Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Timely Post

It was not until I had begun typing that I realized how timely this post was, so I went back and change the title and decided to run with it.

As part of my ongoing attempt to bring myself up to the proper level of culture and general knowledge that I would be getting from a normal college, I have begun to read the New Testament. The following are my general thoughts on the subject, in no particular order. While none of them are particularly original, they all interested me at the time:
  1. There is no possible way that I can read this without a bias. Even ignoring any prior conditioning I have, I'm simply not reading this as an article of my faith that it is morally useful to appreciate. Quite the opposite. So any comparisons to Tanach are simply not going to be fair.
  2. That said, I'm not overwhelmingly impressed. It's nice. It's certainly nice and sweet and preachy, and just jam-packed with all sorts of quotable quotes. And that's it. I can see sweet, moral people being all inspired by its sweet, moral lessons, but it doesn't feel like it has any meat to it. For me, it's rather like my high school Navi class (and I'm sure they'd both love the analogy): full of pretty lines and "how can we apply this to our lives?" without firm guidelines or anything real. I'm sure there are people who like that sort of thing; I'm just not one of them.
  3. The story of John the Baptist's head is exactly- I mean uncannily- like the story of R' Yishmael the Kohen Gadol. I mean, isn't John even the son of the Kohen Gadol or something? And the girl and the face... There's got to be some copying or joint source there. I bet there's a doctorate somewhere out there on that very subject.
  4. Wow, there's a lot of stuff about faith and the world to come. A lot. I actually like worldviews that have less of an emphasis on both. Which seems to be more common in Tanach than in modern Orthodox society.
  5. It's quite repetitive, isn't it? I mean, aside from the Gospels being the same things in slightly different wording, each gospel has multiples of each story. Twice with the loaves and fishes, at least three predictions of the Crucifixion, countless lepers and demon-possessed. I wonder if there's Bible criticism on this stuff.
  6. They, like the gemara, are really, really big on Eliyahu. There doesn't seem to be any such emphasis in the later bits of Tanach, except for that one quote at the end of Zechariah.
  7. I keep getting annoyed at Jesus for being egotistical and self-centered and overconfident. And I know that when you're G-d, you're allowed to wander about and think that you're so special and that it's better for people to bathe your feet than help the poor and that loving their families more than you is evil and whatever, but it's still really annoying when it's coming from the mouth of a character who is technically human. (Maybe it's my sidekick sympathy kicking in) You just want to tell him to get over himself. And I guess one could have the same objections to G-d, but to me it's quite different when you're incorporeal and infinite and so forth.


Halfnutcase said...

yes which is why I would have never just simply abandoned my family on shabbos to go to a fabrengen with the rebbe. The fabrengen can wait, shabbos meals are family time, and if I get one request for a game or some attention, or even a hint, then the rest of shabbos is family time to. Shabbos is not a time to waste with some rabbi, even if he is really great. There are more than enough week days for that sort of thing.

e-kvetcher said...

Are you reading the gospels only or Acts and Epistles, etc. as well?

There is a huge amount of biblical criticism around the Gospels. "A Marginal Jew" is a pretty good study of the Gospels - though it is not really easy reading...

Tobie said...

Yoni- you'll never be a true apostle at that rate. ;)

E-Kvetcher- so far, I'm halfway through the gospels, but I only read at my sister's house because she has a copy and I'm too lazy to buy one. So it's slow going.

e-kvetcher said...

Here you go, my child:


Halfnutcase said...

tobie, I'd send you my grandmothers, but, um, my mother is rather attached to it (and not because of the content either. I don't think she's read it in more than thirty years or more. Actualy, last time I had to look up a quote in it (to prove that the new testiment hates jews) (to which my mother told me look up anything by paul.) I couldn't find it because it was in a box downstairs.

(she told me to start with romans. When I found an internet source it took me less than 5 minutes to find a rabbid nasty jew hating comment. Actualy it took me about 2 minutes to find another one.

My mother apperantly still knows her bible.

Then on, before she decided to convert she was planning on becomming a baptist missionary.

This from the woman who just a year or so later stated "I didn't know I could ethicaly teach it to my kids!"

and no, I'll never be a true apostle, and I think true apostles are rather foolish about such things. Kinda like a chassid shoteh, except rather more fuzzy.

Tobie said...

E-Kvetcher: Wow, ask and you shall be given. Thanks!

e-kvetcher said...

Just a couple more thoughts:

1) The Gospels never claim to be divinely written or even inspired. They are just stories documenting the events of Jesus' life. So I think off the bat, that puts them into a different category than the Torah or Navi.

2) How can there not be an eschatological emphasis when the purpose of Jesus is to usher in the Messianic age? The focus on Elijah is also not surprising given that these people all came from the same society as the Chazal.

Tobie said...

1) Well, yes and no. Granted, the writing is supposed to have been divine, but neither are Nevi'im, exactly. Nevi'im only claim to chronicle a bunch of speeches, all of which were Divinely inspired. Most of the Gospels that I have read so far do the same, and Jesus's own speeches are definitely supposed to be divine/divinely inspired, so I think the comparison is somewhat fair.

2)Absolutely true. I just find it interesting because it really brings home the major shift in focus between tanach and that period of history. There's plenty of that in Chazal, too, but there it's just somewhat diluted by all of the other stuff that they talk about. Here, it's pure redemption all the time.

e-kvetcher said...

But IIRC, the majority of Nevi'im consists of the prophecies, whereas the Gospels seem to have a lot more narrative rather than just the sayings of Jesus.

BTW, learned a new Hebrew word today "laflafim". Present company excluded, of course.

Tobie said...

I guess, but the Nevi'im do have chunks of narrative stuck in here and there setting up the prophecies and so forth, so it's really just a matter of degree.

Speaking of Hebrew, did you see the attempted translation of the Tomer Yosef song that I posted on your blog? I think it's in the comments for "Science is Evil". Boy, that's a weird song.

e-kvetcher said...

>Speaking of Hebrew, did you see the attempted translation of the Tomer Yosef song that I posted on your blog?

Yep. thanks for that. I wonder if "grass" means pot? He looks like the kind of a guy who would partake of such stuff?

Anonymous said...

Biblical criticism BEGAN with the New Testament. The idea of four authors (JPED) came from fact that four gospels exist which all say much the same thing.