St. Paul wrote something very noteworthy in the letter he sent to the Romans. There he says as follows: I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery -- a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles shall come in.
Though nowadays the Jews are wandering about, pathetically unaware of where they are, there will no doubt come a time when they will be returned to the right path. The sun has not set for the last time: its light will once again shine even on them, and though they have certainly fallen, they have not been extinguished. Ezekiel also produced some prophecies about this, which are found in chapter 36 of his book. The prophet says that in the future God will give them a new heart, and a better understanding will occupy their breasts. Then the veil that Moses placed on his face will be lifted, for they will turn to God, who allowed them to live in darkness and the profoundest ignorance so that the day would finally come when He could show them exceptional mercy. This is the proper interpretation of the words of St. Paul: And when Israel turns to the Lord, the veil will be lifted up. Many people have found this verse to be extremely murky, and it has taxed the efforts of a number of scholars.
This matter of which I am speaking is very significant, and its obvious consequence is that we cannot in good conscience continue to shun the Jews as the objects of popular hatred when they still possess such great potential. Certainly St. Paul reveres them, and despite their errors he lavishes praise on them. For he says: It is they whom God chose, and theirs is the glory, and the Covenant, and the Law, and the sacred worship, and the promises; theirs are the patriarchs, and from them came Christ in his corporeal form. What greater nobility could there be? They can count so many patriarchs, prophets, and kings among their grandfathers and great-grandfathers; in short, so many excellent men of divine virtues whose names God has sanctified!
It is true, I must admit, that all of today's Jews have a slavish and illiberal character, and if you were to examine their way of life and their pursuits, you would find nothing at all worthy of a great and proud spirit....
But all these things were done by the pagans; since we have much closer ties with the Jews our two groups should show affection for each other, and should consider it a common bond that we obey the commands of the same God. So deeply does St. Paul love this people that he actually wants to give up his life for them; he also says that if the first fruits are holy then so is the lump; and if the root is holy so are the branches. I am not going to indulge myself now by singing their praises, since I despise nothing more than silliness; and yet it is perfectly obvious, as far as the more recent past is concerned, how much our religion owes to this nation. For who if not the Jews has kept the Bible for us, safe and sound? How many scribal errors would have crept into the Holy Book if it had been entrusted only to the care of men like Lactantius, Augustine, Gregory, and Chrysostom, who -- holy as they were -- knew nothing of Hebrew? Among the Greeks and Latins who governed the early Church, only Origen and Jerome knew Hebrew (and this is an overstatement). Others did not even know the alphabet. When, therefore, mistakes were made because of the carelessness of the copyists, it was not the Christian scholars to whom the men of that age looked for help or support.
The Jews, on the other hand, had one interest and one concern that they all shared: to protect the books of Moses, the Prophets, and the Writings from the dangers of the times. They alone are to be congratulated for this; no other nations merits a share in their glory. Rabbi Abraham of Salamanca has a very important passage in his book Yuhasin, from which we learn that all the copies of the biblical text had been corrected according to an extremely ancient manuscript which Rabbi Hillel had once written with his own hand. (He was the greatest leader of the Jews, and came from Babylonia to Syria sixty years before the birth of our Lord God Christ.)...
So at that time the Jews had the good judgment, the intellectual power, and the set of rules needed to correct the text of the Bible. How easy it would have been for them to rewrite those passages that seemed to contradict their delusions, since the Christians hardly knew three words of Hebrew! But their piety stood in the way, and kept them from changing any of the sacred text. And yet there were some who believed that the Jews had deliberately misrepresented many passages, though Origen gave a brilliant response to these people in the eighth book of his explanations of Isaiah. I myself am astonished whenever I think about the tireless efforts of the Masorites, for after carefully examining and comparing every part of the Hebrew text they marked it with certain signs. This happened after the destruction of the Second Temple, around the year 436. They recorded not only how many verses and words were contained in each book, but even how many letters; so even though the world later descended into complete barbarity, thanks to them not a single mark of that wonderful text was lost. With good reason did the Rabbis say that the Mesorah is a sort of walled enclosure for the Law.
If the text of the sacred scriptures is not in doubt and is unlikely to undergo further changes, I give the credit to the Jews who lived in more recent times, after the destruction of the Second Temple. For once their great and wealthy state had been destroyed, they began to take measures so that despite extreme misfortune they might salvage from the wreckage at least this one plank, whose value was priceless. Though I love them for this, the rest of their activities deserve only pity. They busy themselves with marks and letters and books, but no more than that. They neither examine nor seek out the sacred and true perceptions, so what they themselves say in their own language fits them to a tee: They made the essential trivial, and the trivial essential. And the worst of it is that they have no idea how childlike and clueless they really are, for even though all their misfortunes have occurred because they know nothing of God's law, they claim that it was because they lost their homeland, and their kingdom was snatched away from them, and other things of the kind which cannot make us happy when have them or truly unhappy when we lose them. Seneca mentions a foolish friend of his wife named Harpastes, who suddenly lost her sight and did not know she was blind, and kept asking her pedagogue to take her somewhere else, saying that her own home was dark. The same thing has happened to the Jews. They carry around within themselves the cause of their own misfortune; and if by some miracle they were to get Canaan back, they would change their skies but not their spirit. They bring their own night with them wherever they go, and it will not lift until they have paid the heavy penalties for their foolishness and their stubbornness.
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
An Honest Look at Our Elder Brethren
Petrus Cunaeus, The Hebrew Republic, pp. 71-75: