Uri Yosef on a "Sinless Jesus" and on Micah 5:2

Uri Yosef's article titled "Sinless Jesus?" as might be expected addresses the claim of Jesus as the perfect sacrifice by trying to show that Jesus wasn't, well, perfect. After a decent summation of the Christian view on this subject, and a few words on the consistency of Jesus' words with Jewish teachings of his era, Yosef starts off with the question, "Did Jesus Violate Any Torah Commandments?" His first objection is that Jesus violated Genesis 1:28:

And G-d blessed them [Adam and Eve], and G-d said to them, "Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves upon the earth."

Jesus did not procreate; so, Yosef says, scratch that command and Jesus' perfect record.

But let's consider these words from Glenn Miller's article, "Did the Bible lie about Jesus being married?" -- which shows that the rabbis of Jesus' day sure didn't seem to think Gen. 1:28 had the force Yosef thinks it did:

It would have been 'normal' for [Jesus] to have been married, but not obligatory for that time (or any other time, for that matter).

The rabbinic literature--which is what people sometimes use to argue that celibacy was a capital offense(!)--notes and gives rules for exceptions to rules which were themselves non-binding:

"Celibacy was, in fact, not common, and was disapproved by the rabbis, who taught that a man should marry at eighteen, and that if he passed the age of twenty without taking a wife he transgressed a divine command and incurred God's displeasure. Postponement of marriage was permitted students of the Law that they might concentrate their attention on their studies, free from the cares of support a wife. Cases like that of Simeon be 'Azzai, who never married, were evidently infrequent.

He had himself said that a man who did not marry was like one who shed blood, and diminished the likeness of God. One of his colleagues threw up to him that he was better at preaching that at practicing, to which he replied, What shall I do? My soul is enamored of the Law; the population of the world can be kept up by others...It is not to be imagined that pronouncements about the duty of marrying and the age at which people should marry actually regulated practice." [HI:JFCCE:2.119f]...

Philo describes another Jewish sect of both men and women--the Therapeutae --who were celibate in their studies and pursuit of wisdom and the holy life (De Vita Contemplativa 68f).

But the dominant class of individuals who were 'allowed' or 'expected' to be celibate were prophetic figures, throughout Jewish history:

The prophet Jeremiah:

"But the Essenes, Qumran, and the Therapeutae were not the only examples of Jewish religious celibates who were considered in a reverent light around the time of Jesus. The OT was not lacking in at least one celibate religious figure, and later interpretation of the OT added some others. The one case from the OT is the tragic prophet Jeremiah. Far from being some positive religious commitment, celibacy was for Jeremiah a tragic personal sign, a lived-out prophetic symbol of the destruction of life that awaited the sinful people of Judah (Jer 16:1-4)."

We have, then, at least one example of an OT prophet for whom celibacy was not a minor matter, an optional life style. It was, by the order of Yahweh, a very literal and painful "embodiment" of Jeremiah's prophetic message of judgment, pronouncing imminent doom as punishment for the apostasy of God's people." [MJ:1.339]

John the Baptist (and possibly his prototype Elijah]:

"We should not be completely surprised that another fiery prophet of judgment around the time of Jesus also seems to have been celibate, namely, John the Baptist. Granted, our sources do not speak explicitly of John's celibacy; as usual, we are left with arguments from indirection and inference. But, even apart from Luke's picture of the boy John being raised in the wilderness until the time he began his ministry (at Qumran?),"' the mere fact that this ascetic prophet feeding on locusts and wild honey roamed up and down the Jordan Valley and the Judean wilderness, apparently with no fixed abode as he proclaimed a radical message of imminent judgment on Israel, makes it probable that John was a celibate (Mark 1:4-8).... It may be no accident that Mark closes the story of John's execution by Antipas with the words: ". . . his [John's] disciples came and took his corpse and laid it in a tomb" (6:29).

