|Vol. VIII, No. 6
Elul 5610 September 1850
The Difference Between Judaism and Christianity
Being a Refutation of the Pamphlet of the Rev. M. R. Miller, Entitled the “Identity of Judaism and Christianity.”
By Rev. Dr. W. Schlessinger
The phenomenon presented to us in the fact that zealous Christians make the most strenuous efforts to persuade Jews to adopt their confession of faith is neither new nor surprising. The more thoroughly a person is imbued with the conviction that he and his associates alone are possessed of the true belief, and that this belief alone can confer salvation, the more ardently must he then naturally desire, if he be in the true sense of the <<298>>word a lover of his species, that all mankind should embrace the same faith which he professes, to insure their ultimate happiness. Israelites, also, are animated by the same wish, that their confession may at length become the common property of all nations; the writings of our prophets and our books of prayers, present this idea in a thousand instances, that at some time, in a period yet to arrive, the eternal God alone shall be King over the whole earth, and that on that day He shall be ONE and his NAME ONE.
How any one can at the same time believe in the fulfilment of such predictions, and in the existence of a trinity, is a riddle, the solution of which is possible for him who knows that the human mind can be so perverted as to deduce from any proposition the very reverse of what it ostensibly declares.
Judaism is, however, also chiefly distinguished from Christianity in this, that according to its theory the observance of the Mosaic precepts is enjoined only on Israelites; whereas those who do not belong to the Jewish people can attain everlasting happiness if they observe the religion of nature—the moral laws —the seven Noachitic precepts. A pious and zealous Israelite can therefore very consistently embrace all mankind within the limits of his love without feeling on that account the irresistible impulse to convert all men to Judaism, the least of all, through means of rude force, by the fire and the sword. Nay, we have a strict prescription in our books of authority to endeavour to dissuade every non-Israelite in case he comes to join us, and to remind him of the difficulties attendant on a strict observance of our law.
From these premises it will be readily perceived why Jews, who, as is notorious, never value any sacrifice of money for the promotion of their religion and the observance of religious duties, never, even in their days of prosperity, spent any money on missionaries or proselyte makers of any kind.
The noblest and best among the Israelites had at all times work enough on their hands, in being engaged in the improvement of their own associates in faith; and they thought correctly, that they could best serve mankind in educating a few exemplary men. On the other hand no one knows better than <<299>>we ourselves, that the majority of the Jews are far from being that for which the Lord has chosen them, and which they could have become if they had paid due obedience to the law. Judaism is the bearer of the purest and most exalted religion, which is the most reconcilable with an in-God-believing philosophy but all who bear the name of Jews are not for this sole reason Jews already. It is also not a very easy and convenient thing to be an Israelite in the true sense of the word. The Mosaic code demands constant action, sacrifices, suppression of the passions, and to care and to have due regard for the welfare of our fellow-men.
Christianity on the other side announces itself always as the easiest religion in the world; what wonder, then, that it has found so immense a mass of adherents? In its bosom all were received—the highway robber, the adulterer, the murderer, the poisoner. A man might have committed crimes of whatever degree and name you may imagine; but so soon as he could bring it over his feelings to allow himself to be sprinkled with a few drops of water, so soon as he declared that he believed the only begotten Son of God had died on the cross as an atonement for all men, he was the participant of everlasting beatitude.
We Israelites also believe in a forgiveness of sins, because we deem the infinite grace of God greater than a man can possibly conceive it to be; but it is the problem of a man’s life to render himself deserving of this grace, and the sinner who is awakened to the sinfulness of his state is, therefore, not authorized to depend for atonement on one who departed this life many centuries ago. Each man must labour for his own salvation. He himself must feel regret and do penance every day. We understand the high significance of the Day of Atonement as a day set apart on which the Israelites, assembled in the houses consecrated to God, expect forgiveness before the Lord through prayer, confession of sins, and pious resolves; but the gates of repentance are open every day.
“He is our God, and we are his people, and the flock of his pasture, this day, so you but hearken to his voice.” (Psalm xcv. 7.)
But it is time that we enter more particularly upon the dis<<300>>cussion of Mr. Miller’s pamphlet, which stands at the head of this article.
To judge from its whole tenor, and as the author distinctly says, he must esteem the Hebrew Bible as the word of God, but he thinks that we Israelites do not understand how to expound the Scriptures correctly; wherefore his aim is to teach us the proper method. In order to arrive at a clear understanding of the Scriptures, the first requisite is a thorough knowledge of the Hebrew language; but we think that we may assert, without being arrogant, that notwithstanding the study of the Hebrew is not in a very flourishing condition in America, there are a good many Israelites in the country who are better masters of the Hebrew than Mr. Miller, and we say this with all due respect which we entertain for his character and knowledge. Should it even be true that ten-twelfths or yet more of Jacob’s descendants had fallen off from Judaism, even say that many of the yet living Israelites are unworthy of this name: we have nevertheless the assurance that “This is my covenant with them, saith the Lord: my spirit which is upon thee, and my word which I have placed in thy mouth, shall not depart out of thy mouth, and out of the mouth of thy children, and out of the mouth of thy children’s children, saith the Lord, from now and for ever.” (Isa. xlix. 7.)
