The Jury Talks Back

12/10/2008

What does it mean that the Jews are the Chosen People?

Filed under: Uncategorized — aunursa @ 9:18 pm

The front page contains a lively religious discussion on the issue of Jesus as the only way to salvation.  One remark in particular caught my eye, because it repeated a common misunderstanding about the “Chosen People” concept.  While the commenter received a few responses, I wanted to devote a post to clear up any confusion.

The idea that Jews are God’s chosen people comes from the Torah.  Moses told the Israelites, “The Lord your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on the face of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession.”

This idea of being divinely chosen is not, in fact elitist.  It does not mean that Jews consider ourselves better than others.  Jews do not hold the belief that God loves us more than Gentiles.  Jews do not teach that our lineage entitles us and us alone to eternal salvation or other divinely proscribed favors.  Centuries before the Exodus, God chose Abraham and his descendents to receive divine revelation and eternal covenants.  At Mount Sinai, the Jewish people chose to accept the commandments and live by them, thereby acting  act as a “light unto the nations.”

Ironically, many Christians consider the Law to be a curse.  In the New Testament Paul taught, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse.”  By contrast, observant Jews consider the Law to be a great blessing.  The Psalmist’s exclamations — “The Law from Your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of gold and silver … Oh how I love Your Law!” — have been echoed throughout the centuries by Jewish faithful.  Many Christians cannot understand why Jews so cherish what they consider to be a yoke.

Finally, Judaism is most definitely not an exclusive religion.  Jews do not believe that one must convert to Judaism in order to enter heaven.

I would be happy to discuss Jesus and Christian doctrines, controversial passages such as Isaiah 53, or general issues like Pascal’s Wager and the Liar-Lunatic-Lord Trilemma in the comments.

16 Comments

  1. Many Christians cannot understand why Jews so cherish what they consider to be a yoke.

    Doesn’t surprise this lapsed Lutheran at all.

    That which is a burden makes you stronger.
    And the first SOB that starts up debate over Pascal’s Wager, and how it really isn’t Win-Win gets my foot up their ass. I hated my religious philosophy class, and refuse to relive it here. :)

    Comment by Scott Jacobs — 12/10/2008 @ 11:51 pm

  2. I was mildly tempted to make a snarky remarky about Pascal’s wager, but I’m not the least bit tempted to get Scott’s foot (or anything else) going into (or coming out of) my ass. So I’ll skip to the liar/lunatic/Lord trilemma, which is really just an example of circular logic. Either you accept the Bible as 100% accurate and reliable, or you don’t. If you don’t, then you can’t be sure Jesus lived at all, let alone that he made all the outlandish claims attributed to him in the Bible if he did. Or maybe he did claim to be God, but he was kidding, as are 99.9% of all other people who have ever claimed to be God. So that gives us six possibilities, not three, and that’s just off the top of my head. There are probably more.

    Alternatively, if you do start with the premise that the Bible is 100% accurate, there is no room for a dilemma, a trilemma, or an anything-else-lemma. Liars and lunatics can’t heal lepers, walk on water, instantly convert water into wine (or worse, Welch’s Grape Juice), feed thousands with a handful of loaves and fishes, wake the dead or rise from the dead themselves. So if the Bible is 100% reliable, then Jesus is indeed Lord; liar and lunatic were never really options to begin with.

    On second thought, hell with Scott’s virtual foot. Pascal’s wager results on a fundamentally irrational premise that if there is a God, he will reward those who correctly guess his existence and punish those who guess wrong. Why would he do that? They say that character is how you act when you think no one is watching, so wouldn’t God be more impressed by a virtuous atheist who did good things throughout his life purely because they were good, and not because he thought there was something in it for him? And what of the Christian who doesn’t even live a very good life, because he knows he’s saved anyway just for believing? Isn’t it possible that there is indeed a God, but one who won’t be impressed by that? I demand a better bookie than Pascal.

