This essay will investigate how issues of Jewish messianism and eschatology were used as polemical devices in medieval disputations between Jews and their Christian interlocutors. Eschatology, the system of religious beliefs about the end of time, is a crucial theme in medieval Judeo-Christian debate. To focus on the Judeo-Christian polemical discourse surrounding eschatology is to hone in on an issue which naturally created the most dissonance between these groups in medieval times. Eschatology presents a religion's case in terms of soteriology: beliefs about eschatology are beliefs about the nature of salvation and how one can live to attain such redemption. By rejecting the notion of Jesus as the Messiah, and thus the end-times of the Christian resurrection, Judaism asserted its own philosophy of redemption.
[...] messianism was hypernomian rather than antinomian.” One classic polemical example of the use of eschatology in Jewish-Christian medieval discourse is the Vikuah of Nahmanides. Moses Nahmanides is notable for being both one of the founding medieval fathers of Kabbala mysticism and one of the most effective Jewish debaters against the entrenched Christian orthodoxy in whose regime the Jewish population was tolerated. The mystical turn to Kabbala is a clear instance of Jewish spiritualism apart from the legalist tendencies of Halakhic Judaism. [...]
[...] Redemption is the culmination of a prophesied future in which “there shall be perfection above and below, and all worlds shall be united in one bond.” The psychology of eschatology is simple and useful: belief in a definitive end of time in which every religious ideal is realized on earth allows a believer living during tough times to throw all of his spiritual weight into some far-off but inevitable future. According to the eschatology of Moses Nahmanides, the sequence of periods concerning the end of time is as follows: 1. [...]
[...] The ‘scepter' mentioned in this passage is a synechdoche for the leadership of the Jewish nation that belongs to Shiloh, understood to be the Jewish Messiah born from a human man and woman. The argument from Genesis 49, as voiced by ‘Paul' of the Barcelona Disputation, claims that the Messiah is predicted by the Torah to arise after a lapse in Judaic rule following the reign of King David. As Nahmanides himself concedes, such an interregnum occurred the time of Second Temple when the Tribe of Judah held no power whatsoever.” His interlocutor extends this to be an entire “passing away” of the scepter of Jewish power, fitting the ascension of a Messiah who is the seed of Judah and [who] has the right of rulership” in such a time. [...]
[...] Kabbala blossomed as a field of inquiry in the century directly following Nahmanides' famed disputation. The Zohar stemmed from the tradition of Talmudic scholasticism which Nahmanides was an example of. The mystical communion of devekut demonstrates the true thrust of Jewish spirituality taken in its own terms apart from defensive rhetoric against the papacy. Gershom Scholem points out that devekut a value without eschatological connotations.” That is to say that for the Hasidic mystic, communion with God does not have anything to do with society and Messianic redemption. [...]
[...] The mystical Nahmanides, in other writings, himself devoted much effort to discerning when this period of Redemption would occur in worldly time. So it is not that he was arguing against the possibility of the messianic character, just that the personage of Jesus did not fit his bill. Through a process of gematria Nahmanides ascertained that the messiah will arrive in the year 1358 CE, a time so close to his own era that the Age of Redemption seems to be ‘hovering just around the corner' in a utopian hope. [...]
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