Noahide Laws, Written Mosaic Law, or Whole Law?

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Do you just follow the Noahide laws; the written Mosaic Laws; or the Whole Law (written and oral laws) of Judaism?  If you don’t fall into one of these groups, you are probably somewhere among those who reject God.  Seriously, which one of these 3 groups should you belong to?

In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam only one commandment that is written in the Masoretic Text. Genesis 2:16-17 says, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”  No other commandments were recorded concerning man’s behavior at that time of creation.  That’s not to say that no other commandments were given to Adam and Eve later; we just don’t know exactly what they were based on this text.

Genesis 1:14 says, 14 Then God said, “Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to divide the day from the night; and let them be for signs and seasons, and for days and years…”  The Hebrew word for seasons is moedim.  This is the same word used for YHVH’s appointed times in Leviticus 23.  The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan in English by Etheridge for Genesis 1:14 translates moedim as “festival times.”  Although these aren’t elaborated upon, it would seem that based on this verse, YHVH’s festivals originated during the time of creation.

The Targum Pseudo-Jonathan in English by Etheridge for Genesis 1:21 says that God created the clean and unclean:  “ And the Lord created the great tanins, the lev-ya-than and his yoke-fellow which are prepared for the day of consolation, and every living animal which creepeth, and which the clear waters had swarmed forth after their kind; the kinds which are clean, and the kinds which are not clean; and every fowl which flieth with wings after their kinds, the clean and the unclean. And the Lord beheld that it was good.”

If God created creatures that were clean and unclean, He must have taught Adam and Eve which were which.  Somebody knew because Noah eventually knew which animals were clean and which weren’t when it came time to load the ark. There must have been some unwritten laws regarding the clean and unclean.  In addition, if diet weren’t important, the first written commandment would not have been about what they could and couldn’t eat.

The Noahide laws are laws that the Jews believe should supposedly apply to all humanity.  The traditional list of the six laws that were said to be given to Adam in the Garden of Eden and the seventh found after the flood narrative (Genesis 9) are:

  1. Do not deny God (idolatry).
  2. Do not murder (also in Genesis 9:5-6).
  3. Do not steal.
  4. Do not engage in sexual immorality.
  5. Do not blaspheme.
  6. Do not eat of a live animal (do not eat animals with its blood still in it; Genesis 9:4).
  7. Establish courts and legal systems to ensure obedience of the law.[1]

The Book of Jubilees 7:20-28 (~2nd century BCE) mentions certain ordinances, commandments, and judgments that Noah taught his sons:

  1. Observe righteousness
  2. Cover the shame of your flesh
  3. Bless your Creator
  4. Honor your father and mother
  5. Love your neighbor
  6. Guard yourselves from fornication and uncleanness and all iniquity (these 3 were the cause of the flood)[2]

Even here, these commandments are pretty vague; not much is defined or elaborated upon.  The Genesis account and the Book of Jubilees indicate people were offering sacrifices, and at this point, there were no detailed procedures given.  Cain offered a minchah and Abel offered a firstborn animal.  They could have been sacrificing to YHVH in the same way pagans offered sacrifices to their gods but I don’t think so.

Let me point out that there is no mention of Sabbath observance in these two lists. YHVH rested on the first Sabbath which was the 7th day of the week (Genesis 2:2-3; Exodus 20:11).  The Hebrew words for Sabbath (shabbat), seventh (sheviyiy), and rest (shavat) are related because they all share the same root: shin-bet-tav.  Therefore, the Sabbath cannot be on any other day; it must be on the 7th day of the week as God originally commanded. Since the first Shabbat was at the end of the week of creation, this is when it was “created.”  Since that’s the case, it should be part of the Noahide laws…but for some reason it’s not.  I can only guess why.

The Sabbath is a sign between the children of Israel and YHVH, that they may know that YHVH is the one who sanctifies them (Exodus 31:13).  YHVH would not have changed the Sabbath to a different day; man changed it without God’s consent.  The 7th day Sabbath was not just for the past; it’s also for the future.  Ezekiel has prophesied that all the people of the land will worship YHVH on the Sabbaths and New Moons at some point in the future (Ezekiel 46:3).

Since all of this is the case, it seems all descendants of Noah, both Jew and Gentile alike should be observing the 7th day Sabbath too.  Should they be forbidden to do so?  I don’t think so.  Unfortunately, the Jews have been forbidding Gentiles from observing the Sabbath for centuries.  They expect Gentiles to observe the Noahide laws instead; in addition, they’d prefer that Gentiles don’t convert to Judaism either.

Denying Sabbath observance is odd because Exodus 20:9 says, “but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God. In it you shall do no work: you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your male servant, nor your female servant, nor your cattle, nor your stranger (ger) who is within your gates.”

A ger is translated as a sojourner, foreigner; someone who has left home due to certain circumstances and is temporarily dwelling in the land.  The Greek text for this verse mentions both proselytes and strangers.  If God expected even animals to observe the Sabbath, He certainly expected Gentiles who dwelled with His people to do so as well.  Not only that, the Mosaic laws were given to a mixed multitude of people who went with the children of Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 12:37-38).  Everyone was expected to observe the Sabbath.

Another Hebrew word for foreigner is nekhar; this person is what we’d normally think of as being an alien.  It refers to someone from another nation, family, or tribe.

The phrase “one law” is used a few times in Scripture to refer to the observance of the Mosiac law by both the children of Israel and the ger or nekhar.  Some people think these verses only apply to certain situations and not to the whole Mosaic law. Situations include:

  1. The descendant of a nekhar, or a ger who wants to participate in pesach (Passover). (The Passover law is a testimony (edut = testimony or sign of what God has done.).
    1. To participate, he and his males must be circumcised just like the children of Israel (Exodus 12:43, 49; Numbers 9:14).
    2. It would seem that if a ger wants to participate in any other festival or holy day, he must do so according to the requirements set forth in Scripture, that is, according to the written law.
  1. A ger who wants to offer sin and trespass offerings to YHVH.
    1. The ger and native born can both bring offerings and they both must do it in the prescribed manner.
    2. The laws that define sin and trespasses are contained in the Mosaic law, not just the Noahide laws.
    3. The definitions for sins and trespasses apply to both the ger and the children of Israel. How else would a Noahide know they have sinned or trespassed since more offenses are listed in the Mosaic covenant that in the Noahide list?
    4. For a ger to bring offerings to YHVH requires he be ritually clean; therefore, commandments related to ritual purity must apply to him as well. Otherwise, the Temple would become defiled.

The written Mosiac law must apply to both the ger and native-born. One law (torah = teaching or instruction), ordinance (chuqqah = laws not easily understood), and custom (mishpat = laws easily understood) applies to both ger and the children of Israel (Leviticus 8:7; Numbers 15:14-16, 29).

Let’s face it, when people from different cultures live in the same territory, it is difficult to have multiple sets of laws.  Doing so causes disorder and can result in injustice.  There can only be one set of laws for native-born and foreigners/sojourners.

YHVH promised Abraham that He would become the father of many nations and that his wife Sarah would be the mother of nations (goyim = peoples; nations; Gentiles; heathen).  YHVH promised to establish His covenant with Abraham as well as his descendants, and to give him and his descendants all of the land of Canaan as an everlasting possession, and to be their God. (Genesis 17:4-8, 16).  In Abraham’s seed would all the nations be blessed (Genesis 22:18).  Since blessing comes from obedience to the Mosaic covenant, people must enter and observe that covenant, not just observe the Noahide laws.  The alternative is cursing and death.

YHVH’s covenants with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are linked because of the land.  Uncircumcised males descended from Abraham were considered to have broken YHVH’s covenant; they were to be cut off from their people (Genesis 17:14).  Being uncircumcised in the flesh and in the heart are connected to iniquity and unfaithfulness.

YHVH told His people that in the future if they broke His covenant and were to admit their guilt and that of their ancestors, He would remember the covenant with their ancestors and the land (Leviticus 26:40-45), and heal them and forgive them.  According to Ezekiel 44:9, foreigners (descendants of a nekhar), including those of the children of Israel must be circumcised in the flesh and in the heart in order to enter YHVH’s sanctuary during the Messiah’s millennial reign.  This demonstrates that the same laws from the past will apply in the future.

Acts 15 discusses how the Gentiles could be converted, or enter the covenant of Israel.  This passage does not advocate they should become merely Noahide observers.  The party of the circumcision from Judea (a sect of the Pharisees) were teaching the Gentiles (goyim) that they could not be converted (be saved, repent) unless they were circumcised according to the custom of Moses (Acts 15:3-5). Paul and Barnabas disagreed and believed the Gentiles were being converted without “becoming Jewish” via circumcision first.  Circumcision is something that can come a little later in obedience to God’s commandments; it’s not the means of entering the covenant.

This dispute of how to enter the covenant was brought to the Jerusalem council who decided the Gentiles are saved in the same manner as the Jews.  It was decided that the Gentiles who were turning to God should abstain from things polluted by idols, sexual immorality, things strangled, and blood; for Moses has been preached in every city and read in the synagogues every Sabbath (Acts 15:19-21).  This last phrase/sentence indicates that these things were a starting point for entering the covenant; the rest or process of sanctification could be learned in the synagogue every Sabbath.

The list of things that Gentiles needed to do immediately were all connected to idolatry in one way or another.  Idolatry must cease before worship of YHVH can begin.  This is not debatable.  These four things are not a complete list of the seven Noahide laws; to say that they are, or to use this as a reason for Gentiles to not embrace the written Torah is misleading.

In the Talmud, in Sanhedrin 105a, it says, “Righteous people of all nations have a share in the world to come.”  The Jews regard Gentiles who only follow the Noahide laws as the righteous among the Gentiles.  The question is, does YHVH consider them righteous and worthy of the olam haba (world to come)?  How can they if they ignore many things including the sign of the covenant?

Oral law contains laws, statutes, and legal interpretations that are not found in the written Torah.  The Jews say these were passed down orally from Mount Sinai until they were written down a few centuries after the destruction of the Temple which occurred in 70 CE. These oral laws are found in the Talmud which is composed of the Mishnah and Gemara.

As we’ve seen, prior to the Mosaic law, there appears to have been some kind of oral law; it seems these laws may have been the same and not different from the Mosiac law.  YHVH gave Moses written laws at Mount Sinai.   Deuteronomy 12:32 says, “Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it.”  Saying that there was an additional oral law that existed since Mount Sinai is adding to the written Torah.  Since the written law was eventually lost for a period of time (2Kings 22,8; 2Chronicles 34,15), how can we believe that an existing oral tradition was never lost or passed down?

The fact that the giving of the oral law is not even mentioned in the written law is my first consideration for not incorporating it into my life.  Not all sects of Judaism recognize the divine origin of the oral law either; so I think it’s wise to view the oral law with caution.  If you’ve ever tried to read the Talmud, you may have found it very frustrating.  The rabbis who are quoted often do not agree with each other on many matters that are supposedly laws.  This makes the idea of an oral law ridiculous and unbelievable, and/or difficult to accept.

Even though I feel this way about the oral law, I believe there is still value in the Talmud because we can learn what the Jews believe and practice today and to some extent, we can learn about various things including the debates of sages Hillel and Shamai, and other rabbis who lived during the last century BCE and the first several centuries CE.

I feel that we have two extremes here.  The Noahide laws appear to be lacking the significant sign of the covenant (the 7th day Sabbath) among other things.  The oral law appears to be excessive; often times conflicting with itself; and a burden that is impossible to keep.

