Sunday, February 15, 2015

Zechariah the son of Barachiah, Some Textual Criticism, a Prophecy, and the Old Testament Canon

In the middle of a discussion regarding with a Roman Catholic about the extent of the canon, I had referenced that Jesus' mention of all blood of the prophets from Abel to Zechariah showed that Jesus believed the Old Testament canon was the traditional Jewish canon. The canon wasn't in flux and it did not include the Apocrypha.

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? 34 Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, 35 so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. 36 Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. Matthew 23:29-36

To this, I got the following reply.

//The Zechariah that was murdered in the temple is Zechariah, son of Berechiah (Matthew 23:35). But the Zechariah that you try and use to close to canon was not murdered at the alter, but stoned in the court, NOT between the Alters. Not to mention the Zechariah that was stoned was Zechariah the son of Jehoiada.....//

Actually, there is no witness outside of this to say that Zechariah ben Berechiah was murdered in the Temple, although that is a solution some have proposed. A number of Jewish anti-missionaries have picked up on this reference and have claimed this is an example of where the New Testament has erred. However, I think as I explain a few things we will see this is a reference to Zechariah ben Jehoiada.

One other explanation have offered is that this is a textual error that has crept into Matthew's text. There is some evidence for this. Some Greek manuscripts reference "Zechariah ben Jehoiada" instead, but this is a minority reading. Jerome references the Nazarenes had a Hebrew text of Matthew that read "Jehoiada". A later Hebrew writing of Matthew, Shem Tob, reads something like "Zechariah etc.". If this preserves an earlier reading it could mean the "etc." was later filled out by scribes. Not that I am a textual critical expert, but I think the majority reading is correct, but at the same time the minority reading may shed some light on why the person in question in the text of Matthew is Zechariah ben Jehoiada of 2 Chronicles.

The context and description in Matthew matches what we know of Zechariah ben Jehoiada. 1) murdered by Jews 2) occurred in the court of the Temple (according to the Palestinian Talmud in the priestly court which would make sense since ben Jehoiada was a priest, and not in one of the less holy courts). 3) linked with Abel because the blood is crying out (2 Chron. 24:22)

As it was written down in the Talmuds, the Midrashim, and the Targums the death of Zechariah ben Jehoiada held a firm hold on the national conscience. According to the Palestinian Talmud this happened on a sabbath on the Day of Atonement besides being in the priestly court, so that would make sense. The Babylonian Talmud has Zechariah ben Jehoiada being avenged by Nebuchanezzar. Now this would be even greater evidence that Zechariah ben Jehoiada is referenced because in Matthew 23 Jesus says all of the blood of the prophets will fall on this generation. And we know in roughly 40 years the Temple was also destroyed by the Romans. I would say this is prophecy of the Temple's destruction, given the parallel and the destruction of the Temple that is predicted elsewhere in the gospels.

Alright, so why would Matthew write "ben Berechiah"?

I'm going to quote from one of my sources. "In rabbinical haggadah different characters from Scripture who are linked by a similarity of name or of other characteristics are often said to be the same person." "Adopted as one of their methods that of calling different personages by one and the same name if they found them akin in any feature of their characters or activities or if they found a similarity between any of their actions."

This practice can be found in the Haggadic Midrashim, Babylonian Talmud, and back to the Jerusalem Talmud, Halakic Midrashim, and to the Mishnah. You can even see the practice in non rabbinical works like pseudo-Philo. Or in the second book of Esdras. Older still, you can see the practice in the tile prefix to Psalm 34. Ashish king of the Philistines (1 Sam. 21:10-22:1) is referenced as Abimelech the Philistine king (Gen. 20-21, 26). This might also explain why Jesus says "Abiathar" instead of "Ahimelech" in Mark 2:26.

The Targum on Lamentations 2:20 also talks about killing Zechariah ben Iddo in the sanctuary on the Day of Atonement. "ben Iddo" is coming from Zechariah 1:1. But the details follow the traditions for Zechariah ben Jehoiada that I referenced earlier. So this Targum shows the conflation of Zechariah ben Berechiah with Zechariah ben Jehoiada in terms of name usage, just like Jesus did.

