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Open letter to Israel

Shalom. Or hi, if you think shalom is trite.

You probably don't know us. And the 'us' is just the two of us. We don't belong to any Christian church or organisation. But we could probably find a few hundred thousand Christians who would go along with what we're saying.

We've wanted to write you a thank-you letter for some time. It's just tricky to find the right words, because dialogue between 'your lot' and 'our lot' has been a bit scarce over the centuries.

So why the thank-you letter?

Thanks for the Bible.

There! We've a problem with words right away. Our Bible is bigger than your Bible, right? Okay, but we're still grateful. Because the Tanach and the New Testament all came from the Jews. (There's some argument over a writer called Luke; let's not get into that. And there are excellent reasons for believing the New Testament was originally written in Hebrew; we won't get into that either.)

The Bible has permeated, modified and inspired Western thinking for centuries. The Torah has strongly influenced our legal systems and our concept of right and wrong. The six-day working week came from you. (We got the day wrong, as well as the starting and finishing times; let's not get into that.) Art and literature are full of biblical allusions. And music? There's a lot of the high-brow stuff. The Psalms have always been special. Even the pop scene has its own setting of 'By the Rivers of Bab-ee-lon'.

Don't be too quick to dismiss the New Testament, either. It's a bona fide 1st century set of Jewish documents that have at least an historical significance. And the fact is (and it's as startling a fact for us as it may be for you) that Jesus and his followers were all observant, Orthodox Jews of their time. Plus, those disciples didn't quit being Orthodox and 'become Christians'. Those who followed Rabbi Yeshua and later taught in his name did so as Orthodox, Torah-keeping Jews.

Actually, they had one major problem when Gentiles started responding to their teaching in significant numbers: should Gentiles become Jews? There was never total agreement with the negative answer the majority of disciples came up with. Perhaps that was partly why you and we haven't found it easy to talk over the centuries.

The other reason Jews and Christians moved apart was political. All religions - Judaism included, as you well know - suffer from internal power struggles, and from on-going battles with civil authorities. That doesn't encourage a relaxed attitude to factions (like followers of Jesus) within Judaism, especially once the movement began attracting Gentiles.

But, look - thank you for being 'a light' to us. Not just for teaching us morality and justice and the wrongfulness of idolatry.

Remember: you had an exclusive on God. Or vice versa. He had an exclusive on you. Whether you've always appreciated it or not, you've had certain rights and duties and relationships that we could only watch from a distance.

We Gentiles had no rights whatever. Sure, you've scratched around and found some traces of the so-called 'Seven Noachide Laws'. All a bit vague, though. And never given much publicity, if you don't mind our saying so.

Then came the teachings of Jesus. Real in-your-face stuff for the Gentiles. No wonder we ran with it. At last we didn't have to appease all those idols and the spirits behind them. Nor live up to the idealism of our philosophers, assuming we could understand them. The 'gospel' - good news, literally - that came out of Zion meant that all 'our lot', the nasty, unwashed and thoroughly uncircumcised Gentile sinners, were being allowed access to the one true God for a limited time only.

Thanks a million!

Okay, we may not have always got it right. You and we parted company after a while. You see, at the start, you tried to turn us into Jews. Later, as the 'church' developed political muscles, we tried to turn you into Christians.

It didn't make for an easy partnership. Jews and Christians backed off each other. The 'church' structured itself to actively discourage dialogue between us and you. If the 1947 edition of the Encyclopaedia Britannica is to be believed, the ecclesiastical and civil calendars were fudged to be offensive to Jews. (Think: 'Easter' and you start to get the idea. But let's not get into that.)

Now, to squeeze almost 2000 years of church history into a handful of lines: the past twenty centuries have been a continual tale of Gentile believers trying to extricate themselves from church dogma, to relate personally to God, to read, understand and believe what the Bible actually says as from what so-called church authorities say it says.

It's been a struggle. We - us two - were taught the 'nicer' form of replacement theology: namely, that Jews used to be God's people, now Christians have taken over that rle and Jews need to convert to Christianity. It has been an effort to unlearn it.

And part of that effort is honest and well-meaning. Let's explain. When a Gentile becomes a believer, he makes a specific shift into a previously unrealised area, namely a personal, real, on-going relationship with God as Abba - Daddy. It takes a conscious mental act to understand that Jews come into covenant relationship with God at eight days old. Also (despite all the bells and whistles of some churches; let's not get into that) Christians are not required to wear certain clothes, eat certain foods or respect certain days, so it is hard to understand that Jews, who are so required, aren't working their way to heaven.

In other words - you and we need to talk.

Sure, there'll always be some Christians who want to convert you. We've met Jews who ditto ditto to us. Touch. There are stereotypes on both sides. Maybe, too, we've misunderstood some scriptures; just as maybe you've failed to look as closely at some of our favourite verses as you have with your favourite verses.

The fact is that regardless of what Christians might have been taught over the centuries, there is nothing in the teachings of Jesus, his followers, or the New Testament, to suggest that Judaism is finished. Quite the reverse.

And in the prophetic writing (Rev.18:15) that deals with the End of Days there is foretold a time when the holy ones would sing a song called 'The Song of Moses the Servant of God, and the Song of the Lamb'. (In the New Testament the symbolism, introduced by Yohanan the baptiser, of Jesus as the Lamb of God was that he fulfilled the type of the Passover lamb; but let's not get into that.)

Now, the significance of this song is (whether inspired or not) that the writer was not projecting a time when Judaism, the Torah, and all that Moses embodies would have been abolished, but that it would - Jews would - exist in parallel with Gentile believers. Not, doubtless, singing in unison, but certainly in harmony.

Moses prophesied in the Torah (Deut.18:15): 'A prophet like unto me will the Lord your God raise up'; and he added the command: 'Him you shall hear'.

You were given (Isa.49:6) 'as a light to the Gentiles that you should be [God's] salvation to the ends of the earth'. As Jesus said (Jn.4:22): 'Salvation is of the Jews'.

So you've changed the course of history. You've changed our lives.

And we want to say thank you.


George and Eileen Anderson

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