The seeds of Jewish apostasy were sewn during their captivity. When Cyrus the Great gave the decree for Jews to return to the Promised Land, many chose to stay behind. They were comfortable in the Pagan culture and were much more secular in perspective than the ones who returned. We see in Esther a portrayal of the very beginnings of apostasy. The diaspora Jews, when they were in mortal danger, trusted in schemes rather than God for deliverance.
Esther and the Machinations of Marduk-ai
In the days when the Persian Empire was ruling over Israel, during the rule of Xerxes Haman the Agagite stirred up the kingdom against Israel. Haman, through treachery, tricked the king into issuing a verdict mandating genocide against the Jewish people. This episode happened after faithful Israelites returned from the exile1. There was a beautiful Jewish woman into the royal palace and gave her favor with the king. Her name was Haddassah in Hebrew, but Esther in Persian (Esther 2:7). When she found out about Haman’s plot, she risked her life to enter the throne - room. She revealed that Haman’s plot means the death of her people. Haman is subsequently executed.
She petitions the king to issue a decree authorizing the Jews to use force to defend themselves. The result of this turnaround is that fear of the Jews falls upon their enemies.
This entire narrative portrays the deliverance of Israel as the result of scheming and machination. Mordecai [Marduk-ai 2] talks his beautiful niece, Esther, into entering a contest to gain membership in the King’s wives club. Sometime later, Haman the Agagite poses a mortal threat to the Jews of the Babylonian diaspora by persuading the king to issue an order legalizing genocide of the Jews. Marduk-ai then talks Esther into using her feminine ways to convene a private dinner with King Xerxes and Haman so she can outmaneuver Haman. The result is Haman is killed and Mordechai is promoted to the position in the royal court that Haman held.
Compare Marduk-ai and Esther’s machinations to Ezra’s attitude when he asked for the king’s military help. Ezra knew, as a faithful Jew and scholar in the law and history, that God frowned on trusting in schemes. He was likely thinking of God’s rebuke to Asa for trusting in foreign alliances (2 Chronicles 16:7-9) when he wrote the following:
“ Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river of Ahava, that we might afflict ourselves before our God, to seek of him a right way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance. For I was ashamed to require of the king a band of soldiers and horsemen to help us against the enemy in the way: because we had spoken unto the king, saying, The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him. So we fasted and besought our God for this: and he was intreated of us.” - Ezra 8:21-23
The growing apostasy of Jews of Persia and Babylonia would later contribute heavily to the fall of Judaism.
Antiochus, the Maccabean revolt, and the Rise of the Pharisees
While the Jews who returned were faithful during the administrations of Ezra and Nehemiah, they do not remain that way. When the Persian Empire falls to Alexander the Great, the occasion is set up for the Jews to face great trial.
After Alexander’s death, his empire is split into at least four successor empires. One of them, the Seleucid Empire, would control the Promised Land. An evil king knew as Antiochus Epiphanes would arise who would seek to destroy Judaism. When Antiochus Epiphanes waged war on Jewish religion, some of the Jewish people revolted while others were prone to his influence.
When Antiochus began to commence his program to convert the religion of the temple into Paganism, he had the High Priest as an ally. This High Priest, who took on the Greek name Jason, was more than willing to help3.
About 40% of the Jews and the majority of the upper classes, which would have included much of the Levitical Priesthood, supported Hellenism4.
The faithful Jews resisted. The members of the resistance party became known as the Hasideans5. The resistance escalated into war when "When a Greek official tried to force a priest named Mattathias[Maccabeaus] to make a sacrifice to a pagan god, the Jew murdered the man. Predictably, Antiochus began reprisals, but in 167 BCE the Jews rose up behind Mattathias and his five sons and fought for their liberation.6”
While the Maccabean revolt started out as glorious, it soon became corrupted7. Simon, the last of the Maccabee brothers and the only one to survive the revolt, was crowned both king and high priest. This violated both the Mosaic8 and Davidic Covenants9.These usurpations begin a pattern of corruption that split Jewish society into three factions: The Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes.
The Essenes rejected Jewish leadership because it violated the Mosaic and Davidic Covenants and withdrew from society to live reclusively in the mountains.Although Christ rejected the Essenes isolationism, Many of their doctrines resonated with Him. The sect of the Essenes died out when Rome raped Judea following the Kochba Rebellion.
