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."