I feel comfortable with the written Mosaic law; yet, I know that some of it applies to everyone, and other parts apply to only certain groups of people.  Some of it can’t be observed because the temple no longer stands.  Yeshua said this law would not pass away until heaven and earth passes away.  In other words, it’s still valid.  Those who teach people to observe this law will be considered great in the kingdom of God; those who teach otherwise will be least in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-19).  Paul told us that this law was not abolished because of faith; he upheld the law (Romans 3:31).  James told us to speak and do as those who will be judged by this law of liberty (James 2:12).  If we love YHVH, we will obey His commandments (1 John 5:3).

We must understand that YHVH gave His people one set of laws for both Jew and Gentile.  Obedience to God’s commandments brings life and blessing; disobedience leads to cursing and death.  The saints are those who keep the commandments of God (those given at Mount Sinai and not just the Noahide laws) and the faith of Yeshua (Revelation 14:12).







Under the Works of the Law

Our previous discussion of the Jerusalem council should naturally lead to a discussion of Galations. 

As mentioned in a previous post, the Jerusalem council met to decide what would be expected from the Gentiles who were coming to faith in Christ.  Acts 15:20 and 29 says these Gentiles were instructed to abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.  By evading these actions, the Gentiles would avoid any association with idolatry.   Acts 15:21 further indicated that the Gentiles could learn the words of Moses in the synagogues every Sabbath.  In other words, the Gentile Christians were being encouraged to leave idolatry behind and show their love for Jesus by obeying the Torah.  By doing so, they would be conformed to His image.

When Christians read or hear this, they typically get very angry and start spouting other Scriptures to refute this.   The last thing most Christians want is to go back under their understanding of Judaism – to go back “under the law.”  After all, Christians are “under grace.”  They insist the Old Covenant was fulfilled by Christ and that the 7th day Sabbath and the feasts of the Lord are not applicable any more.  I plan to take a look at some of these claims to see if the Word of God is being properly interpreted while considering what Paul said in his letter to the Galatians.    

The Old Testament contains several covenants and/or promises, not just one.  They all build upon each other and none annul the former ones.  The covenant of circumcision was given to Abraham and God promised him that through his seed, the nations of the world would be blessed.  The promise was passed through the patriarchal lineage of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Jacob told Judah that the scepter would not pass from him but continue until it comes to the One to whom obedience belongs (Gen. 29:10).  Years later, God made a marriage covenant with the mixed multitude that Moses led out of Egypt at Mount Sinai.  This multitude consisted primarily of the descendants of Jacob.  As the generations went by, God made a covenant of salt with David that said the rulership over Israel would belong to David and his descendants forever (2 Chron. 13:5).  Eventually, Jesus, the son of David came according to the time given to the prophet Daniel to fulfill previous promises to God’s people. 

Throughout the Old Testament, the historical accounts of the patriarchs, judges, kings, and other people provide snapshots or patterns of the events of Jesus’ life, death, and second coming.  There are also numerous prophecies concerning the Messiah written in the Prophets and Writings.  Some of these were fulfilled during Jesus’ first ministry on earth but the rest will not be fulfilled until He returns.  In other words, Jesus has NOT fulfilled all of the Law and the Prophets.  That’s why the Torah will not pass away until heaven and earth passes away (Matt. 5:18).

In fact, the Feasts of the Lord which include the Sabbath are a shadow of things yet to come (Col. 2:16-17).  The spring feasts were fulfilled during Jesus’ first appearance—Jesus was the Passover Lamb, His dead (unleavened) body was in the grave for three days, His body was leavened or raised as firstfruits from a dead earth on the 3rd day, and the Holy Spirit representing the New Covenant was placed into the hearts of all believers.   This New Covenant was the same terms as the original covenant given to God’s people at Mount Sinai (Jer. 31:33).  When Jesus returns at the last shofar (trumpet), it should take place on the Feast of Trumpets in a year of Jubilee.  In addition, judgment will take place on the Day of Atonement, and the marriage supper of the Lamb will be celebrated during the Feast of Tabernacles.  Hebrews 4:1 tells us that the time of our eternal Sabbath rest still lies in the future.  Since all of these are yet to be fulfilled, we need to continue celebrating them.   

