Sinai and Zion: II


A few days ago I heard a stimulating lecture by Craig Evans, renowned NT scholar, from Acadia Divinity College. He was addressing NT connections with the community at Qumran. He made the point that the Essene community there never amounted to probably more than 100 at one time, but that there were probably thousands more living in various communities throughout Judea. So the question was asked, Why is there never any mention of them in the NT, and why did Jesus not encounter them in his travels? Evans argued that it was probably because the Essenes, living strictly by the Torah, would have been totally scandalized by Jesus and his violation of taboos. His neglect of washing before eating, his fraternization with sinners and tax collectors, his profanation of the Sabbath–all these would have clearly put Jesus beyond the pale of even being considered a holy man. If the Pharisees were scandalized by Jesus’ behaviour, what would the Essenes have thought! They did not even operate on the same assumptions. For example, when Jesus healed someone on the Sabbath, he justifies his action by saying that even his accusatory audience would help get an animal out of a ditch on the Sabbath. This argument wouldn’t have worked with the Essenes, as they specifically address this matter and argue that the animal must remain in the ditch since to help it out would be to violate the Sabbath (CD 11:13014).

My point is simply this: Jesus operated with a more inclusive concept of Torah, a more liberating one, which seemed to move out into the world while the Essenes operated with a more exclusive concept of Torah, which separated them from the world. One moved over barriers while the other erected barriers. They both probably used the same Bible. I wonder if the reason for the different views had to do with the different perception of the significance of the present moment. Although they were both sensitive to the eschatological thrust of the scriptures, one focussed on Sinai, the other on Zion. I wonder if this same feature is true when we look at the various movements within Christianity: some are more isolationist and separatist, the other is more expansive and mission-oriented. A student of mine recently wondered about holiness and said that a true conception of holiness was to enlarge the place of God’s presence while a false conception was to narrow the place of human presence.



12 Responses to “Sinai and Zion: II”

  1. Banner Kidd Says:

    No sir. Jesus operated according to Torah and not according to the lawless additions and subtractions of the Pharisaical tradition. HE said that they “set aside the commandments in order to keep their tradition.” It is about accurate Torah observance by grace through faith.

  2. sgde Says:

    Thanks for this. I appreciate the comments. I am familiar with Jesus’ statements, particularly with respect to the Korban regulations (Matt. 15). These violated the Torah’s commandment to honour one’s parents. But I wonder about the passages in the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus contrasts his own teaching with regulations from the Torah, pointing out I think what the Torah was really getting at, but did not explicitly detail. His statement about the Sabbath, that the Son of Man is Lord of it, suggests a different understanding of it. And in the development of the early church where there is a different conception of holy days, and circumcision loses its mandatory character, something is at work which is different. In other words, I don’t think that the essence of the Sinai Torah is being negated but that somehow its ultimate intent is clarified, embraced and promulgated in the Zion Torah. Consequently Paul still talks about everything being fulfilled in the command to love one’s neighbour even when he writes about the option of which holy day to observe, the negation of food laws and the non-mandatory nature of circumcision. I trust this helps rather than confuses. One thing that concerns me is how there are various groups reading the same Scripture in Judaism and some being very isolationist and protectionist, and others being more mission minded and transformational.
    In fact the same is true today. Would many of our groups and sub-groups in Christianity be like the Essenes and Pharisees rather than the first followers of Jesus?

  3. Joel Usina Says:

    According to what I’ve come across…”You’ve heard it said…” is a Hebrew way of saying, “You’ve heard people teach ‘such and such’…” Whereas the statement, “It is written…” refers specifically to the actual writing, not how people have interpreted it. So, Jesus was contrasted other Rabbis’ “yokes” with his own, correct “yoke”. Jesus is “Lord of the Sabbath” means in the ears of the Hebrews, “I am King of the Kingdom”. The holy days did take on new light, only because Jesus’ life made better sense of them. Circumcision in the first century among the Jews was a part of the “ritual” of becoming a Jew, which was the only way some thought you can be “saved”, or made a part of Israel [the saved People]. Paul says, “No, one does not have to “become” a Jew to be a part of God’s Kingdom.” Circumcision is not a salvific act, but, nonetheless, it is still “good”, hence Timothy was circumcised. In Paul’s eyes, he remained a “Pharisee” his whole life. Paul never taught or suggested anything against what is in Torah. However, because of the “yoke” he was teaching, some thought he was because he did not continue to uphold current tradition that negated the “yoke” of his Master, Jesus. Paul made it very clear in Jerusalem that he was not teaching against the Law of Moses. [Acts 21.19-26].

    These are important things to grapple which it seems is happening in these posts. No doubt the Sinai Law “looks” different than the Zion Law. There are universal, timeless, principles that exist throughout the Sinai Law. However, at the same time there are concrete, practical, black and white [instruction/torah] that exists in them as well, which are specifically designed and intended for God’s chosen ones. For instance, study God’s Feasts in light of Jesus’ 1st coming, see how the connect. Implications drawn from that study ought to produce much that flies in the face of typical Christian belief, let alone the “holy days” we observe.



