Generic selectors
Exact matches only
Search in title
Search in content
Post Type Selectors
Search in posts
Search in pages
HISTORY of Christian Theology
In order to understand Christianity, it is essential to grasp the importance that monotheism, God’s covenant with Israel, King David, the temple in Jerusalem, the Babylonian captivity, and the Torah have to the Jewish tradition at the time of Christ’s birth.

The Hebrew God is a Being with Emotions and Acts

God of action

The God of the Old Testament is not a passive god without body, parts or passions. He is a being who is intimately involved in the lives of His people.

Unlike Plato’s first principle that does not act and is not affected by outside stimuli, Israel’s God is a being with emotions who does things. He spoke and created the world. He is identified by many anthropomorphic characteristics. He brought Israel out of slavery in Egypt with a strong arm by issuing waves of plagues, and eventually He miraculously destroys Egypt’s army. He inscribes ten commandments into two stone tablets. He is angry with Israel for forgetting him and worshipping a golden calf in the manner of the orgasmic religions of the region, so he causes a great earthquake that swallows up a large portion of the camp of Israel that he previously saved. Most importantly, He enters into a covenant, a bilateral agreement, with the house of Israel to be their God and they will be His people. The God of the Old Testament is not a passive god without body, parts or passions. He is a being who is intimately involved in the lives of His people.

“ What really distinguishes the Jewish religion from all of the other religions and philosophies at the time of Christ was not their God’s characteristics but that He was the only one and true God, the creator of the universe.”

Monotheism, A New Idea

God the Father and KingIn many respects, the God of Israel is more similar to the pagan gods of that era than the Greek philosopher’s first principle, the first mover. What really distinguishes the Jewish religion from all of the other religions and philosophies at the time of Christ was not their God’s characteristics but that He was the only one and true God, the creator of the universe. Monotheism. That is what set Judaism apart from everything else. Mono, meaning one, and theism, meaning god or immortal. The God of Israel was the only immortal being worthy of worship. He was their King or Monarch. This word comes from mono (one) and the Greek word archaea, meaning beginning or source. So, Israel’s God was the creator of all things, the King of kings, the only being who requires our complete loyalty and fidelity, the only thing worthy of worship.

This concept was new and very distinct. Generally, all societies believed in many gods. You have your god for your community and I have my god, and there are other gods for other locations or who control various aspects of nature. Our worship of the gods was to give them honor so that they would look favorably upon us subjects and be gracious to us, to bless us with a good life instead of cursing us with misery and woe. There really was no moral code imposed by the gods, as the various gods themselves were plagued by moral failings. Indeed, some of the gods demanded human sacrifice and sexual activity to satisfy their demands for homage.

A Covenant with God

The second major unique concept of ancient Judaism was that this one true God imposed a moral law on his people.

The second major unique concept of ancient Judaism was that this one true God imposed a moral law on his people. Not only this, but God Himself would be bound by a covenant with His people if they obeyed that law. This concept was revolutionary. No longer were humans subject to the whims of gods who could change their mind at any moment, requiring people to always be on guard trying to stay in the good graces of these many fickle gods. Now, the one almighty God of the Universe condescended to make a treaty with His people to be their God and bless them if they remembered Him and obeyed his moral code. This God of ultimate power agreed to give humans the power to bind Him by following a defined written moral law. If they obeyed His law, God promised to bless them with prosperity and freedom from oppression. For the first time in recorded history, a god offered security and certainty. Israel could rely on the one true God to keep His word.

“For the first time in recorded history, a god offered security and certainty. Israel could rely on the one true God to keep His word.”

The covenant between God and Israel included not only blessings if they obeyed, but also a curse if they disobeyed. If Israel broke this covenant, God warned them that they would be conquered and carried away captive to foreign lands. But what is remarkable is that this almighty God agreed to forgive His people when they disobeyed if they would remember Him and amended their ways to follow His moral code once more. He promised that if they would repent and return to Him then He would reestablish them in their land and He again would be their God to bless them with all of the blessings promised in this covenant. Grace, mercy and atonement became a central precept of this religion.

joshua passing river of jordan iwth ark of the covenant

The Presence of God was in the Temple

The closer one gets to God, the more holy and separated from the world he or she becomes.

arch of the covenantThis principle of God’s mercy was demonstrated by the role of holiness in Israel’s establishment in the land of Palestine. Part of the covenant God made with Abraham was that the Palestine area would belong to Abraham and Israel’s descendants if they remained a holy people. This covenant was reaffirmed by Jacob (whose name was changed to Israel) and his posterity at Mount Saini when Moses led his people out of Egypt. Holy (whole) means complete and healthy (like God) by being set apart or consecrated for a divine purpose. The closer one gets to God, the more holy and separated from the world he or she becomes. Also, no unclean thing can exist in the presence of God, so one does not go into a holy place unprepared and unclean without risking destruction. On a broad scale, the land of Palestine is the Holy Land so the nation, as a whole, needs to remain holy or they would be destroyed. Jerusalem is the Holy City, and the temple is the holy place, the center of religious observance. Each area becomes more sanctified as it gets closer to God’s presence in His Temple. Even in the temple, there is the sanctuary called the holy place and the inner sanctum called the Holy of Holies. This location is so sacred that the high priest is the only person allowed to enter it on just one day of the year, the day of atonement. Inside the Holy of Holies is Israel’s most holy artifact, the arch of the covenant, which contained the ten commandments written on tablets of stone, the law of God. But above the law was the lid to the arch of the covenant known as the mercy seat, a throne of God where He sat in judgement. The center and most sacred aspect of the ancient Israeli religion was the law of the covenant and ultimately the mercy of God which was above the law.

