Friday, December 14, 2007

Introduction - Palimpsest and Revolution

Jesus of Nazareth is not the exclusive property of the christian religion. Jesus was not a christian and never preached the religion we know as Christianity. The aim of this page is to scrape away the accretions that the christian religion has overlaid on him, and view plainly and clearly the religion that he really preached, wise and loving and full of a wonderful light.

Jesus was, of course, a jew, who lived in the Galilee and Judea in the first century and preached his own version of Judaism to jews. The core doctrines of Christianity as they are commonly preached these days - sacrifice on the cross to redeem our sins, eternal life through faith in him and acceptance of him as savior, son of god and of the same substance, original sin - these were ideas he never knew and which would have been foreign to him, as they are to Judaism. No, Jesus preached a very different religion than Christianity.

But his words and story are still there for all to see in the gospels as they remain in the New Testament. (At least, I will accept the words attributed to him in the Gospel of Matthew as his own.) If you read what he says there, you might realize how small a role his actual teachings play in Christianity as we hear it all around us today. His words still sound fresh and inspiring partly because of just that.

Jesus In Time And Place

The jewish lands of Judea and the Galilee had been under the control of the roman empire for decades by the time Jesus was born, during the reign of Augustus Caesar. This dominion did not sit as easily on the jews as it did on many other peoples who the romans had brought under their control. To the jews, romans and greeks seemed profane and arrogant, and we jews never stopped trying to drive them out of our lands, through revolt after disasterous revolt. Eventually, the patience of the roman state wore through, and they expelled us from our land and forced us to wander the earth without a place to call our own. Not for us the yoke of empire, yet, sadly, the righteous will not always prevail in the course of one lifetime.

Jesus was part of the fabric of the jewish striving for freedom in these years. He is known to historians, through the writings of Flavius Josephus, who lived in Judea in the decades after his death, as one of many who thought they might just be god's annointed king come to overthrow the wicked usurpers and establish an eathly kingdom in Israel that would shine with such a transcendant light of virtue that the nations of the earth would pay homage and submit to its instruction. Moreover, there were many in Judea and Galilee in those decades who struggled to merely find the path of righteous living according to the scriptures that would appease god so that he would lift their affliction and drive out the pagans. Finally, many despaired so much that they argued for ordinary physical resistance, like refusing to pay taxes, or even armed force. Jesus was born, lived, and died in the midst of this turmoil, and hastened to play his part in it.

Jesus preached a heightened moral purity that contrasted with other philosophies and practices of the time, such as the pharasees and essenes, that sought to sharpen the ritual practice of purity as part of spiritual awareness. The other paths have left their mark in history, but he alone forged a body of moral thought and poetry which survives and lives.


This page is a 'living document', that is, one that is not finished, and which will, i hope, continue to grow. I want to flesh out the historical context of Jesus, and also to be able to analyse his words and summarize them so that we might be able to see a coherent and graspable picture of what Jesus sought to add to jewish moral thought. Please feel free to comment!


Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Words of Rabbi Jesus

Blessed are the humble in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the land.
Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
Blessed are they who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when they insult you and persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you (falsely) because of me.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward will be great in heaven. Thus they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its taste, with what can it be seasoned? It is no longer good for anything but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.

You are the light of the world. A city set on a mountain cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and then put it under a bushel basket; it is set on a lampstand, where it gives light to all in the house. Just so, your light must shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your heavenly Father.

Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven. I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.' But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, 'Idiot,' will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, 'You fool,' will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.
Settle with your opponent quickly while on the way to court with him. Otherwise your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Amen, I say to you, you will not be released until you have paid the last penny.

You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you, everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into Gehenna. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one of your members than to have your whole body go into Gehenna. It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife must give her a bill of divorce.' But I say to you, whoever divorces his wife (unless the marriage is unlawful) causes her to commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

Again you have heard that it was said to your ancestors, 'Do not take a false oath, but make good to the Lord all that you vow.' But I say to you, do not swear at all; not by heaven, for it is God's throne; nor by the earth, for it is his footstool; nor by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. Do not swear by your head, for you cannot make a single hair white or black.
Let your 'Yes' mean 'Yes,' and your 'No' mean 'No.' Anything more is from the evil one.

You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on (your) right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.

If anyone wants to go to law with you over your tunic, hand him your cloak as well. Should anyone press you into service for one mile, go with him for two miles. Give to the one who asks of you, and do not turn your back on one who wants to borrow. You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brothers only, what is unusual about that? Do not the pagans do the same? So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.

