Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Vol. 5) Sample Pages Online

I have the first four volumes in Michael Brown’s Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus series [one, two, three, four] and I’ve enjoyed them all greatly. The fifth volume was published last year with a different publisher (Purple Pomegranate Productions) from the first four (Baker Books) and I still have not gotten a copy but I just saw a few moments ago that an 85 page PDF of sample pages is available online. I look forward to reading through this.

B”H

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7 thoughts on “Answering Jewish Objections to Jesus (Vol. 5) Sample Pages Online

  1. Since Michael Brown claims to deeply understand Judaism, it is rather surprising that he chooses to attack the idea of the “Oral Law” on the basis that it was not fully understood at Sinai. The Jewish conception of the “Oral Law” is that it represents the “unpacking” of Torah — and that unpacking took place throughout the history of Judaism.

    There is a famous aggadah from the Talmudic tractate Menachos (29b) that illustrates this point:

    When Moses ascended on high he found the Holy One, blessed be He, engaged in affixing crowns to the letters. Said Moses, “Lord of the Universe, who forces you to go to such extremes?’ God answered, ‘There will arise a man, at the end of many generations, Akiva ben Joseph by name, who will expound upon each tittle heaps and heaps of laws.” “Lord of the Universe,: said Moses; “permit me to see him.” God replied, “Turn around.” Moses went and sat down behind eight rows [and listened to the discourses upon the law]. Not being able to follow their arguments Moses was ill at ease, and when they came to a certain subject and the students asked the teacher “How do you know it?” Akiva replied “It is a law given unto Moses at Sinai.” Moses was comforted.

    According to the rabbinic view, how could Moses not know the a law which had been revealed to him? Because Moses did not fully unpack the Torah — that was left to later scholars who found meaning that was always present, but not always understood.

    In any case, the Talmud is a foundational document for observant Judaism. Treating the Talmud as a non-foundational document otherwise is not entering into a debate with Judaism, it is simply failing to recognize what Judaism is.

    However, I must say that Brown’s position is quite peculiar since he argues elsewhere that, for example, the Gospel of Matthew is midrash. How can Brown hold on the one hand that Matthew is midrash and on the other hand denigrate midrash?

    Furthermore, Brown’s examples tend to be petty and minor rather than dealing with the larger themes of the Oral Tradition. They could be easily answered in many ways — and he selectively quotes contemporary scholars such as Neusner out of context.

    These sort of petty arguments can be multiplied infinitely — one may as well declare that the (written) Torah could not have been given at Sinai, using the final verses of Deuteronomy 34 (which describe Moses’ death and subsequent reputation) as evidence.

    Similarly, one could easily point to any number of minor inconsistencies in the New Testament (e.g., was the Last Supper a Passover meal [Synoptic gospels] or not [Fourth gospel]?) It is hard to imagine a devout Christian who would be moved by the arguments and conclude that the New Testament could not be an inspired document.

    For these reasons, I would not rely on Brown as an accurate chronicler of Jewish belief; rather I would turn to Jews themselves to see what they believe.

  2. Theophrastus: But that seems to be the precise point he’s attacking, i.e., the idea that the unpacked meaning was always present. He mentions Menachot 29b on pp. 17-18 of the PDF, but he finds it preposterous saying:

    What an extraordinary account! Not only is Moses unable to understand Akiva’s expositions of Moses’ own words, but those expositions are then attributed back to Moses himself—as a law directly given to him on Mount Sinai, no less. And such is the perspective of rabbinic tradition that rather than Moses being aghast that his words are being twisted and turned to the point of being unrecognizable, he is in awe of Akiva, thinking that God made a mistake by giving the Torah through him rather than through Akiva.

    Also, I don’t see that he’s treated the Talmud as if it’s non-foundational in observant Judaism; he’s simply challenging the authority of the foundation.

    I also don’t see that he’s denigrated midrash (what did you have in mind specifically?), and for the sake of argument, if he did, I can’t see that he denigrated it as a genre wholesale.

    I’ll leave Brown to defend himself concerning the examples he chose and his citing of sources. I don’t have access to the endnotes of this particular volume so I can’t check his sources.

  3. Well, Midrash is part of the Oral Law.

    I don’t believe Brown has studied the Talmud. A glace at almost any page will find page-after-page of scriptural quotation. However, an argument that the Talmud lacks authority mischaracterizes the normative Jewish view, which is that the Talmud has co-equal authority with the Written Torah.

