Slides for Fining Tuning talk

Here are the slides for my recent talk at Ratio Christi, "Explanations for Fine Tuning":

fine2.pdf

Click on that link to find out about:

Part I: The physics of constants and units
Part II: How physicists diagnose fine-tuning
Part III: Some examples of fine tuned constants
Part IV: My own take on proposed explanations

Regrettably there was no recording, so those of you who weren't there won't get the benefit of the marathon Q&A session.  I try to put a lot of words on my slides, so hopefully most of them will be at least somewhat self-explanatory without me talking over them.  (I assumed the audience was already familiar with scientific notation...)

If you want to know more about the fine tuning of constants of Nature you could check out Luke Barnes' blog or order his book.  Or, if you are thirsting for a few more details about the "renormalization group flow" you could start with John Baez's explanation.

Posted in Talks | 71 Comments

Ratio Christi talk on Fine Tuning

Some of you may recall that last February I gave a talk on Science and the Resurrection to Ratio Christi, an apologetics club that meets at Rutgers University in New Brunswick.

Well, this Monday (the 26th) I'm giving a talk on "Explanations for Fine Tuning":

Were the laws of physics selected to produce life? This talk will
describe several examples of fundamental physics parameters which seem to be "fine-tuned", i.e. taking on special values that permit life to exist. We can use techniques from modern particle physics, such as the "renormalization group flow", to help decide which claims of fine-tuning are real, and which are only apparent. Some examples, such as the Cosmological Constant Problem, seem very unlikely to have any normal scientific explanation. I will argue that the only plausible solutions involve God or a multiverse.

Any of you who are in the area are welcome to attend.  This one is at 9 pm at the College Ave Student Center, room 411C.  For more details, see their Facebook page.  Please note that the location and time are different from my previous talk.

Posted in Talks | 19 Comments

Saints and Miracles

A reader kashyap asks:

Aron,
Excuse me for a completely off-topic question, but this is of current interest to me.  I read in the paper that sainthood was bestowed upon Mother Theresa. One of the requirement is performance of two miracles.  I understand as a devout Christian, you believe that resurrection (a miracle) was so important that God made exception to the laws of nature to make it possible.  I do not have any problem in people believing in their faith. But my problem would be that if you require exceptions (miracles) for every sainthood, there would be too many exceptions to the laws of nature.  What is your opinion on this? If you have talked about such things before, please just give a reference.  Thanks.

kashyap,
The canonization of saints is a Roman Catholic thing, whereas Protestants like myself do not recognize the authority of the Pope, nor do we pray to saints.  Therefore I am not responsible for defending their canonization process, even though (in this case) it couldn't have happened to a nicer person...  ;-)

What is common ground, accepted by both groups, is that God calls all Christians to be saints, people who are holy just like he is holy, and fills us with his Holy Spirit in order to accomplish this.  Obviously, the results are more effective in some people's lives than in others, depending on our response to his grace.

Catholics* believe that people who are especially holy go directly to Heaven when they die (whereas they say that most Christians need to spend time in "Purgatory" being cleansed from their sins, before they can enter Heaven).  They believe that these people have an especially powerful ability to intercede with God, and that Christians on earth can petition saints in heaven to pray for their needs.  They also believe that the Pope has the power to infallibly* declare that certain deceased people are, in this sense, "saints"; although in modern times he normally only does this on the recommendation of a committee that investigates the person for evidence of "heroic virtue" and (yes) a minimum number of miracles.  (However, it is a common journalistic mistake, misrepresenting Catholic doctrine, to say that "sainthood was bestowed" on the person; in their theology it is God who makes somebody a saint; the church merely recognizes the fact afterwards, in some subset of cases.  On Nov 1st there is an "All Saints Day" holiday to commemorate all the saints who served in positions of obscurity, without earthly recognition.)  They also believe that the good works of the saints build up a "treasury of merit" which can be dispensed by the Pope to any Catholic who performs certain actions called "indulgences", in order to reduce or eliminate their time in Purgatory.

