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