Someone recently told me that the New Testament does not teach a 7th day Sabbath but actually teaches against it.  First off, there was no need to teach a 7th day Sabbath because it had already been taught in the Old Testament.  To believe the New Testament teaches against it is absurd.  First, Paul and his associates always went to teach in the synagogues on the Sabbaths.  The Sabbath will also be observed during Christ’s millennial reign so it has not been made void (Isaiah 66:22-24; Ezek. 46:3).  When Jesus healed on the Sabbath, He showed mercy to those who needed it.

Let’s consider some verses often used to justify a first day Sabbath.  Since creation, days began and ended in the evening.  This is still understood by Jews today.  In Acts 20:9, Paul was speaking on the seventh day Sabbath and continued speaking into the evening as the Sabbath gave way to the first day of the week.  At midnight, Eutychus fell out the window.   If Paul began teaching on the first day of the week as many people say, by the time it was midnight, it would really have been Monday when Eutychus fell out the window.   

A second verse that Christians use to justify a first day Sabbath is found in Revelation 1:10.  Christians often call Sunday “the Lord’s Day.”  John said he was “in the Spirit on the Lord’s day.”  This was not a reference to Sunday but to the “Day of the Lord” which is mentioned numerous times throughout the Bible. 

A third verse that is used to authorize a first day Sabbath is 1 Corinthians 16:2 in which Paul encourages believers to set aside something on the first day of the week until he comes to collect it for the saints.  This may or may not have been money.  This could be done at home and did not necessarily have to be done at church.

Many say the Gentiles will never be circumcised.  As we know, circumcision was not part of the law given to Moses.  It was originally given to Abraham after he was declared righteous (Gen. 15:6; 17:10).  Circumcision was practiced over the following generations until the second generation that wandered in the wilderness failed to obey the covenant of circumcision given to Abraham.  Before they could enter the Promised Land, the remnant of the mixed multitude that came out of Egypt had to be circumcised (Joshua 5:2-7).  As the time approaches for the sons of Abraham to enter the long awaited Sabbath rest, they too will need to be circumcised because Ezekiel 44:9 says, “Thus says the Lord God: “No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel.”

With these things in mind, there is something else we should address.  Many Christians today only follow the laws of the Old Testament as they were restated in the New Testament.  The Gentiles in the book of Acts could not have done this.  The writers of the New Testament began to write around 50 C.E. and the New Testament wasn’t canonized for about 4 centuries.[1]  The Gentile Christians had to have some kind of Scripture to learn what God expected from them.  They used what Christians refer to as the Old Testament because 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

The Old Testament was written over many centuries but God instructed Moses to write down the law –everything He commanded him when he was on Mount Sinai.  The Jews claim Moses also received oral law as well.  Rabbis Hillel and Shammai lived during the time of King Herod and were the first to equate the written law with oral law.  In other words, they considered both equally authoritative.[2]  Over the years, rabbis interpreted the law and created commandments on how to walk out the law.  This is called halakhah.  These laws were considered just as binding as the original 613 laws of Torah.[3]  This was a burden too great for God’s people to bear.  On the other hand, Jesus’ yoke was easy and His burden was light (Matt. 11:29-30).

Since Jesus was Jewish and was the fulfillment of the promised one of God to the Jews, it was assumed that the only way Gentiles could enter the new covenant was by becoming Jewish (sons of Abraham) first.  In order to convert to Judaism, circumcision was considered necessary by the group of the Circumcision since circumcision was part of what was required convert to Judaism. [4]

Now that we understand these cultural issues better, we can see what Paul was coming against in his writings.

