By TOMIE LUNSFORD
Telegram Staff Writer
The rabbi is Jewish, but he thinks Christ is the messiah.
He's not confused. Rabbi Robert Miller of Temple is a student and teacher of Messianic Judaism. He leads Agudat Bris - the Covenant Fellowship in Temple.
And he's back in town after starting five churches in the name of Yahshua, four in Australia and one in New Zealand.
The name Yahshua is, 'for all intents and purposes, Jesus,' said Rabbi Robert Miller of Temple, recently returned from a month-long visit to Australia. The translation is from Hebrew and Aramaic writings.
'But in Greek, Jesus means Zeus the healer, and that would be pagan, wouldn't it? Whereas Yahshua is 'my salvation.'' The rhetorical question was evidence of the boot-and-leather-wearing rabbi's fun-natured humor. On the bookshelves in his office, he's got Star Wars figurines and a Yoda bobble head grinning from between volumes of scholarly texts. And Indiana Jones is his metaphor of choice to explain his religion in terms others can understand.
The massive jeweled sword, for instance, that rabbis once used to protect the Torah in times of danger, Miller likened to the fighting knight in 'Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade' whose sworn duty it was to protect the Holy Grail, the cup of Christ. The sword nowadays is used ceremonially.
In Messianic Judaism, believers observe the culture and rituals of orthodox Judaism, as written in the Torah, but claim that the person known as Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah.
'Because of that position, one finds himself caught between Judaism and Christianity but largely accepted by neither,' Miller said.
Encyclopedia references say Messianic Judaism formed in the early 19th century when sects of people started claiming to be both Hebrew and Christian. The faith was formalized in 1866 with the formation of the Hebrew-Christian Alliance of Great Britain.
Census numbers show Messianic Judaism wasn't very popular until the 1970s when the organization transformed itself into the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America.
'The name change was more than just a semantical expression,' said author David Rausch in a book of Jewish history. 'It represented an evolution in the thought processes and religious and philosophical outlook toward a more fervent expression of Jewish identity.'
So Messianic Judaism is a relatively new religion in terms of its organization and name. But the idea behind the faith, Miller said, dates to the time before Christ.
'The original faith is described by Eusebius (of Caesarea),' Miller said. 'He talks about the Nazarenes in 300 B.C., how they were Jewish in every way but believed that Yahshua (or Yeshua, as translated from standard Hebrew) is the messiah.'
It wasn't a popular way of thinking to the world then, Miller said, nor to Eusebius who was Catholic.
'And it still isn't,' he said, describing the slew of hate crimes committed against the church he leads in Temple.
Despite the trouble, Miller's congregation has retained a healthy membership since it opened in 1995. He said 75 to 100 people, on average, come to worship at Agudat Bris, or Covenant Fellowship, located on 57th Street.
'And interest is there,' Miller said. 'Congregations are springing up throughout the world. People say they've always believed and seen the truth in scripture, but never had any way to express it.'
One such person, a woman from Kansas City, Mo., saw some of Miller's writings on the Internet and invited him, via email, to come to a conference on Messianic Judaism in Missouri.
That trip started the chain of events that led to the formation of Miller's congregations in Australia. He eventually met a man needed the aid of someone who had experience in leading a Messianic group.
'It's all been within the last four years,' Miller said. 'There's one in Sydney, New Castle, Port McQuary and one outside of Brisbon.'
His most recent project has been the start of the congregation at Christianchurch, New Zealand.
'Those guys already had a good group going,' Miller said. 'They just needed someone to lead meetings and encourage them.'
The rabbi travels to Australia twice a year to monitor progress, a pattern he'll likely adopt for the New Zealand Church.
While speaking about his faith and his accomplishments, the rabbi's words weren't about evangelism or conversion. They were about following the actions of Christ.
'The world thinks that if you say you follow Christ, you're Christian. The Nazis - they were all Christians, but they were anti-Semitic. But how can you be anti-Semitic if you're following Christ. For followers, it's important to be like him, do as he did and keep the Sabbath. He worshiped in a synagogue, and he was a Rabbi.'