* at least, many Catholic theologians believe it is infallible

* The term catholic means "universal".  I generally use their preferred term out of politeness, although obviously I believe that Protestants are also full members of the "holy catholic church" founded by Jesus.

Whereas Protestants generally reject most of the things I mentioned in the previous paragraph.  We believe that the sacrifice of Christ already provides full forgiveness for all sins without needing to add any extra "merit" from saints on Earth or in Heaven.  And that, while there is nothing wrong with thanking God for the accomplishments of Christians of past ages, or of asking people on earth to pray for us, the practice of asking deceased people for favors is spiritually dangerous because of the temptation to idolatry, and the danger of treating saints (especially St. Mary) as though they were polytheistic deities having power of their own.  (Of course Catholics deny that this is what they are doing, but I don't think there are enough "safety measures" in place to prevent it from happening sometimes.)  Because of this danger, and because the practice is not commanded or authorized by the Bible, we avoid it.  We also do not believe that Purgatory has sufficient warrant in Scripture to be accepted as a doctrine; instead we teach that everyone who is saved goes directly to be with Jesus when they die.

It is the practice of the New Testament to refer to groups of Christian believers as "saints".  He wants us all to be holy, because he is Holy.  This is the justification for this blog's highly unique canonization policy.  To me holiness is a more important thing than miraculous signs, and there may be exceptionally holy people who never do any miracles at all.  The more important "miracle" is the work of transformation that God wants to do in people's hearts, in order to fill them with love, because he is Love.

Now none of this actually answers your question about the prevalence of signs and wonders.  I personally believe that God does a fairly large number of miracles even in modern times (associated with the ministries of many kinds of Christians, including Catholics and Protestants).  The most scholarly compilation of modern day Christian miracles I know of is in this 2 volume tome, by St. Craig Keener.  Despite the subtitle, the book is really mostly about modern times.  Since you are a Hindu I should also mention that non-Christian miracles are outside the scope of his work.  (I plan to blog about Keener's book eventually, but I haven't gotten around to it.)

Is this "too many exceptions"?  Well, too many for what purpose?  Most of these are miracles of healing, and judged from the poverty and diseases we see in many countries, one might just as easily argue that there are too few miracles in the present day, rather than too many.  Certainly there are not so many miracles that we are unable to do Science, and identify the usual course of events in Nature!

I guess the real question concerns the trade-offs God is making between consistency, mercy, and revelation, as he governs the world, but:

Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.  (Psalm 139:6)

and

I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.  (Psalm 131:1)

where that the last Bible verse ought to be the motto for this blog, because I violate it almost every time I submit a post!

The Bible also records many miracles besides the Resurrection, although these miracles are more like "signs" or "pointers" that help illustrate particular points about the meaning of creation and salvation.  (This viewpoint is explained in St. Lewis book on Miracles, which is in turn based on St. Athanasius' book On the Incarnation.)  For example, when Jesus miraculously multiplied the bread and fish of a child's lunch in order to feed thousands of hungry people, this miracle illustrates the fact that God is always multiplying grain and fish in Nature, and that every time we eat we can be thankful for his loving provision.  It also reminds us of the spiritual nourishment which Jesus, the Bread of Heaven, provides to those that trust him.

Whereas the Incarnation of Christ, and especially his Death and Resurrection, is the central event of the Christian faith, the event that vanquishes sin, defeats death, and brings in life everlasting.  It permanently negotiated a new relationship between God and Man, and when Christ comes back from Heaven to Earth (I am talking about the return of the same body that was crucified in the 1st century, not reincarnation as a new human) his resurrection power will cause every human being who has ever lived to come back to life again with immortal physical bodies.  But it is not enough to merely ransom the human race; the entire universe will be renewed as well, so that there will be "a new Heaven and a new Earth, the home of righteousness" (2 Pet 3:13).  And there, his saints will reign with him forever.  So the Resurrection is indeed what you might call an important miracle, one that catalyzes a whole host of other miracles.

(Since earlier I was talking about disputes between different kinds of Christians, I should probably state that everything in the previous paragraph is agreed upon by all major branches of Christianity, including Protestants, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Coptics, and the Assyrian Church of the East.  In my view, the beliefs that all Christians share in common are more important than the doctrines that divide us.)

