Keepers of Our Elder Brothers

Is it fair to characterize the Jews of today as the elder brothers of the Christians, as recent Papal dicta would suggest? The question arose in the commentary on Bonald’s recent post on Judeo-Islamic universalism. I hadn’t ever considered it one way or another, but the comments got me wondering. I still don’t think that the answer matters much (although I may of course be missing something), but as so often happens once one begins to think a little about a little thing, one discovers all sorts of connections.

What follows began as a quick comment in that thread, which grew in the writing as unsuspected and fruitful associations revealed themselves. It came to me first as a single sentence, almost the moment I asked myself the question, “Are the Jews our elder brothers, after all?” It had always seemed to me that they are – which was why I had never thought about it.

The answer: “Yes, certainly: the Jews are elder brothers to us, just as the elder brothers of Joseph were to him.”

Now, when it first bubbled up to the surface, this statement seemed to come out of nowhere, completely unsupported. It rang true, but for reasons I could not begin to see. So I began to ruminate upon it, in the process gradually discovering why the thought had arrived.

It also seemed at first an uncomfortably ugly way to characterize the Jews. But then, this is how the Jews themselves characterize the Jews. They are of all men the most ruthlessly, relentlessly self-critical. No one is as skeptical about the Jews as the Jews. So we find that the Old Testament is crammed with detestable characters doing despicable things. And these include many of the most important heroes and patriarchs in Jewish history: David (lust, adultery, murder), Saul (envy, hatred, attempted murder), Jacob (fraud (on his own father and brother!)), Abraham (deceit, pimping (of his own wife!)), Solomon (idolatry, tyranny), Aaron (idolatry): the list of scoundrelly rascals is long. Even Moses messes up. The scriptures that describe the moral defects of the Jews with such brutal candor are their very own.

And this is an aspect of the genius of those scriptures, and of the Jews: for, reading their hallowed tales of their venerated forefathers, any nation with a lick of sense can see foreshadowed in them the sordid deeds of its own wicked, weakened ancestors; so that any nations – or any human persons – that imagine themselves immune from the defects of the Jews, or think that, however variously evils are distributed among peoples, the Jews are somehow, peculiarly, more evil overall than they, are vain and delusory. After all, our common parents, the very first of the human ilk, were the Original Sinners, and their first born, our first uncle, a jealous murderer of his younger brother, and a liar before God Almighty. We are all of us descended from the same bad seed. The Hebrews were Chosen from among us not because they were especially good, but because they were so typically human, so close to the mean of the normal human distribution of virtues and vices.

“What is not assumed is not redeemed,” our Greek fathers insist. To raise man, God became a Hebrew.

To say then that the Jews are susceptible to human evil is only to say that they are human, and that their stories of Hebrew perfidy are stories of human perfidy. That a people should number such wretches as Joseph’s contemptible older brothers among its multitudes is no cause for special criticism. And if an honest read of their scriptures demonstrates that the Jews are but typically, indeed archetypically, human in their wickedness, then it must also admit that they are typically and archetypically human in their nobility, excellence, sagacity, virtue, devotion, and beauty. David is an evil asshole, a monster consumed and perverted by base and ignoble passions. He is also a religious genius, a poet, a mystic, a courageous warrior and brilliant commander, a visionary, and a Noble King. Devilish handsome, too, by all accounts, a great guy, a generous and loyal friend. He is in the end then just a man, in full.

What, then, of this notion that the Jews are elder brothers to the Christians as Joseph’s were to him?

Jon Levenson argues that Joseph is a type of Jesus. Each is an instance of a pattern repeated again and again in scripture (e.g., most famously, Isaac, but there are many others), of the Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. Literal death is not necessary to the invocation of the type. Banishment, exile, any sort of separation of the son from the house of his father fits the bill. The parable of the Prodigal Son is another famous example.

