Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Golden Rule in Classical Judaism

THE GOLDEN RULE BECAME A COMMONPLACE IN JEWISH THOUGHT, certainly by the time of the Hellenistic period, and it is perhaps most succinctly and colorfully summarized by Rabbi Hillel as related in the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 31A):

שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי, אמר לו: גיירני על מנת שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת. דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו. בא לפני הלל, גייריה. אמר לו: דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד - זו היא כל התורה כולה ואידך - פירושה הוא זיל גמור.

On another occasion it happened that a certain non-Jew came before Shammai [a rival scholar to Hillel] said to him, “I will convert to Judaism, on condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot.” Shammai chased him away with the builder's tool that was in his hand. He came before Hillel and said to him, "Convert me." Hillel said to him, “What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor: that is the whole Torah; the rest is commentary; go and learn it.”

(AJWS translation). Contrary to the Golden Rule as enunciated by the Oriental tradition (e.g., Confucius) or by the philosophers or sophists (e.g., Isocrates), the Golden Rule in the Jewish tradition was clearly built upon Revelation. In Hillel's view, the rule is a succinct summary of the Torah, which contains the Jewish foundations of their relationship with God and with their fellows, and it only needs to be expanded upon by further study and learning. Some scholars have argued that Hillel's negative formulation of the Golden Rule is exclusive and not universal: that it pertains only among the compatriot Jews, and excludes from its pale non-Jews. This argument is based upon the grounds that Hillel uses the term ḥaber (הבר‎) [translated as "neighbor" above], rather than rea' (רע), in its formulation. The term ḥaber has a variety of meanings, from "scholar," to "associate," "colleague," or "fellow." It may also be used more generally to refer to "companion" or "friend." It also has been used to mean a member of a society or order, especially a religious Pharisaical society or confraternity intended to void contact with the unclean by following the Mosaic law and its prescriptions rigorously. Generally, the term is more exclusive than the rea' (רע), the general Hebrew term for "neighbor." Thus, these scholars argue, when Hillel refers to the ḥaberim, he is excluding those outside the household of Israel or of his own school; that is, he advances a Vergeltungsdenken ethic. See Jewish Encyclopaedia (s.v. "ḥaber " and "Golden Rule"). To the contrary, others argue that the context suggests a broad construction of the word ḥaber. Why would Hillel use the term ḥaber in its most technical exclusive sense when speaking to a Gentile? In this context, some suggest it is within the meaning of ḥaber to be synonymous with the general word for neighbor rea' (רע). Moreover, to interpret Hillel in such an exclusive sense is against the ethos of the Jew. "Love of one's friends and hatred of one's enemies are nowhere inculcated in Jewish literature." Jewish Encyclopaedia (s.v. "Golden Rule") (though it candidly admits: "Nevertheless, while Jewish ethics has never commanded and paraded love for an enemy, it has practiced it." But then haven't we all been less than perfect?) What is probably more true is that the principle was both exclusive and inclusive, sort of like the manner the expression St. Paul uses it in his epistle to the Romans (1:16; 2:9; 2:10): First for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Some sort of exclusionism is not unexpected in a people believed to be a people set apart are chosen.

Rabbi Hillel the Elder: Detail from the Knesset Menorah, Jerusalem

Most fundamentally, within the Jewish revelation, the Golden Rule finds its genesis in Genesis: specifically, the notion that God created man, and and all men have a common father in Adam. Though the Scriptures clearly distinguish between the Jew and the Gentile, and even between Jewish tribes, that does not allay the fact that fundamentally, under the concept that all men are, in a more or less distant sense, sons of the same father, and so brothers. The goyim or Gentile herefore demand some reciprocity, and cannot ever be regarded as subhuman, even if they could be regarded as slaves. Golden Rule thinking is the result of "recognizing [the] moral implications in the fact that others are like oneself." Wattles, 42.

Moreover, the Jew had something the Greek never had. Jews had the experience of being held captive to the Egyptian, of being aliens and sojourners, of living among those who were not of their tribe, of being gerim (גרים). This historical fact was liturgically and ritually renewed so as to be constantly present on their minds. The exceptionalism that the Jew claimed as a result of Yahweh's choosing them as his special people is balanced by Yahweh's own injunction upon them not to forget their captive and pilgrim past
.כאזרח מכם יהיה לכם הגר ׀ הגר אתכם ואהבת לו כמוך כי־גרים הייתם בארץ מצרים אני יהוה אלהיכ

The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

(Lev. 19:34). There is nothing like this among the Greeks, and such a demand almost compels the abandonment of any notion of strict Vergeltungsdenken.

