groups, who, it is said, were mainly influenced by Greek ideas or, may be, ideas from India. It is well-known that the corresponding Greek society, where Platonic and Neoplatonic ideas were ruling, was also on its socio-cultural decline. There, too, mystic ideas about the next world, as detailed by Philo, were current. It is only after the rise of the Messianic idea that concepts of the next world and the soul were floated, especially by the Essenes and other mystic groups. Otherwise, as the Torah and the early Jewish history show, there is no concept of a next world or a soul in them.
It is, therefore, logical to infer that in a whole-life system, withdrawal, pacifism, inactivity and a theory of Hell and Heaven or a next world, are a contradiction in terms. This is especially so, because man, as a consequence of his Original Sin and the Fall from Paradise, is destined to continue in this world. This is the important basic concept which we have to bear in mind in our study of the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. All of them are whole-life systems and accept the above myth. Evidently, when man is once thrown into this world for his sin, the question of his being raised to hell or heaven or to another world cannot be congruous with the myth of his Fall.
(vii) The Messianic Phenomenon
The history of Judaism from the time of the Babylonian attack and the destruction of the First Temple in the sixth century BC and to the appearance of Christ in the first century BC is indeed a classic case for study. It shows that when the zeal of a system is spent, socio-political events sometimes affect religious developments and ideas of a people.
Before the Babylonian attack, the Myth of the Fall of Adam and the Commandments in the Torah, directing the pursuit of righteousness in this world, were the firm basis of the religious system of the Jews. The long chain of Prophets endorsed the revelation of God to Moses, and guided the life of the community in the light of the Commandments given to it in the Torah. But the destruction of the Temple and the enslavement of the Jews changed the socio-political situation radically. Even before the Babylonian attack, the socio-religious health of the Jews was lean. Jeremiah prophesied that the Babylonian invasion would be a punishment by God for lapses of the Jews in observing His Commandments. He advised non-resistance and acceptance of their fate as determined by God. After this followed centuries of slavery. Even when the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and build the Second Temple, their political independence was never restored. Later came the Roman attacks and the inclusion of the area in the Empire.
During this period of over five centuries, religious developments and ideas changed materially. New concepts were introduced and earlier ones were seriously modified, if not controverted completely. The first development was the increasing appearance of pacifism and the growth of many sects which owned dichotomous ideologies and propagated allied views. It is significant that while in the Torah there is no concept of another world, heaven or hell, or of rewards or punishments in a next world, or of pacifism, such ideas appeared in the Jewish life only after the rise of the pacifist sects that had withdrawn from the world consequent to the success of the Babylonian invasion, destruction of the Temple and mass enslavement of the Jews. Originally, it is well-known that the Torah contemplated reward or punishment in this very world. As in the Book of Job, death in this world was permanent and this was the view accepted by the Sadducees. When the Messianic idea was floated to raise the dwindling spirits of the Jews, the Messiah was to salvage the Jews from slavery, restore the independence of the country, bring back the lost tribes and raise the level of the Jewish society to glorious heights. He was to do redemption and resurrection of the dead, but the new life of the community was to take place in this very world. But pacifism and the withdrawal of the religious man from the social field brought about deep dichotomy in the life of the community. This dichotomy caused destruction of moral cohesion and strength of the society. It lost its moorings and its ability to resist evil or to pursue righteousness. This led to schism in the very core of the human psyche. Dichotomy saps the moral basis of the human personality which becomes pathetically split, resulting in increasing disintegration of the social fabric and its moral stamina to face all challenges of life in its pursuit of a righteous course. Since the sixth century, there was an increase of pacifist sects, chief among which were the Essenes. Correspondingly, in the social field, there was a mounting erosion of moral strength and social values. Instead of societal values and struggle for righteousness, religious values came to be isolation, withdrawal, pacifism, mystic practices and celibacy. Punishment, reward and hope of a better life were to take place in a next world and not in the present one. The values of the two systems, the earlier whole-life one, and the later dichotomous one, were completely contrasted. The reasons for this change are obvious. When the religious elan and zeal of a system are on the decline, it is unable to confront or struggle against the unjust forces of life. The religious men being too feeble to meet the challenges, withdraw from life and take to monasticism, personal piety, asceticism and celibacy. Slowly, esoteric ideas of “a world to come,” “a soul,” and “a world of pure joy” are raised. The Essenes, who were the principal pacifist sect, took up these ideas of an “immortal soul” and “a world to come.” Originally the Pharisees did not accept the Messianic idea, as it misguided the energies of the people, but later some of them owned ideas of “a next world,” Heaven or Hell. The resurrection of the dead, which was originally to happen in this world, was later suggested to take place in another world. Such ideas, as were foreign to the Torah, were given currency. But the Sadducees, who were the Jewish elite in power in the religious field, generally rejected all ideas and concepts contrary to those in the Torah. It is obvious that sects that had themselves abandoned the social world, remained unconcerned with its fate and the socio-political conditions of the people. Their followers believed in life and hope only in the next world. Mystic sects developed their own methodologies and “a dream-world of pure joy” and “union with God.”
