The Hebrew Bible has little to say about those of its characters who Jews might refer to as bad guys. So we learn little of the lives of the Egyptian ruler who tried to destroy the Israelites seeking freedom from slavery. And bad king Ahab and his consort Jezebel are mentioned only in reference to their crimes. But the Hebrew Bible keeps its spotlight throughout on characters who are heroic and positive in the assessment of religious Jews And each and every heroic figure in the Hebrew Bible is what Christians might call a “sinner”. Abraham, Noah and Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Elijah and David, Solomon and Isaiah, Hezekiah and Jonah, Ruth and Sarah, Rebekah and Miriam—all of these and others too are folks who the Hebrew Bible shows as imperfect and sometimes wrong. Many details of their lives and characters are elaborated with deep interest.

A few major writers and sages in the Hebrew Bible somehow escape explicit mention of any specific failure of vision and performance, but no one is ever offered to the reader as a person without fault. Yet no one of these characters is ever denounced by God as doomed to God’s unforgiveness. Not one ot them is said to be headed for perdition. Despite their wrongs they are heroes in the eyes of their God and the Bible writer. And all behave in ways that lead to blessings for others, including the readers of the scripture in which they are chronicled. Human failure in the Hebrew Bible and Rabbinic teaching is not fatal to redemption if followed by contrition and amended behavior.

In contrast Christian doctrine often envisions humanity as doomed by the fall of Adam to share an inherent sinful and evil nature that God cannot forgive until the death of Jesus atones for those willing to “believe in him” and to accept him as the sacrifice God sees as the necessary and sufficient price for the sins of all “believers”. An old saw captures this sentiment: “To err is human; to forgive is divine.” Man’s sinful nature in this doctrine is so intractable that a Presbyterian statement of creed says that Jesus descended into hell to give preceding generations of relatively godly folk a chance to get out of hell by accepting Jesus’ death as atoning for their sins. So maybe Abraham and David finally escaped their well deserved torment in hell through Jesus’ trip during the days between the crucifiction and the resurrection.

The Jewish attitude on the subject of atonement appears clearly in the 32d psalm: ” Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whosesin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom tha Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile. When i kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all day long….I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity I have not hid. I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord, and thou forgivest the iniquity of my sin. Selah.”

I have long believed that the Lord’s prayer for forgiveness and the parable of the Prodigal Son both illustrate the commitment of the historical Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth to the view of sin and redemption embodied in the 32d psalm. If that is true, then the Christian view above was a view that came about through the followers of Jesus later reflections ABOUT him, rather than his own view.

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