After Jesus returned to heaven, God began lavishly dispensing His grace (favor) to the Gentiles and calling them to Himself; however, according to Galatians, the real Good news was being perverted by the teaching that circumcision (ritual conversion to Judaism) and observance of the law are the means to enter the Kingdom of God. 

Paul explained that man is not justified by the works of the law (Gal. 2:16).  Actually, the law never justified man.  Man is justified by his faith in Christ and faith is demonstrated by obedience to the law.

Originally, obedience to the law brought life and blessing but disobedience to the law brought death and cursing (Deut. 30:15-19).  Galatians 2:19-21 says, “For I through the law [sacrificial death of Jesus, the Living Torah] died to the [curse of the] law that I might live to God. 20 [In other words] I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me. 21 I do not set aside the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain.”  Since Jesus became a curse for us, we are now free to obey the law without fearing the curse of the law (penalty of death) in the event of inadvertent sin.

In Galatians, Paul explains the way a person really becomes a son of Abraham is basically the same way Abraham was declared righteous.  Abraham demonstrated his faith by trusting in the promise of God and God credited him with righteousness.  So too we must trust in Jesus, the Promised One. 

One of Paul’s goals in Galatians was to explain how one becomes a son of Abraham and an heir to the promise God gave him.  Those who are not sons of Abraham are “of the works of the law” but sons of Abraham are “of faith” or are “faithful” to Jesus Christ.  A legalistic observance of the law to gain salvation is not faith but obeying the law out of love for God is faithfulness. 

Once we place our faith in Christ, we are released from the penalty of death (the curse of the law) that results from attempting to keep God’s commandments in our own strength.  We also receive the Holy Spirit who gives us the power we need to obey God’s commandments out of love for God.  Second John 6 says, “This is love, that we walk according to His commandments. This is the commandment, that as you have heard from the beginning, you should walk in it.”  God really intends for us to keep the original commandments of God and we can do so by the power of the Holy Spirit living within us.

Galatians 5:16-18 says, “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”  NKJV

This same idea was conveyed in Ezekiel 36:26-28:  “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.”  NKJV  Ezekiel makes it very clear that the Holy Spirit will cause us to keep God’s original commandments so the idiom “under the law” most likely refers to attempting to obey the law in the flesh.

Paul put it this way in Romans 8:3-4:  “For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, 4 that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”  NKJV

Jesus was born under the law which had become perverted by His time in order to redeem us so we could be adopted as sons of Abraham.  Before being adopted, the Gentiles were in bondage to pagan idol worship which contained weak and beggarly elements.  They had their own holidays that they participated in.  Paul did not want the new believers to return to their former ways.  In the same way, we should not participate in pagan forms of worship—even if we’re using them to worship God.  Instead, God gave us holy feasts which are a shadow of things past and yet to come.

Paul did not want Jewish believers who had perverted the gospel to lead the new Gentile believers into a legalistic version of Torah observance – the written law combined with oral law and numerous rabbinic interpretations.  This was represented by Hagar and could not justify anyone.  To attempt to do so would be to fall from grace.  Paul wanted the Gentile believers to be in bondage to the Jerusalem from above – to be born according to the Spirit which would empower them to obey the original law as God intended. 

Paul made it clear in Galatians 3:28-29 that, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Paul explained that the blessing of Abraham only comes upon the faithful who trust in Christ.  The law of God was given to define sin and separate the faithful from the wicked so the wicked could not have the inheritance of the faithful.  The ultimate separation of mankind will take place sometime in the future.  Until then, we need to trust in Jesus and be faithful by obeying God’s written commandments by the power of the Spirit and not by the power of the flesh.

As we seek to obey these commandments, we should remember Philippians 2:12-13:  “Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.”  Paul is not telling us to earn our salvation.  He’s telling us to apply the law in our lives with fear and trembling.  To do so, we must first know what it says.  When we desire to be obedient to God and apply it as the Holy Spirit leads, it brings Him great pleasure.