Without intending to reflect on the fact directly, Mark may be in effect seconding what Luke implies: there was no wife, children, or other family around John to see to one of the most sacred obligations incumbent on family members in Judaism: arranging for and participating in the obsequies of a husband or parent. In his radical itinerant prophetic ministry, John may have consciously been imitating Elijah, an OT itinerant prophet of judgment, who not only was interpreted as an eschatological figure in later Judaism (as early as Malachi and Ben Sira) but was also interpreted as a celibate by various patristic writers (e.g., Ambrose and Jerome). [MJ:1.339f]

Although the Rabbinic writers stressed the importance of marriage for procreation, it is noteworthy that this prophetic ideal of celibacy still showed up in the rabbinics:

"Judaism saw nothing wrong in portraying as celibate the great primordial prophet, seer, and lawgiver Moses (though only after the Lord had begun to speak to him). We see this interpretation already beginning to develop in Philo in the 1st century A.D. What is more surprising is that this idea is also reflected in various rabbinic passages. The gist of the tradition is an a fortiori argument. If the Israelites at Sinai had to abstain from women temporarily to prepare for God's brief, once-and- for-all address to them, how much more should Moses be permanently chaste, since God spoke regularly to him (see, e.g., b. Yabb. 87a).

The same tradition, but from the viewpoint of the deprived wife, is related in the Sipre on Numbers 12.1 (99). Since the rabbis in general were unsympathetic--not to say hostile--to religious celibacy, the survival of this Moses tradition even in later rabbinic writings argues that the tradition was long-lived and widespread by the time of the rabbis. We should note once again the typology seen in Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and the recycled Moses figure: the prophet who directly receives divine revelation that is to be communicated to his beloved yet sinful people Israel finds his whole life radically altered by his prophetic vocation.

This alteration, this being set apart by and for God's Word, is embodied graphically in the rare, awesome, and--for many Jews--terrible vocation of celibacy....While accepting the idea of an ancient figure like Moses as celibate (at least during his ministry to Israel), the rabbis did not as a general rule allow celibacy among their rabbinic colleagues and disciples. Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus (end of 1st century A.D.) is said to have equated a man's refusal to procreate offspring with murder. One rare exception, according to the same rabbinic passage, was Rabbi Simeon ben Azzai (a younger contemporary of Eliezer ben Hyrcanus), who paradoxically recommended marriage and procreation, though he himself remained unmarried. When accused of not practicing what he preached, he replied: "My soul is in love with the Torah. The world can be carried on by others" (b. Yeham. 63b).65

Yosef therefore does not even show knowledge of his own religious history. The "command" to marry (and those which Yosef claims follow from it) clearly could be and was superseded in certain circumstances. Presumably Yosef understands that the Sabbath law, absolute though it is, can be circumvented for a greater good; so likewise the marriage "command" -- and nearly all others one wishes to consider.

Sometime recently Yosef updated his article with a response to ideas contained in the above (though whether from here, I do not know). He claims first that a "detailed analysis of the relevant Rabbinic writings is beyond the scope of this essay" though he deigns to say, without any detail, that "when presented in their proper context, they no longer support the claim." No doubt we will never see that "context" actually presented.

Yosef thereafter replies to but one example given, that of Jeremiah, which he portends to refute by citing Jer. 16:2 ("Thou shalt not take thee a wife, neither shalt thou have sons or daughters in this place.") and then declares that this "order is tied to a particular geographical location for a specific reason". Of course Yosef still has not solved the problem, since it is just as answerable to say that Jesus was single as an order "for a specific reason" (here, it would be that the church was his bride) and thus Yosef only assists our case.

Yosef's next is under the heading, "Honoring and Respecting Parents." After showing this in Exodus, Yosef writes back with examples we have become accustomed to:

Malina and Rohrbaugh [Social-Science commentary, 299] add that such implication of distance was in fact quite proper in a society where men were expected to break the maternal bonds by a certain age. Jesus' reaction is entirely respectful and appropriate in this context. Yosef, therefore, is commenting out of contextr.

