Saturday, July 23, 2011

Physical punishments in the Bible

Western people are shocked by the stonings of women in Islamic countries and the plan to blind the eye of a man in hospital who had blinded someone else made top stories. Not always do people know that some of these cruel practices do have background in the holy Bible and more specifically the Torah.

(Not all practices in Sharia, though, for as far as I know amputating the hand of a thief comes to Sharia from other sources and is not mentioned in Torah.)

Islamic Sharia law maintains Byzantine period legislation and punishments and is applied in many Islamic countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran and Sudan while some other Moslem countries apply Sharia law in more restricted manner, for example Turkey, Syria and Jordan.

In my opinion Sharia law reflects common practices in first millennium Mediterranean world, Justinian Law Code with its Roman roots, but they are strongly modified by Islamic faith. An essential element in the legal heritage is the Judeo-Christian religious law is Torah known in 6th century Mecca and Medina.

Torah itself reflects Bronze Age and Iron Age legal systems and some elements in it can be compared with Hammurabi in Mari or Hittite Laws in Anatolia and so on. But this heritage is strongly modified in the light of the religion of Israel and the special requirements of that society.

I have no doubt that Torah is revelation by the God of Israel but it uses real language of the time and talks about real issues that also other nations faced at those times in Ancient Near East.

Harsh physical punishments in the Bible include commandments that are reminiscent of Sharia law and may be the original source at least in some cases.

Public burning to death (this was later done by pouring melted metal to the mouth so that the body of the law breaker would survive to the day of resurrection)
And if a man take a wife and her mother, it is wickedness: they shall be burnt with fire, both he and they; that there be no wickedness among you.
Lev 20:14  

Public stoning of underage boys disobedient to their fathers
If a man have a stubborn and rebellious son, which will not obey the voice of his father, or the voice of his mother, and that, when they have chastened him, will not hearken unto them: Then shall his father and his mother lay hold on him, and bring him out unto the elders of his city, and unto the gate of his place; And they shall say unto the elders of his city, This our son is stubborn and rebellious, he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton, and a drunkard. And all the men of his city shall stone him with stones, that he die: so shalt thou put evil away from among you; and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Deu 21:18-21   

And if a man have committed a sin worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remain all night upon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day; (for he that is hanged is accursed of God;) that thy land be not defiled, which the LORD thy God giveth thee for an inheritance.
Deu 21:22-23

Public stoning of adulterous woman or male or female witch
A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them. 
Lev 20:27 

Physical mutilation - an eye for an eye a tooth for tooth
And if a man cause a blemish in his neighbour; as he hath done, so shall it be done to him; Breach for breach, eye for eye, tooth for tooth: as he hath caused a blemish in a man, so shall it be done to him again.
Lev 24:19-20 
In general we observer, that death sentences were given in those days on many crimes that would not be so judged today in Western judiciary system but possibly still in Sharia, for example homosexual act or the execution of a bride who is not virgin.

The Jewish rabbis, experts of the Law of Moses, have interpreted and applied the regulations on death sentences so that modern Judaism is not giving such harsh sentences. Some rabbis still want to apply the Iron Age War laws as is, but why then not the entire Law of Moses?

Torah makes difference between punishing slaves and free men.

The King of Israel was executed on the cross like a slave or rebel - the only ones against whom this horrible method of torture killing was applied. He was judged guitly of death as a blasphemer of the God of Israel.

And there arose certain, and bare false witness against him, saying, We heard him say, I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and within three days I will build another made without hands. But neither so did their witness agree together. 
And the high priest stood up in the midst, and asked Jesus, saying, Answerest thou nothing? what is it which these witness against thee? 
But he held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and said unto him, Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?  
 And Jesus said, I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.  Then the high priest rent his clothes, and saith, What need we any further witnesses? Ye have heard the blasphemy: what think ye? 
And they all condemned him to be guilty of death. 
And some began to spit on him, and to cover his face, and to buffet him, and to say unto him, Prophesy: and the servants did strike him with the palms of their hands.
Mark 14:57-65

Friday, July 15, 2011

State of Israel - failure or vindication of Judaism?

The flag of the State of Israel has Star of David on white background between two blue bands. Symbolically it combines the state with the religion of Judaism. (By the way, the Star of David is a relatively new symbol for the ancient religion of Judaism. In Herodian period artifacts and buildings we often see Menorah).

Similarly, the Scandinavian flags connect state and religion by setting a cross on simple background, the flag of Finland for example a blues cross on white background. United Kingdom flag combines the cross, Union Jack, and St Andrew's cross making it a flag of a Christian country.

Many Moslem countries have the Moon crescent symbolizing Islam.

This symbolism is carried on in the signs for emergency services - Red Cross on the ambulances comes from the flag of Switzerland with a red cross on it. Israeli ambulances have the Star of David painted on them and Palestinian ambulances have the Red Crescent.

