He Who Attacks the Old Testament Attacks Judaism

Many criticize Christianity because of the harsh laws of the Old Testament, specifically the 613 laws of Moses found in the books of Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Exodus. For example, there’s the precept to stone adulterers to death, as well as laws about slavery.

That’s ironic, because Christians are not bound by those laws, which are part of the Old Covenant. Christians are bound by the New Covenant, ushered in by Jesus Christ. To be sure, Christians are bound by the Ten Commandments found in the Old Testament, but the Ten Commandments are derived from natural law – i.e. moral precepts that can be derived from reason. The Mosaic laws of the Old Covenant are meant for the day-to-day minutia of the ancient Jews.

The issue stems from judging the Mosaic Law and the God of the Old Testament by twenty-first century standards, rather than by the standards of the ancient Near East. Compared with the abominable laws, codes, and customs of the surrounding cultures, the Mosaic Law was a vast improvement in human rights. Again, not by our standards, but certainly by theirs. This is thoroughly explained in books such as Is God a Moral Monster by Paul Copan and Hard Sayings by Trent Horn.

With Jesus Christ the harsh laws of the Old Testament (but not so harsh by ancient Near East standards) were relaxed or thrown out. Recall the story of Jesus and the adulteress. And it is because of Christianity that slavery was eventually abolished – the first abolitionists were Christians. That was based on Jesus Christ’s exaltation of the poor and downtrodden, his urging to always help them, and that they are made in the image and likeness of God. Jesus’ mission was not to immediately overthrow the political and economic order of the Roman empire, which was based on slavery. That came later.

When people criticize Christianity based on Mosaic Law, they are actually criticizing Judaism. But modern Jews do not abide by all of those precepts. That’s particularly the case with Reform Judaism, less so with Conservative Judaism, and less so with Orthodox Judaism. To my understanding, the Talmud indicates to what extent to abide by those laws.

In the past, to their enduring shame, even those who called themselves Christians attacked the Jewish faith because of the harsh Mosaic laws. Today it isn’t Christians doing so, but atheists such as Richard Dawkins – although he doesn’t attack the Jewish faith directly. Recently Lord Jonathan Sacks passed away, the former chief rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the British Commonwealth. Sacks accused Dawkins of attacking Jewish scripture without considering the context of ancient Judaism and without considering how modern Jews interpret the scripture. Dawkins, like many others, takes Old Testament scripture in too literal a manner, without depth or understanding of the historical backdrop. As reported in a recent Wall Street Journal article about the passing of Sacks, he applied to Dawkins the aphorism, “On the surface he’s profound, but deep down he’s superficial”.

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