Isaric Christianity is a highly syncretic and contextualized form of Christianity practiced by ethno-religious Isars, a subgroup of Hebrew people with mixed descent from ancient Samaritans and various Israelite clans who intermarried with Indo-European and Asian populations. It is a non-Talmudic (or non-rabbinical) offshoot/branch of Hebrew Christianity, often described as a kind of modern day "Samaritan Christian" denomination. Its main representative body is the Isaric Christian Brotherhood. Isaric Christianity is exceptional in that it is intrinsically connected to Hebrew ethnicity and based upon an ethnoreligious bond called Ha Purshana Sharira (The True Distinction). It is thus a vehicle for promoting and perpetuating the Isaric brand of Hebrew culture, which includes learning and using the Isaric dialect of the Aramaic language. Practitioners of Isaric Christianity see their take on the Christian religion as restitutional and eclectic, and believe its emergence to be a fulfillment of biblical prophecy. Most Isaric activity is focused in Surabaya, East Java, which is the ambassadorial seat of the Isaric Brotherhood.
Overview of the Isaric Christian BrotherhoodEdit
The Isaric Brotherhood is both a cultural and religious organization that emerged from the unique multicultural environment of southern Louisiana, specifically New Orleans, Plaquemines, and Acadiana, where old French and Spanish colonial cultures fused with German, Cajun, African, Jewish, and South Slavic cultures. It incorporates various elements from many different forms of Christianity and Judaism, including Oriental Orthodox Christianity, Catholicism, Evangelical Protestantism, Schwertler Anabaptism, Messianic Judaism, Karaite Judaism, Samaritanism, and even Germano-Celtic Christian mysticism.Because Isars are not technically considered "Jewish" but are recognized as culturally and religiously "Hebrew," they have raised strong opposition to the popular opinion that the word "Hebrew" is synonymous with the word "Jewish." Isars emphasize that even within the first century, Hebrew Christianity existed in a non-Jewish form, practiced by Samaritans (mixed descendants of the northern tribes of Israel, mainly Ephraim, Manasseh, and Levi). They argue that Christ himself viewed Samaritans as Hebrews, and personally visited Samaritan villages to make disciples. Thus, in the eyes of Isaric Christians, there is biblical justification for a non-Jewish yet Hebrew Christian presence.
Isars consider themselves to be a subgroup of what they call "Naṭorin" (Keepers)," i.e., a mixed Hebrew ethnic group which includes Samaritans and some Jews who descend from non-Jewish tribes, but excludes traditional Jews who are descended from Cohenim, Jewish Levites, and genuine "blood" Jews of the tribe of Judah. Isars identify with the biblical "Bnei Makir" (sons of Machir), and claim matrilineal descent from the eastern half of the tribe of Manasseh (Menasheh), as well as from other Israelite tribes, including the Samaritan diaspora of ancient Dalmatia. Unlike their Messianic Jewish counterparts, Isars look to northwestern Jordan and southwestern Syria (Gilead and Bashan of the Bible) as the original homeland of their ancestors, rather than the land west of the Jordan River, which is currently occupied and governed by Israel.
Over the past few years, Isars have had a troubled relationship with the Messianic Jewish community because of perceived Judaizing, separatism, and elitism by Messianic Jews, and has criticized other non-Jewish Hebraic groups for seeking to be "Jewish." Consequentially, the Isaric Brotherhood has distanced itself from the Messianic Jewish Movement, and its members have instead remained actively involved in mainstream Christianity.
An adherent of Isaric Christianity is called an "Isar", which is an English term for the original Aramaic, "Isaraya", meaning "one who is of or characterized by a bond." The closest English equivalents of the term include "bondman" and "bondservant, " though "bondkeeper" is a more literal translation. In terms of ethnicity, Isars think of themselves as being Judaic in tradition and belief but not genetically Jewish. Instead, they are a unique kind of "other" category in terms of Hebrew identity, much like Samaritans.
The founding family of the Isaric Brotherhood is believed to have mixed descent from an ancient Israelite tribal group called the "Bnei Makir" (sons of Machir). They claim the biblical character Makir (Machir) as their ancestral forefather, and trace their lineage matrilineally back to Makiri (Machirite) exiles from the ancient territories of Gilead and Bashan. Additionally, Isars hope that they (or rather, their future descendants) will comprise the first wave of restoration for a future transjordanian Isaric presence. Such an event would mark the first time in nearly three millennia that the Bnei Makir would have a presence in the land that comprises modern day Jordan.