Failure of Judaism?
Well. There are few Jewish citizens in the State of Israel today who are not embarrassed by the serious court cases against their rulers with such heavy crimes as rape (former President of the State) and deep corruption (former Prime Minister). There are still pending court cases in serious matters of misuse of political position for personal gain (current Foreign Minister). Some citizens, of course, think that the ability to fool the state for money is a sign of truly great leader who can handle the system and knows how to pull the ropes for his or her benefit.

This in itself is nothign new or specific to the Jewish state. Tanakh is not blue-eyed and naive when it talks about the Kings of Israel and Judea in the Iron Age. The State was pretty corrupt, to the point that God of Israel utterly destroyed the Northern Kingdom and sent the citizens of the Southern Kingdom to Exile. Nor were all the Maccabean period kings and High priests praised by the people of their times, even if we do not mention what Alexander Janneus did.

In modern State of Israel there are many religious Jews, especially among the politically powerful ultra-Orthodox camp, with a long list of complaints against the secular citizens. They complain that there are godless Israelis who do not respect the mitzvot of the Torah and, to take one exmaple, break Shabbat by driving their cars on Levi Eshkol boulevard in northern Jerusalem.

Similarly, some secular Jews have some complaints against the religious Jews, for example the lack of respect for women and the Iranian style demand for segregation in public transportation. Many secular and also religious Jews abhor the harsh boycott of some 80% of the Jews in the world by Orthodox rabbies in the Knesset who consider them as "non-Jewish" because they belong to Liberal or Conservative synagogues and not really Jewish synagogues.

Accordingly, the citizens themselves are not completely satisfied with the idea that the State of Israel is the beacon of light to the nations:

And now the LORD says—
he who formed me in the womb to be his servant
to bring Jacob back to him
and gather Israel to himself,
for I am honored in the eyes of the LORD
and my God has been my strength—
he says:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant
to restore the tribes of Jacob
and bring back those of Israel I have kept.
I will also make you a light for the Gentiles,
that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.”
Isaiah 49:5-6 NIV

Regardless of how people react to anti-Semitism it is a fact - as the King of Israel prophesized according to the Gosple of Luke, there is a deep hatred of the Jewish people among the Gentiles.

“When you see Jerusalem being surrounded by armies, you will know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those in the city get out, and let those in the country not enter the city. For this is the time of punishment in fulfillment of all that has been written. How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers! There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people. They will fall by the sword and will be taken as prisoners to all the nations. Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled."
Luke 21:20-24 NIV

Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD and finally in 134 AD and there is a great wrath against the Jewish people among the nations.

United Nations is a case study. Simple statistics of the human rights and other issues brought to the General Assembly against the member nations demonstrates the number of accusations against the State of Israel. Everybody agrees, also the Jewish people themselves, that not everything is so good what has happened. But there are some Christian and Moslem and Communist states in United Nations that have not exactly fulfilled the ideals of the UN Charter during the past sixty years of its existence. There are many motives in singling out Israel but anti-Semitism surely is one of them.

(The word anti-Semitism is in itself a misnomer, since today there are rather anti-Semitic feelings among the Semitic Arab people, sons of Ishmael. So a better word would be anti-Jewish but the word is so widely used that there is no hope for correction.)

Many UN votes and resolutions do not give great glory to the modern State of Israel or Judaism as a religion. But these resolutions must be taken with a grain of salt and in a context of a truly hostile courthouse. Nevertheless, in many ways they do present world opinion and there are people among the nations who do not exactly love the Jewish state.

It is interesting that while early Zionism was developing the heated discussions among the Jews also included this subject - that is with the raise of a Jewish state there will be national level anti-Semitism and not just individual cases of hatred of the Jews. These warnings have turned out to be true.

Vindication of Judaism?
With the State slowly but steadily moving towards theocracy, religious nationalistic monarchy and the absolute rule of God as in the Iron Age holy Bible, many religious Jews are feeling more and more at home in the State of Israel. Reconquista of the Promised Land according to the will of the God of Israel, flourishing settlements in the ancient home land of God's people in Judea and Samaria, prophecies are coming true in front of the eyes of the people of our times.

Despite all the misfortunes and fortunes among the Gentiles for two thousand years the touching prayer of the Jewish people in Diaspora has been the Passover Seder L'shanah haba'ah b'Yerushalayim!

Very few Gentiles have believed that after so many years this would ever happen and the Jewish people become a nation again.

And yet it has happened.

Vindication of the God of Israel
Despite all the valiant human efforts of early Zionists and other Jewish people during the revival of nationalism in 19th century Europe and elsewhere in the world without which there would not be such a national state it nevertheless does not seem to me that the birth of Israel in 1948 was a vindication of Judaism.

I think that the birth of modern Israel and its survival in this hostile world is a vindication of the LORD, the God of Israel.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Alien democracy in the Near East

When the fathers of Zionism arrived from Tsarist Russia to Ottoman Palestine and then to the British Mandate ruled Palestine they came with alien ideas about human society, social democracy and communism. These ideas were very un-Islamic and alien to the traditional Near Eastern societies.