(But) take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them; otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. When you give alms, do not blow a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets to win the praise of others. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, so that your almsgiving may be secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you.

When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, who love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on street corners so that others may see them. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go to your inner room, close the door, and pray to your Father in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will repay you. In praying, do not babble like the pagans, who think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them. Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.

This is how you are to pray: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread; and forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors; and do not subject us to the final test, but deliver us from the evil one.

If you forgive others their transgressions, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your transgressions.

When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.

Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and decay destroy, and thieves break in and steal. But store up treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor decay destroys, nor thieves break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there also will your heart be.

The lamp of the body is the eye. If your eye is sound, your whole body will be filled with light; but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be in darkness. And if the light in you is darkness, how great will the darkness be.

No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat (or drink), or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds in the sky; they do not sow or reap, they gather nothing into barns, yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are not you more important than they?

Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your life-span? Why are you anxious about clothes? Learn from the way the wild flowers grow. They do not work or spin. But I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of them. If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith? So do not worry and say, 'What are we to eat?' or 'What are we to drink?' or 'What are we to wear?' All these things the pagans seek. Your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom (of God) and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you besides.

Do not worry about tomorrow; tomorrow will take care of itself. Sufficient for a day is its own evil.

Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you. Why do you notice the splinter in your brother's eye, but do not perceive the wooden beam in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove that splinter from your eye,' while the wooden beam is in your eye? You hypocrite, remove the wooden beam from your eye first; then you will see clearly to remove the splinter from your brother's eye.

Do not give what is holy to dogs, or throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them underfoot, and turn and tear you to pieces.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. Which one of you would hand his son a stone when he asks for a loaf of bread, or a snake when he asks for a fish? If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give good things to those who ask him.

Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.

Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.
Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but underneath are ravenous wolves. By their fruits you will know them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Just so, every good tree bears good fruit, and a rotten tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a rotten tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. So by their fruits you will know them.

Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name? Did we not drive out demons in your name? Did we not do mighty deeds in your name?' Then I will declare to them solemnly, 'I never knew you. Depart from me, you evildoers.' Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock. And everyone who listens to these words of mine but does not act on them will be like a fool who built his house on sand. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. And it collapsed and was completely ruined.
A scribe approached and said to him, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus answered him, "Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head." Another of (his) disciples said to him, "Lord, let me go first and bury my father." But Jesus answered him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead."
The Pharisees saw this and said to his disciples, "Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?" He heard this and said, "Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do. Go and learn the meaning of the words, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' I did not come to call the righteous but sinners." Then the disciples of John approached him and said, "Why do we and the Pharisees fast (much), but your disciples do not fast?" Jesus answered them, "Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.
No one patches an old cloak with a piece of unshrunken cloth, for its fullness pulls away from the cloak and the tear gets worse. People do not put new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise the skins burst, the wine spills out, and the skins are ruined. Rather, they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved."
Jesus sent out these twelve after instructing them thus:
"Do not go into pagan territory or enter a Samaritan town. Go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
As you go, make this proclamation: 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.'
Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, drive out demons. Without cost you have received; without cost you are to give. Do not take gold or silver or copper for your belts; no sack for the journey, or a second tunic, or sandals, or walking stick. The laborer deserves his keep.
Whatever town or village you enter, look for a worthy person in it, and stay there until you leave.
As you enter a house, wish it peace. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; if not, let your peace return to you.
Whoever will not receive you or listen to your words--go outside that house or town and shake the dust from your feet. Amen, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.
"Behold, I am sending you like sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and simple as doves. But beware of people, for they will hand you over to courts and scourge you in their synagogues, and you will be led before governors and kings for my sake as a witness before them and the pagans. When they hand you over, do not worry about how you are to speak or what you are to say. You will be given at that moment what you are to say. For it will not be you who speak but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you.
Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death. You will be hated by all because of my name, but whoever endures to the end will be saved. When they persecute you in one town, flee to another. Amen, I say to you, you will not finish the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.
No disciple is above his teacher, no slave above his master. It is enough for the disciple that he become like his teacher, for the slave that he become like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more those of his household!
"Therefore do not be afraid of them. Nothing is concealed that will not be revealed, nor secret that will not be known. What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.
And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather, be afraid of the one who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father's knowledge. Even all the hairs of your head are counted. So do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father.
"Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's enemies will be those of his household.'
"Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
"Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Whoever receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward, and whoever receives a righteous man because he is righteous will receive a righteous man's reward. And whoever gives only a cup of cold water to one of these little ones to drink because he is a disciple--amen, I say to you, he will surely not lose his reward."
It is not what enters one's mouth that defiles that person; but what comes out of the mouth is what defiles one."
"Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.
He asked him, "Which ones?" And Jesus replied, " 'You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother'; and 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" The young man said to him, "All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to (the) poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, "Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."
He said to him, "You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments."
"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You pay tithes of mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier things of the law: judgment and mercy and fidelity. (But) these you should have done, without neglecting the others. Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow the camel! "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You cleanse the outside of cup and dish, but inside they are full of plunder and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, cleanse first the inside of the cup, so that the outside also may be clean.
For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.'

