Saturday, June 16, 2007

Behold, I Will Send You Elijah The Prophet

"For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and... all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch... And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do [this], saith the LORD of hosts.... Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD" -Malachi 4:1-5


Yochanan the Immerser:


At the outset, an extraordinary character is introduced – an unkempt, austere rabbi heralding in the wilderness with remarkable spiritual poise and focus. Yochanan, the evangelist writes; “There was a man sent from G-d, whose name was Yochanan.” This man, Yochanan the Immerser, is a character of immense significance rarely studied with the contextual eye warranted by his fascinating life.

Commonly regarded as the Messianic forerunner but as little else, the cultural impact of the Immerser in the first century is oft overlooked in contemporary thought. F.B. Meyer, in the 19th century, astutely wrote; “Yochanan’s influence on the world has diminished as men have receded further from his age…”.

The birth narrative of Yochanan the Immerser: A devout and elderly couple, Zacharias (a descendant of Abijah) and Elizabeth (a descendant of Aaron) were visited by the angel Gabriel, who foretold the birth of their son – revealing that he was to become a type of Elijah and a Messianic forerunner. Zacharias was also instructed to raise the child in a Nazirite-like manner. This child was born and named (in a somewhat unconventional manner) Yochanan.

At this point, the evangelist concludes the pre-ministerial experience of the Immerser in summary fashion – “So the child grew, and became strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.”

The contemporary reader is left with an incomplete picture – blanks must be filled in if one is to grasp the true significance of the Immerser in the transitional phase. The issue doesn't seem to be one of Yhoshua but more of letting the love he felt into ones heart for others. There is also a communion aspect to this type of love. Jeremiah was hinting at this when he said that G-d will put the law into your hearts. But it is more than the law; we must learn to listen with our hearts. Solomon said cultivate a ‘heart that hears’, Lev Shema (Kings 1:3:9). The Nazarene focus offers this perspective while striving to keep the Jewish law. There is the love of G-d and G-d’s love for us and our love for each other. Rabbi Y. was an example of this, but this does not make him into the Nicene Creed, a trinity, and a god who must die for our sins. That is Roman thinking; to save a life is Jewish thinking.


To properly understand the Immerser must be viewed through Jewish eyes – from the vantage point that takes into account the vastly different nature of two thousand year old Judaism. The religious spectrum of the Immerser’s day must be examined and correspondently scrutinised alongside the ascetic preacher’s life and doctrine. Reasoning that suggests a continuity of Judaistic practice over the last two millennia is false – it cannot even be accepted cum nota. The Judaism of the Immerser’s time must be viewed as all historic religions must – de die in diem, always being mindful of the influence and interaction that takes place between socio-geopolitics and religion.

In the Immerser’s day, spirituality and politics were closely intertwined. Judaism of this period can be roughly divided into a trichotomy that mirrors the current spiritual vogues of Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes.

Elitist and aristocratic, Sadducaism can be accurately viewed as the early-Jewish theological equivalent of Arminianism. Central to both Sadducean and Arminian religion is a strong belief in free will – Arminianism teaches ‘conditional predestination’ (based on G-d’s foreknowledge of how an individual will or will not accept Him), and Josephus notes that the Sadducees shared this belief (“They maintain that each man has the free choice of good or evil, and that it rests with each man’s will whether he follows the one or the other”. Much confusion surrounds the Sadducean belief concerning the canonicity of Scripture – common understanding suggests that they rejected all Old Testament Scripture barring the law. VanderKam, however, suggests that this is inaccurate;


“[In legal matters, the Sadducees rejected the unwritten regulations of the Pharisees … there is no evidence that the Pharisees and Sadducees differed regarding which books were scriptural.”

As a priestly group, the Sadducees would almost certainly have incorporated the Psalms in worship – this likely use of non-legal Old Testament literature adds weight to VanderKam’s argument.

Acts 23 records that the Sadducees did not believe in “the resurrection, or angel, or spirit”. This is an unusual stance, given that angels and spirits are explicitly mentioned in the law of Moses and other parts of the Old Testament writings. Perhaps Sadducean doctrine was an overreaction to the unusual Essene belief that, in worship, people became like angels.