Matthew 10:34-7 -- here, Yosef needs to look at the verses previous to these to see just who it is Jesus is saying will be the problem:

Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. But beware of men: for they will deliver you up to the councils, and they will scourge you in their synagogues; And ye shall be brought before governors and kings for my sake, for a testimony against them and the Gentiles. But when they deliver you up, take no thought how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father which speaketh in you. And the brother shall deliver up the brother to death, and the father the child: and the children shall rise up against their parents, and cause them to be put to death. And ye shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved. But when they persecute you in this city, flee ye into another: for verily I say unto you, Ye shall not have gone over the cities of Israel, till the Son of man be come. The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord. It is enough for the disciple that he be as his master, and the servant as his lord. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebub, how much more shall they call them of his household? Fear them not therefore: for there is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. What I tell you in darkness, that speak ye in light: and what ye hear in the ear, that preach ye upon the housetops. And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? and one of them shall not fall on the ground without your Father. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear ye not therefore, ye are of more value than many sparrows. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. (Matthew 10:16-33)

Far from saying what the place of parents is, Jesus is here predicting that Christians will become the victims of violence BY WAY OF their family: It is the persecutors who wield the sword and become the foes, and parents will be the dishonoring informants. Yosef has the sentiments precisely backwards.

Luke 14:26. It's actually another "priority" case and Yosef not knowing the world and culture his own faith was rooted in. Abraham Rihbany (The Syrian Christ, 98f) points to the use of "hate" in the Bible as an example of linguistic extreme in an Eastern culture. There is no word, he notes, for "like" in the Arabic tongue. "...[T]o us Orientals the only word which can express and cordial inclination of approval is 'love'." The word is used even of casual acquaintances. Extreme language is used to express even moderate relationships. Reflecting, Biblical Hebrew has no equivalent to comparative adjectives or adverbs. One can say "tall" but not "taller" or "tallest".

Luke 14:26 falls into a category of "extreme language," the language of absoluteness used to express a preference, and may refer to disattachment, indifference, or nonattachment without any feelings of revulsion involved. The closest example comes from Genesis 29:30-1:

And he went in also unto Rachel, and he loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years. And when the LORD saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren.

Here, "hated" is clearly used synonymously with one who is loved less. Let it be added that if Jacob hated Leah in a literal way, it is hardly believable that he would consent to take her as his wife at all! (See also Judges 14:16 and Deut. 21:15-17.)

Such extremes of feeling would be atypical, but the extremes are not meant to be taken literally; the point is that one master will get more dedicated labor than the other. Now let's move into some secular works with the same sort of hyperbolic language. Fitzmeyer's Lukan commentary offers this example from Poimandes 4:6:

If you do not hate your body first, O child, you will not be able to love yourself.

Would Yosef suppose that this teaches literal hatred of the physical body? It does not -- it emphasizes the need to give preference to the whole self before the body alone. Literal hate of the body would have us cutting it with razors or hitting it with blunt objects -- an extreme practiced in some Eastern faiths, but not among the Greeks.

Here is another example from a war song in the Poetae Lyrici Graeci (see James Denney, "The Word 'Hate' in Lk. 14:26," Expository Times 21, 41-42): it is said that in battle, men "must count his own life his enemy for the honor of Sparta" -- is this a literal hatred of one's own life being taught? No! It is emphasizing the need to make one's life secondary for Sparta's sake. Here's a final example from Epictetus 3.3.5: "The good is preferable to every intimate relation." This is just a more abstract version of Luke 14:26.

Therefore Yosef fails, anachronistically, to show that Jesus violated any commandments in this category.

In an update, Yosef added a new "sin" to the list, an alleged violation of a law requiring burial of the dead. Cited in this regard as expected is Matthew 8:21-22//Luke 9:59-60, "And another of his disciples said unto him, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. But Jesus said unto him, Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead.

In one sense, Yosef is actually right here; Jesus here does assert his prerogative to overrule the law -- for the more important mission of saving souls. In that respect Jesus is no more violating the law than would be a Jew who picked up an animal out of a pit on the Sabbath so it would not starve. On the other hand, as Keener's Matthew commentary notes [275], parallel phraseology in other sources suggests that the "dead" here are the spiritually dead; the Semitic idiom "I must first bury my father" can be used to refer to parents not yet dead, so that in essence, the man is putting Jesus off for an indeterminate period -- even years.

Another possibility is that what the man is asking for is not permission to bury his father immediately after death as needed, but to perform a "secondary" burial performed a year later, and thus the man is asking for a delay of as much as a year before he can serve with Jesus. Thus yet again Yosef is off the mark.