Anyway, you don't really say in your comment why you think it would be a problem to have "too many miracles", so I'm not sure how to respond right now.  But feel free to elaborate on your thinking in the comments section.

Posted in Theology | 25 Comments

Is God allowed to update the Torah?

On my last post, a reader going by the name JPH comments:

The resurrection is irrelevant.

God appeared to a nation and gave them 613 commandments. He said they were eternal, everlasting, binding for all generations. There is NOT ONE about worshiping God's son or the Messiah. (Exodus 4:22 says God's son is Israel.) There are horrifying threats for deviating from these commandments in Deuteronomy 28. The thirteenth chapter is devoted to prophets who can perform "signs and wonders" and advocate the worship of gods "whom your forefathers did not know." Their forefathers did not worship Jesus. Deut 13 explicitly grants the possibility of miracles in false traditions and says, "Do not hearken unto that prophet." It says nothing about surviving an execution as an exception or some big standard.

Why do Christians think the resurrection cancels/changes the Torah? According to what standard? (No, the prophets didn't say so: https://prooftexts.wordpress.com Most of these aren't just wrong, they're cringe-worthy. The prophets received their authority from the 5 Books of Moses. Whatever the prophets were saying, it wasn't to subtract from theses books and approach God via some unheard-of intermediary.)

Sabbatai Tzvi, too, was considered by many to be the Messiah. He performed signs and wonders. He had his own St. Paul (Nathan of Gaza) who interpreted his conversion to Islam as some humiliating atonement. He still has followers. So what? Miracles don't cancel the Torah. The only reason to think otherwise is because your Bible already has a New Testament attached.

JPH,
Thanks for your comment.

I.  Matters of Interpretation

First of all, your method of interpretation, which sees very few Messianic prophecies in scripture, and assumes that if there is a literal application there cannot also be a secondary symbolic application, is simply not in line with traditional Jewish rabbinic interpretation.  Why can't some passages refer to both Israel and the Messiah, for example?

Many of these passages were traditionally interpreted as Messianic by Jewish rabbis, until it became inconvenient given the fact that Christians were continually citing them.  See here for a discussion of the Talmud's take on this:

Messiah: The Talmud on Messianic Prophecy

which includes quotations from the Talmud which state that “All the prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah”!  So, unlike the link you provide which keeps stating "not a prophetic prediction" over and over again, it was apparently an accepted view within Talmudic circles that (with some hyperbole) denied the existence of any non-Messianic verses in the Bible!

In any case, there are several passages which are agreed on by everyone to be Messianic, that have this "double fulfillment" aspect.  For example, the central Messianic text is Nathan's prophecy to David, in which he predicts that David's dynasty will last forever, is found in 2 Sam. 17 and 1 Chron. 17.  It is clear that this prophesy has aspects which were fulfilled in the next generation (when Solomon built the Temple) but it also has aspects which speak about David's continuing dynasty, which are ultimately fulfilled by the fact that the Messiah himself will personally reign forever.

Similarly, when the prophet Isaiah talks about Israel returning from captivity under Babylon, he keeps talking about it in terms which suggest that it will usher in the Messianic Era in which there will be peace forever and God will never have wrath towards Israel again.  (A particularly fine example of this is in chapter 54.)  Now we all know that these events did not happen at the same time, but there is a certain allegorical similarity about them which justifies talking about them at the same time.

So, if some Scriptures clearly have both an immediate application to the present day, and also a distant future fulfillment, then there may be double meanings in other Scriptures as well.  (Although in what follows, I will try to confine myself to the plain meaning of the Hebrew Scriptures as much as possible, not because I am conceding the absence of double meanings, but in order to keep the argumentation as clear as possible.)

