Not Satisfied with Half the Picture: My Quest for Truth Beyond Tradition

In April 2017, Dr. Rivkah Lambert Adler sent out invitations to participate in a book project with the working title, Ten From The Nations: Exploring the Torah Awakening Among Non-Jews. Her motivation is to increase awareness of the fact that we are witnessing the gradual fulfillment of Zechariah 8:23. She did so by compiling testimonies from non-Jews who have experienced a Torah awakening of some sort, and from Jews who are actively building relationships with those who are stepping forward from the nations. Her book includes the voices of Christian Zionists, Bnei Noach, Ephraimites, Gerim and more.
It is an honor to be one of those invited to submit a testimony. What follows is the story of my journey into an appreciation of Torah and the Hebraic roots of my Christian faith.
For more information on Ten From The Nations, visit http://www.tenfromthenations.com/.

For the first few years of my life, people fell into one of two categories:  white, or black.  Then the rules changed and the world got complicated.

Scenes of my formative years. Left: going to church in Pensacola, Florida, with my father and older sister in 1962. Right: Dawson Memorial Baptist Church (with Pastor Edgar M. Arendall) and Briarwood Christian School in Birmingham, Alabama.

The world into which I was born was white, Southern, and Baptist.  That was in 1961, when the requirements of my father’s career in insurance caused my parents to depart from their native Alabama and take up temporary residence in Pensacola, Florida.  As we moved back to Alabama in 1963, the Civil Rights Movement entered its most active stage.  Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote his Letter from Birmingham Jail, sit-ins and marches defied segregationist strongholds, and the Federal Government took steps to correct a longstanding injustice.  Little of this turmoil impacted me until 1968, when a Federal judge ordered the desegregation of Birmingham’s public schools.  One day I went to school with my all-white third grade class of about 20 students; the next day the class had swelled to over forty, half of whom were black.

I cannot say whether the addition of so many new playmates of color caused any trauma to myself, but I know that it shook my parents to their core.  At the end of that academic year, they removed my brother and me from the public school, opting to make the financial sacrifice of placing us in the sanctuary of a Christian academy where we could receive a better education.  It also had the advantage in their eyes of being an all-white school.

Well, almost.  What may have escaped their notice was that Briarwood Christian School had a non-discrimination admissions policy.  That explains the presence of one black child in the kindergarten – the only black child enrolled there during my years at Briarwood.  My education was hardly interracial, and yet this turn of events triggered inexorable alterations to my worldview.  By the age of 8, I learned that the antiseptic white society into which I had been born was less utopian than I had been taught.  There was a world of color awaiting my exploration, and a host of questions that the scripted answers could not begin to satisfy.

What I had been taught was not all wrong.  Much of it was right, but it was incomplete.  So was the worldview of my black counterparts –much of it quite right, but incomplete.  Our combined worldviews formed a far more complete picture, with the white perspective filling gaps in the black perspective, and vice versa.  Thus my education proceeded along two parallel tracks:  a formal track provided by the teachers and preachers at school and church; and an informal track hidden in the recesses of my heart and soul and mind.  The hidden track evaluated everything presented to it, often reaching conclusions at odds with the accepted norms.  Hence the reason it remained hidden.

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Of Pharaohs and Free Will

Ramesses II storming the Hittite fortress of Dapur.  He was the most famous and powerful Pharaoh of Egypt's New Kingdom, but contrary to prevailing opinion he was not the Pharaoh who withstood Moses.
Ramesses II storming the Hittite fortress of Dapur. He was the most famous and powerful Pharaoh of Egypt’s New Kingdom, but contrary to prevailing opinion he was not the Pharaoh who withstood Moses.

Of all the pharaohs who ruled Egypt over the course of ancient history, only one had the dubious honor of facing Moses in a contest to see whose God was greater.  We may not know exactly which pharaoh he was, but he most certainly was not Ramesses II.  Such is filmmaker Timothy Mahoney’s conclusion in his astounding documentary, Patterns of Evidence:  Exodus.  Mahoney presents a compelling case for reconsidering the accepted timeline of ancient Egyptian history.  He bases his case on considerable evidence that Israel’s presence in Egypt, the Exodus, and the conquest of Canaan actually happened two or three hundred years earlier than has been supposed.

For centuries we have assumed that Raamses II was the Pharaoh of the Exodus because of this verse:

So they appointed taskmasters over them to afflict them with hard labor.  And they built for Pharaoh storage cities, Pithom and Raamses.  (Exodus 1:11 NASB)

Indeed there was a city named Raamses (or Ramesses) in Goshen, the region of Egypt where the Hebrews lived, but it was not known by that name in the days when the Hebrews lived there.  Underneath the ruins of Raamses are the ruins of an even older city called Avaris.  The archaeological evidence indicates that a Semitic people lived there, that they were at one point prosperous and powerful, that they became enslaved, and that they left quite suddenly.  However, until now no one has seriously considered that these were the Hebrews simply because the evidence at Avaris does not fit the accepted Egyptian chronology.  Yet if we were to adjust that chronology a bit based not only on the discoveries at Avaris, but also on discoveries elsewhere in Egypt, as well as in Canaanite cities such as Jericho, evidence of the Exodus would abound.  Furthermore, such a chronological adjustment would resolve numerous gaps and mysteries in the chronologies of other ancient civilizations.  Mahoney has done a fine job gathering and presenting his evidence.  No doubt there will be many questions and much debate on his conclusions, but his presentation merits serious review and investigation.

