Notes for Religious Studies 369:
Introduction to Judaism
Biblical visions of redemption
- Trusted in God to redeem individuals, the nation, and perhaps humanity at large.
- Expectations of collective redemption:--ideal world at the end of history (eschatology).
- Influence of biblical belief in Covenant.→ culmination of God's historical plan.
- Important concepts inplicit in prophetic preaching:
- Prophets often threatened the catastrophic consequences of disobedience to God.
- Especially in times of national tragedyprophets provided encouraging visions of a utopian future if they would maintain their faith under adversity.
- After the prophecy ceased, Jews read their scriptures to find out what God was saying to them. This led to the perception that the Nevi'im were foretelling the future. (→ use of Greek term "prophet").
- General assumtion that catastrophic events would come to pass before the establishment of the utopian world.
- Some prophecies spoke of vengeance on wicked heathen nations who oppressed Israel.
Others described how the nations of the world would willingly do homage to God in Jerusalem.
- Jews who had recently experienced great historical suffering often regarded those events as the fulfillment of the catastrophic prophecies.
- Frequent images:
- "War of Gog and Magog (Ezekiel chapters 38-39)
- Need to purge the world's remaining evil so that the new world can be based on a foundation of pure goodness.
- "Birth pangs of the Messiah."
- Ongoing debate whether Israel must repent before the redemption.
- "The son of David will come only in a generation that is completely righteous or one that is completely guilty."
- Jews usually believed that the redemption would arrive within a generation or two.
- Standard themes of eschatological redemption include:
- Ingathering of the exiles to their homeland.
- Rebuilding of Jerusalem and its Temple.
- Restoration of Israel's sovereignty under a king from the line of David
- His head would be anointed with olive-oil; → "messiah" [Hebrew: Mashiah], anointed one.
- A society entirely devoted to God.
- All nations will acknowledge and worship God.
- Elijah the Prophet as herald of the redemption, according to Malachi (4:4) : "Lo, I will send you the prophet Elijah before the great and terrible day of the Lord comes."
- Belief in resurrection of the dead projected to eschatological future.
Jerusalem the holy city
- Biblical restriction of formal worship to "the place which the Lord shall choose Subsequent Jewish tradition never doubted that the place that was being referred to was Jerusalem.
- Jerusalem acquired by King David who made it Israel's united capital.
- Identification of Jerusalem with the land of "Moriah" where Abraham went to sacrifice his son Isaac (see Genesis 22:2 and 2 Chronicles 3:1).
- Construction of the Temple by David's son Solomon.
- Jerusalem as focus of pilgrimage festivals.
- Many offerings brought to the Temple.
- Bible contains many beautiful passages that extol the unique beauty of Jerusalem.
- After Jerusalem's destruction all eschatological visions include assurances that its restoration.
Michaelangelo's "David" (Florence)David and the ideal of monarchy
- Possibility that the term "messiah" originated in response to the Hasmoneans' assumption of royal and priestly authority.
- The Bible's ambivalent attitude towards monarchy. Deuteronomy 17:14-20 seems opposed and concerned with setting strict limits to the king's authority.
Samuel (1 Samuel 8 etc.) opposes the people's request for a stable government.
King Saul's reign comes to tragic end.
- Complex personality of David: Humble beginnings of Moabite descent; became popular hero (for killing Goliath); poet (Psalms) and a musician; successful military leader; founder of Jerusalem; problematic romantic life → Bathsheba episode, rivalries among his children; ended his life as vindictive and vengeful old man.
- Jewish tradition nonetheless idealized his reign as a virtual golden age.
The earliest known reference to the "House of David" in an inscription from Tel Dan
- Davidic covenant: Prophet Nathan promised him "your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you; your throne shall be established forever."
- → Restoration of David's monarchy became standard feature of Jewish eschatology.
- Expansion of messiah's place in Jewish eschatological thought (in response to Christianity?).
- Concept of "failed messiah" son of Joseph .
- From a Greek work for "hidden" or "secret"
- Standard formula:
- Hero initiated into esoteric revelation about the immanent climax of history;
- Evil empires will be overthrown by God
- Authority transferred to the faithful,.persecuted minority.
- Graphic symbolism to describe the evil kingdoms, their collapse, and the heavenly kingdom that will be established in their place.
- Belief in an predetermined historical plan.
- Perception that the justice can be restored only by divine agency.
- Apocalyptic ideas especially popular under Roman rule.
- Apocalyptic themes in Qumran "Scroll of the War of the Children of Light and the Children of Darkness."
Downplayed catastrophic apocalyptic elements, preference for more spiritual redemption, allegorical interpretation.
- Some were primarily concerned with systematic interpretation of biblical and rabbinic concepts.
- Preferred for vision of universal enlightenment. Maimonides' messiah reminiscent of Plato's "philosopher-king".
Redemption according to the Kabbalah
- Sufferings of the Jewish people correspond to disharmony in the sefirot provoked by human sinfulness.
- Separation of Shekhinah.
- Lurianic myth of "shattering of the vessels" leving confusion of holy sparks sparks and husks of evil (kelippot). Goal of liberating the sparks from the husks.
- Observance of religious precepts brings redemption.
- Kabbalistic messiahs such as Shabbetai Zevi and Jacob Frank.
- Hasidism's ambivalent attitude towards messianism.
- Orthodox Judaism generally maintained traditional attitudes with varying degrees of intensity and in response to historical events.
- Some religious Zionists attach eschatological significance to the state of Israel
- Liberal movements often identify traditonal messianic concepts with modern ideologies.
Homeland and exile
- Paradox of ideal of homeland vs. historical reality of exile (galut).
- Religious merit of migration to the holy land.
- Enlightenment led to downplaying of national elements.
- Zionism originated as secular or antireligious movement. Much--but not all-- of traditional Orthodox leadership opposed it (cf. Neturei Karta) or were indifferent (e.g., Agudat Israel) .
- Orthodox Zionism-- Mizrachi movement.
- Polarization between old and new "yishuv."
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook
- Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1865-1935)-- spiritual leader of religious Zionism and reconciliation between religious and secularist streams.
- Involvement of religious Zionism in right-wing Israeli politics. Gush Emunin ("bloc of the faithful") as leaders in movement to expand territories to biblical borders.