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What is Christian Hebraism and Is It Relevant for Today?

Christian Hebraism transformed Christianity completely during the Middle Ages. However, the impact this movement had on the world remains forgotten by most people who consider themselves believers today: clergy and laity alike.

I realize I’m not the scholar this subject deserves if Christian Hebraism will have to be re-introduced to believers in the 21st century and beyond. But given the fact that none of the scholars who have specialized in this subject have produced materials in a format more accessible for the mass reader, any effort to resurrect the legacy of Christian Hebraism is better than no effort at all.

I began to investigate this subject matter three years ago when I experienced a “home coming” of sorts in my faith journey. I will explain this in an attempt to illustrate how deeply personal this subject is to me. The discovery of the story of Christian Hebraism helped bring together many of the otherwise scattered pieces of information I had accumulated through the years when it comes to the Reformation of the Middle Ages. But most importantly, it made me feel like I had “come home”. It made me realize that what I have been sensing intuitively and have been looking for through the years, others had been looking for something similar as well, some 500 or more years ago. This is both humbling and comforting from a spiritual standpoint and I will try to share this perspective with you.

 

A unique compilation of Latin moral, grammatical and historical treatises was collected by Geoffrey of Ufford in the 12th-century. Almost nothing is known of Geoffrey’s life, and this manuscript appears to be the sole surviving copy of his work. Public Domain. Source: https://www.bl.uk/medieval-english-french-manuscripts/articles/hebrew-in-christian-manuscripts-of-the-early-middle-ages

 

One more thing that will probably help you understand why I am so sensitive to the origin of words, languages and translations – I grew up during the 70s and the 80s in Bulgaria – a hard-core Communist country. Communism is based on violence, theft and ruthless, shameless lies, deception, fraud, manipulation, and propaganda. Growing up, my parents didn’t voice their opposition to Communism in front of me and my brother – they wanted to protect us. But when I was thirteen years old one night I walked in on my father listening to The Voice of Europe on short wave radio in the dark and I realized there was something going on that I didn’t know about. I got my hands on a short wave radio and became an avid listener of the Voice of Europe and the Voice of America. I slowly began to realize we were living in a parallel reality and a lot was going on we had no clue about. Under Communism there is no freedom of speech. If there were freedom of speech, the opposition would expose their fraud and crimes and their regime would be over with very quickly. They controlled all the media: TV, radio and print. Thankfully, short wave radio was there to help bring some news to the people living behind the Iron Wall. I was one of them.

The foundation of Communism has to do with the manipulation of words. Words are the tool we use to explain things. When we corrupt words, we bring a corrupt understanding of the essence of the matter they are meant to convey. For example, Communist regimes have always called their terrorist, totalitarian regimes “people’s republics”. They have fake Constitutions, fake Parliaments and fake elections. This is a gross perversion of the very meaning of what a republic, a Constitution, a Parliament and elections are meant to be. There are no “republics” in Communism. They are all in fact dictatorships. But the Communists are shameless psychopaths and they have zero remorse as they impose their regimes forcing untold millions to submit to their “republic” at gun point.

Gradually, as one grows up in a country totally dominated by the Communist regime, you begin to realize all the public slogans, school textbooks, newspapers, TV and radio are there to produce nothing but one gigantic psyopp intended to keep the people brainwashed into believing the lies of Communism as a dogma and the Communist regime as its executive (and executing) embodiment.

I became a believer in God because I kept having questions such as “how did this world come into being?” and “what happens after we die”? No one could give me an adequate answer. I loved to read books and used to spend hours and hours in the local library while growing up. Thankfully some classic literature had made its way into the Communist system. I realized that people have been asking these same questions through the ages but they still didn’t have any good answers. I also read a number of books I purchased from a bookstore selling Eastern Orthodox literature. This was very interesting but still no real answers came from going to the Orthodox Church, lighting candles, getting baptized as Orthodox, and reading their books.

Finally, at the age of 20 I came into contact with some believers who actually read the Bible and discussed things about it. I started going to the meetings of a congregation that didn’t resemble the Orthodox Church – no temple, no priest, candles, icons and so on. I realized that the only way I can become a “believer” is to accept that Jesus had risen from the dead, that he is alive somewhere in a dimension we can’t see (Heaven), that the Bible is true, and that I need to turn away from my sinful way of life (and there was much to turn away from, trust me)! I took the leap of faith and experienced a dramatic conversion at the age of 20, only a few months before the collapse of the Berlin Wall. My world had fundamentally changed and the world itself was about to change as well. Such was the beginning of my faith walk. I didn’t worry too much about who wrote the Bible and in what language, who translated it, how and when. What was important for me at the time and for many years to come was to be “spiritual”; to read the Bible, to try to grasp its teachings, to try to live according to them, and to try to get others to do the same. Sounds simple but it’s a huge challenge in and of its own. I would say most Christians spend the majority of whatever time they have trying to do their best doing exactly this; study the Bible, pray, try to live out its teachings, try to do good works, try to help others become believers.

