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Loving One’s Neighbor the Biblical Way

A long time ago in my studies of Hebrew (which I really can’t read any more), I remembered hearing that the term “neighbor” in Bible didn’t mean the universal neighbor we think of as all humanity as most people interpret it today. The context that it is used by most Christians and Jews today is that in numerous places in the Bible, Yahweh tells Moses to tell his people (the Jews) how to treat their neighbors. For example, in Leviticus 19:18 Yahweh tells Moses to tell the Jews to treat their neighbors as they wish to be treated. Most people see this as the Golden Rule.

As it turns out though, the Golden Rule in the Bible isn’t so golden. You have to suspect something is up when you see that such a statement is in Leviticus. For those who haven’t picked up their Bible’s lately, Leviticus is the same book which claims that people should kill homosexuals and disrespectful children.

In any case, while I remembered hearing that the word “neighbor” wasn’t a reference to the universal neighbor of all humanity, I couldn’t remember the specific justification nor did I recall the source that I originally heard this from. So I couldn’t go and talk about it in any kind of serious manner because I wouldn’t have been able to back it up with facts, evidence, or solid reasoning. While many religious people simply rely on faith, as an atheist I have to rely on facts, evidence, and solid reasoning. So I didn’t bring up that issue in any kind of public setting.

Now however, someone has directed me to an article on this very issue. Here is a quote from that article, “Hebrew word reyacha explicitly means ‘your fellow Jew.’ It does not refer to anyone outside the Jewish faith. ‘Neighbor’ is not an accurate translation for the word reyacha. The Hebrew word for ‘neighbor’ is shachen.”

This being the case, Leviticus 19:18 instructs Jews to love fellow Jews as they would love themselves. This of course changes the Ten Commandments a little bit too. Thou shall not bare false witness against a fellow Jew and thou shall not covet the goods of a fellow Jew. The implication is that Jews can do those things to non-Jews. In fact, non-Jews seem to be less important than Jews in the Bible. Sort of like how many Republicans think of Americans as being more important and better than non-Americans.

While Jews are still commanded to respect all life since God created all life, it is clear that there is a pecking order in how all life should be treated. This is really just tribalism which has grown into three very tribal and warring religions with thousands of warring and tribal sects within those religions.

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  • Tomkinson

    Wow a tribal religion encouraged tribalism Profound!

    For anyone who would like an actual informed opinion on this issue read this http://www.lrainc.com/swtaboo/taboos/ltn01.html if you haven’t already. This guy attacks Jesus too, how exciting!

    • http://myspace.com/scott888 Scott

      Please ban this troll. Seriously, he makes random arguments against you but seems to never really make any points. And he uses a deep vocabulary so whatever he is saying is unclear but sounds smart but seems to be just silly fluff when you break it down.

      • Tomkinson

        Random arguments? Deep vocabulary? No points?

        My arguments are always germane to the topic though many fruitful discussions evolve into something else.

        I will not avoid sesquipedalia because the internet and texting have rendered moderns illiterate. Sometimes concision, clarity, & concinnity require it. Forgive me for assuming most of Staks’ readers are somewhat more intelligent and educated than unusually stupid children of ten.

        My points are direct and substantive. I firmly believe that in general Staks’ entries are either irrelevant, disingenuous, obvious, ignorant, bigoted, glib, counterproductive or some combination thereof. One of the reasons for this is that he posts nearly every weekday. I couldn’t write a worthwhile essay everyday but my solution is that I write once a month. Maybe he is more prolific but still weekly writing would suffice.

        Take for example his latest post about prayer. It is not a binary choice such that if one makes an intercessory prayer that they have “done their part” and are finished. I know of no one who thinks this. Does Staks? No. Most people that believe prayer can help do much else in their power and many of them even think “God helps those who help themselves”. So that point is irrelevant.

        Secondly even atheist grief counselors like Russell P. Freedman have found that it genuinely helps to “talk” with loved ones who have died as it gives people time to work out some issues in their brain as they hear themselves think. Similarly prayer allows believers to bask in the soothing “presence” of God and comforts them and as they pray and may help them clearly consider more earthly means of solving the problem at issue or dealing with the grief if things don’t work out. So Staks entry is ignorant and poorly developed on that score.

        If you prefer someone offer ill-considered opinions of the type “Hey if you talk to an invisible sky-daddy, you’re a lazy idiot!” its surprising you would call me a troll. Perhaps if you had a decent vocabulary you wouldn’t categorize me so improperly.

        • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

          “nearly every week day?” I write a blog EVERY weekday! I also take exception to you claiming to know that I don’t know anyone who thinks that talking to God is all one need do. You would be wrong in that. I think that you write a lot, but say little. You just want to oppose me at every turn even if you agree in your heart. Take this blog for example. You called me a bigot, but you posted a link which said the exact same thing as if it refutes my claim when in fact it supports my conclusion. Maybe you are right and you are the smartest person on the planet and in a class all your own. But Ockham’s Razor suggests that the world is probably right and you are an idiot. I’ll address the prayer comments on that blog entry.

  • http://myspace.com/blackhawk089 Matt

    I think your actually right on this one staks, about the Hebrew translation anyway. It makes sense considering the Pentateuch was written by the a jew for the Jews…..doesn’t really chance anything since the NT reiterates for the gentiles and the rest of people who want to come into a relationship with Christ about the whole love thy neighbor as thyself….

  • Jim

    You left out the Passage in Luke [10:25-37] about loving thy neighbor and WHO a neighbor is as Christ explains. Contextually, the Samaritans and the Jews were very much at odds with each other, yet in Christ’s example here, the Samaritan man was going out of his way to take care of the Jewish man.

    Could get in a detailed Bible discussion about what is different from the Old Testament and Christ’s Words in the New, but suffice it to say as Christ points out–our neighbors are even those we disagree with.

    • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

      … that are part of our tribe. You can disagree with people who are part of your tribe. They are your family. Throughout the gospels the character of Jesus gives conflicting opinions. This is one of those cases. While here he seems to be embracing the Samaritan view of neighbor, there are other places where he first refuses to heal someone because she is of a different tribe. When she begs to him, he reluctantly does heal her, but is not happy about it.

      The Torah is very particular about what the term neighbor means as I pointed out. Jesus claims in Matthew that he supports the the Torah 100%. He claims that he did not come to change the law (Torah) at all, but to fulfill it.