This seems right. Joseph was the favorite of his father Jacob, and – as a sage, a seer, an interpreter of dreams and spiritual advisor to the Pharaoh, the High King of the World (including Canaan, for many centuries a satrapy of Egypt) – a type of the High Priest. The first and highest duty of the High Priest was to offer himself a sacrifice for the people. This was done on the Day of Atonement, when he carried the sacrificial blood through the Veil into the Holy of Holies, Heaven itself, there to stand alone before the Chariot Throne of the Ark and risk annihilation by the unmasked calcining energies of YHWH, a burning fiery furnace, wrathful and glorious.

The sacrifice of Jesus fit this pattern, as did the effectual sacrifice of Joseph.

Joseph’s coat of many colors was a type of the robe of the High Priest (the counterpart in the Church being the chasuble). Vestments are a metaphor for flesh, for the body, and by extension for the material implementation of the divine ideas generally in and as the things of our world. Like the Temple Veil that was the local expanse of the firmament between Heaven and Earth, between the angelic sphere and the human,[1] the High Priest’s robe was woven of colors representing the material elements of creation. When he donned his vestments, the High Priest “was” the Angel of the Lord in human form – a vicar, we might call him. In fact, he was not fully vested in his sacerdotal office, and could not exert its powers, except when he was fully clothed in its vestments: the clothes made the Man.[2]

The interior of the Temple, likewise, was (like Medieval cathedrals and chapels) adorned with paintings and carvings of plants, trees and animals, as it were a forested garden, a synecdoche of the whole sublunary sphere. Eden was a paradise – a walled garden – atop Mount Zion; the Temple within her walls was Eden.[3]

The Temple, too, is famously a metaphor for the body: for the body of Israel, and for the body of Jesus, which is the Church.

As the Temple was a synecdoche of the cosmos, so were the vestments a synecdoche of the Temple. Thus a profanation of the High Priest’s vestments was tantamount to a profanation of the Temple, of the House of God in which he is embodied, and of Heaven itself; for the Holy of Holies was the embassy of Heaven to Israel and Earth. To profane the Temple, or any of its thrice-holy furnishings, *just was* to profane Heaven, and so threaten to unravel the world.[4]

So when his brothers sold Joseph the “priest” into slavery in Egypt and polluted his coat with the blood of a goat that had not been consecrated a sacrifice,[5] they profaned the cult of their father Israel. They committed a sacrilege against YHWH. They killed their little brother, lied about it, and so rejected the cult of their father Israel and its utter dire honesty. They became apostate, at least for a time, and until they sought refuge with their victim (without at all knowing what they were about) and he forgave them, and welcomed them home to feast in his palace.

Jesus too is a Great High Priest, and – so far as Christians are concerned – the Messiah who fulfilled and restored the true religion of Israel. He too was rejected and handed over by his elder brothers, the Sanhedrin (excepting only a few, like Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus, types of Reuben) to be killed by foreigners. His vestment, too – the seamless garment, extremely costly – was profaned. He too was then met, alive, and full of power to save all those who had condemned him.

The House of Jesus, then – Christendom – is to the House of Judah as Joseph was to his elder brothers after they had rejected him. Interesting that the House of Judah now lives in and depends upon the House of Jesus, Christendom – or are we Egypt? Perhaps the House of Jesus is to the New Egypt as Joseph was to the old: a stranger in a strange land, interpreting the dreams of his hosts and teaching them wisdom for a time, and half a time. Our term as vizier to the sons of Japheth may now be ending. Soon we may find ourselves cast in prison for a while, for scorning the faithless wives of the New Egypt.

A large salient of Israel, having suffered persecution in the New Egypt, has migrated back to Canaan, and is at war again with the Canaanites, and the Phoenicians, their ancient enemies, who sacrifice their children to their god. But many Israelites remain in the House of Jesus, so that there are more Israelites in its capital New York than in the Land, just as after the Exodus there were more Jews in Egypt than in Israel. As Israel was a client state of Egypt, often fighting in her wars and hosting her garrisons, so is she now a client state of the US. As Egypt fought for centuries to defend the northern and eastern borders of Israel, and so herself, so may we.

