Hebrew Voices #77 – Jewish-Christian Debates in the Middle Ages (Rebroadcast)

Hebrew Voices - Jewish-Christian Debates in the Middle Ages - Nehemia Gordon with Dr. Daniel LaskerIn this episode of Hebrew Voices, Jewish-Christian Debates in the Middle Ages, Nehemia Gordon speaks with Israeli professor Dr. Daniel Lasker, about the painful memory of forced conversions. They talk about the reason most Jews do not have a ready-answer about why they do not believe in Jesus, why people argue things they don't really believe, and how a sarcastic sense of humor served as a defense mechanism in dealing with traumatic realities in Jewish history. This episode contains a world first: a Jewish professor attempts to explain to a Karaite Jew the nuances of the Trinity in Christian theology!

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Hebrew Voices #77 - Jewish-Christian Debates in the Middle Ages

You are listening to Hebrew Voices with Nehemia Gordon. Thank you for supporting Nehemia Gordon's Makor Hebrew Foundation. Learn more at NehemiasWall.com.

Nehemia: You wrote this in one of your articles, and this is what inspired me to contact you. I’m going to read this quote. You said, “One can understand Judaism on its own terms without reference to Christianity, while Christianity can be understood only be understood in terms of Judaism.” I read that and I thought that was the key to understanding so much of my interaction with Christians.

Benjamin Netanyahu: Le ma’an Zion lo ekhesheh, u’l’ma’an Yerushalayim lo eshkot. (For Zion’s sake I will not be silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest. Isaiah 62:1)

Nehemia: Shalom, this is Nehemia Gordon with Hebrew Voices, and today, I am at the Marcus Family Campus of the Ben Gurion University of the Negev in Beer Sheva, Israel. Today we have on the program Professor Daniel J. Lasker, who is the Norbert Blechner Professor of Jewish Values in the Goldstein-Goren Department of Jewish Thought. He’s the author of six books and over 200 other publications in the fields of Jewish philosophy, the Jewish-Christian debate, and Karaism. In addition to Ben Gurion University, Professor Lasker has taught at the University of Toronto, Yale University, Princeton University, Ohio State University, University of Texas, University of Washington, and other institutions. Shalom, Professor Lasker.

Daniel: Shalom, Nehemia.

Nehemia: Now, you are, it says in your bio, an expert on Karaite Judaism, but today, we’re actually going to talk about the Jewish-Christian debate. I think we need to give some background, because I don’t know that my audience knows too much about these Jewish-Christian debates in the Middle Ages. Here’s what I know.

Around the year 150 AD or CE, there was a Christian named Justin Martyr who wrote a book called Dialogues with Trypho, which is a systematic attack on Judaism, a systematic defense of Christianity from his perspective, and deconstruction attack on Judaism. You’re saying there wasn’t anything like that in the first eight centuries, where a Jew sat down and said, “Let me write something to prove the Christians are wrong.” But they did tell stories about Jesus, which maybe were even a parody meant to be a little bit insulting, maybe?

Daniel: Yeah, I think that’s accurate. The Dialogue with Trypho, or Tryphon, of Justin, was not the first Christian polemical work, but it’s one of the first important ones. Then in the period of the Church Fathers until the 5th century or so, there are many works in the genre known as Adversus Judaeos, “against the Jews”. You have them in Greek, and you have them in Latin, you have in…

Nehemia: Wait, wait. So this was a type of book that people would write? A Christian would sit down and say, “Today I’m not going to write poetry. I’m going to write Adversus Judaeos against the Jews.” That was a type of writing. You’re saying the Jews didn’t have that category of writing against Christians.

Daniel: Correct. It used to not have a parallel genre of this type of writing against Christianity. One should keep in mind, though, during this period, the first eight Christian centuries, there are very few if no Jewish discrete compositions on specific topics. In other words, you have the Talmud, you have the Midrash, the different Midrashim, the legendary works. You have the interpretations, but you don’t have a book by an identified author on a specific topic. This enters Judaism partially, or maybe a great amount, under the influence of Islam and Islamic literary genres. So if we say we don’t have a book against Christianity in the first eight Christian centuries, we also don’t have a specific book on a specific legal topic. We don’t have a running commentary on the Bible, which became an important genre in the Middle Ages.

We don’t have any theological works, whereas Christians, the Church Fathers and afterwards, spent a lot of time discussing Christian theological notions like Trinity, incarnation. We don’t have anything parallel in Judaism. So it’s not only that Jews were not into polemicizing, arguing against, trying to criticize and refute Christianity, but it was a different, as I said… literary Jews used different literary expressions.

Nehemia: Can you define polemics for us? Because Christians will often talk today about apologetics, which they mean “defense of their faith”. What is a polemic?

Daniel: Polemics and apologetics are often interchangeable. I don’t have a particular definition. When I deal with it, I deal with a genre of works in which Jews either defend Jewish interpretation of Jewish sources against Christian or sometimes Muslim attacks, or they attempt refutations of the doctrines of the competing religions. So it’s a work which is dedicated to argumentation. If one wants to have a modern, contemporary example, we do have it in the religious spheres, but if you look at the political spheres, if you look at political debates and how each contestant – or I don’t know, nominee – deals with the opponent, it’s very much polemical, showing why the opponent is wrong, and why one’s own views are correct. These political debates use many of the same… how shall I say it? Many of the same conventions as the religious polemics do, in terms of overstatement, in terms of distortion, in terms of looking for the correct arguments, sometimes, at the expense of what one really knows to be the case, or really believes.

Nehemia: This is something I’ve experienced, especially in reading and hearing debates on religion, is that often, someone – and it’s amazing to me, hearing you say this – that often, they’ll bring an argument that sounds good in the debate, even though they know it’s not really true. It’s almost like in the Talmud, or the Mishnah maybe, there’s this certain type of thing where they respond something to the Romans and they say, “Rebbe, that’s what you told the Romans. What do you tell us?” [laughing]

Daniel: Right. One of the best examples is a work that I published and translated. It’s called The Refutation of the Christian Principles, written by late 14th, early 15th century, very prominent Jewish philosopher rabbi whose name was Hasdai Crescas. He was in Spain and Catalonia, Aragon. His only son was murdered in the anti-Jewish riots in 1391, and he wrote a book in the vernacular, he actually wrote two books in the vernacular, which is probably Catalan.

Nehemia: He didn’t write these books in Hebrew, he wrote them in Catalanese, or whatever that language is called?

Daniel: Right, Catalan. Only one was translated, the ones known today as The Refutation of the Christian Principles. In that work, he used arguments which in his philosophical work, The Light of the Lord, he uses exactly the opposite argumentation. For instance, when discussing the Trinity and the possibility of the eternal generation of the Son from the Father, he argues that there can be no possible way in which there’s eternal generation from God.

Nehemia: What does eternal generation mean?

Daniel: That eternally, God was always producing the Son.

Nehemia: That’s official Christian doctrine?

Daniel: Correct. The Son’s the second person in the Trinity.

Nehemia: Meaning, Jesus wasn’t produced at one point in history, according to Christian theology, but he was always being generated?

Daniel: No.

Nehemia: [laughing] Sorry. Philosophy isn’t my area.

Daniel: Christian belief in the Trinity is that there are three co-equal persons of the Godhead, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. The Father generated the Son, in other words from the person of the Father was produced the person of the Son, and then in western Christianity, from the persons of the Father and the Son, the Spirit proceeded.

Nehemia: Wait, so according to this - and I love this. I’m here at Ben Gurion University of the Negev and a Jewish professor is explaining to me the Trinity! [laughing] This is awesome. This is in Western Christianity; you’re saying that Jesus didn’t always exist according to them?

Daniel: Jesus the person obviously didn’t always exist. Jesus the person was born.

Nehemia: The second person of the Trinity. And this is according to Christian theology, not what you believe or what I believe.

Daniel: Yeah, I’m talking about Christian theology. First of all, when I said Western Christianity, the difference between west and east, and this is complicated, is that according to the Eastern Christianity, the Son was not involved in the procession of the Spirit. So in Eastern Christianity the Father generated the Son and caused the Spirit to proceed. In Western Christianity the Father generated the Son. The Father and the Son caused the Spirit to proceed.

Nehemia: And this is why the Catholics consider the Greek Orthodox heretics and vice-versa over this concept that you just explained, that I’ll be honest, I don’t truly understand? But continue, please. [laughing]

Daniel: In the business, it’s called the Filioque word.

Nehemia: That didn’t help me. But please go on, though. It’s fascinating.

Daniel: Filioque means “and the Son”, it’s on this one word they discuss.

Nehemia: I’ll be honest. I’ve read some of this stuff and it goes in one eye and out the other. But no, I do find this stuff fascinating. I want to understand this. So the eternal generation of the Son, according to Western Christianity, at one time Jesus wasn’t generated, according to them?

Daniel: Again, distinguish between the Son and Jesus.

Nehemia: Okay, the Son.

Daniel: Let’s talk about God. God has three persons. All three persons are God. All three persons are eternal. If all three persons are eternal, how can we say the Father generated the Son and caused the Spirit to proceed? The answer is that this was an eternal process. So that is always the case, from eternity, that God the Father generated God the Son, and the two of them, according to Western Christianity…

Nehemia: Okay. So this is the Christian doctrine, that Crescas is coming against.

Daniel: Right, and this has nothing to do with Jesus. What it has to do with Jesus, is Jesus is the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity. In other words, one of the persons of the Trinity – and of course, Jews object to this. They say that if all three are God, how could one be separated off to become incarnate in a human being? But ignoring the issue of Jesus, what Crescas says is that eternal generation is impossible, that it’s a contradiction in terms. You can’t have a generation procedure proceeding from generating, like a child, that occurs eternally. In his philosophical work, he defends the possibility of the eternal generation of the world. In other words, the world could be eternal and not created at a particular moment.

