Touching the Leper – Part 2 (of 2)

Touching the Leper

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Mark 1:40-44)

In my last post, I addressed biblical leprosy and its causes in order to give some background on this incident in which Yeshua touches the leper to make him whole. In this post I address the implications of his touch, as well as addressing some misconceptions about the event.

Yeshua’s Encounter with the Leper

Now that we have a better understanding of the details of tzara’at, we must now return to our passage in which Yeshua encounters the metzora, a man who has contracted biblical leprosy. In the story, the man requests one thing of Yeshua. He asks, “If you will, you can make me clean” (v. 40). Notice his request. His request was not healing, but purity. This is an especially important aspect to the story in light of what we have learned from examining the passages in Leviticus pertaining to tzara’at. Continue reading “Touching the Leper – Part 2 (of 2)”

Touching the Leper – Part 1 (of 2)

Touching the Leper

And a leper came to him, imploring him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.” Moved with pity, he stretched out his hand and touched him and said to him, “I will; be clean.” And immediately the leprosy left him, and he was made clean. And Jesus sternly charged him and sent him away at once, and said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer for your cleansing what Moses commanded, for a proof to them.” (Mark 1:40-44)

This is a story with which most people are familiar. During one of his return visits to the Galilee, Yeshua encounters a leper who begs for healing. Yeshua, being filled with compassion, touches the leper and he is healed instantly. However, there is more going on in this incident than what lies on the surface. Let’s take a quick look at some of the components that underly the passage and help break down some of the things the author assumes of the reader.

Biblical Leprosy

First, let’s take a look at biblical leprosy. The typical mental image painted by Sunday School lessons and Sunday morning sermons is of a debilitating disease which leaves a person marred and disfigured, with lesioned flesh and missing fingers and toes. We often envision the disturbing images from Southeast Asia and Central Africa as examples of what biblical leprosy would have been like. However, these are misrepresentations that we are forcing onto the Scriptures due to the use of the English word, “leprosy.” Biblical leprosy is known as tzara’at (צרעת) and has no relation to modern leprosy, otherwise known as Hansen’s Disease. Unlike Hansen’s Disease, which is a bacterial infection affecting the skin and the nervous system, biblical leprosy — tzara’at — involves none of these symptoms. In fact, you’ll be surprised at how very different these two diseases are from one another. Continue reading “Touching the Leper – Part 1 (of 2)”

Themes of Elul – Part 1

Elul - Song of Songs

Repentance, Prayer, & Tzedakah annul the evil decree.1

Come away, my Beloved…

Today I begin a series of posts speaking on the themes of the month of Elul, the sixth month on the Biblical calendar. It is the month just prior to the onset of the High Holy Days of the Fall. Here are some ways to understand this holy month from a Messianic perspective.

Each day in the month of Elul the shofar is blown in anticipation of the approaching High Holy Days of Rosh Hashannah & Yom Kippor (and then immediately followed by Sukkot/Tabernacles). On Rosh Hashannah (in the Bible it is only referred to as Yom Teruah – the Day of Sounding), the sound of the shofar is said to awaken the slumbering soul and rekindle a yearning to return to its Creator. For thirty days prior to Rosh Hashannah, the day the books of Life and Death are opened, the shofar reminds us of our need for a spiritual renewal and a reconnection with our Spiritual Source.

Let us hear the sound and be called to remembrance. Continue reading “Themes of Elul – Part 1”

  1. Unetahneh Tokef / y.Ta’aniyot 65b

Book Review: In the Shadow of the Temple

In The Shadow of the Temple coverIn the Shadow of the Temple :
Jewish influences on early Christianity
by Oskar Skaursaune

455 Pages
InterVarsity Press, 2002

Until reading this book, I was totally unaware of Skarsaune and his literary offerings. Now, I realize how deprived I have been.

In In the Shadow of the Temple, Skarsaune begins his account of the development of Christianity by first peering into the last two centuries of the Second Temple period, beginning with the Hasmonean dynasty and the subsequent influence of Hellenism upon Jewish religion and culture. From there he sets the stage to masterfully guide us through the first few centuries of the development of Christianity, culminating in “The Constantinian Revolution” of the early fourth century.

Throughout each chapter he weaves the story of the early believers with the fibers of secular historical records (such as Pliny the Elder & Tacitus), Jewish writings (Talmud, Apocrypha, etc.), and the writings of both Jewish and non-Jewish believers (Didache, 1 Clement, etc.). Skarsaune examines as much of the evidences as possible in order to place each piece of the puzzle with care. He is very articulate without being verbose. Following are some highlights from this work.