It seems, then, that we are the keepers of our elder brothers.

This typological reading of history does get a bit hair-raising from time to time.



[1] NB: Heaven is both beyond the bound of this cosmos, and at the very center of it: the Holy of Holies, the navel of the sublunary sphere. It is both utterly transcendent of all creatures, and radically immanent in them.

[2] This is why the celebrant of the Eucharist dons the chasuble at the transition from the Liturgy of the Word to that of the Mass proper.

[3] It’s still there – or as we could also say, it’s already there, the Original and the New Jerusalem, present but clothed by the Fallen Jerusalem, hidden from our eyes by the cherubim who stand guard at the Gate of Heaven in the Holy of Holies.

[4] Thus the all-consuming horror, rage and terror of the Israelites at the profanation of their Temple by the Seleucids and the Romans: the Abomination of Desolation.

[5] Unlike the blood sprinkled on the Veil, the altar, and inevitably on the robe of the High Priest on the Day of Atonement.

9 thoughts on “Keepers of Our Elder Brothers

  1. Pingback: Keepers of Our Elder Brothers | Reaction Times

  2. This is all very interesting, but I think it misses the point of the question. I don’t think that anyone denies that the people described in the Old Testament are, in a spiritual sense, our “Elder Brothers.” The question is whether it is appropriate to grant this title to contemporary Jews and Judaism, and the answer would seem to depend on the relation of contemporary Jews and Judaism to the people and religion described in the Old Testament.

    With respect to contemporary practitioners of Judaism, I think it is appropriate to use the metaphor of “brothers,” since we share Second Temple Judaism as a common parent. But if contemporary practitioners of Judaism and Christians are “brothers,” it would seem that Christians are the “elder” of the two. Our reformation (or deformation) of Second Temple Judaism happened before theirs, our New Testament is older than their Talmud or Zohar.

    Do you suppose that the phrase “elder brother” may have been intended as an allusion to the story of Esau and Jacob? The more I think about this, the less likely this seems.

    • I think the analogy with Esau is not as tight as the analogy with Joseph’s half-brothers. For one thing, Jacob defrauded his older brother of his rightful inheritance, who then proceeded, nobly, to forgive him. I can’t see a way of construing the Christian continuation of Temple worship as a fraud on the Second Temple cult or its adherents, or even an appropriation, although I suppose some of them felt that it was indeed a theft of their patrimony. But in any case, unlike Esau the Pharisees never forgave the Christians.

      The worst thing Joseph did to his brothers, on the other hand, was to be the apple of his father’s eye, and to enjoy it a bit too obviously.

      As to whether the post misses the point of the question, it seems to me that it does not. There is quite a strong argument that Christianity is a renascence of the First Temple cult, which the returning exiles had suppressed. If so, then Christianity can argue – as indeed it does – that it is the restoration and fulfillment of the original religion of Israel, and of a tradition far more ancient than that of the Sadduccees or Pharisees. But then the Sadducees and Pharisees, whom the Essenes and Christians considered apostate – a brood of vipers, as St. John Baptist called them – are cast in the role of the apostate older brothers of Joseph, who in killing the rightful high priest and profaning his vestments had rejected their patrimonial cult.

      Why are the Sadduccees the *elder* brothers, even though the tradition of their cult was younger? Because they were the elite of Judah. The Jews who were sent into exile in Babylon, and who returned to impose the Second Temple cult, were the top layers of Israelite society, the elders and aristocrats, who should have been reliable in keeping the old faith intact. But when they returned to Judah they introduced and imposed theological innovations – e.g., no resurrection of the body, a rejection of angelology, and so forth. It was a typical reformation: the reformers saw themselves as purifying the religion, the traditionalists saw them as abandoning it. The same dynamic was played out in the Protestant Reformation, and in the first millennium battles between iconoclasts and iconodules (the Great Schism between Greek and Latin Christianity does not, I believe, fit this same mold).

