Saturday, November 3, 2012

Celsus and the Redefining of Judaism and Christianity [Part Four]

Do you want to know why I am always eager to meet my friend Benny Tsedaka? Aside from being a wonderful human being with a good sense of humor, he is a constant reminder that the Samaritan people should not be ignored.  Why do people want to ignore Samaritanism?  The answer goes back to what I said in a previous post about us not trusting systemizers.  Scholars like the artificial division between 'Judaism' and 'Christianity' that was developed during the reign of Antoninus Pius.  It makes their lives a lot easier than actually considering the problem that Samaritanism presents the world.

The truth is that 'Samaritanism' is a faux terminology.  If you accept 'Judaism' as 'the religion of the Jews' and 'Christianity' as the religion of the Gentiles who converted to a looser form of Judaism, then you have to call the tradition associated with Mount Gerizim and the northern region of Israel by a similar name.  The reality is however that Samaritanism was never a closed religion in the manner that we think of 'Judaism.'  Shomrim is an ordinary Hebrew term that is used to this day in Hasidic neighborhoods in the United States.  It simply means 'guardians' or 'keepers.'  There is false equivalency with 'Judaism' given that the terminology by its very nature has nothing to do with ethnicity.

The Samaritans guarded the original tradition of the Law.  There can be absolutely no doubt of this and they continued to proselytize long after it was forbidden by Imperial decree.  The point then is that it was certainly the Roman government which turned 'Judaism' into an separate religious tradition focused on the return of Jerusalem.  There is absolutely no other way to look at the early evidence.  The Samaritans were again the guardians of the original interpretation of the Pentateuch.  There were clearly Jewish people - probably Sadducees - who shared many of the 'Samaritan' interpretations.

While grounding our understanding of what Christianity is by attaching it to Judaism seems to make sense, the underlying 'sensibility' is artificial.  The Imperial government was eager to convert proselytes to the belief the messiah had already come - and a belief in a meek and mild messiah at that.  The experience with the Bar Kochba revolt must have reinforced that converts were dangerous radicals.  Judaism could continue as a neo-conservative (that is to say 'faux conservative') movement, but it was forced to abandon proselytizing.  This is acknowledged by most scholars, but they fail to accept the gravity of the transformation.  Imagine forcing everyone named Johnston to only marry other people named Johnston.  Only then do you get at the bottom of what took place in the second century.

There are simply so many signs of this radical transformation of Hebrew culture that it is hard to believe it isn't examined in more detail.  It isn't just that Rabbi Meier was the student of Elisha ben Abuyah, it is that Meir's original name was Measha. The af’el participle mesha’ מישע and the Hebrew hif’il participle מושיע both mean “one who saves” or “saviour”, from the root ישע in both cases. The names יהושע Yehoshua’ (Samaritan pronunciation Yê’ûsha) and its shortened form ישוע Yeshua and the name הרשע Hoshea’ (anglice Hosea) all mean “the Lords saves” or “the Lord is salvation”, and allude to the last verses of Deuteronomy 33 - "Blessed are you, Israel! Who is like you, a people saved (nowosa) by the Lord? He is your shield and helper and your glorious sword. Your enemies will cower before you, and you will tread on their heights."

The name Meir means enlightener.  But the most interesting part of the Meir story is in fact his wife who is named 'Beruriah.'  This is not a Hebrew name at all but a translation of a Latin appellation - Valeria.  Meir himself was a proselyte as was Aquila, Aquiba - perhaps even Simon bar Kochba himself - and certainly most of his fellow revolutionaries were proselytes.  It is hard not to see that the Imperial administration saw how dangerous Hebrew conversion efforts were and decided to suspend the practice.  This is how 'Judaism' was born, and this is why the terminology only appears in the second century.

Email with comments or questions.

Stephan Huller's Observations by Stephan Huller
is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 United States License.