Then the righteous will answer him and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? When did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison, and visit you?'
And the king will say to them in reply, 'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.'

Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.'

Then they will answer and say, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?'
He will answer them, 'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.'

Monday, December 10, 2007

Preliminary Summary Of Jesus' Teachings

- Emphasises strongly that one must be merciful if one expects mercy. This thought is repeated throughout the gospel
- do not return violence for violence - turn the other cheek and return
good for evil
- love your enemies as well as your friends
- don't hold on to anger, but strive to forgive
- when asked for help, give more than what is asked for
- don't advertise your praying, fasting, or charity
- do not worry about your physical well being - god will provide
- emphasises meekness and humility as important virtues
- prefers practical righteousness and charity over the letter of the Law
- declares that to be 'perfect', one should sell all one has, give it to the poor, and follow the path of righteousness
- what you do to the humblest of people, you are doing to god

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Jesus and Hillel

Behind Jesus stands Hillel. Hillel is one of the most important figures in jewish spirituality, and is considered the founder of the rabbinic tradition - the first rabbi - although he was never called that during his lifetime. The words of Jesus in the gospel clearly echo the words and philosophy of Rabbi Hillel.

Now, what do I mean by the foundation of the rabbinic tradition? Weren't there always rabbis? Keep in mind that in Jesus' time there were still jewish priests, who, besides being the spiritual leaders of the jewish community, also performed the sacrifices in the Temple of Solomon in Jerusalem. Yes, animal sacrifice as well as offerings of fruits and other foods, and incense, were a daily practice in judaism before the romans destroyed the Temple of Solomon in 70 AD. Of course, in the first century these practices were univeral all over the world - not to sacrifice would have been strange, and it was one of the things that distinguished the early christians. The christian tradition that grew up after Jesus' death, that his death on the cross was a sacrifice, as the lamb of god, to atone for the sins of all men, is directly related to the jewish practice of literal sacrifices of spotless lambs to atone for sins at the Temple of Solomon.

Since there was only one temple, in Jerusalem, houses of study had sprung up in the jewish communities, which were often called by the greek term, synagogue. These were places where jews gathered for prayer and studies, just like their modern counterparts. Naturally, some became teachers of others, eventually being called Rabbis (literally 'master', but as the term usually used to address teachers - hence, to call someone a rabbi is to address them as your teacher). Rabbis, however, always supported themselves at some other trade until three or four centuries after Jesus. Hillel is supposed to have been a woodcutter.

Hillel, a poor boy from babylonia, grew up to become the most revered sage of his age. He is thought to have been the head of the community of jewish teachers from about 30BCE to his death about 10CE. Hillel was noted for his extreme mildness, and the school of thought that he founded took the forgiving view of the law which prevails today in judaism, in opposition to his peer Shammai, the irascible engineer, whose school took a more severe view.

The two sages figure in the most famous and telling anecdote about Hillel. It seems a foreign potentate approached Shammai, saying that he would convert to judaism if the teacher could explain it to him while standing on one foot. Shammai threw him out of his office. The potentate then approached Hillel with the same proposition. Hillel said "What you would not want done to you, do not do unto others. This is the whole of the Law and the Prophets - the rest is commentary. Go and study."

When Jesus enunciates his version of the golden rule, it would have been clear to those listening to him that he was affirming his membership in the school of Hillel. (Some people make much of the difference between the negative form that Hillel used and the positive form that Jesus used, but from my point of view this is splitting hairs.) Jesus would have been saying this only twenty years after Hillel's death, and by declaring himself a pharasee (more about this later) of the school of Hillel, Jesus would have been making a declaration of where he stood in the philosophically fractured and contentious jewish society of his time.

Other famous sayings and traditions of Hillel show similarities to Jesus and the things that he said. Hillel's famous mildness sets the tone that Jesus so clearly follows - there is a story that some friends of Hillel's made a bet that they could make Hillel lose his temper. Although they made rude remarks about his being from babylonia and were generally obnoxious, they lost the bet. In the Pirkei Avot, Hillel is quoted as saying (in regard to showing pride of learning) "One who advances his name, destroys his name ... And one who make personal use of the crown of Torah shall perish." Another saying of Hillel reads, in part "Do not judge your fellow until you have stood in his place". Also, "Because you drowned others, you were drowned; and those who drowned you, will themselves be drowned." And finally "One who increases flesh, increases worms; one who increases possessions, increases worry ... one who increases charity, increases peace."