So even after all of this, if you don't want this to be a reference to the scope of the canon, you have two more problems. The last prophet murdered before Jesus was John the Baptist. If you ignore and bypass John the Baptist, the last chronologically from the canon would be Uriah ben Shemaiah. (Jeremiah 26:20-23)

I used Roger Beckwith's "the Old Testament Canon of the New Testament Church" and Dr. Michael Brown's "Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus volume 4" if you would like to read more on this topic.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Good Video on Oral Torah (or Lack Thereof)

I have one argument I would add against the existence of an Oral Torah.
8 And Hilkiah the high priest said to Shaphan the secretary, “I have found the Book of the Law in the house of the Lord.” And Hilkiah gave the book to Shaphan, and he read it. 9 And Shaphan the secretary came to the king, and reported to the king, “Your servants have emptied out the money that was found in the house and have delivered it into the hand of the workmen who have the oversight of the house of the Lord.” 10 Then Shaphan the secretary told the king, “Hilkiah the priest has given me a book.” And Shaphan read it before the king. 11 When the king heard the words of the Book of the Law, he tore his clothes. 12 And the king commanded Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam the son of Shaphan, and Achbor the son of Micaiah, and Shaphan the secretary, and Asaiah the king's servant, saying, 13 “Go, inquire of the Lord for me, and for the people, and for all Judah, concerning the words of this book that has been found. For great is the wrath of the Lord that is kindled against us, because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book, to do according to all that is written concerning us.” 2 Kings 22:8-13

Israel forgot about the contents of the written Torah. It was discovered in the Temple and the message caused a reaction in the king.

What does this text show us? If they forgot about what was in the written Torah, I'm going to assume they forgot the Oral Torah. And you don't have a written text with the Oral Torah to recover that knowledge.

Thursday, January 01, 2015

UMJC & Anonymous Christianity

So I'm back.

It stopped blogging in general in 2008 and then at the end of 2010 I decided to take a break (from a break?) to finish off the one thing I had left undone. A completion of a book review for Marc Shapiro's the Limits of Orthodox Theology, since it was such an important book. And now almost exactly (I mean really, really close) 4 years later something has awoken me from my exile to blogging.

RealClearReligion posted a link (above) to a pretty interesting article on the Messianic Jewish movement. It even had nice Chagall paintings with Jesus in them. But at the sidebar, which in the online version is at the end of the article, was what really caught my attention.

There was a quick interview with Dan Juster, who the UMJC would declare as one of their pioneers and who is currently the head of Tikkun Ministries. In the sidebar, Dan Juster embraces the teaching of Anonymous Christianity.

Now, this is not my first time at this rodeo. It is now over a decade since I first confronted this issue. For those who may have never encountered this or may need a refresher, Anonymous Christianity is the view that people can be saved apart from conscious belief in Jesus. They can be saved by Jesus without knowing they have faith in Jesus, although they are responsible for responding to the light they do have.

Here is the sidebar:

Are Jews who don’t come to Jesus going to Hell? Dan Juster says no, not unless specific conditions are met. “God judges us on the basis of the amount of revelation we’ve had,” he explains. “If a Jew has sought the truth but has only had a superficial exposure to Christianity, God won’t condemn them. But if they pray to God sincerely, then the Holy Spirit enters and shows them the truth, and then they turn away from it, that’s where the danger lies. I knew a businessman like this once, he said he believed, he had an inner witness, but he didn’t want to go there because he thought it would interfere with his career.”

According to Juster, here’s how you can come to know the truth about God and Jesus:

1. Openly ask God to show you the truth, and be willing to submit to His will as He shows it to you.

2. Go about your business. At some point in the future, you may hear a voice calling you, most likely when you are alone, and feel the Holy Spirit entering your body and leading you to know the truth. You may also see visions or miracles, which Juster says are often a big part of how Messianic Jews come to the Lord.

3. If the truth is revealed to you, don’t turn away from it. You’d be better off not even asking in the first place.

Now since he is quoted by this journalist and I've seen this coming from UMJC sources previously, I'm going to take this at face value. I'm more interested in responding to the position than to Dan Juster personally.

This position is not a good blueprint for evangelism. "Go about your business." That's a little different than God telling people to earnestly seek Him.