Nehemia: Whoa, whoa, whoa. What I was always taught was, Rambam, “Yeish me’ayin.” Maimonides taught that the world was created ex-nihilo, out of nothing, and you’re saying that there were Jewish philosophers, this Hasdai Crescas, who said that the world itself may be eternal?

Daniel: Correct. And it’s very close to what Thomas Aquinas said, or at least the possibility of an eternal world.

Nehemia: The possibility. Wait, so then how does he explain - I’m a Bible person - so how does he explain, “Bereishit bara Elohim et hashamayim ve’et ha’aretz? In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth”?

Daniel: As Maimonides points out in the Guide to the Perplexed Part Two chapter 25, the belief in the eternity or creation of the world is not dependent upon what appears to be the literal meaning of the text in Genesis. This is a philosophical question, and one should interpret the text according to one’s philosophical ideas.

Nehemia: Okay, that’s very interesting. In other words, you don’t base your philosophy on the text, you base your understanding of the text based on your philosophy, according to Maimonides. Is that right?

Daniel: I would say it’s right, except for the fact you say, “your philosophy”. Maimonides would say, “philosophy”.

Nehemia: The true philosophy.

Daniel: Reason.

Nehemia: How do you figure out philosophy? Through an intellectual process?

Daniel: Correct. This is philosophy or science. Science and philosophy were identical in the Middle Ages.

Nehemia: I don’t know that I would necessarily entirely disagree with that, in the sense that if I read about the four corners of the earth and I’ve seen satellite photos that show the earth is round, that I’m not going to insist that the earth is flat and has four corners. So I’m going to interpret the Bible based on information that I know, as you say, from science. Go back to Crescas.

Daniel: So I’m saying, you have in Crescas’ philosophical work, arguments which he rejected in his polemical work, and vice-versa. There have been a number of attempts over the years to explain why there are these contradictions. There’s a view that one work was written before the other work, and therefore he changed his mind. My view on these things is that it’s a difference between the polemical genre and the philosophical genre, and in the polemics one can say things that one doesn’t necessarily agree with but are good arguments.

Again, if you look at the political arguments today, that so-and-so is a danger to society and so are the other candidates, and all these other things people say about the other candidates, they might not necessarily really believe, and after the elections, two people that couldn’t stand each other suddenly make a coalition. Or in the US, after the primaries, after terrible things people said about each other, they make coalitions or they support each other in the election.

Nehemia: That’s very interesting. Let me give an example that I’ve encountered myself from Jewish-Christian debate. They’ll be talking about a certain passage in the Bible, in the Tanakh – those are the ones I was interested in – and there’ll be a rabbi, and he’ll bring an argument, and he’ll say, “Look, what you Christians say isn’t the plain meaning, the pshat.” What he doesn’t bring up is that the way he lives his life on a daily basis is not according to the pshat. And he’s completely comfortable with that, but in the context of the debate, he’s not going to say, “This is a valid Midrashic interpretation the Christians are bringing, of… I don’t know, Isaiah 53.” He’s going to say, “No, if we want to understand this, we have to look at the pshat. That’s the true interpretation.” Even though in his actual implementation of halacha he’s not so concerned with pshat. So that seems to me to be a contradiction of principles.

Daniel: Well, in terms of methodology, I would say that one’s exegesis is influenced by one’s theology, and not the other way around. It’s just there’s…

Nehemia: Explain that in simple terms. One’s interpretation is based on how…?

Daniel: One’s interpretation of the text is based on one’s theological beliefs. What the Christians would say, exactly what you said, is the Jews relied upon the physical text, which you call the “pshat”, the plain meaning, the contextual meaning. And Judaism is a carnal, is a physical, bodily understanding of the Hebrew Bible, of the Old Testament for Christianity, whereas Christians are spiritual. That works sometimes, it doesn’t work other times. For instance, if you look at Christian belief, the Catholic belief in transubstantiation is based on verses in Matthew and the other Gospels, where Jesus at the Last Supper says, “This is My body. This is My blood,” referring to the bread and the wine at the Last Supper. Christians, Catholics at least, say this should be taken literally. When Jesus says, “This is My body,” this is His body. And when He says, “This is My blood,” this is actual blood.

Nehemia: Famously, in the Reformation, people lost their lives in the Christian world for saying, “No, that’s not to be taken literally.” Martin Luther particularly came out against this, that the wafer wasn’t literally turned into the body of Jesus. And the Catholics said, “No, you have to believe it was literally.” So that’s an example of what, then, that the Christians are literalists?

Daniel: In certain cases, the Christians are literalists. In terms of Judaism and literal interpretation or allegorical interpretation, theology as opposed to law, the general rule of thumb among Jews is that the text should be understood literally, unless there is some other iluzt

Nehemia: Requirement, or something that forces you to interpret otherwise.

Daniel: Right. The Saadia Gaon who I mentioned, in the 10th century said that if you have two verses whose literal meaning contradict each other, then one has to reinterpret one of them. If you have the tradition contradicts it, you have to…

Nehemia: That’s very interesting. There’s Occam’s Razor, which says, “All things being equal, the simplest interpretation is the best.” And in a sense, this is Saadia’s razor. All things being equal, the literal interpretation is the best. When are not all things equal? When there are two contradictory verses, or there’s a tradition that forces you to interpret differently. It’s very interesting.

Daniel: Or reason requires you.

Nehemia: Ah, yaffeh.

Daniel: In Saadia’s translation of the Bible, we have in Genesis that Eve is called “Eve, Chava” because she’s “Em kol chai.” She’s the mother of all living. Saadia knows that Eve is not the mother of all living, because we have animals and we have plants who are living. So he translates Em, the mother of all chai, natik. In the Arabic, reasoning, or thinking, or speaking. In other words, she is the mother of all rational animals. He adds the word “rational” to the verse, to the translation, which is not in the text, but he has to translate it, he has to interpret his exegesis, as a result of his knowledge that Eve is not the mother of all living.

Nehemia: This is a really good example of what I call “over literalization”. In other words, some people come with the attitude and say, “Everything has to be taken literally”, and then you end up with Eve being the mother of donkeys and polar bears, which is obviously not what the text meant. I say, “obviously”, but when I say obviously, I mean through logic and rational thought. And that’s what you’re saying; that that is a valid criterion for determining what the pshat is. That, I would say, is the difference between the pshat, as I define it, and the literal interpretation.

Like it says, “circumcise the foreskin of your heart.” Even the most literal Karaite in the world wouldn’t say we have to have open-heart surgery and cut off a piece of our heart, because logic tells me God isn’t going to give me a commandment when we don’t have surgery, to cut my heart off.

Daniel: And hearts don’t have foreskins.

Nehemia: Maybe someone will discover there’s an extra piece of fat on the heart and we can cut it off now with surgery. Bechol zot, despite that, nobody in their right mind would say that that’s what it means. I had an example of this. I did an interview with the leader of the Raëlian Movement, which is a UFO religion. He said, “I show you all these verses in the Bible, and it talks about God riding on a cloud. Clearly, this is a spaceship.” I said, “It’s a metaphor.” He says, “So many metaphors!” My point is, yes, there are many metaphors, and that is the pshat in those contexts.

There’s this great statement in Rashi’s commentary on Shir haShirim, where he says, “Pshuto hu mashal, it’s pshat is an allegory,” which is beautiful. It’s a beautiful contrast of the plain meaning is an allegory. He might be wrong, you might disagree with him, but this concept of pshat is broad enough to include allegory. I don’t know how we got onto the topic of pshat. Oh, because we were talking about in debates, sometimes the Jewish side will say, “No, you’ve got to interpret according to the pshat, based on the language in the context using common sense”, and the Christian interpretation is, it’s not by accident. They’re intentionally not looking at the context.

Daniel: Because of their theology. Because of their theological commitments. Going back to this issue of whether or not the polemicist believed what he was writing, I can give you another great example that a late 13th century work called Nitzachon Yashan, the Old Book of Polemic, written in France, Germany in the late 13th century, starts out with the Christian claim that the verse in Genesis 1:26, “Let us make man in our likeness after our image” refers to God the Father talking to God the Son or to the Trinity, and it’s a plural used because the one God has multiple aspects.

Nehemia: That’s the Christian explanation.

Daniel: That’s the Christian explanation. The author, we don’t know his name, says, “You’re actually right - God the Father does say to God the Son, ‘Help Me out and let’s create man,’ and God the Son says, ‘I don’t want to,’ and doesn’t help out, because in the continuation it says, ‘He created’” in the singular and not ‘They created.’”

Nehemia: [laughing] Wait a minute. What?

Daniel: And as a result of this…

Nehemia: This is a Jewish polemical work?

Daniel: Right. As a result, when the Son, Jesus was on a cross and says, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” God’s answer is, “You didn’t help Me when I created man. I’m not going to help You when You’re getting…”

Nehemia: Stop, Professor. You’re saying this is in a Jewish polemical work, a Jewish apology in response to Christianity. Oh, and you’re bringing this as an example. He obviously didn’t really believe that.

Daniel: Correct. He’s writing this for entertainment value.

Nehemia: So he’s being sarcastic, in a way.

Daniel: Correct, extremely sarcastic.

Nehemia: But he doesn’t say, “Hey, I’m being sarcastic.”

Daniel: No.

Nehemia: Wow!

Daniel: So you have many of these interpretations, and the issue of the nastiness of the tone of the debate, some people have tried to say it’s connected to what the pressure on Jews was, but I think it has more to do with what kind of audience the author intended. So Ashkenazi Jewry, Franco-German Jewry, were used to a certain style of nastiness.

Nehemia: Did they write that way about each other?

Daniel: Sometimes.

Nehemia: Meaning, if there are two rabbis debating, it’s not always in a respectful tone.