All Isars who are of age must wear a traditional handmade tassel of white and blue thread called "tsutsy'tha" (tzitzit). On weekdays, usually only one tzitzit is worn, which is attached to the wearer's left side, tied around the belt or belt loop for convenience. This comes from a tradition that a single tzitzit should be placed beside a traditional dagger, or short blade, which should be affixed to an man's left side and worn during pilgrimages and certain ceremonies. On the Sabbath, four such tassels are worn, one attached to each corner of a four-cornered garment called a "tallitha", akin to the Jewish tallit, which is worn over a "nakhtha", a long white tunic similar to the Islamic gandora or thawb. Isars do not use the large striped tallit (prayer shawl) with many fringes associated with Judaism, nor do they cover their heads with a kippah during worship, in accordance with the teaching of the Apostle Paul. However, Isaric women do cover their heads during services on the Sabbath.
While Isars are Christians, their pattern, or method, of worship bears a strong resemblance to both Karaite Jewish and Muslim worship practices, and, as such, differs significantly from other forms of Christian worship. For example, Isars keep four prayer 'offices' daily, two of which involve seven different prayer postures, e.g., prostration, bowing, and kneeling. They also rely upon the moon for the timing of their religious events. Additionally, Isars observe a seventh day 'shabbat' (sabbath), and celebrate the traditional Hebrew festivals outlined in Leviticus 23. However, the manner in which they keep these holy days differs substantially from Jewish observance. The Isaric liturgies for prayer offices and sabbaths are mainly in Isaric Aramaic, although certain components are in English or Indonesian. Most Isars attend other Christian churches on Sundays in order to remain a part of the broader Christian community, although they do not become official members or personnel thereof.
Relationship to Messianic JudaismEdit
Isaric Christians are not Messianic Jews, and do not have any affiliation to Messianic Jewish organizations. This was not always the case, however. In his early years, Yaqob bar-Karoza, the founder of the Isaric Christian Brotherhood, participated in regular Messianic Jewish activities, and served as a representative and peace maker for a Christian association to the Jewish community of southern Louisiana. According to his own testimony, he was himself part of the Jewish community, and even considered himself to be a practicing Jew within the Christian Church. Over time, relations became strained, and Bar-Karoza's anti-Rabbinical views led to a parting of ways.
Although Isaric Christianity and Messianic Judaism share many similarities, the two are quite different from one another, where the former has more influence from Karaism and Samaritanism, and the latter is directly influenced by Rabbinism. Three of Bar-Karoza's main ciriticisms of Messianic Judaism are (1) a prevailing sense of separatism in the movement, i.e., they neglect fellowship with the broader Christian Church, (2) a failure to go forth and evangelize, and (3) misplaced priorities (wrongly focusing upon the Torah and upon observance of the "letter of the law"). He also publicly criticized Messianic Judaism for its name, which he believed to place more emphasis on Jewish ethnicity than on being connected to the Christ. In his view, all followers of Christ, whether Jewish or Gentile, should call themselves Christians.
In The Testimony of Bar-Karoza concerning the True Distinction, Yaqob bar-Karoza writes indirectly concerning Messianic Jews:
- Let it be known that I do not pretend to be someone I am not, like so many are in the habit of doing nowadays. Indeed, I parted ways with such people because of their blatant disregard for truth, And instead choose as my closest companions those who walk according to the spirit of the law, rather than by the letter, even though I myself privately observe many Mosaic traditions that are alien to them. These things I observe because of my bond and my calling, but I am not a slave to them, but a slave to Christ only. And I dare not tell Gentiles to keep the letter of the law unless they are first called by God to do so for some greater purpose, and unless they come forth asking for instruction concerning it; For there is a terrible judgment reserved for Judaizers and legalists, and for others who are like them.