We only seek to emphasise that withdrawal and pacifism invariably lead to impoverishment in the socio-political field, demoralisation of the society and a distinct fall in its social cohesion and ethical levels. On the other hand, ideas of “mysticism,” “Heaven and Hell,” “pure joy for the soul,” “reward and punishment in the next world” are raised and propagated. Thus, dichotomy leads to division between the religious field and the socio-political field; the spiritualists leave the latter, and the secularists own it. The values and goals of the two systems are apparently contrasted.
The significant fact is that the history of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Greece shows that the withdrawal of the religious men from life leads to an increase in pacifist, monastic and mystic sects and their ideologies and methodologies. Dichotomy and pacifism always coincide with a corresponding fall in the religious elan and social cohesion of the society to face socio-moral challenges.
An important feature of a whole-life system is that its struggles for truth and justice almost invariably culminate in martyrdom as a phenomenon. But it is not so in pacifist or withdrawal sects, for, they never take up the course of struggle in this life.
In sum, the phenomenon of the Messianic idea, which was hoped to raise the morale of the people, in effect, led to religious developments that ultimately caused further social disintegration and demoralisation.
The Coming of the Christ
There were two parrallel currents of life among the Jews, when Christ appeared on the scene. On the one side, the Essenes and the mystics were holding the field as leaders of true religious pursuits, but they remained unconcerned with the socio-political life of the people at large. Their religious ideas and practices were mostly contrary to the views of the Torah, though they sought to reinterpret it for their own purposes. In the life of the community, the Sadducees and the Pharisees were the chief groups who sought to practise and interpret the Torah. The Sadducees, being the elite group in control of the Temple, were mainly interested in continuance of the form and in ritualistic observance of the sacrifices and the Laws of Moses. The life of the community as a whole stood socially disintegrated. The Pharisees started giving credence to the otherworldly views and concepts of the pacifists and mystic groups. In short, the emphasis on ethical and social living recommended by the Torah, mainly love of God and of the neighbour, became virtually a paper dogma. The pacifists continued with their esoteric and mystic efforts to join the soul with God.
It is at this time that Christ appeared on the scene in the first century BC. His life has been both an irony and a tragedy. Undoubtedly, Christ’s heritage was completely Judaic and he never wanted to alter the Law in the Torah. In fact, he was true to the Torah. The essence of the Torah, namely, “love of God with all your heart and your neighbour as yourself,” is also the emphatic message of Christ in the New Testament. It is the message of a whole-life ideology. Throughout his life, he was strongly critical of immorality in society, injustice to the poor, and the ritualistic and other corrupt practices that had grown in the Jewish life in those times. He condemned irreligious practices in the Temple which had become a place of crime. In fact, many earlier prophets like Samuel had also stated that God needs no sacrifices;46 and Jeremiah had called the Temple a den of crime.47
The position of the Jewish society then, after centuries of slavery, was virtually the same as was its condition in Egypt before the revelation of Moses. The Jews stood disintegrated and dispirited. The tragedy was that Christ came with a revelation, but the people were, whatever may be the reason, not prepared to accept him. Christ, who had been ordianed with a new mission, straightaway confronted the religious leaders in Jerusalem. True, it has been suggested, especially after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, that Christ was, perhaps, an Essenes. But the known activities of Christ in the life of Jewish society do not show that he ever took up the quietist path. He might or might not have had earlier association with the Essenes or a like sect. But many facts controvert the suggestion of his being an Essenes. The independence of his call from God and his mission are gloriously obvious. He pursued it with prophetic zeal and conviction. Second, far from settling down as a quietist and withdrawing from the mainstream, as quietists were doing, he worked tirelessly among the people and confronted the religious establishments both at the Temple and otherwise.
Let us recapitulate the facts of the ideological background and creed of Christ. Except for the Sermon on the Mount, there is no difference between the religious principles of the Torah and those of the New Testament. As argued by Cahn, germs of the Sermon on the Mount are there in the 25th chapter of the Book of Proverbs which is the same thing as represented by Paul in his Epistle to the Romans, i.e., thoughts of non-resistance, forgiveness, and succour and assistance to the opponent are also a part of the Old Testament.
One of the outstanding Christian clergymen of our time, the Reverend Dr John Haynes Holmes, in a brochure entitled, Christianity’s Debt to Judaism; Why Not Acknowledge It ? wrote :
“Let me begin what I have to say this morning with Jesus, who is the centre and soul of Christian faith. There are three things to be made plain about this man.
“In the first place, I would remind you that Jesus’ parents were Jews. Whether his father, Joseph, was of “the stem of Jesse,” and thus of the royal house of David, as the Bible states, is altogether unknown. As a matter of fact, we know very little about Joseph — only that he lived in Nazareth in Galilee, that he was a carpenter by trade, and that he died, in all probability, before Jesus came to manhood...... But amid all this obscurity, there remains the indubitable truth that these two persons, who are so venerated by the Christian Church, were both of them Jews.
