Jewish Biblical way of interpretation: a solution for New Testament understanding
It is generally understood that Jewish interpretation is important for understanding the New Testament. It is also important for solving apparent problems in the New Testament wnich non-Jewish understandings fail to solve. This is because non-Jewish biblical study, whether of "lower criticism" - the determining of the best Greek and Hebrew texts, or the "higher criticism" - involving origins and authenticity, are undertaken with determination to understand what the Bible is saying, that is, the meaning of what is being said. Modern western biblical study is not concerned with how it is being said, how it looks, and what has been added to the meaning by how it is being presented. In fact, to the western world, these latter matters are not only lesser in importance, but they are actually obstacles to be put away in the desire to get to the meanings. Eastern Christian biblical interpretation, like the Jewish way of interpretation is not so quick to dismiss these "incidentals" and therefore can capture the Jewish flavor and teachings in the first century "Jewish Gospels" and in the teaching of Jesus Christ.
A case in point and an example:
Jesus teaches that not a "jot" or a "tittle" shall pass from the Law until all be fulfilled. This usually is being interpreted as that not even one slightest provision or commandment of the Torah can be set aside, and so, of course, this presents quite a problem for the Christian who does not "keep the law". But what are jots and tittles? The jot is the yod which is the smallest written letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Beyond that fact, the Yod, can be consonental like "Y" in Yodel, and non-consonental like the "Y" in fancY. Beyond this, the yod is sometimes written and sometimes deleted, and at times not even pronounced when deleted or non deleted. The Tittle, on the other hand is not even a letter, and appears solely as a decoration and an adorning for beauty in the original hand scripts (manuscripts) of the Hebrew bible, and from there, also in the print editions. In Hebew they are called tag or Keren meaning crowns or the radiating of beams of light, according to how they appear. They are not original to the text, nor do they add to the "meaning" of the words or the sense of scripture. The do not add to the sense
But they do add to the sensibilities.
That is, beyond what the Law says, or rather with the Law or alongside of the Law, Jesus is saying that a follower of His cannot do so without the fullest degree of fulfillment of all that God desires, even the slightestest of the nuances, intents, and undertones that God has given to us through the Holy Writings. Some of these then can only be captured by the beauty and the fullfilment that He is communicating alongside of the meaning of the Torah. Thus this strictness is also an opening for further revealed thought of the Father, that the disciples of Jesus are to understand they shall never be free from and whose flexibility will be even a greater stringency and a higher responsibility and requirement. The Level of the new requirement of the Kingdom of Heaven which Jesus promotes can only be shown by the master teacher, Jesus Himself. Jesus is the exemplar of the New Law of the Kingdom. We must understand that beauty and harmony are not only matters of aesthetics but also of fittingness, propriety, and logic. Without these, there is not beauty. There is thus the beauty of holiness.
And so we find:
Jesus teaches that the Sadducees do not believe in the resurrection from the dead because they neither know the power of God, nor do they know or truly believe that He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, for that is what He is called in the Scriptures - the "God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob". The modern world, the Western World, the Christian Biblical interpretative world of scholarship, would find little convincing power to the idea that because God is called the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that there is any proof or evidence of the resurrection of the dead. That is because these worlds leave out of the sense and meaning of the Scriptures what can only be understood as the sensibilities and beauties of adornment of the Scriptures - and thus makes pale much of life around us, of which we really partake, which tell us that what is meaningful to us is far deeper and other than just the meaning of the text.
Jewish interpretive mode, though, would be fully at home with the way in which Jesus proves to the Sadducees that the dead do rise again. That is because Jewish interpretive ways see that the meaning of the text, the meaning of the words of the text, are means of reaching into a deeper world, not obviating and nullifying the meanings of the words and sentences, but rather than this, through the words and the meanings of the text, are provided the avenues for complementary and explanatory realities to enter in and illumine our understanding of the written words of the text.
This can be shown in the literature known as the Mishna which contains the Jewish thought and expression straddling the times of Jesus - two hundred years prior to His time until two hundred years after His time on earth. Rabbi Halaftah says (Babylonian Talmud, Nezikim, chapter 3, verse. 6), "The Spirit (Shekhinah) dwells among them, among those who study the Torah even if there are just 10 people doing so. How do we know even if there are 10 people, because it is said (psalms 82:1), 'God is set among the community of God'" Here, Community - Edah is understood in the first century to be a minimum of 10 people - which is why a Jewish "minyan" for prayer must be a least 10 people. But the Mishna goes on, "Why is it true that the Spirit dwells among the people even if there are 5 people who study Torah? Because if is said, 'He has founded His "grouping" on earth' Here grouping -Agudah is shown to be 5 because you group together things in one hand by means of your 5 fingers. The Mishna goes on, "And the Spirit is present with even 3 people, How do we know? Because it is said, 'In the midst of God he shall judge' (Psalm 82:1). Here we see that 3 is indicated by the fact that judging in the small Sanhedrin must be by at least by 3 judges, one of which can break the possible tie of the other judges. The Mishna further - "The Spirit dwells even where there are 2 people, as it is said (Malachi 3:16) 'And then they that feared the Lord spoke often one to another and the LORD heard it and hearkened', and He dwells even among 1 who studies the Torah, as it is said, 'In every place in which I will bring to remembrance My name, there I will come to you and I will bless you'. Here "you" is singular in the Hebrew, not plural.
Another way it can be put, Jewish interpretation puts a lot more of "endogesis" of Scripture, before it produces "exegesis", and that endogesis may be pregnant with allusion, linguistic affinities, cultural allusions and practices, alliteration, and ornamental association. The belief was that God speaks to them presently through all of these things in accord and along with the literally wordings and the meanings of Scripture.
To the modern world, that the Sudducees ought to believe that there is a resurrection because God is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, does not seem to follow logically, But Jesus seems to think that that does follow, and that it follows covincingly. If God, the Living God (El Hay, Elohim Hayim) should allow His name to be attached, in Scripture, and on tongue, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, then that is reason enough to see that they must, of necessity (Life begets life), themselves be among the living. And if they be among the living, then the dead shall once again rise.
It is not that, for instance, the "10, 5, 3, 2, 1, proofs" given above be convincing for this day and age as it was for the Jewish commentators straddling the first century, but rather that we of this generation, need to see our way of interpreting the New Testament, according to the scientific, and conceptual categories of the 20th and th 21st centuries, are inadequate for the job. It will help us also to receive Gods voice and nudgings in ways other than the strict logics of our mind, and more in accord with the rich modalities of life all around us.
It may be that a modern way of understanding the Sadducees, though it may be superficially ludicrous but essentially deep and penetrating to how all men are, can be expressed thusly:
The Sadducees, not believing in the resurrection from the dead, where given that name, because, they were thusly "sad, you see". An explanation, perhaps not historically correct or logically convincing, but nevertheless, deep indeed to the understanding of humans, accurate the role of the verities of God in the giving of joy, and appreciative of God's abililty to work backwards in the ordering of the past to produce the future of His desiring. This also tells a lot!
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