- On the contrary, I strive to be all things to all people for the sake of the Gospel,neither forsaking fellowship with non-Isars, nor elevating myself above them, But loving them with the love of Christ, showing them how to walk according to the Spirit, and teaching them the truth in a way that they can understand. After all, the spirit precedes and surpasses the letter; and, unlike the letter, it is transcendent, not being bound to any time or place or culture. (3:42-50)
Relationship to Islam and JudaismEdit
A quick glance at the Isaric manner of prayer and dress might lead one to think that Isars are Muslims. Indeed, they even use a language (Aramaic) closely related to Arabic. The reason for this similarity is that Isars look to the Old Testament rather than to Christian or Jewish traditions as a model for prayer and dress. They argue that the similarities between Isars and Muslims are not merely coincidental, but exist because Muslims adopted authentic Abrahamic and early Christian practices. Isaric Christians live in the world's most populous Muslim nation, i.e., Indonesia, and thus far maintain peaceful relations with their Muslim neighbors. In his Testimony, Bar-Karoza wrote the following about the terms "Islam" and "Muslim":
Consider the true meaning of Islam, and what it means to be a Muslim, setting aside all the lies and false connotations that have distorted what these terms originally denoted. What is Islam but to surrender to the God of Abraham, to believe in Him and worship Him alone, which all of us must certainly do. Thus I do not err in saying that I am a true Muslim, for I surrender to God daily and strive to do what is good, in accordance with what the Torah and the Gospel teach. (2:18-20)
- So then why have we come to despise the term Islam, if it, in its truest sense, refers to the very way that we walk as Christians? Alas, Islam has been hijacked by a false gospel, preached by one who bore witness to a weak and wayward Christianity, and who, upon seeing such a pathetic religion, desired to rectify it. (2:25-26)
There is also significant similarity between Isars and Jews, e.g., each group wears a religious tassel (tzitzit) and 4-cornered outer garment (tallit) during prayer, though they have different customs regarding prayer itself. Isaric practices relating to sabbaths and festivals resemble those of Judaism simply because both groups adhere to biblical laws and have Hebrew descent. Apart from this, Isars are not involved in any form of Judaism, nor do they support a Jewish presence in the transjordanian regions of Syria or Jordan, including the Golan. Nevertheless, the Isaric ambassador has made efforts to reach out to Jews in Indonesia (and elsewhere) to preserve a sense of common heritage. In his Testimony, Bar-Karoza writes about the term "Jew":
Though my walk may resemble that of a Jew, it differs considerably therefrom; Yet if I am called a Jew by those who are ignorant, I do not consider it an insult or an offense; For my Lord, even the Taheb is a Jew, and the anointing that is upon us all comes from Him who is the Anointed of God: the Lion of the tribe of Yehudah, the very Root of Dawid. (3:54-56)
Relationship to SamaritanismEdit
Isars see themselves as a kindred group to Samaritans, and even claim partial descent from Christianized Samaritans of the ancient Byzantine diaspora, specifically those who migrated from Greek and Roman provinces to port cities along the Dalmatian coast. The genealogy of the founding Isaric clan boasts two separate lineages descending from Dalmatian families who immigrated to America, at least one of which is claimed to be of Samaritan origin. While the claim itself cannot be proven or disproven, archaeology has uncovered a Samaritan presence in Salona (Dalmatia), Thessalonica, Delos, Rome, and other places around the Adriatic, evidenced by synagogue ruins and inscriptions, e.g., epitaphs. A very early Jewish presence has also been attested in ancient Dalmatia, as well as in nearby Roman ports, e.g., Ancona.
The prevailing perspective among Isars is that Samaritans constitute a true remnant of the northern tribes of Israel, and that some Samaritans in the first and second century AD made up a sizable Christian sect in the Holy Land that was genuinely Hebrew but non-Jewish. Isars thus compare themselves to the early Samaritan Christians, and use them as a biblical basis for the existence of Hebrew Christians who are both non-Jewish and non-Gentile, which Isars claim to be. Moreover, Isaric founder, Bar-Karoza, has publicly condemned and denounced past and present Jewish mistreatment and disregard of Samaritans. He also promulgates a belief that Isars in the East and Samaritans in the West will one day reunite and restore the glory of the ancient House of Israel. This perspective puts the Isaric Christian Brotherhood at odds with the Messianic Jewish movement and with many Gentiles who hold pro-Jewish/Israeli views.