Yosef's formerly third (now fourth) category is, "Celebrating Pesakh/Passover." Noting that the seder requires unleavened bread, Yosef objects:

Yet, as we read the Gospel accounts of the last supper, we find Jesus and his disciples eating ordinary bread...One may want to argue that the NT authors meant unleavened bread. However, upon checking these accounts in the Greek language, it is evident that the word for 'unleavened bread' is "azumos" (e.g., Mt 26:17; Mk 14:1,12; Lk 22:1,7). The Greek scriptures use the word for ordinary leavened bread, "artos", for what was consumed at the last supper (Mt 26:26; Mk 14:22; Lk 24:30).

Of course one may ask, if this is so, who else violated some laws, since Jews were supposed to not even have such bread around for Jesus to buy. But this argument, which seems to appear often on anti-missionary sites, misses something important. Azumos is not a word for "unleavened bread" but just a word for "unleavened," period, as in 1 Cor. 5:7:

Purge out therefore the old leaven, that ye may be a new lump, as ye are unleavened. For even Christ our passover is sacrificed for us:

Paul says to his readers, "You are unleavened"! Is he saying they are made of bread? Of course not. Artos is a word for all bread, with or without leaven, and does not tell us any such thing as Yosef suggests. Beyond this Yosef argues from silence that there is neither lamb nor bitter herbs mentioned, but the Gospels are not exactly intended as travelogues giving a full menu (and in a high context setting, would not need to).

In short Yosef fails to find any violation of the Passover regulations here.

In section 5, Yosef refers to command of "Love and Brotherhood," beginning with "Attitude toward Gentiles." Noting Torah commands to love Gentiles, Yosef appeals to Jesus' treatment of the Syrophoenician woman. Once again Miller has the prescription for this:

Historically, Jesus is taking his disciples aside for some very needed rest. So, William Lane (NICNT:in.loc.):" The purpose of Jesus' withdrawal to Tyre was to secure the rest which had been interrupted both in the wilderness (Ch. 6:30-34) and in the district of Gennesaret (Ch. 6:53-56). The house provided a place of retreat for Jesus with his disciples."

Jesus went into the vicinity of Tyre--not the city. He was trying to escape notice, and get some badly needed rest for His disciples. The woman would have had to travel to find Him...

Of greater interest is the placing of this pericope in both gospels. It not only records Jesus' withdrawal from the opposition of the Pharisees and teachers of the law (cf. 14.13) but contrasts their approach to the Messiah with that of this woman.

They belong to the covenant people but take offense at the conduct of Jesus' disciples, challenge his authority, and are so defective in understanding the Scriptures that they show themselves not to be plants the heavenly Father has planted. But this woman is a pagan, a descendent of ancient enemies, and with no claim on the God of the covenant. Yet in the end she approaches the Jewish Messiah and with great faith asks only for grace; and her request is granted...

Theologically, Jesus was sent (as Messiah) to the Jew only. The biblical intent was that the Nation of Israel would accept the Messiah, receive the Spirit, and turn-around and evangelize/minister to the whole world (as they will some day--Romans 11.15). The Gentiles were included in the covenant promises to Abraham, but the blessings to them would come "through Abraham" (Gen 12.3). Cf. Jesus remarks in John 4: "Salvation is from the Jews." So, His PUBLIC ministry was semi-confined to the nation of Israel. [In fact, this scene is the only known traveling of the adult Jesus outside of Palestine--and it was to hide!]

But, AS A JEW HIMSELF (not as the Jewish Messiah), Jesus had a responsibility to non-Jews. As a private citizen, He was to show kindness to foreigners (Lev 19.33ff; Ex 22.21; Dt 10.18ff). Israel was supposed to be a 'kingdom of priests'--to mediate to non-Israel the blessings of God (Ex 19.6). Jonah is an OT book whose central theme is Jewish evangelism of gentiles (Assyria)...

And a key point:

Pedagogically, we have to remember that Jesus (as were traditional rabbi's of the day) was fond of using questions, challenges, and puzzles to engage a student in the learning/growing process (e.g. Mt 13.51; 15.34; Mt 16.13; 17.25; 19.17; 20.22; 20.32--esp. 22.41; Mk 3.4; Lk 10.36; Lk 20.17; John 5.6).