    Comment by Xrlq — 12/11/2008 @ 4:18 am

  3. Good points.

    Xrlq: Pharoah’s magicians and Aaron turned their staffs into serpents. Moses parted the Red Sea. Yet nobody considers those acts to be signs of divinity. I submit that it’s possible that Jesus performed some (or even all) of the miracles attributed to him … and still not be God.

    Comment by aunursa — 12/11/2008 @ 5:34 am

  4. I really appreciate your insights, Xrlq and aunursa. Xrlq, I hear you on both points. I think the fundamental problem is in somehow constructing a starting point, based in the same assumptions, that atheists and theists alike can agree to. Both the liar/lunatic/Lord paradigm and Pascal’s wager are Christian versions of such attempts, and on the other side, there’s folks like this guy. I tend to agree with the “appeal to God not being a total a-hole” that you allude to (“They say that character is how you act when you think no one is watching, so wouldn’t God be more impressed by a virtuous atheist who did good things throughout his life purely because they were good, and not because he thought there was something in it for him?”) Yet, the mystical experiences in my life cause me to conclude that God exists and manifests to a certain extent through people as well.

    (I’m avoiding studying for my Gospels final at the moment, so this is also providing sufficient impetus for me to get back on it. Thanks.)

    Comment by Tom — 12/11/2008 @ 5:48 am

  5. Moses and Aaron never claimed to be God, but did claim that God was on their side, and that he, not they as mere mortals, was the one performing the miracles in question. Jesus did claim divinity, so for a non-divine Jesus to have performed his miracles in question would have required God himself to be in on the scam. Either that, or it would entail that Jesus never really did claim divinity, but did rightly claim to be a prophet, a position that would require the believer to maintain a childlike faith in some parts of the Bible while rejecting others outright.

    Comment by Xrlq — 12/11/2008 @ 6:15 am

  6. Xrlq, I say this with all possible affection, and in a spirit of friendship…

    Die in a fire.

    :)

    Sorry, after the professor we were suppose to have apparently got suspended half way through the semester, and got replaced by a VERY boring speaker, I loathed that class, and actually dropped it. It was simply too painful to remain in.

    Comment by Scott Jacobs — 12/11/2008 @ 8:17 am

  7. Jesus did claim divinity

    While some NT passages tend to support the notion that Jesus claimed divinity, there are several others that suggest that Jesus did not consider himself to be divine. Ironically, trinitarians consider his declaration, “I and the Father are one” to be one of the strongest evidences for his identification as a divine being. In fact, when the passage is studied in context, one can draw the opposite conclusion.

    for a non-divine Jesus to have performed his miracles in question would have required God himself to be in on the scam

    I expect that you would be surprised to learn that I consider that to be a viable possibility.

    Comment by aunursa — 12/11/2008 @ 8:49 am

  8. Overheard Inside An Israeli Tank:
    First Israeli: Are we really God’s Chosen People?
    Second Israeli:
    First Israeli: Well, there was the slavery in Egypt.
    First Israeli: And the Captivity in Babylon.
    First Israeli: And the Seleucids.
    First Israeli: And Vespasian.
    First Israeli: And Titus.
    First Israeli: And Hadrian and the Diaspora.
    First Israeli: And the Inquisition.
    First Israeli: And the pogroms.
    First Israeli: And the Holocaust.
    Second Israeli:
    First Israeli: Well, if we’re God’s Chosen People, what does He do to people He doesn’t like?

    Comment by nk — 12/11/2008 @ 10:01 am

  9. I will just say this once. The wager is an argument for why Christian belief can be “reasoned.” It is a defense of a particular belief, not an absolute proof.
    “Let us then examine this point, and say, ‘God is, or He is not.’ But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here.”

    Its discussion of infinite vs. finite is very interesting from a philosophical perspective.

    Additionally, too many people view the Wager outside the context of the work that contains it, the Pensees. It does not stand alone and any attempt to break the wager down to a simple equation is overly reductive and ridiculous.

    Comment by Christian Lindke — 12/11/2008 @ 10:13 am

  10. My understanding of “chosen” is that it means “selected,” not “superior.”

    Of course, my understanding != truth, but it seems a lot of people are anxious to read into a statement (“God’s Chosen People”) something that isn’t there.