God does judge us according to the revelation we have. And that will result in condemnation, both for Jew and Gentile alike.

If you want to see this clearly laid out, please read the book of Romans. And in that book there is a passage that should be the death knell of any attempt to teach Anonymous Christianity.

9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” 14 How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? 15 And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?” 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Messiah. Romans 10:9-17

Call on the Lord and you will be saved. But you need to hear to believe and call. And you need to have a preacher. And preachers need to be sent. This chain of logic cuts off Anonymous Christianity at the knees and should be rejected by all who hold to the full council of Scripture.

If you would like to read a full-throated critique of not just Anonymous Christianity but all forms of inclusivism I recommend reading the Very Pernicioius and Detestable Doctrine of Inclusivism.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Book Review: The Limits of Orthodox Theology, Chapter Nine, The Messiah; Resurrection of the Dead

This is the last entry in the series. Hopefully, I hope this series will lead people to pick up Marc Shapiro's important work.

The Twelfth Principle

"The Twelfth Principle is the coming of the messiah."

"Included in this fundamental Principle is that there will be no king of Israel except from David and from the seed of Solomon exclusively. Whosoever disputes [the sovereignty of] this family denies God and the words of His prophets."

Shapiro highlights a tension which a believer in Jesus can sense. The author finds the stress on an actual figure noteworthy since "a number of prophets and midrashim appear to disregard it." Those sources which disregard a Messiah speak instead of a messianic era in which "God alone will be the redeemer." This conception, according to Shapiro who references another scholar, is found in Nahum, Zephaniah, Habakkuk, Malachi, Joel, and Daniel. Jeremiah 31:10 is given as an example. "He that scattered Israel doth gather him." R. Menachem M. Kasher is quoted to support this position. According Isaiah Levy, whether you believe in a future messianic era with God Himself as the Redeemer or a personal messiah, you are not to be considered a heretic.

As I mentioned above, I can see this tension in the Tanakh. There are passages showing God Himself as the redeemer. And there are passages which speak of a personal messiah. The believer in Jesus sees this tension resolved in Jesus in a few ways. First, the incarnation. Jesus as God in the flesh. He is the God-Man. And as Jesus as God dealing with humanity and reconciling humanity to Himself through Jesus.

So both strains are true and find fulfillment in Jesus. This is similar to the concepts of a suffering and a victorious Messiah found in Jewish literature. We have two strains which seem contradictory but are not.

The Twelfth Principle states that the Messiah can only come via the line of Solomon. R. Joseph Kafih disagreed that this was essential and believed it was directed against Christianity for polemical purposes since Jesus was not descended via Solomon. Shapiro isn't certain that Maimonides knew enough about the New Testament to be making a polemical point and it seems that Maimonides actually believed in descent through Solomon.

Shapiro then goes on to list a number of post-Maimonides scholars who disagree with Maimonides on this point. R. Azariah dei Rossi, R. Gedalyah ibn Yahya, and R. Jehiel Heilprin "each quote qithout objection the view, falsely attributed to Philo, that all of Solomon's descendants were wiped out and only Nathan's line survived." Zohar 3:173b states that the Messiah will be descended from Nathan's wife, which implies the descent from Nathan. Recently, David Frish wrote a commentary on the Zohar giving the kabbalistic reasons on why the Messiah is to be descended from Nathan instead of Solomon.

The Thirteenth Principle

"The Thirteenth Principle concerns resurrection, the belief that the dead will rise from their graves to live again."

Again, this Principle is interesting for being a Principle Maimonides didn't seem to hold. It looks to me that his Greek influence shows again at this point. "For Maimonides, the ultimate reward is eternal spiritual life."

Maimonides taught that the dead will be raised up and then they will die again and return to spiritual life. Shapiro describes this view as "confusing." This view was laid out in "Essay on Resurrection" and it seems that a lot of critics and supporters didn't believe this was his real view.

Shapiro goes on to mention a few Orthodox scholars that didn't believe in a physical resurrection, but the main point is clear. There is disagreement on this point within Orthodoxy although it doesn't appear to be too much.