  4. desmondalexander Says:

    In comparing Jesus’ view of Torah with that of the Pharisees and others, it may be helpful to observe that there is a fundamental difference in approach. For the Pharisees and others discussion of the Torah was about distinguishing between what is legal and what is illegal; it is about drawing a line between what may and may not be done. Jesus approaches the Torah in a different way. He sees it as a signpost that points to the perfection which God requires of every person. For this reason, Matthew 5 ends with the affirmation that we are to be perfect as God is perfect. Jesus is critical of anything that undermines the perfection of behaviour to which the Torah ultimately points. This is what underlines the antitheses of Matthew 5. Jesus is not concerned to debate where the line should be drawn between good and bad behaviour; this only promotes a minimal view of God’s demands – what is the least that I need to do to please God? Jesus forces us to aim higher morally. And why not? To aim lower is to fall into line with the Pharisees and others. With good reason, Jesus remarks that our righteousness should exceed that of the Pharisees. To believe that God expects less than perfection is to misunderstand the true and full demands of both the Torah and Jesus’ teaching.

  5. sgde Says:

    Excellent points. Thanks Joel and Desmond. There are many concrete points in the Torah that are clearly no longer binding any longer. I agree that the Sermon on the Mount really focuses on the moral as opposed to the legal, the moral maximum rather than the legal minimum. That is an important clarification. I guess I’m getting away from the original point of a Zion Torah versus a Sinai Torah. The intent of the Sinai Torah and its nucleus is captured in the Zion Torah and presented to the nations–the moral maximum I suppose: the command to love God and neighbour. This of course drives one to the need of being transformed in the depths of one’s being, and “fulfilling” the Law through the law of love. Shalom `Aleikem

  6. Son Of SHem Says:

    Yo Yoo Dude”s Jezus Is A Hippie

    I mean Do You Know The Guy

    you only believe what you reading in a book

    i believe Jwh Not Dead


  7. Foolish Tar Heel Says:

    Just for fun, while you are reflecting on Sinai and Zion, do you have any thoughts on Jon Levenson’s excellent book, Sinai and Zion: An Entry into the Jewish Bible? In one sense, this is Levenon’s stab at providing a “Biblical Theology” from a Jewish point of view. I benefited greatly from this book.

  8. sgde Says:

    No I wasn’t in particular thinking of Levenson’s book. I remember reading it years ago and being very impressed by it. At the time I was thinking of the central themes of Torah and Temple in the Old Testament and it dawned on me that Levenson was addressing the same theme but from a different angle. I would have to reread parts of the book to familiarize myself with it but anything I have ever read by Levenson has been very helpful. In particular his book on Creation and the Persistence of Evil is another helpful book on Biblical Theology (even though ironically Levenson says that Jews are not interested in biblical theology). But the Sinai and Zion I was thinking of was the emphasis I guess on a more exclusive versus a more inclusive Torah, which has the same core. The more inclusive Torah overcomes barriers rather than erects them. It is more likely has to do with a different epoch in redemptive history.

  9. Chris Phillips Says:

    In the final four antitheses of the SM (Mt 5:31-48) it seems that Jesus did not merely give an exposition of the OT or ‘deepen’ or ‘intensify’ the Mosaic Law. It appears that he transcends the law (esp. Mk 7:19). Obviously some things have changed from the old to the new. There is no temple or sacrifices (at least in the same sense as under the Old Covenant), the people of God are multi-ethnic; they are not limited to one geographical region; the promise of the land appears to be expanded to the earth (Mt 5:5; Rom 4:13); Jewish markers such as food laws, Sabbath days, circumcision, and festivals are no longer to be observed (Col 2:16-17). The new covenant brings about a new relationship with a renewed Israel. Therefore, some things have obviously changed (Mk 2:21-22). Surely there is continuity with the old. But we cannot deny that discontinuity exists as well (Heb 7:12). Could these changes connote a Zion Torah? Possibly. Let us not automatically exclude the possibility. Check out Douglas Moo’s article on “Law” in Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels (IVP); Robert Banks “Jesus and the Law in Synoptic Tradition” (SNTSMS); Robert Guelich “The Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding” (Word) –> Guelich agrees with Gese in that Jesus brings in the eschatological ‘Zion-torah.’

  10. sgde Says:

    Thanks for this. I will check out the readings.

  11. John Thomson Says:

    I will need to read all responses but a few quick comments regarding the first response. On the one hand I want to say, in the language of Isaiah, that Christ magnified the law and made it honourable. He was a Jew living under law that he may redeem those (Jews) who were under law.

    However, he was not just any Jew. He was Messiah. He was Lord of the Sabbath and so Lord of the Law. Thus the conflict in Matt 12. Jesus’ point here (among others) is that as Lord of the Sabbath he has the right to break it. Moreover, in Matt 19 when asked about divorce Jesus points beyond the law (divorce on basis of hardness of hearts) to God’s ideal in creation. Incidentally, this passage seems to indicate that the Law, although ‘holy and perfect and good’ has a morality that accommodates the harness of the human heart.

    It is hard to say whether Jesus’ is contrasting his commands with the accretions to law (the traditions of men) or the law itself in Matt 5-7. he seems to refer to both. Whatever the decision, Christ has come to stress ‘mercy not sacrifice/judgement’. Moreover, Zion-torah is not merely about keeping Sinai-torah, it takes obedience to higher levels. It calls for a laying daown of one’s life for others something the law did not.

  12. sgde Says:

    Hi John,
    Agreed about the sacrifice and not judgement but that seems to be the ultimate intent of the knowledge of God in Hosea. I think the ultimate content of Sinai–its core–is to stress this. I can’t help but think that Deuteronomy 6-11 is a reflection on the heart of the Torah and what it is all about. Zion wishes to take that Torah and take it to all peoples (Isaiah 2). No longer is it to be restricted to the covenant people. Thanks for your comments.

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