Impressions of “The Crucified Rabbi: Judaism and the Origins of Catholic Christianity,” by Taylor Marshall

2,000 years ago a Jew from Galilean regularly visited the Temple in Jerusalem. He celebrated Hanukkah and Passover there. At home he would preach in a synagogue. His followers called him “rabbi.” He was executed on the authority of the Roman governor. After his death a convert to his cause spoke, saying “I am a pharisee.”

The man of course was Jesus. But the implications of this, that the one who Christians call the Son of God was himself Jewish, is often elided. It does not imply only that Jews are the elder broths in faith of the Christians. It means that to understand the words of Jesus as they would have been understood by those he spoke to, a Jewish interpretation of those words is needed. This is what Taylor Marshall gives to us in his short work, The Crucified Rabbi.

Marshall was formerly protestant minister (well, an Episcopal priest, which may be close enough). His extensive Biblical knowledge, and his late introduction to Catholicism, allows him to make connections that others would not see. (For what it’s worth, a Reform minister who read my reactions to Covenant and Creation and The Book of Kings made a mirror comment about me — I knew little enough about Reform thought to be surprising.) At his best, He defends both the Papacy and the Blessed Virgin in terms I’ve never encountered anywhere, and which have stayed with me. His discussion of baptism is interesting, though tends to a Protestant understanding of the sacraments. And when it comes to the matter of the Old Testament, Marhall is a dispensationalist, and attempts to bring this disreputable protestant theory into the Catholic mainstream.

The Royal Household

The most fascinating section is Marshall’s discussion of two offices of the Kingdom of Israel: the Royal Steward and the Queen Mother. A description of the first argument can be found in a post by Caritas et Veritas. The Royal Steward was Father to Jerusalem, and acted in the Name of the King when the King was physically not present among the people or otherwise indisposed. The Royal Steward was even capable of negotiating on behalf of the king

Then the king of Assyria sent the Tartan, the Rabsaris, and the Rabshake from Lachish, with a great army against Jerusalem, to King Hezekiah. And they went up and came to Jerusalem. When they had come up, they went and stood by the aqueduct from the upper pool, which was on the highway to the Fuller’s Field. And when they had called to the king, Eliakim the son of Hilkiah, who was over the household, Shebna the scribe, and Joah the son of Asaph, the recorder, came out to them. Then the Rabshakeh said to them, “Say now to Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the great king, the king of Assyria: “What confidence is this in which you trust?
2 Kings 18:17-19

The Royal Stewardship itself became an Office of Prophecy, as Isaiah foresaw the Messiah would re-establish that office as well. The Royal Steward will be clothed in the robes of the Messiah himself:

‘Then it shall be in that day,
That I will call My servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah;

I will clothe him with your robe
And strengthen him with your belt;
I will commit your responsibility into his hand.
He shall be a father to the inhabitants of Jerusalem
And to the house of Judah.

The key of the house of David
I will lay on his shoulder;
So he shall open, and no one shall shut;
And he shall shut, and no one shall open
.

I will fasten him as a peg in a secure place,
And he will become a glorious throne to his father’s house.
Isaiah 22:20-23

The Crucified Rabbi of the tittle appears to explicitly reference this:

Jesus answered and said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah, for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.”
Matthew 16:17-19

The implications are not necessarily obvious to non-Catholics: what is the Office of the Royal Steward, and what relevance would it have in Christianity are less discovered than the Bishop of Rome. But the answer may, perhaps by the same

A similar argument can of course made be for the Queen Mother, a position given both by biology and ceremony, both from thrones

Then Solomon sat on the throne of his father David; and his kingdom was firmly established…

Bathsheba therefore went to King Solomon, to speak to him for Adonijah. And the king rose up to meet her and bowed down to her, and sat down on his throne and had a throne set for the king’s mother; so she sat at his right hand. Then she said, “I desire one small petition of you; do not refuse me.”

And the king said to her, “Ask it, my mother, for I will not refuse you.”
1 Kings 2:19-20

and the cross

Pilate then went out again, and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you, that you may know that I find no fault in Him.”

Then Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. And Pilate said to them, “Behold the Man!”…

When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing by, He said to His mother, “Woman, behold your son!” Then He said to the disciple, “Behold your mother!” And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.
John 19:4-5,26-27

Old and New Baptism

Marshall seeks Old Testament fore-runners of baptism, but I disagree with his conclusions here. Indeed, the fore-runner to the sacrament of baptism is found in the New Testament… the baptism of John!

According to the Catholic Church, the baptism of John the Baptist was not the sacrament of baptism, but a Jewish tevilah preparing the Jewish people for the advent of the Messiah. John the Baptist did not administer the Christian sacrament of baptism because he did not baptize in the Trinitarian name. Moreover, the Apostles received those who had received “only the baptism of John” (c.f. Acts 19:1-4). Saint Augustine wrote, “Those who were baptized with John’s baptism needed to be baptized with the baptism of the Lord.”

The two oldest versions of the Old Testament we have are the Masoretic Hebrew edition, and the Septuagint Greek edition. While Jewish now use the Masoretic text, and Christians historically preferred the Greek, both are incomplete: the Greek text seems to have been translated from an earlier edition than the Hebrew. Marshall’s focus on the Hebrew seems to have been intended for use in dialog between Catholics and Rabbinical Jews. Thus, some discussion of baptism that would be illuminating have been left out.