The fathers and mothers established ideal societies, Kibbuts, groups, that lived to the fullest according to the theories of Karl Marx and Engels and succeeded in doing where the Soviets failed - creating living productive communities without the curse of private ownership and capitalism based on the freedom to stay or to go. 

The Zionists also made a green revolution, wanted to turn the deserts into blooming gardens as told by the prophets of Israel. Huge water channels were dug into the ground to bring waters from the North, from Kinneret and upper Jordan to Northern Negev. Beer Sheba was turned into a green area of lush wheat fields watered by artificial means in an area of very low natural rainfall. 

The father of modern Israel, David Ben Gurion (1886-1973), loved the desert and lived much of his life in kibbutz Sde Boker where he is buried with his wife Paula.

Those were people of vision and they made a great impact, watering the desert and establishing a genuinely democratic State of Israel with the separation of powers as Montesque had told, full voting rights to women and participation in Knesset for Israeli Arabs.

But these are alien ideas to the Near East.

Slowly but surely the realization has sunk in that desert is desert and watering it is dangerous to the limited fresh water resources of the Land of Israel. The green revolution has stopped and may have to be reversed in some areas because of the lack of water.

Slowly but surely the genuine religious Jewish establishment is taking control of the State of Israel and the alien ideas of European and Russian social theorists of 19th century and the experiments in democratic rule following those godless French Revolutionaries is fading and is being systematically reversed.

Clean separation of the powers is history and State of Israel today is ruled by differetn power blogs: royalist Messianic religious Jews are very powerful as watching over the spiritual heritage of the people of Israel that also includes the Land and its Laws. 

The latest immigration wave of Russian Jews in the 1990'ies brought in a different kind of people from those 19th century Russian immigrants playing with the new ideas of communism and socialism. This generation of Israel Betenu and Avigdor Lieberman has experience socialism and communism and has no love for it. So how is modern Russia ruled? By strong men and their supporters, President Putin knows how to pull the strings to get things done. Democracy is not the top value in this kind of world.

Judaism is not democratic, nor is Christianity nor Islam - these religions understand God as an Absolute Monarch and earhtly monarchs and emires and rabbies present Him and interprate His will in the society.

This is natural in the Near East with its ancient history.

Democracy is in decline - naturally.

Torah תּוֹרָה‎‎ and Sharia شريعة

Swiss Theologian Karl Barth (1886-1968) forcefully emphasized that divine revelation comes to us directly from above, "senkrecht von oben".

This is the fundamental understanding of Moslem believers - Qur'an is originally written in Heaven and the dictating of the holy book by angel Gabriel to Muhammad is a fresh new start and revelation of previously unknown messsage. Fresh light illuminates the dark world.

Similarly, for many Christians New Testament is essentially the holy book and the Old Testament is reduced into the role of John the Baptist, preparation of the ground and foretelling of what is going to happen in Jesus Christ.

Both religions have their background in ancient Judaism. For many religious Jews Simchat Torah, the Joy of Torah, is the new light that illuminated the world when God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai.

It is difficult for these believers to realize that religion has history, roots, evolution, developments and that they depend on each other.

For Moslems there is a holy secret - the learned scholars know about the relationship between Qur'an and the Bible and understand Islam as a completion of these books and as the full revelation, return back to the simplicity of the Monotheism of Ibrahim, el-Khalil, the friend of God.

Christians have persecuted Jews, the people of Torah, who do not accept Jesus of Nazareth as their King. The role of Judaism changed from "mother religion" to enemy already in early Christian centuries and religious anti-Semitism raisis its head already in the second century AD.

Jews abhor the Canaanites and there are the Biblical warnings against this religion and lament of the penetration of paganism into the pure religion of the fathers and of the Sinai desert. But modern scholarship has demonstrated essential connections and links between the religion of the Hebrews and the religions in the ancient Near East.

Religions are organic, social, historical realities developing in place and time. Archaeology shows often structures that have a history from one religion to another - the Canaanite holy spot, that became the location of the Temple of Salomon and now has the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa mosques is a great example of this continuity and change through centuries.

So the Canaanite supreme God El gives the word Elohim to Hebrew and Allah to Arabic. Organic, connected and yet different in function and role and religion. The spouse of this royal rather passive god of Ugarit, Elat, lives in the name of the city of Eilat and there was a pre-Islamic goddess Allat.

It is important that we realize the historical background of the religious Moslem Sharia Law شريعة

The Law of Moses, itself related to ancient Near Eastern legislation, possibly to Hammurab, gives comamnds to stone people to death and to burn people publicly. An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth.

While rough ancient habits, punishments and law code survive in the holy Scriptures we need to remember that at time many of the laws were constructive and protective and probably inhibited some of the worst things in ancient courts and their decisions.

For example, it is often said that the Sharia law does not "allow a Moslem man to have four wives" but rather "limits the number of wives to four".