Daniel: Correct. You do have that also among non-Franco-German Jews, among the Sephardim. But what I’m saying is that there’s a certain entertainment value of the material, and some of the entertainment is by use of extreme language, and some of the entertainment value is in terms of wild accusations, and some of it is by telling what’s obviously jokes, namely that yes, of course, let us make man refers to the plural Godhead, but this has a consequence.

Nehemia: This is fascinating, because 1,000 years from now, some scholar may come and read Nitzachon Yashan and say, “The Jews of Germany did believe in a Trinity, and they had…” I don’t even know what this would be called. It sounds to me almost like some form of Gnosticism, where God actually did abandon Jesus on the cross, and in this case it was revenge, because he didn’t help Him create the world. This is astounding, and you’re he was saying this basically as a joke, as sarcasm.

Daniel: Yeah. But you don’t have to wait 1,000 years from now. You see the subject of humor in the polemics is something which many people have not dealt with, because they think this is such serious literature that this is something… questions of life and death. The polemicists would not be joking.

Nehemia: You talked about Christian pressure. Once we get to Jews living under Christian rule, what was it like for them, especially vis-à-vis dealing with polemics?

Daniel: In mediaeval Christendom – I’m talking about mostly Western Europe – there was no such thing as citizenship. There was no such thing as equality before the law. It was a feudal society in which there are a number of different estates. There’s the nobility, there’s the serfs, there is the guilds, the craftsmen, and there was no neutral society where one was just a citizen. So Jews had their own individual identification and recognized communities - they often had charters offered by the local either religious or civil authorities - which outlined their privileges and their responsibilities. Often, they had more taxes than Christians. They often had a certain amount of self-rule in terms of their local courts could decide things.

During this period, I would say overall, Jews and Christians got along as neighbors get along. They celebrated each other’s family events and they talked to each other.

Nehemia: And you have examples of that from the literature?

Daniel: Well, we see that in late 12th century southern France there is an ethical will written by Judah ibn Tibbon to his son, Samuel, and Judah mention’s Samuel’s wedding, in which he had there all the local Christian clergy and nobles. And we have many Jewish customs which seem to be related or influenced by… or as I said, the problem with influence, but at least in the context of Christian ceremony, so that Jews in France and Germany, when a child, when a son reached the age of six, usually at the Shavuot ceremony, the festival of Pentecost, Shavuot, would have a ceremony of introducing the child into the study of Torah, and would give out candies and put honey on the page, and there’s an extremely parallel ceremony in the Christian communities.

Nehemia: You say in France and in Germany in the Middle Ages. I saw that in the 20th century. In other words, when the boy’s three years old and he first learns to read, the words are sweet. But you say it goes back 1,000 years or so to France and Germany?

Daniel: Yeah. Sefer Chassidim, which is a 13th century mystical, pietistic work, includes a number of practices such as penitential practices, if someone has sinned, one should roll around naked in the snow, and all kinds of…

Nehemia: And this comes from Christian influences?

Daniel: Well, I would say there are parallels in Christianity at the same time.

Nehemia: So we don’t know that the Jews learn it from the Christians, or the Christians learn it from the Jews.

Daniel: Or it was, as I said, it’s zeitgeist, it’s the…

Nehemia: What people did at the time.

Daniel: Yes, that’s what people did. So we know that there is much contact between Jews and Christians. However, it often happens that the Christian, either religious or civil authorities, used antagonism to Jews for their own purposes, and there are certain times when this was a safety valve, let’s say, to divert the local populations from their own problems. Sometimes it was a way of arousing religious fervor, so that in the Crusades when the Christians in Europe decided to take back – or what they thought was taking back – the Holy Land from the Muslims, sort of whipping up enthusiasm for getting the heretics included massacring Jews on the way from Europe to the land of Israel. There were special taxes for Jews.

Nehemia: These weren’t tax breaks. These were additional taxes.

Daniel: Additional taxes. Starting in 1290, in England there were expulsions of Jews. There were accusations of Jewish malfeasance in terms of ritual murder of Christians, use of Christian blood for ritual purposes. Also, we talked about the host, the wafer.

Nehemia: Can you explain that a bit? Those were two major accusations against the Jews. I think it’s worth stopping a minute and talking about those. There was the blood libels and the desecration of the host. For those who have no idea what they are, what are those accusations?

Daniel: The accusation is that Jews needed blood in order to make, for ritual purposes, most notably for the matzot, the unleavened bread, for Passover. And it even came to the point that… the traditional requirement is that one use red wine for the Passover Seder, for the four cups for the Passover seder, it got to the point where some authorities suggested that it would be better to use white wine at the Seder so that no one thinks there’s any blood in the red wine.

Nehemia: So this was an accusation the Christians made against the Jews. This was almost like an institutional accusation, wasn’t it?

Daniel: It depends on the place. The Popes generally tried to restrain this.

Nehemia: My point is that this was something that went on generation after generation.

Daniel: Correct.

Nehemia: That the Jews were killing Christian children and using their blood for ritual purposes.

Daniel: Correct.

Nehemia: This wasn’t just some hypothetical accusation – people died because of this accusation.

Daniel: Correct. A colleague of mine was just in Austria, near the city where one of these events occurred, the case of William of Trent in, I think, the 15th century, and despite the fact that the Christian Church, the Catholic Church, says he’s not a saint and this was a not a real event, et cetera, this is still a place of pilgrimage for certain Catholics.

Nehemia: Just to be clear, this is the child who was allegedly killed by Jews, has now become an object of worship, or saint adoration.

Daniel: Well, this often happened in the Middle Ages, places of pilgrimage, which is also one of the reasons why it was in the interest of the locals, at least, to propagate this belief, because special…

Nehemia: Here, I’m thinking out loud. Imagine there’s some young Christian boy, he’s walking through the woods and he slips and he breaks his neck, and cuts himself, and the blood spills out. They find this body a week later, it’s a horrific sight, and they blame the Jews. That could have literally happened. Then you say it’s in their interests to say he was killed by the Jews, because now he’s a saint, and people come as basically tourists, pilgrimage, and bring money into the community.

Daniel: Correct. This could be some of the motive behind it. Also, sometimes, perhaps it wasn’t an accident, perhaps the child was murdered by parents or murdered by other Christians.

Nehemia: And they blamed the Jews.

Daniel: And to divert attention. The other thing was the host desecration, as I mentioned.

Nehemia: The host is…?

Daniel: Catholics believe that the bread, the wafer, what’s called the “host” of the Eucharist, of the mass, the service of the mass, turns to the actual body of Jesus, and the wine turns into the actual blood of Jesus. They accused Jews of acquiring this bread the way…

Nehemia: Stealing it, pretty much, right?

Daniel: Well, either stealing it, or sometimes it would be used as a collateral for loans.

Nehemia: Is that true, that it would be used as collateral for loans?

Daniel: Yeah, because it was a very important item.

Nehemia: Wait, so a Catholic is borrowing money from a Jew, and the Jew says, “I know there’s one thing that you want to get back, and that’s this wafer, so let me hold on to the wafer.”

Daniel: I don’t know if it’s that way. The person who takes a loan needs something to come up with that…

Nehemia: He comes up with a wafer.

Daniel: Right.

Nehemia: Wow. I never heard of that, wow.

Daniel: The accusation is that the Jews would torture the wafer of bread just to show that it didn’t happen, or because just as Jews crucified Jesus, they are now attacking His body by piercing it, or cutting it. And in many of these Christian stories the wafer begins to bleed, and then they understand that it actually is flesh. Sometimes, Mary, the mother of Jesus, intervenes to save her son’s flesh.

Nehemia: Which is the wafer.

Daniel: Which is the wafer.

Nehemia: I want to make it clear - I’m not belittling Catholic belief. Catholics may even still believe this, I’m not an expert. But the point is, the image here is that Jews got this wafer and they’re sticking needles in it to torture it, because they know it’s the body of Jesus, and Jews hate Jesus. In other words, there’s a series of accusations here, that A - Jews hate Jesus, B - they know that Jesus really is alive in this wafer, and because of their hatred of Jesus, they’re torturing it. So accusing a Jew of attacking the body of Christ is this age-old antisemitic theme, motif slur, which roused up the hatred of the Christians at the time, who took these things very literally, and maybe still do.

Daniel: One could also understand it in a slightly different way, which is since Christians themselves have their own doubts as to the truth of the Christian doctrine that this piece of bread is actually the body or the flesh…

Nehemia: The literal body of Christ.

Daniel: … the literal body of Christ, if they can argue that even the Jews believe it is - and how do we know that the Jews believe that the host is Jesus’ body? Because they steal it and torture it, because they believe it. So it all adds up into this sort of image of the Jew as the one who proves the truth of Christianity by their own stubbornness and blindness, in the Christian belief.

Nehemia: Wow. So these accusations, in a sense, we talked about apology and polemic, these are, in a sense, an internal argument for Christianity to prove its own truth by saying, “Even the Jews know that this body is real. This is literally the body. That’s why they torture it, because they hate Jesus so much.” So I’m looking at it from the perspective of this is how they’re whipping up hatred for the Jews, and you’re saying there’s an aspect here where they want to confirm the internal faith for those who are like, “Wait a minute. This is a cracker.” Oh, wow.

Daniel: I would say that’s part of the motive behind the host desecration.

Nehemia: This is amazing. When you call this a “safety valve”, explain what you meant by that, from the Christian perspective.

Daniel: Just as today, or throughout history, when there is either economic uncertainty or even health uncertainty during the Black Plague of 1348, or people are worried, people are afraid, it’s useful for the authorities to have a scapegoat, and the Jews generally played the role as the scapegoat because the Jews were the ultimate “other” in Western Christendom. Unlike in Islam, which tolerated Judaism and Christianity and certain other groups, in Christianity the only non-Christian group that was tolerated was Jews. Heretical Christians were not accepted. Muslims were generally not accepted, so that you have an internal crusade in the 13th century in southern France against heretics, and you have the wars of the 16th century…

Nehemia: Again, that’s heretics is as the Catholic Church defined it at that time.

