Thursday, 11 January 2007

Did you know that Old Testament arguments can criticise christianity only and not judasim!

In my journeys around internet forums I often come across a common error: that is criticisms of the old testament such as the many contradictions in it and the highly dubious claims of it as a moral guide are used as a criticism of judaism as well as xianity. It may surprise many, that, arguably, this is incorrect. And this is not a No True Scotsman avoidance. How so?

Recently in the UKBrights forum a popular version of some common bizarre and immoral injunctions in the old testament were quoted:
When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a
pleasing odour for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbours.
They claim the odour is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus
21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for

I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her
period of menstrual uncleanliness - Lev.15:19- 24. The problem is, how
do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and
female, provided they are purchased from neighbouring nations. A friend
of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can
you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

I have a neighbour who insists on working on Sunday(Sabbath). Exodus
35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated
to kill him myself?

A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an
abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than
homosexuality. I don't agree. Can you settle this?

Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a
defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does
my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?

Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair
around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.
19:27. How should they die?

I know from Lev. 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me
unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?

My uncle has a farm. He violates Lev. 19:19 by planting two different
crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of
two different kinds of thread (cotton/polyester blend). He also tends
to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all
the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them? -
Lev.24:10-16. Couldn't we just burn them to death at a private family
affair like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws? (Lev.
A response to this was
You had better ask an orthodox Jew...non-Jews are not obliged to keep the Law of which you give examples. Xpians make themselves ridiculous when they quote the bits that suit them, because they have to answer the very point you make.
My view is this is actually upside down.

There are many of injunctions by Jesus in the new testament that the "law"still applies to them. However xians only acknowledge their version of the old testament - which contains a similar but not identical and different order of books to the jewish tanach. As such they have inherited a version of biblical judaism.

However by 2000 years ago, indeed for around 500 years previously, biblical judaism - whatever it really was - had been superseded by rabbinical judaism. This included the talmud which was specifically rejected by xianity (see below). So if Jesus existed and did say the law applies to his followers (all jews) he must have meant rabbinical judaism not biblical judaism, both of which could refer to the torah (which can be rabbinical shorthand for the tanach and the talmud, as well as being part of the tanach). Now as far as jews and especially orthodox jews are concerned, they need to study the torah and it is a sacred text, but their guide to interpreting it is the talmud and the laws that the jews must follow are the halachic laws, which are defined in the talmud (note also that biblical literalism has been a very rare phenomenon in judaism) and still derived from the torah. For example, one key law, is that the death sentence is prohibited for any religious (indeed any) transgression (at least while there is no temple and even then only through a very strict judicial process) - very different to old testament views! (And something that was lost to xians and muslims...). Anyway this is not a defence of judaism but just showing that they are in fact different religions - with some similar but also some rather different flaws to xianity (and islam).

So any of the old testament quotation and contradictions arguments would not work against jews as these are not the laws they are supposed to keep anyway (certainly since 2500 years ago). However xians without any recourse to such modified laws have no choice to try and interpret the old testament independently of this rabbinical knowledge.

There is a reason why many people believe the contrary to my argument here that is due to the catholic church originally encouraging a view that the old testament god is worse than the new testament god and xianity is an improvement over judaism. Indeed at one time there was a heresy that these were in fact two different gods. Whilst this was avoided, the catholic church did adopt many of those arguments to support the supremacy of xianity over judaism. Many ex-xians and therefore some atheists have unwittingly inherited these views without realising it.

In addition they also banned the talmud as one of the themes it dealt with, in much depth, was how jews could interact with a society with non-jews, specifically without helping any non-jews worship idols. This was regarded as a sacrilegious affront to catholicism, as not only did jews reject xianity, but this was also saying they were idol worshippers!

Of course I am not arguing that one religion is better than the other (in either direction), just explaining that they are different and where common misunderstandings about this come from.

To summarise old testament arguments are (anti)xian arguments but not (anti)jewish arguments. Or you do not know what judaism is by knowing or studying the xian old testament.

Is it worth knowing what judaism is, in order to criticise it, well that is up to you of course.