    The biblical accounts don’t show a lot of wonderful things about the “chosen people” (which makes them all the more interesting compared to other ancient literature which glossed over the problems of their leaders and their nations).

    Instead, it shows the warts-and-all view of the “chosen people.”

    This doesn’t mean that the biblical account is necessarily true; it simply means that as a story or an account it shows that the “chosen people” (in the biblical account) didn’t behave often in a way that would lead others to think “hey, superior.” The stories are a way to say “hey, look, you are selected by God Who has great plans for you. Start behaving better and follow His laws.”

    I do find it odd though that the “chosen people” just can’t get a break. Either they’re the Bilderbergers running the world, or they are the lowest of the low living literally Beyond the Pale.

    Comment by steve miller — 12/11/2008 @ 11:51 am

  11. #9 Christian: Pascals Wager contains many flaws, such as…
    * If you decide to believe that God exists, and you pick the wrong religion, you may still be screwed.
    * Belief is not something that one DECIDES. You can decide to have chocolate rather than vanilla. You cannot decide to believe in God (or Jesus … or Christian theology.)
    * If you determine that the probability of God’s existence is 0, then you can conclude that there is no risk.

    There are others…

    Comment by aunursa — 12/11/2008 @ 12:31 pm

  12. #10 Steve: I do find it odd though that the “chosen people” just can’t get a break. Either they’re the Bilderbergers running the world, or they are the lowest of the low living literally Beyond the Pale.

    An old joke…

    A Jewish man was sitting in Starbucks reading an Arab newspaper. A friend of his, who happened to come in the same store, noticed this strange phenomenon.

    Very upset, he approached him and said: “Moshe, have you lost your mind? Why are you reading an Arab newspaper?”

    Moshe replied, “I used to read the Jewish newspapers, but what did I find? Jews being persecuted, Israel being attacked, Jews disappearing through assimilation and intermarriage, Jews living in poverty.

    So I switched to the Arab newspaper. Now what do I find? Jews own all the banks, Jews control the media, Jews are all rich and powerful, Jews rule the world.

    The news is so much better!”

    Comment by aunursa — 12/11/2008 @ 12:36 pm

  13. I think God blessed the Jews as his chosen people because they were the first to accept Him and his laws, and He gave them the Ten Commandments to give them special insight into the path to live a blessed life. But being blessed is not the same as avoiding all earthly hardship.

    It’s often said that we are all God’s children, and I think the parent-child relationship tells us a lot about man’s relationship with God. As a parent, I love my children and part of that love means I sometimes make them endure hardship. I take them to the doctor for shots and painful tests and procedures. I send them to school and expect them to spend countless hours on homework. I make them do chores and follow rules. I do these things out of love because it makes them better people, but it’s not fun for them and I know it feels like hardship.

    Similarly, God’s plan for us may not always be pleasant or what we want. But if we keep an open heart and mind, He will guide us to being better people and making a better world.

    Comment by DRJ — 12/11/2008 @ 5:51 pm

  14. Double ironically, many Jews also consider the Law to be a curse! :o)

    I kid, but of course it is a bit oversimplificatory to say “observant Jews consider the Law to be a great blessing” when even many observant Jews have been more than a little conflicted about their chosenness. I find that conflicted quality, and the open embrace of conflictedness, truly wonderful.

    Comment by Not Rhetorical — 12/12/2008 @ 12:35 am

  15. Not Rhetorical:many observant Jews have been more than a little conflicted about their chosenness

    Indeed. Please expand on this conflict.

    Comment by aunursa — 12/12/2008 @ 4:47 am

  16. Are you being arch? I can’t tell online.

    I guess the jokes at #8 and #12 are examples as sublime as any. I love that Jews argue with God — are practically *told* to argue with God. I love that belief itself isn’t necessarily crucial (depending whom you ask).

    Besides, I don’t think a Jew has to be a heretic to think that God has some shit to answer for, no?

    Comment by Not Rhetorical — 12/13/2008 @ 12:43 am

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