Christians and the Torah
Edward Field is a conservative rabbi, writer and liturgist who has written on Jewish theology, prayer, and the Hebrew Bible. After publishing a volume on the Psalms, recently produced Book of revolutionsAn easy-to-read scholarly and deeply spiritual commentary on the Pentateuch. While many popular commentaries on the Pentateuch prioritize the well-known narratives in Genesis, Exodus, and Numbers, this volume focuses on the primarily legal texts of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, using academic critical historical analysis of the texts to trace the development of the Torah through the centuries.
Word Torah It is often translated as “law”, with all the negativity implied in Pauline’s alleged dichotomy between law and liberty, letter and spirit. but, Torah mean more than law; They are divine instructions intended to help human beings live according to God’s will revealed in God’s Word. For Christians, the Torah provides a deep insight into who Jesus is as the embodiment of the Word (John 1:14) and the fulfillment of the Law (Matthew 5:17).
Christian readers often skip the canonical texts in the Pentateuch, focusing uniquely on the accounts that tell of Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, Leah, Rachel, Joseph and his brothers, Moses and Aaron, and Mary.
Four moments that made up the Pentateuch
However, the canonical texts are the core of the first five books of the Bible. The core of the Pentateuch is Leviticus, in which there is very little narrative. In fact, half of the 187 Pentateuch chapters focus on the revelation of the Torah at Sinai (Exodus 19 to Number 10 – fifty-eight chapters of the Pentateuch) and the giving of the Torah again after forty years in the land of Moab (Numbers 25 to Deuteronomy 34, forty corrected). The first section covers the year he spent at Sinai, when the Israelites were instructed to live as a people consecrated by God. The second section covers the last days of the wilderness wandering: the people arrive in the land of Moab, stand on the banks of the Jordan opposite Jericho, and receive the Torah again (Deuteronomy Nomos In Greek it means “the law again”). The first generation who refused to enter the land for fear of the giants who lived there – an expression of their lack of faith – should perish in the wilderness. The next generation again receives the law from Moses and enters the earth, crossing the Jordan under the leadership of Joshua. In these two sections of the Pentateuch, there is a little narrative and a lot of law, as well as advice for observing it.
Field focuses on four moments that are revealed when one looks closely at the canonical texts, and learns about the key sources that were brought together to create the Pentateuch. The oldest legal code is known as the Law of the Covenant (Exodus 21-23), and it was analyzed in the context of the revolt led by the prophets in the Northern Kingdom (Israel) in the first half of the eighth century BC. The second symbol is the symbol found in Deuteronomy (12-26), which was implemented during the reign of King Josiah of Judah in the second part of the seventh century BC. The third symbol is the law of holiness, promulgated by priests and found in the second part of Leviticus (17-27), which was developed during and after the Exile in the sixth century BC. The fourth moment, which is a key moment, is the combination of the various materials to form a unified work in five books attributed to Moses. This editorial work was done by the priestly elite of the fifth century BC and the result is the basis of the Bible collection.
Instead of imposing coherence on the final literary product, the editors maintained the diversity and diversity of the different layers of canon. Within each of these layers, Field suggests, a spiritual-religious revolution can be discerned that points to the contribution of the people of Israel to the religious history of all who see the Pentateuch as the foundation of biblical language, education, and religious life. The author believes that the visions brought to life by the revolutions “have a meaning beyond their time to the present day, because they shaped a search for a fundamental understanding of what it means to believe in God and the way of life that faith requires.”