Second temple reconstruction model

The center and most sacred aspect of the ancient Israeli religion was the law of the covenant and ultimately the mercy of God which was above the law.

The Old Testament is a Story of Redemption

The story of the Old Testament is a story of grace and redemption. Repeatedly, Israel broke its covenant with God by forsaking Him and worshiping other gods. After they suffered the consequences of their disobedience, they were redeemed when they finally remembered the covenant and returned to worship their God. This pattern began right away. When God called Moses up to the top of Mount Saini, God told Moses to set limits around the mount so that the people who were less righteous than Moses would not get too close to God’s presence and be destroyed. After waiting forty days for Moses to return, the people became anxious and made a golden calf to worship. Consequently, many of them were annihilated when Moses came down from the Mount. Yet, God did not fully reject His people who broke their covenant, instead He agreed to remain in their presence by allowing them to create a tabernacle with set limits and priests who could follow a procedure to become clean enough to administer the functions of religious sacrifice in the tabernacle for the benefit of the people. Once the tabernacle was built, God’s presence rested on the tabernacle like a glowing cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. The grace of God is demonstrated by Him devising a way to allow His people to benefit from His presence in spite of their imperfections. The tabernacle and later Solomon’s temple built in Jerusalem became the focal point of their religious worship.

The grace of God is demonstrated by Him devising a way to allow His people to benefit from His presence in spite of their imperfections.

King David

King David is revered by Jews and Christians for his trust in God that enabled him to unite Israel and conquer its surrounding territory, enabling him to assemble the materials to build the temple in Jerusalem. Later when David’s son, Solomon completed the construction of the temple, he reiterated the covenant between God and Israel in his dedicatory prayer and all of Israel again reaffirmed this covenant. God promised David that if he and his posterity remembered the Lord, he and his descendants would sit on the throne in Jerusalem. Christians believe that this promise relates to Jesus, a direct descendant of King David, and that David is a type or symbol of Christ.

The Babylonian Captivity

“The Old Testament is another way of saying old covenant, which refers to the covenant God made with Israel on Mount Saini.”

The Old Testament is another way of saying old covenant, which refers to the covenant God made with Israel on Mount Saini. This book of scripture records Israel falling away from this covenant and being carried away captive by Assyria to never return during the history of Holy writ, and then the kingdom of Judah being carried away to Babylon around the year 600 BC. The Babylonian captivity had a dramatic and pivotal impact on the Jewish nation, culture and religion. This is the beginning of the diaspora where Jews are dispersed throughout the middle east and later the Greco-Roman empires, with a large community in Egypt.

“the people began to look to the Torah to find the presence of God, a trajectory that accelerated after the rebuilt temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D.”

With the loss of the presence of God when their temple was destroyed during the Babylonian conquest, the Jewish people remembered the curse and blessings promised in the covenant and turned to the Torah (the five books of Moses referred to as the law) to find solace in its promise of their return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple to again enjoy the presence of God in their midst. In the interim, the people began to look to the Torah to find the presence of God, a trajectory that accelerated after the rebuilt temple was destroyed by the Romans in 70 A.D. This led to the development of Rabbinical Judaism, which is the orthodox Judaism we know today. This turn to the Torah during the Babylonian captivity increased the importance of teachers to understand and explain the law and the creation of synagogues or places of assembly where the Torah was taught. The natural leaders to fill this void were scribes who were occupied with copying the Torah. These teachers, known as rabbis, developed followings and over time replaced the priests from the tribe of Levi who had served in the temple as the practical leaders of the Jewish communities. The Bible recounts God’s role in the Jews’ return to Jerusalem as promised in the covenant. Even after their return, the dynamic of religious teaching and worship within the Jewish community was changed forever.

“The Bible recounts God’s role in the Jews’ return to Jerusalem as promised in the covenant. Even after their return, the dynamic of religious teaching and worship within the Jewish community was changed forever.”

torah

 

go to previous:

The Greco-Roman World

go to next:

A World In Conflict (pending)

IMAGES:

Moses and Aaron with the Ten Commandments, by Aron de Chavez, c. 1675, Sephardi community in London [PD].

Creation of the Sun, Moon, and Planets, by Michelangelo Buonarroti, c. 1511, Fresco, Sistine Chapel, Vatican City, Vatican [PD].

God creating the Sun, the Moon and the Stars, by Jan Brueghel the Younger, 17th Century, painting, Unidentified location [PD].

Immaculata and God the Father, by Luca Mombello, c. 1560–1580, oil on canvas, Tosio Martinengo Gallery [PD].

Universium, Joshua passing the River Jordan with the Ark of the Covenant, by Benjamin West, 1800, oil on panel, Art Gallery of New South Wales [PD].

Replica of the Ark of the Covenant, in the George Washington Masonic National Memorial, photo taken 27 December 2006 [CC 2.5].

Herod’s Temple, photo of model, taken 31 December 2007, Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Israel [PD Israel].

Moses on Mount Sinai, by Jean-Léon Gérôme, c. 1895–1900, oil on canvas, [PD].

King David playing the harp, by Gerard van Honthorst, 1622, painting, Centraal Museum, Ultrecht, Netherlands, [PD].

The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Under the Command of Titus, A.D. 70, by David Roberts, 1850, oil on canvas, private collection, [PD].

Please share if you found this post informative.