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Hebraic Perspective

Gematria (Hebrew Insight)

Gematria is a Jewish interpretive method that first circulates the numerical number of a particular word and then matches it with another word with exact same numerical value, showing a connection. Let’s take the ladder in Jacob’s dream story – Sulam (סֻלָּם). It has a numerical value of 130 (ס ...

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Dr. Eli needs a volunteer to help with Twitter

Shalom, my dear blog followers! There is a great phrase out there: “We are looking for few good men”. To tell you the truth I have no idea who coined this phrase. It is also too patriarchal for my post-post-post modern taste (SMILE). But you know what I mean when I ...

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The Journal of the Jesus Movement in Its Jewish Setting

Shalom! Dr. Eli Lizorkin-Eyzenberg is here. I am writing to recommend a FREE resource for serious students and scholars of Early Jewish Christian origins. It is called the “Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting” (JJMJS). This a scholarly peer-reviewed journal that I was a part of starting about 5-6 years ago. It’s current editor/s are doing fantastic job! I highly recommend it! You may visit it right now and start enjoying the articles that will pick your interest! It’s FREE. Click on this link to start – http://www.jjmjs.org/   Current Issue Description The current issue offers a wealth of approaches and cutting-edge insights to issues that lie at the heart of the purpose of JJMJS. The very concept of ‘religion’ is problematized by Brent Nongbri, who points to the need of reading Paul beyond this type of categorization and shows how things may change when we do. Richard S. Ascough’s study on models for understanding Pauline Christ-groups foregrounds first-century institutional settings (synagogues/associations) in ways that undermine more traditional approaches to the Jesus movement within its Jewish setting. Ralph J. Korner explores Jewish and Graeco-Roman usages of the term ekklesia, usually translated ‘church’ in English bibles, noting how Paul’s use of this word in fact locates his associations socially with Jews, Jewishness, and Judaism. William S. Campbell provides a detailed exegesis of Rom 9:27, leading to fresh conclusions about Paul’s understanding of God’s faithfulness to Israel. Shifting gears from a focus on a specific author, Paul, who in the first four articles provides a point of departure for refined methodological approaches to the dynamics involved in the intersection between followers of Jesus and other forms of Judaism, to investigations of specific locations where traces of ancient Christ-followers and Jews have been found, Thomas A. Wayment and Matthew J. Grey offers the most detailed and in-depth discussion in English ever published on the intriguing Christianos graffito in Pompeii. Then, moving eastward to Syrian Antioch and the fourth century, Christine Shepardson models a new approach to highly rhetorical Christian and Jewish texts as she reconstructs Jewish life in this city between polemics and propaganda. Finally, Miriam DeCock provides an in-depth reading of Daniel Boyarin’s recent controversial book The Jewish Gospels, pointing to key issues raised by the book which are in need of further study.    

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Four Living Creatures (Rev. 4:6-11)

And in the center and around the throne, four living creatures full of eyes in front and behind. 7 The first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face like that of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle. 8 And the four living creatures, each one of them having six wings, are full of eyes around and within; and day and night they do not cease to say, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God, the Almighty, who was and who is and who is to come.” This text constitutes an expansion of Ezekielian visions to include those of Isaiah. The living beings of Ezekiel 1-11 are identified with the six-winged creatures of Isaiah 6. These descriptors of God’s four special servants are in fact merged together in the prophetic vision of John in this text with some variations (the very last section). We read also in Isaiah 6:2-3: 2 Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory.” And in Ezekiel 1:22-24: 22 Now over the heads of the living beings there was something like an expanse, like the awesome gleam of crystal, spread out over their heads. 23 Under the expanse their wings were stretched out straight, one toward the other; each one also had two wings covering its body on the one side and on the other. 24  Both in Ezekiel and in Revelation the four living beings are situated under the traveling throne-chariot of God, forming an escort as it were through the wings that touch each other and the wheels that move together with the living beings at all times. The expanse (the bottom of the heavenly chariot) separates them and God himself is upon his throne that is situated directly over them from the other side. The emphasis on the eyes of these beings speaks clearly of their ability to see and track all events in the created order. God himself of course sees everything and knows all things. Their eyes do not look to one direction alone, but to all possible directions. Since the body has always been considered the symbol of creatureliness, their nature as created beings had to be covered with wings. This was to show the true honor that was rendered by these magnificent beings to the uncreated God. The joyful praise of God is a well attested theme in a wide variety of Jewish literature. For example, in the Qumran collection, coming roughly from the period of time within which the book of Revelation was authored, we read: Praise the God of the lofty heights, O you lofty ones among all the gods of knowledge. Let the holiest of the godlike ones sanctify the King of glory who sanctifies by holiness all His holy ones. O you chiefs of the praises of all the godlike beings, praise the splendidly praiseworthy God. For in the splendor of praise is the glory of His realm… Sing with joy, you who rejoice in His knowledge with rejoicing among the wondrous godlike beings. And chant His glory with the tongue of all who chant with knowledge; and chant His wonderful songs of joy with the mouth of all who chant of Him. For He is God of all who rejoice forever and Judge in His power of all the spirits of understanding. (The Song of Sabbath Sacrifice, 4Q403) 9 And when the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to Him who sits on the throne, to Him who lives forever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders will fall down before Him who sits on the throne, and will worship Him who lives forever and ever, and will cast their crowns before the throne, saying, 11 “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.” John was allowed to witness not only the structure of the heavenly traveling throne-chariot of God, but also the actual liturgy – the order of worship that takes place in heaven wherever God is worshiped. In vs. 9-11 the order is stated as follows: first the four living creatures give glory, honor and thanks to the one sitting on the throne; then twenty four elders prostrate themselves before him, casting their own crowns. The content of their confession is specified in terms of God’s worthiness to receive glory, honor and power and is rooted in the act of creation of all things.

