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Yeshua Explored


todayJune 28, 2021 41

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Let’s move to the next “saying”, the Second Saying for the Jews, the First Commandment for the Christians.

 “You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 12:3)

Other gods were certainly an issue in the formative years, in fact the vast number of instructions in the Torah were there to help the Hebrews follow this one, by offering harsh punishments as deterrents. Of course now, other gods have been packaged as rival religions, such as Hinduism and Buddhism and are no longer a direct threat to orthodox Judaism, though they are a great issue for Christianity, as roadblocks against the Great Commission.

Nevertheless, it is heartbreakingly sad, when considering the shared history of the Jewish people and their “Christian” oppressors that the idea of “Jesus” had been so corrupted by his so-called followers that he was considered by the Jews as another god and many measures had been taken by the rabbis to protect their people from this “imposter”. To this end, a prayer was composed in the Second Century:

May the slanderers have no hope; and may all wickedness perish in an instant; and may all of our enemies be cut down speedily. May you speedily uproot, smash, cast down and humble the arrogant sinners – speedily in our days. Blessed are You, O Lord, who breaks enemies and humbles arrogant sinners.’“

Jewish Christians were even known as minim, heretics, by their estranged brethren. Other names given to them by Jewish religious leaders include apikoresim (heretics) or meshummadin (apostates) but it was the names given to Jesus himself that really raised the ante. The Talmud referred to him as Yeshu, that may seem an affectionate shortening of his Hebrew name, Yeshua, but, in fact, was an acronym for the Hebrew expression yemach shemo vezichro, which means, “may his name and memory be obliterated”.

Of course none of this would have happened if the Christians had only implemented Paul’s wishes for One New Man, with Jew and Gentile in peace and in brotherhood!

It was the next commandment/saying which really addresses the issue of Kadosh (holiness) and highlights which of God’s people were really taking His holiness seriously.

You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God … (Exodus 20:4-5)

To see how this one has worked out one should compare two buildings, both built at the same time and barely a couple of miles apart; Christopher Wren’s St Paul’s Cathedral, consecrated for use in 1697 and Bevis Marks synagogue, built in 1701, the oldest surviving synagogue in the UK.

A tour of St Paul’s brings us face to face with many images, from the gargoyles and cherubim around the outside; to the depiction of the conversion of Paul, with other apostles and evangelists looking on; to the ornate and adorned high altar; to the memorials and coffins of Nelson, Wellington, Wren and others; to the sculptures of St Michael and St George and the Virgin Mary and an effigy of Lord Kitchener; to the military banners and flags; to the religious art and stained glass windows.

Bevis Marks synagogue has none, just lots of candles, gleaming metal and wooden benches, the only ostentations being the renaissance-style ark containing the Torah scrolls and the seven hanging brass candelabra.

No prizes to guessing which of the two was most mindful of Exodus 20:4. There is actually a word that encapsulates the principle behind this command, aniconism, literally “no-image-ism” in Greek. The rabbis are very mindful of the golden calf incident and prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah and Amos would warn again and again about idolatry. The Kadosh of God was paramount and there were too many instances when divine punishment followed any dalliances with “other gods”. Although the warning is given in Exodus 20:4, it is the following verse that proclaims the consequences of bowing down and worshipping the images. It is never wise to disrespect our jealous God. Of course, if the images are not there in the first place …!

The acknowledgement of the commandment not to create images stretched right through to post-Bible Jewish history, in the design of synagogues right up to modern times.

In the Church, aniconism has been held onto a little lighter, with not such a firm adherence to the commandment. There were two periods in history when a reaction sprung forth against the depiction of images and icons within churches. These reactions were called iconoclasms, “icon destruction”, and the first was in Byzantine Europe in the Eighth and Ninth Century, as a result of theological argument based on Greek philosophical ideas rather than the Laws of Moses. The second was the Protestant Reformation, when many churches were ransacked and pictures, statues and other objects of “adoration” pulled down and desecrated, as a reaction against Catholic excesses and dubious practices. As St Paul’s Cathedral, a centre of Anglicanism in London, is a by-product of the Reformation, one can see a relaxation of this attitude, with social convention trumping any realisation of the Kadosh of God and any adherence to one of the Ten Commandments.

This is an extract from the book, Shalom, available for £10 at

Do we still bow down to images? 

Written by: Rufus Olaniyan

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