At the centre of the theological compass were the Pharisees; mentioned by Josephus in his writings. Concerned largely with the exposition and application of the law of Moses, they were a band of ‘moral policemen’ represented (in soteriological terms) today by mainstream evangelicalism through their (theoretical) belief in an element of Divine sovereignty and simultaneous human free will. The practical causa causans of this juxtaposition was a vague, disjointed system of theology where the will of the Creator inevitably transpired as subservient to the will of His creation. Usually remembered for their disproportionate focus on ritual purity and hypercritical attitudes towards others, the name ‘Pharisee’ is generally regarded as being rooted in the Aramaic passive participle ‘pĕriš, pĕrišayyā’, meaning ‘separated’. Interestingly, the Pharisees were regarded by the Essenes (a contemporary Jewish sect) as being somewhat liberal in their application of the law, referring to them as ‘halaqot’ (seekers of the ‘easy way’) rather than ‘halakhot’ (those who seek the law).

Due to their role in teaching the laity to apply the law of Moses in everyday living, the Pharisees exerted considerable influence despite their relatively small numbers.

To the right of the religious spectrum lay the Essenes – a highly significant conservative Jewish sect that co-existed in Palestine with the Pharisees and Sadducees. This puritanical reform sect can (due to its ideology concerning predestination, pre-existence and the spirit world) be fairly regarded as the Jewish equivalent of the Christian movement. Secondary information on the Essenes is comparatively sparse, the most valuable sources being Philo’s Apology for the Jews and Every Good Man is Free; Josephus’ Jewish War and Antiquities of the Jews and Pliny’s Natural History. These sources fairly easily reach a common consensus in substantively defining Essene life and practice. Abstemious living was perhaps the great hallmark of the Essenes – mirroring the Christian Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites by living communally and avoiding any kind of luxury while unequivocally bowing to the notion of Divine sovereignty in the same mindset as the Reformers of the 16th century.

The Essenes opposed the Sadducean denial of the afterlife and the Pharisaic application of the law.

Within this context of religious tension and political undercurrents, Yochanan the Immerser began his ministry, ‘preaching a teviláh of repentance for the remission of sins. Prior to the beginning of this homiletic and sacramental ministry, Scripture records that the Immerser was ‘in the deserts till the day of his manifestation to Israel.

Where does the Immerser fit in this confusing spiritual jigsaw?

As a consequence of being born to elderly parents, it is likely that Yochanan was orphaned in his youth, leaving a young adolescent orphan wandering (at some point) into the wilderness of Judea.

Two questions must be asked, however; and these questions (or rather, the answers to these questions) have a significant role in examining the impact of the Immerser’s life and ministry; amongst the Jewish people.

First, where was the Immerser while in the wilderness?

At the outset, it must be noted that there is no definitive evidence that de facto states the wilderness experience of Yochanan the Immerser – there are, however, facts that, when taken together, provide rational inferences hinting at where the Immerser may have been. The Gospels provide a character profile of Yochanan that yield interesting results when examined in the light of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The impact of the discovery of the Qumranic texts is startling when researching the life of the Immerser – a wealth of additional historical information has led to a new maturity of empirical understanding in studies of the Immerser.

F.B. Meyer’s biography of the Immerser provides a typical example of pre-Qumran understanding of Yochanan the Immerser. Section three of chapter three (titled ‘The school of the desert’) deals with the Immerser’s wilderness experience. Meyer admirably details the harshness of the Judean wilderness and the strength of character needed for a young man to survive therein, but is unmistakably vague in stating anything more than that Yochanan was in the desert and that it was a difficult and character-building experience.

Compare then, a good example of a post-Qumran study of Yochanan the Immerser – B. Witherington III writes a list of points connecting Yochanan the Immerser with the Essene community at Qumran.

The Essenes frequently adopted orphans; it is likely that Yochanan was orphaned at an early age. Yochanan spent his adolescence in the Judean wilderness; the Essenes were locally based at Qumran in the Judean desert. The Immerser and the Essenes had a shared interest in priestly matters and a priestly Messiah and a shared focus on Isaiah 40:3 (albeit with different interpretations). Both parties adhered to Spartan diets and ascetical behaviour. Similar interests in sacramentology also link the Immerser to the Essenes (in that Yochanan’s water rite was comparable to Qumran ablution rights). Of the three main Jewish sects, Yochanan the Immerser’s eschatological orientation is closest to the Essene position.

