As I See It - Vol. 1, No. 8, Aug 1998

by Douglas K Kutilek

"AS I SEE IT"
Volume 1, Number 8, August, 1998

AN AMAZING QUOTATION FROM A 1ST CENTURY RABBI

Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai lived in the first century A.D. He was in the city of Jerusalem when it was besieged by the Romans, but he escaped annihilation by being carried out of the city on a stretcher, as though he were merely a corpse. Following the city's destruction, with the Romans' permission, he began an academy at Jamnia on the Judean sea coast, and it was at this academy that the traditions of the Jews--the so-called oral Law and the traditional interpretations of the Hebrew Scriptures were systematized, a process ultimately resulting in the writing of the Mishnah around 200 A.D. Johanan ben Zakkai was one of the most learned, influential and respected of religious leaders in ancient Judaism. Surely if the traditions of the fathers, and the rules and practices of Pharisaic Judaism could bring peace to the heart and contentment to the soul, and instill confidence in one's eternal destiny at the hour of death, then Rabbi Johanan ben Zakkai would have found such things.

But what was the learned Rabbi's dying testimony? Bernard Pick is his 1888 volume, THE TALMUD: WHAT IT IS (New York: John B. Alden, 1890), pp. 35-6 records his death-bed scene--
"His disciples addressed him, 'Rabbi, light of Israel, thou strong rock, right-hand pillar, why dost thou weep?' He answered them: 'If they were about to lead me before a king of flesh and blood, who is today here and tomorrow in the grave, who if he were angry with me, his anger would not last forever; if he put me in bondage, his bondage would not be everlasting; and if he condemned me to death, that death would not be eternal; whom I could soothe with words and bribe with money; yet even in these circumstances, I should weep. But now I am about to appear before the awful majesty of the King of Kings, before the Holy and Blessed One, who is, and who liveth forever, whose just anger may be eternal, who may doom me to eternal punishment. Should he condemn me, it will be to death without further hope. Nor can I pacify him with words, nor bribe him with money. There are two roads before me, one leading to Paradise, the other to Hell, and I know not by which of these I go--should I not weep?"

In sublime contrast to this declaration of despair, we read the dying testimony of the aged prisoner Paul, who in the hour of certain death, testified, "For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day. . . .For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness which the Lord the righteous judge will give me in that day, and not to me only but to all those who love his appearing." (2 Timothy 1:12; 4:7, 8)


Another death-bed testimony of Johanan ben Zakkai is recorded, this being advice to his disciples. Pick reports, "his dying words were: 'Fear God even as you fear men.' His disciples seemed astonished. He added: 'He who would commit a sin, first looks round to discover whether any man sees him; so take ye heed, that God's all-seeing eye see not the sinful thought in your heart.' " (THE TALMUD: WHAT IT IS, p. 36)

Both these quotes are taken from the Babylonian Talmud, which was completed around A.D. 500 and is filled with just such anecdotes. Unfortunately, Pick does not cite his source, but I was able to locate the passage. It is found in Tractate Berakhoth (the first in the Talmud), folio ("page") 28b [the exact wording may differ a little, depending on which English translation of the Talmud is consulted]. (A biographical sketch of Johanan ben Zakkai may be found in THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TALMUDIC SAGES by Gershom Bader (Northvale, N.J.: Jason Aronson, 1988), pp. 152-163, where a differing acount of the 'testimony of despair' is given on pp. 162-163. Jacob Neusner wrote A LIFE OF YOHANAN BEN ZAKKAI, the second edition of which was published by E.J. Brill of London in 1970).


One final quotation from Johanan ben Zakkai is of interest. His teacher was reportedly the great Rabbi Hillel. Of Hillel, Johanan ben Zakkai is recorded as having said, "If all the heavens were parchments, and all the trees quills, and all the seas were ink, it would still be impossible to write down even a part of what I learned from my teacher. " (THE ENCYCLOPEDIA OF TALMUDIC SAGES, P. 156).