It is probably no coincidence that Patterns of Evidence appeared just as the Torah cycle is working through the Exodus story.  Although not as visually stunning as Mahoney’s cinematography, AlephBeta Academy’s video offerings impart considerable understanding of God’s workings among the people of Egypt and Israel.  It may surprise Christian viewers to learn that Judaism embraces the doctrine of free will, and that the account of the Ten Plagues reveals the workings of free will in the context of God’s ultimate sovereignty.  Watch these two videos as Rabbi David Fohrman explains these profound concepts in a very Jewish way.

 

Va'era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh's Free Will? - Aleph Beta
Va’era: Did God Take Away Pharaoh’s Free Will? – Aleph Beta
Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues? - Aleph Beta
Bo: Did God Really Need Ten Plagues? – Aleph Beta

© Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog, 2014-2015.  Permission to use and/or duplicate original material on The Barking Fox Blog is granted, provided that full and clear credit is given to Albert J. McCarn and The Barking Fox Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Fox Byte 5775 #14: Va’Era (And I Appeared)

וַיֵּרָא

The "Smite Button" cartoon remains one of Gary Larson's most popular offerings from The Far Side.  For a twist on the cartoon, with direct application to the Ten Plagues of Egypt, see "God's Defeat of the False Egyptian Gods" at Catholic All Year.
The “Smite Button” cartoon remains one of Gary Larson’s most popular offerings from The Far Side. For a twist on the cartoon, with direct application to the Ten Plagues of Egypt, see “God’s Defeat of the False Egyptian Gods” at Catholic All Year.

One of those cultural icons of the post-modern era is Gary Larson’s cartoon series, The Far Side.  Larson retired the series in 1995 after only 15 years, but the cartoons remain very popular.  Their irreverent, bizarre depictions of people and circumstances continue to amuse, but more importantly, cause people to think about things we consider “normal”.  Such is the case of Larson’s cartoon, “God at His computer”.  The picture shows the Almighty sitting at a computer, with an image on the screen of a hapless victim walking under a piano suspended by a rope.  God’s finger hovers over the keyboard, about to press a button labelled “Smite”.

There is no question that this particular cartoon is irreverent.  Some might call it blasphemous.  But why is it that humor is the most common reaction to this cartoon?  Is it because we have this innate tendency to laugh at the misfortunes of other people – perhaps glad that the misfortune is not our own?  Probably; comics and sadists have played on that tendency for centuries, all too frequently with tragic results.  What strikes the chord in this particular cartoon, though, is that Gary Larson points to God as the cause of misfortune.  In this case he is merely highlighting something we would rather not admit:  our perception that God really does cause evil in the world, regardless how we might try to avoid it.  This perception is rooted much deeper than we may be aware.  Why, for instance, do contracts and insurance policies make allowances relieving the contracting parties from responsibility in the case of “acts of God”?  Something like a tornado, earthquake, or other natural disaster, is an unforeseen event that no one can predict or prepare for, and thus no one can be held responsible for its effects.  No one, that is, except God, the self-proclaimed Creator and Almighty Power of the universe.  God, therefore, gets the blame.

But why?  How did this all get started?  What established our tendency to think of the Creator as a capricious being ready to press the “Smite” button?  And is it fair or right to blame God for misfortune?  To find the answers we must travel far back in time, to the beginning of humanity’s existence.  No doubt our earliest ancestors began blaming God for their problems soon after He expelled them from the Garden of Eden.  However, what most likely caused us to think collectively about God in this way was His judgment on Egypt.

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Fox Byte 5775 #8: VaYishlach (And He Sent)

וַיִּשְׁלַח

Florida State University, where the seeds of my first great crisis of faith matured.  (FSU Westcott Building, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
Florida State University, where the seeds of my first great crisis of faith matured. (FSU Westcott Building, Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

There was a time I wrestled with God.  The wrestling match began in my teenage years, when I detected certain inconsistencies in the instruction handed down from my elders.  From my Southern Baptist church and family I learned that God had given free will to every human being, and that we could choose whether to follow Him or not.  From my Presbyterian school I learned that God had foreordained everything, and that a process called predestination somehow influenced the choices we make.  This was not the only inconsistency encountered in my Christian upbringing; there were and still are many.  The question of free will and predestination, however, shaped the context of my wrestling with God from the beginning.  I had no reason to doubt the sincerity of my elders, nor had I reason to question the truth of what they taught me.  What I questioned was how these seemingly incompatible truths fit together.  I still do not have the answer, but a very wise man helped me find a way through the dilemma.  He was my Bible teacher.  One day in class someone asked him to explain which was correct, free will or predestination.  He may have been the only person in the school qualified to answer that question.  He was an ordained Baptist minister, and had had ample opportunity to consider the subject as he taught Bible in our Presbyterian academy.  His answer was surprisingly Hebraic, both imminently satisfying and frightfully frustrating:  he asked us if both concepts were present in the Bible.  When we said yes, he said, “Then they both must be true.”  And that was the end of the matter.

And the beginning.

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Loving Father or Unpredictable Tyrant: A Question About God’s Mercy

Moses (Charlton Heston) confronts Pharaoh (Yul Brynner) in Cecil B. DeMIlle's The Ten Commandments
Moses (Charlton Heston) confronts Pharaoh (Yul Brynner) in Cecil B. DeMIlle’s The Ten Commandments

Does God intentionally create people to do evil for His glory?  This question arose in a Bible study I attended recently.  The man who asked the question confessed his difficulty in understanding why God would harden Pharaoh’s heart when Moses went to him with God’s demand that he release Israel from Egypt.  This point first comes up at the Burning Bush, where God explains to Moses his mission:

And the LORD said to Moses, “When you go back to Egypt, see that you do all those wonders before Pharaoh which I have put in your hand.  But I will harden his heart, so that he will not let the people go.”  (Exodus 4:21 NKJV, emphasis added)

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