The impact of this way of looking at first-century Jewish and Christian history has been enormous, and is still felt in New Testament scholarship. There is no doubt, however, that a basic “change of paradigm” is taking place. For one thing, Jewish scholars have argued with great conviction that Jesus should not be placed outside Pharisaism, but within it: when Jesus debates with Pharisees, his own positions can be shown to agree with those of other Pharisaic authorities. In other words, Pharisaism itself was complex; it comprised different opinions; it could comprise those of Jesus. Jesus’ debates with Pharisaic opponents is therefore an intra-Pharisaic debate…It is meaningless and grossly anachronistic to picture Jesus, Peter or Paul as debating with “Judaism” or its representatives, as if they themselves were outside and represented something else, a non-Jewish position. 1

In this quote, Skarsaune rightly recognizes the intra-house debate between Jesus and the Pharisees of his days, rather than viewing Jesus as an outsider as is typically the case. Jesus has not come to topple the biblical religion in order to establish a new one through subversive tactics. He is in the order of the prophets of old, condemning hypocrisy and calling his people back to repentance through proper relationship to the Torah given at Sinai.

In another insightful passage, Skarsaune hits upon another often overlooked truth in regard to the standard model of prayer for the early believers:

In the days of Jesus the wording and sequence of the elements of the synagogue service had attained such stability that we are fully justified in speaking of a synagogal liturgy. The echoes of the synagogal prayers in the Lord’s Prayer and other early Christian prayers demonstrate that this liturgy was well known to Jesus and the early disciples. We should not think that the early Christians were antiliturgical in their worship gatherings. It is no accident that in Acts 2:42 Luke does not say that the early community “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching … and prayer,” but to “the prayers,” which suggests fixed patterns. All the evidence points to the synagogal liturgy as a source for those prayers. 2

When examining the letters of Ignatius 3, Skarsaune aptly notes:

One gets the impression that Ignatius’s relationship to the Old Testament was mainly a literary one. For him, the Old Testament was a book, not a living past which, through traditions and observances, determined his own life and thinking. It is this, more than anything else, that betrays the Gentile Christian. The position of Ignatius may perhaps best be characterized as New Testament orthodoxy. It was the apostolic writings that made him value the Old Testament and love the prophets. The authority of the Old Testament is undisputed, but it is derived from the authority of the gospel.

This was probably one of the most characteristic differences between Jewish believers and believers coming from an entirely Gentile background. It was not a question of doctrinal differences but rather a difference of mentality. For both groups the Old Testament was an authoritative book, and the church of the Gentiles was later to defend the Old Testament bravely and at considerable cost against attacks from within the church and without. But to them the Old Testament was and remained a book, describing a history that was past and finished. To the Jewish believers, it was so much more. Through innumerable cords of tradition, festivals, daily practices, religious concepts, etc., the Jewish believers were bound up with the Old Testament; it was part of their lives.

What we observe in Ignatius may perhaps best be described as a loss of Jewish context. 4

In this observation, I believe Skarsaune has hit upon one of the primary dysfunctions of modern Christian faith. We have built our house of faith from the top down, rather than from the bottom up due to our subconscious disconnect with the Tanach (the “Old Testament”) and the patriarchs. Yes, Jesus is the pinnacle of our faith. But in order to truly understand his work, we must first have an intimate relationship with the broad foundation of the Tanach, which was laid out in order to elucidate that which would come after it. Without this understanding, the majority of the Scriptures (i.e. the “Old Testament”) becomes exactly as Ignatius views it, as “a history that was past and finished.”

To conclude, the present work from Skarsaune is one which should be in the library of anyone who is serious about understanding the development of Christianity in the first few centuries, and how the apron strings began to be cut (whether for the good or for the bad) from Mother Judaism. Skarsaune does an excellent job at reducing and articulating a plethora of information into layman’s terms in a way which is easily comprehendible and manageable. I look forward to collecting his other offerings as well.

  1.  In the shadow of the temple : Jewish influences on early Christianity. 2002 (105–106, 107). Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press.
  2. Ibid., p. 125.
  3. was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop of Antioch, and was a student of John the Apostle.
  4. Ibid., p. 217

Soncino Babylonian Talmud Full Text In English

For those who don’t mind looking through multiple PDF documents, I recently ran across the complete text of the Soncino Babylonian Talmud in English as a series of free downloads. I thought I would post the link here for anyone who has been looking for an electronic source of this complete work, as I have in the past. I’m not sure who is responsible for this sight, I certainly appreciate the work that they’ve done to create it. They also have a few links to other resources (mostly in Hebrew/Aramaic) for things such as the Mishnah, Tosefta, Hebrew versions of both the Bavli & Yerushalmi, etc. Check it out when you have time:

http://www.halakhah.com/