To Jesus' listeners, his standing in the tradition of Hillel would have been so obvious as to go without saying.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Misconceptions About Judaism Than Hinder Understanding Of Jesus' Teachings

I often find that evengelicals and other christians have made unwarranted assumptions about judaism. The broad outlines of christian belief are so pervasive in our society that even many jews assume they are part of judaism as well. This makes the unspoken jewish foundation of Jesus' beliefs and teachings, both the parts that he accepted as well as what he challenged, that much harder to see.

The outcome of Adam and Eve being exiled from the garden of eden is not the imposition of "original sin". Original Sin is a concept first described by St. Augustine many centuries after Jesus' death. If you read genesis, you will see clearly that man is condemned to earn his living by the sweat of his brow (or, in the original hebrew, the sweat of his nostrils), and womankind is condemned to have pain in childbirth, and also to have eternal emnity with serpents.

Judaism has only the very vaguest beliefs about what happens to people after they die. There is no damnation to hell for eternity, and, conversly, people are not "saved", and allowed to have eternal life in heaven. In fact, there is no real concept of being saved or damned by God. Only for a brief period of time around the time that Jesus lived, was there a sect, the Pharisees, that contended that there was a kind of resurrection of persons, although not in heaven. (Jesus, it seems, considered himself in that camp - more about that later...) This concept was never fully accepted, and died out. What orthodox rabbis teach is that good people, whatever their religious beliefs, might be closer to God after death, although this is really considered a vague speculation. Bad people, on the other hand, might be in disfavor with God for as much as a year after they die. One would have to be very evil indeed to be out of favor for more than that!

Following from the previous point, there is a terrible misconception that I often hear, that God requires jews to be perfect or be damned. I often hear evangelicals say that "the Old Covenant was too hard, so Jesus brought forgiveness in the New Covenant so that man could be saved". The whole notion is absolutely contrary to the way judaism has always been taught! The notion that there is an Old Testament God who is jealous, strict, and severe, so common in our society, is an invention, it seems, of reformation era christian theologians. In Judaism, one is taught to strive to be a good person, to be compassionate and kind, and, as is repeated over and over in jewish prayer services, to be thankful for our good fortune and mindful and compassionate to those who are less fortunate. Of course, people are not perfect and everbody makes mistakes, sometimes quite serious, but God will always forgive you if you are sincerely sorry and try to make amends. This is only natural, since nobody expects people to be perfect. Giving charity looms very large for us jews as a way to make amends for mistakes and sins that cannot easily be put right, and part of being a good person generally. Sometimes it is said that jews talk of sins, but christians talk of Sin. That should give you a good idea of the jewish attitude about this.

The messiah as jews in ancient judea conceived of him is very different than the Son of God described by christians. The words 'messiah', from the hebrew 'meshiakh', as well as the word 'christ', from the greek 'khristos', both mean the same thing, which is 'annointed'. This means to apply perfumed oil to someone in a ceremonial way, a very typical high honor in the ancient world. Now, the most likely meaning of someone being annointed in this way, from the ancient world up to only a few centuries ago, was that they were being annointed king - an earthly king. And indeed this is the description of the hoped for messiah that we read in Isaiah. (this is a work in progress - I hope to supply citations later...). Briefly, the jewish messiah was supposed to be an earthly king of the line of David (the kings of the jews in the period immediately before and during Jesus' life were not of the Davidic line, and some thought that that was one of the reasons that bad times had come.) This king was to miraculously overcome the pagans, and establish a kingdom in Israel of such righteousness that all the nations of the world would recognize this and pay homage (insert quotes from Isaiah). Some people believe that there were supposed to be two kings, a regular one as well as a spiritual leader. It has been suggested that perhaps Jesus was to be the secular king, and John the Baptist was to have been the spiritual leader. In any case, it is important to see the discussions about what Jesus thought was going to happen in this light.

Jews do not, in contradistinction from christians and muslims, believe that a person must be a jew to be in favor with God. Orthodox jews (but not reform or conservative jews) believe that jews should follow all laws for jews found in the bible, whether they make sense or not, in order to remain a jew. For all people in general, however, jews believe that to be a good person and follow the moral parts of the ten commandments is all that is required to be good in the eyes of the Lord.