“The second fact is of course that Jesus, as the oldest child of these parents, was thus himself a Jew. Two attempts have been made to break down and destroy this simple fact. The first is theological, and is to be found in the dogma of the Virgin Birth, which represents Jesus as born not of Joseph and Mary, but of a divine conception of God upon Mary. But this leads to the fascinating and impressive conclusion, seldom mentioned in doctrinal discussion, that out of all the tribes of earth, God chose a Jewish maiden for the incarnation of his dearly beloved and only begotten son......
“The third thing to be said about the Jewishness of Jesus is that he was reared and trained in the Jewish faith. His parents were pious Jews; they went up each year to Jerusalem to keep the feast of the Passover ! They taught Jesus, by precept and example, to attend the synagogue, where he became acquainted with the Bible of his race. In his early manhood, it was his custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, which is more than a good many Jews do today; and he began his public ministry, so the record tells us, by standing up in the synagogue in Nazareth and reading from the Prophet Isaiah. In spirit as well as in blood, this Nazarene was a son of Israel.
“It is from these three points of view — his parents, his birth, and his religious training — that we must agree that Jesus was a Jew. It is to the Jews that the Christians owe this peerless leader and founder of their faith. I would go so far as to say that we cannot understand Jesus unless we acknowledge that his rightful place in history is that of the last and greatest of the Jewish Prophets. It is to me as incredible that the Jews do not recognize this fact as it is discreditable that the Christians do not recognize it......”
And again he concludes :
“We are beginning now, perhaps, to understand how stupendous is the debt which Christians owe to Jews. Not only Jesus himself, but the Bible, the Church, and Sunday all come from Jewish sources. But not yet have we gotten to the heart of the matter. What about the teachings of Christianity — those great truths of the moral and spiritual life which constitute the essence of the Gospel ? The things which Jesus taught — were these original with him, or did they spring from the Judaism in which Jesus was born and reared ? ...
“If any statement of Jesus is commonly cited as the complete and perfect summary of his religion, it is the dual commandment, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself. Where
does this come from ? First of all from the New Testament story of the lawyer who tempted Jesus, saying, what shall I do to inherit eternal life ? But originally from the Old Testament, in two famous passages. The first is from Deuteronomy 6:4 :
“Hear O Israel, the Lord thy God, is one Lord; and thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might.”
The second is from Leviticus 19:18 :
“Thou shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge...... but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
“If anything is original with Jesus, it would seem to be his non-resistance — his injunction in the Sermon on the Mount to “resist not evil.” This received its supreme expression in Jesus’ Commandment that we should love our enemies. This is very obviously a protest against and correction of the Jewish law of retaliation : “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.” This law, without any question, appears in the Old Testament. Jesus was mindful of it, and would get rid of it. But he was not the first to take this stand. Long since the Jewish Prophets had laid hold upon the doctrine of love and forgiveness, even of enemies. But in one brief passage of the Old Testament we have an anticipation of this positive aspect of non-resistance which is breathtaking.
“If I were asked to name the most beautiful expression of Jesus’ teaching on this point, I would turn to St Paul’s great Epistle to the Romans, and read the closing verses of the twelfth chapter : ‘If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink; for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.’ If there is anything original in Christianity, this would certainly seem to be it. Yet, turn to the twenty-fifth chapter of the Book of Proverbs, the twenty-first verse, and what do you find ? ‘If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and he be thirsty, give him water to drink; for thou wilt heap coals of fire upon his head.’ Even in his teaching of love, for enemies as well as friends, Jesus was only faithful to the noblest precepts of the Jews !