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Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

I am getting ready to go to (some say well-deserved) vacation and I decided to share with you my personal reading plan for the next several weeks. I’ve been reading an excellent book by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and I hope to finish it as I travel. Here is the link to his site, perhaps, you too would want to join me and many others on this intellectual and spiritual journey (watch the video on the right): Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence The book is full of fascinating insights relating to the current world crisis, having to do with horrible religious violence taking place now in many parts of the world. While it is certainly an intellectual work, it is clearly written and makes you keep on turning the pages. I would love to hear from you on this forum. What have you been reading? What books did you find worth your time this year? (Keep in mind I will not be able to respond, but I will read all the comments as time permits!) Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is a global religious leader, philosopher, the author of more than 25 books, and moral voice for our time. Until 1st September 2013 he served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, having held the position for 22 years.        

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Beijing: The Jewish Cultural Context of the New Testament Lectures by Dr. Lizorkin-Eyzenberg

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The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, King of All Israel.

The Gospel of John is clearly one of the most favorite books of the Bible. But for its careful readers one question remained illusive for almost two millennia: How can this beloved Gospel read so anti-Jewish and pro-Jewish all at the same time? For example, only in this Gospel Jesus’ enemies are called “the Jews”, while only in this Gospel Jesus states that salvation is from “the Jews”. “The Jewish Gospel of John: Discovering Jesus, the Kings of All Israel” book that has been 4 years in the making will available both in hard copy and as an eBook next month. I am looking for 10 people who can commit to: 1) reading the pre-publication copy within 10 days of receiving the manuscript and 2) being willing to review this book online (probably, on Amazon.com). If you are interested to receive this book free of charge and can commit to what I requests, please, email me back! (It will be another 7-10 days until you get it, but when you do be ready – it is a very exciting read! Only 10 spots are available on this team.) The book is about 200 of text and 100 pages of beautiful hand-drawn images that illustrate it. Please, write me at Eli.Lizorkin@eteachergroup.com

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The Throne of Satan (Rev. 2:2-16)

