Sunday, October 5, 2008

Judaism and Hebrew Prayer (2)

This is a most difficult book to summarize even in reading the first 10 pages. But Reif reveals that he is very familiar with the scholarship of the last 200 years, with its biases (more on poetry piyyut), conflicts (philological versus form criticism) and omissions (no major study for 75 years). The first 10 pages are thick and complex in their allusions. I know of almost none of the scholars (Only Lawrence Hoffman). Does this mean that such a book is simply too far beyond a layman in the field? Too bad - I am more stubborn that that.

A couple of points he makes on the serious lack in traditional work on the history of Christian liturgy: NT scholars isolated from Jewish scholars, and both from liturgical scholars - so no findings in one area are sufficiently related to those in another. He lays the same criticism against Jewish researchers. He lays down the gauntlet on page 10:

It is often claimed that the earliest Christian liturgy was based on Jewish forms of prayer as preserved in rabbinic tradition; and yet serious questions are now being raised about the basic and relative natures of Jewish and Christian worship that may ultimately lead to a complete reappraisal of this particular sacred cow, and a consequent revision of an important aspect of Jewish and Christian religious history. A good example is Arnold Goldberg's brief but important article in which he argues that rabbinic and synagogal worship is not liturgy in the Christian sense. It is a substitute for the suspended Temple liturgy which 'shows liturgical aspects, but it is ... not a liturgy but rather a worship of the heart.' ... even the most basic facts about the early liturgical relationship between Jews and Christians must be rethought.
Goldberg's critique does not strike a note with me. What is a liturgy if not 'a worship of the heart'? Quite apart from my own ignorance of the available Qumran fragments, and armed only with experience in Sabbath worship and the Christian Eucharist, can I make sense of his challenge? Liturgy - particularly the liturgy of the Eucharist - is a drama depicting the entry of Christ into the Holy place and our approach and entry in him and with him and to him to eat of him at his own table. This is itself a temple liturgy - not a substitute for it. Goldberg's objection falls. Rief's question stands is starkest contrast - how indeed could Christian liturgy evolve from a substitute for a suspended Temple liturgy? It is a radical replacement.

I am not advocating supercessionism with this statement, just the same replacement of the altar that Hebrews advocates. The children of Korah would approve.

[update] and I should add that as a student of Hebrew, the first place to learn Biblical Hebrew is on the Sabbath at the local synagogue. Here, whenever I go, I see the Lord in the praises of his people. As a substitute for the suspended Temple liturgy, it does very well.

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