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An Atheist Reader Writes…

Friday, September 20, 2013 12:01 AM Comments (9)

to say he rejected the Faith when he read the Old Testament and discovered it contradicted the Christian reading of what a Messiah should be.  Sez he (quoting a website):

Here is a sampler of those requirements from Judaism 101:

"Before the time of the mashiach, there shall be war and suffering (Ezekiel 38:16)

The mashiach will bring about the political and spiritual redemption of the Jewish people by bringing us back to Israel and restoring Jerusalem (Isaiah 11:11-12; Jeremiah 23:8; 30:3; Hosea 3:4-5). He will establish a government in Israel that will be the center of all world government, both for Jews and gentiles (Isaiah 2:2-4; 11:10; 42:1). He will rebuild the Temple and re-establish its worship (Jeremiah 33:18). He will restore the religious court system of Israel and establish Jewish law as the law of the land (Jeremiah 33:15)."

Yes, it just doesn't bode well for Jesus but scratch us atheist for a little accurate scripture...:)

Catholics, who often don't know their Bible super well, often get intimidated by things like this.  But it's wise to give such things a closer reading.

For instance, it is notable that the atheist reader who cites the Jewish source does not, himself, believe the Old Testament to be inspired prophecy.  So why does he cite it?

Well, he cites this particular reading of the Old Testament because it offers him an excuse for rejecting the New Testament, of course.  But what he fails to do is ask of this website what he hurries to do with the New Testament: namely, "Sez who?"

For, of course, what is overlooked in appealing to such websites is the fact that modern Judaism, no less than modern Catholic teaching, is the result of a long historical process and that no small part of that process is the reaction of post-Christ rabbinic Judaism to the claims of Christ and the apostles. 

In other words, the notion that this website gives us the pristine and pure "true" Jewish understanding of the Messiah as all Jews believed it to be until Christ and the apostles came and corrupted it is a pure myth. There is not and never has been in Judaism a Magisterial authority by which all Jews everywhere had some agreed-upon certitude about what the Messiah would and would not do and be.There certainly was nothing of the kind at the time of Christ.  The notion that a single website somehow encapsulates with certitude what all Jews everywhere have believed about the Messiah for all time is fantasy.  One can find whole schools of Jewish thought today in which there is no belief in the Messiah at all.  One could find all sorts of conjectures in the time of Christ about the Messiah, or more than one Messiah, or no Messiah at all (as appears likely with the Sadducees, who were not at all eager for any figure to turn up and kick out the Romans, as many Jews hoped).

Jesus' disciples shared with their countrymen some of the speculations about Messiah and what he would do.  They too looked for a conquering Davidic King, political power, some kind of earthly kingdom--until Jesus set them straight and taught them to look at the messianic Scriptures in a new way.  Fr. Robert Barron summarizes that new way of reading the prophecies here.

Of course, the question is, "Why did the apostles arrive at the conviction that Jesus' way of reading the Old Testament was the reliable one and the opinions and speculations of their countrymen and even their wisest rabbis were, where they diverged from Jesus, wrong?"

The answer is pretty well summarized by St. Luke:

That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles * from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What is this conversation which you are holding with each other as you walk?" And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?" And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since this happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning and did not find his body; and they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive.  Some of those who were with us went to the tomb, and found it just as the women had said; but him they did not see." And he said to them, "O foolish men, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?" And beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. So they drew near to the village to which they were going. He appeared to be going further, but they constrained him, saying, "Stay with us, for it is toward evening and the day is now far spent." So he went in to stay with them.  When he was at table with them, he took the bread and blessed, and broke it, and gave it to them. And their eyes were opened and they recognized him; and he vanished out of their sight. They said to each other, "Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the scriptures?" (Luke 24:13-32)

When you have a collection of ambiguous texts that are argued six ways from Sunday by a bunch of different Jewish schools of thought in the classic Jewish mode of "Two Jews, three opinions", the smart money is on the man who has come back from the dead being the tie-breaker in the argument.

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Mark Shea
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Mark P. Shea is a popular Catholic writer and speaker. The author of numerous books, his most recent work is The Work of Mercy (Servant) and The Heart of Catholic Prayer (Our Sunday Visitor). Mark contributes numerous articles to many magazines, including his popular column “Connecting the Dots” for the National Catholic Register. Mark is known nationally for his one minute “Words of Encouragement” on Catholic radio. He also maintains the Catholic and Enjoying It blog. He lives in Washington state with his wife, Janet, and their four sons.