And that is a good spot to end this series. While Shapiro leaves a lot to chew on for apologetic purposes, his overall point is firmly established. The Thirteen Principles are not and have not been the ultimate litmus test for Orthodoxy within Judaism. He must be thanked for writing this book.

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Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Book Review: The Limits of Orthodox Theology, Chapter Nine, God's Knowledge; Reward and Punishment

The Tenth Principle

"The Tenth Principle states that God knows the actions of men."

This is definitely not a very controversial principle. However, even this principle contains interesting caveats from some within the Orthodox fold. It has been mentioned by some like R. David Cohen that only actions and not thoughts. Shapiro also mentions views which seem similar to Open Theists within Christianity. Regarding Gersonides Shapiro writes: "But the actual doings of individuals, which are infinite and undergo change through free choice, fall outside God's knowledge."

The Eleventh Principle

"The Eleventh Principle is that of reward and punishment."

This principle offers another opportunity to examine the odd views of Maimonides himself. Shapiro writes "one cannot help but wonder whether any of the Orthodox spokesmen who have advocated acceptance of the Thirteen Principles are really aware of Maimonides' view of reward and punishment, for it diverges sharply from the mainstream rabbinic tradition."

Maimonides held a view of reward and punishment which to my understanding is influenced by Greek thought. "Maimonides believed that immortality is entirely consequent upon an intellectual grasp of divine things." This seems to have similarities to Gnosticism as well, where salvation hinged on secret knowledge. Not that it seems the knowledge Maimonides refers to was of secret things.

Even when Maimonides speaks of rewards for performing mitzvot he stresses performing mitsvot properly. In other words, with correct knowledge.

Shapiro goes on to argue that Maimonides view of eternal punishment was annihilation. Maimonides also held an interesting view of temporal rewards and punishments. "Bad things happen to people, not as a direct result of God ordering them to occur, bus as a result of the lack of divine providence."

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Book Review: The Limits of Orthodox Theology, Chapter Eight, The Eternality of the Torah

"The Ninth Principle teaches that the Torah will never be abrogated, in whole or part, and that God will never give another Torah. Maimonides repeats his insistence that the biblical mitsvot and the Oral Law will never be abrogated, not even in messianic days, in a few other places. While this is certainly a popular position among rabbinic authorities, and has a talmudic source, it is hardly unanimously accepted."

In the previous post, I had mentioned that there were two chapters worth their weight in gold. This is second of those two chapters, which happen to follow in succession.

The importance of this chapter has to do with two reasons. First, this is an ongoing issues between Judaism and followers of Jesus. Secondly, with the Messianic community Torah observance has become a point of contention. Although I'm not sure that people divide over it. The Limits of Orthodox Theology can shed light on this topic regarding the relationship between the New and Mosaic covenants, although I would suspect Shapiro wasn't intending to do that.

Shapiro begins the chapter by quoting the Talmud (BT Nidah 61b) which states "the mitsvot will be abolished in the Time to Come." After this Shapiro keeps the references coming. What was interesting was how many of the quotes seem similar to traditional Christian arguments.

Several Jewish sources find support in Psalm 146:4, "the Lord looseth the bound." Midrash tehilim (146:4) states: "What does the verse mean by the words 'looseth the bound?' Some say that of every animal whose flesh it is forbidden to eat in this world, the Holy One, blessed be He, will declare in the Time to Come that the eating of this flesh is permitted..." Another midrashic passage on this psalm quoted by Albo states that God will permit the forbidden.

Very interestingly, R. Joseph Albo lays out a theoretical position. If a prophet were "to arise whose mission could be be verified in the same public and miraculous way in which Moses' mission was verified, it would be possible for the commandments of the Torah to be abolished." Albo believes that there is nothing to prevent God from doing this, not that this is necessary.

This possibility is likewise believed by R. Moses Sofer, R. Tobias ben Moses Cohn, R. Jacob Emden, and R. Abraham Hayim Viterbo. Viterbo describes many examples of things in the Torah which were permitted and then forbidden in order to show that Torah can be changed. Examples include the consumption of the sinew of the sciatic nerve, sacrifices outside the land of Israel, and Jacob being able to marry two sisters. Viterbo viewed Maimonides' position as presumptuous since it told God how He should conduct Himself.