We shall, therefore, never draw the water of salvation from Christian sources, and forsake, to do this, the living spring of the divine Spirit which is in the Jewish faith. Should even thousands of Jews become apostates from their God and their belief; should even millions of non-Israelites, illuminated by the light of the Bible lead a moral course of life: it is still a fact, that, comparatively speaking, many less crimes are committed by Jews than other persuasions; least of all are they guilty of grave crimes; it is a fact, also, that the pure idea of the Godhead, as taught by Judaism, is the very highest to which the human spirit can elevate itself.
The pietistic and hypocritical gossip of the tract distributor, who, in consideration of a salary of several hundred dollars per annum, made it his business to walk about the streets of New York for the sake of catching a few souls, can surely have no effect on any man who <<301>>thinks at all. Whoever looks a little closely upon such people, whoever knows with what ravenous an appetite they swallow up lost souls, how zealously they catch at straying, despairing and penniless Jews, in order to gain them over to the church by the aid of a few pieces of money, must feel a thorough disgust for the business of these men in every point of view in which he may regard it. And now at length, what a happy discovery has this confessor of Christ made in the 13-15 verses of the eighth chapter of Isaiah: when we have a greater right to regard the 18th and 20th verses of the same chapter as a warning against Christianity. For in these last it is shown how ridiculous it is to turn to the dead for protection to the living, and we are admonished to hold fast to the law and the testimony, and not to pay attention to words which lack all light.
Mr. Miller next utters the following: “Christianity (evidently alluding but to a very small fraction thereof, viz., Presbyterianism) professes to be the natural, legitimate, living, divinely predestinated development and expansion of ancient Judaism, and it repels every charge of rupture, in any essential point, either by innovation or abrogation, with the ancient faith of Israel.” And all this is based upon the assumption of Mr. Miller, that Christ and his apostles understood expounding the Scriptures better than the contending schools of Shammai and Hillel; that the New Testament is better than the Talmud, and that Paul, in his epistle to the Hebrews, explained the Bible better than Rabbi Jehudah Hakkadosh in his Mishnah.
Little as I feel disposed, in quality of a peace-loving Israelite, to challenge Christianity to a combat, I nevertheless have no hesitation, after the gauntlet has been cast down to us, to enter the lists boldly and to defend our good cause. I have often read the so-called New Testament quite through, and this with due attention. Let it be understood we Jews know nothing of an Old or a New Testament; our God has not passed through the gates of death, and has, therefore, made no testament.*
We adore a living God who has revealed to us, through men inspired by Him his holy will. But in the writings of the apostles, <<302>>I never was able to find that Christ had imparted an expostion of the Bible; on the contrary, both he and his apostles have wrested single passages, taken without their context, and explained them in such a manner that here and there some ignorant persons could consider him as the true Messiah. We cannot possibly summon resolution enough to undertake the labour of Sisyphus;—to repeat here, what has been alleged a thousand and again a thousand times by Jews and Christians against the authenticity of the New Testament, and to repeat the contradictions of which it is full; it is not difficult to prove that, even in the sermon on the Mount, alongside of the most beautiful and elevated moral doctrines, which are taken from our Bible and are clothed only in a new dress, are met with prescriptions exaggerated, impracticable, nay, I might almost say absurd, in their nature.
One remark, however, I must be permitted to make, that it is incomprehensible to me in what manner believing Christians can explain how it happened that, whilst the Apostles, who were quite ordinary fishermen or men of that stamp, should have written the gospels, the sources of the whole Christian faith, the God-man himself, or the Son of God, did not, during his life-time, which continued more than thirty years write a single book, not even the smallest, which contains the principles of the true faith, and in which are recorded the acts which are requisite for the attainment of salvation. Would not such a writing, were it even ever so small, have proved his divinity far better and more energetically than all the wonderful cures, expulsions of evil spirits, and conjurings of the devil, which he displayed?
But what foolish and senseless talk is it to maintain that Christianity has introduced no changes and abolished nothing! If this is not the most fearful falsehood whichever passed over the tongue of man, then must the word Falsehood be banished from all dictionaries, and then will also be able to prove that no mortal ever uttered a falsehood. Let some one be good enough to point out to me the testimonies, the observances, the commandments, the ceremonies, the festivals, which are commanded in the five books of Moses, which are observed by the Presbyterians. What use is there in words, words without <<303>>meaning, which are intended to convey the opposite of what they ostensibly announce? What use is there in it, when even Jesus has said, for so we are told, that he did not come to destroy but to confirm the law, when it is notorious that through him the Mosaic law has been totally set aside and declared as much as abolished for his followers? What use is there in it that on Jesus himself the commandment of circumcision was observed, when the New Testament occasionally relates he had executed this or that ceremony, at times even some rabbinical ordinances, whilst his adherents wished to consider themselves as Israelites without the least regard to all these things?