Isaric Christianity came about from a merging of many different traditions and ideas via the intermarriage of various immigrant families along the American Gulf Coast. It emerged as a distinct entity in February of 2008 through the work of a Hebrew Christian minister known as Yaqob bar-Karoza, who had broken away from Messianic Judaism in December of 2007. Bar-Karoza thought of himself as a kind of restitutionist, and in that thinking he wanted to restore both the Hebraic aspects of the Early Church and the Anabaptist principles of the Radical Reformation, and unite the two. He thus founded the Isaric Anabaptist Church in 2008, but after several years of little progress, he transitioned into a new, but related, endeavor.
In the spring of 2011, Bar-Karoza received what he described as a prophetic word from God; that "word" has become known as, Ha Purshana Sharira (The True Distinction). He included this word as part of a letter addressed to those who had formally been his friends and followers, in which he writes that God desires the unity of Christians above all else, and that he, by the will of God, must go to Indonesia to live, minister, and rebuild the "House of Makir." He then laid the foundation for what became the Isaric Christian Brotherhood.
In January of 2012, Yaqob Bar-Karoza left America for Surabaya, East Java, where he married his wife (a Chinese-Indonesian Charismatic Christian), and started the first Hebrew Christian community in Southeast Asia: the Isaric Assembly of Surabaya.
Identity and heritageEditAccording to their own beliefs and legends, the founding Isaric clan has direct matrilineal descent from a remnant population of the Bnei Makir (a transjordanian tribal group) who dwelt in the ancient kingdom of Colchis (the modern country of Georgia) after their exile from Israel by the Assyrians circa 720 BC. While this claim cannot be verified with absolute certainty, genetic testing has shed light upon the migration history of the Isars. Isaric ambassador and founder Yaqob Bar-Karoza belongs to mtDNA haplogroup W3a1, which is rare in Europe, but is relatively common throughout the Caucasus, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and parts of India. At least matrilineally, Isars do descend from ancient migrant peoples from the Middle East, likely of Iranian origin.
If the Hebrew claim of Isars is to be believed, then the Israelite ancestors of modern Isars merged with various peoples over the centuries, mostly of Indo-European and Asian stock. Some of them made their way from Central Asia into Europe, then to America, and finally to Indonesia, while others crossed the Indus into Asia and ended up in India. Descendants of those who went west identify as Bnei Makir, and descendants of those who went east identify as Bnei Menashe. To date, representatives of both groups have returned to Hebraic religious observance. Of the western group, most have converted to Catholicism or, more recently, to Protestantism, though some have turned to some form of Judaism or Eastern Christianity.
The term "Isar" did not become a self-designation for descendants of the Bnei Makir until 2008, when Yaqob bar-Karoza sought to distinguish his clan from the Jewish and Gentile majority in order to preserve their unique Hebrew identity. Prior to this point, he had been part of the general Jewish/Hebrew Christian community in the USA. After a series of disputes with other Jewish Christians concerning his family's claim to descend from a non-Jewish tribe of Israel, as well as their rejection of the Talmud and other Jewish customs, Bar-Karoza broke ties with his Jewish counterparts, and began emphasizing the distinctly Hebrew (but non-Jewish) identity of his clan. Part of his effort involved his family's relocation to Indonesia, where no significant Jewish or traditional Christian influence threatened the preservation of Isaric identity. Indonesia is now the only country that is home to a growing community of Isars who maintain a Hebraic practice and culture apart from any form of Judaism.
Language and liturgyEdit
Isars use English and/or Indonesian for general (secular) communication, and to some extent in religious activities. However, the primary language used in their liturgy is Isaric, a dialect of Aramaic based upon the ancestral prayer language used by Yaqob bar-Karoza. While Isaric shares many features in common with other forms of Aramaic, its phonology, grammar, and lexicon are unique, and are easily distinguished as Isaric.
Isaric liturgy represents a mixture of traditions, including Jewish, Samaritan, and Christian, among others. The primary source of this liturgy is the Holy Bible, but some elements are taken from the writings and compilations of Isaric founder, Yaqob bar-Karoza.
There are two sets of Scripture that are sacred to Isars. The first is The Holy Bible, i.e., the Old and New Testaments. The Holy Bible, as used by Isars, excludes deuterocanonical books, and follows a slightly different arrangement and division of the standard Old and New Testament books.
The second set of Scripture that Isars hold as sacred is The Book of the Other (the word "Other" here refers to a second and lesser canon). This text is separated into two parts: the Isaric version of the Apocrypha and the Isaric Talmud. Seven books make up the Isaric version of the Apocrypha: the Book of Khanokh, Yosef and Asenath, the Assumption of Moshe, the Ascension of Yishayahu, the Letter of Barukh, Maccabees, and Bar Sira. Most of these texts are based upon Aramaic originals, but there are some minor variations that exist between the Isaric version and other versions in circulation.
The Isaric Talmud, which is unrelated to the Jewish Talmud, is comprised of four books: Illuminations, A History of the Bnei Makir, The Testimony of Bar-Karoza concerning the True Distinction, and The Temple Visions. All four of these works were written in English with an admixture of Aramaic by Isaric theologian and liturgist, Yaqob Bar-Karoza.
Calendar and holidaysEdit
Isars use a luni-solar calendar system that blends elements of the Persian Jalaali solar calendar and the Samaritan timeline with the biblical lunar calendar. Also incorporated into the Isaric calendar are variants of several traditional American holidays. Significant features of the calendar are as follows: a lunar year that is dependent upon the solar year, which commences at the vernal equinox; 12 solar months with Latin-based names; civil events are timed according to the solar year, while religious events are timed according to observations of the moon throughout the lunar year, which begins with the first New Moon (i.e., the first slither of a crescent) near the vernal equinox. The Gregorian year, 2013, corresponds to the Isaric year 3652, which is based upon the supposed timing of the Exodus, circa 1640 BCE.
There are seven major Isaric holidays, which correspond to the seven appointed times of the Hebrew God as listed in the Torah:
· Pesakh (Passover)
· Matsah (Unleaved Bread)
· Yom HaBikkurim (Day of First Fruits)
· Shavuot (Weeks)
· Yom Teruah (Day of Sounding)
· Yom HaKippurim (Day of Atonement)
· Sukkot (Tabernacles)
Minor Isaric holidays and celebrations include the following:
· Lithanoth (Commemoration of Bath-Yifthakh)
· Yom-Purshana (Day of Distinction)
· The Ascension of Christ
· Counting of the ‘Omer
· *[Purim (Lots)]--recognized but not celebrated
· Yom-Iman (Day of our Mother—Memorial of Shaushanah)
· All Hallows Eve / All Saints Day
· The Fast of our Lord
· *[Hanukkah (Dedication)]--recognized but not celebrated
· Advent / Epiphany (Isars celebrate Christmas as the coming of the Magi rather than the birth of Christ, which they celebrate during Sukkot)
· Simkhat Torah (Fulfillment of Liturgy)
Isars and Bible prophecyEdit
Ever since the establishment of the Jewish state of Israel in 1948, various Christian groups have argued that other non-Jewish, Israelite tribes would be restored and would return to Israel in the future because of certain prophecies in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. One such prophecy is the supposed 2,730 year punishment of Israelites who were exiled by Assyria. This prophecy is based upon the concept that the 390 years of Ezekiel 4:1-6 should be multiplied by 7 ("seven times" of Leviticus 26:14-46), which amounts to 2,730 years of punishment. If this prophecy were true, then the distinction and restoration of the descendants of those ancient Israelites should have commenced 2,730 years after the date of their exile and punishment (circa 722-719 B.C). The fulfillment of this prophecy should thus fall sometime between A.D. 2008 and 2011.
Isars believe that their separation and distinction from Jews and Gentiles, a process that began in 2008 and reached its completion in 2011 with the giving of the prophetic distinction, "Ha Purshana Sharira," is a literal fulfillment of this prophecy, and is evidence that their punishment and cursing is over, and that they are now being restored. While the timing and nature of these events do seem to fit the prophecy, there remains the question of whether this prophetic calculation is valid and if the Isar's interpretation of the numbers in these biblical accounts is accurate. However, this does not seem to affect the conviction of Isars, who see themselves as a living testament to the truth of biblical prophecy.
