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Jesus the Central Jew

Jesus the Central Jew: His Times and His People

André LaCocque
  • Book Info
    Jesus the Central Jew
    Book Description:

    Not a Jew marginally, but centrally

    In this book, LaCocque presents the case that Jesus was totally and unquestionably a Jew. He lived as a Jew, thought as a Jew, debated as a Jew, acted as a Jew and died as a Jew. He had no intention of creating a new religion; rather, he was a reformer of the Judaism of his day. True, his critique went far beyond an intellectual subversion. In fact, Jesus progressively thought of himself as the "Son of Man" inaugurating the advent of the Kingdom of God on earth.


    Focused attention given to the historical Jesus and not Christianity or ChristologyAddresses restricted sources, namely, the Synoptic GospelsClose examination of Jesus's way of thinking, teaching, and behaving

    eISBN: 978-1-62837-113-0
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  2. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    A vast literature has been and is now dedicated to the rediscovery of the historical Jesus. It is beyond the scope of this present attempt to do justice to more than a fraction of that literature. I must, therefore, start with an apology to all those scholars whose work is not specifically mentioned in this book. That is not a sign of nonappreciation but of the limitations of the author.

    The present book is not about Christianity as such. Nor is it a Christology. It purposely addresses restricted sources, namely, the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, written between 80–90 CE; Mark,...

  5. 1 The Gospel as Retrospective
    (pp. 11-14)

    To speak of the man Jesus, I must start at the beginning. The gospel itself does so. It tells us, in Matthew and Luke, about Jesus’s birth. Mark starts with his baptism by John the Baptist,¹ and John the Evangelist begins with the creation of the universe by invoking theLogosidentified with the Christ, the Greek word for messiah.

    But this ostensible chronology is defeated by an internal logic whereby the end is the beginning and the beginning is really the end. As a matter of fact, the evangelists wrote their pieces a posteriori, that is, after realizing that...

  6. 2 Jesus the Messiah
    (pp. 15-42)

    Jesus was born around 7 or 6 BCE, shortly before the death in 4 BCE of Herod the Great (who, incidentally, practiced state terrorism). He seems to have started his ministry at the age of thirty-three or thirty-four, after his baptism by John the Baptist, probably in 27 or 28 CE. The gospels cover about two and a half years of Jesus’s life. On April 6 or 7 of the year 30 CE, at the age of thirty-six, he was arrested and crucified.

    We know few details about Jesus’s life before he became a public figure in Galilee and, later,...

  7. 3 Jesus Son of Man/Son of God
    (pp. 43-52)

    In spite of Daniel Boyarin’s thesis inThe Jewish Gospels, the title “Son of God” or, as we shall see below, “Son of Man” does not qualify Jesus as a second person of an alleged Trinity or Binity. We may not disregard other biblical entities also called “son(s) of God” and “son of Man” in Scripture. Israel as a people is called “sons of God” in Deut 14:1; Ps 82:6; 103:13; Hos 11:1; so is their king in Ps 2:7, and he is even “divinized” in Ps 110:1, where we see him sitting on a throne at the right hand...

  8. 4 Jesus as Healer
    (pp. 53-70)

    One of the main expectations of first-century charismatics was that they be healers. Even a cursory look at the four gospels reveals that Jesus was seen as a healer. Healing, evidently, played a major role in Jesus’s ministry.¹ There are some fifteen stories of healing by Jesus. For the sake of argument, even if the historian comes to the conclusion that such-and-such miracle stories are not authentic—say, for instance, the changing of water into wine at Cana—the story as creation of the early church says some significant things about the historical Jesus: his participation in a banquet; his...

  9. 5 Jesus and Torah
    (pp. 71-130)

    For Jesus, the absolute of the spirit of the law¹ takes precedence over the absolute of the letter of the law. As an example, let us focus on Jesus healing the man with a lame hand on the Sabbath (Luke 6:6). At stake is the principle that the double Torah (written and oral) strives toward its own transcendence when, from being the rule of Israelkata sarka(“Israel after the flesh”/the contingent Israel), it becomes, at last, the rule of the kingdom of God.² The former carries the seed of its own transformation. Thus, here and now, the law of...

  10. 6 Jesus and Moses
    (pp. 131-140)

    This book seeks to understand what can be retrieved of the historical Jesus; this does not always jibe with what the gospel writers thought of him. At no point, for instance, does Jesus claim to be Moses redivivus. However, the gospel brings Moses and Jesus together, and clearly the conjunction of the two imposed itself on the disciples. Sometimes texts are rather subtle and the name of Moses does not necessarily appear in them, although he serves as a model. With Paul Achtemeier, mention must be made of Jesus’s feeding of the five thousand, in parallel with the manna in...

  11. 7 Jesus and Israel
    (pp. 141-168)

    What has been said of Jesus and the torah applies as well to the relationship of Jesus with his people. The Israelkata sarka(“according to the flesh”), of which Paul speaks in his epistles and to which he himself belongs by birth and by choice, incarnates a promise of its own transfiguration “at the end.” Historic Israel acknowledges itself to be only the shadow of things to come: the temple, for instance, will be glorified; the land will be Eden restored; Jerusalem will see all its children and all nations coming in to be blessed.

    Israelkata sarka, therefore,...

  12. 8 Jesus Taught in Parables
    (pp. 169-182)

    What is a parable? It is a short story characterized by verisimilitude and conveying a lesson, usually moral. A parable is, in Hebrew terms, a haggadic or midrashicmashal. The whole of Jewish tradition is bidimensional; it is built into the halakah (legal dispositions) and the haggadah (paradigmatic stories illustrating the meaning, impact, and relevance of a biblical theme or text). Historically, it must be said that preference has been given by Jewish readers to the halakic side of the tradition because of its obvious bearing on ways of life according to the divine order. Great revivalist movements in Judaism,...