    His argument that there is no reference to the Oral Torah in the Pentateuch is also disingenuous — he is ignoring passages such as Deuteronomy 17:8-12 and Deuteronomy 30:12. Here Deuteronomy 17:10-11:

    וְעָשִׂיתָ, עַל-פִּי הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יַגִּידוּ לְךָ, מִן-הַמָּקוֹם הַהוּא, אֲשֶׁר יִבְחַר יְהוָה; וְשָׁמַרְתָּ לַעֲשׂוֹת, כְּכֹל אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ
    And thou shalt do according to the tenor of the sentence, which they shall declare unto thee from that place which the LORD shall choose; and thou shalt observe to do according to all that they shall teach thee.

    יא עַל-פִּי הַתּוֹרָה אֲשֶׁר יוֹרוּךָ, וְעַל-הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֲשֶׁר-יֹאמְרוּ לְךָ–תַּעֲשֶׂה: לֹא תָסוּר, מִן-הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר-יַגִּידוּ לְךָ–יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל

    According to the law which they shall teach thee, and according to the judgment which they shall tell thee, thou shalt do; thou shalt not turn aside from the sentence which they shall declare unto thee, to the right hand, nor to the left.

    Deuteronomy 30:12 — a direct quotation from Moses, clearly states that the Torah is not in heaven — we should not say “who will go up and get it for us?”

  4. Theophrastus: I can’t believe that he hasn’t studied the Talmud, in fact, I’m reasonably confident that he has because he’s said as much in various places (his radio show, radio interviews, live debates, etc.). I don’t believe that he’d lie about something like that and he references the Talmud regularly enough to make me believe that he’s studied it. He simply doesn’t receive it as authoritative, but then why would he? He’s not an orthodox Jew. He’s not arguing that orthodox Jews don’t accept the authority of the Talmud; he’s simply calling its authority into question. Remember, he’s answering Jewish objections to Jesus; he’s defending Jesus and Christianity, not rabbinic Judaism.

    Have you looked through the PDF? He addresses Deuteronomy 30:11–14 on pp. 31-32 and the table of contents shows that he spends objection 6.4 (pp. 139-161) addressing Deuteronomy 17:8–13, which is not included in the PDF.

  5. The portions of the book that he posted have little to do Jesus or Christianity — in fact, he not once in fragment posted does he mention Jesus in a positive way (I searched every reference of “Jesus.”)

    My comment above was on his quotation on p. 18: the phrase sefer torah, “Book of the Law,” occurs twenty times in the Tanakh, while there are no references whatsoever to an Oral Torah (torah she-be‘al peh) in the entire Hebrew Bible. This is disingenuous — while it is true that the phrase torah she-be‘al peh does not appear in the Pentateuch, neither does the phrase hakadosh baruch hu, the concept is fairly strongly embedded in the Bible. To claim that the concept of the Oral Torah is absent in Torah is to misrepresent the standard Jewish reading of the Bible.

    I did see that he addressed Deuteronomy 30 on p. 31, but of course, he misrepresents it — nowhere in the section does it refer to a written torah, but rather it refers to “mouths” and “hearts.” Brown says the text is straightforward, but he then dismisses the straightforward meaning — in a conclusatory manner.

    My problem with Brown is that Judaism is not a sola scriptura religion, and yet Brown attacks Judaism (in a work apparently addressed to Jews — presumably sola scriptura Christians don’t hold the Talmud to authoritative) as if they were believers in sola scriptura.

    Most of the Tanach (the Prophets and the Writings) are Oral Torah, as is the Talmud, as are respona and commentaries written last week.

    The Oral Torah is the process of unpacking of things said at Sinai. Brown wonders how Moses could not have known them all, but an analogy in mathematics explains Brown’s paradox: we do not expect that Euclid should have “unpacked” the consequences of his system and come up with calculus.

    Brown could just as easily ask — if Moses received the Torah at Sinai, why did he not take more care with the spies? why did he still disobey and strike the rock? Doesn’t this prove that the Written Torah could not have been received by Moses at Sinai?

    The answer is that whatever Moses received at Sinai was not something that he fully understood. It is something that we are still understanding, still unpacking, right until this very day. And that process is what we call “Oral Torah.”

  6. Theophrastus: I’ll leave Brown to defend himself. In other news, I was at Walmart today and I saw the KJV facsimile you mentioned. I didn’t purchase a copy yet because I’m undecided on whether or not I want to get it. The print was smallish and my eyes strained to read it. I think I will probably end up getting a copy though since I value the marginal notes.

  7. It is not necessary to get that Zondervan replica — you can find a high quality image of the KJV 1611 online http://sceti.library.upenn.edu/sceti/printedbooksNew/index.cfm?TextID=kjbible

    It is just that the Zondervan is super cheap and convenient.

    My eyesight is good enough to read the translation and notes, but I need a magnifying glass for some of the front material (especially the “Alphabetical Table of Canaan” immediately preceding Genesis 1). However, using a magnifying glass, the print is clear enough — fairly impressive given the price of the book!

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