Now that is not to say that the particular unknown missionary tract that your link is refuting gets everything right.  But, 353 one-liners followed by another 353 one-liners doesn't really seem like the most productive way to engage.  It's a mile wide but only an inch deep. The real debate here is about methods of interpretation--and also the fact that, when the historical evidence is strong enough that God supports something, sometimes one should admit that one's interpretation of Scripture might be wrong!  Also, at least sometimes the Hebrew text is ambiguous (or there are variant manuscripts), so you need to check multiple translations before rejecting the idea that a given meaning could be part of the original text.

So I think the author would have been better off engaging in some work of serious Christian scholarship, rather than some random tract he got in the mail.  (The post you link to doesn't even state the author and publication information!  So I have no idea whose views the tract is supposed to represent.)

II.  Can the Commandments Change?

Secondly, I do get that there are passages in the Torah which may seem, at first sight, to state that the laws of the Torah are eternal and immutable.  (Although the precise translation of these words in the Hebrew can be tricky, as discussed here.)

But when you dig deeper into the Tanakh, I think you will be able to see that there is also significant conflicting evidence, which indicates that parts of the Torah are provisional, if you keep your mind open to the possibility.  For example, the Torah itself explicitly says that:

A prophet will HaShem thy G-d raise up unto thee, from the midst of thee, of thy brethren, like unto me; unto him ye shall hearken; according to all that thou didst desire of HaShem thy G-d in Horeb in the day of the assembly, saying: 'Let me not hear again the voice of HaShem my G-d, neither let me see this great fire any more, that I die not.'  And HaShem said unto me: 'They have well said that which they have spoken.  I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him.  And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which he shall speak in My name, I will require it of him.  (Deut. 18:15-19)

[This quotation is from the JPS 1917, a Jewish translation.  Note that in this translation HaShem ("the Name") is the standard substitute in order to avoid writing out God's Name, just as many English translations substitute LORD.]

This passage makes it pretty clear that there will be new divine instructions post-Torah; in fact it is 1 of the 613 commandments to obey these new laws!  Regardless of whether the singular term "prophet" is interpreted to refer generically to all later prophets, or specifically to the Messiah, the passage seems to indicate that there will be new commandments revealed at that time.  Note the specific statements that the prophet will be like Moses (who gave the law), it will be like the event at Mount Horeb (where the law was given), and that the people need to "hearken" to the new words, i.e. listen to them and obey them.

And indeed, sometimes the prophets in the Tanakh announce changes to the law, even ones which abrogate old provisions.  For example, Solomon modified various details of the construction of the Tabernacle when he built the Temple, and Ezekiel 40-48 changes a bunch of the rules for Temple worship, while Jeremiah 3:16 states that the Ark of the Covenant would go permanently missing, and that nobody would miss it or ever build a new one.  (For that reason, Zerubbabel's Temple had no Ark in its Holy of Holies.)  This single passage, taken all by itself, makes it clear that a key ritual of Moses' sacrificial system, the Day of Atonement, will never again be celebrated according to the precise rules of the Torah, no not even in the Messianic Age!  So clearly, some of the commandments in the Torah can be changed.

These passages already refute the interpretation of Judaism you are advocating, without any need to discuss Christianity or the New Testament.  If you think the commandments in the Torah can't be updated, then to be consistent you would also need to reject the Nevi'im and Ketuvim, like the Samaritans do.

In life, there is always change.  Even the rabbis have changed many things, extending some commandments and replacing others.  Half the commandments in the Torah became impossible after the Destruction of the Temple, so the rabbis substituted various prayers and other rituals.  The Tanakh itself shows that history is not static, and that what was appropriate for Israel at one stage in her development is inappropriate at another stage.  If the religion of Israel had already reached its perfect form immediately after they entered the Promised Land, then there would have been no need to subject Israel to any of the further developments of the next 3,500 years.  The real question is one of authority: who is in charge of deciding what should change, God or human beings?  It was human beings who were charged not to add to or subtract from the Torah; but the Lord (blessed is he) can do as he likes.  He is allowed to modify the terms of the agreement.

