Divine Absolute Truth Was Never Eternal Or Universal – OpEd


Jews, Christians, and Muslims all agree that the age of authentic Prophets who spoke for the one and only God has long been over; and God’s words are nowadays spoken by Rabbis, Priests and Imams; who interpret their own religion’s Sacred Scriptures; and usually do not arrogantly declare their own interpretations of sacred scripture is absolute truth. 

In today’s world a poll conducted from October 12–17, 2022 among 1,000 American likely general election voters nationwide found that only 58% of the respondents gave a definitive answer to a question that expressed a belief in absolute truth, while 38% said each person determines their own version of the truth. Four percent of the 1,000 survey respondents said they “don’t know.” 

A breakdown of the poll results by age group shows that the younger an adult is, the less likely they are to believe in absolute truth. For adults younger than 30, 55% say they believe each person determines their own version of truth, while only 42% say they believe in absolute truth.

More than half of all respondents ages 30 and up say they believe in absolute truth, including more than six out of 10 respondents over the age of 56. White respondents (61%) were more likely than African American (49%) and Hispanic (49%) respondents to say they believe in absolute truth. 

In Judaism, the ‘tribe of Levi’ , a hereditary Temple priesthood hierarchy, that lived off the daily food offerings it received, has been replaced by individual rabbi teachers almost 2000 years ago. 

In Christianity, the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches still have hierarchy priestly leadership, but in only some Protestant Churches bishops are real leaders. Islam, the newest of the three major Abrahamic religions, never had priests.

The Prophet Malachi, who was one of the last Jewish Prophets whose book of God’s words was accepted into the Hebrew Bible, spoke prophetically about a future time when priests are despised, relegated to minor rituals or eliminated entirely. This has happened for Jews, because the Jerusalem Temple was destroyed by the Romans; and it has happened for Muslims because the Qur’an never had priests. 

Prophet Malachi may have been predicting a future priest-less Islam:  “Now, O {Levi} priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not lay it to heart to give glory to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse on you and I will curse your blessings; indeed I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart.  I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and I will put you out of my presence.

“Know, then, that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi [and his priestly descendants] may hold, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was a covenant of life and well-being, which I gave him; this called for reverence, and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. The Torah of Truth was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in integrity and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the agent of the Lord of hosts. 

“But you have turned aside from the [Torah’s] way; you have caused many to stumble by your [un]Torah; you have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I [will] make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you have not kept my ways but have shown partiality in your [un]Torah. Have we not all one father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our ancestors? (Hebrew Bible: Malachi 2: 1-10)

The phrase “Torah of truth” traces back to one scriptural source of the expression, torat emet, in Malachi 2:6-7: “The Torah of truth was in his [the tribe of Levi’s] mouth, and unrighteousness was not found on his lips. He walked with Me in peace and uprightness, and turned many away from iniquity. For the priest’s lips should keep knowledge, and they [Israel] should seek Torah [law] at his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord.”

The emet, [truth] to which Prophet Malachi refers to; is the priest whose lips express knowledge, inspiring others to lofty values, to a life of honesty, peace, and justice. There is no universal, never changing, absolute, metaphysical claim here about the truth of Torah; but rather a moral claim of responsibility, honesty and fairness on the Priests, Rabbis and Judges who administer Torah law.

Strikingly, the truth function of the priest is radically tied up with language: that lives on his lips, and in his mouth. He acts in the role of a messenger of the Divine. In classic medieval readings of this text, therefore, human language – the teaching of Torah – becomes the site in which the truth of Torah is manifested: on the lips and in the mouth of the honest and humble spokesmen for God who do not claim that they, and they alone, speak the absolute truth. 

This is true for all religious leaders today who speak words of love and kindness, which are more important than the arrogant words of absolute truth.  

Rabbi Allen S. Maller

Allen Maller retired in 2006 after 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Calif. He is the author of an introduction to Jewish mysticism. God. Sex and Kabbalah and editor of the Tikun series of High Holy Day prayerbooks.

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