Daniel: Correct.

Nehemia: You had two choices, basically, if you were in Catholic Europe. You could be a Christian if you were born a Christian, and if you happened to be born a Jew, that was tolerated. I once heard it described that tolerated is different than accepted. When you tolerate something, it really means you can’t stand it but you allow it to exist. Would you say it was tolerance in that sense?

Daniel: Well, it was useful for the Catholic majority to have a despised minority. This goes back to Augustine. I mentioned Augustine in the late 4th century, where he basically says, “Jews should be tolerated because they are proof of the truth of Christianity. They have the original text, and even though they misunderstand the Bible, they can prove the truth of Christianity. And the fact that they are kept in a stage of subjugation and discriminated against, and poverty, et cetera, this just shows that they are rejected by God for not accepting God’s Messiah and not understanding the Bible correctly.”

Nehemia: And this was particularly important for the Christian mission towards the pagans of the time, or the residual elements of Roman and Greek paganism. Am I right that they would go to the pagans and say, “Jesus is the fulfilment of these ancient prophesies.” The pagans might say, “What prophesies?” They’d say, “Well, the Jews preserved those books.”

Daniel: I don’t know if it was exactly in that manner, but certainly, at different times in the history of Christianity, there were different perceptions of the importance of the Hebrew text, or the original text. The Veritas Hebraica, the Hebrew Truth, was important in the 12th century in France, for instance. You have Christian exegetes, interpreters of the Bible, who had contact with Jewish interpreters of the Bible. All these things we’re talking about today are very, very complex, and I would say the traditional Jewish understanding of Jewish life under Christianity is one unmitigated disaster after another, and one series of discrimination and expulsions and higher taxes, et cetera, et cetera, is really a very simplistic way of looking at history. As I said, most of the time, things were all right.

Nehemia: Until they weren’t.

Daniel: Until they weren’t.

Nehemia: So let’s go back to this concept of the pressure valve, and an example that comes to mind is something from more recent history, when you had the czarist regime ruling over Russia, and they basically didn’t have the mandate of the people. Not basically; they didn’t have the mandate of the people. They were this dictatorship, and rather than people lash out against the Czar, he would then have his agents go and stir up hatred against the Jews. And now, instead of the peasants attacking the Czar, they’re attacking the local Jews. If I’m not mistaken, an example of this was The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was created by the czarist secret police for this exact purpose – as you call it, a “pressure valve” from the perspective of the dictatorship.

Daniel: Yeah, I think that’s pretty accurate. It could be. Remember, that the last great blood libel trial was the Beilis trial in 1912 under the czars. So even in the 20th century, Jews were accused of this blood libel.

Nehemia: And they still are in the 21st century in Muslim countries.

Daniel: Correct. The idea that Jews use Christian blood or non-Jewish blood for ritual purposes has now been adopted, along with many other antisemitic motifs, by Muslims, who until the 20th century, the 19th century, were relatively tolerant of Jews, as long as Jews understood that they were what we call second class citizens, or people with a different status.

Nehemia: In other words, by law in Muslim countries, Jews were second class citizens, and in a sense, in Christianity, they barely even had that status. Meaning, they were a tolerated group of foreigners.

Daniel: Well, again, this idea of citizenship and second class is really anachronistic. But in Islam, Christians and Jews and sometimes other groups were considered people of the book who had restrictions including paying a poll tax, an individual poll tax, including the height of synagogues and churches. In some places they weren’t allowed to build new churches or synagogues under Muslim rule. Jews and Christians were not allowed to ride horses. Maimonides, for instance, when he describes the Messianic period says, “We don’t want the Messiah so we can ride on horses.” It seems ridiculous that someone would want the Messiah in order to ride on horses, but the idea is that Jews would no longer have these discriminations, according to Maimonides. One wants the Messiah in order to have the leisure to achieve the truth.

Nehemia: There’s this great example of that, a little bit off-topic, but there’s this commentary by the Karaite, Daniel al-Kumisi on the Book of Daniel, and there’s a verse there in Daniel where he’s talking about… I think it’s the three friends of Daniel, and it says something like, “Hem Yehudim,” they were Jews - or maybe this Yefet ben Ali, one of these commentators – he makes the remark that when it says in Daniel that they were Jews - and I think it’s one of the Babylonians who says this - he explains, “They didn’t mean it in a negative way.” Because in Islamic countries, that was the worst curse you could say upon someone, “Wayahud, may you become a Jew.” I think it still is one of the worst curses. Meaning, in their culture, you had to explain, calling someone a Jew wasn’t an insult. They just happened to be from Judea. [laughing] It’s hard to wrap our heads around that.

I want to go back to the blood libels which started out in the Christian world. My father, who was a rabbi, of blessed memory, he once said, “How do we know that the blood libels aren’t true?” He said, “Because according to halacha, according to Rabbinical law, you can’t make the matzo with anything but room temperature water.” For example, it says you can’t use fruit juice to make matzos. And therefore, you couldn’t use blood. I said, “Dad, is that the reason we know it’s not true?” [laughing] He’s giving a halachic reason, trying to argue with people who have this fanatical antisemitism, but of course, he’s coming at it as a halachist.

Daniel: I’m not sure if fanatical antisemitism is exactly the correct term.

Nehemia: Okay. How would you describe it?

Daniel: That you have in Christianity an opposition to Judaism, and there is a resentment to Jews for continuing to be Jews, and some of the Christians developed… for the reasons you mentioned, sometimes Christian children would disappear or be found dead, and it was, in a sense, easier to scapegoat the Jews than to actually investigate it. I’m not saying that all Christians loved all Jews, but that this idea that the blood libel or even the host desecration were purely the result of what you called fanatical antisemitism, I’m not sure that’s the correct term.

Nehemia: Maybe it’s latent antisemitism. I want to share a story. I was in Florida, and I had some spare time on my hands, and I decided I would go one Sunday morning to a megachurch. I’ve never been to a megachurch service. I thought, “This would be interesting. I want to see what it’s all about.” So I go to this church, and there were probably like 20,000 people in this church. It was an interesting experience. Look, I’m not a Christian, I’m not a Messianic Jew, I’m going there as what they would call an unbeliever, and I’m just a fly on the wall, hearing what they’re saying.

It was very interesting, by the way. The way I’ve described it to other Jews is, it was basically a Christian rock concert with a sermon in the middle - from my perspective, what it very much seemed like. They had a band, literally, with drums, and rock and roll, and Christian songs. During the sermon, the pastor, or whoever, gets up there, and he starts reading from some passage in the New Testament, and I would say he’s taking it out of context, but he’s presenting about how the Jews were the ones who rejected Christ. His message was, “Don’t be like those Jews.” And I’m sitting there, I can’t even believe this. He doesn’t know I’m in the audience. So I set up a meeting with this guy, and the head Pastor there, and I said, “I’ve got to talk to them about this.”

So I go into this meeting, and he turns to me and he says, “The only thing that’s really important is what do you do with Jesus?” I said, “I came here to talk about what I perceived as this antisemitic…” He used the Jews as a motif of hatred, and a motif of, “Don’t be Jews.” I’m a real Jew. I find this very offensive. And there are other verses in the New Testament he could have brought, like when Paul says, “What advantage has the Jews?” There are other things in the New Testament you could have brought about Jews. Then he says to me, “Either Jesus is your Lord or you’re telling me He’s Hitler.” I’m like, “What?” He says, “What do you do with Hitler? Hitler did some good things.” I said, “What are you talking about?” He says, “Hitler said some good things, and Jesus said good things, and so either you accept Him as your Lord…” and it was this false dichotomy where you’re saying, “Jesus is Hitler.” I’m saying, “Those are my two options?”

And you’re right, this is not a rabid antisemitism. This is a latent antisemitism. To me, this felt very… I’m sitting here and I imagine it now being 500 years earlier, and I’m living under Christian rule, where I really have no rights under the law. This is what they’re preaching from the pulpit?

Daniel: The heart of the justification for Christianity throughout the centuries has been the fact that Judaism has been superseded, that the New Testament…

Nehemia: Replaced.

Daniel: …replaced. The New Testament is the legitimate, authentic sequel to the Hebrew Bible, the Old Testament. And just as Rabbinic Jews see the Talmud as the authentic and authoritative sequel to the Hebrew Bible, Christians see that in the New Testament and in the Christian traditions which have developed. Part of the… I won’t say the “trick,” but part of the goal of many people involved in Jewish-Christian dialog today, both Jews and Christians, is to see if there’s some sort of way in which Christianity could have validity without necessarily denigrating legitimacy of Judaism. This is a Christian concern basically only since the Shoah…

Nehemia: The Holocaust.

Daniel: …the Holocaust, when some Christians understood that traditional Christian doctrine of de-legitimization of Jews and demonization of Jews could lead to mass murder, and some of them are looking for ways of understanding Christianity which is not denigration of Judaism. For instance, the idea of the two covenants, that there is the original covenant with the Jews and the second covenant with the rest of the world, which would be for Christianity.

Nehemia: That’s one particular Christian theology.

Daniel: That’s one… especially among those among whom are engaged in dialogue. There are many Christians who have no problems with the fact that Christianity superseded Judaism, and Judaism is not legitimate.

Nehemia: You wrote this in one of your articles. This is what inspired me to contact you. I’m going to read this quote. You said, “One can understand Judaism on its own terms without reference to Christianity, while Christianity can be understood only in terms of Judaism.” I read that and I thought that was the key to understanding so much of my interaction with Christians. I’ll meet a Christian or someone who believes in the New Testament, and they’ll come to me. They’ll say, “Why don’t you believe in Jesus?” or we’ll say, “Yeshua.” I don’t even understand the question. I don’t define myself in terms of Christianity, and what you’re saying there is historically, at least, Christianity couldn’t exist without explaining itself within the context of Judaism. It had to explain Judaism in one way or another, or it couldn’t exist. Whereas, Judaism, being more ancient than Christianity, we don’t even think in those terms. Am I right? In other words, it would be almost like if I came to somebody - and I hope no Christian is offended by this - and I was Raelian and I said, “Why don’t you believe in Claude Valion as the Prophet?” Why would I need to explain why I don’t believe in…

Daniel: Why go there? Why not Buddhism?