      Where this leaves us, then, is that Christianity as the continuation and reflorescence of the ancient First Temple cult is the little brother of the Hebrews, the religion of the country people in Galilee and the schools of prophets in their desert monasteries, whereas the elder brothers of the Jewish elite in Jerusalem have (from the First Temple/Christian perspective) become an apostate generation, have rejected the true priestly cult and imported foreign practices, foreign doctrines, and even foreign priests and kings. Like Joseph, the First Temple cultists have been exiled by their older brothers – indeed, they seem to have fled to Egypt and Arabia in large numbers. Just as they persecuted the priests of the First Temple cult, those of the Second Temple persecute the Christians, even to stoning them.

      The Second Temple cult is then destroyed along with the Temple in 70. All that is left are the First Temple Christians, and the Pharisees. The rabbis are not priests, but they are a salient of the Second Temple cult, differing only in details from the Sadduccees (e.g., accepting the resurrection of the body). They never forgive the First Temple Christians their blasphemy in worshipping Jesus as God (as, to be fair, how could they, and remain unconverted?), and resent their appropriation of the Temple rite, their notions of the primacy of the priestly Order of Melchizedek over that of Aaron, and so forth.

      So we come to today. The last remnant of the Second Temple cult is still estranged from their little brothers of the First Temple Christian cult, who have maintained the old religion of Israel, and therefore claim legitimate title to be the true Israel. It’s a messy family relationship, fraught with antagonism, irked still by old wounds never properly healed.

      All that being said, this whole discussion is no more than an excursus.

  3. Definitions, definitions, definitions – we need them! 70 AD provides clarity.

    Anti-Semitism is the belief that a person, by the very existence of their biological background (Semitic), is in some way defective or inferior. Thus justified criticism of Jews (a theological construct), gets turned into a “racial” accusation. This is FALSE. Anti-Jewish is resistance to the destructive ideology to all that is, as Christ and His Apostles make clear, particularly in St. John and Acts, wicked. Here is would be important to read The Jewish Revolutionary Spirit by E. Michael Jones. Is the the confused term “Jewish” is the enemy of the true and the beautiful?

    So what is “Jewish”? There is no good definition, except that it is not Christian. With its atheist rabbis, its Orthodox, God-fearing rabbis, its great diversity of opinion – literally the only unifying definition is, “not Christian.” A second definition might be Tikkum Olam, which means to heal or repair the world. Practically, this means constant temporal motion and no spiritual center – revolution, what I would term destruction. So I recommend Alan Dershowitz’s “The Vanishing American Jew,” who covers this ground extensively. There is simply no centered definition.

    Anti-Semitism says that one is inferior due to DNA. Anti-Jewish, however, is perfectly understandable, even justifiable. It needs to be recognized that a sharp division of religious worldview, too little discussed, arose with the total destruction of the Jewish Temple in 70 AD. At this date, there no longer could a follower of Jesus of Nazareth claim the Jewish faith. From 70 AD, a reconstituted ethnic group claimed the title of “Jewish,” so much so that one could make an excellent case that Christianity is older than Judaism. However, there is a continuation of Old Testament Jewish faith and practice in light of the dramatic change of “Jewish” faith and practice.

    “Jewish” has come to mean a rejection of Logos (Christ). Who now has a Temple, a Sacrifice, and Manna from Heaven?

    The Apostolic!

