Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Hebrew Scriptures ("Old Testament")


Note: In the Jewish faith, their Bible is called the "Hebrew Scriptures." They do not accept the perjorative "Old Testament," which is a title created by Christian prejudice.

If the Hebrew Scriptures are not accepted as the "infallible Word of God," then their teachings, including Creation, the Flood, etc., become optional. This means that we do not have to reject them, but we do not have to accept them either. Many mystics (enlightened people) throughout history have accepted the first chapters of Genesis, for example, as an allegory of the "Fall from Grace." In fact, mystics love to write about this chapter. It is quite popular.

Others love the Proverbs, and still others, the Song of Solomon. Ecclesiastes is also quite popular among many who have turned away from the Hebrew Scriptures in general. (These three were written, legend says, by Solomon, a great mystic.)

So, the fact that we decide to turn away from a full acceptance of every verse of the Hebrew Scriptures as the "infallible Word of God" does not imply or mean that we must reject every verse. We can still recognize the Jewish literature as containing moments of great beauty and wisdom.

We need never hate these Scriptures; we simply must recognize that they are the Scriptures of a different religion, i.e., Judaism, often in its most ancient form.

And, of course, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Judaism. It is a faith with much good to offer. But in its most ancient history, contained in the Hebrew Scriptures, it fell into a godimage created by generals and soldiers. This god, created in the image of soldiers was, not surprisingly, a soldier! As a soldier, even a general, in the army of ancient Israel, their god was bristling with power. He was fierce, ferocious, unmerciful, and guilty of mass-murder, several times, according to their own sacred record in the Hebrew Scriptures. This bloodstained, bloodsoaked god made a marvelously powerful image for a wargod.

In the twenty-first century, it is good and healthy for a modern person to recognize that Jehovah/Yahweh was precisely this: a local wargod.

This is very, very different from any modern meaning that we would ever give to the word "God." For us, "God" is the Fountain of Love, compassion, gentleness, comfort, healing, tenderness, and gentle forgiveness. This is the polar opposite of Jehovah, and of other wargods.

What was the purpose of a wargod? It was one, and it was only this: to intimidate and frighten the enemies of your country. In the ancient Middle East, each small nation had its own "god." They had such names as Molech, Chemosh, and others.

The earliest Hebrew Scriptures were polytheistic: They recognized the existence of many gods, but insisted that Jehovah was the "best" (meaning, "most powerful").

War was the major way of life for the nation as a whole. The nation of Israel experienced so many wars, with so many enemies, that many scholars say that the entire nation has known only forty years of peace. (This occurred during the reign of King Solomon, an enlightened ruler.)

Among the ancients, everything was about war. So it should be no surprise that their religion, and their god, were also about war. One of the most famous designations for their god was "Jehovah of armies." And the Israelis used to dance in celebration to the heinous words, "Saul has killed his thousands, and David, his tens of thousands!: The more of the "enemy" that a soldier could kill, the better and more powerful man he became! As in other ancient and primitive cultures, the soldier was the best kind of man! So, naturally, it was the best kind of god!

Life in those days, not unlike modern times, was all about greed among nations. Greed was all about land. And war was all about land. Each nation wanted to "grab" as much land as possible. This is what the whole monstrous idea of the "promised" land was about! To get land, you had to kill its inhabitants. To do that, you had to be a good soldier.

Even in the Hebrew Scriptures, Jehovah is never presented as the god of all people. Those who followed the ancient Jewish way saw their Jehovah as "belonging" to their nation, exactly as other gods were national deities. Each nation was said to be the "chosen people" of its god, and each god did belong to a single nation. The idea of a universal God, a God for all people, was far beyond their ability to understand. So, it was never conceived by the ancient Israelis. They took it for granted that Jehovah was their personal and national possession. Jehovah was, historically, the god of Israel alone.

So, when early Christians went universal, opening to the Gentiles (non-Jews), the first thing that they had to do was renounce Jehovah.
So, they abandoned or rejected huge chunks of the Hebrew Scriptures. No Christian, for example, struggled to follow all the laws found in the Pentateuch or Torah-- the first five books legendarily ascribed to Moses.
(These are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.) These ancient books contained literally hundreds of laws regulating sacrifices, clothing, the trimming of the beard, interactions with the "nations" (Gentiles), and dozens of other minor details. Christians saw all these "laws of Jehovah" as trivialities, unimportant to salvation. Paul argued to the Galatians that they had no need of "the Law," which was, essentially, the Hebrew Scriptures.

So, all early Christians, following the Law of Love of the master Jesus, felt completely free to reject any text of the Jewish Bible that they chose. We today, whether Christian or other, live under a similar freedom. We have one law and one only: Love as much as possible. This law includes kindness, compassion, charity, goodness, service, friendship, and several other factors. If we do follow the law of Love, then we have no need for all the "laws of Jehovah" recorded in the Hebrew Scriptures. This is why no Christian anywhere has built a temple, or sacrifices a bull when she makes an error ("sin"). The Jews recognized it as part of their sacred law that something had to be slaughtered to satisfy the bloodlust of their god. Sacrifices were very common with the ancient gods and religions; so here, as in many other places, the worship of Jehovah resembled other primitive and tribal societies. Sometimes, they would kill doves; but a really serious sin required them to kill goats, sheep, and cows (or bulls).

Thus, enlightened people view the Hebrew Scriptures with the respect that they deserve, as semi-historical documents. We might even love some of the ancient writings. But when they talk about "God" or "the Lord," they are not referring to the Lord of Love or to the God of the universe; they are referring to Jehovah.

Since Jehovah is a false god, we do not derive any of our theology or philosophy from the Hebrew Scriptures. This avoids the almost universal confusion in the average Christian church, in which these documents are mistaken somehow for a "Christian Bible," which they clearly are not.
Even the famous "Ten Commandments" are mistaken, by the ignorant or uneducated as a "Christian" document-- which, again, they are not.

Studying the Hebrew Scriptures, which can be interesting, has no effect on our spirituality. Therefore, the great burden of studying them is lifted off our backs. (As a fundamentalist, I studied them for over twenty years.) We simply do not need the texts of an ancient religion to guide or direct us in the modern world.

The Christian Bible, with its teaching of "Christ in you," is much more mystical. Christianity's founder Jesus was clearly a mystic, for he taught his own oneness with God. But Abraham and Moses were not enlightened mystics. The Christian Scriptures are more than enough to satisfy the spiritual needs of modern people.

But we mystics have far more, not fewer, spiritual texts than the average Christian. For we also accept as spiritually valuable texts from other cultures, including some of the Sutras of historical Buddhism and Hinduism, as well as the writings of Lao Tzu and Chuang Tzu in Taoism.

Thus, turning away from the Hebrew Scriptures does not impoverish our spiritual tradition. In fact, it greatly enriches us and leads to spiritual clarity and certainty. Our spiritual lives are greatly simplified when we no longer have to accept every word of the Hebrew Scriptures. The words of Jesus are relevant: "You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (Jn. 8:32) So, whether or not we are Christians, we have a joyful freedom that most people never taste! And it is deep and sweet!

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