Newest Review on Torah from Alexandria: Philo as a Biblical Commentator Volume 1 Genesis

 

 

Philo Commentary Blurb
          About two decades before the birth of Jesus of Nazareth, another Jew, Philo of Alexandria, was born and destined to   became the most prolific writer of Hellenistic Judaism. Philo’s thought is primarily centered on Scripture and theology, yet his works have often remained, unknown, unread, inaccessible or obscure to many Jewish and Christian readers. Thankfully, in this modern commentary on Philo and the Torah, Rabbi Michael Samuel, himself a master of texts and their meaning, has provided a very readable, creative, scholarly work on Philo.
This commentary “cuts to the chase.” Torah from Alexandria helps clarify much of the mystery associated with Philo’s rambling, allegorical “airborne” style by conveying the thinking of Philo in a relevant, down-to-earth manner that both scholar and layperson can grasp and appreciate. Enhanced by an abundance of notes, cross references and indexes, this commentary on the Torah will prove a valuable companion for Torah studies and provide new insight and angles of theological conversation useful to Jews and Christians.
Philo is one of the great thinkers of the ancient world, he need no longer remain an enigma to biblical interpreters. I enthusiastically recommend Torah from Alexandria.

Marvin R. Wilson, Ph.D.
H. J. Ockenga Professor of
Biblical and Theological Studies
Gordon College
Wenham, MA
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Is Islam Really a “Religion of Peace”?

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Cultivating moderate Muslim voices is a mighty challenge—especially given the paucity of moderate Muslims in Western societies. John Kerry recently spoke a dinner honoring Shaarik Zafar’s inclusion into the Department of Homeland Security as a senior adviser. Here are some of the salient points that Kerry made in his speech:

  • Let me be really clear as a starting point for today’s conversation: The real face of Islam is not what we saw yesterday, when the world bore witness again to the unfathomable brutality of ISIL terrorist murderers, when we saw Steven Sotloff, an American journalist who left home in Florida in order to tell the story of brave people in the Middle East – we saw him brutally taken from us in an act of medieval savagery by a coward hiding behind a mask.
  • The real face of Islam is a peaceful religion based on the dignity of all human beings. It’s one where Muslim communities are leading the fight against poverty. It’s one where Muslim communities are providing basic healthcare and emergency assistance on the front lines of some of our most devastating humanitarian crises. And it is one where Muslim communities are advocating for universal human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the most basic freedom to practice one’s faith openly and freely. America’s faith communities, including American Muslims, are sources of strength for all of us. They’re an essential part of our national fabric, and we are committed to deepening our partnerships with them.
  • Confronting climate change is, in the long run, one of the greatest challenges that we face, and you can see this duty or responsibility laid down in scriptures, clearly, beginning in Genesis. And Muslim-majority countries are among the most vulnerable. Our response to this challenge ought to be rooted in a sense of stewardship of Earth. And for me and for many of us here today, that responsibility comes from God. [1]

Moderate Islam is a loose construction of Islamic law, which ignores certain portions of it for the sake of modernity. The Prime Minister of Turkey seems to take umbrage with the term, “moderate Islam” and had these bold words to say, “These descriptions are very ugly, it is offensive and an insult to our religion. There is no moderate or immoderate Islam. Islam is Islam and that’s it.”

One would suspect that Erdogan would probably consider the Islam of organizations such as CAIR and its Western apologists as disingenuous.

So, this takes us to the substantive question we must ask regarding John Kerry’s speech: Is ISIS the real face of Islam?

Let us consider the facts: ISIS claims to have to anywhere between 80-100,000 people willing to fight for its beliefs. Their numbers could very easily grow exponentially in the next several years with their slick and sophisticated marketing. This is not a small cadre of thugs, it is part of a global jihad dedicated to conquering the Western world.

ISIS is seeking new fighters from Europe, Africa, North and South America and Asia to help expand their caliphate. This poses a far more serious threat than global warming and climate change.

The vast numbers behind ISIS claim to practice their Islamic faith very seriously. Following in the footsteps of Mohammed, they grow their beards, shave their mustaches, pray five times a day, and show a willingness to die for their religion. To any one of us with  a modicum of common sense, the ISIS followers behave like pious Muslims. Across the Middle Eastern world and Africa, groups like  ISIS, al Qaeda, Boko Haram, al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Taliban all bear the same Islamic label.

Making believe that Islam is a peaceful religion is an illusion. If Islam has so many “moderates” why are they so impotent in stopping the spread of the radical global Jihad movement?

To use a philosophical analogy, the skeptic Epicurus once asked:

  • Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

So, I must ask similar questions regarding “Moderate Islam.”