Nehemia: Okay, so give that example.

Daniel: No, I’m saying that you could ask a Christian, “Why don’t you accept Buddha as the enlightened one?” And they also would have no context in which to…

Nehemia: I don’t even ask that question as a Jew, and you’re saying a Christian doesn’t even think about, “Why don’t I accept Buddha?” And that’s what it sounds like to us as Jews. It’s basically what you’re saying in this statement. Can you elaborate on that?

Daniel: Let me qualify this statement, to a certain extent. I do not mean that Judaism over the years has not been influenced by Christianity. Now, in the last few decades, there’s been a major scholarly debate as to the exact relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the first few Christian centuries. There used to be talked about the “parting of the ways” – that Christianity developed within Judaism, and then Christianity left Judaism, and then they tried to discover when exactly Christianity no longer was a Jewish sect.

Now, there’s more and more emphasis on Jews and Christians reacting to each other and influencing each other, to the extent that you have instead of the paradigm of Judaism as the mother and Christianity as the daughter, some people talk in terms of Judaism and Christianity as sisters, or siblings, because as I said, they are both considered to be sequels to the Hebrew Bible, and you even have those who go to the extremes to say that even the Rabbinic Judaism, in a sense, is the daughter of Christianity, because Rabbinic Judaism is a reaction to Christianity.

Nehemia: I wish the people could see the look on my face of utter shock. How could Rabbinical Judaism be the daughter of Christianity. What does that mean?

Daniel: Because you have many concepts of Rabbinic Judaism, which, according to this view, of which I don’t agree…

Nehemia: You’re saying there are some scholars who say this?

Daniel: There are some scholars who say this, that you have martyrdom, for instance. The whole idea of martyrdom in Judaism is a reaction to martyrdom in Christianity. If you look at some works, for instance the Passover seder. For some people, the Passover meal and ritual is a reaction to Christianity in the Last Supper. You have any number of places where Rabbinic Judaism is understood as a reaction to Christian challenges and Christian beliefs.

As I said, I don’t necessarily agree with this, and I think some of the proofs are very poor, but still, you’re going into the Middle Ages, there are lots of things in Judaism which are influenced by Christianity. I mentioned some of the customs. There are all kinds of things where Judaism and Christianity did interact. So it’s not that you can study Judaism in isolation from Christianity. What I’m saying is that the Jewish religion, the basis of the Jewish religion of revelation of the Torah from God to Moses on Mount Sinai, and from a Rabbinic Judaism point of view, the development of the Oral Torah, the giving of the Oral Torah and the working of Jewish law, the working out of Jewish law, Christianity is irrelevant for understanding these processes, even if they influence the processes.

But you can’t have anything doing with Christianity without realizing that it’s an outgrowth of the Hebrew Bible. Let’s not call it an outgrowth of Judaism, call it an outgrowth of the Hebrew Bible. You can’t understand…

Nehemia: That Christianity is an outgrowth of the Hebrew Bible, you’re saying?

Daniel: Right. Well, Rabbinic Judaism is also an outgrowth of the Hebrew Bible. But just as you can’t understand Rabbinic Judaism without reference to the Bible, you can’t understand Christianity without reference to it.

Nehemia: What I think you meant in this statement, if I understood correctly, is you could be a Jew in the 1st century AD and you might have to explain why the Temple was destroyed five years ago. But you wouldn’t have to explain anything about Jesus or Christianity, whereas you couldn’t be a Jewish believer in Jesus in the year 75 without explaining some reference of Judaism. Is that…?

Daniel: Correct. And even the gentile believers in Christianity, those who were brought into the fold by Paul and his followers, also had to understand what Judaism was. Again, Judaism is perhaps an anachronistic term, but Hebrew Bible, Hebrew theology, what was developing in the Land of Israel until the beginning of the Common Era. Whether you want to call it Biblical Judaism, or you want to call it Judaism, you want to call it Biblical Religion, you want to call it Hebraism, or Israelitism, whatever you want to call it - this all set the stage for what developed as Christianity, and one can’t understand Christianity without this. But one can understand Rabbinic Judaism without reference to Christianity.

Nehemia: That’s just so profound. It’s interesting, and I was thinking about this last night as I was preparing this; as a Karaite, can I define my Karaite Judaism without reference to Rabbinical Judaism? I don’t know that I can in the 21st century, especially since I was raised as a Rabbinical Jew.

Daniel: Well, I don’t think you could in the 9th century either. From the very beginning, from Daniel al-Kumisi, and certainly the 10th century golden age of Karaism in the Land of Israel, there’s constant references to Rabbinic interpretations. And why don’t we do it the way they do it? And why is our interpretation the correct interpretation? So whether Karaism is a parallel development to Rabbinic Judaism going back to the Second Temple period, or Karaism is a revolt against Rabbinic Judaism in the 9th century…

Nehemia: Or a combination.

Daniel: … or a combination, or however Karaism developed, it developed in the context of a Jewish community in which the Rabbinites were the majority and were constantly in dialog, not necessarily actual dialog with the rabbis, but in their internal dialog with Rabbinic Judaism. So that would be the case for Karaism, but it could certainly be the case for Christianity, for understanding Judaism.

In fact, to get back to the polemical literature a little bit from the Christian point of view, the Christian side, it took them many centuries to understand that the Jews with whom they had contact were not following a religion which they read about in the Bible. In other words, it was only in the 13th century did Christians really get to the understanding that Judaism is a Rabbinic religion and not a Biblical religion.

Nehemia: Can you give an example of that, like something that would be reflected in their polemics? Are there apologies?

Daniel: Well, when in the Disputation of Paris in 1240, when the Talmud was condemned as being anti-Christian and in a certain respect blasphemous and ridiculous, it meant that they understood that the Talmud was the book that Jews used. In fact, when the Christians, in the wake of this disputation, burned the Talmud, they were trying to destroy contemporary Judaism or contemporary Jewish practices. And in 1263 in Barcelona, the disputation where Nachmanides participated, they were hoping to use the Talmud to prove the truth of Christianity.

Nehemia: Wow. What a flip in 23 years - from burning the Talmud to using it to prove…

Daniel: Well, one could understand them as both part of an attempt to delegitimize contemporary Judaism.

Nehemia: This is fascinating. You’re saying, let’s go back to Justin Martyr who wrote around the year 150, Dialogues with Trypho. What he knew about Jews is what he read in the New Testament. And it’s interesting - he was from Shechem, he was from Nablus, and he hadn’t actually ever met a Jew until this supposed encounter with Trypho.

Daniel: I don’t know if he’d never met…

Nehemia: He says that. He makes it sound like Tryphon was the first Jew he met, and his response is, “Wait. Oh, you’re a Jew? You should certainly accept Jesus, because I found that he’s the fulfilment of your prophesies.” And he has this shocking encounter that Tryphon doesn’t just automatically become a Christian. And maybe it’s a literary device, maybe he didn’t meet a man named Tryphon. But unless he met an actual Jew, what he knew about Jews is from the New Testament.

Daniel: Or what he read in the Hebrew Bible. I mean, he knew the Hebrew Bible very well.

Nehemia: That’s true too.

Daniel: In fact, when you talk about supersession, we’d call it “appropriation” today, in fact there’s a passage where Justin says to Tryphon, he says to him, “It’s written in your books.” Then he said, “You know what? It’s not your books. It’s our books.” In other words, he takes over the Hebrew Bible.

In terms of meeting Jews or whatever, one has to remember that in the 2nd century, still there’s a conflation or a combination of Jews and Judeans. Tryphon was a Judean - remember, Shechem, Nablus is in Samaria.

Nehemia: He mentioned the Samaritans, yeah.

Daniel: Right. So these are different geographical areas. Today, it’s a 20-minute ride. But Judeans were different than Galileans, who were different than the Samarians. But what you have in Justin is you have arguments from Biblical passages, and this is, as I mentioned, the Adversus Judaeos literature…

Nehemia: Against the Jews.

Daniel: …against the Jews. The Christians, most of them consisted of what we call testimonia, which are verses from the Hebrew Bible which prove the truth of Christianity. You mention Isaiah 53. I mention, “Let Us make man” as the pillar of Godhead, the Shilo passage of Genesis 49:10. Most of the Jewish polemics are based on Biblical text which is answering the Christian interpretation of these texts. So the Christians were arguing against Jews from the Bible, and I assume from your background you know that in traditional Jewish circles, the Bible is not as important as the Talmud. Suddenly, in the 12th…

Nehemia: Can you say that again? [laughing]

Daniel: I’m saying, in traditional Jewish circles, the study of the Bible has been given second place to the study of Rabbinic literature in the Talmud. So eventually the Christians woke up to the fact that quoting a lot of Biblical verses to Jews who are not used to relying on the Bible, but relying on Rabbinic literature, is not a good tactic, so they started to revise their tactics by starting to find material in Rabbinic literature which could be useful either to denigrate the Jews, or to say, “You have proof of Christianity.”

There’s a whole book after the Disputation of Barcelona in 1263, Raymond Martini, who was one of the participants there in 1277, wrote a book, Pugio Fidei, The Dagger of Faith, in which he cites multiple Rabbinic passages, writing them in the original Hebrew and Aramaic scripts. In fact, that’s a very important source for textual knowledge of these works, because sometimes afterwards, Jews themselves censored them out.

Nehemia: So there are passages he quotes from the Talmud that might not be in later manuscripts in the Talmud?

Daniel: Correct.