Whenever Jews relinquish all sound reason, and permit themselves to he guided by the following mode of expounding, that “Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the Lord, one” signifies that three is one, and one is three; or “Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy—but the seventh day is a rest in honour of the Lord thy God” signifies that we shall celebrate the first instead of the seventh day of every week; “The flesh of the hog ye shall not eat” signifies, that you may eat it, and many more similar expositions; then will they go over to the Presbyterians to obtain from them instruction in the manner of interpreting the Scriptures.
How can it now be imagined that we Jews should ever be able to admit the authority of the Apostles in the least, when they have themselves given such ample and clear evidence in their writings of their ignorance, short-sightedness, and credulity? Should one even desire to gather the best and most cogent of what has been written against the New Testament, by both Jews and Christians, one hundred thick volumes could not contain all these selections.
Our view, therefore, of Christianity cannot be shaken. But as it is with the diseases, wounds, and injuries of the body, that one evil can only be expelled by another: so is it, also, with the diseases, the aberrations and vagaries of the mind. Paganism, with its abominations and disgusting features, received its death-blow through Christianity, which is in point of fact nothing but an illegitimate child of Judaism. Men, springing out of the midst of our religion, toyed with a heathenish, Ale-<<304>>xandrian, Gnostic philosophy, and the child of this uncongenial connexion, the mixture of truth and error, of Judaism and Paganism is, and it is nothing else, that system known as the Christian religion. During fifteen hundred years, and in this at least Presbyterians will coincide with us, Christianity was in its outward appearance more affiliated to heathenish than Jewish elements. We see how Christianity strives and labours peacefully to purify itself from this heathenish admixture; but it will not he able to carry out this process fully, till it has given up its illegitimate god, and regards Jesus merely as a merely historical person, who was the means to call the attention of the Pagans to the Bible of the Hebrews.
Were it not for the great and small ecclesiastical benefices, and innumerable other worldly interests which keep Christianity erect, the whole structure would long since have fallen down into nothingness. When the Lord shall hereafter pour out his spirit over all flesh, and when truth shall be more valued than falsehood, so that the confession of the latter will even on this earth bear with it no prizes of honour, then will He, the Lord, be ONE and his name ONE and neither a second nor a third person in the Deity shall be mentioned any more.
We cannot avoid to furnish the reader, in this place, with a small example of the art of interpretation as employed by the Apostles, and to do this we will choose the first two chapters of Matthew. The first sixteen verses treat of the genealogy of Christ, in order to demonstrate his descent from David, which is the basis of the whole New Testament. In reality, however, the first view we can take of the question proves that the writer merely has shown us how Joseph the husband of Mary was descended from David. Jesus now must either have been the actual son of Joseph, in which case the conception by the Holy Ghost is a mere mythological fable, or he was not the son of Joseph; in either case, what use is there of the genealogical table? Of a surety, every unprejudiced person must, of necessity discover in the very first words of the Gospels nothing but a slight proof of a confusion of ideas want of clearness contradictions, which are continued throughout the whole book.
The apostle commences, “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ,” and <<305>>when you get to the end you will find that it is not a register of his generations.
It is quite interesting to see how entirely different in this Gospel the names of Joseph’s ancestors are from those given in Luke iii.
In the latter there are enumerated from Joseph to Zerubabel nineteen generations, whereas in Matthew there are but ten. It was evidently the business of the apostle in this book to make out three times fourteen generations, as we are told in verse 17, in order to bring out the holy number forty-two.* To carry out this favourite idea, he neglected to pay a strict regard to truth. In verses 22 and 23 it is told, “Now all this was done, that it might be fulfilled, which was spoken of the Lord, by the prophet, saying, Behold a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”† Whoever possesses but a small share of the power of investigation knows how futile and untenable is this prop, on which Christianity has always put so great a value: yea, it is to be hoped, that when once the scales have dropt from the eyes of the people they will be convinced, that the prophet Isaiah, in committing the verse alluded to to writing, could not have had a thought of Christ; so that, when this occurs, no one will believe in his divinity, or his Messiahship.
The Hebrew word עלמה (Almah) which Isaiah employs in vii. 14, and on which the whole argument is based, does not signify virgin, but a young woman, the term being applied to virgins, or, even women of debased character. In Gen. xxiv. 43, it signifies a girl in the nobler sense of the word; but in Proverbs xxx. 19 it means an incestuous woman, as appears with the clearness of daylight from the context to which the reader is referred.‡
If <<306>>Isaiah now had designed to convey the miracle of a virgin’s conception, he would to a surety not have employed the suspicious and double meaning ’Almah as he could readily have made use of the word בתולה Bethulah, which always conveys in the whole Bible text the idea of a virgin. But leaving this out of view, we cannot comprehend how any one who has eyes and sound reasoning powers, can sincerely believe that Isaiah alluded here to Christ. Let any one read the seventh chapter of Isaiah with a tolerable degree of attention. The prophet is in conversation with Ahaz, the idol-worshipping king of Judah, and admonishes him, to have no fear of the kings of Aram and Israel, and gives him a sign that a certain young woman shall bear a son, and that before this child shall be able to understand how to avoid evil and choose the good, the land shall be deprived of its two kings before whom he felt such terror.—Where is there to be discovered the least allusion to a future Messiah?