“All this shows what Jesus was really doing in his ministry. Not preaching a new religion, but reviving the pure and undefiled religion of Israel ! ......”48
Bertrand Russell also feels that seen in its Jewish background, the New Testament is not very new. For example, the severity of attitude towards non-Jews as expressed in the Book of Enoch is also reflected in the Christian thought, which is far from being charitable towards dissenters or sinners. Early Christian Fathers like Clement treated it canonical. This book “... influenced New Testament doctrine, particularly as regards the Messiah, Sheol (Hell), and demonology.”49 This book also has parables which are more cosmic than those of the New Testament. In the Last Judgement, there is no charity towards Gentiles who do not repent, and they would go to eternal damnation. There is no charity whatsoever towards sinners on the day of judgement, their soul shall descend into Sheol and they shall suffer for ever darkness and burning flame. “But as for the righteous, ‘I and my Son will be united with them for ever.’”50
Russell says that The Testament of Twelve Patriarchs written by a Pharisee is a very enobling book much of which appears in the New Testament or the Sermon on the Mount and the Gospels.”51 Dr R.H. Charles writes, “The Sermon on the Mount reflects in several instances the spirit, and even reproduces the very phrases of our text : many passages in the Gospels exihibit the traces of the same, and St Paul seems to have used the book as a vade-mecum.”52 The book contains the following :
“Love ye one another from the heart; and if a man sin against thee, speak peaceably to him, and in thy soul hold not guile; and if he repents and confesses, forgive him, but if he deny it, do not get into a passion with him, lest catching the poison from thee he take to swearing, and so then sin doubly...... And if he be shameless and persist in wrong-doing, even so forgive him from the heart, and leave to God the avenging.”53
Dr Charles is of the opinion that Christ must have been acquainted with this passage. Again we find in the book; “‘Love the Lord and your neighbour.’ ‘Love the Lord through all your life and one another with a true heart.’ ‘I love the Lord; likewise also every man with all my heart.’” Further all hatred is condemned in the book and the author holds that “... not only the Jews but all the gentiles will be saved.”54 This ideology was followed by the Hassids, another pacificist sect of Jews, and their teachings “... found their natural home in the bosom of primitive Christianity.”55
It is strikingly evident that Christ’s overt activities, while they were not in line with those of the quietists, were clearly and openly in pursuit of the ideology of the Torah. Even more than any earlier Prophet, he was critical of the degradation and corruption among the ruling elites. He even struck a direct blow at the evil practices at the Temple. None of the earlier prophets had proceeded beyond making oral statements. Christ’s mission is evident from the fact that he worked among the people, and the lowest of them, with prophetic emphasis, superhuman zeal and urgency. Naturally, his activities were not acceptable to the governing elite of the Jews. Hence, whereas the poor Jews accepted him as the Messiah, those in power disowned him. The very fact that his end involved confrontation with the State and consequent martyrdom, clearly shows that he was far from being a pacificist or a lone mystic. And, he was evidently not with the Sadducees, the main religious group of his times. Pacificists have never played the role that Christ did. Never has a pacificist been martyred by the State. Unfortunately, the historical situation was static. The bulk of the Jews were neither aware, nor willing to follow him. And those who followed him were too poor, enervated and feeble to take up confrontation with the State. They did follow him and suffered tremendously in keeping their faith. But as a society, they were too disintegrated to organise a struggle against the Roman might.
Christ’s confrontation with the State is of great significance. For, theologians like J.B. Metz, E. Kasemann, Moltmann and others talk of a “political theology” and the “freedom” of man generated by the crucifixion of Christ. Moltmann urges “the cross is our political critique, the cross is our hope for a politics of freedom. The memory of Christ crucified compels us to a political theology.”56 In short, whether it is the process of war, or of martyrdom at the cross, both are monumental political events on the path of confrontation and struggle against the forces of evil. Actually, it is the path of love of God and help to the neighbour against oppression and injustice. For, as Guru Nanak says : “God is the Destroyer of the evil and the demonical,”57 and “His Will has to be carried out by the man of religion.”58
In the ideological field, thus, there is hardly a difference between Christianity and Judaism, both of which accept the Old Testament as their scriptural guide. But developments in the historical field led to hostility between the two societies. In the socio-political field, the Romans were the rulers, and the Sadducees were co-operating with them as the local religious and political elite. They were the masters of the Temple. All the activities of Christ were against known corruption in the religious and social fields. He attacked malpractices at the Temple and hypocrisy and degradation of the Jewish elite that controlled it.
We are aware that respect for Prophets and hope of a Messiah were a part of the Judaic tradition. Even confrontation with the Roman rulers was openly taking place by a section of the Judaic society. Jews belonging to sects like the Zealots fought and revolted against the Romans. In their anger, the Romans virtually harrowed Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple. Rabbis like Akiba and Meir suggested revolt and war against the Romans. Rabbi Akiba and his six Rabbi disciples and supporters joined the revolt against Romans but were destroyed. But these being minority revolts by religious groups, they were crushed ruthlessly. There was hardly a unified Jewish society to struggle, as a united whole, against the Roman rule. Quietist and mystic sects stood aside divorced from the socio-religious objectives of the Jews. The conditions of the common Jews were quite poor. They were demoralised and lived in the hope of relief to their sufferings. They accepted Christ as the promised and predicted Messiah. For these Christians, he was the Word made Flesh. Thus, there came to be a serious rift between the followers of Christ, who were also Jews, and the Jewish elite. The latter would naturally not accept him, because they would have lost their leadership and interest in the Temple. They accused Christ of blasphemy and ultimately got him executed, even though earlier it had been prophesied that this time God Himself would descend as the Messiah. A Messiah did come, but was disowned. The crucifixion of Christ increased friction and hostility between the two societies — Christians and Jews.
Christians, being pacifists, would not later join the army and this would further provoke the ire of the State which was supported by the hostile Jews. Large scale persecution and martyrdom of Christians followed. Thus, it is purely the historical circumstances that created not only a new religion, but also abiding hostility between Christians and Jews that lasted for almost 18 centuries.