  • Is Moderate Islam willing to prevent religious fanaticism perpetuated in its name, but is not able? Then Moderate Islam is impotent. If Moderate Islam is both able and willing to do something to prevent evil deeds that is perpetuated in its name, then why are such acts of atrocity still continuing to occur on a daily basis everywhere in the civilized world? If Moderate Islam is neither able or willing to combat the fanaticism of the global Jihadists, then why call them “Moderate Islam”?

The civilized is appalled and dismayed by the Islamic countries that have done so little to prevent such a dangerous menace from growing.

Whenever they behead the kufar (non-believers), whether in the Middle East, London, or wherever, they are merely following the example of what Islam’s prophet Muhammad did to a Jewish tribe called Bani Quraiza mentioned in the Quaran Sura 47:4. There he stated, “, ‘When you meet the unbelievers and fight, smite their necks.’”  Such are the decrees of Allah. This is what we are hearing in countries such as Norway, Denmark, and other European countries that have historically never had much of an interest in Middle Eastern affairs and its problems.

Yes, by the testimony of the Quran, ISIS behaves likes good Muslims—whether the moderates like what they are doing or not.

Muhammad would be proud.

ISIS is not the only threat posed by Jihadist Islam. Iran and Hezbollah are just as dangerous—even now, as they aspire to make nuclear weapons along with a delivery system to threaten mainland America and Europe.

One of President Obama’s senior advisors to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is a man named Muhammad Elibiary, who is an admirer of the Islamic teachings of Ayatollah Khomeini. Elibiary was invited as a guest speaker at a December 2004 conference in Dallas, titled “A Tribute to the Great Islamic Visionary,” which was held in honor of the late Ayatollah Khomeini. If Elibiary really opposed this Jihadist madman, why would he speak at conference honoring Khomeini’s legacy?  Why would our President put such a man in such a position of power as a senior advisor in the DHS? Could it be that somebody is spiking the “Moderate Islam” community cool-aid for gullible Westerners?

Like Erdogan, the admirers of Khomeini categorically rejected the notion of Islam as a religion of peace.  Khomeini made these words emphatically clear in his speeches:

  • Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war.   Those who say this are witless.  Islam says: ‘Kill all the unbelievers just as they would kill you all!  Kill them, put them to the sword and scatter their armies’. . . Islam says: Whatever good there is exists thanks to the sword and in the shadow of the sword!  People cannot be made obedient except with the sword!  The sword is the key to paradise, which can be opened only for holy warriors! There are hundreds of other [Koranic] psalms and hadiths urging Muslims to value war and to fight.  Does all that mean that Islam is a religion that prevents men from waging war?  I spit upon those foolish souls who make such a claim.’” [3]

While there are doctrinal differences between the Sunni and the Shiites, the one common thread that unites all global Jihadists is their goal to conquer the Western world.

Unfortunately,  there are practically no “Moderate” Islamic leaders who are willing to do anything to stop the radicals from completely commandeering their religion.

Mr. Kerry, global warming is not the problem we ought to be concerned about at this present moment in history. We need to stop deluding ourselves of the obvious truth: Jihadist Islam is not a small cadre of fanatics. Its forces are legion and we must come up with a viable strategy to combat it, defeat it, and ultimately eradicate this religious plague from the earth.

Notes:

[1] http://www.state.gov/secretary/remarks/2014/09/231245.htm

[2] Elibary has often praised the late Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb, whose ideas have define the modern jihadist movement – especially his call for violent jihad and for the purification of Islam from the forces of unbelief. See more at: http://pamelageller.com/2014/06/obamas-dhs-senior-dhs-adviser-mohamed-elibiary-inevitable-caliphate-returns.html/#sthash.BpIKSvx4.dpuf

[3]   Ibn Waraq, Why I am not a Muslim (New York: Prometheus Books, 1995), pp. 12-13.

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Rescuing Spinoza from the Depths of Hell

This past week, the Jewish Chronicle published a remarkable article that caught my attention that I would like to write about, which just appeared in the news for the first time.[1]

The time: 2012

The place: Modern day Amsterdam.

The event:  A group of university scholars and leaders of the Amsterdam Jewish community meet to discuss the possibility of lifting a ban of excommunication made against Baruch Spinoza. This ban has been in effect for 356 years.

The Amsterdam Chief Rabbi, Haham Dr. Pinchas Toledano was asked  to lift the 356-year-old ban of excommunication, but he refused to do so  for several reasons:

He gives many reasons for his position:

  • Spinoza never asked the community to rescind the ban despite the fact that the average excommunication [and there were many in those days] was lifted after 30 days. Therefore, “beyond any shadow of doubt, Spinoza never requested to rescind the herem.”
  • Spinoza never asked for forgiveness and felt his positions were justified within the matrix of Judaic thought.
  • Toledano explains that we do not wish to intimate that we approve of Spinoza’s heresies.
  • Judaism does not recognize the freedom of speech.