...Seeing exactly the subtle hint that Jesus has provided in the image, she agrees with Jesus (the adversative 'but' in many English translations is simply NOT in the text at all--the kai gar is everywhere else in the NT translated "for even"!), and points out that sometimes the puppies get little morsels BEFORE their regular feeding time, by simply hanging around the dinner table and catching the parts not used by the kids.

Jesus is deeply moved by such a powerful faith--He addresses her in Matthew with "O, Woman!"--a Greek construction (in Hellenistic Greek, not Classical) indicating deep emotional response (Carson, EBC, Matthew, p.356).

Jesus compliments her on her great faith, and explains that the demon has already left her daughter--(and that, by implication, there is no need for Him and the disciples to travel to her home.)

Notice that there is not the slightest indication that the woman felt insulted, discouraged, or even frustrated in this narrative--and also notice that this woman's incredible faith is immortalized forever in the NT (cf. Mk 14.9!).

Miller sums it up:

First, Jesus has made an implicit commitment to allow the disciples to rest. If Jesus were to go with this woman, the crowds would be thronging them, and they would be right back where they were in the last 2-3 chapters. Jesus has to "draw the line" somewhere. There is a time to rest and a time to work.

Jesus' comment to the disciples about 'the lost sheep of Israel' does two things: (1) it 'sets them up' pedagogically on a different track for His dialogue with the woman; and (2) SOMEHOW, encourages them to let the woman into His presence.

This latter point could be accomplished in a number of ways, many of which are not able to be conveyed in the text. We know, for example, of several cases of irony/sarcasm in Jesus' words that can only be learned from the setting (cf. Luke 13.33: In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day -- for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem! or John 16.31: "You believe at last!" Jesus answered. )

For all we know, this verse might have been said with a 'tired irony'--something like the modern--"I was sent only to the Lost Sheep of Israel--yeah, right!". In any event, his words or his tone or his gestures encouraged them to 'let her in'.

The woman now makes a request "(come to my house and) perform an exorcism" which conflicts with Jesus' current 'mission' to provide rest for his disciples. But instead of saying "No," he turns the event into a three-pronged teaching and development session--for her, for his disciples, for us--WITHOUT compromising His commitment to his disciples' rest, or His compassion for this woman's need.

He responds with a mini-parable or image of supper-time, little children, and their inside pets. This image is so well chosen, that it will deliver two 'payloads' to two different audiences....SHE will hear the words of Jesus and make the equivalencies of "children-disciples"//puppies-me". She will understand Jesus to be saying that she WILL GET FED, but that He must take care of His disciples FIRST. There is not a 'NO' in Jesus' words at all--just an implicit "WAIT." This "WAIT vs. NO" scenario is what prompts the woman to persevere. Either the image or the tone of Jesus encourages her to make her quick-witted response.

The image Jesus has chosen is an image of endearment, not insult. The picture of supper-time, with little kids at the table, and their pet "puppies" (the Greek word for 'dog' here is not the standard, 'outside' dog--which MIGHT BE an insult--, but is the diminutive word, meaning 'household pets, little dogs') at their feet, maybe tugging on their robes for food or play. The puppies, dear to the children and probably so too to the master (cf. 2 Sam 12.3f: but the poor man had nothing except one little ewe lamb he had bought. He raised it, and it grew up with him and his children. It shared his food, drank from his cup and even slept in his arms. It was like a daughter to him.), were to be fed AFTER the children (notice: not DENIED food--there was no "NO" in Jesus image--only "WAIT"). But the temporal order is clear--Jesus must take care of His disciples FIRST, and if meeting her need involved interrupting their rest and GOING SOMEWHERE, then it was going to have to wait.

Implicit in Jesus' image, however, is a very obvious 'hint' to the woman as to how next to proceed. His word choices are interesting. He COULD HAVE SAID "it is not fitting to take the children's food and give it to the (outside) dogs", but instead said "it is not fitting to take the children's food and TOSS it to the (inside) pets." The image, using the different Greek form for "inside puppy-pets" rather than that of the "outside dog" (cf. Luke 16.21), makes the "toss/inside puppy-pets" stand out in the saying.

If the woman had ever had any inside pet-related experiences, she would have instantly visualized the obvious--the little pets NEVER sit still away from the table--they are always (esp. the puppies) 'hounding' the children, with the often result of a morsel here or there BEFORE their real mealtime. The hint is there; and the quick-witted woman instantly seizes upon it.