12 “And to the angel of the church in Pergamum write: ‘The words of him who has the sharp two-edged sword. 13 “‘I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is. Pergamum was a city that prided itself on several temples dedicated to the Roman Imperial cult. In the Roman period, the city of Pergamum, a former administrative capital of Asia Minor that later was moved to Ephesus, became a flag ship for Roman patriotism expressed in religious devotion. As with most major Greek cities, Pergamum boasted a theater, stadium, library and a healing center of Asclepius among the other buildings that were part of normal life in the Greco-Roman world. The healing center (Asclepion) in Pergamum, considered to be the headquarters, was a part of a very large network of healing centers throughout the Roman Empire. For many years Galen, the most well-known physician in the Roman Empire and personal physician of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, worked in this Asclepion. The Pergamum library was considered second only to the world-famous library in Alexandra. The Pergamum library boasted, according to Plutarch, more than 200,000 volumes. Another account states that Marc Anthony, a Roman military commander, bequeathed the collection to Cleopatra as a reimbursement for the total destruction of the library of Alexandria’s by Julius Caesar. Other than temples to emperors and even to the goddess Roma, the city held the high honor of hosting and maintaining a temple to Zeus – Father of all gods and man and the ruler of Olympians on Mt. Olympia in accordance with ancient Greek beliefs. Zeus was closely associated with the Roman deity Jupiter whose name means the sky or literally the “heavenly father” god. The altar to Zeus was one of the most impressive structures in Pergamum. The altar’s stairs, columns, and sculptured sides once stood forty feet (12 meters) high. Today, only the steps around the altar’s base can be seen in the Pergamum museum in Berlin. The sides of the altar were ornamented with marble panels depicting a mythical battle between Greek gods and rebellious giants who were the sons of Mother Earth. Many have suggested that this altar to Zeus is what is meant by the throne of Satan in vs. 13. But there exist a number of other possibilities – such as the Asclepius cult headquarters or a concentration of the Imperial and Roman cult in that city. As was mentioned earlier, in Roman antiquity, the image of a sword and especially a double-edged sword was highly symbolic. So, in this city, it can truly be said that it hosted the throne of Satan, the symbol of Roman Imperial authority and rule. Christ introduced himself to the assembly of the follows of Israel’s God in Christ as “the one who has the sharp two-edged sword.” If the above identification of the throne of Satan as Roman imperial cult is correct than it would make a perfect sense for Christ here to be presented as someone with the authority of the double-edged sword. Yet you hold fast my name, and you did not deny my faith even in the days of Antipas my faithful witness, who was killed among you, where Satan dwells. Not much is known about the person Antipas in this passage. Later Christian tradition holds that he was ordained as the bishop of Pergamum by the Apostle John, just as was Polycarp in the city of Smyrna. The tradition also holds that he was boiled alive in a bronze kettle that resembled a bull. This first century account comes from much later Christian martyrology accounts of questionable reliability. What can safely be assumed is that by the end of the first century, when the letter of Revelation was being written, the martyrdom of Antipas already took place. It was still a fresh memory in the minds of the Christ-followers of Pergamum. No doubt, Antipas met his destiny, embracing death because he was not willing to honor and sacrifice to pagan gods. Only one God can be worshiped and adored. 14 But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality. 15 So also you have some who hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans. 16 Therefore repent. If not, I will come to you soon and war against them with the sword of my mouth. In the section about the congregation in the city of Ephesus, we discussed the evil deeds and teachings of Nicolaitans. The most probable explanation is that the Nicolaitans were followers of the movement, dubbed Nokhal among early Christ-followers. Nokhal in Hebrew means “We will eat,” in this case referring to meat that was sacrificed to Greco-Roman Gods. Nicolaitans of vs. 15 are connected with the evil Balaam and Balak. Their strategy to undermine Israel was the same. They wanted Israelites to worship Baal Peor. The main attraction was the sexual orgies that accompanied such worship. We read in Num. 25:1-5: “While Israel remained at Shittim, the people began to play the harlot with the daughters of Moab. 2 For they invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. 3 So Israel joined themselves to Baal Peor, and the Lord was angry against Israel. 4 The Lord said to Moses, ‘Take all the leaders of the people and execute them in broad daylight before the Lord, so that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.’ 5 So Moses said to the judges of Israel, ‘Each of you slay his men who have joined themselves to Baal of Peor.’” Christ called the assembly in Pergamum that tolerated in its mix those who both professed Christ and ate meat sacrificed to Roman gods, to repent. Christ the King threatened them with his soon-approaching judgment, calling them to finally make a choice between the God of Israel and […]

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Why do religious male Jews cover their heads? (Hebrew Insight)

Religious male Jews cover their heads with platter-shaped cap (yarmulkah), usually made of cloth to distinguish between them and their Creator. The custom of wearing such “yarmulka” (also known as “kippah”) is itself not rooted in the Hebrew Bible as is the case with tzitzit – tassels, hanging from the corners of male clothes (Num. 15:38). The covering of the head in Biblical times was something mandatory only for the highpriest. The idea of all males covering their heads was an invention of emerging rabbinical Judaism (around 3rd century CE) that sought to reconstitute Israel under their leadership after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, symbolically projecting priestly duties on every male Jew. But what does “yarmulkah” mean in Hebrew? The answer is nothing. The word is in Judeo-German language called Yiddish. It is compound word made up of two Aramaic words – Yar (fear) – Malkah (the King). Disclaimer: Unlike Hebrew, Aramaic has a different grammar system and so all of you Hebrew experts out there keep that in mind before you think I made a mistake confusing “Queen” in Hebrew with “the King” in Aramaic :-).

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Who in the world were the Nicolaitans of Ephesus and Pergamum?