Speaking of modifications, Jeremiah goes on to say that God will make a New Covenant with Israel, in which the Torah will be written on their hearts instead of simply in a book:

Behold, the days come, saith HaShem, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah; not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; forasmuch as they broke My covenant, although I was a lord over them, saith HaShem.  But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith HaShem, I will put My law in their inward parts, and in their heart will I write it; and I will be their G-d, and they shall be My people; and they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying: 'Know HaShem'; for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith HaShem; for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin will I remember no more.  (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

That is an even bigger deal than a change in the rules; it portends a change in how people relate to the whole concept of rules.  It is what Moses wished, when he said “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD's people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Num 11:29).  I understand that you are also jealous to protect Moses, but here Moses himself says he is looking forward to something better!  Moses wanted the Spirit to speak directly into people's hearts, giving them individual guidance about what to do, rather than following a list of rules written in a book somewhere.

(In addition to changing how Israel relates to God, this passage also seems to indicate that this New Covenant involves a more universal access to forgiveness than was previously available.  But, we need not argue here about whether this New Covenant is the same one that is described in the New Testament.  Pretend for a moment that you've never heard of Jesus, that you are a Jew reading this passage before Christianity started.  Isn't it clear that any New Covenant, just by virtue of being New, must necessarily imply some sort of changes to the old way of doing things?)

Furthermore, reason also tells us that the Law of Moses has to change with changing circumstances.  I am not just talking about how some of the commandments seem more suitable for an ancient patriarchal tribal society than to a modern civilized society, or the commandments which refer to people and objects which have not existed for thousands of years (although these facts are worth noting).  I am also talking about situations where God himself tells us why he gave the commandment, and we can see explicitly that this reason is no longer applicable.  For example, in Leviticus chapter 20 God states explicitly the reason for the kosher laws, saying that it is to keep them separate from the nations which engage in more serious wicked practices:

And ye shall not walk in the customs of the nation, which I am casting out before you; for they did all these things [e.g. incest, adultery, sacrificing their children to Moloch, etc.], and therefore I abhorred them.  But I have said unto you: 'Ye shall inherit their land, and I will give it unto you to possess it, a land flowing with milk and honey.'  I am HaShem your G-d, who have set you apart from the peoples.  Ye shall therefore separate between the clean beast and the unclean, and between the unclean fowl and the clean; and ye shall not make your souls detestable by beast, or by fowl, or by any thing wherewith the ground teemeth, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean.  And ye shall be holy unto Me; for I HaShem am holy, and have set you apart from the peoples, that ye should be Mine.  (Lev. 20:21-26)

The logical structure implied by this passage seems to be as follows:

1. The surrounding nations do objectively bad things, like killing their children and having sex with close relatives (listed previously in the chapter)
2. God wants them to be holy like he is, and not do those things.
3. So, in order to prevent them from being corrupted by these cultures, God creates a more trivial rule (don't eat certain kinds of animals labelled as unclean).
4. By obeying this rule, Israel is prevented from fully participating in the life of their pagan neighbors, and also gets some practice in the art of making distinctions between "clean" and "unclean" situations.

But suppose a time were to come when the nations stop doing all of these disgusting things.  Suppose further that God wanted the Gentiles and Jews to join together into one people with common religious rituals.  In that case, the reason for the kosher commandments would no longer apply; in fact the separation would become counterproductive.  Therefore, if this were in fact God's plan, it would stand to reason that the kosher rules would no longer apply to the new situation.

But would God in fact want to make such profound changes?  We do not have to look anywhere in the New Testament to prove that he would.  We need only look at the prophets which are accepted by Jews.  The prophet Zechariah says that there will come a time when there will be ten times as many Gentiles as Jews, who are seeking after the Lord of Israel:

Yea, many peoples and mighty nations shall come to seek HaShem of hosts in Jerusalem, and to entreat the favour of HaShem.  Thus saith HaShem of hosts: In those days it shall come to pass, that ten men shall take hold, out of all the languages of the nations, shall even take hold of the skirt of him that is a Jew, saying: We will go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you.  (Zech. 8:22-23)

And Isaiah tells us that God will illuminate these converts and extend his salvation to them:

And now saith HaShem that formed me from the womb to be His servant, to bring Jacob back to Him, and that Israel be gathered unto Him--for I am honourable in the eyes of HaShem, and my G-d is become my strength.  Yea, He saith: "It is too light a thing that thou shouldest be My servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the offspring of Israel; I will also give thee for a light of the nations, that My salvation may be unto the end of the earth."  (Isaiah 49:5)

We need not stop to argue about whether the "servant" described in this passage refers to Isaiah himself, Israel, or the Messiah (or maybe all three!)  The important thing for the moment is that it clearly describes the conversion of the Gentiles to the God of Israel, in fulfillment of God's promise to Abraham that "in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed" (Gen 12:3).

