Why rewrite the Old Testament into the New ?

The story of Jesus in the New Testament contains many elements from the Old Testament. Reading Maurice Casey’s 2014 book – see the former entry with my review – I was amazed to see that “love thy neighbour as thyself” already occurs in Leviticus, in exactly the same words. Such rehash is actually endemic. Some authors hold that the NT is basically just the OT, rewritten and summarised. I just read this other review of a book by fr Thomas Brodie O.P. who claims this too. Apparently Brodie’s book is subject to criticism again by scholars but that is not the point right now.

The tantalising question thus is: Why rewrite the OT into the NT again ?

When the OT is already available around the year 0, why the effort to rehash it ?

Reason 1: The OT is a big book and a summary is always useful. This is actually not a strong reason, since the OT would originally only be studied at the Temple in Jerusalem and then in full.  But when Greeks and Romans knocked on the door and wanted to know what was going on, one can image that many didn’t want to read all of it.

Reason 2: The OT locates events and places in a somewhat fixed past. It gradually becomes outdated. Readers want to relate to current events and places, with Greeks and Romans. Hence the need for something new but it should not differ from the old message.

Reason 3: In particular, when Judaic society is under threat by Greeks and Romans, defence is easier when it is possible to refer to a short summary that contains the main ideas that need defence.

Reason 3 is already mentioned in my book The simple mathematics of Jesus (SMOJ) (2012). Namely, the OT book Wisdom of Jesus Sirach contains lists of proverbs selected from the OT that help students to focus on its message without having to memorize the whole OT. This book has been used by the Catholic church since antiquity to educate its priests, and is also called the “church book”. It is included in the Catholic Bible but not in the Protestant Bible. The Sirach book is paradoxical: it wants to protect knowledge about the OT against the onslaught of goy influence, but it selects exactly a goy method to do so, by summarising the OT into mere proverbs.

SMOJ observes that the NT presents a Jesus who mainly speaks in proverbs, and suggests that our Jesus actually got his name from the book of Jesus Sirach, since proverbs with a storyline are easier to remember than just a list of proverbs. A quote of Jesus (Sirach) could be changed in to citation of Jesus (Joshua).

The OT is often opposed to the NT as “an eye for an eye” versus “love thy neighbour”. This thus appears to be a wrong opposition. The change attributed to Jesus occurred already long before his time, but admittedly not so clearly stated as the NT does.

Reason 4: After the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, the Romans would regard the OT as quite dangerous, since it culminates into the book Daniel that was linked to the uprisings since 66 AD. Pharisees used not only the OT but also the Talmud and thus could turn into Rabbinic Judaism. Sadducees who used only the OT had no way to go, but those who survived the destruction could rewrite the OT into a NT that gave Caesar what was Caesar’s, with messages of peace and double entendres.

Thus, there are ample reasons to expect deliberate text editing. Who regards the NT as a historical account will be surprised by Thomas Brodie’s book but it is more reasonable to expect an explanation as he gives. Without a historical Jesus, the texts must have originated elsewhere, and deliberate rehashing of the OT because of above reasons makes ample sense.

Does this affect Christianity and the belief in God ? It need not on content but would on form. You would still love your neighbour as yourself, and the cross on the church towers would become a symbol of an idea instead of a symbol of a supposed historical event. The crucifixion is a literary way of expression that Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans, as this method of execution is particularly Roman. Devout Christians have nothing to fear from new understanding. Those who doubt have a better focus on the issues why they doubt. Overall, these insights are only beneficial.

There is the old distinction between the original teachings by Jesus and the Pauline interpretation. The distinction between the circumcised (Simon the Rock) and the non-circumcised (Paul). Since many Christian Americans are circumcised, they should adhere to the Judaic laws as in the teachings by Jesus, and observe the Sabbath and so on. However, inconsistently, many follow the Pauline interpretation, which is that it is sufficient to just believe in Jesus Christ. Given the above, the Pauline interpretation evaporates since there is no historical Jesus Christ to believe in. Thus the inconsistent Americans have even more reason to return to the Judaic laws of the OT as summarised in the NT. No Friday night parties no more, and the sale of pork and bacon should drop dramatically.

A sensible response however would be to stop circumcision, as it is mutilation, and to see how an enlightened understanding of religion and morality can help mankind.

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