The century after Christ’s crucifixion is the period of travail and acute sufferings for the Christians. They underwent great tyrannies. Thousands of them were destroyed and martyred, because they would not shed their faith in Christ and accept the Roman Emperor as the representative of God on earth. Christians lived in the hope of the old Jewish tradition that Christ was the Messiah, i.e., God Himself, who by his crucifixion had redeemed them. This faith was passed on as “good news,” suggesting that the day of redemption and resurrection was not far off, when they would be elevated to Heaven from this mundane world.
The greatness of Christ is unique. It lifted an impoverished society to a moral height and cohesion so uncommon in human history. The same people and the same religious system that had succumbed to the might of the invaders for centuries on end, were rejuvenated, and their self-confidence restored not only to confront morally the fading culture of the Roman Empire, but also to convert that society to the Christian faith.
During the period of their resurgence, the Christians created a new faith and a new scripture. Of course, it took them over 300 years to do so. The task was neither easy nor simple. Christ, as we have seen, accepts the Laws of the Torah as also the essence of its thought, namely, love of God as also of one’s neighbour. He reiterates them in the New Testament. Since love has to be expressed in the world and life here, all human activities become meaningful. This means that the system is whole-life. For, love of the neighbour logically leads to the corollary of giving him due protection against injustice and oppression. Ideologically there is hardly a difference between the ideology of the Torah and that of Christ. Accordingly, the Christians were obliged not only to accept the Old Testament, but also to reiterate its fundamental principles. The only theological difference that came to be was that man’s future hopes and rewards were to materialise in the next world and not in the present one. The system, thus, became to a great extent otherworldly because, even though Christ confronted the State and worked here, the hope of a rewarding future was contemplated only in the next world, and the present world was downgraded. The Christians were far from being in a position to confront the Empire. While they stuck to their faith and suffered persecution by the Roman State, they could not come into an organised conflict with it. That forced the system to become otherworldly. It is this aspect of Christianity that became the subject of criticism by Gibbson and Frazer. They felt that the otherworldly character of Christianity hardly led to any social improvement or cohesion, since the eyes of religious men were always set on the world beyond. This part of their criticism is correct.
Recently, after the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, some suggestions about Christ’s original role and views have been made. Similarity between the Sermon on the Mount and jottings on the Scrolls have also been indicated. Such suggestions appear to be quite simplistic. The Judaic society tolerated without objection for almost 600 years, pacificist sects even though all their systems and values were substantially opposed to the doctrines in the Torah, and its injunctions and ethics. But the same Jewish elite, the Sadducees, could not tolerate the spiritual mission of Christ, even for 2½ years. The confrontation came despite the fact that Christ was only trying to revive the faith of Jews in the Torah and the practice of its Law, ethics and injunctions. This fact alone rebuts the suggestion that Christ was just a pacifist Essene or of like views and sympathies. Revolutionaries, whether spiritual or secular, are never tolerated by societies that are fallen. Normally they die a martyr’s death. How true is Bernard Shaw’s view that our human societies find it too difficult and burdensome a task to follow our prophets or to practise the truth they preach. We find it more convenient first to crucify them and then to worship them. This is what the Jews did. For, while they had accepted the pacificist sects for 600 years, even though their views were clearly contrary to those in the Torah, they would not accept Christ, who only wanted them to abide by its Laws and ethics of love of God and of one’s neighbour. Six centuries of pacificism had completely isolated men of religion from the mainstream of Jewish society and life. On the other hand, the socio-political life of the Jews had become not only spiritless and demoralised, but it was also burdened with empty ritualism. Jews had become too disjointed to respond to the Messianic lead of Christ. A long period of dichotomy had sapped its moral cohesion and ethos. It failed, as a whole, to respond to God’s call of love and truth given by Christ. True, all the religious principles which Christ wanted the Jews to follow were nothing new, but six centuries of withdrawal by religious men had created a society sterile of moral stamina. Because of this, religious men’s eyes were fixed on salvation and mystic joys in the next world and not on this world.
Centuries of Post-Christ Developments in Judaism
In the long history of Judaism in its post-Christ developments, there is only one important point, which needs to be mentioned for our purpose. It is known that after the loss of Palestine, Jews migrated to countries in Europe and Russia. Because of the initial years of hostility in Christian countires, they were mostly an unwanted community living in small colonies called ghettos. They suffered many massacres, pogroms and forced expulsions by the Christian majorities. Because of their three-time daily prayers for return to Palestine and their nationalist feeling, they were often looked upon with suspicion. In France, it was suggested that because of their separate nationalism, they should be regarded as foreigners. Slowly, in the 19th century, the pressures from the majority community, both external and internally generated, continued to mount.
In 1807 CE, the issue about the status of Jews was raised before the Jewish Sanhedrin, a body of two third Rabbis and one third leaders of the community. Considering the climate of the times, this body relunctantly agreed to the proposition that Jews were not a people or a nation, but they had only a separate religion.59 Following this, like any other citizen of a State, all local laws were made applicable to them. The same position followed in other countries. Things did not stop at that.
