Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Reflexive Property of Theology...

Top of the evening to all...

The math people who read this blog saw that title and expected to see a different word at the end.  They are used to the reflexive property of mathematics.  It is the first property we learn when we take algebra.  According to the reflexive property of mathematics, in all equations, A = A.  Essentially, this property allows us to balance an equation knowing that both sides of that equation share the same vocabulary.

I mention this in terms of theology because of a discussion I have with every one of my conversion students.  Invariably, one of those students uses the term 'Old Testament' in our discussions.  This only happens once.  After our discussion, they are usually quite aware that as future Jews, that term does not fit our theological construct.  Allow me to elaborate.

1.  To use the term "Old Testament" implies that there is a new testament.  While it is clear that such a document exists from a historical perspective, Jewish theological belief cannot hold that it exists as a religious document.

2.  There are books in Christian Testament that do not exist in our TaNaKh [an acronym, referring to Torah, Nevi'im (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings)].  For example, the Catholic canon has the book of Ben Sira.  It was a book known to the Rabbis, but not considered canonical.  In this equation, A does not equal A.

3.  The Christian Testament...it should really be in the plural.  Catholic canon and Protestant canon differ as well.  The Christian Testaments are in a different order.  Some of the changes are logical.  For example, the Book of Ruth is placed prior to the Samuels, as Ruth is an ancestor of King David.  Beyond that, the Christian Testaments place the prophets last.  This makes a powerful theological statement.  At the culmination of Malakhi's prophecy, or perhaps as the culmination of Malakhi's prophecy, the messiah arrives.

4.  The Torah portion of Matot begins in Numbers 30:2.  If you were to look in a Torah, you would find that there is a clear paragraph break after 30:1.  Obviously, there are no chapters and verses written in the Torah itself.  30:1 belongs to the Torah portion before.  This paragraph break is important.  Following the Jewish change of portion at 30:2, 30:1 is thus attached to what came before - the schedule of holy days.  Knowing that Christianity broke with Judaism as concerns calendar issues, the Jewish breakdown connects Moses speaking as God spoke on the calendar and holiday observances, and not on the matter of oaths that will start in 30:2.

5.  The very last verse of the Tanakh is at the end of II Chronicles (36:23).  Again, this is different from concluding at the end of Malakhi's prophecy.  Take note of the last verse though:

כה אמר כורש מלך פרס 
כל ממלכות הארץ נתן לי ה' אלוקי השמים
 והוא פקד עלי לבנות לו בית בירושלם אשר ביהודה
 מי בכם מכל עמו ה' אלוקיו עמו ויעל

Thus spoke Cyrus the king of Persia:
all the kingdoms of the earth God has given me, 
 commanding me to build a Temple in Jerusalem, 
in the land of Yehudah (Judea); 
all amongst you from his people, 
God is with you and you should go up.

This verse actively encourages people to return to the Land of Israel and rebuild the Holy Temple.  At the time that the various canons are determined, the early Church Fathers are shifting their focus away from the Land of Israel towards Rome.  To have the last word of what they would call the Old Testament point in the opposite direction contradicts numerous theological tenets for the early Church.

As we can see, A does not equal A, not in the least.  To speak of the Old Testament is to speak of a different book, with a different layout, with a different set of books within, and with significant theology underlying it all.  The change in vocabulary has far deeper meaning than just a different title to the same (not!) book.

Have a good night.


1 comment:

  1. Toddah rabbah, Rabbi, for a most thoughtful exposé of a term that I've always found discomfiting. Now I know why! I will stick with Tanach and let others say what they will.
    B'Shalom, Orah, v'Ahavah