Shapiro notes Devarim rabah 4: 6,9 which relates the Torah changing after it has already been given, the example of Leviticus 17's provision about eating meat is revoked in Deuteronomy 12:15-16. The midrash did not state that the prohibition was only to be temporary. Instead, it references the aforementioned verse in Psalm 146.

R. Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, in a position very similar to Reformed theologians, said that in the future the mitsvot will no longer have a physical component but only a spiritual one. The spiritual aspects of mitsvot remain eternal. Reformed theology speaks about a division between the moral, civil and ceremonial aspects of the law, and Polonnove's position seems similar to saying the moral aspects of the law remain.

There was then discussion of changes to the sacrificial system. Some viewed changes along the lines of Ezekiel's vision of a restored Temple, some thought all or some types of sacrifices would be annulled, and there is the interesting view of R. Abraham Isaac Kook who believed that there will be only be vegetable sacrifices in the messianic era. And R. Hayim Hischensohn argued that the sacrificial system in messianic times will be different in ways we cannot currently comprehend.

Perhaps the most historical insightful insight comes from Bezeal Naor. Shapiro relates:
From what we have seen so far, it is obvious that there is a significant rabbinic position which declares that the commandments will be abolished in messianic days. In fact, Bezalel Naor has speculated that perhaps it was this knowledge -- that Maimonides' Principle was subject to such dispute -- that prevented many great Torah scholars from reacting more strongly to the false messiah Shabetai Tsevi's violations of halakhah. Since they knew that many authorities believed that Jewish law would change in the messianic era, as long as it had not been established that Shabetai Tsevi was not the messiah, his violations of Jewish ritual were not a sufficient reason to condemn him. (bold mine)

There is a passage in this chapter which is pertinent to the issue, which I feel Shapiro needs to elaborate more on. He writes:
[T]he Torah is explicit that his descendants will have an 'everlasting priesthood' (kehunat olam; Num. 25:13). Presumably, Luria and Halberstam understood 'everlasting' to mean until messianic times, when a new spiritual era.

If you've dealt with those who believe that hell is not eternal, you may know that the word translated eternal is the Hebrew word 'olam. That word means age-long. If the age is forever, "eternal" is a good fit. But if the age has a termination point, "age-long" or something similar is a better fit. (This is a good example of how we are benefited from having multiple apologetic disciplines.)

So what can we make of all this?

For one, we hopefully can get a fresh look at the biblical data. Some in the Torah-observant Messianic community have claimed that those who believe in the fulfillment of Torah in the death and Resurrection of Jesus are operating under a cessasionist filter. The numerous Orthodox sources that look to possible changes in messianic times raise serious doubts about that.

Furthermore, we have to say that books in the New Testament which seem to support the fulfillment of the Torah in the Messiah (Hebrews, Galatians) need less explanation. The Torah-observant community needs to explain those texts (which they do). But the traditional understanding of those texts, as this chapter shows, fits nicely within a good segment of past Orthodox theology.

Note: I'm starting to link to Amazon with their Affiliate Program. So feel free to obtain the book here.

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Saturday, July 05, 2008

Book Review: the Limits of Orthodox Theology, Chapter Seven, Revelation of the Torah

"The Eighth Principle teaches that the Torah was divinely revealed and that the Torah in our hands is exactly the same as the Torah that Moses presented to the Children of Israel. In addition, there is no difference in holiness between any parts of the the Pentateuch. The Principle also declares that the Oral Law is likewise of divine origin."

In my previous ignorance, I was unaware that Orthodox Jews held to this position. That was until I ran into this article on aish.com. There, it is claimed that there are only 9 spelling variants in all of the Torah manuscripts.

There are two chapters in the Limits of Orthodox Theology which are worth their weight in gold. This is one of them.

This principle can not only be shown to have differing views within historic Orthodoxy, it can conclusively be shown to be false.

Furthermore, Shapiro makes the case that Maimonides lied regarding this Principle.

Now, I for one, am not going to argue against divine inspiration for the text of the Torah. Even with its textual variants, Jesus was willing to affirm that. Many hold the belief that if there are any textual variants a text cannot be inspired. Bart Ehrman has popularized this view, but it is also held by Muslims and many King James Only advocates.