    Judaism is primarily an ethnic categorization of religion, which over time can and has evolved into a racial categorization given isolation and group in-breeding. There is much debate about what constitutes the definitions of Jewish, and many arguments are acceptable – except for the claims of Messianic Judaism. So the best definition of “Jew” is not racial, but theological. To be Jewish is to be anti-Logos, an explicit rejection of Christian life. From the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD, following the revolt against the Roman Empire, what emerged was Talmudic Judaism. This practiced as its chief organizing principle and defining characteristic the anti-Messianic. Christianity is therefore older than “Judaism,” and for Catholics their Catholicism is the legitimate continuation and fulfillment of ancient, sacrificial Jewish faith and practice. Only the Apostolic Christian faiths (Catholicism and Orthodoxy) have retained a temple, a sacrifice, and the priesthood, whose source and summit is the Eucharist, which is manna from heaven in fullest form (Christ).

    Catholicism rejects anti-Semitism, a position based on the biological reality of race, but it is inherently anti-Jewish because all of the many and varied theological claims of Judaism since the time of Christ have been anti-Christian. During the life of Christ, the definition of “Jew” was fundamentally altered. “Judeo-Christian” is a term that only makes sense for a few decades from the time of Christ until the ruin of the Temple, which was predicted by Jesus and detailed by St. John’s book The Apocalypse. As Jerusalem lay in ruins following the total defeat inflicted by Titus and the Roman army, a response to the revolutionary revolts of 67-70 in Judea, an unbridgeable gap emerged among those who followed Christ and those who rejected Him while claiming they were still Jews. This gap will remain particularly acute for Catholics, who are required by the demands of their religion to understand themselves as the fulfillment of Old Testament promises.

    • Meanwhile, in the real world, anti-Semitism as exemplified by the DailyStormer people is the belief that the Jews are a biologically distinct people with the distinctive features and behaviors that they have been depicted as having in every description of Jews.

    • Another thanks goes out for addressing my question: Are Jews really are Jews anymore, since 70AD. Now I will consider if this modern view fits in with what the Bible says about the Jews: the tree we are grafted onto, and the branches that will be cut off into the fire, etc.

  4. David is an evil asshole, a monster consumed and perverted by base and ignoble passions. He is also a religious genius, a poet, a mystic, a courageous warrior and brilliant commander, a visionary, and a Noble King.

    The most recent book I finished was Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton and these two sentences remind me of his ruminations on the many paradoxes (pl?) found in Christianity.

    The interior of the Temple, likewise, was (like Medieval cathedrals and chapels) adorned with paintings and carvings of plants, trees and animals, as it were a forested garden, a synecdoche of the whole sublunary sphere.

    I had no idea about this – it might be a good example for the iconoclasts.

    Also, I think we are all “Cains”, today’s Jews included, until we accept the Sacrifice of Our Lord, so I find it unfair to pinpoint today’s Jews. JMSmith is right that the Jews of today do not practice Temple Judaism, but Rabbinic Judaism, a newer religion.

    We are all elder brothers in the sense that our sin precedes His Sacrifice. Certainly Jews might require a different type of evangelization than an American pagan or an English Protestant. But every individual’s rejection of Our Lord seems to be a difference in degree and not a difference in kind.

  5. Very interesting article.

    Joseph as a type of Christ is fascinating to me: Joseph is betrayed by his brothers for 20 pieces of silver. Jesus is abandoned by his disciples and betrayed by Judas for 30 pieces of silver. Joseph loses his garment to his accuser, Potipher’s wife; Jesus loses his garment to His crucifiers. Potipher imprisons Joseph against his better instincts (so says Jewish tradition); Pontius Pilate crucifies Jesus against his better instincts. Two criminals were placed in prison with Joseph, one of whom was saved, one of whom was not; Jesus was crucified between two criminals… When Joseph returns to honor after being thought dead, he is not recognized initially by his brothers, but he saves his brothers from famine and forgives them; Christ resurrects from the dead, was not recognized initially by Mary Magdalene and the disciples on the road to Emmaus, saves us from sin and forgives us…

    Etc., etc.

    • Yeah, the parallels are legion. Like Jesus, Joseph gives his brothers bread, so that they may live. As Joseph comes to rule over his brothers, so the Body of Jesus, the House of the Lord, comes to rule over the shattered, scattered remnant of the Second Temple cult.


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