However, there are also several points of incongruity between John and the Qumran community noted by Witherington; the most obvious being that in the Gospels, Yochanan the Immerser is not (or is no longer) part of the Qumran community. The reclusive mindset of the Essenes (to withdraw from the sin of society) is vastly different to the mission of the Immerser (to call the nation to repent from their sin). Yochanan allows ‘clean’ and ‘unclean’ people to come into contact with him and did not believe in a ‘righteous remnant’ existing prior to repentance. The Immerser was seen as a political threat in a way that the Qumran were not. Yochanan’s diet was typical of any eremite in the Judean wilderness, at most suggesting that he took a mantle on himself or was performing a Nazirite vow.

Fasting, prayer and austerity were not unique to the Qumran community. Josephus writes of one Bannus, who was similar to the Immerser in most respects but was not connected to the Essenes.

Neil Fujita also writes of the connection between the Immerser and the ; noting the same arguments for and against as Witherington. Fujita does add more weight to the arguments against in that he writes of the Immerser’s dress being distinct from the priestly white robes worn at Qumran. He also points out stark differences between Yochanan’s sacramentology (a ‘one-off’ Immersion) and that of the Essenes (a daily task).

On the basis of evidence presented by the Qumranic texts and the profile of the Immerser shown in the Gospels, it seems reasonable to conclude that the similarities between the Immerser and the Essenes were caused by Yochanan having been (at one time) a member of the Qumran community; and the differences being because (when the Immerser begins his ministry as recorded in the gospels) he has left the Qumran community. This conclusion must be taken ex hypothesi, however.

Second, how did the Jews view the Immerser?

Jewish history is dotted with moshiach figures – men who drew crowds in remote areas, performing actions with messianic overtones. In this respect, Yochanan the Immerser may have been viewed by some Jews as a messianic figure (in that he preached to crowds in the wilderness while immersing people; ("mikvah"). The Immerser was quick, however, to denounce claims of his own divinity, preferring instead to state his calling as a messianic forerunner.

The pagan Christians looked at the Immerser as the fulfilment of the Elijah redivivus hope and the association between Elijah and Yochanan is something clearly shared by the early Essenes. Yochanan’s denial of this identification is likely to be the Immerser quashing Jewish expectation that the messianic forerunner would literally be the resurrection of Elijah. The Immerser’s admission of being Isaiah’s ‘voice in the wilderness’ seems to show his attachment to the role of foreshadowing the coming of a moshiach.

The evangelist writes concerning Yochanan the Immerser; “for all counted Yochanan to have been a prophet indeed”. Viewed through Jewish eyes, Yochanan the Immerser was a prophet in the most unique sense of the word. Jewish intertestamental tradition was that the Old Testament prophets were no more (the Talmud explicitly states that Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi were the last prophets). The arrival of the Immerser’s ministry was at around AD 28, some 540 years after Haggai and Zechariah and roughly 450 years after Malachi. In the sense that the Jews viewed him as a prophet, Yochanan was received as a new and different figure (in the mould of Isaiah and Jeremiah). To them he was a transitional figure held in the highest regard by the Jews.

To the first century Jew, Yochanan the Immerser was an enormously significant figure – held as potentially messianic and definitely prophetic, bearing the hallmarks of one-time Qumranic membership but leaving the religious establishment to herald the coming of another, ‘held as a prophet by all’. Coupled with the fact that, Yochanan the Immerser becomes arguably the most significant person.

Indeed, it must then be asked, the big question “What was the role of Yochanan the Immerser in relation to the ministry?

Quoting Malachi 3:1[Yochanan is the one who prepares the way for G-d’s eschatological activity’ Yochanan the Immerser as an important transitional figure, linking the Old Testament era of prophecy with the coming of the Great Prophet, Elijah.

Despite preaching the same message The ministry of Yochanan was characterised by mikveh and preaching.

Despite the evident differences between Elijah and Yochanan the Immerser, some thought they were the same person- whether this is resigned to the people having a dim view of euphoric estimations of Yochanan, we shall never know.