Nehemia: Because of self-censorship. Wow, that’s amazing. One of the things I read in one of your studies was, there were these disputations. Tell us a little bit about the disputations. And this is in the 13th and 14th century, really.

Daniel: Well, there were many informal disputations. People would meet on the street corners or whatever. We have a whole literature of… humorous literature about Jews in dispute with Christians. Some of them were more formal when someone, whether it was a king or a bishop, brought together Jewish and Christian representatives to discuss, to argue…

Nehemia: Were the Jews eager to participate in these disputations?

Daniel: The Jews were not at all eager to participate. It was a lose-lose situation. If their arguments were better than the Christian arguments, they were in trouble, and if their arguments were worse than the Christian arguments, they were in trouble. They always tried to have a spin on it to show, at least for the internal Jewish works, that their arguments were better.

There were three major ones in the Middle Ages. One was, as I mentioned, Paris 1240 which was, in a sense, putting the Talmud on trial; Barcelona 1263, in which the Talmud was used to try to prove the truth of Christianity, and then in Tortosa, which is a city in Spain, from 1413 to 1414, which continued this tradition of proving Christianity from the Talmud, but a major part of the disputation was basically forcing Jewish leadership from all over the Iberian Peninsula into the city of Tortosa, which then left free reign to missionaries to go to the communities. Because this took a year-and-a-half, unlike Paris and Barcelona, which were just a few days each, and had one representative, or a few representatives of the Jewish community. This was something that took a year-and-a-half, and Jews… all the representatives, the leaders from all over Spain were forced to come.

Nehemia: So they forced all the rabbis to come to Tortosa, Spain for a year-and-a-half, so they could then go behind their backs and missionize the Jews…

Daniel: That was part of it.

Nehemia: …who had no leaders at the time. Wow.

Daniel: Correct. One of the important Christians was Vincent Ferrer, who in Christian circles is considered a great hero because of his…

Nehemia: Were they successful? Did many Jews convert?

Daniel: Apparently, yes. This was in 1413, 1414. In 1391, I mentioned the riots in which Hasdai Crescas’ only son was murdered.

Nehemia: These were anti-Jewish riots?

Daniel: Correct. This was the first time in Spain there was widespread anti-Jewish violence, and as a result of these riots in 1391… Spain, it’s a little bit of an anachronism, because the Iberian Peninsula still in 1391 had Andalucía, the Muslim part. But in the Christian parts, both Castile and…

Nehemia: What later became Spain.

Daniel: Right, there were general riots all over, and as a part of that, many Jews were forcibly converted.

Nehemia: So it wasn’t that they were convinced by these wonderful arguments. They said, “Okay, please don’t kill me. Give us that water, and baptism.”

Daniel: Well, conversion is a very complicated issue, and if I could put in a plug for my university, we have here a Center for the Study of Conversion and Inter-Religious Encounters, which is funded by the Israel Science Foundation as part of the ICORE program - the Israel Centers of Research Excellence. One of the things that the Center has been studying and discovering is the complexities of conversion, about how it’s not a one-time event, someone suddenly was Jewish and became Christian, and fully Christianized. Even in the Middle Ages, when people converted to Judaism, this is a process, even to this day.

So how many people were convinced when they were offered the choice between death and conversion, obviously would like to think that they weren’t convinced, they were just trying to avoid it. It’s interesting, in Christianity, where Christian law is that one has to be baptized of one’s free will, if one wants to become a Christian, but when Jews came later to say that they were forced to be converted and they should be allowed to return to Judaism, it was argued that at the moment of conversion, even though they were forced, they chose to convert rather than to die, and therefore, it was by their free will.

Nehemia: So 22 years after these race riots, where many Jews are forcibly converted, now they come with these arguments from the Talmud.

Daniel: Well, all the time they’ve been arguing.

Nehemia: Okay. But now the rabbis are out of the way and they can attack the flock.

Daniel: Then in 1492, with the expulsion of Jews from Spain, it meant that if anybody wanted to remain in Spain, that person had to convert. So you have 100 years of growing conversion, what we call Conversos, some people call them “Anusim”, people who are forced converts, Marranos, which was a derogatory term for these converts - their communities are existing side-by-side with loyal Jewish communities, and Ferdinand and Isabella decide to strengthen Catholicism in Spain. They thought that these indigenous, the loyal Jewish communities, were undermining the faith of the Conversos, and that was another reason for the expulsion.

So the public disputations - and there were other examples - were part of the Christian explanatory campaign. Now, there are those people who think that in 1263 in Barcelona, there was no conversionary mode, it was more a scholastic mode. I don’t agree with that at all. It wasn’t necessarily part of an ongoing missionary campaign or conversion campaign, but it certainly was an attempt to undermine Judaism, contemporary Judaism, and since your choices, as we pointed out, were either being Jewish or being a believing Christian…

Nehemia: And really a believing Catholic.

Daniel: A believing Catholic, then if the Christians, the Catholics, were successful in undermining Jewish belief, that would bring people to be part of that.

Nehemia: I want my audience to understand this. Imagine you’re a Jew there and you hear the two sides in Tortosa, or Barcelona, and you say, “Wow, the New Testament really makes a lot of sense to me. I’m going to be a Bible-believing Protestant. No, you get burned at the stake for that.” That’s not an option.

Daniel: Well Protestantism didn’t exist…

Nehemia: It didn’t exist, right. But if you would say, “Okay, this New Testament makes a lot of sense to me, I’m going to accept Jesus as my Messiah and only follow the New Testament,” you’d be executed for that if they found out. That would be worse than remaining a Jew, as far as your fate. Because at least as a Jew, you’re tolerated and have extra taxes. As a heretic, you’re put to death.

Daniel: Right, but even though by the 14th and 15th centuries there were certain reforming Christian movements, the Hussites in Czechoslovakia…

Nehemia: How did they turn out? Weren’t they all massacred? [laughing]

Daniel: They were executed. Jan Hus was burned at the stake. No, being a heretic was not a particularly healthy thing to be.

Nehemia: It was essentially worse than being a Jew in some contexts. So you have this going on, where there are blood libels, there are accusations of the desecration of the host. You have these race riots, you have these oppressive taxes as punishment for being a Jew, or tolerance for being a Jew. Then these people come at you with arguments. Was this a carrot and a stick approach? “This is what happens if you remain a Jew, all the suppression and persecution. Look here, they’re dangling this carrot. Maybe you don’t believe this, but here are some arguments you can tell yourself as part of your cognitive dissonance.” Is there something to that?

Daniel: Maybe. Again, the reasons for conversion is very difficult to establish. We have a number of testimonies of converts, Jewish converts to Christianity, such as Abner of Burgos or Alfonso de Valladolid, who was a quite prominent rabbi and had a number of writings in Hebrew before his conversion. He then tried to convince Jews and wrote in Hebrew, which most of the Christian works are written in Latin. But the Jews who converted who wrote about it invariably wrote about it in terms of the conversionary experience, and not, “I wanted an easier life,” or anything like that. Those people didn’t write.

You have examples of Jews who have been forcibly converted who return to Judaism who are at least…

Nehemia: Even some Jewish leaders. Wasn’t there one of the leading rabbis who fled to Fez?

Daniel: The Rashba, yeah.

Nehemia: Who’s one of the codifiers of Jewish law, and he had been forced to convert to Catholicism.

Daniel: Apparently in 1391 in the riots. But it lasted a very short period of time.

Nehemia: He fled to a Muslim country where he could return to being a Jew.

Daniel: Correct. You have another anti-Christian polemicist named Profiat Duran, who converted in 1391 and apparently lived outwardly as a Christian while writing anti-Christian polemics and other works in Hebrew in Perpignan for decades. It’s a very interesting phenomenon. It’s very hard to explain how he got away with it.

But, again, as I said, conversion was a process, and sometimes even the Christians didn’t expect the Jews to really…

Nehemia: And it was a process that actually took centuries. I was at the Hebrew Union College, and they were showing me, they had these documents, I think it was from the 1700s, and they were in Portuguese. And there are these public pamphlets with the names of specific people who were put on trial and convicted of Judaismos, which I guess translates as Judaism. In the ones they showed me, they weren’t executed, they would go to jail for a number of years, and sometimes for life. These were people whose ancestors maybe 300, 400 years earlier had converted to Judaism, and they were still practicing some form of Judaism in secret, and they got caught.

Daniel: Well, I don’t know when the last auto-de-fé was, the burning of the Jews at stake.

Nehemia: I believe it was in the 1800s, something like that.

Daniel: Very late. You had… even to this day you have people with Jewish identity, families that have been centuries as Christians. In Beer Sheva, there are a number of people who have come from South America, some of whom think that they have Jewish background. There are people, Israelis, who are trying to find Jews from all over the world, either as so-called descendants of the 12 lost tribes, or people whose ancestors had Jewish blood. There are all kinds… there are political issues involved in this, also. All these people that are found after centuries, if they want to be Jewish, have to undergo conversion ceremonies. It’s not like they say, “Oh, my great-great-great-great-grandfather was Jewish.”

Nehemia: You can’t come with DNA – and this is more a political issue, but you can’t come with a DNA test and say, “My ancestors were Jews. I have a Jewish last name. Give me Israeli citizenship.” It doesn’t go over in Israel. But as an academic, as a professor, would you say that some of these people from the Latin American world who are convinced they have a Jewish identity - I’ve heard stories… my grandmother used to light candles on Friday, and she never knew why, we didn’t eat pig on Saturday, I’ve heard stories like this - that there’s some legitimacy in that?

Daniel: I think there is. I think the problem is that research has been compromised by advocacy. In other words, I don’t know the extent to which people found people with so-called “Jewish names” and said, “Do you light candles in the basement?” Or, “Did anybody light candles?” “Oh, yeah. We lit candles in the basement.” I think that to a certain extent, Ethiopian Jewry is similar, because from the 19th century with European influence on Ethiopian Jewry, it’s very difficult to figure out what exactly it was like before European Jews got there and started discussing with them. So the same thing with the Conversos, or the Crypto-Jews, how many are actually of Jewish heritage, what exactly they did, I think it’s very difficult to determine that now.