Another passage (Isaiah 66:18-21) can even be read as saying that God will accept some people from Gentile nations as priests and Levites, which would definitely require a change in the rules, although alternative interpretations of this passage are possible.  Or consider Psalm 87, in which people from all kinds of nations—those which were originally hostile to Israel—are recorded as having been born in the city of Zion.

This sort of thing is a pretty recurrent theme in the Prophets (as is the theme of Israel being rebellious for a long period of time but eventually being reconciled to God).  More examples could be multiplied to prove this point, but I don't think I need to, since I'm pretty sure it's already a standard Jewish teaching that, in the Messianic Age, the Gentiles will also enter God's kingdom.

When this happens, the divinely stated reason for the kosher laws will no longer apply, and so there is no reason for them to continue.

Some strictly observant Jews might be tempted to counter-argue as follows: it is not for human beings to pronounce judgement on the reasons for God's commandments.  God might happen to mention some of his purposes in passing, but regardless of what motivates the commandment, Israel's response should always be unquestioning and unconditional obedience.  But that argument seems to presuppose that what God likes best are ignorant slaves, who obey him without knowing the reasons why.  If Moses and Jeremiah are right that God wants people who are inspired by his spirit to want to keep his laws, then acting based on our best understanding of God's reasons is essential.

God does not just want people to go beyond the letter of the law in order to reach its true point (although that is of course highly commendable).  Sometimes he even wants the kind of people who break the letter of the law in order to keep its true spirit, as for example when David ate the showbread that was reserved for the priests.  (If God were only interested in legalistic obedience, he would never have made David king in the first place, since his great-grandmother Ruth was a Moabitess (Ruth 4:21-22), and in the Torah the descendants of a Moabite were not allowed into the assembly of the Lord down to the 10th generation (Deut 23:3).)

Of course, since the Torah was divinely inspired, nothing in it simply gets discarded or thrown out.  The written record remains forever to serve as a moral guidepost and a record of God's dealings with humanity.  This is possible even if some commandments stop being followed according to the letter.  There is an important difference between abolishing the law, and fulfilling it.  The former is like burning up an acorn in a fire, the latter is like planting it and letting it grow into an enormous oak tree.  The two are completely different in their degree of respect for the acorn's purpose—but either way, the acorn is gone and it isn't coming back!

So I think I have adequately proven, from the Tanakh alone, that (whether or not Christianity is true) when the Messiah comes we should expect some changes to the commandments.  If you agree with that, then that's probably quite enough progress for a single day!

But there is a major issue raised by your comment which I haven't dealt with yet...

III.  Following Other Gods?

So far, I have left untouched the gigantic stumbling block of Christ's claims of divinity. Certainly I can see why this is a huge issue for you.

Now Christians claim—and I think the link you cite barely scratch the surface of what you would need to do to evaluate this claim properly—that there are hints throughout the Tanakh that:

(a) God, although he is one, also has some kind of plural aspects within his being;

(b) the Messiah, as the king who reigns forever, will be more than just an ordinary human, but plays some sort of mediatorial role, reconciling human beings to God;

(c) and that God himself is going to somehow dwell with Israel or live among them, in a more intimate way than before, in the Messianic era (despite the fact that other passages speak poignantly of being rejected by Israel).

This is a huge topic and it would take a whole additional blog post to provide all the Scriptures for each point, but these passages are there if you look for them honestly, rather than trying to fit everything into a predefined theology.