The Christology of Isaric Christianity more closely resembles that of Oriental Orthodoxy than it does the conception of Jesus held by Western Christendom. Isars are miaphysites, believing that Jesus has a single nature, wherein are mystically united a divine nature and a human nature. In addition to being non-Chalcedonian, Isars are considered by some to be non-Nicene, since they do not accept the Nicene Creed. They believe Jesus to be "perfect human" (or having all aspects of humanity), but not "truly human," since his innermost being was uncreated and divine.
In Isaric understanding, Jesus was a complete human, not lacking any part of humanity, yet, at his core, was a divine substance known as the Word. Through a process known as kenosis, the preincarnate Christ, i.e. the Word of God, emptied himself of his divine prosopon (outer manifestation or persona), and, by the work of the Holy Spirit, received in its place a perfect human person, known as Yeshua (Jesus). However, he retained his divine substance and essence, which sets him apart from "true humanity."
Foundational to Isaric Christianity is the belief in nirta, a concept derived from the Celtic principle of neart and bears a similarity to the Chinese principle of tao. Simply put, nirta is the outer power and glory of God; upon it, every created thing subsists. To Isars, it is the stuff of miracles and supernatural activity. By means of nirta, the Word of God created all things, and by means of the same, he communicates to that creation. Nirta is void of personhood, and is understood as an attribute of God, not as something created; as such, it cannot be separated from God.
The belief in nirta is not the only theological conviction of Isars that differs from traditional views of the Western Church. While Isaric Christians confess the Trinity, and believe in a resurrection, a second coming of Christ, and everything described in the Apostles’ Creed, they do not teach an eternity in heaven for the elect, but rather a kind of reincarnation, or a rebirth of the soul in a new body, on a new (or remade) earth. To Isars, this eschatological event is distinct from the promised resurrection of the righteous in this world, which, in Isaric thought, will take place during a future period known as the “Millennium” (the millennial kingdom of the Messiah on this earth).
Regarding a future rapture event, in which all believers are taken up into "the clouds" before a time of tribulation, Isars do not take a firm stance. They acknowledge that the Bible does contain information that points to a rapture-type event, but that the timing and nature of it cannot be determined in an absolute sense. The notion of “escapism” is not well received among Isaric Christians. In the Isaric mind, persecution, suffering, and martyrdom are essential to the Christian life, and have been realities for devoted followers of Christ throughout the ages. Thus, for Isaric Christians, any rapture that takes place will follow, not precede, a time of tribulation. However, Isaric theologian, Bar-Karoza, teaches something akin to a "pre-wrath" rapture perspective, i.e., that true believers will endure tribulation even to the end, but will be separated from the wicked before the full wrath of God falls upon the earth.
Isars believe that a great ingathering (or harvest) of the faithful will take place at the second coming of Christ, which will be carried out by angels. This harvest may or may not be connected to the rapture of all believers. The biblical evidence used to support this thinking is found in Matthew13:24-30 (Parable of the Wheat and the Tares), Matthew 24:29-31, and Revelation 19-20. Based upon the text, Bar-Karoza concluded that all the righteous, both the living and the dead, will be gathered and assembled in the presence of the Messiah at his return. There they will attend the “marriage supper of the lamb,” and then serve as priests and ministers for the duration of the Millennium. The content of 1 Thessalonians 4:17 was interpreted by Bar-Karoza as a general and vague reference to a rapture of the faithful, which may coincide with the great ingathering at the beginning of the Millennium, or take place before the final judgment at the end of the Millennium.
In regard to soteriology, Isars are non-sacramental, meaning that they hold a memorial view of the Eucharist, and they do not practice infant baptism, since they subscribe to the Judaic concept of an age of discernment and accountability. This does not mean, however, that they discount the Christian doctrine of original sin. On the contrary, original sin is central to Isaric understanding of the human condition, but it is preempted by the prevenient grace of God, which, in accordance with the Torah, allows every child the chance to choose between right and wrong without being condemned for their parents' sins. Isars hold many Wesleyan views on soteriology, but deny that righteous acts or sacraments are means of grace, believing instead that grace (both prevenient and saving) is an unmerited free gift from a loving God, given to all equally and without measure. Divine favor, on the other hand, can be won by the righteous through genuine acts of love and righteousness; with this come blessings and rewards both in this world and in the world to come.