Sadly, not so many believers go deeper and investigate the origins of the faith, the history of Scripture, the historic background, culture and context of the different events described, the true meaning of its teachings as they were given at the time, and what all this means to us.

However, I have remained as hungry to learn about the origins of the faith, as I am to learn how to live its teachings. I therefore share my discoveries without any specific agenda except my deeply seated desire to get to the bottom of the story, to learn the truth about something as much as it’s possible and only then to draw my conclusions about it. It’s with this mindset that I have been pursuing the re-discovery of Christian Hebraism during the Reformation of the Middle Ages and its relevancy for us today.

TALMIDIM – NOT DISCIPLES; RABBI – NOT “MASTER”; YESHUA – NOT “JESUS”

My first encounter with the Jewish heritage of the faith was in 1993 when I visited a Messianic congregation where I also purchased the Jewish New Testament by David Stern. It impacted deeply my perception of the historic Jesus as a fully Jewish man, as well as the Jewishness of the Gospel, the “church” (a term we will be deconstructing in a future post), and really the faith as a whole.

I remember how refreshing it was to learn that the “disciples” I had been reading about in the Gospel were in reality “talmidim”, that the real name of Jesus was actually Yeshua and that he was a Rabbi, not “Master” as some translations would have us believe.

Does this matter? Do we have to use Hebrew words and then learn what they mean vs. accepting a bunch of substitute and sometimes totally made up Hellenistic terms? I’ll make the case for Christian Hebraism as I post more on this subject and you can investigate this for yourself and make up your own mind.

NO ONE TALKING ABOUT CHRISTIAN HEBRAISM

I was fortunate enough to have graduated from a Bible School that rejected the replacement theology and honored the Jewish people. This Bible School helped many accept a Biblically correct theological, moral and ethical position of support and love for Israel and the Jews. This was also a Bible School that took the position that the Reformation of the Middle Ages was “the” much needed reset and remake Christianity needed in the pursuit of its original, more authentic beginnings. However, I didn’t hear anyone in Bible School talk about Christian Hebraism and its impact on the Reformation of the Middle Ages.

That was almost 30 years ago.

Since then I have been around a good deal of Christians who love Israel and the Jewish people, the Messianic Jewish movement, and have also gotten to know many non-Jews who have walked away from Protestantism and embraced the messianic movement. When I say “Christians” this includes ordinary believers and leaders alike. They love God, they are zealous about bringing Christianity back to its Jewish foundation, they are eager to express their faith in a way closer to its Jewish origins and they emphasize the changes we need to implement on a liturgical level. But again, they know about Christian Hebraism as much as a Southern Baptist.

To learn about Christian Hebraism today one has to dig deep into the vaults of higher academic learning. While the Messianic movement has picked up quite a lot of momentum during the last 30 years and we rejoice over this fact, it remains a mystery to me why hardly anyone has attempted to re-introduce the Christian Hebraists to our generation. As I kept learning about their passion to re-discover the Truth of God through the lens of Hebrew, I couldn’t help but think about the implications of such discoveries for us today.

I wish I didn’t have to do this. This is not my “full time” job at this point in time and I don’t have the professional theological credentials to challenge the status quo when it comes to the Hellenization of the faith vs. its rightful Hebraic origins. But I kept on digging and investigating this story for me and the sense that I have an obligation to re-tell this forgotten story kept growing in my spirit.

WHAT IS CHRISTIAN HEBRAISM?

“Historically Christian Hebraism has been understood as the use of Hebrew, rabbinic, or Cabbalistic sources for Christian religious purposes during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The use of such source material had dramatic results including the re-translation of the Old Testament, the re-interpretation of the New Testament, and the re-examination of historically central doctrines of Christianity” – Prof. Jerome Friedman, Kent State University [https://www.amazon.com/Most-Ancient-Testimony-Sixteenth-Century-Christian-Hebraica/dp/0821407007]

Stephen Burnett, author of “Christian Hebraism in the Reformation Era (1500-1660)”, says the following: “The Reformation turned Christian Hebraism from a pastime of a few hobbyists and theologians into a broad intellectual movement that involved students and professors, printers, and patrons of many kinds living throughout Europe. Christian Hebraist authors were the central actors in this movement.” [https://www.amazon.com/Christian-Hebraism-Reformation-Era-1500-1660/dp/B01181VYU4]

Going forward, I will quote extensively Prof. Jerome Friedman and Stephen Burnett. They have summarized so much of the information that’s missing from the arsenal of Biblical Scholars and ministers today.