When I first read these words, I was struck by how closely they parallel words in the third verse of the Gospel song, "The Love of God"--

"Could we with ink the ocean fill, And were the skies of parchment made, Were every stalk on earth a quill, And every man a scribe by trade; To write the love of God above, Would drain the ocean dry. Nor could the scroll contain the whole, Though stretched from sky to sky"

I have heard conflicting accounts of the origin of this third verse. One account is that it was found written on the wall of a prison, composed by an unknown and unnamed but forgiven convict. It was then supposedly added to the original two verses. The other account is that it was attributed to "Meir Ben Isaac Nehorai" (see HYMNS OF FAITH, Wheaton: Tabernacle Pub. Co., 1980; #286). I have been unable to locate any reference to such a man, though the elements of the name sound typically Mishnaic/Talmudic. There is a famous Rabbi Meir and a lesser known Rabbi Nehorai quoted in the Mishnah (completed A.D. 200) and Talmud (A.D. 500), but I could not find anything like this quotation mentioned in connection with either of them (I did not check every reference to Rabbi Meir in the Mishnah, nor to either in the Talmud). If a Talmudic Rabbi is the source of the words of the third verse of the song, then they were borrowed from a non-Christian source, and pre-date any convict's wall graffitti by many centuries.


BOOK REVIEWS

LIFE AND LETTERS OF GENERAL THOMAS J. JACKSON by his wife Mary Anna Jackson.

Harrisonburg, Va.: Sprinkle Publications, 1995 reprint of 1892 edition. 488 pp., hdbk. $20.00

Biographies written by people close in time and personal relationship to the subject about which they write are often marked by certain disadvantages. Closeness in time frequently robs the writer of the vantage point gained by those who view the subject from the perspective of decades and the subsequent flow of history. Closeness in personal relationship often leads to a glossing over of the subject's faults and weaknesses and an exaggeration of his virtues and merits. But closeness in time and relationship has its advantages, especially in the matter of a sympathetic and personal treatment of the subject. (James Boswell could not have written of Samuel Johnson as he did without having had a close personal relationship with him over many years).

This account of the life of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson (1824-1863), the legendary Confederate General, displays few of the disadvantages of a biography written by one very close to him, and all of its advantages, especially in regard to a sympathetic understanding of Jackson's religious faith, which was the chief feature of his adult life. Mary Anna Jackson was Jackson's second wife and the mother of his only surviving child (his first wife died in childbirth only 14 months after their marriage; the child was stillborn) . She (like the first wife) was the daughter of a Presbyterian pastor. She and Jackson were married for just short of 6 years.

Jackson was orphaned while a boy, and he and his brother and sister were raised by relatives, the boys chiefly by a bachelor uncle. At 18, he applied for admission to West Point. He was poorly prepared for college work, but by hard labor gradually rose year by year in his class standing, finishing in the upper part of the class of 1846. He soon saw service in the war with Mexico, where he gained a reputation for gallantry and courage. While in Mexico after the war, he began personal study of the Bible. He also learned to speak Spanish there.

After returning to the U.S., Jackson was stationed in New York, and it was there through extensive personal study of Scripture and the ministry of a preacher that he became a truly born-again soul, later receiving Episcopalian baptism. He became--and remained--a very devoted and active Christian.

He left the military and became a professor at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Viriginia, where he remained until the outbreak of the war. While a professor there, he made a months' long tour of Europe after his wife's death, and learned French in the process (he thereafter regularly read a French New Testament for his morning devotions). He was in charge of the corps of cadets when they were called out to help suppress the John Brown revolt in Harper's Ferry in 1859 and witnessed Brown's hanging (graphically described in this book). Also while teaching at VMI, Jackson began, in 1855, a Sunday afternoon school to teach the Bible to the slave children in and around Lexington. With others as his assistants, the school frequently numbered 200 in attendance, and very many were converted to faith in Christ. Jackson personally called on many slave owners and urged them to let their slaves attend the school. This school continued through the war and on into the 1880s, finally being merged into the local black churches.

Jackson's complete confidence in the goodness of his Heavenly Father, His wisdom and His love are found throughout his correpondence and his personal conduct. He fervency in prayer, his strong interest in regular Bible reading and study, his distribution of Gospel tracts, his promotion of Gospel preaching among his troops all had a lasting effect for good on those around him. It was Jackson's personal piety--the absolute reality of his faith-- that lead General Richard Ewell (the central character in the BJU film "Red Runs the River") to become a believer himself.