  13. 9 The Birth Narratives
    (pp. 183-192)

    Were I writing my book in the nineteenth century, I could have come with a typically explicit title such as “The Retrospectively Set Birth Stories in the Beginning of Jesus’s Ministry by Matthew and Luke.” As I said earlier, the gospels are written from the perspective of the death and resurrection of their main character, so that the end is the beginning and the beginning is the end. In other words, for the evangelists, Jesus’s death was no ordinary death, and so his birth was no ordinary birth.¹

    With Matthew and Luke’s birth narratives, however, we enter the literary genre...

  14. 10 Jesus’s Baptism
    (pp. 193-196)

    In the view of New Testament scholars, the baptism of Jesus by John is most probably historical, if only for the simple reason that it is inconceivable that the early Christian church would have invented such an embarrassing story about Jesus going through a “sacrament” of repentance for the remission of sins. Although the Fourth Gospel all but ignores the episode, the three Synoptics more or less reluctantly report it. It is even presented as an important event, marked by a theophany declaring Jesus the Son of God. Historically, we may imagine that Jesus at that point was seized by...

  15. 11 Jesus’s Self-Consciousness
    (pp. 197-210)

    At the risk of being anachronistic, I shall begin by evoking Hayim Vital (sixteenth–seventeenth centuries). This eminent disciple of Rabbi Luria said that the messiah will grow in righteousness and that finally “he will recognize himself as such. His messiahship had not been known [to him] before, but now it will be revealed [to him]. Others, however, will not recognize him.” Vital takes Moses as an example, who ascended to heaven for forty days and was “unknown” by others, so the messiah “will be raised to heaven.” Then he will reveal himself fully, and all Israel will recognize him.¹...

  16. 12 Jesus Is Betrayed
    (pp. 211-216)

    The fate of both Jesus and the temple is—at least in the eyes of some early Christians—clearly consolidated into one large-scale event. John 2:21 says that, when Jesus spoke of the coming destruction of the temple, he was speaking of his own body. Witnesses at his trial accused him of forecasting the end of the temple—which in fact occurred some forty years later. It seems reasonable to conclude that both the cross and the temple ruins after 70 CE were seen as a dual inauguration of a new and final chapter in Israel’s history. True, the accusation...

  17. 13 The Trial of Jesus and His Passion
    (pp. 217-238)

    According to Marcus Borg, Jesus’s entry into Jerusalem was a counterdemonstration, as Pilate’s troops were also entering the city from the opposite direction to reinforce the garrison on the Temple Mount during Passover. Jesus’s entry, modeled on Zech 9:9–10, symbolized the peaceful kingdom of God. Peaceful, yes, but with active resistance through public criticism and symbolic acts. For, to our surprise, Jesus has recourse to violence in the temple! His pacifism must thus be qualified: it is “bifocal.” Toward the Roman occupation, its aspect is of nonresistance, but toward the temple personnel and the perversion of their mission, it...

  18. 14 Egō Eimi in the Mouth of Jesus
    (pp. 239-246)

    Jesus answers the high priest’s question about his true identity with the wordsegō eimi(Mark 14:61–62), which is a troubling echo of Exod 3:14 (“egō eimihas sent me to you”).¹ The high priest and his company chose to understand that Jesus pronounced the forbidden name of God—which, according to 1QS in Qumran, to Josephus,² and to m. Sanh. 7:5 constitutes blasphemy.³ The high priest himself, we note, avoids pronouncing the name. He uses a periphrasis, “the Blessed One,” in Hebrewhameborak(see m. Ber. 7:3: Ber, 50a, where it functions as a participle; only in 1...

  19. 15 The Great Cry of Jesus on the Cross
    (pp. 247-262)

    Jesus is reported to have uttered several cries while being crucified. One of them is especially memorable. Jesus quotes in Aramaic—the vernacular language of the Jews of Palestine at that time—Ps 22:1, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (eloi, eloi, lemah savakthani; in Hebrew,eli, eli, lamah ‘azavthani).² These moving words are fraught with their own set of problems, starting with the hard-to-believe note that the crowd thought Jesus was calling the prophet Elijah.³

    But I want to deal now with the second exclamation of the Crucified that, although it was “a great cry” (phōnē...

  20. 16 Jesus and the Resurrection
    (pp. 263-272)

    A number of texts in the Scriptures present death as irremediable (see Pss 49:20; 88:9; Job 7:9–10; 14:7–22), but for Dan 12 and the “intertestamental” literature, faith in resurrection is a certainty (see 1 Enoch 51:1; 92:3–5; 2 Macc 7; 14:46; Wis. Sol. 2–4; 4 Ezra 7:32). In Jesus’s time, most Jews believed in the resurrection of the dead. Mark 12:18–27 (// Luke 20:27–38) reports Jesus’s rebuke of the Sadducees about this issue.¹ The entire New Testament presupposes Jesus’s resurrection. The gospel shows the disciples unanimously believing that Jesus, their Master, is alive and...

  21. Conclusion
    (pp. 273-278)

    The text of the gospel contains a canto of citations from the Hebrew Scriptures, and this for good reason, for the gospel writers wanted the Jewish roots of its message to be strong and conclusive.¹ Even an apparently non- Jew like Luke is eager to “prove” the authenticity of the messianic identity of Jesus by frequently citing the Hebrew Bible. In fact, this dependence of the gospel on Jewish traditions goes well beyond these quotations. The Hebrew Scriptures provided a rich hermeneutic treasure trove for the evangelists to build pesharim and haggadoth, illustrating the providential events of the life of...

  22. Index of Passages
    (pp. 295-332)
  23. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 333-338)