Johannes Reuchlin (1455 – 1522) was classics scholar whose defense of Hebrew literature helped awaken liberal intellectual forces in the years immediately preceding the Reformation.

Christian Hebraica became one of the most powerful spiritual and intellectual forces of the Reformation of the Middle Ages. It became known as “Hebraica Veritas” (Hebrew Truth) because for the first time in 1,000 years Christians recognized the Hebrew Bible and classical Hebrew as the legitimate source of spiritual truth, not Jerome’s Latin translation. While it’s true that Jerome did study Hebrew and Greek in order to produce the Vulgate into Latin, the Reformers of the Middle Ages felt they had many good reasons to re-examine Jerome’s translation which was given the status of “inerrant” or inerrant-like by the Roman-Catholic Church.

Christian Hebraists were scholars of Hebrew literature. Hebraists approached Jewish texts with both academic and polemical motivations; some wanted to study Jesus in his time while others sought a way to convert Jews to Christianity. Their focus was on Biblical scholarship, religious philosophy, and the aggadah. Christian Hebraism offers a fascinating perspective into the history of printing, linguistics, and European culture in the Middle Ages as well as comparative religion and Jewish-Christian relations. By impacting theology, literature, science, and philosophy, Hebrew literature played a vital role in the development of Western culture.

 

IS CHRISTIAN HEBRAISM RELEVANT FOR US TODAY?

Undoubtedly, this is the proverbial “million dollar question”. If the story of Christian Hebraism is only something that was relevant to the people in the Middle Ages, I can understand why very few people today should care about it.

But let’s go back to what Prof. Jerome Friedman had to say about the implications of Christian Hebraism, this intentional return to Hebrew as the primary lens of Biblical learning, and let’s see if there might be something important we need to pay a little more attention to:

“Historically Christian Hebraism has been understood as the use of Hebrew, rabbinic, or Cabbalistic sources for Christian religious purposes during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The use of such source material had dramatic results including the re-translation of the Old Testament, the re-interpretation of the New Testament, and the re-examination of historically central doctrines of Christianity”

Could this be the crux of the matter, the very kernel of what this treasure hunting journey is all about?

  1. Re-translation (of the Old Testament, for better accuracy and understanding)

  2. Re-interpretation (of the New Testament, due to better understanding of Hebrew, the language used by the Jews in the 1st century)

  3. Re-examination (of the historically central doctrines of Christianity! This is huge.)

Christians have been in pursuit of a better, more authentic, and truer to the original version Christianity for the last 500 years. The creation of many translations of Scripture has been a huge part of this pursuit of authenticity.

The return to the Hebraic framework of thought has resulted in actual re-interpretations of the New Testament itself.

But have we done any serious re-examination of the historically central doctrines of Christianity in light of the fact that Hebrew, not Latin or Greek, is “the” most important key to the correct understanding of the Truth of God?

You may think we’ve done enough but my answer would be a “no”!

But hey, I am nobody. I’m just a normal guy who wants to know why I believe what I believe, why do we do what we do and most importantly, what is the Truth of God as intended by Him? If I am ready to live or die for what I believe, I don’t see why I need to spare one’s sacred cows in my pursuit of Truth.

Standby as post more articles on this subject and we look into the genius of the Hebrew language, what it has meant for the world, the true history of its origins, and how Christian Hebraism relates to our faith today.

I would like to also invite you to check out the beta version of a wiki I have been using to organize my research in the area of Hebraica Veritas. It’s only in its beginning stages but I haven’t seen even this much organized in one place when it comes to Christian Hebraism on the Internet – so I hope this can add to your own research: https://threefold.life/wiki

George Bakalov

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The Challenge Before Us

Does what we call Christianity today represent what its original founders meant? From the very doctrines, ideas, way of thinking to our practices and church culture, how much of what it was meant to be matches what is today?

After the Roman Emperor Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in the beginning of the 4th century, this is what happened:

“The Church precisely copied the organizational pattern of the Roman Empire, assuring it control and stability.” – Kenneth Sacks, professor of history and classics at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

How does this have anything to do with what Yeshua and his apostles taught?

It doesn’t.

Do most ordinary (file-and-rank) preachers understand this today?

Most of them don’t. They are mostly busy with doing well what they were told by their tradition. Their desire to be found faithful to God is often misplaced as they equate faithfulness to God with following their respective traditional way of church service.

It’s not easy to change the way people think and live. No matter what great truth one thinks they have, most people don’t like changes because most people don’t like problems and turmoil. Life is a great challenge already so why add to our workload right? That’s how most people think.

Do high-level theologians, influential ministers and denominational leaders know how much Romanism and paganism have corrupted Christianity? Not necessarily but some do. However their careers are too dependent on being successful in the false religious system and this conflict of interest prevents them from exposing the status quo.