In Germany, Friedlander declared that prayers about Jewish nationalism should be omitted from the Jewish Prayer Book.60 Further, it was suggested that in order to avoid any distinction, the synagogue building should look like the places of worship of the dominant faith in the country, and that in the prayer books, Hebrew as a language should be substituted by the language of the dominant faith, nation or country concerned.61 Later one Jacobson also started supporting Friedlander’s declaration. Jacobson was appointed Finance Minister and in order to please his masters, he introduced many innovations in a synagogue which he opened at his house. Friedlander suggested similar reforms in Berlin. Unfortunately, he introduced the use of music at the synagogue, even though centuries earlier it had been banned by the Rabbis. In 1818 CE, another reformed synagogue was opened at Hamburg, the prayer-book was changed and only a few portions of the prayers were left in Hebrew. Prayers about Zion and return to Jerusalem were eliminated. Similar reforms were also introduced in Hungary and Italy.62
But tensions increased and Jews were asked not to visit such reformed prayer houses. Opposition grew to all these reforms, joint declaration condemning these reforms was made by the Jews, including 40 Rabbis from all over Europe.63 It is well understood that national Governments of States are always inclined to support such reforms as weaken the cohesive base of minorities. And those among the minorities who are anxious to gain favours, are always willing to support such Government favoured moves. The controversy grew, and supporters of reforms also started holding conventions in order to propagate their point of view. Actually it was the emancipation of the Jewry in the 19th century that had given rise to some of these controversies and problems. But, emancipation also gave rise to the Renaissance in a genuine study of Judaism.
After some years of debate, controversy and confusion, the No-Reformers won. Philosopher Steinheim, like Kant, believed that spiritual concepts could not be proved, these had to be accepted as such. Abstract things, he argued, could not be rationalised nor perceived by the senses. Reason, he suggested, was always fallible.64 Another thinker, Rosenzweig, held that revealed ideas must stay in their pristine originality and that religion was eternal. It was not a social idea or theory that needed to be changed. No religious tradition could be re-created. It was strongly urged that the Jewish community had a mission and a message to give to the world. This it could do only as a community and not as individuals.65
In a language of rare beauty, Bergson, a great philospher, talks of the Basic Elan, the Revelation or the Force which moves and directs the world. He says, “the ultimate end of mysticism is the establishment of a contact, consequently of a partial coincidence, with the creative effort which life itself manifests. The effort is of God, if it is not God himself. The great mystic is to be conceived as an individual being, capable of transcending the limitations imposed on the species by its material nature, thus continuing and extending the divine action.”66 Great scholars like M. Hess, Bergson, Einstein, Cohen Ahad Haam, Rosenzweig and Hirsch expressed the view that the national demand for return to Palestine as a Jewish homeland was necessary for the survival of Judaism. Jews have felt that it is the Jewish ethics which has helped the survival of the Jews as a community.
Rosenzweig argued that “the Jews had always regarded even the features of political autonomy, such as land and language, differently from the way they were viewed by other nations. To the Jews, their country had always been ‘a holy land’ and their language ‘the holy tongue,’ and hence the Jews had thought of themselves as ‘a holy nation’ under special obligation to lead a life of holiness in accordance with the Will of God. For this reason, no other country could take the place of Palestine in the heart of the Jew and no language could replace Hebrew as the sacred tongue of Israel. Thus, Israel was an eternal nation.”67 Rosenzweig emphasized his faith that Jewish people “would return to their roots as a holy nation which would endure for ever.”68 The vigorous support of philosphers and scholars gave the Zionist movement great strength. Einstein was a staunch supporter of Zionism and when the state of Israel was formed, he was offered its Presidentship.69 It was stated that spiritual Zionism alone was not adequate, political Zionism was equally essential for the survival of Judaism.70 Herzl wrote the first popular book for the creation of a Jewish state in Israel. During the days of the controversy, it was found that greater the pressure from the majority against the Jews, stronger was the reaction of poorer sections of Jews to stick loyally to their faith. The reaction of the better classes was quite often variant. Because of the growing strength and support to Zionism, the movement for reforms in Judaism died its natural death. The Zionist movement triumphed, and in 1917, the Balfour Declaration for the establishment of a “spiritual centre” in Palestine for Jews of the world was made.