The Jewish understanding of the Bible has much to offer Christians
Feld combines a serious academic discipline, typical of university Bible study, with a deeply spiritual approach, consistent with the rabbinical tradition. The weave of steadfast academics and committed religiosity, scientific hypothesis and lived faith, makes this book a gem among the many volumes devoted to the study of the Pentateuch. And the Christian reader has much to learn. For centuries, Christians viewed the Jews as merely blind followers of a text they did not truly understand. According to St. Paul’s polemical expression, “their minds were hardened. Indeed, even to this day, when they hear the reading of the Old Testament, this same veil still exists, for only in Christ was it set aside” (2). Corinthians 3:14). Christian readers monopolized understanding by means of an allegorical interpretation that found a preconceived notion of Christ everywhere. However, many Christian communities have changed their approach today, recognizing that the Jewish understanding of the text has much to offer. For example, an important 2001 document from the Pontifical Biblical Commission titled “The Jewish People and Their Scriptures in the Christian Bible” noted:
Christians can and must acknowledge that the Jewish reading of the Bible is possible, in parallel with the Jewish Bible from the Second Temple period, a reading analogous to the Christian reading that developed in a parallel manner. Both readings are related to the vision of their respective religions, of which the readings are a consequence and expression. Thus, both are irreducible. On the practical level of interpretation, Christians can, however, learn a lot from the Jewish interpretation that has been practiced for more than two thousand years, and, in fact, they have learned a lot in the course of history. For their part, we hope that the Jews themselves can profit from Christian exegetical research.
Each chapter of this book reveals another layer of rich meaning in Torah Field also explains the successive revolutions that led to Israel’s formulation of the divine teaching. It exposes apparent contradictions between legal codes as they evolve. However, he repeatedly points out that the dynamic relationship between them at every level is deliberately maintained in the ongoing work of editing the text to create a variety and complexity that simultaneously challenges and inspires the reader. One illuminating example concerns the laws of the Sabbath, the day of rest in Biblical times. Field shows how observing the Sabbath evolved from one day of rest per week to a replacement for the Temple, which was destroyed by the Babylonians in the sixth century.
From a sacred place to a sacred time
A holy place, the Temple of Jerusalem, cedes its importance to Holy Time, the Sabbath. It was the priestly legislator who made the Sabbath central, not only in the development of legislative texts but also the introduction of the creation narrative emphasizing the centrality of the Sabbath at the beginning of Genesis. Field explains, “Rest, downtime, and meditation can create access to the Divine. It is the breathing space that theology, the very God, has taken up after the work of creation has been completed, and it is our spiritual breath. This new understanding of religiosity is the gift of exile.” As Field acknowledges, he was the great Jewish thinker of the twentieth century Abraham Joshua fragilewho posited that the Sabbath “is the essential expression of Jewish religiosity.” Heschel’s wonderful description of Saturday is quoted in God is looking for man: “The presence of eternity, the moment of greatness, the radiance of joy. The spirit is heightened, time is a joy, and within is a supreme reward.” For many Christians who have lost sense of the Sabbath, there is much to learn here.
This book does three useful and inspiring things for the Christian reader. First, it deepens understanding of an essential part of the scriptures that Jews and Christians have in common. Using modern academic methods and not shying away from ongoing scholarly debate, Field documents the development of texts until they reach their final, stable form. Second, Field offers Christians insights into the world of Judaism, noting in his book how rabbis, ancient and modern, struggle with the meaning of a text that is central to Jewish religious identity, beliefs, and practices. This book, called to dialogue with the Jews, especially in our reading of the common Bible, takes us into the realm of Jewish exegesis, theology, and spirituality. Third, the book offers us a deep spirituality, rooted in the biblical text and in the practice and faith of its author. This spirituality radiates prayer and meditation and combines faith and reason. Field concludes the book with the following lines:
The complete embodiment of the Torah is always elusive. There is always a new midrash, a new line of interpretation that we need to write for our own time so that paradoxes of the Torah may be compiled for us in the here and now. The spiritual lives discovered by its authors continue to speak to us, and so as we apply its institutions and practices to our times, we introduce our own notions of their meaning. Certainly, our efforts too will be imperfect and will in turn lead to rebirth. The life of the Torah is a continuous series of revolutions, a continuous series of revelations.
Edward Field, The Book of Revolutions: Battles of the Priests, Prophets, and Kings Who Begat the Torah (Jewish Publication Society, Pennsylvania)
David Newhouse SJ He is the head of the Jesuit community in the Holy Land. This book was first published in UK Parliament.