Mary Anna Jackson does not meticulously describe in detail the military actions of her husband. That task was left to others. She does, however, give an intimate personal portrait of the man of faith that Jackson was, and that makes the volume especially precious to me.

The publisher, Sprinkle Publications, PO Box 1094, Harrisonburg, Va. 22801 has done a great service in reprinting this and other important books on 19th century American Christianity, including numerous books relating to the Civil War. The books are uniformly well-bound, and inexpensive. Write them for a list of their publications if you are not familiar with them.

(Any listing of the ten greatest tactical military leaders in history would have to include the name of Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson. The first biography of Jackson to be written was LIFE AND CAMPAIGNS OF LIEUT.-GEN. THOMAS J. JACKSON by Robert L. Dabney, a Presbyterian pastor and professor, who served on Jackson's personal staff during 1862. It is naturally very sympathetic toward Jackson's conservative Christianity [I reviewed this book, also reprinted by Sprinkle, in The Biblical Evangelist, 20:9, May, 1986]. The military genius of Jackson is described in detail in the highly acclaimed volume STONEWALL JACKSON AND THE AMERICAN CIVIL WAR by British scholar G. F. R. Henderson (originally published in 1898). More recently, in 1997, noted historian James I. Robertson issued his 900+ page biography, STONEWALL JACKSON. I have not finished these latter two volumes.)


A volume that cries out to written, if it has not already been done, is a study of the religious faith of the Confederate high command. In no army since Cromwell's has the Christian faith of the leaders been as much in evidence as that of the Army of Northern Virginia. Jackson, Lee, Gordon, Ewell, and others were all devoted believers. (In contrast, I don't know of a single Federal general who had a reputation for Christian devotion during the war). A great revival broke out in this army with multiplied thousands being converted in 1862-1863. Accounts of this revival exist, but is there any book about the personal religious faith of Lee, Jackson, et al.?


A HERO ALL HIS LIFE by the Mantle family, with Mickey Herskowitz.

HarperCollins, 1996. 260 pp., hdbk. $25.00

I began playing little league baseball in 1959 when I was 6. I soon acquired two baseball heroes: Warren Spahn (because he, like me, was a left-handed pitcher), and Mickey Mantle. Because the Mick was a switch-hitter, I learned to do it, too (I had more power left-hand, but better bat control right-handed; only a general lack of ability kept me from playing beyond age 15. Of course, the older I get, the better I was). Twice I saw Mantle in person: in a double header against the Kansas City Athletics in the old Municipal stadium in KC in 1962, and then again at an exhibition in Wichita in 1965. He was indeed in my eyes the ultimate all-American baseball hero.

I was given A HERO ALL HIS LIFE as a Father's Day gift, and began reading it with the hope that the details of Mantle's reported religious conversion would be spelled out with some clarity, and that his testimony of accepting Christ as Savior would be clear and plain. I was rather disappointed on that and several other scores.

The book is not about Mantle's baseball career, but rather an accounting of his degenerate lifestyle from the beginning of his professional career until not long before his death. The baseball lifestyle was a progressively increasing tale of alcohol abuse, womanizing, and absentee-fathering. It only got worse after he retired from the game. Mantle had very little of a personal relationship with his sons until they got old enough to be his drinking buddies. To his example of alcohol abuse, all four of his sons added drug abuse (one dying at age 36). Somehow, in spite of Mantle's repeated and multiple adulteries, his wife Merlyn never threw him out or sought a divorce (she certainly had massive Biblical and legal grounds for it). Mantle and his wife were married 43 years, though they lived apart from 1988 until his death in 1995.

A turn for the better came in the early 1990s when one of Mantle's sons checked himself into the Betty Ford Clinic for treatment for his substance abuse. Ultimately the whole family went through the program and they dried out and got off the alcohol and drugs (and apparently have stayed off). It seemed as if the family was about to get back together when Mantle was diagnosed with liver cancer, a consequence of decades of alcohol abuse. A translant was made, but the cancer killed him August 13, 1995.