Now we move to a section, "Attitude toward Jews," and on this one, Yosef is again anachronistic. How did Jesus violate laws to love fellow Jews? According to Yosef, by calling other Jews hypocrites, fools, etc.

He's anachronizing on love: Agape does not mean not confronting others with error or sin, or not engaging in such polemic. As we have noted elsewhere, a key difference in understanding the meaning of agape is to recognize that our culture is centered on the individual, whereas ancient Biblical society (and 70% of societies today) are group-centered. What is good for the group is what is paramount. Hence when the NT speaks of agape it refers to the "value of group attachment and group bonding" [Malina and Neyrey, Portraits of Paul, 196].

Agape is not an exchange on a personal level and "will have little to do with feelings of affection, sentiments of fondness, and warm, glowing affinity." It is a gift that puts the group first.

With that in mind, it may be best to understand agape as a parallel to another known concept of today -- not love, but tough love. The most famous example of such "tough love" known today is the New Jersey high school principal Joe Clark who cleaned out his high school and made it a safe place for those who wanted to learn. Clark was no soft sentimentalist! He kicked those out of school who disrupted the learning of others. He used physical compulsion to do it as needed. He used a bullhorn to get people's attention.

Is this agape? Yes, it is! It is the Biblical form of agape in which Clark valued what was best for his students as a whole versus what the individual wanted. In light of Jesus' confrontation with the Pharisees and others, it will take a complexity of emotion we find foreign, but conceptually, it is certainly possible to love one's enemies, and yet also attack them; and the same for one's disciples or allies. Like Clark's disruptive students, the Pharisees were a threat to the well-being of others; so likewise Peter when he made his error. They spread deception and falsehood and kept others from entering the Kingdom of God with their deceptions; or else led people down the wrong path and away from spiritual maturity.

In such a scenario, not only is it right and proper, for the sake of agape, to confront and confront boldly; it may be the only responsible thing to do to keep the "disease" or error from spreading and afflicting more souls.

In the ancient world, and even today, insults and polemics were a way to shame and discredit an opponent. So agape does include verbally attacking and discrediting one's opponents, or confronting other believers, when they are in the wrong. Jesus speaks to these men not as his enemies, but as enemies of the truth. There is no indication that he speaks to them as personal enemies, for all of his comments reflect their deception of others; the personal relationship between the parties does not even come into the picture. They were enemies for the sake of the Kingdom of God.

And so, Yosef's objection to "vicious, violent language" is out of place and out of time.

Next up, Yosef finds a violation of a command about "Cutting Down or Destroying Fruit Bearing Trees" where Jesus killed the fig tree. Problem is here, to start, the passage Yosef thinks Jesus violated is Deut. 20:19-20, which refers to what not to do when a city is being besieged by Israel. This was not a law against single-person destruction of single trees. So the claim is errant to begin with, and doesn't even consider the point that the tree's destruction served a greater purpose: to serve as an enacted parable that would be a sign for others and lead some to believe in him and be saved. Is Yosef going to tell us that one tree cannot be sacrificed for the sake of human eternal life?

(Note: In an updated edition by Yosef, this last entry was removed.)

Next up: "Did Jesus Change (Add to, or Take Away from) Torah Commandments?" Yosef offers subcategories starting with "Adultery." His first cite is John 8:3-11, where Jesus tells the people not to stone the adulterous woman.

Yosef says Jesus "changed the penalty" -- did he now? Yosef is out of context, yet again: the penalty had already been "changed" by the Romans, who forbade the Jews to enact their laws. So Yosef has a choice, and it's the one they were also offering Jesus: Do we enact the penalty, and risk Rome on our heads, and the lives that would be lost as a result?

(This one is also removed in the newer edition, though something different, for which our answer is the same, is now in a footnote.)

