Questions for the Rabbi and the Pastor
Thomas had returned home from his first term at College where he was studying a course on Religions.
“Stimulating, surprising, and shocking: that’s how I’d describe my first term’s study,” said Thomas to John, his father, as one day, during his holidays, they walked together through the wood adjoining their home.
“Do you regret choosing the course on Religion?” asked his father.
“No, though I’d love to be able to study Psychology too.”
“Well, maybe you will do that at some later stage. Slow down a bit, your legs are much longer than mine.” John was used to the fact that his son now towered over him, but found he could not keep up with his son’s normal walking pace.
“I’d like to tell you something about my course. Stop me if you get bored.”
“Please do. Your emails and phone calls during the term did not really give me or your mother a clear picture.”
“Let me start with those words ‘surprising’ and ‘shocking’. In a seminar on Judaism, I got my first shock. We were looking at how the Israelites, the Philistines and the other tribes or nations each had its own god. Someone mentioned David and Goliath and how both of them believed much the same thing.”
“You mean that the god of the Philistines would support Goliath and the god of the Israelites would support David,” said John.
“Yes. A god was seen to have chosen a race or tribe as his special people to protect and support. They, in turn, would be expected to obey his commands and worship him. However some centuries after David and Goliath’s lifetimes, assuming that they were real historical figures who lived around 1000 BCE, some of Israel’s thinkers suggested that it made better sense to think in terms of just one god.”
“Were they the first to do that?”
“I think the Egyptians had already proposed it. In Israel’s case, though, they made the massive mistake of claiming that this one god was no other than their own god, who from of old had always regarded them as his favored people.”
“What’s so surprising or wrong in that?” asked John.
“Don’t you see, Dad, that if people moved away from believing in many gods to believing in one god, then the whole idea of each god favouring a particular nation would have to be given up? But this is just what Israel’s thinkers did not do. I’d never thought of that before.”
“So, they continued to think of themselves as a Chosen People. Is that what you mean, Tom? While, in fact, they should have given up that particular belief, because a single god would not have had favorites.”
“Exactly. In Israel’s case, they recalled their stories about being victorious and independent during David’s reign and created for themselves a dream that someday the god who favored them would defeat their enemies and restore their independence. They were constantly overrun by superior forces and during all these periods of subjection they held onto their hope that one day a new kingdom would be created for them.”
“That relates to their waiting for the Messiah, doesn’t it?” said John.
“Yes, the Messiah would be the divinely appointed deliverer who would lead them in the conquest of whatever powers ruled over them. When that day came, they also envisaged a figure that they called the Son of Man. He’s mentioned in the later chapters of the Book of Daniel. One of his functions was to oversee a judgement of the living and the dead.”
“The dead as well?” said John.
“Yes, they thought that their god, who favored them, would establish through this deliverer and this judge an earthly kingdom with its capital in Jerusalem. And they believed that those judged worthy from amongst both the living and the dead would become its new citizens.”
“That’s all a bit bizarre.”
“Not just bizarre, Dad, but totally deluded. All the hopes and beliefs, which centred on a Messiah, a Son of Man and of being a Chosen People living in a land given to them by god, were based on misguided and false reasoning. A good and just Creator God, if such exists, would not have favorites.”
“It sounds to me that the Jews need to rewrite their history and revise their theology pretty radically.”
“It’s not just the Jews who need to do that. It’s the Christians as well. Their founder, if that’s the correct term to use, was after all a first century Jew and he inherited and held all these deluded beliefs. In fact, like some others of his day, he thought that the new kingdom was already on its way. The gospels are full of references to the Messiah and to the Son of Man.”
“And Jesus will come again to be the judge of the living and the dead is recited each time the Creeds are said. It would seem that Jesus’ followers gave him the role as judge which the Son of Man has in the Book of Daniel,” said John.
“So now, Dad, do you see why I’ve been finding this course so stimulating as well as surprising and shocking?”
“Have you mentioned any of this to your mother? As a born-again Christian I don’t think she will be too pleased to hear what you’ve been taught. But as an agnostic I’m pleased to hear about it.”
“I don’t think of myself as an agnostic, Dad; but don’t ask me what I mean by the term ‘god’, I can’t really say at present, other than to put it to you that I believe that the universe is probably part of something greater. There’s more to the mystery of life than words will ever express – that’s for sure.”
© Andrew Furlong July 2010