The Jewish Jesus

The Jewish Jesus: Revelation, Reflection, Reclamation

Edited by Zev Garber
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Purdue University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Jewish Jesus
    Book Description:

    There is a general understanding within religious and academic circles that the incarnate Christ of Christian belief lived and died a faithful Jew. This volume addresses Jesus in the context of Judaism. By emphasizing his Jewishness, the authors challenge today’s Jews to reclaim the Nazarene as a proto-rebel rabbi and invite Christians to discover or rediscover the Church’s Jewish heritage. The essays in this volume cover historical, literary, liturgical, philosophical, religious, theological, and contemporary issues related to the Jewish Jesus. Several of them were originally presented at a three-day symposium on “Jesus in the Context of Judaism and the Challenge to the Church,” hosted by the Samuel Rosenthal Center for Judaic Studies at Case Western Reserve University in 2009. In the context of pluralism, in the temper of growing interreligious dialogue, and in the spirit of reconciliation, encountering Jesus as living history for Christians and Jews is both necessary and proper. This book will be of particular interest to scholars of the New Testament and Early Church who are seeking new ways of understanding Jesus in his religious and cultural milieu, as well Jewish and Christian theologians and thinkers who are concerned with contemporary Jewish and Christian relationships.

    eISBN: 978-1-61249-177-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. [i]-[vi])
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. [vii]-[x])
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)
    Zev Garber

    Though many articles, reviews, and books are not of one opinion on the life and time of Jesus, there is a general understanding in the dogma of the church and in the quests of the academy that the incarnate Christ of Christian belief lived and died a faithful Jew,¹ and what this says to contemporary Jews and Christians is the focus of this volume depicting Jesus in the context of Judaism and its impact on Jewish and Christian traditional and contemporary views of the other.

    In the context of our time, Pope John Paul II challenged members of the Pontifical...

  4. Section 1: Reflections on the Jewish Jesus
    • 1 The Jewish Jesus: A Partisan’s Imagination
      (pp. 13-19)
      Zev Garber

      My own approach to finding the historical Jesus in the text of the New Testament may appear to some as extreme. It seems to me that Mark, the earliest Gospel version on the life of Jesus compiled shortly after the destruction of the Second Jewish Temple by the Romans in 70 CE, contains authentic traces of the historical Jesus shrouded in repeated motifs of secrecy which are intended to obscure the role of Jesus as a political revolutionary sympathizer involved in the Jewish national struggle against Rome. When the Gospel of Mark is analyzed in its own light, without recourse...

    • 2 The Kabbalah of Rabbi Jesus
      (pp. 20-35)
      Bruce Chilton

      Why speak of Kabbalah, and then link that to Jesus? The “Kabbalah,” as that term in commonly used, refers to a movement of Jewish mysticism from the twelfth century through the Renaissance (in its initial flowering).¹ Its focus was on the mystical union with God, in a way analogous to the paths advocated by Christian mystics such as Julian of Norwich and Johannes Eckhart. Its character included an intellectual discipline, literary focus on the precise wording of the Torah, and even an academic rigor in the description of the divine spheres into which the initiate was to enter with great...

    • 3 The Amazing Mr. Jesus
      (pp. 36-46)
      James F. Moore

      I was initially surprised by the focus of this volume, not that it was unimportant but that it was a subject treated so thoroughly already. In addition, there is the question about what is gained by thinking about a Jewish Jesus or about the Jewish context for understanding Jesus. Much of what can be said is likely to lead us where others have already gone and treated much more thoroughly. That is, we would find that Jesus is rather unremarkable in many ways. He was not especially distinctive in his teaching as best as we can tell. Thus, a Jewish...

    • 4 Jesus the “Material Jew”
      (pp. 47-64)
      Joshua Schwartz

      To speak today of “Jesus the Jew” is commonplace. Jesus, son of Joseph and Mary, residents of Nazareth, was born a Jew, lived as a Jew and died as one. But what kind of Jew was he? During the course of the years, scholarship has helped us understand much about his life and his basic teachings and not a small amount of work has been done on the Jewish context of his life and teachings. However, much less attention has been paid to the physical and material realities surrounding the everyday life and teachings of Jesus. The “academic” Judaism of...

    • Jesus Stories, Jewish Liturgy, and Some Evolving Theologies until circa 200 CE: Stimuli and Reactions
      (pp. 65-92)
      Ziony Zevit

      People tell stories, stories about friends, enemies, heroes, and whatnot. Stories play social roles. They can connect people or separate them. Well-told stories can compel people to think about their implications. In societies not given to abstract thinking, stories convey implicit philosophies, theologies, and worldviews. They are also the embryonic source of explicit philosophies, theologies, and worldviews

      During the first century of the Common Era Jews told stories about biblical figures, sages such as Rabbi Akiba, and about Jesus. Judging from extant texts, the stories tended to be short and punchy, self-standing, and not necessarily connected thematically or sequentially. Story-tellers...