Some of them know or at least suspect that today’s Christianity has seriously deviated in substance and in form from what it was meant to be, but don’t know what to do about it. In fact it’s probably safe to say that Christianity as we know it today has become practically a strange new religion using the language of the Torah, the Gospels & the Epistles, but has nothing to do with the essence of what Moses and Yeshua taught.

This is not to say we just throw away everything Christian and return to Judaism. Rabbinic Judaism has also deviated in many ways from the Torah so now for us to relearn the ways of old we need to return to sources and practices that predate any of the modern religious paradigms.

May the Lord raise those who will have the courage and the competence to expose the fallacies we have been fed for too long! May his reformers arise in this nation and call us back to the source of God’s Truth, the Teaching of Moses and Yeshua, not the distortions of fanatical religionists!

May hunger for His Truth prevail so we can return to Him and rediscover life in and through Him!

Only a true spiritual awakening can ensure the future of America and the free world. If we fail in this, the barbaric forces unleashed on us will continue to grow stronger until they divide us and conquer us completely!

The roots of the question-asking culture

The ability to ask the right questions is considered a sign of great wisdom and maturity in life, in business and in leadership in many cultures today. But it seems that the Jewish culture, already from antiquity was a question-asking culture.

Our Messiah grew up asking the rabbis questions at an early age. As a result the rabbis were asking him questions, too. Was this unusual? Not really.

Let’s find out more.

In rabbinical literature there is much written about the relationship between a talmidim (disciple) and his rabbi.

According to Brad Young, Professor of Biblical Literature in Judeo-Christian Studies at the Graduate Department of ORU, one of the world’s leading experts on the history of the rabbinate, the only way a talmidim was to approach his rabbi was by asking questions. Even when a talmidim had to come to gain some great knowledge, he wouldn’t come to his rabbi boasting about it or arguing. He was to show what he had learned by way of asking questions. This same ethos we see beautifully described in the Gospel record of Lukas.

But first let’s take a look at the educational process of the Jews in those days.

For Jews living in Jesus’ day, there were three separate educational venues.

Bet Sefer

The first was called Bet Sefer. At the ages of six through twelve, Jewish children began their formal education. Both boys and girls attended synagogue school and learned to read and write. The textbook was the Torah and the goal was not just to read but to memorize the sacred text.

Bet Midrash

For the best of the best, the next educational opportunity was called Bet Midrash. Boys who were deemed worthy to continue their educational pursuits went on to study (and memorize) the entire Tanach, as well as learning the family trade. Very few were selected for this pursuit.

The Mishnah says that the time that some began to attend the bet midrash which was a rabbi’s “school” or “study group” was about 15. Adults of all ages could come to listen in on the sessions (including women) when they had spare time, and there were quite a few who studied but never became teachers – they were still called “disciples” even at advanced ages. There were just a few who were dedicated enough to spend years of time in training to become rabbinic teachers themselves.

Even though marriage was strongly encouraged, some young men were so earnest in their studies that they would put it off until later so that they could study full time. Gamaliel II (the grandson of Paul’s teacher) already had disciples when he finally got married.

Bet Talmud

Of those who finished Bet Midrash, again only the best of the best were able to pursue the final educational leg, which was called Bet Talmud. This was the longest in duration; it went from the age of 15 to 30. To participate, he must be invited by a Rabbi and, if selected, he would begin a process of grooming that would lead to the potential of becoming a Rabbi at age 30. Those who were chosen were referred to as talmidim. They would literally follow in the dust of their rabbi – desiring to emulate him in all of his mannerisms. They would eat the same food in exactly the same way as their rabbi. They would go to sleep and awake the same way as their rabbi and, more importantly, they would learn to study Torah and understand God the exact same way as their rabbi.

It appears that Jesus Himself followed this model. At twelve we know that He attended His first Passover in Jerusalem and He began His formal ministry at 30. The Bible is silent as far as His mentors, but we do know that He selected His disciples and, just like those young fifteen year olds when invited to Bet Talmud, they left everything to follow after this Rabbi from Galilee. No doubt they walked in His dust, wanting to be just like their Rabbi!

How does our “church” culture measure up against the rabbinical ethos that existed back in the days when our Messiah dwelled amongst his people?

Can you find any similarities at all between their culture of respect and discipleship and the spirit of today’s youth? Do families today think it important to emphasize the study of Scripture? Do disciples today grow in an attitude of respect for their rabbi? Do we even foster a culture of asking questions, are we the inquiring minds whom God might consider worthy to reveal His mysteries to?

Seems like the culture of asking questions has deep Hebraic roots. Many believes today are rethinking their Christianity in light of these reformative truths and the consequence we are suffering due to neglecting them.