In conclusion, it can be said that Yochanan the Immerser was a noteworthy figure in his own context.

Yochanan came as a witness, to testify. "Witness" and "testify" are legal terms, used in courts of law and other important situations to attest to the truth. A witness who testifies knows what is true, and speaks what he knows.

Yochanan knew the truth that this was the long awaited time for G-d to send the Messiah, and so Yochanan declared this to all Israel. He did this in order that all - everyone in Israel, and eventually everyone in the whole world - might believe. Remember that "believe" means than mere mental affirmation. It means following, obeying, becoming a disciple.

Was Yochanan completely successful? Did all believe because of his witness and testimony? Obviously not. Will all believe through our witness, our testimony? No. Should that prevent us from being a witness, and giving testimony about what we know to be true about Elohim? No.

May I also suggest that G-d is calling us to be Immersers - witnesses who give testimony to the abiding love of Adonai. The ways of the world is still very dark - full of evil, and with much confusion about Elohim, tremendous confusion about the way to redemption. G-d is calling each one of us, in our own ways, to be a witness, to attest to the truth, so speak what we know about Adonai Yeshuateynu, so that all might believe - men and women, boys and girls, Jews and Gentiles, black and white, might believe through us, and join us as disciples of our G-d.



"What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me? says the L-rd. I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed cattle. And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs, or goats...Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil, Learn to do good; seek justice, reprove the ruthless, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come let us reason together says the L-rd, `Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they will be like wool, if you consent and obey..." (Isaiah 1:11-18).

Have we not made too many laws? Love G-d and he will show the way.

"The word "halakhah" is usually translated as "Jewish Law", although a more literal translation might be "the path that one walks". The word is derived from the Hebrew root Heh-Lamed-Kaf, meaning to go, to walk, or to travel".

"Some non-Jews and non-observant Jews criticize this legalistic aspect of traditional Judaism, saying that it reduces the religion to a set of rituals devoid of spirituality. While there are certainly some Jews who observe halakhah in this way, that is not the intention of halakhah, and it is not even the correct way to observe halakhah."

"On the contrary, when properly observed, halakhah increases the spirituality in a person's life, because it turns the most trivial, mundane acts, such as eating and getting dressed, into acts of religious significance. When people write and ask how to increase their spirituality or the influence of their religion in their lives, the only answer we can think of is: observe more halakhah. Keep a closer walk, or light sabbath candles, saying the grace befor meals, When you ask for and recive G-d's blessing, all things are made kosher, and always pray once or twice a day. When you do these things, you are constantly reminded of your faith, and it becomes an integral part of your entire existence."

"In general, Jews do not try to convert non-Jews to Judaism. In fact, according to halakhah (Jewish Law), rabbis are supposed to make three vigorous attempts to dissuade a person who wants to convert to Judaism."

"As the discussion above explained, Jews have a lot of responsibilities that non-Jews do not have. To be considered a good and righteous person in the eyes of God, a non-Jew need only follow the seven Noahic commandments, whereas a Jew has to follow all 613 commandments given in the Torah. If the potential convert is not going to follow those extra rules, it is better for him or her to stay a Gentile, and since we as Jews are all responsible for each other, it is better for us too if that person stayed a Gentile. The rabbinically mandated attempt to dissuade a convert is intended to make sure that the prospective convert is serious and willing to take on all this extra responsibility". Is this is the way G-d wants us to be A Light unto the Gentiles?
“The Jewish State must be—for its own sake—a light unto the Gentiles. If Israel is not a light unto the Gentiles, it will not be a light unto the Jews; if it is not a light unto the Jews it will not be able to survive.” WANTED! A holy man with a light.

ISAIAH:
Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee. For, behold, the darkness shall cover the earth, and gross darkness the people: but the Lord shall arise upon thee, and his glory shall be seen upon thee. And the Gentiles shall come to thy light, and the kings to the brightness of thy rising.