While one may or may not accept the first three reasons Toledano offers, the last reason about Judaism being against the freedom of speech is especially offensive and historically untrue. Throughout the medieval era, Jewish thinkers took umbrage with each of Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith. There has never been a catholicity of Judaic belief in Jewish history. This is an important distinction we make between the Christian faith that insists upon correct belief vis-à-vis  Jewish belief.

While one may or may not accept the first three reasons Toledano offers, the last reason about Judaism being against the freedom of speech is especially offensive and historically untrue. Throughout the medieval era, Jewish thinkers took umbrage with each of Maimonides Thirteen Principles of Faith. There has never been a catholicity of Judaic belief in Jewish history. This is an important distinction we make between the Christian faith that insists upon correct belief vis-à-vis  Jewish belief.

Perhaps the Ultra-Orthodox ought to take a lesson from the Catholic Church.

When Galileo first championed his heliocentric theories to Copernicus in 1610, the Catholic Church unleashed the power of the Inquisition, who ruled that such theories of the solar system were heretical. Galileo’s books were banned and burned. Nobody was allowed to even discuss his “dangerous” scientific ideas.  In 1633, he was tried and arrested for heresy and remained in prison until his death in 1642. Oddly, despite the scientific progress the world had seen since the time of his death, only Pope John Paul II finally freed Galileo from the tortures of purgatory in 1999.

People nowadays laugh that it took so long for the Catholic Church to finally honor a truly great figure in modern history. Today, many of the Church’s greatest theological minds are also physicists who believe that a symbiosis of science and religion is possible, as Einstein famously stated: “Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.”

In short, anyone who is familiar with much of what Spinoza writes about with respect to God, Bible, and revelation, one can more or less discover many of his ideas in the classical sources. Granted, we have every right to differ with many of Spinoza’s ideas, much like we would differ with Maimonides’s view of Kashrut, or Gersonides’ views regarding Divine omnipresence.

The real problem that we are witnessing today is the attempt of Ultra-Orthodox  (Haredi, Chabad, Haredi Light Judaism, etc.) seeking to homogenize Judaic thought so it will exclude any non-Orthodox form of Judaism. That is the problem that demands addressing.

Our problem boils down to a very human problem: the fear of new ideas. Carl Jung once referred to this problem as  “misoneism” and it is nothing new in the history of human civilization and progress. Stalwarts of the status-quo fear a loss of position and power that comes with the introduction of a new paradigm. History reflects such rigid and intransigent thinking. Unfortunately, it is a problem that is evident in many walks of life—especially when it comes to religion.

The way to fight heretical ideas is not by burning or forbidding these books to be read. We must combat questionable or debatable ideas by coming up with better ideas. This is a legacy that Spinoza tried to start in his own way, and we are greatly indebted for the questions he poses for modern Jews of all denominational movements to wisely consider answering.

 

 

 

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Nero and Obama: A Remarkable Parallel in History

  • If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle”—Sun  Tzu, The Art of War

The words of Sun Tzu convey new significance in light of President Obama’s disclosure. In his most recent speech, the President was asked an important and obvious question many Americans are asking themselves: How will we defeat ISIS? With blunt honesty and candor, the President said, “We don’t have a strategy yet.”

As I listened to his words, I found myself asking, “Did he really say that?” Then I wondered. “How is ISIS reacting this statement?”

Even the President’s media supporters are scratching their heads on the latest Presidential gaffe, whose optics makes our leader appear as though he is totally disengaged from an evil that makes Nazism pale in comparison. How can any moral and sensible human being say that the ISIS conflict is an Iraqi problem to solve? When we look at the decapitated heads of Shiite, Christian and Yazidi children,  how can we not take arms against a religious and political movement that joyfully slaughters in the name of psychotic Islam?

According to Maimonides, the first step in a person’s moral and spiritual rehabilitation involves coming to terms with one’s past sins and mistakes. Acknowledging  that one did anything wrong is perhaps the hardest but most significant step one can take.

For the President in particular, he has yet to admit the most obvious fact that is staring at his face: Jihadist Islam is at war with the United States and the Western civilization as a whole. It is also at war with other forms of Jihadist Islam, e.g., Shiite Islam as represented by the repressive Iranian regime. In short, Islam is at war within itself and it has been probably since the inception of its religion.

This is actually good news, for when a house is divided, it can be conquered much more easily. ISIS recognizes its Achilles heel and this is the principle reason why ISIS has targeted other Islamic movements and states (with the notable exception of Turkey, which is the only western country supporting ISIS—this is a subject for another article because of its seriousness).