Among themselves, the Jews were not to seek vengeance against one who had harmed them.
לא־תקם ולא־תטר את־בני עמך ואהבת לרעך כמוך אני יהוה

You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.
Lev. 19:18 (NAB). The moral distance in between the Levitican οὐκ ἐκδικᾶταί σου ἡ χείρ καὶ οὐ μηνιεῖς τοῖς υἱοῖς τοῦ λαοῦ σου (Lev. 19:13, Septuagint) and the Greek τὸ τοὺς φίλους ἄρα εὖ ποιεῖν καὶ τοὺς ἐχθροὺς κακῶς (Plato's Republic, 332d) is massive. There is a moral "leap in doing" between the two patterns of right and wrong. The rejection of any Vergeltungsdenken was enunciated in Jewish wisdom literature which sought to internalize the external precepts of the Torah. Wattles, 44. So, for example, we find it in the book of Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) (28:1-4), in a passage that is redolent of the Lord's Prayer:
The vengeful will suffer the LORD'S vengeance, for he remembers their sins in detail.
Forgive your neighbor's injustice; then when you pray, your own sins will be forgiven.
Should a man nourish anger against his fellows and expect healing from the LORD?
Should a man refuse mercy to his fellows, yet seek pardon for his own sins?
The great scholar Hillel did not craft his Golden Rule whole cloth when responding to the importunate Gentile. The Golden Rule had already found its way into the sapiential parts of the Book of Tobit (Tobias) 4:15(16), in that part where Tobit gives advice to his son Tobiah, not unlike Dioynysius Cato did to his son, or Polonius to Laertes. Among the maxims Tobit gives his son, we find a clear expression of the Golden Rule in its negative formulation.
Do to no one what you yourself dislike. (NAS)

Quod ab alio odis fieri tibi vide ne alteri tu aliquando facias. (Vulgate)

Et quod oderis, alio ne feceris. (Itala)

ὃ μισεῖς, μηδενὶ ποιήσῃς (Septuagint)
[I could not find Tobit in its Hebrew or originally Chaldean text with this verse.]

The Letter of Aristeas (or Pseudo-Aristeas), a work famous for its description of the translation of the Jewish Scriptures from Hebrew to Greek (giving us the Septuagint), and cited by the Jewish historian Josephus, provides another interesting evidence of the centrality of the Golden Rule as a part of Jewish religious ethical teaching. The Letter of Aristeas has a part that describes to the Egyptian king the wisdom of the Jew by reciting the Golden Rule as a central principle, and it is phrased in both its negative and positive formulations.
The king received the answer with great delight and looking at another said, "What is the teaching of wisdom?" And the other replied, "As you wish that no evil should befall you, but to be a partaker of all good things, so you should act on the same principle towards your subjects and offenders, and you should mildly admonish the noble and good. For God draws all men to himself by his benignity."

Ἀποδεξάμενος δὲ εὖ μάλα καὶ τοῦτον ἐπιβλέψας εἶπεν, "Τί ἐστι σοφίας διδαχή?" ὁ δὲ ἕτερος ἀπεφήνατο. "Καθὼς οὐ βούλει σεαυτῷ τὰ κακὰ παρεῖναι, μέτοχος δὲ τῶν ἀγαθῶν ὑπάρχειν ἁπάντων, εἰ πράσσοις τοῦτο πρὸς τοὺς ὑποτεταγμένους καὶ τοὺς ἁμαρτάνοντας, εἰ τοὺς καλοὺς καὶ ἀγαθοὺς τῶν ἀνθρώπων ἐπιεικέστερον νουθετοῖς· καὶ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς τοὺς ἀνθρώπους ἅπαντας ἐπιεικείᾳ ἄγει."
207. (English from R. H. Charles.)

For the Jew, the Golden Rule was incorporated within the greater notion of obligation to God and to neighbor, specifically, as encapsulated in the Ten Commandments. The Golden Rule was therefore well-rooted in a greater understanding of man's relationship to God and man's relationship to his fellow men. This synaxis is clearly displayed in a manuscript found among the Dead Sea Scrolls known as "The Two Ways." Its teaching clearly is at the foundation of the early Christian text the Didache (Teaching of the Apostles):
The way of life is this: First, you shall love the Lord your maker, and secondly, your neighbor as yourself. And whatever you do not want to be done to you, you shall not do to anyone else. And the interpretation of these words is: Do not kill, do not commit adultery, do not bear false witness, do not fornicate, do not steal, do not covet what belongs to your neighbor.
Wattles, 47 (quoting David Flusser, "The Ten Commandments and the New Testament" in The Ten Commandments in History and Tradition, Gershon Levi, ed. (Jerusalem: Magnes Press: Hebrew University), 235. [I could not independently verify this text.]

Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph

This synaxis of the Golden Rule with the Ten Commandments flowed into the later Rabbinic tradition. As an example of this, one may cite the story given in the Abot de Rabi Nathan (The Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan). This book, compiled sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries A.D., tells a story of Rabbi Akiba ben Joseph (ca. 50-135 A.D.) of another encounter between a young man in a hurry and this Rabbi:
It happened that one came to R. Akiba and said to him, "Rabbi, teach me the whole Law all at once." He answered, "My son, Moses, our teacher, tarried on the mountain forty days and forty nights before he learned it, and you say, Teach me the whole Law all at once! Nevertheless, my son, this is the fundamental principle of the Law: That which you hate respecting yourself, do not to your neighbor. If you desire that no one injure you in respect to what is yours, then do not injure him. If you desire that no one should carry off what is yours, then do not carry of what is your neighbor's.
Wattles, 49 (quoting George Brockwell King, "The 'negative' golden rule, Journal of Religion 8:268-79, 268 (itself quoting the Avot de Rabbi Nathan, ed. Schechter (2nd ed. n.d.), chp. 26, p. 53)).

It would appear, in summary, that the notion of the Golden Rule as a summary or synopsis of the Law and the Prophets was well-established by the time the Word of God became man. This teaching of the Golden Rule as a good summary of the sum and substance of the Law and the Prophets continued in a dual stream. On the one hand, it was continued in vibrant fashion in the Rabbinic teachings of classical, post-diasporan Judaism. On the other hand, it was incorporated into Christianity through the words of Christ as reflected in the Gospel of Matthew and in the Apostolic teaching as reflected in the Didache. The Christian Fathers further viewed the Golden Rule as part and parcel of the natural moral law, which bound all men from the beginning of creation until the end of time, and even into eternity. For the Christian, this principle of the natural moral law was an eternal principle of the eternal law.

The Golden Rule by Norman Rockwell


  1. I don't know how you can subscribe the book of Sirach and of Tobit to the Jews. They specifically rejected the Septuagint when they created the Masoretic text. The book of Sirach and Tobit is what is called "Apocrypha". These books of the Septuagint are Hellenized, heavily. The Jews rejected these books specifically because of their Hellenistic influences. So, I don't know how you can subscribe these verses as a "centrality" to Jewish life. The Jewish community eversince Alexander the Great was split between the Hellenizers and the Maccabees, who were the reactionary conservatives of a pure Judiasm. The Masoretic Text can be said to be of the Maccabean party.

    Moreover, there are quite many references in the Talmud of the different treatment of the goyim! Tons of evidence. There is more evidence of discrimination, different legal standings than there is of the Golden Rule in Jewish teaching.

  2. The rejection of the canonical status of these books is not determinative of their influence in Jewish life. For example, the Hanukkah is mentioned in the books of the Maccabees, which were part of the Septuagint, but not the Masoretic text. Analogously, some of the Apocryphal Gospels influenced the early Church and contain common teachings (e.g., Mary's father as Joachim is in the Apocryphal Gospel of James). Additionally, the Masoretic text was not compiled until much later.

    But your comments on the Hellenizing influences are, it seems to me, correct.

    I think you are probably right that the tradition of the Jewish "Golden Rule" was not quite perfectly applied, and that there was a real sense of exclusivity among the Jews which would be inconsistent with a rigorous application of it. I don't think the Jews ever saw themselves as a universal religion in the manner that the Christians, Zoroastrianism, or that Islam for that matter, did.

  3. You are right that the Jews did not consider themselves a universalist religion. It was very much tied to their culture. That is why there was a complete break with Christianity. Christianity is essentially a Greek religion. It was Isocrates who said, "If one speaks Greek, he is Greek". He turned Hellenism into a cosmopolitan idea. Hellenism, moved across cultures and was adopted by many. Essentially, Hellenism was cosmopolitanism. And in the medium of Hellenism, did Christianity grew and developed. Christianity is a Greek/European religion.

  4. I think your point is: "The Faith is Europe. Europe is the Faith." Hilaire Belloc.

  5. By the way have you heard about the Samson Option? It is threat that if Israel is attacked, they will unload all their nukes, not only on the attacking country, but everyone else, Athens, Mecca, Medina, Cairo, Ankara, Rome, London, Paris, etc. If they go down, they are ready and willing to destroy everybody else! Their deterance is not aimed at only an attacking enemy. No Christian even in an un-right mind, would even consider this.

  6. Yes, I love that quote from Hillaire Belloc. He is absolutely right!

    Jesus himself said:
    Matthew, Ch. 21
    “Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it."

    For a New Covenant, had to come with a New Wineskin. Jesus said, You can't pour New Wine into an old Wineskin; new wine requires new wineskins. Therefore the Faith, upon his Death, was transferred to the Greeks. The Greeks believed--for they already had Achilles and Hercules, half-men, half Godmen. Jesus was just a natural! a natural fit. That is why he has a name change. That is why his last name is "Christos", a Greek name and word. The First shall be last and the Last first. Amen. Amen. Amen.