But if someone has a Jewish identity or wants to be part of the Jewish people and is willing to undergo conversion, then it doesn’t really matter whether or not they’re…

Nehemia: Let’s just wrap up a little bit and go back to some of these polemics. One of the things that you bring out in your articles is that you talk about in southern France, that there were Jews who didn’t start out wanting to write polemics, but they went to study with Christians, philosophy, and that led them to write polemics against Christianity, which is to me fascinating, because I think I started saying before, I think of Jewish-Christian dialog, I’m looking for the common ground, and trying to, in some sense, avoid the differences and say, “We don’t agree on these things. Let’s focus on what we have in common ground.” And there, their common ground was what we might call Greek philosophy or Jewish philosophy, Christian philosophy, and that interface dialog led to polemics. So can you talk a little bit about that?

Daniel: Well, my theory is as follows. That Provence was a meeting ground for Jews coming from Iberia as a result of the so-called Reconquista, the Christian reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula, Jews and also Muslim Amohads, and the Muslim intolerance in what we call Muslim Spain, Andalusia, Jews migrated to southern France, and in southern France there were traditions of northern France, even though politically they weren’t one unit, but the northern French were Talmudists, were not interested in theology or philosophy, and the Andalusian Jewish migrants found a local community which did not share many of their intellectual pursuits, and they were able to find them among Christians. They also, I mentioned Judah ben Tibbon, who had the local clergy at his son’s wedding, was the father of the translators, the first one to translate from Judaeo-Arabic into Hebrew.

What I am theorizing is that because of their close relationship with Christians on an intellectual basis, or a social basis, that they in a sense… we have Jews who say to their fellow Jews in Provence, southern France, “Why can’t you be more like the Christians, let’s say, in their spirituality?” Or things like that, in order to make sure that no one would misunderstand their respect for Christian intellectuals, no one would misunderstand it as advocacy of what those Christian intellectuals believe religiously. They wrote these works of polemics, or included polemical statements in other genres, in order to make sure the borders were strictly drawn between Jews and Judaism and Christians and Christianity. And that’s part of a larger, I’d say theory or explanation, of the Jewish anti-Christian polemical enterprise as not being solely a matter of defense of Judaism.

The traditional narrative is that Jews wrote anti-Christian polemics and other treatises because Christians pressured the Jews and Christians were trying to convert Jews, and the anti-Christian literature was purely defensive and an attempt to ward off these missionary attempts. I believe that we have enough material, especially from the Islamic world, where Jews wrote anti-Christian polemics, even though there was no Christian mission to the Jews, it would indicate that there were Jews who wrote works against Christianity for purposes of self-identification or self-definition and not solely as a defense mechanism. Therefore, Provence in the 12th, 13th centuries, would be one example of this.

We have Italy in the 16th, 17th to 18th century, where we have dozens of Jewish anti-Christian polemics without any real mission to the Jews. It was unpleasant for the Jews, it was the period of the ghettos, but not the same sort of campaign against the Jews as it was in the Middle Ages. So some places, Jewish anti-Christian polemics are a result of Christian missionary activity, and certain places it was just part of the Jewish, I’d say, theological enterprise. It was part of Jewish self-definition. It was what a Jewish rationalist would discuss, because this is one of the intellectual threats to Jewish rationalism.

Nehemia: So that goes back to the quote that you wrote in one of your articles, whereas one can understand Judaism on its own terms without reference to Christianity. Basically, you’re saying in some instances you could, but you don’t have to. In other words, there were some Jews who wanted to make reference to Christianity for their own self-definition.

Daniel: And because this was the context in which Jews lived. Let’s say in America today, Jews can live a full Jewish life or whatever, but they still have to be aware of Christian holidays, they have to be aware of the Christian calendar, they have to be aware of let’s say, American customs, American civil religion. It’s not a question that one can really separate oneself fully from society, and the same thing in the Middle Ages - Jews and Christians, even though there were specific Jewish areas and Jews were forbidden sometimes from certain areas. Jews were forbidden from certain professions because of the Christian guilds. It doesn’t mean that Jews and Christians did not interact on a daily basis, whether it was in the marketplace or in… the infirmaries, or wherever. They knew each other.

Nehemia: Jews were often doctors.

Daniel: The Jews were often doctors, but the Christians were doctors. Interestingly enough, the first translations from Latin into Hebrew were of medical texts, because Jews, especially in southern France, wanted to keep up with the newest medical information, and that they could find only from the Islamic world… I’m sorry, the Christian world, the Latin Christian world. So the first translate… Later on, there are Hebrew translations of other Latin works in other fields, theology and...

Nehemia: So to reiterate what you said before, if I understood correctly, so some of these Jews who were interacting with the Christians over philosophy, they in a sense, I would call this, they were over compensating in the sense they were saying, “These Christians really have it when it comes to philosophy and spirituality. Now, lest anybody think I’m promoting Christianity, then they have a lash out against Christianity to distinguish, ‘Here’s what we don’t agree with.’”

Daniel: No, I think it’s a question that, if you have separate communities but you have people who are straddling the border between those communities, if they want to make sure that they’re straddling of the border is not construed by those who are not on the border as sympathy with the religion of the other side…

Nehemia: Do we have evidence of accusations of that sort, where they say, “You’re studying philosophy with Christians. You’re no better than a Christian.” Is there anything like that?

Daniel: I don’t think we have such accusations. Remember that the people doing the writing were the intellectuals. The non-intellectuals, we don’t have…

Nehemia: We don’t have what they said, okay. Very interesting.

Daniel: What I’m saying is that the impression I get from the fact that most provencial Jewish philosophical or exegetical works include anti-Christian passages, and I mentioned the social relations between Jews and Christians, or intellectual Jews and intellectual Christians, and the fact that these migrants from Iberia were critical of the locals for not being more philosophically engaged. I put it all together, and I think one can make the argument that the polemics are written in this context, the context of collegiality with Christians, but not acceptance of Christianity.

Nehemia: Can you tell us about your books? You’ve written a number of books.

Daniel: My first book was my dissertation, in which I discussed the use of philosophy in these polemics. It’s called, Jewish Philosophical Polemics Against Christianity in the Middle Ages, and it was 30 years later that I issued a second edition with some updating and some corrections. And as I said, it is an attempt to look how Jewish polemicists reacted to Christian theological views by means of philosophy. The four major topics are Trinity, incarnation – namely the second person of the Trinity, the Son, became a human being, Jesus; transubstantiation, which is the substance of the bread and the wine become flesh and blood, and the belief in virgin birth, that the birth of Jesus did not stop Mary’s virginity.

Nehemia: Wait, just to clarify - according to Catholic doctrine, Mary was perpetually a virgin, even after she gave birth.

Daniel: Correct. The second book was first in a Hebrew edition and then an English translation of Hasdai Crescas’ refutation, The Christian Principles. As I said, this was written originally in Catalan, apparently. It was translated into Hebrew. The original text is lost, so it’s an edition of this philosophical polemic by Hasdai Crescas, and then a translation into English. My last book that dealt with polemics was an edition with Sarah Stroumsa of the Hebrew University of a 9th century Jewish anti-Christian polemic which was written in Arabic, or Judeo-Arabic, Arabic in Hebrew characters, and which went through many, many, many different textual phases, and we have Judaeo-Arabic versions and we also have a Hebrew translation of different versions. The Hebrew translation, which is known as the Book of Nestor the Priest. We presented all the textual information in Arabic and Hebrew, and the Hebrew versions also had Latin and Greek glosses, editions, so we did that, with the English translations.

Then I’ve published a number of shorter polemical treatises and articles about the place of philosophy and polemics in Jewish intellectual history.

Nehemia: Wow. Amazing. Have you written books on other topics as well, that you want to share with us?

Daniel: The other books have been on Karaism.

Nehemia: Tell us about that.

Daniel: One book is called, From Judah Hadassi to Elijah Bashyatchi: Studies in Late Medieval Karaite Philosophy. It deals with Karaite philosophy from Byzantium from the 12th to the 15th centuries, and the interplay with Rabbinic Rabbinate philosophy and the mutual influences. The latest book is an edition of text written by an 18th century Volhynian Karaite – Volhynia is now part of the Ukraine – Simhah Isaac Lutski, who wrote around 24 books or treatises, and died at age 44, so that was pretty good production.

Nehemia: Wow! [laughing]

Daniel: One of the most interesting parts about him, and there are many interesting parts about him, is the fact that that he was a devotee of kabbalah, of the Jewish mysticism.

Nehemia: A Karaite Kabbalist.

Daniel: Correct.

Nehemia: That looks like a whole topic for another episode. Fascinating stuff. Thank you so much, Professor. We’ve really appreciated the time you’ve given us.

Daniel: You’re welcome.

Nehemia: Shalom.

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Prof. Daniel J. Lasker


  • terry says:

    Hi,

    I read the transcript of this post and was deeply engrossed. I am Ashkenazi Jew by heritage and was brought up in a very strict christian family. The Hebrew scriptures are what Jesus taught from and knew them word for word. The trinity doctrine was introduced to Christianity in the 3rd century so having Yehovah`s rightfull name in the new testamant would make the Romanised version of Christianity quite hard to pull off. Hence the removing of Yehovah from the scriptures is just one reason for this. Yes many wanted to distance Christianity from its Hebrew roots and so much bloodshed took place in the name of religion which if people paid more attention to the scriptures they would have understood that Yehovah hates these acts. In the New testament there are so many scriptures that prove that Jesus was the son of God but as with all things teachings are manipulated to suit doctrine. Yehovah says he is not partial but any man doing his will is acceptable to him. The bible is inspired of God from Genesis to Revelation so all are of value in my humble opinion. I am grateful to the tireless work that Nehemia and his team put in these posts and and so many of as are grateful and humbled because we benifit from your work and for me it further reinforces my conviction in my God Yehovah and his son jesus and the wonderful purpose ahead of us. Thank you so much to you all.