Instead, let's cut to the chanse and ask whether the claim is precluded outright by the Torah?  Between Deut. 18:20-22 (which is right after the passage I quoted) and Deut. 13:2:6 (the passage you made reference to), there are 2 different tests to distinguish true from false prophets.  Somebody can be judged a false prophet if they flunk either test.

The first test is to check whether the claimants prophetic signs come to pass.  Jesus predicted that he would rise from the dead after he was crucified, and the historical record strongly suggests that he did!  So he passes that test.

The second test (which, as you correctly say, applies even if the prophet performs a sign or wonder) is that if a prophet says "Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them", then he is still to be rejected (and executed!).

So this passage does raise a serious issue for Christianity.  But at the risk of maybe sounding a bit pedantic, I would humbly submit to you that Jesus did not tell people to turn aside and worship other gods, gods that the Israelites' forefathers had not known.  Rather he told people to worship the Father—his title for the God of Israel described in the Hebrew Scriptures—and whenever he made striking claims about himself, he never suggested that he was some additional or separate deity, apart from the Father.  (Indeed, in the Gospels Jesus states multiple times that there is only one God and that only God is worthy of worship.)  In the passages in which he claims some sort of divine sounding status, he is always claiming to be the somehow part of the same being as the Father.

In these same passages, he often asserts his radical dependency on the Father, to have no independent will or words apart from him.  To take one example, after healing a crippled man on the Sabbath day:

And therefore did the Jews persecute Jesus, and sought to slay him, because he had done these things on the sabbath day.  But Jesus answered them, "My Father worketh hitherto, and I work".

Therefore the Jews sought the more to kill him, because he not only had broken the sabbath, but said also that God was his Father, making himself equal with God.

Then answered Jesus and said unto them, "Verily, verily, I say unto you, The Son can do nothing of himself, but what he seeth the Father do: for what things soever he doeth, these also doeth the Son likewise."  (John 5:16-19)

For this reason, in Christian theology, Jesus is not considered to be a separate god the way that the Greeks considered Zeus and Hera and Athena to be separate gods.  We consider him to be the Incarnation in human flesh of the same God who made covenant with Abraham, and who asserted his unique power over Resurrection long ago when he said to Moses:

"See now that I myself am he!  There is no god besides me. I put to death and I bring to life, I have wounded and I will heal, and no one can deliver out of my hand."  (Deut 32:39)

The claim that Jesus is the meaning of the Torah, is not one that can be assessed simply by taking a giant list of claimed Messianic prophesies, and asking whether there is any way to interpret them in isolation, such that they agree (or don't agree) with similarly isolated New Testament passages.

No, it is a holistic judgement involving thinking carefully about the whole thing.  It requires meditating on what is God trying to do in the Hebrew Scriptures?  And, where is his spirit leading you as you try to follow his commandments to love him with your whole self, and your neighbor as yourself?   And then asking whether it the same thing as what God is portrayed as doing in the New Testament.  Jesus himself says:

If I am not doing the works of My Father, then do not believe Me.  But if I am doing them, even though you do not believe Me, believe the works themselves, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in Me, and I in the Father.”  (John 10:37)

In any case, one cannot avoid the conclusion that, false prophet or true, so far it is Jesus whom God has used as his primary vehicle for spreading the message of the Hebrew Scriptures among the Gentiles, just as the prophets said would happen.  I didn't come to Christianity by conversion from Judaism (although my best friend did); I'm a Gentile.  If it weren't for Jesus, I wouldn't even be arguing with you about the Torah!  I guess I'd be off in some forest somewhere, sacrificing to a pagan god.

Of course I am aware that there have been plenty of false Messianic claimants (although giving up on the claim in order to convert to Islam does seem like a pretty convincing refutation).  False Messiahs are a dime-a-dozen.  What I can't imagine though, is how there could be a Real Messiah that is better than Jesus, who showed us how the path of love is strong enough to conquer even the grave.  To me it is obvious that Jesus is deeply good, and that his healing grace and power are in continuity with the best that can be found in Hebrew Scripture.

[Update 8/30/16:  In the 5th to last paragraph of section II, I edited "best guess" to "best understaning", for reasons described in the comments section.]

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