For instance, in all his discussions of the Hebrew roots of baptism, he does not include this passage, with the evocative term used in the Greek translation:

Then Naaman went with his horses and chariot, and he stood at the door of Elisha’s house. And Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, “Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.” But Naaman became furious, and went away and said, “Indeed, I said to myself, ‘He will surely come out to me, and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, and wave his hand over the place, and heal the leprosy.’ Are not the Abanah and the Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Could I not wash in them and be clean?” So he turned and went away in a rage. And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash, and be clean’?” So he went down and dipped [baptizein] seven times in the Jordan, according to the saying of the man of God; and his flesh was restored like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean.
2 Kings 5:9-14

Christ explicitly references this, in the context of a wondrous baptism being given to a gentile but not the Jews:

And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Elisha the prophet, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.”

So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrat
Luke 4:27-28

Instead, Marshall introduces concepts from rabbinical thought but with no obvious analogue in the New Testament, such as the Great Flood turning the world into a giant Jewish washing pool.

Dispensationalism

Easily the weakest theme of the book is Marshall’s attempt to shoehorn “Dispensationalism” into Catholicism. Dispensationalism is an anti-Judaic (and, on suspects, anti-Catholic) doctrine that the Bible is the record of God repeatedly changing his mind and revoking previous promises. At an extreme, Dispensationlists encourage us to ignore the words of Jesus, as they were a last-attempt to speak to the fallen Jewish people, and a new dispensation began with the Descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. As with the equally dubious covenant theology, the trick becomes identifying a unit of analysis (dispensation or covenant) within a text, even though neither has historic validity, and then using it to erase everything except the most recent dispensation or covenant.

Marshall does not hide this. The current dispensation began on Pentecost. Everything before this event is a dead letter if not ratified after it:

While the Old Covenant was consummated and perfectly fulfilled at the death and resurrection of Christ, the New Law of the gospel was not promulgated until Pentecost. It was on Pentecost that the New Testament and the need for baptism became absolutely binding and necessary. Pre-Pentecostal Judaism in expectation of the Messiah was the true religion instituted by God through Abraham. Post-Pentecostal Judaism is a dead letter — a religion unknown to the pges of Sciripture.

In summary, Jewish ethnicity in itself does not save. The Old Covenant is no longer salvific.

A Protestant summary of Dispensationalism which makes this more explicit is below. Note that shared focus on revoked dispensations, and that one of the dispensations revoked are the teachings of Christ:

Two problems here. The first is if the Pentecost began a new “dispensation,” and it is for that reason the old dispensations are no longer in effect, this new “church age” would include the sacrament of communion (which for protestant dispensationlists, is indeed the case), as these words were stated before Pentecost:

And He took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me.”
Luke 22:19

As were the words of the first Maundy Thursday:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another.
John 13:34

The second problem concerns Marhsall’s use of the phrase “no longer.” The Apostle Paul wrote that the Law always lead to death, in a way similar to Christian baptism:

For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.
Galatians 2:19-21

This is important: The Old Covenant was never salvific. That is why Christ died for us. Even the great patriarchs descended into the most pleasant parts of Hell. As Marshall writes:

Traditional Catholic teaching holds that Christ descended to “Abraham’s bosom” or Limbus Patrum — the pleasant abode of the netherworld where the Old Testament faithful waited for the coming of the Messiah. They could not yet ascend to the heavens, because Christ had not yet died on the cross.

From a legal perspective, Marshall’s dispensationalism can be rejected by looking at the history of the blood sacrifice. Elsewhere, Marshall writes “The Temple was the only place of sacrifice in the Old Covenant” — a period (or dispensation) presumably beginning shortly after the death of the first King of Israel, David, and ending on the occasion of the death of the last. Numerous blood rituals though are held outside the grounds of the Temple in Jerusalem:

Including gentile sacrifices, such as those by Job:

And when the feast days had run their course, Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all; for Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” This is what Job always did.
Job 1:5

Including Jewish sacrifices, such as those by Moses:

And Moses took the blood, sprinkled it on the people, and said, “This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you according to all these words.”
Exodus 24:8

And the perfect sacrifice, the only one that could ever lead to eternal life and the resurrection of the dead

Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new[c] covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.
Matthew 26:27-28

Catholicism teaches God does not revoke His promises. The Old Covenant is still in effect. But it was given to the Jews at Sinai. Some things were given to our older brothers but not to us.

We hold the Jewish people in special regard because their covenant with God has never been revoked, for “the gifts and the call of God are irrevocable” (Rom 11:29). The Church, which shares with Jews an important part of the sacred Scriptures, looks upon the people of the covenant and their faith as one of the sacred roots of her own Christian identity (cf. Rom 11:16-18). As Christians, we cannot consider Judaism as a foreign religion; nor do we include the Jews among those called to turn from idols and to serve the true God (cf. 1 Thes 1:9). With them, we believe in the one God who acts in history, and with them we accept his revealed word.
Pope Francis I, Evangelli Gaudium

I disagree with Marshall’s theory of revoked covenants as strongly as I thank him for introducing me to knowledge of the Royal Household. But both ideas are indicative of Marshall as a syncretic teacher, who has taken his protestant method of Biblical Analysis and tried to apply it in a Catholic frame.  This is too his credit.  Taylor Marshall writes an exhaustive blog on theological issues, if you’d like to have more familiarity with his methods and ideas.

I strongly recommend The Crucified Rabbi by Taylor Marshall. In Confessions, Saint Augustine wrote that reading of the Old Testament without understanding Judaism may do more harm than good, and The Crucified Rabbi is a good cure for this. It is a better explanation of the Old Testament than than Covenant and Creation, and more accessible to a lay reader than The Assembly of the Gods.

I read The Crucified Rabbi in the Kindle Edition.

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