"This is a central point, not only for understanding, but is a theme that runs like a gossamer thread through all of Jewish thinking about what we are. “Judaism” (if it’s at all correct to even speak of such a thing!) is not, first and foremost, a “religion,” a system of religious beliefs and principles, or even a system of law and behaviors, that can in theory apply to all humankind (like Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, etc.). This is true, even though conversion to Judaism is possible, and is becoming increasingly common in today’s open world; indeed, the proselyte himself does not become a “believer” in his new-found faith or a “member” of the Synagogue; rather, he/she becomes an adopted son or daughter of the Jewish people. In principle, Judaism is the story of one people and its covenantal encounter with is God. Hence, “Israel, Torah and God are one”—the people as such are an essential element , whose history culture, even in the purely secular sense, are of importance in their own right."

"This creates two seeming paradoxes or anomalies: one, that we maintain our particularity as a people, as a specific group, notwithstanding the ultimately universal nature if our ground beliefs: the unity of God, and the singularity / oneness of truth and of the ethical norms that follow from God’s Torah, by its very nature."

"Second, that secularism and Judaism are not mutually exclusive or contradictory: something that would be absurd if Judaism were simply a “religion.” In the modern world, in particular, we have many Jews, including some of the most outstanding figures in modern times—such as Freud, Einstein, Ben-Gurion, etc.—who saw themselves as secular. I will leave aside the attempts of some religious thinkers, such as Rav A. I. Kook, to legitimize this in religious terms through complex and fascinating theological dialectics about the presence of holiness within the secular. Quite simply, the existence of secular facts is a fact; they are our brethren, and our differing interpretations of the meaning of our history, cultural heritage, and identity are a family dispute, which should not prevent feelings of love, common identity and cultural interests, and certainly of vital political interest / destiny."

I think that yeshua ben yoseph is an enigma. We are 2 milenia removed and very many acretions have piled onto the story. I will hope in the faithfulness of ELohim who shall redeem Israel, and that this prophet known as Yehoshua, calls all who are and would be joined to Israel to observe the Torah with wisdom and grace.

May Blessings be with you from the Merciful Eternal Being, Blessed is the Blessed One

1 Comments:

At Saturday, October 18, 2008 6:58:00 AM, Blogger Anders said...

Hello! I found your website. My name is Anders Branderud, I am 23 years and I am from Sweden.
By practising Torah non-selectively we make the world a better place to live in!

To realize that one can follow two polar-opposite masters — the authentic, historical, PRO-Torah 1st-century Ribi from Nazareth – the Messiah - and the 4th-century (post-135 C.E.), arch-antithesis ANTI-Torah apostasy developed by the Hellenists (namely the Sadducees and Roman pagans who conspired to kill Ribi Yәhoshua, displaced his original followers (the Netzarim) and redacted the NT); is a step in that direction!

So who then was the historical Jesus? His name was Ribi Yehoshua.
The research of world-recognized authorities (for example Barrie Wilson; www.barriewilson.com) in this area implies that Ribi Yehoshua was a Pharisee (a Torah-practising Jewish group - who according to 4Q MMT (a Scroll found in the Qumran-caves) practised both written and oral Torah (oral Torah in an unbroken chain since Mosheh (Moses); commanded by Mosheh in Torah; oral Torah is recorded Beit-Din (Jewish Court)-decisions of how Torah shall be applied).. As the earliest church historians, most eminent modern university historians, our web site (www.netzarim.co.il) and our Khavruta (Distance Learning) texts confirm, the original teachings of Ribi Yehoshua were not only accepted by most of the Pharisaic Jewish community, he had hoards of Jewish students.

For words that you don’t understand; se www.netzarim.co.il ; the link to Glossaries at the first page.

Ribi Yehoshua warned for false prophets who don’t produce good fruit = defined as don’t practise the commandments in Torah according to Halakhah (oral Torah; see the above definition). See Devarim (Deuteronomy) 13:1-6.

The research of Scholars in leading universities which implies that Ribi Yehoshua was a Pharisee necessarily implies that if you want to follow him you need to practise his Torah-teachings.
So you need to start follow the historical Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – by practising Torah (including oral Torah)!

Finding the historical Jew, who was a Pharisee Ribi and following him brings you into Torah, which gives you a rich and meaningful life here on earth and great rewards in life after death (“heaven”)!

From Anders Branderud
Geir Toshav, Netzarim in Ra’anana in Israel (www.netzarim.co.il) who is followers of Ribi Yehoshua – the Messiah – in Orthodox Judaism

 

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