There is little said about Mantle's religion. He grew up in a non-church-going family (his wife was from a Baptist home of regular attenders), and had little more religion that saying, 'I believe in God.' He had expressed reluctance to go to the Betty Ford Clinic because he figured they would 'shove religion on you,' and went only after Pat Sumerall, an "alumnus," assured him that that wasn't the case. One of Mantle's sons in passing states that his father "accepted Christ" and it is noted that for the year before his death, Mantle and some of the other family members attended a small non-denominational church in the Dallas area. There were clear changes in Mantle's conduct in the last year of his life, including a cleaning up of his language. While these are hopeful signs, they are certainly not enough to affirm with confidence anything about Mantle's ultimate spiritual state. [A couple years ago, Mike Randall, editor of the Baptist Bible Tribune, wrote an article which gave much clearer and more precise evidence that Mantle had undergone a true "born-again" experience some months before his death].

The book is something of a hodge-podge. The first 30 pages are by Mantle himself, apparently the start of a book his death prevented him from finishing. The rest is the accounts by his wife and three surviving sons "as told to" Mickey Herskowitz. Frankly put, it is "pot-boiler" writing, the kind of stuff cranked out simply to make a fast buck. There is a great deal of profanity, some of it of the crudest kind (had there been true conversions in the family, I would have expected this profanity to be "sanitized" and suppressed in the written account). Alcohol abuse is largely excused as a disease, and adultery is also mildly excused as the product of low self-esteem. Scripture calls both sin.

The book's one redeeming virtue is that it shows the disastrous consequences to one's life, health, and family of alcohol abuse. Mantle himself said it best in a news conference July 11, 1995, "Don't be like me."


THE KING JAMES VERSION DEBATE by D. A. Carson.

Grand Rapids, Baker, 1979. 123 pp, pprbk. $9.95.

In 1979, I was very much engaged in study and research regarding the controversy concerning the text and translation of the Bible. I had read much of the "King James Only" literature, but had looked in vain for anything that refuted directly the many faulty claims and gross misrepresentations of this movement. When Carson's little book appeared, I bought it immediately and read it eagerly. It did not disappoint in the least. By a clear, factual, and readable presentation, Carson shows that there are very solid grounds for revising both the textus receptus Greek text as well as the KJV, in order to bring them both into closer conformity with the Scriptures as originally given by inspiration of God. He demonstrates that numerous arguments used by KJVOnlyites are fallacious, unfounded, illogical, or unsupported by the facts. He also shows that leading conservative translations such as the NIV and the NASB are not heterodox either in text or in translation. And he does all this without the harshness, bitterness or rancour which characterizes much of the present debate. More than anything, Carson confirmed conclusions which I had reached already in my own studies of the subject and presented them in a convenient and readily accessible form.

I re-read the book in 1980, and again in 1982, and have constantly and repeatedly urged others interested in the subject to carefully study through his presentation. I decided recently to read it once again, to see if after 15 more years of intense research on my part (and my writing more than 20 detailed research articles on various aspects of the KJVO debate) and numerous developments in the controversy whether the book still merited a strong recommendation. Answer: yes, it certainly does. After two decades, Carson's analysis of the subject and his presentation of evidence is still very much relevant, and still right on target. Hardly a thing in the book is "dated" in the least.

If you have not read this little book, by all means, get it and carefully read it through. And pass it on to others. I give it my very highest recommendation.

(Two other highly commendable volumes relating to the controversy directly or indirectly, are THE KING JAMES ONLY CONTROVERSY by James A. White [Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1995]; and A GENERAL INTRODUCTION TO THE BIBLE by Norman A Geisler and William E. Nix [Chicago:Moody Press, 1986]. I hope in future issues of AISI to present more extended bibliographies on various aspects of the subject)


TODAY'S GOSPEL: AUTHENTIC OR SYNTHETIC? by Walter Chantry.

Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1970. 92 pp., pprbk.

An excellent book, designed to remedy much of the false "evangelism" of our day! Using Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-27) as his text, Chantry emphasizes the need for preaching God's holiness, the just demands of the law on sinners, the serious guilt of individuals, the necessity of repentance, and the need for unconditional surrender to Christ as savior and Lord. Anything less than this is not true evangelism. The work of God in the heart is also an essential ingredient.

Chantry contrasts this Biblical evangelism with "the four spiritual laws," and "decisionism" (coming forward and signing a card, as though these in themselves constituted true conversion).