    • 6 Avon Gilyon (Document of Sin, b. Shabb. 116a) or Euvanggeleon (Good News)
      (pp. 93-105)
      Herbert W. Basser

      The questions I want to explore are complex. 1) Was Jesus a good Jewish boy with some constructive critiques of the status quo—so that today he would be just another blogger in the ilk he executed by Rome for his anti-Rome sentiments? In short he was not anything like a “Christian”? Or, 2) was he a rebel trying to destroy the foundations of old Jewish life so he could begin a new sect of righteousness?

      Let us look for a moment at the reception of Jesus in Jewish society. Although there were exceptions, the vast majority...

    • 7 Psalm 22 in Pesiqta Rabbati: The Suffering of the Jewish Messiah and Jesus
      (pp. 106-128)
      Rivka Ulmer

      Psalm 22 is cited in several critical New Testament passages; by comparison, Psalm 22 is rarely cited in rabbinic literature. In particular, Psalm 22 is used as an expression of personal suffering by the New Testament writers in the cruci-fixion scenes that recount the suffering of Jesus. In rabbinic literature, Psalm 22 is also cited as relating to the afflictions of a Jewish Messiah. The major rabbinic passage addressing the subject of a suffering Messiah is found in Pesiqta Rabbati, a rabbinic homiletic work that contains numerous messianic passages, as well as four entire homilies that present apocalyptic messianic visions,...

  5. Section 2: Responding to the Jewish Jesus
    • 8 What Was at Stake in the Parting of the Ways between Judaism and Christianity?
      (pp. 131-158)
      Richard L. Rubenstein

      In this chapter, I will explore the question of what was at stake culturally, religiously, and psychologically in the parting of the ways between Judaism and early Christianity. Since the issues involved are multifaceted, I have chosen to focus primarily on religious sacrifice. I believe that this issue exhibits simultaneously elements of both continuity and discontinuity between the two traditions.

      Let us begin with the narrative of theAqedahin Scripture (Gen. 22:1-19). As is well known, on one of the holiest days of the Jewish religious calendar, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, the reading from the Torah deals...

    • 9 The Jewish and Greek Jesus
      (pp. 159-180)
      Yitzchak Kerem

      The purpose of this article is to contrast the actual Jewish Jesus with a Hellenized Greek-speaking Eastern Orthodox Jesus as he is perceived, reinterpreted, and reconceived from the writings of the apostles and early Christianity. While little is known about the actual Jewish Jesus, a lot is known about the portrayal of Jesus in early Christian literature. Unique will be the presentation of Jesus as an icon of Hellenization and a Greek-speaking Christian (Eastern) Orthodox perspective.

      In replicating the Hellenized Roman Empire, where the emperor was idealized as God, but his wife human, and a mystical secretive religion was emerging,...

    • 10 Jewish Responses to Byzantine Polemics from the Ninth through the Eleventh Centuries
      (pp. 181-203)
      Steven Bowman

      Jesus has presented a difficulty for Greek-speaking Jews for the past two millennia. To paraphrase the Greek-Jewish scholar Asher Moissis: the Athenians killed Socrates and no one blames them; the Jews are wrongly accused of killing Jesus and the world hates them.¹

      This essay is primarily concerned with the Christian-Jewish “dialogue” in tenth- to eleventh-century Byzantium or, more accurately, with several Jewish responses to Orthodox polemics and propaganda. It will focus mainly on two literary texts that were internal and integral to the memory of Jewish identity and one midrashic text that provides a clear response to some Byzantine theological...

    • 11 A Meditation on Possible Images of Jewish Jesus in the Pre-Modern Period
      (pp. 204-227)
      Norman Simms

      Conceptions of Jesus exist in rabbinical legal discourses, polemics, and commentaries of the Middle Ages. They come in the course of discussion among rabbis who experienced or were speaking in the name of those who had experienced various persecutions in the times of the early church. They are imagined in times of stress and confusion when formal trials against the Talmud and other sacred writings necessitated the formalization of defensive arguments against the charges made that, on the one hand, the rabbinical texts slandered the person and family of Jesus and the primitive Christian community, and on the other, that...

    • 12 Typical Jewish Misunderstandings of Christ, Christianity, and Jewish-Christian Relations over the Centuries
      (pp. 228-248)
      Eugene J. Fisher

      I have spent a large portion of my professional life since I finished my coursework at New York University’s Institute of Hebrew Studies in 1971 educating my fellow Christians on the Jewishness of Jesus, of his teachings, and of Christianity down through the ages. My dissertation analyzed the treatment of Jews and Judaism in Catholic religious education materials, a study I was happy to share with the publishers a few years later in a program co-sponsored with the Anti-Defamation League, which resulted, I am even happier to say, in a number of improvements in Catholic textbooks. My first book¹ briefly...

