A Little More about “Law”

In the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) mind, “law” was nothing like our Western concept. It was always envisioned as a covenant. It was personal and feudal in nature. The closest term we can use is a “suzerain-vassal treaty,” and even that tends to echo in our minds as Western feudalism. In the West, it’s all about the land and privileges; the people are part of the land. In the ANE, it was always about the people, and land was somewhat fungible. A covenant betokens some form of recognition as family. When an eastern shepherd sheikh offered a covenant to bring people under his authority, it was also under his protection as kinfolk. It was a form of legal adoption.

Judaism was a departure from this; it was never Old Testament religion. It is not Moses at all, since Moses was an ANE mystic who could not have imagined the semantic wrangling of the Jews. Claims that Moses had an oral teaching separate from the written Pentateuch is a flat out lie used to justify the very obvious divergence between the Old Testament and the Talmud. And you’ll notice that Jesus didn’t waste much time with the Sadducees because they were secularists and doomed to disappear from the pages of history. Judaism is simply Talmudic Pharisaism, a huge lie that Jesus exposed.

So when you read “law” as a term in the New Testament, you have to be sensitive to the context. Sometimes it refers to the Covenant; at other times it refers to the Talmudic traditions not yet recorded in writing during the New Testament. But this week’s lesson in the Sermon on the Mount points out how the Covenant of Moses reflected reality and revelation. It was a specific instance and application of all Biblical Law in one sense, aimed at that people, that time, that place. However, it’s nature as a parable of unspeakable moral truth meant that it was applicable for the duration of the Curse of the Fall.

To be honest, if you were to embrace the Covenant of Moses, particularly as Jesus taught it, you can be sure all the promises still apply. You can still harvest the shalom of the Covenant by obeying it. However, you will also face the very harsh challenge of taking something that belongs to another world and trying to make it fit your context today. It requires a huge effort to learn the full range of ancient Hebrew culture and intellectual assumptions to extrapolate what the Law of Moses demands. Judaism is a signal failure of that, because it is documented in rabbinical traditions how the rabbis gradually departed from their own Hebrew roots and bought into Hellenism.

That business of “not under law, but under grace” comes from Romans 6:15, and it has to be kept in its own context. Paul is agonizing over the popular Talmudic notions of the Jews in his audience in Rome. In their minds the oral traditions were “the law” that no longer applied. They were free from that legalistic nonsense. Notice in that whole chapter how Paul warns that “free from the law” does not mean free to do as your lusts demand. This isn’t Gnosticism, a common place for Jews who drifted away from the Talmud.

Notice how his argument is couched in terms of feudalism. If you bow the knee to your lusts, then you will serve them. Don’t let fallen flesh, with its arrogant rational intellect, rule your existence. You can always justify any sin that tempts you. If you bow the knee to righteousness, obeying from the heart (v.17), then you will be in the family of righteousness. The whole idea is that you find yourself still agreeing with the moral definitions of Moses, even if you might have a different idea about how to implement that moral discernment.

This sounds to Western ears like fuzzy logic, but it’s actually more like organic logic. That is, it is the native moral reasoning of the heart, something that is naturally difficult to put into words, particularly English words. But this is the logic of Life itself, and is rooted in assumptions wholly different than what the Pharisees had bought into with Hellenism. Most of the Jewish Christians in Rome, a significant part of Paul’s audience in the Roman epistle, would be struggling with this ancient Hebrew mysticism stuff. All the more so, given they were in Rome, with it’s radically different cosmology and anthropology, particularly in terms of law and government.

Paul had spent three years in Arabian hermitage, a latter disciple of the risen Christ, washing away the Hellenized crap of the Pharisees. It took time to rekindle that ancient Hebrew mystical fire in his soul. We have to account for all this when we read the New Testament.

About Ed Hurst

Disabled Veteran, prophet of God's Laws, Bible History teacher, wannabe writer, volunteer computer technician, cyclist, Social Science researcher
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1 Response to A Little More about “Law”

  1. Jay DiNitto says:

    “Claims that Moses had an oral teaching separate from the written Pentateuch is a flat out lie used to justify the very obvious divergence between the Old Testament and the Talmud.”

    The “two traditions” theory doesn’t even pass a logical sniff test with me. It’s silly to think that a patriarch would codify one tradition as a decoy, and risk losing a purely oral tradition by not putting that one in writing in any form. It’s not like Moses would have to keep the “real” tradition a secret. There weren’t any thought police he’d have to hide it from…not to mention the resources he’d waste by creating a fake tradition.


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