Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Rami: Response to Mike's 9/8 Post

The issue of dating the early rabbinic material is complex. The literature was oral until the third century when Rabbi Judah haNasi, Rabbi the Prince or Head of the Rabbinic Court, wrote it down. This is the text we call the Mishnah. Some scholars say the material in the Mishnah stretches from 250 B.C.E. to 250 C.E.

After the writing of the Mishnah oral debate resumed for another three centuries until that material is written down as the Gemara (the “conclusion”). Together Mishnah and Gemara comprise the Talmud, the authoritative collection of rabbinic teaching.

Alongside this material are collections of midrash, investigative (I would say imaginative) tales, some legal others moral. These stories and teachings seem to date from before 200 B.C.E. to around 200 C.E. when the practice of writing them down begins. Midrash continues to be created even today.

Turning to our text, is Jesus extending the Jewish view of adultery? Probably not. He is conflating two biblical ideas of which we have already spoken in our examination of the Ten Commandments. We are prohibited from both adultery and coveting our neighbor’s wife. The former deals with the act, the latter deals with the heart or will. We also find a similar teaching in the Talmud, “Immoral thoughts are worse than immoral deeds,” (Yoma 29a); and in the midrash, “Do not think that he is an adulterer who, by his single act, has sinned; he also is an adulterer who lusts with his eyes,” (Pesikta Rabbati 124b).

It is true that adultery carried with it the death penalty, but, again, we have dealt with this previously. The rabbis required that the adulterous couple be interrupted mid-act and warned about the consequences of their actions, and that without two witnesses to the act no charge of adultery could be brought.

I am intrigued by your notion that Jesus calls for a new relationship between men and women. What is that relationship? Was the old relationship based on lust alone or even primarily? Was the old relationship to treat one another as objects, and the new one as equals? I would be hard pressed to see things that starkly.

Yet women were certainly second-class citizens in biblical and rabbinic Judaisms, and one could argue that inviting women to the table of Jesus changes all that. But then most of Jesus’ followers couldn’t accept his radical egalitarianism, as the misogynist material attributed (falsely) to St. Paul and the anti-Mary Magdalene material in several of the Gnostic Gospels attest. Once again Jesus’ message is lost on his followers and “his church.”

I certainly agree that the talk of eye plucking is hyperbole, and not to be taken literally. And I am interested in your notion of hell as self-isolation. I have heard this before: hell is being cut off from God. I would agree. For me God is Reality, all that was, is, and will be. Being in touch with God is the realization of God as Reality, and our inconnectedness with all life, so it is only logical that being out of touch of with God is being disconnected from all Reality, and that would be hell.

But, because I believe you need a self to be selfish, and that the self dies when the body dies, hell is only in this world. When we die the ego dies and as it does it realizes the truth that all is God (alles iz Gott, as my Hasidic teachers put it is Yiddish), and so we all “go to heaven,” just as every wave returns to the ocean from which and in which it lives, and moves, and has its being.

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