  • rnshalom says:

    It would behoove every Christian that is learning the value of the Hebrew roots to take a retrospective view into the roots and consequences of most of their doctrines.

    “The Disputation” (available on youtube) captures the deep influence of the Roman Church on many modern Christian doctrines.

  • Gregory Irby says:

    I think the history of the three abrahamic faiths is a sad one. I recently did some research on the Christian Knights. No wonder so many atheist hate us. I live in St. Louis, Mo. The Catholic Capital of the US. I thought it was hysterical that Catholics accused evil Jews of desecrating their communion wafers! I have a sister that is a Catholic cannibal. I worked for the Catholic University one year and talked theology with priest and Jesuits many times. I’m glad to have gone out of my way to not allow myself to be brain washed by religious theology. I’ve spent my life searching for the truth. I don’t believe I have any Jewish roots in my family line. My ancestors were bred by the Norse Gods! Oden & those guys! We are all hybrids you know. Archeologists say the Denisovans were hybrids. It was in the news this last winter they’re going to DNA test all the old finds and see how many are hybrids. I’ll bet most of them! Thanks for your work. Having studied eschatology for over 40 years I’m rather anxious to get my hands on these Hebrew gospels, especially Matthew & Revelation. Some of the events are out of order in the Greek. I could show you some things you won’t hear from anywhere else. Thanks again for your work and sorry bout that Super Church, those dirt bags. The big cities are full of churches like that! I know of one that has a boxing ring Sincerely, Gregory Irby

    • Mary Joy Ventanilla says:

      the problem is there are thousands of Christian Denominations that causes divisions and debates.. but the God is One God.. the One true God of Abraham..and of Isaac, (Yehovah or Jehovah) about Jesus, Apostle paul used Psalms 8:5,,, in this Bible verse there are also too many versions..but Apostle Paul, used “angels” in replace of elohim( gods) please, check the meaning of elohim in encyclopedia..but for me I chose the meaning of ‘elohim’ used in Psalms 8:5 is “godlike”, then look at Psalms 82:6, that Jesus use to defend himself when Jews went mad at him calling himself God…. In this arguments, Jesus is an Angel.. the Angels are Sons of God… So, Jesus is an angel, a mighty god..angels are god..they are called gods, because they are the sons of the Most High,,, but that doesnt mean that they are equal to the One True God whom is Jehovah.. you can look at Colossians 1:15, that Jesus is the firstborn over all creations of God.. in Revelations 3:14, he is referred as the beginning of creation of God… The first century Christians were so different from the emerging new Christian Denominations today. But don’t get astray… always refer to the Bible as your guide to find the truth..

  • Joel Heller says:

    It is undeniable that what is commonly called “Christianity ” is entirely unrelated to first century Nazarean Judaism as taught by R” Yeshua bar Yosef, the Netzater Rebbe.

  • Sean Kraft says:

    Thank you so much Nehemiah. By no means do I speak for all or any Christians but myself.

    My education emphasized that “God is one”. And as “Elohim”, He sits upon a throne and confers with His distinct voice (the Word), and His distinct omnipresence (the Holy Spirit) as self-companionship. As He is God, He needs no one else’s conference.

    To others, a man can be distinctly a Father, a Son, a Brother, etc, yet that man is still “one”. With God, creation is the “others”. His Throne involves dominion over creation, His Word involves his power to create, as well as His Truth and His insertion of Himself into the Creation as Emmanuel. And His Omnipresence refers to his full control, power and involvement in creation. The number 3 (I’m told) represents completeness. And therefore God is complete, indicating singularity.

    As the image of God, similarly, a man consists of three parts, as we are told to worship God with our whole heart, soul and mind. A single man, in three parts. So we can naturally extrapolate that man is a metonym of God.

    So God’s throne represents His mind? His omnipresent Holy Spirit as His Spirit? His Word as His heart? Perhaps?

    Thanks again Brother.

  • UKJ says:

    Thank you for such a very informative ( also historically sad ) conversation.

    Personally I am looking forward to the time when Israel is united under the Messiah (of which Jewish people and followers of Yeshua have in common)

    When Yehovah’s kingdom is on earth then all nations will know the truth and the truth shall set us all free…

  • Dave Christensen says:

    Listening to the Trinity gives me a migraine. There is no Trinity in the Bible and the Bible never says “God is Three”. Poor Jesus must be crying to hear people making him into a Pagan god. Jesus was a faithful Jew.

    As the Hebrew Gospels are being translated, it will become more difficult to attach Pagan theology onto Jesus. This nightmare will soon be over.

    • Mary Joy Ventanilla says:

      yes, I am a Christian,, but I never found trinity in the Bible..Yehova or Jehovah is the One true God… though according to the Bible, you have had to have an accurate knowledge about God, and to the One whom he has sent, as Messiah, Jesus Christ.. Though many Christians today believes that Jesus is also the God… but there is a big difference with Jesus is the God, and Jesus is a god..they mostly do not understand John 1:1… Apostle Paul uses the Bible verse Psalms 8:5, but it has too many different translations, some translators have mistaken the use of “elohim” to God himself, some translators uses “angels” as how Apostle Paul used the Psalms 8:5,(hebrew 2:7) but take a look at Psalms 82:6, where Jesus used to defend himself,, when the Jews accused him of making himself the God… but Jesus, did not claim that he is the God, rather he is a god… because all the sons of the Most High are called gods.. you can check Job 2:1…Jesus is not part of the Trinity (whom Catholics claimed) because according to the Colossians 1:15, he is the firstborn over all creations, and the Revelations 3:14, referred to him as the beginning of the creations of God… so he is not equal to the Father.. because Jesus has a beginning..and God the Most High doesn’t have a beginning.

      • Sean Padraig says:

        John 14 “7 If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also; from now on you know Him, and have seen Him.”

        8 Philip *said to Him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” 9 Jesus *said to him, “Have I been so long with you, and yet you have not come to know Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father is in Me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on My own initiative, but the Father abiding in Me does His works. 11 Believe Me that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; otherwise believe because of the works themselves. 12 Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do, he will do also; and greater works than these he will do; because I go to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.

        15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.

        And John 10 “Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these testify of Me. 26 But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30 I and the Father are one.”

        John 8 “Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham [q]was born, I am.”

  • Fascinating. I heard somebody float the idea that the name “Iberia” comes from the word “Ivrit”, but this seems little more than speculation to me. As for the people in Latin America claiming distant Jewish ancestry, my thoughts are that if Y’hovah wants these people to end up in Israel then by hook or by crook they’ll end up there, religious and government committees notwithstanding. What the Almighty wants He gets and it’s really not up to anybody else! LOL!

  • James Wilson says:

    Nehemia, This is fascinating. Thank you. You find such interesting guests.

    Do you plan anymore podcasts with Dr. Lasker?

    I was struck by the idea that Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism as sisters divergent from their source. I would like to hear more (anything really} about the rise of Kaarism and also the earliest polemics with Jewish followers of Yeshua vs the apologists for the Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes (Others?) prior to the destruction of the Temple and before any gentiles got added to the mix. Seems that by the time we get to the middle ages religion and philosophy, animosity and hurt have created a great divide when the original goal was to get to know the One True Creator, one people in love with HaShem, in the first place.

  • Margaret Shattuck says:

    The more I hear stuff like this, the more I think that some people really are driven crazy by religion, and the more I’m convinced that I did the right thing when I left Christianity. Jews (Israel) can trace their history all the way back to the beginning of time. Christianity (and all other religions) came up later, based on their pagan and false god beliefs. Christianity is just a blend of both Biblical truth, and pagan beliefs. It took me a long time of studying to get to this point, but I’m so glad I did.

    Thanks Nehemiah for your teaching. Very helpful.

  • Great chat very informative !
    thanks G_rd_n !

  • Linda says:

    Fascinating! Thank you, Nehemia.

  • Walter Schwenk says:

    Makes my head spin dwelling on how far both communities have drifted from their foundational documents. While it is sad that the Israelite commonwealth, then the Jewish departed from the Mosaic imperatives into exiles and persecutions, it goes from sadness into irony that within mere decades Yahshua’s “disciples” followed a similar path of departure. I am really looking forward to a day when our Maker will cause us to see how both Moses and Yahshua shared a single purpose; to cause His people to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with their Elohim.

    • Walter Schwenk says:

      Ps, hope no one takes offense, but I’m really starting to think that Rabbanism, trinitarian christianity, and even islam richly deserve each other. I just wish they could keep their altercations private to avoid the very sad collateral damage. Blessed who comes in the name of yhwh. The Israelite commonwealth was a reform movement to return the nations to yhwh, as was the return from the babylonian exile, and later Yahshua’s ministry, then the karaite protests. How mankind can be so fickle and turn away so quickly defies explanation. Humble apologies on behalf of the ancient RCC for their bold fabrication of the single piece of “evidence” in the NT for the trinity.

  • Jake says:

    I am that I am, I am says Yehovah. As for you, listen to and do my instructions, and my laws, and my precepts, and my statutes so that you may live says Yehovah.

    Yara shalam

  • Jake says:

    Why do humans spend tremendous amounts of time attempting to define our Creator? It is ludicrous that these two are having a discussion about this trinity construct, since by doing so, perhaps they are giving it some form of validity. Instead, why don’t they, as Karaites, state the truth that man does not have the authority, nor the wisdom, nor the understanding, to be able to define our Creator so as to put him in a box so they can advance their own agenda. There are far more truthful endeavors we humans are to work to understand so that we can know what we are supposed to be doing to prepare ourselves for his comiing dominion. As long as we attempt to control who our Creator is supposed to be, we will have a lot of trouble controlling who we are supposed to be.
    Yara shalam