The Sadducees favored the priestly classes and leaned more to Hellenistic tendencies than either the Essenes or the Pharisees. Although the Sadducees had an oral tradition, they rejected the Pharisees elevation of it into a secret second law or secret oral Torah. The Sadducees also rejected resurrection from the dead. The Sadducees died out when the temple was destroyed by Titus in 70 AD.
Of the groups that emerged out of the Hasideans, the Pharisees were the only one to survive the devastation of Judea (AD 70-135) by Rome10. The doctrine of the Pharisees forms the backbone of Rabbinic Judaism. The Pharisees developed and promoted belief that there was a second law revealed only to the priests. They asserted that there existed an oral Torah that dated from the time of Moses and was passed down through Aaron and his sons. The doctrine of the oral torah led them straight into apostasy.
The Lord Jesus said to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees (Matt. 15:32-16:12; Mark 8:1-21). Immediately after Jesus fed the five thousand and gather a quantity of leftovers greater than the original contribution, the Pharisees start an argument with Him and demand a sign. The Lord Jesus had just finished giving a sign of His power and authority by creating food out of nothing; why do the Pharisees need a sign. They had plenty of information to form a rational basis for accepting Jesus as the Christ, but they had already pre-decided that they would not. They were simply scheming for a pretext to make their rejection appear to have a rational, legal basis. They were scheming
Jesus declared that the Pharisees were hypocrites. The word ‘hypocrite’ is translated from the Greek world for actor11. The Pharisees were simply pretending to be men of God. They were acting a part in a scheme. How did they get that way?
The roots of the Pharisees apostasy were sewn almost immediately following the Maccabean Revolt. Simon Maccbeaus committed two errors that would doom Judaism to apostasy. He combined the priestly office with the kingship, resulting the intrigues of politics corrupted organized religion 12. In addition to merging organized religion with politics, he went to bed politically with Rome, trusting Rome to give them leverage against the Seleucids instead of the Lord to deliver them. This double adultery of religion with politics would destroy Judaism.
Eventually the Hasmonean dynasty fell. The Hasmoneans were replaced by the Herods. Herod “controlled the sacrificial cult by placing a lackey in the position of High Priest13.” By the time Jesus came the religious leaders were merely playing a game based on adultery with Rome and with Herod as Caesar’s puppet ruler. Rome gives them wealth and power; in return they manipulate the people to keep them subservient to Rome. This use of religion to dominate people is also called the doctrine of the Nicolaitanes, which Jesus hates more than any other sin.
The leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees is the subversion of religion to dominate people. The Sadducees used a blunt instrument: they simply declared that the priesthood was dominant. They were very unpopular and died out when Rome sacked Judea. The Pharisees, however, used sophisticated instruments to dominate the people by subtle manipulation. These instruments were similar to instruments later employed by the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, and some Protestant Churches. The peculiar leaven of the Pharisees, then, merits a more detailed analysis.
Leaven of the Pharisees – the so-called “Oral Torah”
The Pharisees developed a doctrine that there existed a second law that was known only to the priests and transmitted orally. This oral law, or Oral Torah, is regarded as the key to understanding the written Torah. Since only the priests knew the oral torah, then people were dependent on the priest to authoritatively tell them what the Law said. This doctrine of the Oral Torah was devised to deny people access to the Scripture.
The main argument used to support the idea of an oral torah is appeal to ambiguity of sections of the written law14. Several examples are given that are supposed to illustrate the necessity of an oral law. Proponents of an oral law argue that the written law does not provide sufficient details on how to observe the Sabbath, perform marriage ceremonies, or how to bind the Torah to the front of the head.
The Pharisees argued that the oral law was equal to the written law; some argued that it was even greater than the written law.They sought to exalt the so-called oral law twofold: they would often use the oral law to overthrow clear injunctions of the written law, and they would expand the scope of the law to micro-manage every minute detail of life.
“Through their endeavor to regulate the whole of human life, down to every detail, by means of the law, the Pharisees were led to lay great stress on enlarging the scope of the same by tradition, even to ascribe a paramount importance to the latter in comparison with the less exactly defined law (Mishnah, Sanhedrin, xi. 3). Ultimately, therefore, tradition, like the law, came to be traced back to Moses (PirkeAboth, i. 11 sqq.), and so came the possibility of invalidating a legal provision by virtue of a traditional precept (Mark 7:11)15”
This oral law was written down in the Talmud, which is by the admission of Rabbinic Judaism “confused collection of scattered ideas and disjointed reasoning16”. A Talmudist will explain away the contradictions by telling you “it's nearly impossible to master the logic and style of the Talmud without a real, live teacher.” Talmudic Judaism locks away the word of God from the people. The Talmud, however, is simply a collection of commentaries and debates of various Rabbis from the Maccabean period.