One defect (on pp. 83-85) is that Chantry makes regeneration by the Holy Spirit a necessary prerequisite to repentance and faith. Regeneration is, rather, a consequence of repentance and faith, as John 1:12 plainly teaches (those who receive/believe thereby become children of God). He also misconstrues the "repentance" of 2 Timothy 2:24-26 as though it were the repentance involved in salvation, rather than literally, "a change of mind" in those who had fallen into doctrinal error.

These small blemishes do not seriously detract from an otherwise excellent book. If I were to teach a course on "personal evangelism," I would require the reading of Chantry's book along with Lewis Sperry Chafer's little book TRUE EVANGELISM. The "methods" books I am familiar with (e.g. Torrey's PERSONAL EVANGELISM) are very unsatisfactory.


LAST WORDS OF SINNERS AND SAINTS by Herbert Lockyer.

Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1969. 240 pp., pprbk, $10.99.

Some months back, I commented to a friend that I was toying with the idea of compiling a book of accounts of the dying words of believers (such as Wesley, Stonewall Jackson, and others) and unbelievers (Ingersoll, Voltaire, etc.). He told me that such already existed--this volume by Lockyer (I have since read of many more books on the same subject). I looked for a copy for a time and finally found one. I bought it immediately and began to read it with great anticipation. My interest soon turned to great disappointment. Lockyer was a notable (and voluminous) writer whose books are popular, and to the small extent I have read any of them, they seemed generally satisfactory. Not so with this book. Even though it has gone through at least 6 printings, it is a badly thrown together hodge-podge of accounts. Most are exceedingly brief, and piled one upon another interminably, they soon become quite tedious. Much more could have been given if much less had been aimed at. Had the book been limited to 20 or so accounts of notable believers and a similar number of unbelievers, and more details given of the individuals' lives and importance, it would have been far better. A fact compounding the disappointment is that there is no adequate documentation in the whole volume (though there are scatterings of bibiliography mentioning books he drew some accounts from, but even these are very incomplete, none giving publishers or dates).

There are a number of factual mistakes in the book as well. Lockyer argues that the apostle "James the son of Alphaeus" is the same as "James the Lord's brother" (p. 50) which is impossible. He makes Lord Byron (p. 104) and Thomas Jefferson (p. 98) Christians (both were notorious unbelievers) and Thomas Paine an American (p. 132; he was English). He says George Whitefield settled in America (p. 58; he never "settled" anywhere), and gives a clearly erroneous date regarding the life of Bunyan (p. 63; possibly a typographical error). Three erroneous dates are found on pp. 100-1: 1842 for 1812; 1860 for 1857; and February 2 for February 12. He erroneously declares that Lincoln was shot in both the back and side of the head (p. 102; back only is correct). He speaks of 15th century Puritan persecutions (p. 147), though the Puritans did not exist until the second half of the 16th century. Had Lockyer's reputation as an author depended on this volume, he would be held in very low esteem indeed. This is the poorest book I've read this year, by far.

Perhaps I'll work on that book after all.


PRESIDENTIAL ANECDOTES by Paul F. Boller, Jr.

Penguin Books, 1982. 410 pp., pprbk.

At the time of writing, Mr. Boller was Professor of American History at Texas Christian University. The book is a compilation of anecdotes and incidents (all happily fully documented) from the lives of all the American Presidents from Washington to Ronald Reagan. The incidents are excellent insights into the character, personality, philosophy, and even occasionally the religious faith of America's Chief Executives. Some of the Presidents were men of clear and genuine Christian faith; others were drunkards or exceedingly profane (by far, Lyndon Johnson was the most crude, uncultured, lewd and profane man to be President, though Clinton--not discussed in the book--has him beat hands down for general vileness); Some were very personable, while others were cold and stiff.

Naturally enough, some of the Presidents are treated very briefly (e.g., the Harrisons, Pierce, Buchanan), while others are given very lengthy treatment (Washington, Lincoln, FDR, etc.). Those which were of greatest interest to me were the treatments of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt, and Coolidge (this last being easily the most humorous--Cal had an exceedingly dry wit).

The reader will not (I hope) agree with every opinion expressed by the author (he lists Truman as among the "great" presidents, and calls Wilson "probably the most influential man ever to occupy the White House," an absolutely absurd remark).

There is much here to interest the student of history and an abundance of illustrations for the preacher. And it can be read in odd moments of time, with no loss of continuity. I commend it to your attention without hesitation.


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