The stern warning to Ephesus is followed by an encouragement that is notoriously difficult to understand. It is this encouragement that provides us with a considerable amount of clarity about the matter of criticism itself. 6 But you do have this going for you: You hate what the Nicolaitans practice – practices I also hate. (Rev 2:6) The encouragement had to do with Christ’s affirmation that the believers in Ephesus do hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans. In order to understand what those deeds may have been we must see what John was asked to write to the congregation in another great Roman city in the Asia Minor – the City of Pergamum. We read in Rev. 2:13-15 “I know where you dwell, where Satan’s throne is… I have a few things against you, because you have there some who hold the teaching of Balaam, who kept teaching Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, to eat things sacrificed to idols and to commit acts of immorality. So you also have some who in the same way hold the teaching of the Nicolaitans.” (Rev 2:13-15) In these verses we see the evil deeds of Balaam in teaching Balak to entice Israel to sin. The treachery concerned two things 1) eating foods sacrificed to idols and 2) engaging in acts that are sexually immoral (Num 22-24). These things are somehow connected with the evil teachings of the Nicolaitans. Incidentally, the decision of the Jerusalem council as expressed in their letter to the Gentile followers of Jesus, while exempting the non-Jews from all kinds of burdens of observance obligatory to Jews, set forth a concrete set of food-related prohibitions for Gentiles as well. We read in Acts 15:28-29, “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay upon you no greater burden than these essentials: that you abstain from things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell.” It is not hard to notice that out of four behaviors forbidden to Gentiles two had do to with Nicolaitans and Balam/Balak issues (eating food sacrificed to idols and sexual immorality). It is important to see that this combination of food and sex-related offenses was particularly important for the Jewish Apostles and elders to address in their letter to Gentile converts to the Jewish Christ. In other words, is it even conceivable that the Apostles would permit Gentile followers of Christ to commit murder, to steal or to be obsessed with the possessions of their neighbors?! The answer to this is of course not. This was not a comprehensive list. But these issues brought up at the Jerusalem Council (consuming food sacrificed to idols, blood, and illicit sex) seem to constitute central challenges that the Gentile followers of the Jewish Christ encountered in their daily lives in the Roman Empire. In the Roman world, the overwhelming majority of meat sold on the market was first offered/dedicated to one or another deity. The only exception to this was the Judean/Jewish isolation from the rest of the Roman population who had their own slaughter rules and privileges. Most Jews residing in the Roman Empire were a part of the network in which food was handled differently. The writings of the Apostle Paul to the nations (all the letters that Saul/Paul ever wrote that made into our New Testament) show clearly that these issues continued to plague the believers enough for him to address them in considerable detail (1 Cor.8-10). Judging from Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians (that we mistakenly call the first Letter to the Corinthians – 1 Cor.5:9) some Gentile Christ-followers felt that they could continue to purchase and consume meat that had been sacrificed to a pagan deity. The Apostle Paul while agreeing with them that these gods (idols) are nothing, sides with the Jerusalem council in forbidding all the Gentile Christ-followers from eating food associated with Greco-Roman worship rituals in any way (1 Cor.8:1-13). Having considered this important issue, let us return to the discussion of the Nicolaitans. Who were the Nicolaitans and what is the origin of this word that first comes up in Rev. 2:6and then is repeated in Rev. 2:15? The main traditional attempt to understand the etymology of the word is often tied to diaconal appointee Nicolas in Acts 6:5 – “The proposal pleased the entire group, so they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, with Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a Gentile convert to Judaism from Antioch.” Presumably at some later stage Nicolas began to teach what was eventually defined as evil deeds of the Nicolaitans and the matter is quite obscure. However, there is another, often overlooked option, suggested many years ago by great Jewish Christian Hebraist John Lightfoot. It allows one to continue reading the Book of Revelation as thoroughly Jewish anti-Roman document. He suggested that perhaps deacon Nicolas was a wrong trail to follow. Instead Nicolaitans was a Hebraism (in this case something originally said in Hebrew but spelled with Greek letters). What did he have in mind? In Hebrew in order to say “we will eat” verb נאכל (nokhal) would have been used. We read in Is.4:1, “And seven women shall take hold of one man in that day, saying, “We will eat (נֹאכֵ֔ל) our own bread and wear our own clothes, only let us be called by your name; take away our reproach. If this Hebrew word נאכל (nokhal) is transferred into Greek it can be used as a term describing the “we will eat” people. In a sense that this was their motto, their sentiment – “we will eat” the food that others think is forbidden (food offered to pagan deities). Thus τῶν Νικολαϊτῶν (ton nikolaton) “the Nicolaitans” as a group or teaching can originate from Hebrew נאכל (nokhal) “we will eat” making a cohesive connection to […]

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