“Given this chain of authority, one might wonder why the Mishna and Talmudare filled with debates between rabbis; shouldn't they have all been recipients of the same, unambiguous tradition? Orthodox teachers respond that the debates came about either because students forgot some of the details transmitted by their teachers, or because the Oral Law lacks specific teachings on the issue being discussed.17”
The so-called oral law, in practice, was often reduced to whatever the Rabbis wanted it to be. When Jesus condemned the religious leaders for replacing the Word of God through the traditions of men, He was condemning the Pharisees passing off their commentaries as the law of God. In other words, Christ denied their claims concerning the existence of an oral Torah(Mark 7:6-13).
There are five difficulties facing the prospect of a secret, oral law: ambiguities in the written law can be explained without reference to an oral law; there are passages in the law that imply that people know the whole law; the existence of passages that condemn the sealing up of God’s Word in the way that the Pharisaic doctrine does, there is the absence of any reference to a second oral law during the Old Testament period; and how could an oral law have survived the reign of Manasseh.
Ambiguities in the written law can be explained without reference to an oral law. Most of the ambiguities cited in these sources are only problematic if one takes a hyper-legalistic interpretation of the law. For example, does God really care about the physical means one uses to bind copies of the law on your forehead? I doubt that it make any difference; focusing on such minutiae obscures the main point of Deuteronomy 6: 5, which is that we are to meditate on the law using every conceivable means until we know it.
Most ambiguities are resolved by the fact that, within the law, there is freedom on how it is applied. This is certainly the case concerning personal decisions and beliefs. The only cases where such ambiguity matters are community matters, such as civil rights claims and temple regulations. The social nature of such matters requires a tribunal to issue authoritative decisions; it does not require a separate law but spiritual discernment on how to interpret existing law. The history of these adjudications, while valuable, do not carry the same authority as the law, neither can they trump the law.
There are passages in the law that imply that the people know, or are capable of knowing, the whole law. In chapter 6, page 42, I write in detail concerning how the people know the will of God. There are three passages in Deuteronomy that indicate that the people are capable of knowing the whole law; there is no secret law known only to the enlightened elite. Below is a quote from chapter 6 that is worth repeating here:
“Deuteronomy 6:4-9 tells us that the Word of God is in the hearts of the people; teaching authority is vested in the parents, not the priests and not the elders.Ch 30:11-14 tells the people that they do not need to call on someone in the enlightened elite to fetch it for us; it is in the heart upon people hearing and meditating upon it. Deuteronomy 31:9-13 teaches us that Moses wrote down all of the law to make knowledge of the law available to everyone. There is no secret law known to only a few people.”
There are passages that condemn the sealing up of God’s Word in the way that the Pharisaic doctrine does. In Mark 7:11, Jesus cites Isaiah 29:13 as an argument against the so-called oral law.
Isaiah 29:10-16 describes a scheme to block access to God’s Word. In this case, the prophets and the priests are in a stupor of their own making. Because they were seduced or otherwise suborned into political adultery with the Herodians and the Romans, they sought to suppress the knowledge of God (Rom 1:18-32). They devised schemes to dupe people into thinking they cannot access the knowledge of God. They argued that access to God is limited to the enlightened elite. When asked about law, the unlearned would say “I cannot read” and the learned would reply “it is sealed.”
“For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes: the prophets and your rulers, the seers hath he covered.And the vision of all is become unto you as the words of a book that is sealed, which men deliver to one that is learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I cannot; for it is sealed: And the book is delivered to him that is not learned, saying, Read this, I pray thee: and he saith, I am not learned.” - Isaiah 29:10-12
This scheme would be the template for numerous schemes that would be employed throughout history that would use religion to put people in bondage. The basic argument is that, because only a select few are permitted to access the knowledge of God, the rest of us must blindly follow their every whim. This template is used in Rabbinic or Talmudic Judaism in the form of the so-called “Oral Torah.” It is also seen in every form of esotericism and occultism, particularly in Gnostisman/Hermeticism. Claims of Episcopal infallibility in Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy also follow this evil template.
This template is a stench in the “Lord’s nostrils.” God promises, through Isaiah, to destroy this evil system. The Lord sternly warns the people not to heed these false prophets and false priests.
“Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men: Therefore, behold, I will proceed to do a marvellous work among this people, even a marvellous work and a wonder: for the wisdom of their wise men shall perish, and the understanding of their prudent men shall be hid…
“…Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Hearken not unto the words of the prophets that prophesy unto you: they make you vain: they speak a vision of their own heart, and not out of the mouth of the Lord.” - Isaiah 29:13-14,16
Paul the Apostle also cites from Isaiah 29. He cites Isaiah 29:14 to proclaim God’s judgment. Paul proclaims that the establishment of the New Covenant is God’s judgment against worldly wisdom.
“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written:
“ ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise,
And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.’
“Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks[b] foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. ” - 1 Corinthians 1:18-24 NKJV
Paul quotes from the same prophecy in Isaiah that both predicts and condemns the Pharisaic doctrine of the oral torah. It is apparent that this passage groups both this pharisaic doctrine in with Greek philosophy as foolishness. The gospel is clearly presented as the wisdom and power of God which overthrows these flawed systems. More on this in ch 13.
The absence of any reference to a second oral law during the Old Testament period raises doubts as to its existence. There is simply no reference anywhere in Old Testament where people went to the priests to ask them to apply any secret law. In fact, extra-Biblical enquiries to God were always seen as prophetic instances where God would deliver a fresh word. While some of the prophets were also priests, others were not. If the oral law was as absolutely essential to understanding the written law as the Rabbis say, then it should be considered very strange that there are no clear Old Testament references to this oral law.
How could an oral law have survived the reign of Manasseh? The reign of Manasseh wreaked havoc on Judaism during the monarchy. Manasseh converted the temple religion into paganism. He was so successful that the priesthood forgot that the Law even existed until the 18th year of Josiah (2 King 22:8-11 see ch 9).If the priesthood forgot that the written law existed, how can an oral tradition survive?
Any oral law would have been lost forever. Everything we know about Jewish life prior to Manasseh was recovered using extant documents interpreted using the plain meaning of the text.
“Is it reasonable to think, that this would remain uninjured through successive ages of idolatry, when the written law was so entirely forgotten? If they had lost the knowledge of what was in their written law, would they be likely to retain that which was oral? If the written law was lost, would the traditionary law be preserved? And if this was at any time lost, how could it be recovered? Not from the written law, for this does not contain it; not from the memory of man, for the supposition is, that it was thence obliterated. If, then, this law, by any chance, was once lost, it is manifest that it could never be recovered, but by divine revelation.18”
Any oral law would have been lost forever. Everything we know about Jewish life prior to Manasseh was recovered using extant documents interpreted using the plain meaning of the text.
Rejection of Christ and the apostasy into Talmudic Judaism
While many of the Jews became followers of Christ, the religious leadership rejected Him as the Messiah and had Him crucified by means of a Roman cross. This rejection spilled over into persecution of the young church.
Many of the early Christians were Jews, some of which still retained some degree of relationship with the broader Jewish community. While most of the growth was among the Gentiles, the history of the church ran parallel until ad 66. The Kochba rebellion changed all of that.
There was a Rabbi named Kochba who proclaimed himself the Messiah. The Jewish leaders accepted him as their Messiah and organized a revolt against Rome. Those Jewish who believed that Jesus Christ is the Messiah could not in good conscience join this revolt, as it would involve rejection of Christ and the embrace of Kochba as the Messiah. The revolt failed miserably, resulting in the destruction of the Temple and the scattering of the Jews throughout the world. Jewish believers in Jesus Christ were blamed for the failure and excommunicated from Judaism.
The excommunication of Christians from Jewish fellowship became a matter of law in the Talmud.In subsequent years, Christian leaders would argue that the church replaced Israel as the heir to God’s promises.
The spiritual children of Abraham and the natural children of Abraham would be enemies for a season. This would not be permanent, but only for a season. While God would resume His plans for Israel at a future date, The story of God will now unfold in the history of the church.
2 Mordecai means "belonging to Marduk," Hence Marduk-ai
4 http://www.jewishhistory.org/review-of-the-hasmonean-era/ (table row six)
10 http://www.jewfaq.org/movement.htm (9th para)
11 Strong's G5273
From G5271; an actor under an assumed character (stage player), that is, (figuratively) a dissembler (“hypocrite”): - hypocrite.
Total KJV occurrences: 20
12 http://www.jewishhistory.org/review-of-the-hasmonean-era/ (table row twelve)