Next up, Matthew 5:27-8 where Jesus says one commits adultery even in one's heart. Yosef claims that in Deuteronomy, "desire is not considered sinful":

Deuteronomy 21:10-13 - (10) When you go forth to war against your enemies, and the Lord your God has delivered them into your hands, and you have taken them captive, (11) And see among the captives a beautiful woman, and desire her, that you would have her as your wife; (12) Then you shall bring her home to your house; and she shall shave her head, and pare her nails; (13) And she shall take off the garment of her captivity, and shall remain in your house, and bewail her father and her mother a full month; and after that you shall go in to her, and be her husband, and she shall be your wife.

The word "desire" here is NOT one of sexual attraction, but of delight and love -- which may obviously include or involve sexual attraction, but does not require it! It is the same word used in Deut. 7:7: "The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people..." Yosef is taking advantage of a resemblance in English.

After re-iterating about Jesus' singleness (see above), Yosef moves on to "Dietary Laws." On this account Yosef is right -- and also wrong. Yes, Jesus' teachings abrogated the diet restrictions. But Yosef does not ask for the WHY of those restrictions.

In ancient societies, purity codes like the diet laws "are a way of talking about what is proper for a certain place and a certain time...Pollution is a label attached to whatever is out of place with regard to the society's view of an orderly and safe world." It involves "drawing the lines that give definition to the world around us..." More than this: Purity in the ancient world "is fundamentally concerned with the ordering of the world and making sense of one's everyday experiences in light of that order, which is usually conceived as being a divine ordering of the cosmos..."

Ancient cultures like Israel's "draw extensive lines of purity, of clean and unclean, in an attempt to create a model of God's cosmic order and to help an individual locate his or her place in that order so that the person may know when pollution has been contracted and what needs to be done to dispel it, so that access to the holy God and his benefits will remain open." Breaches of boundaries are "unclean". From the Israelites food laws, something like a lobster which lives in the water, yet has legs, is ritually unclean because it breaks the boundaries between land and sea. Pilch and Malina [Handbook of Biblical Social Values, 24] also note the example of garments not being of mingled textiles (Lev. 19:19, Deut. 22:11).

Yosef apparently has no conception of this, for if he did, he would realize that abrogation of the food laws -- which defined the covenant people -- would go along with Jesus' expansion of the new covenant to all people. There was no longer any boundary between Jew and Gentile. Thus Jesus did not encourage a violation but a supercession that reflected the intentions of the diet laws.

As an aside, Yosef adds: "Yet, when speaking to Gentiles, three of the four 'laws' given by Paul in Ac 15:29 pertain to things that may not be consumed!" Yosef has the intent of the decree wrong; a reading of the material in its social context reveals something different [With.AA, 461n]: The part of the decree dealing with meat offered to idols is better understood when we realize that only the wealthy ate meat with any regularity. Otherwise, a working-class Gentile usually only ate meat at public celebrations at pagan temples. The ban on sexual activity (fornication) likewise makes sense in the context of pagan festivals where such activities were part of the process. The prohibition on things that are strangled relates to a pagan belief that strangulation of the sacrificial animal transferred the spiritual vitality of the offering to the idol itself.

At the same time, the prohibition on blood relates to the pagan practice of tasting of the blood of the sacrifice. The decree, therefore, is comprehended best as a prohibition of attending pagan feasts and all that entailed.

Next issue: "Divorce." Here Yosef claims that Jesus disagreed with Deut. 24:1-2, but he is unaware that the view Jesus offered was the same as that of the strict rabbinic school of Shammai.

Next, "Fasting." Yosef notes that the Torah commands observation of fasts on certain holidays. He cites Mark 2:18-20 against this, but there is no evidence that this was stated with reference to a prescribed time of fasting.

Then we have, "The Sabbath". Yosef cites as a violation Mark 2:23-6 and uses the alleged Abiathar error and more to accuse Jesus:

In addition to the factual errors in these passages (Ahimelech was the High Priest, not Abiathar; and the priests did not violate the law in giving the showbread to David and his men), which reflect the lack of his knowledge of the Hebrew Bible, it is apparent that Jesus disagreed with the Torah on the rules that pertain to Shabbat. The disciples were obviously not learned enough to know that the picking of grain on Shabbat was a violation of Torah law. And, Jesus, Instead of heeding the Rabbinic authorities and correcting his disciples' behavior (as he himself taught should be done [Mt 23:3]), he instead attempts to justify their actions and challenges the authority of the Rabbis. So, by changing the commandments about Shabbat, Jesus condoned the violation of Shabbat by his disciples.