Obama’s stark admission is all the more surprising since ISIS did not emerge ex nihilo over night. They have been a major thorn in our side since the beginning of the Iraqi war. This new political entity makes Al Qaeda pale in comparison. It has approximately two billion dollars of money it stole from the Iraqi people and it is offering salaries of $33,000 to any young dysfunctional thug who is willing  to join its ranks. Judging by the slick marketing, they are probably offering a nice retirement plan and other terrestrial incentives.

All right, in the interest of problem solving, what kind of strategy should our government be focusing on? Is it reasonable to expect that economic pressure will work, e.g., the threat of sanctions (as we have tried with Putin)? Will diplomatic pressure work? It appears that ISIS could care less about these possibilities. Military pressure with an objective of eradicating the infrastructure of this evil organization is the only viable solution. If left unchecked, hundreds of millions in human lives will die if we adopt a supine attitude.

In addition, Western media outlets such as YOUTUBE, Twitter, and Facebook need to all ban these retrograde people from using their technology from promoting Jihadism.

In addition we need real international leaders who will not take a neutral attitude about ISIS.

Thankfully, the English PM Cameron continues to model the kind of leadership we need in our country. Cameron said last week:

  • The threat we face today comes from the poisonous narrative of Islamist extremism. The terrorist threat was not created by the Iraq war ten years ago. It existed even before the horrific attacks on 9/11. This threat cannot be solved simply by dealing with the perceived grievances over Western foreign policy. We cannot appease this ideology. We have to confront it at home and abroad.

Applying his words to actions, the UK raised the terror threat level from “substantial” to “severe,” Cameron said they will introduce new laws to fights terrorists and seize passports from terror suspects. He also plans to offer more details on the UK’s plans in a few days.

Cameron’s remarks remind us that we need leadership that understands the problems posed by Jihadist Islam.

Even the French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius has a message about Iraq for Barack Obama: Get back to the White House and do something:

  • I know it is the holiday period in our Western countries,’ Fabius told a radio interviewer Tuesday in France,’ but when people are dying, you must come back from vacation.

Ditto.

In the Great Fire of Rome, historians—both ancient and modern—are unsure who caused this great conflagration. Some historians think that Emperor Nero instigated it and he fiddled, as Rome burned. Some blame the Christians because Nero persecuted them. In any event, some day historians may make a similar analogy about a morally confused President, who preferred to play golf and conduct Democratic fundraisers rather than defend his people when they needed him the most.

After 9/11, President Bush put together fifty countries to combat the Al Qaeda. Our President ought to be assembling a similar coalition, which may offer him an opportunity to demonstrate true statesmanship—if he is up to the moral task.

Jewish leaders in particular have also been too sheepish on this danger as it threatens not only Israel, but the United States.

  • Open borders with Mexico is viewed as a golden opportunity to create numerous attacks that could threaten the American homeland. If the President was really concerned about the border, he would close it up as soon as possible to minimize this threat from ever occurring.
  • ISIS can easily hire Mexican drug cartel terrorists to attack the country’s electrical grid. Were this to occur, there would be a paralysis that could result in tens of millions of people dying because of the collapse of our country’s infrastructure. An EMP bomb could easily lead to the death of 270 million Americans and take years to reconstruct.
  • President Obama should be building our military at this perilous time of history and use the country’s money to strengthen the electrical grid from terrorist attacks.[1]
  • Instead of cutting military aid to Israel, the President should be increasing greater aid to ensure Israel has the means to protect herself from ISIS and Iran.

The inclusion of Muslim Brotherhood leaders like Mohammed Elibary in Obama’s Department of Homeland Security is troubling. This is a man who considered the late Ayatollah Khomeini as a “great Islamic leader”[2] and even praised the emergence of a new Muslim caliphate taking place in Iraq on June 13 in his Twitter log, and in other places,[3] clearly shows that either Obama’s judgment is severely impaired, or that he is identifying with the Jihadist agenda in its effort to unite the Muslim world. Either scenario ought to make each of us cringe.

To conclude, as the philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Considering everything we  are witnessing in the world today, not only does it appear that we have learned nothing from the Holocaust, our country’s foolishness combined with the foolishness of the European community will lead to a destruction far greater than anything we have witnessed in the 20th century. However, this time it will be fueled by the religious zealotry of Jihadist Islam, the scourge of modern times.

Historically, Jihadist Islam threatened the world once before in the annals of human memory. The murderous Jihadist Timur Khan (1370–1405) wiped out close to twenty million non-Muslims as he carved out his empire in India, the Indian subcontinent, Pakistan, and parts of China, all of which constituted 5% of the world population.

Jihadist Islam has always been greatest mass-murdering force in the history of humankind. As a champion of freedom, the United States cannot take an apathetic stance regarding the expansion of ISIS and its legion of Jihadist supporters.

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