Is this a rock or not? I Would like to know

Charles David Isbell cisbell at
Sun Feb 18 12:43:33 EST 2001

From: "Peter Kirk" <Peter_Kirk at

 Dear Charles,

I would just like to clarify things. I was I think the first to introduce
the New Testament and an evangelical Christian perspective into this thread.
But I did not state and do not hold that 'the "Old Testament" was a
"foreshadowing" only'. Rather, to me this literature is 'still a meaningful
basis for faith and worship'. This is also the historic Christian position,
though we insist on the 'only'. New Testament interpretations of the Hebrew
Bible are of course important, but the HB must be understood firstly for
what it meant in its own context, and only secondarily as interpreted in the

I do not recognise my position in what you write here and would hope that no
Christians would hold this.

Peter Kirk

Dear Peter,

I very much appreciate to hear what you are saying here.  Frankly, in
reading your posts over the months, and in having read some of your
published works, I am not surprised that your position is not recognizable
in what I have said.  I don't think we are dealing with a Jewish vs.
Christian issue, and the starkest difficulties with Dan Wagner's statements
have been written by his fellow Christians.  I am aware of the "evangelical"
perspective among Christian thinkers, and have viewed it as distinct from a
rigid fundamentalism that is exhibited in other circles.  Also, as one whose
career has been spent largely in public institutions, I have always had
numerous Christian colleagues with whom I have enjoyed warm and mutually
profitable relations.  On the other hand, the views that I am seeing
delineated by Dan do not match the views of any of my Christian colleagues,
and they appear to me to be exactly what you say you "hope no Christian
would hold."

Of course the NT is a relevant witness to the meaning of the HB for the new
faith that is being reconstructed to become Christianity.  But it is equally
clear that a virtually parallel development is taking place in Judaism, as
the rabbis of this same general time frame are forced to reconstruct their
religion in the light of world events.  In that sense, I view Rabbinic
Judaism and Christianity as sister religions rather than seeing Christianity
as the daughter of Judaism.  The HB is not "Judaism" any more than it is
"Christianity," and the rabbis knew fully well the necessity of interpreting
their holy books [Bible] in the light of current reality.  The loss of the
Temple hit both groups hard, as I understand it, forcing Jews to create a
system of worship that could replace their former system of sacrifice and
worship centered in the Temple proper.  Am I not correct that the early
Christians also worshipped regularly at this same Temple?  And that none of
the gospels was written [as we now have them] until after 70 CE and the loss
of the Temple?  Does this not mean that Christianity is forced to deal with
the reality of how to worship in light of this loss?  Is not the idea of
Jesus as the once for all sacrifice, making unnecessary the system of
continuing sacrifices, exactly such a reconstruction?  Whether this
particular reconstruction is THE truth is a matter of individual import, and
not appropriate to a scholarly forum that includes people from a wide
variety of religious beliefs.

The great Yohanan ben Zakkai and his student Yehoshua` bar Perahya are
credited with a dialogue that is exactly appropriate here.  Walking outside
the city and viewing the ruined Temple, the young student is said to have
exclaimed, "Woe to us, for we have no more atonement for sin."  To which the
Teacher replied, "We have something better."  And he thereupon quoted from
Hosea, describing God as desiring "HeSeD" rather than sacrifice.  This paves
the way for the rabbinic construction of a religious faith based upon
prayer, study, the doing of righteous deeds, etc., as a substitute for the
lost Temple and its cult.

I believe it would be foolish of me to simply proclaim that a rabbinic
reformulation of a principle found in the Bible is THE only way to
understand the original scriptural passage.  That it reflects a valid
attempt in the time of the Tanna'im to grapple with Scripture is self
evident to me, and important to my own faith as a practicing Jew.  Likewise,
that a Christian would view the NT attempts to grapple with biblical
principles is neither strange to me nor something that I wish to suppress.
What I would find unpleasant is the idea that either a Jew or a Christian
would point to the reconstruction done by the early founders of his/her own
religion as the only possible way, or as the way ordained by God, or as
anything more than one of a number of viable options.

That is why the position taken by Dan seems to me to lie outside the scope
of scholarship.  The premise that God is the Author of the Bible is
unproveable, as is the idea that the books of Scripture present only a
single unified point of view [Qohelet, Shir ha-Shirim, Job, Proverbs 31, The
apocalyptic passages in both testaments].  {Thank God that the early Church
did not hold such a view, or at least three of the gospels would be lost.}
Dan feels that his perspective is the truth, and not "just one of many
possible options."  This too is unverifiable, as is the belief that the
divine spirit enables Dan or anyone else to know and proclaim THE truth.
All of these positions are appropriate to an evangelist seeking to make
converts to his/her faith.  But in a scholarly forum, these positions
immediately torpedo meaningful debate and exchange of ideas.  If one really
believes, as Dan has stated clearly, that "according to the text, that same
Holy Spirit also was behind 'the
interpretations that interest [me]' in the NT," all other positions are
trumped.  How can anyone dare to contest what Dan already knows from the
spirit of God who has given him the true interpretations?

I do not feel harshly at Dan for his views. But it is clear that he cannot
hold the same respect for the views of anyone else that he accords to his
own.  How could he realistically change his views in the light of new
evidence, regardless of what it might be, if his view comes from God to
begin with!  If I attended his church, I would anticipate having such views
preached at me.  In a forum of scholars seeking to exchange information and
resources, such evangelism is inappropriate.

Charles David Isbell

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