Back to the book. Keeping in mind that there has never been a dispute about the divine inspiration of the Written and Oral Laws (although I would definitely argue from a Christian perspective against inspiration of the Oral Law), Shapiro quotes J. David Bleich as saying "this principle is, in effect, an affirmation of the authenticity of the Masoretic text." Shapiro states that this goes beyond that and the text "establed by Aaron ben Moses ben Ahser is (tenth century) is, in its entirety, of Mosaic authorship." Therefore, there is no such thing as a history of the text of the Torah and one expresses doubt in that is a heretic with no share in the world to come.

This principle relies on an absolutely uniform text and that reading had to have been the one revealed to Moses. And as we previously mentioned, this Principle is taken to affirm the Masoretic text. But there is no such thing as the Masoretic text. There are a set of texts established by many Masoretic scholars.

Shapiro writes that when we speak of the Masoretic text we are referring to an edition of the Bible edited by Jacob ben Hayim (before he became a Messianic Jew) and the work of a few others.

Here is one of the more interesting quotes "As early as talmudic times, it was understood that the Babylonian rabbis were no longer aware of the proper defective and plene spellings." I'm not nearly an expert on this material like Shapiro (hence, I'm reading his book), this seems like this would invalidate the claims regarding Oral Law being preserved. Regardless, this goes to the heart of this Principle's claim, since Masoretic texts have a good deal of variety in regards to defective and plene spellings.

"Similarly, it was recognized long ago that a number of quotations from the biblical text, including the Pentateuch, found in the Talmud and Midrashim differ from the accepted (Masoretic) text."

This is simply fascinating to me. As one who embraces the work of textual criticism, it is great that quotes in the Talmud and Midrashim can shed light about variations within the Torah text. However, for people who hold to the Eighth Principle, evidence of variations is evidence on invalidity of this principle. Given their authority within Jewish traditions, the Talmud and Midrashim are sources of a different quality vis a vis this issue. Shapiro notes that the differences in the Talmud and Midrashim go beyond spellings and go to actual words. "There are numerous examples of this and one of them is even found in the Ten Commandments".

R. Samuel David Luzzatto doubts there were diffences in medieval scrolls but admits that variations occurred prior to that time period. "Scholars have also called attention to textual variations in the Dead Sea Scrolls, Samaritan Pentateuch, Septuagint, Peshitta, and Targumim." In other words, all non-Masoretic sources.

At this point, I feel like I would be piling on, but I think I have an idea of an Orthodox response. All those different sources were in error. Now, the work of textual criticism is to sort out all those sources. But if the only way to hold, based on the evidence, the Eighth Principle is to assume it in the first place, the Eighth Principle has major problems.

Shapiro notes that the text "of Exodus and Numbers preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls" were paralleled in the Samaritan version. This shows that there were two editions (textual traditions?) in Second Temple times.

If you place authority solely in Ben Asher's Masoretic text, you make the sages of the Talmud, Midrash, and the Babylonian Masoretes heretics. Shaprio states that it is impossible to speak about the Torah "found in our hands today".

Shapiro continues. "[I]t should not be surprising that R. Jacob Kamenetzky (1891-1986) argued that perhaps Maimonides' text of the Pentateuch differed from the one in use today." We see that Maimonides' text was the Yemenite text, which differs from the Masoretic texts. In other words, if we take the Eighth Principle to refer to the Masoretic text, Maimonides is a heretic. But, as we previously mentioned, if it is not the Masoretic text, we have a lot of other prominent heretics. It's a big mess.

It gets worse for this Principle.

"Rabbinic sources speak of tikunei soferim, that is textual changes introduces by the Scribes, some of which concern the Torah." Scribes changed texts they considered offensive to God or grossly anthropomorphic. A famous example is Genesis 18:22, which was changed to say "Abraham stood before the Lord" instead of "God stood yet before Abraham."

Moving on, Shapiro also takes aim at the part of the Eighth Principle, which claims that the whole Torah was received by Moses. That view has not been unamimously accepted. For instance, there is a Talmudic passage (BT Makot 11a) which claims the last eight verses of the Torah which deal with the death of Moses were written by Joshua. This view has support in other Orthodox sources, such as Ibn Ezra.