While discussing the Judaic heritage of Christianity, Bertrand Russell makes a few pertinent observations. We shall now see how far our assessment varies from his conclusion. He records six important elements of Christian thought which are traceable to Judaism; first, a theory of Creation as in Genesis; second, that the Jews are the Chosen People and Christians are the elect; third, a system of righteousness with almsgiving as a particular virtue; fourth, hope of a Kingdom of Heaven, with an other-worldly approach; fifth, a revenge psychology towards those who have different religious views; and sixth, un-complimentary views about women.71
Russell particularly mentions that the “exclusiveness of the elect” and its corollary of “revenge psychology” are allied concepts. These, on the one hand, suggest, as was emphasised by Jeremiah and Ezekiel, that all religions except one are false, and, on the other hand, believe that whereas the redeemed Christians would enjoy everlasting bliss, the gentiles, others and the sinners would suffer eternal torment and damnation.72
Evidently, Russell is right that a sense of exclusivism and intolerance towards others are, unfortunately, features that have persisted with Christianity. He suggests that it is the inherited “vengeful psychology” that led to a severe persecution of the Jews in the Middle Ages and till the 19th century. “... Christianity powerfully stimulated anti-Semitism,” he says, “It was only among the Mohammedans at that period that Jews were treated humanely and were able to pursue philosophy and enlightened speculation. Throughout the Middle Ages, the Mohammedan were more civilized and more humane than the Christians. Christians persecuted Jews, especially at times of religious excitement; the Crusaders were associated with appalling pogroms. In Mohammedan countries, on the contrary, Jews at most times were not in any way ill-treated. Especially in Moorish Spain, they contributed to learning; Maimonides (1135-1204), who was born at Cordova, is regarded by some as the source of much of Spinoza’s philosophy.”73
Presumably, the feeling of being the elect has led to the Church doctrine of “extra ecclesiam nulla salus” (outside the Church no salvation) which persists. Despite all efforts at ecumenism and genuine persuasion of the Churches of North America, even in the present century, the World Council of Churches is reluctant to co-operate with other religions against the danger of Secularism, and instead it holds that “Secularisation not Secularism is the primary process, it is a process in which some of the values of the Christian faith have been put in a secular framework, bringing about a powerful force which is destroying all old ideas. Hence, secularisation is an ally because it will destroy Hinduism, Islam and other forms of what they considered to be superstition. So, we should ally ourselves with secularisation and see it as the work of God.”74 In spite of sincere efforts by great Christians to change the policy, the above view persists to date, and inter-religious dialogue on terms of equality is not possible.
On the issue of other-worldliness and the Kingdom of God, Russell writes, “Otherworldliness is a conception which Jews and Christians, in a sense, share with later Platonism, but it takes with them a much more concrete form than with Greek philosophers.”75 It is strange that the learned philosopher has failed to record correctly about the real heritage of Judaism, as in the revelation of Moses and the Torah, which are emphatically this-worldly or whole-life. In the Torah, the next world has no place. It is true that since the time of Jeremiah and the Babylonian attack, pacificist sects withdrew from the mainstream and when the Christians parted company from the Jews, the Essenes, pacificist and mystic groups were quite prominent in the religious field. But, they were, as indicated earlier, far from being the true representatives of the system of Moses. In fact, their views being otherworldly, were contrary to those in the Torah. The tragedy of Christ has been that in the demoralised and dichotomous atmosphere of his time, neither did the elite Jews follow the Messiah, nor did the poor Jews (later Christians), understand his great spiritual mission, which was clearly a reiteration of the message of the Torah; namely, the love of God which is inalienably linked with love of one’s neighbour. It is a this-worldly thesis that also stands embodied in the New Testament. It is a thesis that Christ lived actively. Theologians like Moltmann and J.B. Metz are now clearly emphasising the socio-political magnitude and implications of his confrontation with the State and the crucifixion. There is little doubt that Christ was never with the isolationist and withdrawal sects of the Essenes and the mystics. Nor was he with the Sadducees or Pharisees, whose belief in the Torah was only confined to formalism and ritualism.
It is indeed unfortunate that, whatever be the reasons, Christian theologians like St Augustine, instead of following the this-worldly message of Christ — love of God and of one’s neighbour — as now understood by theologians like Niebuhr, accepted the otherworldly views of his opponents, the Essenes and the like, who thought only of “the Kingdom of God,” “the next world” or “Heaven or Hell,” and not of this world, or of the message of the Torah, which is “this-worldly.” Even Russell concedes that the Sadducees did not accept the otherworldly beliefs of the withdrawal sects since those were contrary to the doctrines of the Torah. May be, pragmatically it suited the new leaders of the Christians to follow a soft course. Presumably, they were unprepared to tread the path of organised struggle and martyrdom and wanted only to reap the benefits of the next world which, they felt, Christ had gifted to them by his martyrdom. The tragedy is that Christ’s martyrdom, instead of leading to a socio-political theology, was made the basis of a theology of the next world, which was a theology of the withdrawal sects and not of Jesus Christ or the Torah. Russell knows full well that Hellenism, Platonism, Neo-pythyagorianism and Stoicism had influenced the withdrawal and mystic sects of Judaism, and later, it is the withdrawal philosophy of these sects that was accepted by the Christians. Thus, Greek philosophy influenced Christianity directly, as well as indirectly, through these withdrawal sects of Judaism. Spencer has detailed how these pacificist and mystic sects of Judaism had been influenced by the contemporary esoteric beliefs and practices of Greek withdrawal groups described by Philo.