But as Casey shows in Aramaic Sources of Mark's Gospel, Jewish commentators of Jesus' day agreed that there WAS a violation of the law, and they explained the violation just as Jesus did, as a matter of necessity [154]. Casey also notes [147] that evidence "strongly suggests that the prohibition of plucking did not enter the generally accepted halakah until it was promulgated by the rabbis in the third century CE."

A new section suggests that Jesus was in violation of the Law by disobeying the Sanhedrin, but if that is the case, then we ask Yosef: Were the priests also to be obeyed when they erected an Asherah pole in the Temple?

A section is now also added on alleged abuse of Is. 7:14 by Matthew, for which we remand Yosef here for an discussion on exegetical principles accepted by his religious forebears.

Finally it is suggested that because Jesus was baptized to "fulfill all righteousness," he must not have though he was sinless; Yosef is not informed that this was, indeed, a "demonstration" -- Jesus, as leader of his community, would have been obliged to lead the way by example -- but that this does not make it an efficacious example.

In closing, Yosef suggests that Jesus did himself no service by hanging around with "shady characters such as tavern/innkeepers and prostitutes" and by accepting hospitality from " people who, in all likelihood, did not observe all regulations concerning ritual cleanliness and dietary laws..."

As our close we can only remind Yosef of words of warning that preceded judgment on Israel: "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Hos. 6:6)

On Micah 5:2

The original form of this article was addressed to Tovia Singer. Since then, I have been charged with error on a point within, but in trying to investigate discovered that Singer's article is no longer online and that a nearly identical version is online by Uri Yosef.

Since no one seems to be able to explain this, I am neither admitting to error nor saying I did not make one, because I am not convinced that Yosef's article duplicates Singer's. Instead I will simply rewrite this article addressed to Yosef's version as it appears in December 2006.

Uri Yosef's argicle, entitled Bethlehem: The Messiah's Birthplace is not comparable in depth to Miller's detailed work here, and actually does get thoroughly refuted by it (combined with supplemental material found here), especially on the issue of whether "Bethlehem" is a clan or a city.

Here's an answer: by the rules of midrash, and the ancient perception of "probabilities," and the intimate identification of said clan with their ancestral city, it doesn't make any difference if Micah meant the clan and not the city. But there are a couple of points Yosef makes an issue of that are worth highlighting and that Glenn's item does not cover.

Yosef objects to what the KJV does (never mind what Biblical scholars do; he consults none, and barely tips a hat to other translations) in making Micah 5 translated differently than the same Hebrew word is translated elsewhere. The critical issue of course is what exactly the Hebrew word does support, and in that regard, the word in question, 'olam, is one we have seen before -- as noted from James Barr's Biblical Words for Time, this is a word that means "in perpetuity" -- Hebrew having, as Barr notes, no actual word for "eternity". As we noted in other places:

The word olam is also used to describe the tenure of a slave, indicating that his service will last for the entirety of his life. One might argue that this indicates a time that ends, but the parallel usage of olam with the phrase "as long as he lives" in 1 Sam. 1:22-28 indicates that what lies behind olam in these cases is something of a figurative sense of "forever" that stresses the permanence of the person's condition.

What this means is that 'olam can only mean "forver" if the context says so (eg, if it referred to God). And Jewish thought contemporary with early Christianity does allow for the idea that the Messiah was eternal. So one can hardly disqualify a midrashic application of this passage to Jesus on the basis of the use of 'olam. Far from being "disastrous to Christian theology" as Yosef claims, it nestles quite comfortably with it.

Other than this, Yosef claims that the "Messiah cannot be born in the insignificant place that is the lowest on the totem pole," buy why this is so, he fails to explain. One may as well argue that Moses could not have been born in pagan Egypt.

In the end, however, Yosef has to admit, "this prophecy speaks of Bethlehem as the Messiah's place of origin, though not necessarily his place of birth."

Not necessarily? So then what's the point of Yosef's objection?

Finally Yosef asks, "Using the logic of the Christian claim, and considering the many thousands of people having come from Bethlehem during its history, how is it possible to identify which one of them was the Messiah?"

Well -- that he was resurrected from the dead might be a useful signal?