There are also certain phrases in the Torah which have caused Jewish sources to believe in non-Mosaic authorship for some portions of the Torah. For example, using the phrase "beyond the Jordan" in the Torah, when that phrase refers to a post-exile point of view, shows a post-Mosaic authorship.

Was Maimonides lying?

Shapiro goes on to argue that, given a Talmudic opinion about Joshua writing the last part of the Torah, "for Maimonides to declare a talmudic opinion heretical is extremely unlikely." Regarding textual variations Shapiro writes "taking into account all the pre-Maimonidean sources cites in this chapter, and in particular, the discussion regarding the text of the Pentateuch, it is impossible to believe that Maimonides should be taken at his word."

So, yes. Maimonides is lying.

Shapiro relates the view of Arthur Hyman. Maimonides knew there were elements in this Principle which weren't true. But the truth of the matter would raise doubts among the masses. And Jews were interacting with Muslims who believed that the Jews purposely corrupted their texts in order to remove references to Muhammad.

As can be seen from the case of Bart Ehrman (whose Christian faith was thrown in disarray once he learned about textual variants), withholding this information can backfire. It seems that such an attitude about this book is developing as well:
What I find most interesting in the Orthodox discussions of Dr. Marc B. Shapiro’s book is the widespread belief that readership of the book should be restricted. Not because there are significant mistakes in the book, but because the book will shake people’s faith and lead them off the derech.

So how to make sense of textual variants? I would simply say "don't panic." Jesus affirmed the authority, divine inspiration, and Mosaic authorship of the Torah, even though there were textual variants. If we feel the need to reject the inspiration of the Bible due to textual variants, we are using a different standard.

A quote I used earlier in this post from the Limits of Orthodox Theology used an appropriate phrase. "Exodus and Numbers preserved in the Dead Sea Scrolls..." The different manuscript traditions preserve the text of the books of the Bible. Between the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Targums, the Samaritan Torah, and the Masoretic texts, the Torah has been preserved.

Let me use a thought experiment I'm going to blatantly steal from Dr. James White.

Unless God were to strike scribes dead when they make an error, there will be textual variants. Now, to eliminate this, we would have to have one controlling scribal authority. And if we had that, the claim would most likely be that the one controlling authority manipulated the text towards their own ends (think Da Vinci Code). And that claim would be much more plausible under such a scenario.

So, how can we claim to have and know the Word of God given the reality of textual variants? I posed that question to Timothy Paul Jones here.

I'll end on his response:
You're correct about the epistemological framework---and you're working toward the real crux of the issue.

First off, I think it's important to note that the internal reliability of the text (which I deal with in the first half of Misquoting Truth) is a completely different issue from the external validity of the claims (which I deal with in the second half of Misquoting Truth). In other words, simply because the original text is recoverable doesn't mean that the claims of the text are true. Likewise, even supposing that the original text isn't recoverable, the claims of the text might still be true. I'm not claiming that you (or Ehrman, for that matter) is confusing these two, but it's important to note the distinction. I say this primarily because I was once on a radio program in which the Christian host said---in essence---"We have more than 5,000 copies of the New Testament, and they agree more than 99% of the time, therefore they must be true." This is, of course, a false line of reasoning.

I can't build a complete framework here, but here's a starter: What we mean when we refer to Scripture as "God's Word" is that we possess an unerring record of God's self-revelatory dealings with humanity, supremely of God's consummate dealing with humanity in Jesus Christ. This "Word" was inspired in human minds and written down. These human authors wrote in their own words---using descriptive language and rhetorical features from their culture---their words were kept from historical or factual error. (Of course, "historical or factual error" does not include having made estimates, having used language of appearances, having adapted or combined historical accounts, or having worded these accounts in ways that allowed the meaning of an event to be more readily applied to the original hearers' historical circumstances.) Although these words were not copied perfectly through the centuries, their words were copied with sufficient accuracy that it is possible to know and to experience the original "Word" which bears unerring witness to the Word of God who is Jesus Christ.

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