Russell also concedes that it is the Maccabean martyrs who were the true representative of Judaism, who saved Judaism and its monotheism. “... thus the blood of the Maccabean martyrs, who saved Judaism, ultimately became the seed of the Church. Therefore, as not only Christendom but also Islam derive their monotheism from a Jewish source, it may well be that the world today owes the very existence of monotheism both in the East and in the West to the Maccabees.”76 It should, however, be clear that these Hasmanaean or Maccabean rebels and martyrs of the second century BC, the inspired followers of the Torah and the revelation of Moses, were not from a group of the Essenes or the mystic sects who aimed only at godly vision.
In the above context, we can safely conclude that in reality the Judaic heritage of Christianity was only two fold, i.e., its theory of Creation and its exclusivism as an elect religion without a rival. The principal religious feature of Christianity, namely, other-worldliness was certainly not Judaic. It was, indeed, Hellinism that was channelised to Christianity through the withdrawal sects of Judaism who professed ideologies quite contrary to that of the Torah.
We have explained in brief what is the Judaic system as revealed to Moses, what are the views of Christ, what have been the beliefs of the pacificist sects of Judaism, and what is the system that the Christian theologians and scholars incorporated in the Bible. For the understanding of Christian theology and its future course, it is, therefore, necessary to know of its Judaic heritage, and the extent of Hellenism, Platonism and Neoplatonism that have filtered into it directly and historically, and also indirectly through the mystic and pacificist sects of Judaism that had been substantially influenced by the Greek sects and their philosophies. We shall now consider that aspect of Christianity and its theology that would seem to be related to contemporary Platonism and Neoplatonism of Plotinus.
This Chapter is based on :
Zvi Cahn, Philosophy of Judaism, The Macmillan Co
Cecil Roth, A Short History of the Jewish People, East and West Library, London
Arthur Hertzberg (Ed.), Judaism, Washington, Square Press, Inc, N.Y.
1. The Torah - The Five Books of Moses, The Jewish Publication
Society of America, Philadelphia, p. 141.
2. Ibid., p. 122.
4. Ibid., p. 130.
5. Ibid., p. 137.
6. Ibid., pp. 117-118.
7. Ibid., p. 119.
8. Ibid., p. 121.
9. Ibid., p. 120.
10. Ibid., p. 121.
11. Ibid., p. 127.
12. Ibid., p. 135.
13. Ibid., pp. 135-136.
14. Ibid., p. 217.
15. Hertzberg, Arthur, et al : op. cit. pp. 98-99.
16. Holy Bible : New York International Bible Society 1978,
Book of Job, p. 472.
18. Ibid., p. 477.
19. Ibid., p. 479.
20. Ibid., p. 481.
21. Ibid., p. 485.
22. Ibid., p. 487.
23. Ibid., p. 492.
24. Ibid., p. 498.
25. Guru Granth Sahib; p. 940.
26. Ibid., p. 991.
27. Cahn, Zvi : Philosophy of Judaism, The Macmillan Co., pp. 88-89.
28. Holy Bible : op. cit., p. 624.
29. Cahn, Zvi : op. cit., pp. 171-174.
30. Ibid., p. 134.
31. Holy Bible : op. cit., p. 626.
32. Guru Granth Sahib; p. 1.
33. Cahn, Zvi : op. cit., pp. 98-99.
34. Ibid., p. 86.
35. Ibid., p. 90.
36. Ibid., p. 91.
37. Ibid., p. 83.
38. Ibid., p. 107.
39. Ibid., pp. 6-7.
40. Ibid., p. 8.
41. Ibid., p. 287.
42. Ibid., pp. 204-205.
43. Ibid., p. 205.
44. Spencer, S. : Mysticism in World Religions, pp. 139, 176-178.
45. Ibid., p. 180.
46. Cahn, Zvi : op. cit., p. 76.
47. Ibid., p. 97.
48. Ibid., pp. 502-504.
49. Russell, Bertrand : A History of Western Philosophy, George Allan & Unwin Ltd., London, 1969; pp. 319-320.
50. Ibid., p. 320.
51. Ibid., p. 321.
54. Ibid., pp. 321-322.
55. Ibid., p. 322.
56. Moltmann, J., et al : Religion and Political Society, Harpur and Row, Publishers, New York; p. 46.
57. Guru Granth Sahib; pp. 224, 1028.
58. Ibid., p. 1.
59. Cahn, Zvi : op. cit., p. 456.
62. Ibid., pp. 457-458.
63. Ibid., p. 457.
64. Ibid., p. 465.
65. Ibid., p. 478-79.
66. Bergson, H : Introduction to Philosophy, Samullyan et al, pp. 358-59.
67. Cahn, Zvi : op. cit., p. 479.
69. Hawking, Stephen : A Brief History of Time, p. 177-178.
70. Cahn, Zvi : op. cit., pp. 483-484.
71. Russell, Bertrand : op. cit, pp. 311-312.
72. Ibid., pp. 312-313.
73. Ibid., p. 324.
74. Metropolitan, P.M., Gregorios : Dialogue and Alliance, 1987, Vol. I, No. 2, p. 95.
75. Russell, Bertrand : op. cit., p. 312.
76. Ibid., p. 318.