  6. Section 3: Teaching, Dialogue, Reclamation:: Contemporary Views on the Jewish Jesus
    • 13 How Credible Is Jewish Scholarship on Jesus?
      (pp. 251-270)
      Michael J. Cook

      This essay explores the problem of the methodological credibility of Jewish scholarship on Jesus. My prism will be a number of “favorite” Gospel topics toward which Jews most often gravitate:

      Jesus’ Last Supper

      his Sanhedrin trial

      his “blasphemy” verdict

      his pairing with Barabbas

      his Jewish opponents

      his partiality for the “lost sheep . . . of Israel”

      his Jewish observances

      his Passion-week outline

      his intent to “fulfill” the Law

      I am often asked by Christian scholars why Jews overly accept the Gospels’ basic historical “facts” about Jesus. They ask also in writing—for example, Donald Hagner: “modern Jewish scholars ....

    • 14 Taking Thomas to Temple: Introducing Evangelicals to the Jewish Jesus
      (pp. 271-292)
      Christina M. Smerick

      The Judaism of Jesus of Nazareth provides a challenge to most American Christians of any denominational stripe, as typically this Judaism is not emphasized in religious education or in religious services or sermons. While I currently teach at an evangelical Christian college in the United States, I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition and can state unequivocally that I did not receive a robust education with regard to Jesus’ Jewish faith in my CCD¹ or catechism courses as a child. Jesus, for most Christians (if I may be so bold), seems to be an exception to his culture rather...

    • 15 The Historical Jesus as Jewish Prophet: Its Meaning for the Modern Jewish-Christian Dialogue
      (pp. 293-314)
      Sara Mandell

      Although considering the historical Jesus a Jew is a common, but not universal academic tenet, it is not so perceived by those albeit rather limited segments of the lay public whose anti-Judaism causes them to separate JesustheMessiah from his Second Temple Jewish background.² For the most part, the great majority of lay Christians, who have no anti-Jewish feelings, do not pay attention or simply give lip service to the historical Jesus’ Jewishness because it is only slightly if at all relevant to their faith and/or theological precepts.

      On the other hand, there is a growing movement by lay...

    • 16 Before Whom Do We Stand?
      (pp. 315-332)
      Henry F. Knight

      Before whom do we stand?¹ After the Holocaust that question, echoing the instructions of Rabbi Eliezer to his disciples, that they know the One before whom they stand when they pray, calls Jews and Christians to reexamine their understandings of each other and of their own grounding traditions. In the reflections that follow, I explore this question, particularly as it is refracted through artist Samuel Bak’s iconic image of the Warsaw Ghetto Boy² and Elie Wiesel’s character, Michael, fromTown Beyond the Wall.Bak has captured with his brush the image of his murdered friend’s face and, in multiple renderings,...

    • 17 Edith Stein’s Jewish Husband Jesus
      (pp. 333-344)
      Emily Leah Silverman

      Edith Stein (1891-1942), a philosopher, mystic, and Jewish Carmelite nun, had a queer relationship to Jesus in that her personal religious framework was simultaneously Jewish and Roman Catholic. Her relationship to Jesus was unusual and out of line within the context of Carmelite spiritual practice. She saw Jesus as a Jew before Christian theologians took this fact seriously, but her mystical marriage to him reveals that she advanced in her interior life an unambiguous supersessionism that demands the replacement of Judaism with Christianity. For Stein, this interior devotion to her husband, Jesus the Jew, was a form of spiritual resistance...

    • 18 Can We Talk? The Jewish Jesus in a Dialogue between Jews and Christians
      (pp. 345-357)
      Steven Leonard Jacobs

      In my previous career as a full-time congregational rabbi and part-time academic (what I now tell my students was my “second incarnation,” my first being that of a high school teacher of English literature), I used to have any number of church groups (men’s clubs, ladies guilds, youth groups, etc.) visit and sit in our sanctuary during an afternoon or early evening for an “Everything you always wanted to know about Judaism but never got around to asking” talk, with plenty of time left for questions and answers, and sometimes the Q & A lasting more than the original presentation....

    • 19 The New Jewish Reclamation of Jesus in Late Twentieth-Century America: Realigning and Rethinking Jesus the Jew
      (pp. 358-382)
      Shaul Magid

      Jewish writing about Jesus in America that began in the mid-nineteenth century, with a few exceptions, ended after the “Jesus Controversy” in 1925. This controversy erupted in light of a sermon delivered by Rabbi Stephen Wise at Carnegie Hall in Manhattan on the occasion of the 1925 English publication of Joseph Klausner’s Hebrew volume,Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching(1922). Although the discovery of the Nag Hammadi texts and other Dead Sea scrolls in 1947-48 reinvigorated the historical Jesus among many Protestants, American Jews didn’t begin writing about Jesus again until the 1960s around the same time...

  7. Annotated Bibliography
    (pp. 383-393)
  8. Contributors
    (pp. 394-400)
  9. Index
    (pp. 401-406)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 407-407)